Building Audience for Your Movie – Interview with Sheri Candler

Sheri Candler is a digital marketing strategist who has worked with films, filmmakers, and film organizations to reach audiences through the use of social media tools. She has been an advisor to the LA based non profit organization The Film Collaborative and has been a featured speaker on the topic of artistic entrepreneurship and building connections to audience at industry events for iFeatures UK, Binger Filmlab Amsterdam, Danish Film Directors Association, Atlanta Film Festival, New Zealand Film Commission and National Screen Institute of Canada. She also co authored 2 books of case studies that look at new paths independent filmmaker are taking to market and distribute their films, called Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul and Selling Your Film Outside the US. Both are available at Currently, she is working with KCETLink in Los Angeles. You can find her on Twitter @shericandler.

Audience building

empty-theatre-300x189– Audience building is a significant problem of independent filmmakers. You mention that this problem should be on the table at very early stages of developing a movie. Do you think having the concern of audience might limit the creativity of a director? How to make a balance of this?

I am actually a proponent of an artist being open to the audience at all times, as part of their creation process and as part of being a professional. I don’t think that audience building should start once a work is finished, it is an ongoing process where the artist is creating something every day and posting it online. There is a great book that explains it in terms that artists (filmmakers, musicians, painters, photographers, whomever) can understand. It is called Show Your Work by Austin Kleon.

Kleon suggests that we no longer live in a world where it is advantageous to hide away from an audience. People connect with each other on social media every day and they expect everyone else to do the same, even artists. Sharing is part of the routine of creation now. In order for an audience to find you and your work, you have to be findable, as in online. If you aren’t online and some representation of you work isn’t online, you don’t exist! And if some part of your work can’t be shared, it will never spread out to more people.

Creative people are the ones who should benefit the most from the internet because the internet rewards creativity, but strangely it is often creative people who shun it, thinking it will ruin their process. They may be right, their old process will be ruined, but in its place there needs to be a new one where they can express themselves in little fragments; a photo, a Vine, a blog post, a quote that inspires their work, that attracts the attention of a viewer and draws them in to see what else is happening.

Regarding making a balance–if the audience is attracted to you, as an artist, then you have their trust and permission to be promotional when you need to be. You aren’t just going to push when you need something and disappear when you don’t. The balance is in giving more often than you take.

– Some famous directors, especially European directors such as Haneke, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and Dardenne Brothers reject thinking about audience in any process of creating their movies. For instance, Nuri Bilge Ceylan won the latest Palme D’or in Cannes with his movie Winter Sleep. However, his movie has not been watched more than 1 million people in movie theaters all around the world. What do you think about these directors?

To a new filmmaker who tries to hold up established ones as examples of people who don’t need to think about audience, I say you are not them and you don’t have a support system at hand like they do. But they are also at the mercy of that support system and when it fades, they have no access to an audience because they have never built one. You are much better off in the long run to have a direct connection to your audience because then you are ultimately the one in charge.

This old system is not really so great for filmmakers if you think about where the money typically falls. It falls in the middle with the sales agents, publicists, distributors, exhibitors, broadcasters, retailers. In this old system, there isn’t much concern for the audience or the filmmakers. Film fans are expected to buy tickets to the cinema, buy a DVD or watch on TV and filmmakers are expected to make films. And that’s all the regard given to both ends of that spectrum. But the audience is where all the money comes from and the filmmakers are where all the films come from. So why would we want to keep those spectrums apart if a filmmaker is looking for financial sustainability and audiences are looking for new things to watch whenever, wherever and in whatever venue or device they want? It is actually detrimental for both filmmakers and audiences to want that wide expanse of middlemen keeping them separated because neither can maximize the efficiencies that the internet affords; direct payment with little transaction costs and an always on, global access point for films to be viewed in whatever manner you choose.

The best examples of this at the moment are Youtubers. They were not made by managers, publicists, agents, labels. They start their own channels, devote time, effort and energy to cultivating an audience and release work several times a week. If it is appealing to people (and not all is), they eventually will be able to transcend Youtube to do many other things, but they are the ones who choose what that other work is. Michelle Phan, the Green Brothers (vlogbrothers), Grace Helbig…those are the new role models for how to work the business side of your creativity. It will not be in looking to Cannes winners for tips on how to navigate the new world. Those films are usually limited in their appeal and utterly depend on a system that is out of the filmmaker’s control to get into the world. Relinquishing control means being at the mercy of the system. It works for a few, but it doesn’t for many.

The main motivation for marketing is awareness

– Obviously the most of moviemakers do not have any idea about how to do marketing of their movies. What should be the main motivation for marketing?

The main motivation for marketing is awareness. But I think filmmakers would be better off to make audience connection an every day part of their work rather than thinking about how to attract attention for a short amount of time in a world that is full of noise and distraction. Few filmmakers like the idea of self promotion anyway, so they won’t do a good job. The audience building I am talking about is less about self promotion and more about being valuable and missed if they didn’t show up every day. Remember this, self promotion is about helping OTHER people. When you help others, they remember you, they talk about you, and that is promotion. Plus your work has to be remarkable, as in worth remarking on. If it isn’t, you can attract people to you as a personality, but they won’t talk about or support your work.


– Could you please give some insight about the relationship of crowdfunding and audience building? How audience building in advance might help crowfunding a movie?

I don’t think a crowdfunding campaign can be successful if there isn’t some sort of audience base for an artist to start with. These campaigns can be good for widening that support, but you can’t start with zero and expect money to flow to you. Too many fail in their campaigns because they don’t understand the level of relationship they need to have with a fan base. While famous artists have an easier time raising money because they are known to an audience, it doesn’t mean that because you aren’t famous you can’t raise money, you just can’t expect to raise a lot.

There is a huge difference between fan donation and investing though and I do not favor those who want to turn the current donation model into an investment model. First, the reporting and paperwork will be a nightmare and most likely won’t be handled well. But really the motivations of donors and investors are completely different. Donors do not expect repayment, let alone profit. They are motivated much more emotionally and simply want to be involved in the process of making a good film and/or supporting their friend. Investors have a notion they will be repaid and perhaps make a profit. They are motivated by greed and would prefer to put money in things that look like they have a chance to recoup. It is much less about emotional attachment and much more about the money.

Now, everyone reading this should know that investing in filmmaking is a HIGH risk endeavor, as in 97% of the time there is no recoupment for investors. From a filmmaker’s standpoint, it is preferable not to have the pressure to try and recoup for investors. To make your work, free from debt, is an absolute gift and no filmmaker should push for a micro-investment model. Film investors are really donors, they just aren’t told that from the beginning.

But besides the money, crowdfunding is really a deepening of a relationship. The audience member is saying I trust you, the artist, to make something remarkable and to include me in the experience as you make it. For that, I am willing to send in $5-$25-$100 etc. and I will also receive some sort of perk or souvenir of this experience. The artist should say, I am grateful for your patronage and in return I will make this remarkable thing and while I do, I will give you access to experience its making in a way that you have never seen before. The “investment” is mutual, a value to the lives of both parties. Unfortunately, artists can be very short-sighted about the whole thing and take the money, but forget about the people who granted it. Big mistake! Unless they would like to start all over again with no audience support the next time there is a project, they had better be willing to continue the relationship.

– Is it possible to talk about a simple pipeline considering all these processes; crowdfunding, audience building, moviemaking, and marketing?

No, I don’t really believe in a standard process. No artist or work should be standard so there can be no roadmap to follow. If you are following a roadmap, your work can never be unique enough to stand out among the thousands of other films being made every year. Besides, all of the things you asked about are built sequentially over time. First you must be open as an artist to communicate directly with those who would be your audience, even if at first there is no one. If you have a unique voice, you will attract others because they are all seeking each other. Only when there is a significant amount and a significant enough time has passed building up trust with them can you think of asking for financial support. Then comes the moviemaking and then the call for help in getting it out to the audience and spreading the word. But it takes a long time. No artist wants to hear that, but it is the truth. It can take 5 maybe 10 years of making little things and building up trust and credibility before you can raise a significant amount. But you know, it can be the same for raising investment too.

Relationship building

– What is the role of social media in audience building for a movie? Is it the cheapest way or the most efficient way?

Cheap as in money or cheap as in time? Social media is an absolute imperative. There is no scenario I can think of now where the use of social media can be forgotten. It is highly efficient when it comes to spending money because, as you know, most social media sites will require money for reaching an audience now. Facebook started it, but all of the others will eventually do it too. They all have taken investment money and their investors want profit. If you are using social media for business reasons, you will have to pay something.

It can be highly targeted though and it is all trackable. That is the real beauty of using online tools, everything can be measured to see what is working, what is failing, being able to adjust and testing all over again. Plus the amount of data that can be kept and used for decision making and deeper engagement. This simply did not exist in the old world of advertising and printed press coverage.

Social is much more hands on though. Where you could create an ad and buy placement and let it run, now you have to post something every day, several times a day if I’m honest, in order to keep that connection up. If you enjoy using the social tool, it is less work. My advice to an artist is to pick something they feel comfortable expressing themselves on because if they aren’t comfortable, they won’t do it enough and it will never work for them.

The role of social media is in staying top of mind, relationship building. This whole endeavor will always come back to relationships and trust.

– What kind of methods would you suggest to the directors to analyze their audience to learn about their expectations?

Make the movie that is true to who you are as an artist. The audience you have been attracting all along will be pleased by how you tell a story, not the genre or kind of story you tell. All of the great directors have a point of view, a world view that their audience recognizes and appreciates. That is why those directors have a following.

But now you don’t need to wait to show that worldview only through a film. You can do it every day. You express yourself every day.

– What should be the expectation of a director through audience building; being rich or being famous?

Neither, those are 2 of the worst reasons to go into filmmaking. If you want to be rich, be a politician, or work in finance or be a lawyer. If you want to be famous, be an actor or musician.

– How the cast of your movie should be a part of your marketing? Do you think looking for known actors or actresses should be a priority for marketing purposes?

Depends on what world we are talking about. If you insist on ignoring audience building around yourself as an artist, then you are going to need someone who does have an audience. Usually those are name actors. This is especially true if you plan to sell your movie to a third party. Those 3rd parties also do not have audiences, not around their company. Most have no brand, no recognizable identity, in the minds of filmgoers. So those companies peddle in celebrities to get some interest around their products. Media are interested in celebrities and when you have no audience, you need the media to try and get attention from the unknown masses.

Listen, having an actor with a fanbase will not hurt your film unless the fanbase just doesn’t fit at all with the work. Media love to cover known actors. Exhibitors and cable operators and digital platforms all love to showcase films with names and prestige.

Do you HAVE to have a name? It depends on the core audience for the film. I have definitely seen films that were not spectacular and had no big names, but promoted a certain interest or worldview that had a large, enthusiastic group around it and they did much better than a film that was critically acclaimed, but was vague in the audience it would appeal to. There are interest groups that can be forgiving of a less than stellar film if the film promotes their cause, whether that is social justice or a certain kind of lifestyle.

My advice, you will be better off making a film that is true to who you are and speaks to a certain segment of the population who is very enthusiastic about some interest. Tap a core audience with something authentic and you will do very well.