Build a Fan Base by Taking Your Indie Film on Tour
Here are some great tips for taking your film on the road and successfully building your fan base in the modern digital age.
In what has gone on to become an unlikely folk-hero type speech for the aspiring indie filmmaker, Mark Duplass’s keynote speech at SXSW 2015 might be the best motivation, and current representation, of just what it takes to “make it” in the world of indie film, in today’s digital age.
What Duplass preaches over and over again is that the “cavalry” isn’t coming. No one is going to come and buy up your script. No one is going to send you to Hollywood to make the next Marvel movie. No one is coming to give you a million dollars to turn your short film into a feature. That is, unless you just go out and do it yourself.
One of the best ways to just go out and do it, and in many ways create your own cavalry for your film (and your filmmaking career), is by taking your indie films on tour. Just like folk acts or rock bands or art shows, taking your show on the road can actually be the best way to get your film seen, make connections, and ultimately build your own fan base from the ground up.
Start with Festivals and Your Network
So, I actually have a little bit of experience in this area. Not only did I have a short film play at a few festivals, I also worked with some friends in college who were doing this very “take your film on tour” thing. And I will say that, in many instances, basing your tour off of festivals is a great way to start putting maps on paper.
As we’ve covered before, film festivals can be a great way to get your work out there and set your career in motion. If you do have a finished project that has been accepted into festivals — big or small — you can put those dates on a calendar, take out a map, then start looking for other locations and dates to set up additional screenings.
Finding Arthouses and Indie Theaters
In many instances, the best places to set up screenings are local arthouses and indie theaters. Yes, indie theaters can been seen as dying relics of the past, but you’d be surprised how many of them still exist (or have even sprung up recently) in towns of all sizes. If there are enough people to have any sort of arts or film scene, they’ve probably built some sort of theater or DIY arthouse space that could house a screening of your film.
You can try Google searching, but you can also reach out to friends (or friends of friends) familiar with these areas. Make contact, tell them about your film and your tour, and you can usually set up a screening. You might not get a lot of money upfront, but the goal is to simply get your film shown. Ideally, you’d want as many people as possible in the seats.
Set up Street Teams
This is another great way that films on tour can help build hype and get people to show up. If you have connections in any of the towns where you’re going to be stopping, ask some friends to help out. You can send them things like posters or other promotional items a few weeks before you’re scheduled to arrive and screen and have them start posting around town.
Again, if you’re clearly not making much money from this tour, you’re asking for volunteer help and favors. So, remember to thank your helpers and at least buy them a drink when you arrive. You never know: you might be helping them on their next film tour later.
Blu-rays, DVDs, and Digital Downloads
So, I’d say there are two schools of thought on what you’d want to “sell” or “get” out of taking your film on tour. If you do have a finished feature film that was a long labor of love you’ve invested your life savings into, you might be using this tour as an opportunity to start making some money back and paying back investors.
The best way a tour can help is through Blu-rays, DVDs, and digital download sales. If you’re screening a great movie, and people want to see it again, share it with friends, etc., they’re going to want to buy it. And even if you’re offering streaming or VOD, selling hard copies will usually be a bit more lucrative.
However, more than copies of your movie, other merchandise can actually be a better option — often with greater monetary returns. Things like T-shirts, posters, or photo books will not only aid in monetary returns, but they can be a great way to keep promoting your film for free.
Push Your Next Project
The other school of thought for touring your film is to simply build your audience, ultimately promoting whatever your next project is. In many ways, to be successful in this cavalry-less age of digital filmmaking, you need to be stacking projects tightly — one after the other. Any sort of momentum you make on one project should ideally funnel even harder into the next. Taking your latest finished project on tour can be a great way to build support for your next one, especially if you have some sort of Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign already underway.
Again, your ultimate goal is to make connections and friends and build a fan base. If you’re out there sharing your work and your passion, you should absolutely be looking to get more people excited, interested, and involved in your next project — whatever that may be.
Cover image by Everett Collection.
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