Butts in Seats

by | March 29, 2024 | Newsletter

More turmoil in the film festival world this past week but I am still hopeful about a path for film and filmmakers – much of it coming from the vibrant activity in our community to find solutions.  I am part of a bi-weekly Zoom distribution discussion group that is trying to do just that. Last week the organizers asked everyone to contribute their “5 Best Practices to Get Audiences Into Seats”.   I thought I would share my five with all of you:  

1.  Know Your Audience.(for your film and for you personally)- how they consume media – what creates value for them – where they reside in space – geographically, online, organizationally.  

2. Cultivate Your Audience Over Time – (not just for this film but for your career) develop and cultivate an email list (or however your audience wants to stay connected with you). These super fans are very important in many ways: not the least of which is to get them to come to your screenings and get other people to do so as well.  

3. Outreach to your communities/organizations nationally and locally.  Start early – engage them in the process – give them ownership. This can work for fiction as well as docs if done creatively.  In our releases we find that outreach is the key factor to get people into theaters for smaller films –  much more than advertising/social media/press – I have heard this from many other people as well.

4. Create Events – At least filmmaker q&a, better the subject, better yet music and/or panel discussion or something new and fun. Specifics determined by what will engage your audience and encourage them to come out. 

5. Create Community and events for that community. For exhibitors make your theater as a hub of activity that understands how people want to engage with events and event spaces.  The new Vidiots space in LA does this very well.  Be open to one night specialized events in a variety of formats. What kind of experiences does your community want? How can cinema fit that? How to expand the conception of those experiences to make people excited to engage in your space?  (As a distributor I find that many venues are very accommodating and adventurous and these are wonderful partners! But we still face theaters that don’t want to do one night events, don’t want to make accommodations for music, staff that doesn’t want to be bothered (literally once turning off the lights during a Q&A to get people out of the theater)).

I agree that a lot of the above have been repeated ad naseam – but while many people are following these guidelines and more – many people/institutions don’t – and that’s why they keep being repeated. 

One Best Practice that was suggested by others in the group that I think is wonderful: How certain theaters and festivals are programming films and events for people under 18, especially children, to encourage families to start making cinema-going a habit that is carried through to adulthood to create new generations of audience.  At Sundance, Barbara Twist, head of Film Festival Alliance, told me about an initiative she and Lela Meadow-Conner from Arthouse Convergence are developing around this concept – hopefully more on that soon.

If you agree/disagree on any of this- have other thoughts or suggestions – I’d love to hear them – just hit reply and let me know.