In today’s connected, online world, filmmakers have to build and nurture their fan bases so that they always have a ready-made audience for their next film or crowdfunding campaign. But have you considered involving your followers directly in the making of your film? If not, you could be overlooking a valuable asset.
In 2009 I completed a 70 minute Lord of the Rings fan film called Born of Hope and released it on YouTube. Today that YouTube video has had over 35 million views. Although I couldn’t benefit financially from the film, for obvious legal reasons, its huge success yielded a loyal and passionate online following.
Five years later, as I began preproduction in earnest for my original short-form fantasy series Ren: The Girl with the Mark, I was able to call on these followers to get directly involved. All told, over 200 volunteers worked on Ren, making the costumes, creating the props, and building a medieval village set in a car park, not to mention populating that set as extras. I would like to share some advice about how you too can leverage people power to achieve the impossible – or at least the incredibly ambitious!
The first step is to build an engaged fan base. These are not people who merely watch and enjoy your work. These are people who devour it eagerly, comment frequently, buy merchandise, support your crowdfunding campaigns and generally take every opportunity to get involved. To attract and keep these kinds of followers you should…
- Choose a genre or subject already known for its passionate followers. Fantasy is great because it has online forums, comic conventions, role-playing games, cosplay – these people are used to interaction in a big way. But the same might be true of a, say, the fans of a band you want to make a documentary about.
- Respond to comments, interact on social media. If you want them to interact with you, you must respond quickly and helpfully, and be friendly and approachable.
- Promote your work at events in the real world. Get away from your phone and your computer screen, get out into the real world and meet your fans face to face. Do panels at conventions, do Q&As at your film screenings – anything that gives people a chance to get to know you and your team.
- Feed their hunger for content. Don’t go radio silent between webisodes or films; put out peripheral content that reminds people you’re still around and still hard at work producing fun stuff for them – behind-the-scenes videos, bloopers, skits and so on.
- Make it personal. Appear in talking head videos and speak straight into the lens so your followers feel like you’re talking to them. Followers are much more likely to support a person than a brand or project.
- Keep them updated. Send out newsletters, keep your Facebook page active and let people know what exciting new things you’re up to.
Once you’ve built up a loyal fan base like this, people who are hungry to engage with the project, the rest is relatively easy. As soon as my followers knew I was making Ren, they began to offer their help. It only remained to channel their passion productively. To do this you should…
- Have a space where you and your followers can meet. This could be a village hall, an unused office at your brother-in-law’s company, a team member’s large shed…. We were lucky enough to get a great deal on a five-month hire of a disused factory depot which became Ren Studio.
- Have a regular time that people can come along and help. Us freelancers often live irregular lives, but most of your volunteers will appreciate a regular time slot at a weekend or on an evening so that they can fit it around their 9-5. We ran ‘Making Weekends’ every weekend at Ren Studio, inviting people of any skill level to come along and help sew costumes, build sets or make props.
- Be prepared with assignments to dish out. Whenever someone finishes a task, be sure to have the next one ready. You will quickly get a feel for each volunteer’s strengths and capabilities and can assign tasks accordingly. Christopher Dane, co-creator and construction manager on Ren, had to be prepared each weekend with a list of tasks to suit all skill levels.
- Treat people well. Always be humble, gracious and grateful to the people who are giving their time to help your project. And feed them tasty, home-cooked food! If they have a good time, they will come back again and again. So many vital crew members on Ren were volunteers who came along for a weekend to see what it was all about, then never left.
- Make people feel creatively involved. Some of the jobs you have to assign will be tedious, but make sure everyone gets a turn at something interesting, everyone gets to see the concept art and the storyboards on the walls, and the rushes when you’re filming. During the Ren shoot we cut a sizzle reel so everyone could see the fruits of their labour.
All this may sound daunting, but if you get it right it can be incredibly rewarding. By building a team of passionate volunteers, not only were we able to construct, populate and shoot the fantasy world of Ren to a standard that utterly belies its £36,000 Kickstarter budget, but we all had a really fun and memorable experience, because of the friendships we made. Many people who were involved have said it changed their lives for the better – parents brought along shy or disaffected teenagers and found a new way to bond with them through the shared experience, many people gained valuable industry experience and others fell in love with an industry they had never considered or even dreamed of being part of before.
You can see what our wonderful volunteers created when the series is released free at www.rentheseries.com on Tuesdays from March 1st.
Director & co-creator, Ren: The Girl with the Mark