During this time last year, I was completely sweating a Kickstarter campaign I’d agreed to plan and run for a friend.

It was a 35-day campaign to raise funds to support the P&A budget for a film called “American Mustang.” After endless hours of work and coffee consumption, we hit $20,000 just before the halfway mark. By the third week, we’d hit our $40,000 goal and finished strong on day 35 at 113 percent of our goal.

American Mustang

‘American Mustang’

Here’s the campaign if you’re curious about it.

Since then, Kickstarter has been a jumping off point for an array of other projects like Zach Braff’s “Wish I Was Here,” which raised $3 million, the “Coolest Cooler” campaign, whose goal was to raise $50,000 and by the end had earned a whopping $13 million. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the infamous potato salad campaign, whose goal was to raise $10 (seriously) and by the end, had raised more than $55,000.

While each campaign was uniquely different, each had one thing in common – an engaged audience. Unlike traditional powerhouse studios, indie filmmakers don’t have the big budgets to spend on marketing and advertising to promote their film. But forums like Kickstarter are leveling the playing field and supporting a paradigm shift in film distribution, which favors the independent filmmaker.

If you’re a filmmaker, you pour your life, time and resources into creating your vision. When it comes out, you pray (no kidding) that people will want to buy a ticket to see it. Conversely, mainstream projects backed by big studios (and their enormous marketing budgets) can practically guarantee butts in seats for at least the first few weekends.

Indie filmmakers don’t have that luxury. So, what’s an indie filmmaker to do?

If You Build It They Will Come (To Your Movie)

Put the cart in front of the horse. Instead of raising (or budgeting) money for P&A to market the film, why not build an audience before the film is released to ensure butts in seats?

An audience may show up out of curiosity if they are heavily marketed to, but they are certain to show up if they feel like they’ve got a connection to a film and the filmmakers. I think it’s safe to say that we have all probably felt a connection with at least one person that we met online. What if that connection was so deep that the audience felt as though they were showing up to support a friend?

Kickstarter is a powerful strategy that enables filmmakers to cultivate that connection.

Unlike the powerhouse studios, the indie filmmaker is at an advantage on this one because we can pivot faster. We’re more agile and are willing to try different things.

So how do you build an audience? Filmmakers have access to their audiences in a way that they never have before. The savvy among us will harness the power of relationships to solidify audience loyalty well before theatrical releases. It’s an old-school method, executed in a whole new way, and everyone with a computer and a wireless connection gets access.

Here’s our the Project Enye (ñ) team is getting it done.

  1. Email – Building our list is priority number one on the business end of things, and email capture and communications is key. I email our list every other week with project updates and happenings. Remember to keep it real in these emails and share from the heart. Why? Because people can smell BS a mile away, and they’ll stop opening emails if it seems like they’re a waste of time.
  2. Blog – Make a commitment to post regularly to the film’s blog. The big advantage here other than the obvious is keywords and ranking on Google. Eventually, these posts will rank, and when someone searches for the topic I wrote about, they’ll see my post, click on the link and learn more about Project Enye (ñ). It’s free and everyone should be a part of everyone’s traffic-building strategy.
  3. Podcast – This is something Henry, my partner and I are diving into in 2015. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but I recommend trying it out. Podcasts are an incredible audience building tool. While we may be novices, we continue to get more and more comfortable every time we sit in front of the mic. Before long, I’m confident our audience will find us interesting enough to listen to, and they might just subscribe.
  4. Paid Facebook Ads – Here’s where you might be surprised. With so many free options, why would we choose to pay to find our audience? This one is simple. We saw a real cost benefit in growing our audience fast. It’s a business play and an important one.
  5. Facebook & Twitter – We’re posting, engaging, retweeting and liking. It all takes time, but it’s worth every minute. Currently we’re looking into a piece of software to help amplify our message on Twitter.
  6. Live Events – Several months ago Henry suggested that we do monthly happy hours to build our local audience. I’ll admit I was reluctant at first, but ultimately I agreed to host our first happy hour. Aside from how cool it is to meet bona fide fans of the film, we’ve made some invaluable professional connections, none of which would have happened without that in-person experience. It wasn’t until we had about three happy hours that I realized how scalable in-person events really are.
  7. Traditional PR – We have a publicist and she’s an Enye (ñ). First, it works to our advantage that she’s a member of the community that we are targeting with this film. Second, just like social media amplifies any given message, so does print media. The lines have been blurred between traditional and social media with many outlets now having a strong online presence. Ideas are spread as quickly as someone can click like, share or retweet. We find that it’s critical to have someone sharp at the helm of our messaging who can pioneer our cause.

In short, audience building can be a real mind bender, but with access to so many low and no cost methods, the sky is truly the limit for indie filmmakers to bring their vision to the big screen and have an audience in the room to watch it. My hope is that by sharing with you some of our strategies, you will feel inspired to build yours, too.

And if you live in Denver please consider yourself invited to our happy hours. You can find out about our next one here.

project enye

Denise Soler Cox is a successful business entrepreneur and motivational youth speaker turned film director. Fueled by her own identity crisis as a female Latina born to Puerto Rican parents growing up in New York during the 1970’s, Soler Cox struggled to fit into her surroundings. Straddling two cultures – the Puerto Rican lifestyle at home and the American dream beyond those four walls, Soler Cox experienced firsthand the challenges, compromises and inequalities that many sons and daughters of Spanish-speaking immigrants go through every day.

In 2012, Soler Cox connected with Henry Ansbacher, a Denver-based Emmy-winning and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, and together they are giving this cultural issue an international stage through “Project Enye (ñ).” “Project Enye (ñ)” is a cultural movement afoot in Denver, Colo., that uses first-hand and authentic stories to cultivate a sense of identity and belonging among this first-born American generation. In 2014, Soler Cox and Ansbacher took “Project Enye (ñ)” online launching the first community-powered, media-rich site where “Enyes (ñ)” worldwide can post or view inspiring and generation-specific stories with others. Projectenye.com will serve as an everlasting online memoir for this generation and a casting tool for the project’s film and unscripted TV show debuting in late 2015.

photo credit: work the angles via photopin cc