Thought Experiment: If Atlanta Filmmakers Gave Away 10,000 Free Copies of Their Films, How Many Would Take One?

It's roughly five months since we released the results of our first survey of Georgia's indie film scene. Followups were planned, life got in the way. Now that life has been tamed a bit, the first post-survey discussion is in the works, making acting our first topic. While that's in the planning stages, our GA Indie Film Survey hasn't been far from my mind. 

Those who answered our survey gave Georgia's indie film scene a C and its presence at major film festivals a D. Sixty-percent who answered believe "the rest of the nation either doesn't know that Georgia has an independent film scene," or that if we do, folks outside of Georgia couldn't define it.

There are those who disagree with that. They see it as defeatist. Others will say it's the jealous and the less talented clumping together Georgia filmmakers to create a monolithic view. 

As someone who has been attending events and festivals here for 20 plus years, one observation has stood out. Outside of premieres, premieres of features that is, the attendance of most screenings in Atlanta still skew heavily filmmakers. That's even true at the Atlanta Film Festival were I was communications, then artistic director, for seven years. 

There's nothing wrong with audiences filled predominately by your peers. Support by those you work with is key. When the audience over the screening life of a film percentage wise remains filmmakers, we should take that seriously. The makeup of films after their permieres in Atlanta can quickly flip to almost all filmmakers, with some screening being 100 percent made up of people who work in the film business.

This is where one of you will your screenings, or your friend's screenings, are not mostly filmmakers. True. Yet, I would ask you, what percentage of those were not friends and family of the crew? Friends and family of the friends and family? How many degrees of seperation is there between you and your audience? How many screenings can you maintain a healthy ratio of general audience to filmmakers before you lose that general audience? 

I would further ask, how many know what you're working on next? How many know what you worked on before that? 

If the money poured into a screening or promotion was used to create 10,000 copies of your film, could you give them all away? If you had a free download link on your site, could you give away digital copies of your film in a few hours? A few days? At all?

Sheri Candler, Director of Digital Marketing Strategy at The Film Collaborative, posted a link that caught my eye. The 10,000 Reader Rule, a piece by author Shawn Coyne. Here are the bits I think filmmakers should take to heart: 

"What I’ve concluded is that a book publisher’s job is to get 10,000 people to try the book.

We don’t really pay attention unless we have a direct human-to-human exchange of ideas. And I think that’s truer today than ever before. Far fewer of us are susceptible to generic mass media recommendations. When was the last book you bought because it was reviewed in The New York Times?

We don’t really act on anything until a person we trust tells us it’s worthwhile. One to one.

Exposing 10,000 people who care about the arena of your book gives you a chance that enough of them will actually read it and then recommend it to someone else. That word of mouth will keep the book alive from one year to the next."

How many who attend our events and our screenings recommend the films they've seen to someone else? Exuberance hours after a screening is one thing, a film being front of mind months to years later is another. We all make recommendations for films, books and music that are often so old, they predate our own births. That's staying power. 

Of the filmmakers you know, how many could you confidentely say can give 10,000 copies away in a week? It seems easy, I assure it's not. Giving anything away for free truly tests its value. Search your memory banks, find the face(s) of the musician(s) who offered you a chance to check out four of their songs. How often did you take the CD, the USB drive, or the download code? How often did you actually listen? If you did, how long did it take to finally do so? At every step, I'm confident that percentage dwindled.

If taking three minutes out of our day to listen to just one song from a stranger seems like a burden, what would make anyone want to take a chance on a 90 minute film they haven't heard of? That filmmaker you know, you're two clicks away from looking up their Youtube and Vimeo pages. Check the counts on their videos. What's the last date of the latest comment? Are you still confident?

What I want to leave you with is this. I don't see this as a problem, so much as I see this as an opportunity. The talent is here. Marry that with ambition, drive and savvy marketing and social media, we can grow the number of filmmakers who can give away 10,000 copies easily. 

This does mean that some of our filmmakers will need stronger content. Stronger scripts with an increased focus on development taking precendent over shoot first, edit later will aid with that.

If we want to create careers and if we want to have a financially sound indie film scene, Shawn's last sentence (with a little modification) encapsulates the must have quality that should be intrinsic to what we create: "If [we] can’t give [our films] away for free, chances are [we] won’t sell very many."