TIFF13 Industry Conference Highlights: Engaging your audience

Five key takeaways from Monday's panel on rallying superfans for your next film.

It’s as easy as setting up a Facebook or Kickstarter page, right?

Not so, most of us know, and the formula for success changes every day. Once part of the mysterious domain of distributors and press agents, building an audience for a film is now as much a part of the indie filmmaking process as financing or casting. But where do you start? TIFF sought to answer that question with Engaging With Your Audience, a Sept. 9 Industry Conference panel featuring Nicolas Gonda, founder of crowd-sourcing film exhibition platform  Tugg Inc.; J Joly, founder and CEO of film accelerator CineCoup; Tessa Sproule; director of digital content, CBC; and John Trigonis, manager of film, web & video and crowd-sourced fundraising platform Indiegogo.

Here are five key takeaways from the session:

1. Be human: Preached by both Indiegogo’s Trigonis and CineCoup’s J. Joly: remember that people need to believe in your ability to come through on your project’s promise. “People tend to give money and time and attention to the people behind the projects; not necessarily to the projects themselves,” said Trigonis. “Think of fans as investors: investors don’t actually invest in the product, they invest in the entrepreneur,” echoed Joly.

2. Social media is not the be all and end all: Earned media – coverage in traditional media outlets generated by PR or other initiatives – still has the power to outshine and outreach even the most successful grassroots campaign, emphasized Joly. “A lot of [what we do] is to turn filmmakers into rock stars: to make sure you can give a great interview and to make sure that you’re brave, so you can go into the world and sell yourself. You are more than white letters on a black screen.” Fellow panelist Tessa Sproule reminded filmmakers not to forget “the dinner table”: “When we talk about [social media], it’s really important that you don’t forget that social platforms are just a fragment,” she said. “The majority of people’s choices are happening in what’s called “dark social” – it sounds ominous but really it’s just conversations that you have on the subway [etc.]. That is a fundamental thing: you have to get them talking about your stuff. You’re never going to be able to measure it… but you can use the social platforms as a barometer to predict how it’s working.”

3. Save the whales: Once you have “superfans” on board, take care of them: Citing CineCoup’s Banff pitch session, Joly recalled putting a CineCoup superfan on a panel with eOne’s Noah Segal, producer Robert Lantos and Cineplex’s Michael Kennedy to grill filmmakers: “We believe in the whales in the casino as well. You have to take care of those whales, because they are going to drive 80% of what you do.”

4. Be entertaining: Be creative when planning screenings or associated events around films: do pre-screening panels, have comedians do standup, Mariachi bands, do what you need to do to “eventize” your screening, said TUGG’s Nicolas Gonda. “It’s remarkable – the experience itself is as creative as the content projected on the screen,” he said. “We’re encouraging filmmakers to really think hard about what do they want to do to provide the tools to eventize those screenings.”

5. Call in the troops: TUGG’s Gonda said that some of the most successful screenings activated through TUGG are films at are crowd-funded first: “You come with a network, an army, that is there waiting to be activated… That is the greatest tool you can have.”