You or your film — As a brand, which comes first?

Part of the challenge of building a crowd in support of a film project is understanding what inspires and moves the individuals within. If you’ve been thorough with your planning and honest with yourself in identifying the true scope of your target audience, your crowd will inevitably consist of people with varying interests and passions. For first time filmmakers — or those launching any content project for the first time — a common mistake is the belief that those interests and passions will be ignited by you and your talents instead of the subject matter of your film. This is a mistake that sinks many a crowdsourcing — and, for that matter, crowdfunding — campaign.

When you are just starting out, you are an unknown commodity. You may be confident in your talents and you may even have a small circle of supporters who can speak to those talents, but to the world at large, you’re another voice in the crowd. You have yet to present, much less define, the brand of you to the masses. And certainly you have yet to prove that you can deliver on the promise of making a film.

This is why, initially, the brand of your film and the elements which will help define the brand of your film is much more important than focusing on the brand of you.

Meet Steve

As an example of this, I offer you Steve. For his own reasons, which include a radical, exciting and current branding shift in his filmmaking journey, Steve has asked me not to list his real name or his films, but was extremely enthusiastic when I suggested using his story for this blog.

Steve was a cinematographer who had worked on a number of short films in Chicago and Austin. He became well embedded in Austin’s burgeoning, yet increasingly competitive film scene. Steve had developed a stellar reputation in the community as a reliable workhorse known to never complain and not be combative to a director’s vision. That was his brand. The one he had cultivated.

Meet Steve’s Film

Emboldened by the constant creativity surrounding him, Steve began writing with a goal toward filming his own content. He bunkered down and wrote three scripts: a feature and two shorts. He fell in love with the feature — a musical set on the streets and suburbs of Chicago. But Steve was wise enough to realize that few if any would back what would be a (relatively) expensive, high degree of difficulty feature, targeting a niche audience and from a first time director (no matter how awesome his cinematography reel).

So Steve turned his attention to his short scripts. One was a smaller, edgier piece about a teenager with various anxiety orders who may or may not be committing acts of violence — are these acts real, or is he losing his mind — against those diagnosing him.

The second short script was a romantic comedy which flashed back and forth between the 1950’s and today. Certainly more mainstream, but a much more expensive and ambitious undertaking.

In Steve’s mind, the anxiety disorder project would allow him to show off his chops in an affordable fashion and without biting off more than he could chew. Further, Steve recognized the importance of crowdsourcing an audience. He felt this material lent itself to a more concentrated and passionate base. But he recognized some other opportunities to expand that audience as well.

The Brand of Steve’s Film

Steve determined that he would be able to raise about $3,000 of the $12,000 he would need to film his anxiety disorder short from family and friends. With the intent to raise the rest of the funds through rewards based crowdfunding, Steve spent the next 4 months identifying and engaging suffers of anxiety disorders and those who treat those who experience these issues.

But Steve didn’t stop there. Although the film planned to deal with the debilitating nature of various anxiety disorders, it was still, after all, a thriller. Steve made a list of thriller/horror films he felt played in the same arena as his and engaged fans of those movies through social media and message boards.

Steve shared his own struggles with anxiety growing up. He shared articles, research and explained how he planned to weave this information into the narrative of his film. So while the brand of his film was growing, Steve was also planting the seeds for the Brand of Steve. He was presenting himself as a trusted source to handle this material and as a result people began trusting his vision and believing in his desire and need to tell this story.

You’ll notice, none of Steve’s branding efforts spoke to or created any further comfort in his filmmaking abilities. And at no point did he focus on his credentials as a filmmaker. Simply, Steve was creating willing engagement through commonality. Executed correctly, that strategy creates a cache of good will and, when the time comes to ask your crowd to engage on your behalf, a cyclone of forward movement.

And that’s exactly what Steve experienced when he launched his crowdfunding campaign. Steve reached his overall goal in 11 days and ultimately surpassing it by 78%.

The Brand of Steve

Steve spent the next seven months shooting and working through post on his film. He stayed engaged with his audience throughout by sending them updates, clips, outtakes — anything that gave his crowd a feeling of ownership. He delivered on every promise, the most important of which was producing and filming a nail-biter of a movie which frightfully, elegantly and pointedly highlighted the horrors of dealing with anxiety disorders.

Buoyed by all the support and feeling a shift in the way the crowd was engaging with him on a more personal level, Steve sent out an email with one question: Given the success of Movie X, would you support a crowdfunding campaign for my next film?

93% of those who responded did so in the affirmative.

They didn’t even ask what the film was about.

The supporters of the brand of Movie X had now become fans of the brand of Steve — a filmmaker of vision who delivered on every promise.

Steve went on to raise the money for that rom-com and for his feature musical. The latter brought him the opportunity of which we cannot speak about…yet.

Audience building is as much about the targeting of the brand as it is the brand itself. But for first time filmmakers, it’s also about putting the macro branding goal — namely the brand of you — on hold while using micro branding goals as a stepping stone toward your ultimate goal.

This is a long game, be patient, be smart, be humble.


Want to learn more about branding and crowdsourcing and gaining those precious boots on the ground in support of you and your film?Check out my new book, CROWSOURCING FOR FILMMAKERS: INDIE FILM AND THE POWER OF THE CROWD here.


And I invite all my friends here on Medium to connect with me and say hello on Stage 32, Twitter and Instagram


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Richard “RB” Botto is the author of CROWDSOURCING FOR FILMMAKERS and the founder and CEO of Stage 32. He is also a producer, actor and screenwriter. His latest script THE END GAME is in development at Covert Media.