Producing Movies in 2015: Subcultures and Niches

September 22, 2015

As mentioned the last time we covered the role of the producer, it’s a very fluid role that is extremely hard to sum up with a two-line job description. Throw into the mix that the industry is evolving at a rapid pace—forcing the role itself to change with it—and it’s little wonder that so many people are struggling to find their feet.

Producing school will naturally put you way ahead of the game, but the question of what to produce lies squarely with you. One thing to consider as you traverse this exciting terrain is how subcultures and crowdfunding can provide a tried-and-tested path to fund and produce a great work of passion, and it’s that which we’ll be discussing today.

Crowdfunding: More Than Just The Cash

It won’t have escaped the notice of anyone reading this that crowdfunding has, at long last, come to be taken seriously as a means for funding productions (and at a scale which has really silenced the naysayers.)

Obviously, raising enough capital to do justice to your vision is a very important concern for any producer. But it has to be said that, as many have before you have found out the hard way, crowdfunding is not a big pile of cash that anyone can dip into at will.

If you look at just about any successful crowdfunding project—even outside of the realm of filmmaking—you’re likely to notice a common thread running through them: they identify a very specific demographic, then figure out how to best serve the people within it.

Movie production is no exception. Free from some of the restrictions of traditional, big studio-fuelled productions, a filmmaker in 2015 no longer has to try and appeal to the largest swathe of potential moviegoers and can instead hone in on very niche subjects.

Consider the likes of Indie Game: The Movie, which pulled in over $70,000 in crowdfunding and went on to huge critical acclaim, or the Bronies documentary which smashed its $60,000 target and ended up raising over $320,000. The success of both lies with excellent marketing to an extremely passionate (and pre-existing) audience who were happy to pay to see a film that wasn’t even released yet.

But this brings us onto the golden rule of producing a movie for a specific subculture:

You Can’t Fake Passion.

Circling back to the aforementioned message about crowdfunding not being a method of making a quick buck, trying to take advantage of a subculture you’ve got no interest in is a very quick route to failure. A producer with no passion or reverence for the subject matter will not be able to create a quality film that does it justice, and those who are passionate within the subculture can spot a fake from a thousand miles away.

And anyway, you probably already learned very early on into your career that there is barely enough time to do justice to the interests you are passionate about, never mind the ones you aren’t.

In short, pick a niche that really interests you. It’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll find a group of like-minded individuals who will happily invest in what you have to say on the topic via the medium of film.

The Importance of Branding and Subculture in Production

To further demonstrate the efficacy of keeping the potential audience in mind first and foremost when scouting for a potential production, let’s examine the trend for marketing to pre-existing audiences on a huge scale.

Studios are increasingly turning to—and snapping up—intellectual properties that come with their own inbuilt audiences. If we look at the top grossing movies of 2015 so far, you’ll notice a common theme:

1. Jurassic Worl($1.6bn)
2. Furious 7 ($1.5bn)
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron ($1.4bn)
4. Minions ($1bn)
5. Inside Out ($734m)
6. Fifty Shades of Grey ($569m)
7. Cinderella ($542m)
8. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation ($509m)
9. San Andreas ($469m)
10. Terminator Genisys ($435m)

By and large, the above entries already come from strongly-established franchises or had a huge amount of anticipation and almost guaranteed audience attendance before release (such as Pixar’s Inside Out and Fifty Shades of Grey). The same went for 2014, a top-grossing list made up almost completely of sequels, reboots, and comic book movies with already eager audiences (namely Guardians of the Galaxy.) The only anomaly this year was San Andreas, and the only brand new intellectual property last year was Interstellar

… and obviously, directly following the success of the Dark Knight trilogy, it wouldn’t exactly be a risky gamble to predict the success of any Christopher Nolan release.

Even  this year’s Pixels movie—which performed poorly from a critical perspective—has doubled its budget at the box office, likely owing to its tapping of a strong and rising crowd of indie game enthusiasts.

The Takeaway for Indie Producers

Of course, this is all a very scaled-up example from the very top of the box office for demonstration purposes. You don’t have to compete at this scale and nor should it be deemed a failure if you don’t make millions or double your budget—remember, it’s all about making serving a subculture or niche with a strongly branded work that you can be proud of, and the principles behind this work at any level.

Go find your niche. Discover the audience that is already out there and waiting, then make sure you create something that truly speaks to them.