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Keeping your viewers glued to the screen

Documentary Audience: Part 1

Mar 16th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 10.15.55Today I’m sharing new ideas that I presented on last week’s Webinar, “How To Find Your Film’s Audience”. If you missed the live session, listen for free here.

The webinar focused on why finding the smallest possible niche audience for your documentary will ensure its success. I believe that’s true for many reasons. Here’s one—as well as my contrarian ideas about expanding your audience beyond your niche.

First, a bit of cultural theory. In America today, according to many theorists, there aren’t just two competing worldviews (left and right), there are actually three major worldviews.

The first worldview, according to Integral theorists and Spiral Dynamics, is often called Traditional because adherents support traditional values like family, security, morality, order, and fundamentalism. About 25% of the U.S. population is estimated to be at the Traditionalist stage of development. It’s an ethnocentric worldview that sees the world in terms of us and them.

The second worldview in this model has been called Modernist. Modernists value science, merit-based capitalism, democracy, self-reliance and achievement. It’s the start of a world-centric way of seeing things, and it’s estimated that 50% of the US population operates from this perspective.

The third major worldview in America today has been called Postmodern. In many ways, Postmodernism is defined by a reaction to the excesses of modernism. Postmodernism is at play for about 20% of Americans (and for most of the documentary filmmakers I work with). The major values are equality, environmentalism, social justice and pluralism.

In America today, these three worldviews are at war with one another. Duh.

So…. what’s the takeaway for us filmmakers seeking to build an audience?

First, it’s the recognition that it’s extremely difficult to make a documentary that transcends to another worldview. And…it’s OK to sing to the choir. The choir needs to your clarion voice so it can sing louder.

But–if you aspire to make converts–I have two recommendations.

First, make a documentary from an Integral perspective. An Integral worldview—estimated at 5% of the population– sees the value in all the other worldviews. Such a film would use language and stress values that appeal to Traditionalists, Modernists and Postmodernists.

I think the film Supersize Me succeeded in many ways because Morgan Spurlock appealed to values across the board: he had a (presumably) postmodern, vegan girlfriend, he relied heavily on the modernist value of science and medicine to track his progress, and when he spoke to tradition-driven people (mostly on the street interviews), he didn’t disparage them. He seemed to value their perspective.

Next week I’ll reveal the second strategy for transcending your niche audience. Meanwhile, check out the free webinar on Filmmaker.MBA, where my former story consulting client Chris Rufo and his partner Keith Ochwat lay out the nuts and bolts of finding a niche market for documentary filmmakers.

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