Some good audience research

Audiences for Independent film, based on research  conducted by ‘Optimistic Media and Stimulating World’ on behalf of the UKFC


“Specialised Films” account for about 5% of cinema admissions. 30% of these admissions are concentrated in London.


It is believed that “specialised films” account for considerably more of the DVD market, which is not surprising as, in many parts of the country this is the only way to see non-mainstream movies.


The research conducted for the UKFC identified four primary audience groups:


Mainstream Only

Only see the big mainstream hits and nothing else


Mainstream Plus

See the mainstream hits, but also dip into specialised now and again

They do not identify films by genre, only by whether they think they’re good or not. They will be attracted by ‘must-see’ indie films if they are in English, are ‘offbeat and upbeat’ and they are familiar with at least some of the cast.



Whilst they like to associate themselves with specialised films and do indeed view them, they are still disproportionately viewers of mainstream titles. They go further in their choices than ‘mainstream plus’ and will watch more thought-provoking and sub-titled films. But they still want to feel that they are being entertained.



Usually reject mainstream cinema as a first choice; always seek out specialised films; often members of film clubs and societies.

         Film Buffs have their identity strongly bound up in film

         They express a strong liking for films which do not fit neatly into any genre

         Their love of cinema extends to the point where they are not merely interested in the film itself, but like to read and gain knowledge of  the subject

         The language used by Film Buffs tends to be more sophisticated, analytical and thoughtful than that used by other typologies

         They plan much further in advance than other film-goers

         They enjoy and indeed may even prefer going to the cinema on their own

         Use a greater variety of sources to find out what’s on

         Make a trip specifically in order to go to the cinema

         Go more than once to see the same film

         Will see mainstream films for different reasons (e.g. to appreciate special effects in ‘The Matrix’)




Buffs are the committed indie filmmakers core audience. The estimated number of UK buffs is 300,000. Due to this group’s commitment to indie films it is possible to reach a good percentage of this audience, but distributors would hardly see this as worthwhile without substantial subsidies. And, for the filmmaker, the lesson is that you will get £2 per DVD after costs; so, over time, a £100,000 budget film might break even. But self-distributed it could make a profit.


Obviously, if people are going to get paid, you also have to reach some of the ‘Aficionados’ and, ideally, some of the ‘Mainstream-plus’.


Buffs can be further sub-divided into two groups, which you could call ‘mainstream buffs’ and ‘real hardcore buffs’.


Buffs are interested in films, not just in ‘the latest releases’. This is important for the indie filmmaker as it means that your film(s) has a potentially very long tail. Films for them are much more than entertainment, instead they should be ‘interesting’ and ‘clever’.


Is there any point in directing marketing at ‘Buffs’?


Not really. Buffs pride themselves on being very knowledgeable; film is more than their hobby, it’s their passion – hence they seek out information.


So it’s better to target ‘Aficionados’ and ‘Mainstream-plus’ audiences through vehicles such as Sight & Sound, Empire, and the Guardian-reader end of the quality press.


“Astutely selected, specialised films can match, if not exceed, the appeal of mainstream films

At their best, specialised films can ‘turn the dial up’ on many of the emotions people are seeking to have satisfied when they go to the cinema and can be a powerful component of any communications strategy:


          Thrilling (e.g. Hero vs. The Last Samurai)

           ‘Truly’ romantic (e.g. Amelie vs. Bridget Jones)

           Charming/warming (e.g. The Chorus vs. Forrest Gump)

           Clever/surprising (e.g. Eternal Sunshine vs. The Matrix)

           Off the wall (e.g. American Splendor)

           Black humour (e.g. Secretary)

           Knowing, thought provoking (e.g. 21 Grams)

           Grounded/Real (but not depressing) (Fahrenheit 911)

If a film truly has any of these ‘more than’ factors, they should be emphasised.”





To have a chance of success an indie film needs to have:


  • A good story
  • A good title
  • Be ‘cinematic’ i.e. have a certain ‘style’ – which could mean visual, or an unconventional narrative form etc.


And it also needs to have more than one of the following characteristics:


  • Off the wall
  • Clever
  • Sense of humour – preferably dark/offbeat/surreal/unconventional
  • Unpredictable
  • Knowing
  • Thought-provoking
  • Realism
  • Truly romantic rather than schmaltz
  • Ironic
  • Upbeat

The researchers concluded that ‘genre’ was not particularly important and that audiences preferred films which tended towards being ‘clever and knowing’ as well as in some way ‘uplifting’ to films that were overly ‘sentimental’ and ‘depressing’ regardless of genre.

They also concluded that independent films needed long runs – at least as long as mainstream movie runs – in order for word of mouth to develop and spread. Unfortunately as can be seen below, the Digital Screen Network (for which the research was primarily conducted) was set up in such a way that it could not deliver any long runs; in fact it could not deliver any runs at all:

         209 cinemas 1 show a day for 7 consecutive days  (e.g. a mini festival).

         110 cinemas 5 shows a month

         59 cinemas 4 shows a month; 

         3 cinemas 3 shows a month,

         12 cinemas 2 shows a month, 

         26 cinemas 1 show a month.

         i.e. all cinemas have committed to at least 1 show a month










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