Warren Miller Entertainment is the most respected name in shooting action sports films since 1949. I met director Warren Miller when I was at the university. He brought his team to La Crosse Mountain and shot stunt and trick skiers for one of his feature films. He also shot some comedic scenes that included my university drum line skiing down the slopes while we played our marching drums.
In fact the entire Marching Chiefs, our high stepping competitive marching band, also participated in the shoot – Well, at least the ones that knew how to ski. I’m not sure how it happened, but I also ended up playing my marching snare in television commercials demonstrating how wide the newest grocery store’s aisles where. But I’ve digressed.
Miller was known internationally for his great sports films and every university showed his movies regularly. The films drew large crowds based on the exciting tricks and the comedic fails and spills. And yes, our bass drummer took a nasty spill into the snow knocking over several other band members. As for me, I learned how to do 360s and helicopter spins from the trick skiers – After I had taken off my snare drum.
Miller’s films pulled in millions of dollars every year and confused Hollywood. They couldn’t get a handle on why he was successful. When they tried to copy his tactics to capture some of the revenue, the studios failed miserably. Some how Miller was the king of his niche market and made the exact type of films his audience required, complete with his own personal narration on most pictures.
Hollywood has never understood niche markets, especially in the latest genre of faith-based films. The Kendrick Brothers are now the latest source of Hollywood’s frustrations as their “War Room” movie continues to exceed expectations.
Several critics complain about their movies being stories that preach to the figurative choir, which causes Alex Kendrick to laugh, shake his head, and say, “they just don’t get it.” While the critics want the Kendricks to make their films more palatable for those outside of their niche, the brothers continue to make their trademark films for their niche audience.
Stephen and Alex are preachers who know exactly how to create movies that “preach” an important message to their niche audience. Their goal is to help the “church” understand important principles that can be implemented in their lives for the good of their families. They don’t care about the money or expanding the audience, but the witness their films make and the changed lives that result.
The Kendricks and Miller have the ideal job as a filmmaker, which only comes about when a director finds his audience. They are able to make the shows they want and in the way they want. The great blessing for both comes in the form of super fans that make sure audiences continue to watch every film they make.
In the industry, production companies try to build a fan base of 500,000 people because that’s the number needed to continue doing what the directors of the show love to do. When the numbers are below that point of demarcation, studios and networks start dictating how the shows are made, which confines the director’s talent.
Thanks to social media and the faster flow of information, production companies now only need 1,000 super fans to give the director the same creative control that used to take a half a million fans to achieve. Both the Kendricks and Miller have their 1,000 super fans that support the director’s untainted vision.
Since Hollywood doesn’t understand the power of niche markets, and therefore understands little about super fans, they are forced to work with the Kendricks and Miller regardless of how they might judge the quality or universality of the films being released. In other words, they don’t get it.
Fans are people who like the artist’s work enough to tell a couple people about it. Super fans are people that not only like the artist’s work, but also do what’s in their power to help the artist get noticed. They are the fans that tell hundreds or thousands of people about their art.
I first learned about super fans when I met Miller. He introduced me to one of his super fans that pulled together enough showings for his films that he’d breakeven far before the budgets required. Miller was happy to help his super fan whenever he had the chance.
I’ve heard that the Kendricks also have super fans that are great influencers and leaders of churches. Every time they release a film, their super fans stir entire mega congregations to get out to the theaters and watch the important films.
This confuses Hollywood all the more. The studios and networks all believe that a film lives and dies based on its story and production values, not its message. However, a team of great super fans makes sure the pictures are successful regardless of the filmmakers ability to tell a great story or place high production values on screen.
Thankfully, both the Kendricks and Miller continually improved on their production values as a way of thanking the audience that supported their films. The more they worked on their story, the wider the audience grew beyond their niche.
This expansion is the only thing Hollywood might comprehend, but it may be a while before they understand how niche markets work. After all, Hollywood is too big to comprehend how niche films bless community.
Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers
Excellent analysis! I love the explanation of super fans and how it works. I was just talking this week with another filmmaker about the exact same thing.
Thanks for your note.
I’m amazed at how important fans have become to filmmakers. They used to be able to promote their concept or story and stay behind the scenes, but today they have to be in a position of having a fan base. The same is now happening with stars. Those with large fan bases are getting roles over better actors. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE AUDIENCE.