Contributed by Doug Jones
BUILDING TRAVEL FILM AUDIENCES AND FILLING SEATS
By Doug Jones
Having spent over four decades in the travel film business, I have seen a lot of changes. Many changes, such as production values and equipment possibilities, have improved the business. But what has not improved are the number of travel film series and the size of our audiences.
A common refrain is that our audience is older and the sponsor cannot get younger people to come. I have always felt this is an incorrect analysis of the problem. Our audience, demographically, has been steadily increasing for years. There are more people now than ever in our target demographic that should be in our audiences.
What has changed is that our audiences are more discerning, they have more options, and they are harder to reach. Promotion, the basic key to any aspect of show business, has been upended in the last two decades. Traditionally methods of promotion, such as newspaper advertising have been replaced by countless other ways of reaching ticket buyers.
However, our audience stills reads newspapers. And this was made abundantly clear to me at a recent show in Palmdale, California.
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I have been appearing at the Palmdale Playhouse in Southern California for many years. It used to be run by people who were interested in the travelogue series, but the playhouse is owned by the city and staff has been reduced to a minimum. The people currently in charge have not made much effort to promote the shows. As a result, when I appeared in 2012 there were only a handful of people in the audience .
I was surprised that they continued the series but they did and I was recently scheduled to show my film “The Great Canadian Train Ride.”
Three weeks before my appearance a newspaper reporter from the Antelope Valley Press sent
the sponsor an email requesting an interview with me.
I contacted the reporter who conducted a lengthy phone interview. She requested photographs. I sent ten. (We can't expect good promotion if we don't provide good images.)
I arrived for the show and I saw a copy of the newspaper. It was the
cover story on the entertainment magazine insert, the full front page, two pages inside
with six pictures and a lengthy article.
As show time approached the house became crowded. I was pleased and surprised but I was getting no start signal from management. I went out to the lobby. There was a line stretching from the box office clear into the parking lot. We held the show 20 minutes while tickets were sold. When the show started the house was completely full.
Who was the audience? The same audience we have always had, 60+.
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It is not a lack of audience that is our problem. There are plenty of people 60+ who love our programs and will come out for them. But they have got to know it is happening!
As filmmakers, it is our job to produce good programs and provide a great experience for the audience. It is also our job to provide the sponsoring organizations with high quality promotional materials—particularly photographs. It is the exhibitor's’ (sponsor's) job to promote the show.
I go to many series and hear the sponsor give excuses why their audience is down. But if you ask them what they did to inform the community you will often hear them fumble for just exactly what they did do, which is often very little.
Getting promotion from newspapers in large cities is difficult. But if you are presenting your series in a smaller community, you should be able to get a local newspaper reporter interested in running articles and photographs about your upcoming shows.
And I know of no one among the filmmakers who is not willing to bend over backward to help with newspaper interviews and radio and local television appearances.
We want to help you – and we want you to help us. We all have the same goal. Bigger audiences and great shows.