Multiplication: Scott Kirsner's book "Fans, Friends & Followers" offers ideas on building an audience through the Internet. (Book jacket courtesy author)

"Fans, Friends & Followers"—an excerpt

Scott Kirsner April 8, 2009

Online, a significant segment of the audience no longer wants to just consume. They want to collaborate. That collaboration can take many forms, from voting on their favorite book cover design to sending in their own photos to be used as part of a giant photo mural.

The documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald has both asked supporters to make small donations so that he could complete a film about Iraq (he wound up raising more than $200,000) and also relied on some of his more active collaborators for help with research and even shooting interviews. Jonathan Coulton, the Brooklyn-based musician, held a competition on his blog to find the best fan-submitted solo to fill a break he’d left in a song called Shop Vac.

[ Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt of Scott Kirsner’s new book Fans, Friends and Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age, available for free preview at ( and now available for purchase as well at the book’s web site. Kirsner edits the blog CinemaTech, contributes to Variety, and is a columnist at The Boston Globe.]

Part of this desire to participate is driven by the fact that everyone on the Internet craves recognition and connection. Part of it is driven by the fact that many of your followers are trying to establish their own careers as writers, artists, filmmakers.

Sometimes, the audience will explain to you how they’d like to be involved. When the band OK Go made a hit YouTube video that featured the four members doing an elaborately-choreographed dance routine in a backyard, fans started sending in videos of themselves aping the routine. The band started posting them on its Web site, and then created a formal contest with trophies and a grand prize to keep the momentum going. (The winners were flown to an OK Go concert to dance onstage with the band, and many of the entrants were shown on various TV shows, including The Colbert Report.)

Some new-era creators choose to serve as ringleaders, and let their community take on much of the creative heavy-lifting. Timo Vuorensola, the Finnish director of Star Wreck and the forthcoming Iron Sky, has solicited comments on scripts from the Internet community; found actors online; enlisted the help of volunteer special effects experts; sought musicians to write the score; and received help translating the film into roughly 30 different languages. "Star Wreck was made by a core crew of five people," he says, "and over 300 people are credited in the end credits, and a community of 3,000 people were more or less involved in making it."

Filmmakers like Richard Linklater and Brett Gaylor have given their followers footage to play with. In Linklater’s case, he invited people to create their own version of a promotional trailer for his movie A Scanner Darkly. Gaylor asked visitors to to contribute photos and videos related to Girltalk, the musician who is the subject of his documentary RiP: A Remix Manifesto. Gaylor also encouraged site visitors to remix the raw footage he’d shot. (Worth watching is the animated remix created by students at Concordia University, at In both cases, this strategy ensured that many different versions or fragments of the film spread around the Internet, helping to increase awareness.

As an artist, you may have a bit of reflexive hostility toward the idea of letting your fans elbow their way into your creative process. But it’s worth trying at least a small experiment to see how it changes your relationship with your fans, and their relationship with you. Perhaps the experiment will involve helping select the rough demo you’ll turn into a finished single, or inviting fans to suggest locations where you might shoot the first-date scene in your screenplay. Often, your community will jump at the chance to help you solve logistical problems; when cartoonist Dave Kellett has traveled the country on book tours, his readers have occasionally offered to accept shipments of his latest book, and transport them to the site of an event.

Whatever they do, be sure to thank them publicly on your site, or credit them in the finished work.

The more opportunities you create for fans to participate in your process, the more engaged and loyal you’ll find they become. They’ll step up to be a financier, PR agent, tour coordinator, copy editor, Web site designer, or second-unit cameraman. Managing all these collaborators can get complex. But their investment of time and energy will free you up to do more of the work you want to do, and they’ll help spread the gospel in a way you can hardly imagine.

Scott Kirsner edits the blog CinemaTech, contributes to Variety, and is a columnist at The Boston Globe. His new book, Fans, Friends & Followers, focuses on strategies artists can use to support their careers in the digital age. More about the book, including a free preview PDF, is at