The Power of Unpopular

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Steve Jobs

The job of an artist is to show people what they want. Or at least to give them an option of a well thought out, finished work that some people will like and others may hate. (Keep in mind that Steve Jobs and his company Apple weren’t always popular. When I switched to Mac in 2006, Apple junkies were seen as weird, fringe people. Heck, us Mac users still are! But hey, once you go Mac, you never go back, right?)

Let’s switch gears here and talk movies, so I can lead up to an experience I had that deals with this…

If you ask any Joe off the street to make movie, you won’t get a movie that any Joe off the street will want to watch. You’ll get a movie that is a piece of crap. That’s because the average consumer is good at…well, consuming. Not producing well thought out works of art.

Just because someone has read every Stephen King book on the planet, it doesn’t mean he has the first clue of how to write a book of that caliber.

Here comes the experience…

I was once approached by a man, a former businessman and author, who had this supposedly earth-shattering idea for how to create a movie. His idea involved letting the public create the movie. He’d brainstorm with a team, then throw an animatic up on the internet for all to see (an animatic is basically a movie version of a simple comic book, or slide after slide showing what was going to happen in the movie). Then he would invite everyone to participate and say what needed to be changed, and to dictate the details and flow of the film, and to basically create the whole movie, bypassing the need for an artist.

This is insane.

The whole driving force behind his argument was money. And he openly admitted it. He said investors were wary to invest in a film which wasn’t going to bring in a lot of returns. So this was the solution. To have the audience tell us what they want. This is such total bullsh$%. I knew this from the beginning, and not even from an economic point of view. And that’s just the point! Making films is an art, not some bullcrap gimmicky thing we do to make money. Leave that to the pet-rock inventors.

If we are making films to make money we are missing the point altogether. We shouldn’t be making movies to make money. We should be following our bliss. Making money off following our bliss, if it happens, is just a byproduct.

“We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.”

Walt Disney 

If Walt Disney had seen this guy’s plan to make money (it really wasn’t a plan to make a movie, since the whole thing from start to finish was a plan on how to make money, not on how to make a movie), he would have been disgusted at such blatant mercenariness. (Yes, mercenariness is a word, I looked it up!)

Here’s a fact: Not everyone is going to like what you create. That’s fine. In fact, that’s more than fine, it’s perfect! As an artist, you have to find your niche. Trying to create something that everybody likes is a recipe for disaster.

Power of Unpopular bookThat’s why when I saw this book on Amazon, I knew it was going to be awesome, without even having read it yet. It’s called The Power of Unpopular: A Guide to Building Your Brand for the Audience Who Will Love You (And Why No One Else Matters).

Let me repeat that last part:

Why no one else matters!

Here is a great quote from the book description: “Every successful brand in history is inherently unpopular with a specific demographic. Somewhere along the way, people felt they had to be popular in order to be successful, when in fact, the opposite is true.”

That’s why I’m so glad that I don’t share this flawed belief that I have to make something that everyone loves and make a bunch of money off it. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, the perfect scenario for me would be to find my 1,000 True Fans and to create for them. (Actually, I’m creating for myself, and my 1,000 True Fans are others who think like me and like the same quirky stuff that I like.)

Christopher Nolan's Following film

Christopher Nolan’s brilliant, no-budget, unpopular film “Following”

I’ve written a screenplay that I intend to shoot this summer on no budget. That’s right, Christopher Nolan style. Christopher Nolan and no budget films? Isn’t he that guy that makes those big-budget Batman movies? That’s right. Check out Following. (Also happens to be on Netflix.) His budget was $6,000. And virtually all of that went to analog (read: obsolete) film expenses. If he had been shooting it today and had had a DSLR camera, he could have made it for free.

I’m not making this movie for everyone. I’ve written the movie that I’d like to see—an intelligent, self-reflexive, psychological thriller which comments on the process of creation and filmmaking. And the type of people who like it will most likely be other film buffs and people like me who like cerebral movies that make you think. Like Following, for example.

“The crowd is untruth.” 

Søren Kierkegaard

So stop trying to be popular. This isn’t high school. This is real life. It’s the unpopular people who change the world. It’s the unpopular people who reign.

Remember, Van Gogh never sold a single painting in his life. Steve Jobs was seen as an eccentric prick with a very different way of looking at things who clashed with almost everyone. Until he died. Now everyone speaks of him as if he were a God. Even people who still hate his products.

What are your thoughts on artists or art that tries to cater towards everyone and ends up being over-commercialized garbage?

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19 comments

  1. todayiwatchedamovie · · Reply

    Again…just what I needed to hear. This is my favorite blog.

    1. Thanks man! Just when I needed to hear some encouragement. How’s War of Art treating you?

      1. todayiwatchedamovie · ·

        I’m about to start my second read through. I sometimes have trouble putting it down.

      2. Wow! I’m impressed man! You are kicking Resistance’s ass! Can’t wait to hear about your experiences as a new convert to Pressfieldism 🙂

      3. todayiwatchedamovie · ·

        Haha well I just learned about Resistance, so I’m only slapping it on the wrist at this point, but I think its days are numbered.

      4. IT’S DAYS ARE NUMBERED! Well-spoken! And yes they are! Remember, it’s not how far we are from our destination that counts, only that we are moving in the right direction.

  2. Love it!!!! Wait, did I say that loud enough? LOVE IT!! “Leave that to the pet-rock inventors.” Lmao. As usual, a great message of truth delivered with hilarity.

    1. Haha. I threw in that pet-rock reference just for your Mr. Ryan J. Actually, I was thinking about it because I just watched Office Space on your and Dan’s suggestion, and they talk about the pet-rock inventor in that film. LOL. This post makes me think about everything that we’ve been talking about in regards to being authentic and following your bliss and not worrying about what others think.

  3. Daniel, that idea in which the above mentioned businessman had is what Amazon Films has hedged their entire future on. Creative, collaborative projects that the many can partake in and of. Although, they’re considered to be other creative types. as opposed to consumers. But hey, that’s what Hollywood does right? Its all about the tribe these days. The same old bandwagon. It’s easy for Nolan to say that being that he is the premier popular film maker today. It takes 8 companies now to produce even an Indie film, what is that? It sure isn’t an Indie. Anyway popular is about jv and affiliate support, not necessarily good products. Show me unpopular, or true independent and I’ll show you poverty.

    1. Kurt, good callout on the Amazon Studios. That is what they are doing. Which is why I have no interest in them. Today we have more freedom as individuals than ever before to go out and create, and are we taking advantage of it?
      I agree that is the same thing that Hollywood is doing. Each producer/writer makes a line and then takes a leak on the script, and what we see on the screen is anything but what the original screenwriter wrote.
      Truly independent = poverty. Truer words were never spoken! Except, I like to think of it as poverty=independence.
      I attended a meeting with Albert Maysles, the father of American documentary, who made the documentary Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter and many others. He spoke of how wonderful it is to live in a time when he can make a film on a budget of $4. That’s right, $4. Here he was, one of the most famous filmmakers in American history, and he was bragging about his films that he made for $4. And now I understand why. If you aren’t dependent on money, then you are free to create what you want to create.

      1. Agreed… much more creative juice, yet as Hollywood churns out less creative films. I love films like the Avengers, boy was it good, but it is an old idea, not fresh, not new…old. Where is the great, truly different, visually stimulating, evoctive, masterwork? It doesn’t exist. There is weird, shocking, bizarre and peculiar, but rarely GREAT! I’m just saying…

      2. I must say I agree about Avengers. It was an enjoyable flick, and well done for a superhero flick. I’ve always been a big Avengers fan, but honestly…I also watched A History of Violence and A Dangerous Method about the same time, and I must say, I enjoyed those films MUCH more. A lot more emotion and thinking involved. So I think there are stimulating films out there like those from directors like Cronenberg and Aronofsky, but they are far from what Hollywood pours all its advertising budget into. Hollywood is all about spectacle. Ironic…I read a comic book written by Joss Whedon where he satirizes Hollywood and its emphasis on spectacle. Then he goes and makes Avengers…

  4. I love that you put Mark Coker’s idea of the 1,000 true fans in this. I read the guide just recently and wondered about it. Great info. Thanks again Daniel.

    1. Your very welcome!

      Did Mark Coker talk about it? This is the article where I got it from:

      http://kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/03/1000_true_fans.php

      Great article, highly recommend it! I found it very inspiring 🙂

      1. Wow. Just checked it out. That’s a great article. Thanks again.

  5. goldenboy62 · · Reply

    Really like your blog, and I’m looking for to reading your story.Robogirl. We seem to be in sync on the fact that to be a filmmaker takes work, and learning your craft. For some reason when it comes to creative arts like film and writing people have a general belief that 1) any one can do it. and 2) you don’t have to learn a craft and practice –“spoils the individuality and creativity”. You’d never hear people say this about any other profession, Now I completely believe that after the fact a layman can spot a flaw in a plot and come up with a better plot, but that’s retrospective analysis. Anyway, I finished film school some time ago, finally got in with the digital thing, and now I’m ready to see if I’ve got anything to say. I look forward to seeing some of your work.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words. Yes, Film and writing are a craft as well as an art. In fact I believe that the harder and more consistently we work at the craft, the more we become open to inspiration from our Muse, and great art can happen. Great art doesn’t happen happenstance; it takes a lot of diligence, hard work, and effort. That doesn’t mean you have to be some sort of genius, I believe we all have potential within us, we just have to tap that potential. And tapping that potential takes having the tenacity to keep on following your dreams, day after day.

      Thanks for sharing, I look forward to your comments and thoughts.

  6. […] check out my article on The Power of Unpopular for more info on disrespecting the status […]

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