EXCLUSIVE GLOBAL REPORT: How To Build Your Audiences (Part 2)

This is the second of a series of global reports on how European filmmakers are blazing new trails on the frontiers of distribution. The first is DISTRIBUTION BULLETIN #28.
A QUEST FOR MEANING ("En Quete de Sens")


In 2009 two longtime friends were inspired to travel the world in search of meaning. Marc de la Ménardière was working in New York as a business developer for a French water brand when his childhood friend Nathanaël Coste came to visit. They had intense conversations about the state of the world. Nathanaël suggested a number of documentaries on globalization for Marc to watch while recuperating from a broken foot. The films made Marc question his lifestyle and purpose. They inspired him to embark on a project with Nathanaël to seek out idealists, activists, and philosophers with stimulating ideas about how to make the world a better place.  On and off over the next two years, they took a series of trips to three continents and filmed their conversations with the most forward-thinking people they found. Marc, who had never made a film before, was in front of the camera and Nathanaël, who was an experienced filmmaker, shot the interviews. They self-financed the shoots, spending as little money as possible— €10,000.
To finance editing, post-production, and distribution, they ran a campaign on, a French crowdfunding platform. They raised €38,988 from 973 contributors (including friends and members of their inner circle). It was the second most successful campaign for a French film at that point. After finishing crowdfunding in December 2013, they completed the film in June 2014.
A QUEST FOR MEANING premiered on January 25th, 2015 in a Paris cinema, where it continued to screen three or four times a week for a year and a half. Marc also did a tour around France, attending 50-60 screenings.
Crucial to the film’s success has been a partnership with the mouvement colibris, an association focused on social change, which Marc explained “wants to insert the controversial topic of personal change/inner revolution into activism.” Its mission is to inspire, connect, and support citizens engaged in a process of individual and collective transition. It has local chapters throughout France and approximately 30,000 members.
Before the film was finished, Marc managed to arrange a meeting at the colibris through a contact he made at a conference.  Marc “hijacked their office and showed them the film and people loved it.” He got the association on board four months before the film’s theatrical release and their support has been invaluable.
A QUEST FOR MEANING is a film that was made to be seen and discussed with others. So far there have been over 900 screenings throughout France followed by discussions (averaging 20 minutes). Although 30,000 DVDs were sold in the first year, the availability of the film on DVD did not undercut the demand for screenings while Marc’s team was actively supporting them.
There were also screenings outside theaters. Via Creative Commons, Marc encouraged people to organize their own screenings. He only requested a screening fee if organizers charged admission.
The engine for the film’s continued success has been word of mouth, since the filmmakers did not use paid advertising and got little coverage from the French press and television networks. 130,000 people have seen the film in France, as have another 40,000 viewers in Belgium, Switzerland, and Quebec.

Another critical factor in the film’s success has been Marc’s charismatic personality. He is charming on screen and off. Last year he hired Jessica Karam to help with distribution. Undaunted by the fact that he had no funds to pay her salary, he met with his primary funder and told him about his new hire. When the funder asked Marc how he could hire Jessica without the ability to pay her, Marc replied “I just chose the reality where you would say yes.” Charmed, the funder found the money to pay Jessica.
Marc believes that several other things also contributed to the film’s unprecedented success in France:
  • “the widespread quest for meaning that so many people are engaged in, particularly younger generations.”
  • “the authenticity and spontaneity of the quest.”
  • “the combination of a personal and a universal story. There is an authentic ‘I’ that people can identify with. My story is part of a bigger story.”
  • the “coherence between the content of the film and how it was made and distributed.”
  • “our transparency about money, distribution, and our goals.”
  • “the way we reached out to people with shared values and involved them in the process of creating the film (via crowdfunding and pre-screenings). It is their movie. It is a tool they can use. We are working for the same cause.”
  • “It provides a story, not an ideology. It has humility; it is not giving viewers lessons or trying to brainwash them.”
Marc is coming to the US in a few months with A QUEST FOR MEANING. He is looking for partners and teammates. He is also exploring global distribution.
NOTE: I began consulting on A QUEST FOR MEANING after it was released in France.
© 2017 Peter Broderick