Over the next few weeks, I am going to investigate and write some pieces on cross platform, or transmedia, storytelling. This form of project is gaining interest from many independent filmmakers, but most do not really know what is entailed in putting together such a story or what their goal is in going to this effort. For the majority of filmmakers, cross platform stories are peripheral to the “main event,” their feature film, and so it is in the Hollywood studio space. These stories are largely a marketing effort to funnel audiences to see or buy the film, but the consensus in the transmedia space is the effort IS the project, not something made in support of a product. To be clear, I do NOT consider myself a transmedia or cross platform storytelling expert in any way, but I am curious about the developments of this space and how it might pertain to independent filmmakers.
While I am researching, I leave you with this interview of Elan Lee, chief creative officer of Fourth Wall Studios. Fourth Wall is a company founded on the principle that the next generation of entertainment will be fully immersive and blur the lines between reality and fiction. They currently have two projects in release, RIDES which is a true transmedia project where audiences experience stories via browser, email, cell phone and other connected devices. The stories draw audiences into the action, giving passive viewers the opportunity to become active participants in the narrative and deepening the connection to the story in order to bring the content to life. As their website says, “It’s entertainment…with a pulse.” The stories can be enjoyed both episodically or as a standalone experience. One of the stories within the RIDES experience, Dirty Work, just received an Emmy Award® for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media, Original Interactive Television Programming. Congratulations to them!
Their second is a technology software they’ve developed called Elsewhere which creates augmented reality for the viewer to seamlessly blend computer graphics, narrative and gameplay into the real world using mobile devices and tablets.
In this video, Elan Lee talks about his foray into cross platform storytelling through an alternate reality game project called The Beast which was developed for use by the Steven Spielberg film A.I. The game ran for 12 weeks and entailed endless man hours of work to create and moderate the content because it was being created as it was played. You’ll see in the interview (at 8:03-8:41), this was an incredibly grueling way to work!
Start the interview at 3:35 to hear about The Beast
Lee will be speaking at the upcoming Storyworld Conference in Los Angeles, October 17-19.
It is probably the most sought after person on an indie film production team today. The “magical social media intern” everyone laments they didn’t have when it came time to distribute the film. Boy, if that inexperienced and unpaid person had been on the team all along things would really have been different. Apparently, this person has professional knowledge and multiple connections to audience and media to make large contributions to the success of your film, yet works for FREE! And can do this work with no budget. Someone who can make your film the next Hunger Games of the online space! You do realize that was accomplished with a budget of $45 million and a team of 21 people.
To be fair, it isn’t just indie filmmakers who seek these people, film distribution companies regularly advertise for marketing interns with social media experience to help them do the online tasks their staff apparently hasn’t learned to master themselves or doesn’t really want to devote the time to do. Why train professional staff or hire someone when you can have a free intern figure it out? This misconception needs to be addressed. There is no magic tool that will make marketing and distributing your film effortless and for no money! You won’t find it at workshops, in books, in articles or in automated software because it doesn’t exist.
Intern: A student or a recent graduate undergoing supervised practical training.
Especially in the indie film production space, most filmmakers are not trained in marketing and/or online/social media/community management work. So, who is supervising and training these interns? Do you really expect someone with strategy experience, industry and organizational connections, knowledge of online etiquette and measurement tools that could make a huge difference to the success of your film to really work for free? And if you are one of these people, why in the world would you do it? Everyone knows deferred pay is a myth, most distribution deals aren’t even covering half of the production cost and back end payments could take years to receive. Will you still be around to collect? Will the production company?
But the social sites are FREE
It is true that Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google Plus, Pinterest etc. do not charge for accounts. It is completely untrue that working those accounts effectively can be done with no budget. You will need long term, consistent effort devoted to them to see a pay off. I hear it from filmmakers all the time, how can I do this when I am trying to raise money/make my film? You’re right, how can you, especially if you don’t really use them personally and understand what works? You can try and share the effort among your team, but that often means heaping more responsibilities on them that they aren’t prepared to handle and could result in a less than stellar on screen production. Plus some resentment at taking on even more tasks. Ultimately, it just doesn’t get done.
Some social media effort involves listening and jumping into relevant discussions when they occur, coupled with constant monitoring and the ability to speak intelligently about a subject. Most people who aren’t intimately knowledgeable about your project and about the topic being discussed will be ignored or worse on these sites. Remember, no one likes the “look at me” or the “buy my xx” person who jumps into an online discussion. Don’t let someone be the voice of your production to an audience if they can’t speak intelligently and with consideration of the other people speaking.
Content development is what drives social efforts. If you aren’t making anything sharable, it won’t be shared. Word of mouth can’t spread if there is nothing notable to talk about. It isn’t all about your behind the scenes photos unless Angelina Jolie is in them. The more creative you can be, the more likely you will be talked about, written about, invited to industry events to speak about. Executing creativity takes time, effort and sometimes skills of many talented people (coders, writers, photographers, editors) with one central person overseeing it all. Every. Day. Talented people don’t need to work for free.
Please don’t let the most inexperienced member of your team figure out the marketing and distribution strategy of your film. Younger people may spend more time personally with social media, but they generally don’t know much about business strategy. If you are ignorant of the ways films can be distributed in today’s marketplace (and I am not talking about the way your film was handled in 2007!), you need to educate yourself with the myriad of free online information (this will take lots of time to study, decipher, put together into something you can apply to your filmmaking goals) or you need to hire someone who is already educated. Again, people with that knowledge do not work for free. Just as lawyers and accountants do not work for free. (somehow I expect they really aren’t asked to like other people involved in indie film, but let me know if I am wrong). This means budget is needed. It is not a luxury expense, it is a mandatory expense. You cannot realistically think that much is going to happen with your film when it is completed if you haven’t budgeted for this effort and if you can’t find it in your budget, you really need to rethink whether you can afford to make a film.
Social media is not a passing fad or only something that geeky kids do. It is a fundamental shift in the way personal and business communication is conducted now and it isn’t going to stop. I like to think most filmmakers have gone beyond the mindset of whether they should be doing this activity to asking how they should. For the budget challenged, the information is online for free and it changes constantly. For experienced help, you need a budget to pay for it.
A Seth Godin-ism that I recently heard on the radioLitopia site in an interview on the new face of publishing. In Seth’s view, this isn’t a bad thing, it just means roles will be redefined, responsibilities will be greater on creators (authors, musicians, filmmakers, artists in general). Nothing you haven’t been hearing me say to you for a while now. You can of course listen to the whole 30 minute interview, or you can just read these highlights I pulled out. Though he is talking about book publishing, there are many parallels with film.
-The internet has expanded the amount of content created and consumed, but it destroyed the industry In his view, we won’t create and consume less, but for the bureaucratic and scarcity driven business models that once dominated the industry, the end is near. He even recounted conversations he has had in boardrooms of publishing houses where management seems content that they will retire long before the new models are figured out. WHAT?? He thinks publishers (and I will add distributors) are woefully unprepared for their new role as connector, curator and partner to creators. Few have invested in the platforms and dialogs with consumers that will drive the new economy.
-Don’t fear price, fear clutter He sees a divide in pricing structures for books and I can see it for films as well. As more and more titles flood the market, the price you can charge becomes directly related to how similar your story is to others and how much of a following you have as an artist. Recent ebook success stories from authors Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking show the pricing divide. While you may not have heard of either of these authors, they are cranking the $.99 ebook to six figure incomes. Higher paid authors and higher priced books come from only the very tippy top of the traditional publishing world as does comparable filmmakers and studio films. The more similar the films you are making to others already in existence, the more difficulty you will have making money. Are you telling stories anyone could tell? If so, you’d better make them cheaply because the value to the consumer is low, maybe worthless.
-The film is just the center of a conversation He said a book here, but you get what I mean. The fans need a work to be the short hand for a group of like minded people, the “in” people, the cool people. Enable your work to become the entry point to a larger conversation with you and among others. If one hasn’t seen the movie (read the book), one can’t easily join the conversation. In this way, your work spreads.
He also touched on the need for publishers to adopt a whole new way of looking at their client relationships. If an author/creator has built their own audience, created a sense of loyalty, sourced a means of distribution directly and tells one of a kind stories, what do they need a third party (publisher, distributor) for? In order to sustain and remain relevant, publishers/distributors should also be in direct contact with an interest driven audience that can be serviced by partnerships with author/creators rather than staying focused on the retail market relationship. In other words, instead of insisting authors/creators use social media to building audience relationships, they should try doing more of it themselves.
Today’s guest post is from Tyler Weaver; editor in chief of the amazing blogozine Multihyphenate and practicing PMD.
Sitting in a music business class at a shall-not-be-named institution (rhymes with “Jerklee”) during the death of the music industry as we knew it was fascinating. This was in 2003-04, and it was a sad time to be in “the industry.” Nonetheless, we clung to our hardcover and expensive door stops, taking in each lesson as we were told. But the writing was on the wall: you’re learning stuff that was out of date yesterday. Thanks for the tuition check.
As I sat there, staring blankly at what was going on in front of me, one remark the “professor” made stuck with me: “Those who control the trucks control what’s out there and what isn’t.”
Funnily enough, my training in business and creative marketing didn’t come from a music business course. It came from majoring in music composition, where self-distribution is the way of life. No one is going to pluck you out of obscurity when you’re writing obscure pieces of new absolute music. You have to bootstrap (as this is Sheri’s blog, I can’t let my first post go by here without mentioning the equally ubiquitous Seth Godin). You have to find your own musicians. You have to find your own performance venues (even if it’s a dude with a guitar in a subway station), and you have to get it out there.
It was during my time there that I learned the most important lesson of creativity: It doesn’t matter how good you think you are, if no one knows about you, you’re worthless. Creativity is not only a collaboration with other creatives, it’s a collaboration with your audience as you reel them into your work and make your work part of their lives.
When I made the career switch to film in the middle noughties, that sensibility carried over. I’ve never been a patient person, so I have no interest in waiting for others to swoop in and get people to see my work. I was hard-wired for self-distribution because it was the only way to survive.
When I worked at a non-profit, I used no-budget video documentaries to bring in new eyes to bad news and increase readership and site usage. The videos could stand on their own, but were meant to highlight individual stories within the purview of the NPO’s mission and cause.
So what, you may be asking, does all of this have to do with the newly coined (and rapidly burgeoning) position of “Producer of Marketing & Distribution?” If my time as a music composer hard-wired me to self-distribution as “Plan A,” my film and NPO experience taught me the most important lesson of marketing:
Never market something you don’t feel passionate about.
I cared about the NPO’s mission greatly. But I was never as passionate about it as I should have been. For awhile, it was greatly successful, but then the recession hit HARD and the competition for purse strings skewed the direction of more heart-tugging causes. Failure after failure piled up, and weighed heavily. By the end, I felt like the guy trying to market the Titanic as sink-proof after the iceberg.
As a filmmaker, I would never take on a project that I wasn’t completely, unabashedly, 100% passionate about. I would never take on a project if the script wasn’t wonderful, if it didn’t make me well up with tears at the thought of someone else making this movie. As a PMD, I would never take on a project if I didn’t have the same feelings for your project. I owe you that.
But what stirs up those feelings? A great story.
My love of marketing comes from a love of storytelling – and in spite of my seemingly haphazard career jumping, I have always been a storyteller, be it in music, film, or marketing. Your career is a story. Your film is a story. The making of your film is a story. I want to help you tell your story.
Orson Welles famously said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” I’ve seen stories stop at sad endings, and at happy ones. And I’ve been responsible for both outcomes.
In today’s wild west media landscape where truly, as William Goldman remarked, “Nobody knows anything,” filmmakers and creatives are in a position of power. Our careers are in our hands now. Gone are the days where the magical distributor will discover you like a Tarantino or Rodriguez; we are no longer in the age of “making it,” but in the age of “getting it made and getting it seen.” It’s the latter part of your story that I’m excited to be a part of.
I’m a creative because I want to see cool stuff. I want to tell a great story. I want to be engaged. I want to be told a great story. And now, I want to make sure your great story is seen and heard. We’re all truck drivers now. Our cargo: our stories. It’s my job to make sure they get where they need to go – the eyes and ears of the audience. It doesn’t matter how great you are, if you don’t bring in the last collaborator – the audience – your story is never fully told.
And that’s not a happy ending.
TYLER WEAVER is a storyteller whose chosen medium happens to be that expensive form called film. He’s made some stuff, like THE FOURTEEN MINUTE GAP, IL MIO CANTO LIBERO, and GATHER ‘ROUND THE MIC. He lets the world knows what he thinks as the founder and EIC of Multi-Hyphenate and takes great joy in helping other people tell their stories as a PMD and marketing strategist. He’s currently developing a transmedia project called WHIZ!BAM!POW! that pays tribute to his lifelong love of comic books. Because he’s slightly insane, he’s simultaneously developing a new documentary. He yaks about that and more on Twitter under the creative guise of @tylerweaver
We have mentioned what the platforms offer as far as marketing, but they should not be solely depended on to do this work.
Unless you have a real budget to buy significant internet real estate, you will be connecting with your target market via websites and bloggers. You may find it necessary to incentivize those sites in order to promote your film. The most common tactic is contests and giveaways — meaning you provide the website with something to give away to reward their loyal readers….i.e. merchandise, sponsored travel, or free copies of the film. Creating online games themed around your film are another possibility — but of course not all independent films lend themselves to gaming. And if you’re asking the cast, crew, and everyone else you know to FB, tweet, and blast about your release, consider creating an incentive for them as well.
If you’re working far enough in advance, you MAY be able to find an appropriate brand or agency to sponsor some marketing, but know that you’ll need to start this work many months in advance of release.
I spent some time at the American Film Market this week wearing my badge with my name and company on it. Most of the time when people read it, they said “oh, you’re a publicist” and I thought, “no, that’s not what I am. Why do they think that?” I guess a publicist is most often associated with films after they are made, but I do not really think of myself this way. I use publicity as one element of a marketing plan. So, it is more accurate to say that I am a marketer who uses publicity, among other tools, to build awareness of a film, gather an audience and ultimately make money for the filmmaker and their investors. I do these activities before, during and after the production process. What’s the difference between marketing and publicity? I mean all of it is promoting a film, right?
Marketing is a combination of all the activities that help to increase the sale of your film, including a mix of public relations (publicity), advertising, online marketing, social media marketing and other promotional activities. It encompasses two basic things. One, identifying your audience. Who they are; why would they be interested in your film; and how to reach them? Two, building a plan for how to make the audience aware of your film and see it or buy it.
Publicity is one tool in the mix and it uses the media to reach the audience. This includes reviews; print, radio or television interviews; blog mentions; Twitter mentions; Digg/Linkedin/Deli.ci.ous mentions, etc. Publicity is a less expensive method to advertising and a less visible process, but when successfully used, its effects are long-lasting in helping to build up a reputation for the film and the filmmaker. A publicist is the the film’s advocate and a conduit to the media, essentially the informer to journalists and bloggers that their audience may be interested in your project because of various reasons (angles) and that they should consider checking it out. This is known as a pitch. There is no guarantee that the journalist will decide to make that connection with the film and write about it but the chances that they will are increased if they have been made aware. I do this work and have been successful in getting press attention, but it isn’t the only element I focus on.
I am mainly concerned with creating an overall plan to use as many outlets as resources will allow to build awareness for the film that will lead to increased sales and recoupment of costs with profit.
Here is a good visual to explain the differences between the elements in product promotion.