On Friday, I posted about my distaste at the way Youtube, National Geographic, Cinedigm Entertainment and producer/director Ridley Scott and Kevin MacDonald were handling the crowdsourced documentary Life in a Day with footage submitted by hundreds of people from around the world. It lead to quite a lively debate on Twitter with my friend Ross Pruden and was referenced on the DocumentaryTech blog and the Chutry Experiment blog.

Ross, Ted and Chuck all brought up great points on what a participant gets out of the crowdsourcing exercise. For the corporations, the motivations seem to be profit potential and an army of unpaid volunteers to take on the work that might otherwise take years and substantial financial investment to accomplish in exchange for a credit in the closing titles. For the volunteers, it is the thrill of knowing they contributed to a film that is getting worldwide attention and, as Chuck says, were part of an ” anthropological ‘project,’ a snapshot of a moment in the history of the world” that serves as part of a legacy to human kind. Even the Youtube channel that houses the trailer for the film offers that “you can be part of cinema history” if you sign up your email for updates. They are also willing to have you remix their trailer for them and a few will be released in theaters to promote the film.

(a side note, I found a couple of screen grabs on Flickr and Picasa of the closing credit roll with the names, but when I tried to repost them here, it wouldn’t let me. So much for being able to share that).

I buy that being part of human legacy and cinema history is a great incentive for wanting to be a part of the film. Too bad the film isn’t going straight to national television (around the world) and/or YouTube so that all could watch it relatively free. If the film is about human life on July 24, 2010, then all of mankind should be able to enjoy it freely. Also, if it were hosted on Youtube, all could pass it around by posting it on personal blogs and publications could host the viewer on their sites. It is that kind of word of mouth aspect that the corporations are asking for when they invite participants to sign up and be part of the marketing team. But it isn’t being hosted in its entirety on Youtube and it isn’t being broadcast worldwide yet. Though the film was on Youtube for the premiere at Sundance, it has been taken down and  only the trailer is available now. So let’s be real, the corporations’ motivation is money not a gift to mankind, or a gift to the volunteers. Money from ticket sales and money that will come from exposure by being attached to the project is their real goal. Oh, and you can help them accomplish this by buying cinema tickets and bringing your friends along to see your name in tiny print as it rolls in the end credits.

Why should it be available for free? Corporations make money right, so why would giving it away for free help them make money?

1)if the film is great, and people know it is because they can see it online for free, then they buy a ticket to the cinema for the communal and cinematic experience. That is the reason every filmmaker gives me for why cinemas will always be the preferred way to see a film so having it online as a “try before you buy” is not going to deter people from going to a theater right? A day and date broadcast on Youtube and every theater in the world with access to the Cinedigm library would have been a better proposition.

2)goodwill. A testament to the wonder of mankind on a typical day (the sentiment behind Thornton Wilder’s Our Town by the way) by having the film available to all would go a long way to attracting even more attention than showing it in select cities for ticket revenue. Attention=money in the long run. Youtube sells advertising on pages that attract tons of views for pete’s sake. They’ll make money from having it available for free online.

3)the ego factor. There is no way those involved will not buy some form of physical merchandise that proves their involvement. DVDs, thumb drives, mugs with all the names of the volunteers, tshirts with the same. A glossy book with stills from the film AND the names in even bigger print would make a great RtB (reason to buy). Make the movie freely available and monetize the other stuff.

Outside of the brag factor, I’m still not seeing a lot of benefit for the volunteers.

Ok so after taking that side road into monetizing free…let’s look at what they could have done to make crowdsourcing mutually beneficial and how independent filmmakers with no corporate support can do it too.

1)A real back and forth. A motivational drive behind this effort was being connected with a high profile effort. Ridley Scott, Kevin MacDonald, Youtube, National Geographic and Sundance were all aboard so it gave the project legitimacy and attention from the start. It also gave the impression that your work would be held up there right alongside theirs. This is very hard for the independent filmmaker to pull this off if she is unknown. Life in a Day wasn’t true collaboration because there was no interaction with the high profile people involved, nor among the other participants, but that is the thing you can offer. There has to be a back and forth and I don’t mean holding contests and polls with 3rd party providers. Holding a dialog isn’t that difficult with the online tools available now. Would it have killed Ridley Scott or Kevin MacDonald to give participants the chance to actually speak to them to give at least a semblance of connection? There are so many online tools now that can facilitate a direct dialog between an individual and a group (Google plus hangouts, Tinychat, Justin.TV, Ustream, Livestream) that I don’t believe these guys can’t take like an hour to live chat (preferably on video for that important face time and proof that you aren’t just speaking with their intern) with those that have donated their time and effort. Giving some personal time just to these participants would be a benefit. A 30 minute session once a month is easily accomplished, people. You can talk about developing the film, the story, individual pieces from the participants that were exceptional, what inspires you, ask questions of the participants. This  is totally doable for free.

What would Scott and MacDonald get out of this? Connection to a personal fanbase that they really aren’t in touch with. Increasingly, consumers expect a level of personal interaction with the “brands” they buy. If Scott and MacDonald would like the chance in the future to break free of the corporate bonds that hold them tightly now, this personal interaction will be crucial. Also, god forbid, if they should ever fall out of favor with those corporate entities, they can continue in their careers. See Kevin Smith for pointers.

What would an unknown filmmaker get out of this? The same freedom of having direct interaction with an audience so that you aren’t dependent on being picked by a corporate entity.

What would the fans get out of this? Strong idol worship at play here. The chance to really speak to those they respect, perhaps even become valuable to them which can lead to personal worth. Not just self esteem, though it can be that too, but may lead to real paying work.

2)Build a sustainable and engaged community. As Life in a Day doesn’t seem to have it’s own website (there’s a YouTube channel and a Facebook page), they have taken the typical disposable audience angle that all studio films take. Get audience attention only for this project and then start all over again from the ground on the next one (totally ignoring the business idiom of being cheaper to keep the audience you have than to keep going out finding new ones). Admittedly, it is damn hard work to keep a community going and since there is no real ownership of the project going on here (all involved seem to be participating for different and very finite reasons), there is no clear mandate for any one group to nurture a community. If it isn’t nurtured, it will die quickly.

You, dear filmmakers, cannot afford to keep doing this and now you don’t have to. Part of community building though is to provide a place where like minded individuals can hang out and communicate with each other. You have to build that place and entrust a few people as well as yourself to keep it going. I was heartened to see that director Robert Rodriguez is proposing this on his film Heavy Metal. He wants audience participation in the development of the story, the characters and the world of the film and is going to launch a website where international artists can come together and share their work and ideas. I really hope he will actively communicate with participants and enable them to showcase ALL of the work, not just the ones that make the cut. Please Robert, don’t just use these ideas and cast the participants aside until you need them to market for you!

Make the community as much about them as it is about you and your work. Let the members of your community shine, highlight their businesses, their accomplishments, these are all real people who all have lives just as deserving as yours of some kind of attention. Let them have it. A great example of this can be found on the Grateful Dead site.

3)Make your work a mission. People love being part of a mission especially if you can give small, actionable steps toward accomplishing the mission. This works really well for documentaries. If your participants feel like their efforts will go toward the good of the mission, they are more likely to want to contribute. Life in a Day does have this, the mission of recognizing the beauty and hope in the world that we largely ignore in our every day lives. It celebrates the humanity of us all and in this way the film is meaningful and makes a meaningful statement about those who participated by sending in footage for consideration. It naturally lends itself to sharing by the participants so you don’t really need to get them to sign up for a marketing SWAT team. They will spread the word anyway if the film turns out to be excellent. Also tying proceeds from your work into a charity that helps a larger community than your own perpetuates that mission feel.

4)It wouldn’t kill you to pony up some cash. Life in a Day has some pretty deep pocket companies behind it. Would it have been a hardship to pay a licensing fee to those whose material you ended up using? The amount would be far less than the typical licensing from, say, a music corporation or photo library or archive. Yes, people aren’t always motivated by money, but I think most would gladly take a $100 check for the use of their work in a film you are hoping to make millions from. They are providing you with the bulk of your film’s material after all. Did Ridley and Kevin get paid? Did the editors? Do all the executives who work at these corporations who came up with this idea? I’m thinking yes. So why should this exercise mean those who contribute get no compensation? Providing a mix of financial and non financial incentives would have made this crowdsourcing effort a little less one sided.

For the indie, is there a way to profit share? Could these sweat equity investments in your film be repaid in some way? Yes, it will make the paperwork more complicated, but if you are asking people to donate their time, effort and talent to your work, they should have some kind of financial compensation if YOU are going to receive financial compensation. Make it a flat fee to make math easy “when I reach this level of compensation, you receive xx if your work was included in this project” and don’t make it after everyone who had any part in working on your film gets paid in full either. Some may tell you to roll their amount into your next work, some may say they don’t care about compensation. Follow their wishes, but make some form of compensation an option.

These are just a few of the ways I see for the crowd to receive benefit from your crowdsourcing effort. Remember, the crowd isn’t there just to serve you and your goals. It has to be a two way street. Can you think of more? If so, leave them in comments.

Building The Community Web Around an Artist

December 12, 2010
posted by sheric

Do you have a community web?

I think I have been promising this post for a while, ever since I wrote the New Independent Filmmaker’s Business Model. If you haven’t read that post, give it a little peruse so you can see what I am on about. The key premise is that all artists should be building a tribe (a Seth Godin term as it relates to marketing) or an engaged audience for their work. One that transitions from one project to the next throughout your career and indeed your life. These supporters will be your friends, your evangelists, your patrons and if you cultivate this relationship, you will not have need to reach a mass in order to make a comfortable living. I have been thinking though that maybe the idea should be compared to a web.

In looking through some other advice on this, I can see why some can be turned off by the idea. It seems most of the advice focuses only on how to lure people in just so you can sell them something, kind of like how the spider spins her web. It’s a strategy I guess, but that isn’t what I am going to tell you to do here. I am a firm believer that self promotion is about helping other people. What I propose is offering value, sharing knowledge and genuinely wanting to connect with people and connect people you know who should know each other. Perhaps it is better described as a web, an interconnected community. One that you lead, but is dependent on everyone’s interactivity. To me that is much more palatable to an artist because it is authentic, no ulterior motive, which is refreshing in today’s society. But reciprocity does happen because it is really human nature to help someone who has helped you, in fact in this scenario, it is expected.

First elements to understand when constructing you community web:

Permission-You must have permission to talk to people. Permission? Yes, you will only be talking to people who have opted in to hear what you have to say. You will NOT be eblasting everyone you ever met once a week. You will NOT be spamming hundreds of strangers who don’t want to hear from you. You will have “the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.” (Seth Godin).  How do you get permission? It starts simply by communicating with people on a one to one level. Aren’t you doing that now? You should be, that’s what social media is for. Not automated, canned message, advertising social media but real conversations. So think of what online services you can use, that you feel comfortable using for communicating every day. It doesn’t have to be hours every day, but some amount of time every day.

Trust-We need to trust you. We need to know you are listening, you understand us, you will help us as we will help you and each other. We need NOT to feel that you are using us.

It’s not you, it’s we-Although this post is directed at building the web around yourself, it is really more about taking a leadership role that is missing from a community. There are lots of people in the world with similar interests and outlooks on life. Artists can contribute a lot to bringing these people together around ideas and creativity. Without leadership, they are just a crowd, unconnected to one another. You and your work are the catalysts that bring them together, if you actively step up to that role.

Building it, getting them to come

I have been reading a book this weekend by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan called “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead” and it has helped me to think of how you should be looking at building your web. No one can tell you “do these 10 things and you will have a community,” but you can start by setting goals for yourself and thinking through the small steps you can take to achieve them. A goal could be to start building an email list of names so that you can speak directly with your community. This is exactly what The Dead did starting in 1971, long before social media made it easy. They placed a call to action postcard in the album sleeve of the famous “Skull and Roses” asking “Dead Freaks Unite!” by sending in their addresses. The band used this list to communicate directly, gauge where the tours would be booked, offer exclusive content, they even gave priority ticket offers for the live shows to list members. Their list of hundreds of thousands was built over 30 years and continues to this day, despite the fact that the official band no longer exists. The community lives on.

First start with you. What’s your story? What can you share with us that helps us to know if we are kindreds? This clearly means that you will not be attracting everybody. Everybody should not be your goal. Everybody isn’t loyal. Trying to attract everybody is like cat wrangling, way more trouble than it is worth. You want the RIGHT people, those who are most open to wanting to contribute to something greater than themselves. Those are the people who are going to enlarge the web, to help you weave it.

Give us the genuine signals that you care and are passionate about what you do. We can sniff out the disingenuous; those who are only in this for money and fame.  Make us believe in you and that you want to know us as people, not as targets. We won’t join you if you want to manipulate us. We have everything we need. We don’t need yet another commodity, another product.  Make us different people for having known you and your stories.

Then, find us. If you know yourself and what you are interested in, you can figure out where we live. Think about your throughline. Many people say that they are interested in many different things, but if they really analyzed all of those seemingly different areas, they will find a commonality. That’s your throughline and those most likely to connect with you will have the same. When you know what characteristics those are, it will be easier to find your community. Start to embed yourself in the places where we already gather.

I have heard some say that it is difficult to move people from one community to another. I personally have found this isn’t the case once they know you and I have advised people on how to embed themselves and have seen their personal community numbers grow. It takes time  and constant attention, but it will work. Your web will become intertwined in others so the goal isn’t to move people, it is to become an extension.

Build the platform. Give yourself a place to speak from and a place for the community to gather. This may be an interactive website, it may just be a blog, it may start with a Facebook page (though ideally you’ll want your own dedicated platform!). You may grow your community by starting in another one, but eventually you need a place of your own, a little place your community can grow and thrive.

Think of ways to delight us, to keep us coming back. As the propagator of your web, you need that connection to stay strong. Sometimes community members are lazy and forget to check back in. There should be a fresh serving of something noteworthy on your site at regular intervals. I saw a great reminder email the other day from a community with which I am involved. Just a message telling me what was going on over there, new discussions that were happening, new members who had joined and an invitation to check back in. It was very effective in catching my attention and letting me know that they had missed me, like they actually know I have been out for a while. Was it somewhat automated? Probably, but it still made me want to check back in and see what was happening. Someone should be thinking up and executing content that will keep the community engaged and involved.

This PMD person, how is this going to help?

This is the person who can keep the content on track and keep the community interested. I don’t think you should turn your personal identity over to a PMD (Producer of Marketing and Distribution), but a PMD can have access your community while helping to spread the web to other influential individuals and groups and help to figure out the best way to get your film out to them. Ideally, the person you choose to help you is either already in your web or someone you introduce to them as a helper to you. Back to the Grateful Dead example, it was Eileen Law who became the community manager for the Dead’s fans. She was one of the band’s earliest fans. Eileen put together the newsletters, collected and organized the fan list, her voice was the one fans would hear on the message machine when they called for priority tickets. The Dead had a record label, but the label wasn’t talking to the fans and much of the turnout to their shows came by word of mouth from the band. You still must keep engaged, but this person will serve as your liaison while you are in the creative process. All in the community must be kept aware of what is happening, transparency is important here. Believe me, once you start getting a community built up who expect regular interaction, this person will be vital.

Next post: Artists who are doing this and a roadmap…