Here’s a dose of REAL industry transparency

February 3, 2014
posted by sheric

You say you want transparency in the entertainment industry? Many of us say we do, from Ted Hope to John Sloss to Liesl Copeland. But you know who is REALLY serving up some transparency in the way his company operates? Joseph Gordon-Levitt and HitRecord!

Transparency on HitRecord

I must admit, I was intrigued when Gordon-Levitt launched HitRecord at Sundance 2010 and I had dropped in on the site a few times since then to see what was happening. I just didn’t get it. It seemed to be a site for collaboration much like Wreck a Movie or Talenthouse.  A fine concept for those who want to do projects with like minded people for fun, but not a place where anyone would get a project out in the world and certainly not be paid to do it. To my knowledge, most are built on donating talent with no compensation promised. But now that HitRecord has a TV show on Pivot, I went back to have a look at what that entails and how an open, collaborative community could pull it off without devolving into one big “he’s stealing our work and making money off of it” fiasco.

The show itself revolves around one main theme each episode. For its inaugural episode, also on Youtube, the theme was ONE. 426 contributing artists were part of the first episode. Pretty amazing to think of the complicated process that went into choosing from thousands of submissions and keeping track of how much each artist contributed. Now, why does it matter how much they contributed? Because that is how they get paid. There is no flat fee system with HitRecord.

Their payment terms and conditions can be read in entirety HERE, but this is a synopsis:

-If you have contributed a RECord and it is selected by the Operating Committee as a Production to be commercialized in accordance with the rights granted in the TOS, you will be deemed a “Contributing Artist” for such Production;

-Each Contributing Artist to a Production shall share in an applicable Contributing Artists Profit Pool;

-The Contributing Artists Profit Pool is 50% of the Profits from a Production and any pre-determined amount allocated for productions sold or licensed to third parties for distribution on any form of linear or on-demand television or amounts negotiated by hitRECord.org for allocation to Contributing Artists as part of a line item in an approved budget for any programming incorporating the Production;

-Profit allocation is at the discretion of The Operating Committee and based on feedback from the hitRECord.org community of users through the use of a comment system.

In other words, the company publishes a FULL profit statement online for everyone to see with preliminary allocations to each contributing artist of the project. These are called profit proposals drawn up by the community director, the software engineer and the financial comptroller and they can be changed based on feedback from the HitRecord community. Have you ever heard of such a business model in the entertainment industry?? If you know of an open, collaborative community for artists that is actually paying the artists, please speak up because we need to hear WAY more about this than any lip service about reporting on VOD numbers! Business models that take into account how to deal with intellectual property and revenues need a lot more coverage than they are currently getting in the industry press. That could be because of the lack of real researching journalists in the current media landscape. Apparently, it is so much more attractive to report on the glamorous actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt rather than his complicated business model for HitRecord.

The other thing I find extremely refreshing in this approach is the truth he tells on revenue in his model. Right upfront on the home page, he explains that HitRecord is primarily not about making money. It is a for profit company, but that doesn’t mean it is making millions nor does it exist for that purpose. This is a good thing to acknowledge because far too many independent filmmakers and film investors have unrealistic expectations of what working in the arts really means. As is mentioned on the site, you make money to make more movies, not the other way around.

Anyone with a modicum of business knowledge will know it is extremely rare for a company to show much profit in its early years. The trick is to make enough to get to the next year, and the next, until finally (or never) sustainability is found.  In 2010, HitRecord paid out $39, 651 to contributors. In 2011, that amount had climbed to $109, 695. In 2012, they paid out $399, 289. It is a remarkable year over year jump! Then comes the process of calculating the pay outs and I don’t know of ANY company that would go to this kind of tedious work. They go frame by frame in each episode and breakdown the contributions and decide amongst themselves on the percentage allocations first, then send it out to the community to give feedback as to its fairness.

If you would like to know more on how the payment process for HitRecord on TV works, check out this video

YouTube Preview Image

Big props to the whole team at HitRecord and I hope they get a lot more worldwide attention for the work they are doing and compensating contributing artists. Getting artists paid fairly should be paramount!

 

 

 

My latest post for MovieMaker Magazine covers social media basics for the top 5 social channels. I have written posts regarding social media basics before, but this piece will include Pinterest and Instagram which I did not cover last time. As you may know, I do not view social media as a campaign oriented endeavor. Campaigns are only conducted for a set amount of time (usually for a sales promotion), but I think it is important to understand that social channels are an every day effort; they should be integrated into your creative life indefinitely. The sooner you start using them professionally, the easier it will be to gain benefit from them, especially if you are thinking of self distributing or crowdfunding.

I am not going to republish my article here in its entirety and only the first installment has been published on the MovieMaker site, but here are some highlights:

#1 Facebook 750 million unique visits per month

What do you do with it? Use it to start and maintain an ongoing relationship with your audience. Ask for feedback, start a discussion, or post your views on a current event.  Try to remember, if you only talk about yourself and your work, it’s a boring conversation for everyone else unless you are a celebrity that they are truly interested in. Champion your followers and other artists.  As opposed to the fleeting nature of Twitter, Facebook pages are meant for deeper discussions and closer relationships with your supporters.

social media page on Facebook

The indie documentary DMT: The Spirit Molecule is a good Facebook example to follow

 

#2 Youtube 450 million unique visits per month

What do you do with it? Build a video subscriber base.  View counts on videos are great and definitely have a use in securing optimal placement in Youtube search and publicity attention (though it will take many millions of views for it to have an impact on press coverage), but your subscribers are the ones who will see your new videos in their homepage newsfeed and receive an email when you post something new.  Also, encourage Likes, comments and shares of your videos as that impacts how Youtube ranks your channel in its search results. If you aren’t prepared to fill this channel with regular content that is HIGHLY compelling, don’t use this social tool.

 

social media page on Youtube

FreddieW’s Youtube Channel has over 6.5 million subscribers.

 

#3 Twitter 250 million unique visits per month

What do you do with it? Use it to post short (less than 140 character) messages that are funny, informative, or reflect your outlook on life.  Not only will you be connecting with the audience of your work, you will also find Twitter a great industry networking tool (for jobs!) and a place to connect with journalists (for media coverage). Make sure that your Twitter handle is posted on all of your communication including email signature and newsletters, website, other social channels, business cards and any About You section where your name is included.

#4 Pinterest 85 million unique visits per month

What do you do with it? Use it to post photos and videos found or created online. Pinterest runs on  well made and captivating images. People who use this social channel are looking for visual masterpieces or images that speak to their lives and emotions. Filmmakers may use Pinterest to tell a visual story about how they became the artists they are; influences, professional tools, and the tastes, style and personality behind the work. For individual projects, Pinterest can be used to tell a backstory on characters (individual boards set up to further explain a character), information on the setting of the story, and mood boards that give the audience a sense of what the film is, apart from just a trailer or poster.

 

social media page on Pinterest

Indie film producer Ted Hope uses Pinterest to show the world who he is and what he cares about professionally.

 

#5 Instagram 50 million unique visits per month

What do you do with it? Use it to post photos and videos taken with a mobile device as your visual representation of every day life rather than a place to post high quality images. Instagram is being used to post on-the-fly photos and short videos taken on the set and making 15 second short trailers and character teaser clips specifically for mobile viewing. Feedback is instantaneous so you will know very quickly if your project is capturing attention and gaining followers.

 

The full article details how to set up accounts on each social channel and some examples of independent filmmakers to emulate because they excel at building an audience on these channels. The first part (covering Facebook and Youtube) is now live. The second part will be live on November 25.

 

Sheri Candler

 

Releasing Your Feature Film on YouTube

July 3, 2013
posted by sheric

This is a guest post from director Nick Lawrence who wanted to share his experience in releasing his film Time Expired on Youtube so that all might benefit from it. If his numbers seem low to you, think about how much money a typical filmmaker receives from a no advance distribution deal with little marketing efforts put behind it where the filmmaker has relinquished all rights to her film. That is the  most common distribution scenario of most low budget, no prestige festival, no name cast  independent films.

YouTube isn’t just a spot to share short videos. It’s also a surprisingly strong platform for releasing your feature-length film. My producing partner (Rachel Tucker) and I released our 93-minute comedy film Time Expired on YouTube in late 2011. Since then, the film has been viewed almost 700,000 times, with 2,000-3,000 people watching it every day. We’ve earned $3400 in ad revenue in the last year, and the numbers keep growing: $339 in April, $442 in May, $652 in June.

In fact, YouTube has become our most lucrative platform, far outperforming VOD and DVD sales. Since Time Expired was made for a very low budget, we are actually looking at recouping our entire investment in five to ten years — almost completely thanks to YouTube revenue.

Decision to Release on YouTube

If you’re like me, you might initially find the idea of putting your film on YouTube a hint distasteful. YouTube started out as a place to share short amateur videos, and that’s still how many see the site. Putting your film on YouTube doesn’t fit the old narrative of being chosen and embraced by the system.

I suggest you get over it. YouTube is the third most popular website in the world, the film and TV arm of Google. YouTube is familiar, easy to use, and available on mobile devices, smart TVs, and even gaming consoles. The site is expected to earn 4 billion dollars this year, growing to 20 billion by 2020.

That said, YouTube is best used as part of a comprehensive release strategy. Ideally, you’d start off releasing on VOD platforms like iTunes and Amazon, and then move to YouTube and other free/subscription platforms (Netflix and Hulu) once VOD sales have slowed to a trickle. But for many smaller films like ours, access to these platforms is not guaranteed. YouTube offers the chance to circumvent these barriers and reach a worldwide audience of thousands, even millions, while earning not insubstantial sums of money.

Since Time Expired lacked name actors and marketing hooks, our chances of finding a distributor were basically nonexistent. Rachel and I decided to release our film using a “freemium” strategy — making it available for free on various platforms and hoping it would spread virally on its own. Unfortunately, the viral part didn’t happen. We learned the hard way that most people just aren’t that interested in discovering new films. YouTube, however, proved to be an exception. Four months after release, we were averaging about 100 views a day. Six months after release, the film was up to 1,000 views a day. What happened? Did the film finally catch on and go viral?

Who’s Watching and Why

The data from YouTube Analytics reveals something else is happing. The number one reason people click on Time Expired is as a suggested video. YouTube suggests our film to people who have been watching other feature-length films, often of questionable copyright status. These films don’t always have much in common with Time Expired, but they tend to be newish features with a mainstream sensibility. In other words, YouTube’s algorithms are connecting us with a global audience channel-surfing for movies. Our second biggest traffic source is searches with strings like “Hollywood”, “full movies”, and “comedy”. Most viewers aren’t searching for our film by name. They’re just looking for a movie to watch.

One of the interesting things is who these people are. According to YouTube Analytics, 80% of views come from outside the US, including unexpected places like the Philippines (35,000 views), Saudi Arabia (26,000 views), and Malaysia (20,000 views). The film has been watched in 218 countries and territories, ranging from Afghanistan (151 views) to Zimbabwe (471 views). Also surprising is the age range: two thirds (66%) of viewers are 45 or older, defying the stereotype of the typical YouTube user. This probably reflects the subject matter of our film, which is a comedy about dying. A full third of viewers watch the film on a non-computer screen, such as a phone (17.6%), tablet (10.2%), or TV (1.6%).

Time Expired 1

 

Uploading and Monetizing Your Film

Uploading your film is pretty much the same as uploading any other YouTube video. Guidelines for best encoding quality are here. Although YouTube started out only accepting short SD videos, those days are long gone. The site now supports 4K resolution films of any length.

You’ll need to become a YouTube partner in order to monetize your film, but this is no longer difficult. You’ll also need to provide proof that you own the rights to the film. In our case, we emailed scanned copies of the music licenses and a document that certified we owned the film’s copyright and controlled our YouTube channel.

Once the film has been accepted for monetization, you can choose the type of ads you’re willing to allow using the monetization tab. TrueView in-stream ads are basic commercial breaks and can appear before, during, or after the film. You can choose the act breaks (spots for commercials) by adding minute and second values into the mid-roll field. Overlay in-video ads appear as little text boxes directly over your film. We opted out of overlay ads because I believe they diminish the viewing experience, but it’s your choice. Text ads also display by default on the sides of the view page.

Time Expired trueview

Tips for Success

Pay close attention to how you present your film on its YouTube page, including the description, key words, and title. Don’t expect most potential viewers to be searching for your film by name. We titled our film “Time Expired (full movie)”, which I believe is an important factor in its success. When entering key words, try to cover the obvious, keeping in mind that people are searching for things like “full movie 2011″, “english movies”, and “Hollywood movie”. Cover the basics and as many variants as you can think of. I’d also recommend looking at popular movies on YouTube in your genre. How are they titled? What key words are they using?

Another issue to consider is the snowball effect. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, your film becomes more popular the more times it’s viewed. YouTube tends to connect people with popular videos, which only reinforces their popularity. That’s why you want to give it a nice strong push down the snowy slope. I’d recommend doing everything you can to help your film in the first weeks/months it’s up on the site. In our case, the film really started to build momentum after three or four months, but I’m not sure this would have happened if we hadn’t worked hard promoting it early on. We held screenings in Oklahoma (where we shot the film and where most cast and crew lived). We sent out press releases. We contacted everyone on our mailing list and posted on our Facebook page. We  mailed out cast and crew DVDs (about 100 total) with a letter asking for help “spreading the word” and some cards that people could share with their friends/family. We never paid for YouTube promotion, although this might not be a bad idea at the critical stage when you’re getting started. I can also see paying for some advertising on Facebook to help drive traffic.

YouTube also supports captions and subtitles in multiple languages, which will make your film more attractive to some viewers.

What About Vimeo?

Many filmmakers prefer Vimeo to YouTube. Vimeo has a reputation for quality and aesthetics (and, if we’re honest, “coolness”) and has tended to do well with filmmakers and other artsy types. They’ve even added a VOD service, which is an intriguing, if expensive option requiring an upfront fee for a PRO account. So why not just post your film on Vimeo instead of YouTube? Several reasons:

1. Vimeo has no advertising, which means you can’t make money the same way.

2. TIME EXPIRED has 680,000 views on YouTube versus 745 on Vimeo. This isn’t because we promoted YouTube any more than Vimeo. We started out promoting both sites equally, but it quickly became clear that most people were choosing YouTube over Vimeo.

3. YouTube can deliver a global, channel-surfing audience in a way that Vimeo cannot. In the case of our film, it’s not just a little bigger — it’s a thousand times bigger.

So post your film on Vimeo by all means — but don’t skip YouTube. YouTube is a strong and underrated platform for releasing your feature film. Once the film is up and running, you can earn hundreds of dollars a month while being discovered by a global audience of thousands or even millions.

 

Nick Lawrence is the director and producer of the feature films Time Expired (2011) and Shades (2013). He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

 

Secrets of the viral video

November 28, 2012
posted by sheric

Ever wonder how those big budget film trailers explode onto the internet with millions of views seemingly in hours? Is it really because the trailer is spectacular and everyone happens to be talking about it or is there something else at work?

I recently contacted Erick Brownstein of Media Needle who offer video seeding via their partner company, YTM, to find out more about how these types of services work. You may think that videos simply “go viral” on Youtube, that compelling content just attracts viewers who then happily share it. But with over 72 hours of video uploaded to Youtube EVERY MINUTE, it is highly unlikely that your video is going attract significant organic views with no help whatsoever. Every major film studio and most big brands use these seeding services to provide a high volume of views for their video campaigns for trailers and branded content.

The way YTM works is essentially via an advertising network that is connected to around 5000 premium, highly trafficked websites with advertising spaces to sell. You tell YTM what audience or category you are targeting, and they use a proprietary system called  ViewIQ to calculate about how many views you could get in a short space of time that may catapult you into trending topics (more on that in a minute). While a minimum number of views is guaranteed, your video “ad” will also benefit from organic views (those aren’t subject to additional charges) simply by being prominently featured on these sites. They also optimize the keywords in your video’s description for search engines so it will be highly placed in organic internet searches.

One thing that YTM has perfected is the ability not only to guarantee a minimum number of views, but to work within the algorithm that calculates a Youtube trending video.  Videos that make it into trending topics, which are featured on the homepage of Youtube, attract the attention of nearly 15 million additional viewers looking for what’s hot on the site. Part of Youtube’s algorithm that chooses which videos to highlight takes into account a short time frame from first upload and the variety and legitimacy of the source of the viewing traffic. It then determines a  “what’s hot” list. Videos on this list usually only enjoy a 2-4 day run before they are pushed off by other new videos, though hot videos can enjoy a long run at the top of Google search pages. However, there is no guarantee that your video will make it onto this list. It really depends on what other videos you are competing with at the time.

In other words, the seeding gets your video noticed and then organic views take over after that which can boost your view count into the millions.

Your video content is embedded with a unique code that keeps track of the number of views and where the traffic came from. This is via a proprietary system called ShareIQ. The video is then  distributed to the existing network websites, targeted to the campaign’s specifications based on geography/demographics/interest of the audience you are trying to reach. The campaign is 100% viewer initiated click, meaning one can’t just scroll over the video and it counts as a view nor does the video play automatically on a loop. The wider those audience specifications are, the more economical the price per view. The narrower the specifications, the more expensive the price per view. Views are calculated by the amount of time watched because Youtube policy dictates that a view is counted only after 15-20% of the video has played.

Now the nitty gritty, cost. YTM charges $.10-$.15 per view. In order to reach trending topics to get the organic view “kick” that really propels your video into the “viral” territory, it would cost about $50,000 (500,000 views x $.10 per view) for a campaign reaching a relatively wide audience in a short space of time. Campaigns that spend over $50,000 also benefit from additional blogger outreach by the YTM team, meaning they not only place your video on their network of sites, but they also pitch bloggers to write articles about it. You have probably read these articles on many entertainment sites about how such and such trailer for a movie is “viral” and these are the result of having a seeded campaign. There is definitely a PR benefit to having your video in the trending video list.

For a campaign more interested in reaching a highly specific audience, the cost per view is more because you are decreasing the amount of sites the video will be placed upon in order to reach a certain viewing goal. My guess is YTM makes most of its money in reaching high volume sites with general audiences that easily reach say, 500k views. If your campaign is so restrictive in its focus that it will only be applicable to say 50 sites in its network, there won’t be much margin in only charging $.10 per view since you may only hit 30,000 views so they charge a higher price per view. But let’s face it, hitting 30,000 views is not newsworthy and it won’t get your video to cut through the noise that is Youtube and its trending videos list. You could probably reach 30K through your own efforts so a video seeding service may not even be right for your work if you are satisfied with reaching this level of view count.

Having compelling content naturally attracts a potential viewer to click on your video and pass it around. Ideal length for these videos is between 2-3 minutes. Campaigns that received the biggest amount of traffic usually reach people emotionally, either through humor or compassion. Some of YTMs examples are

This one for the 20th Century Fox film Planet of the Apes-current view count 25,367,423

This one for travel company Expedia and their Find Yours campaign- current view count 2,295,966

This one for children’s animation film Dino Time-current view count 794,084

Now, I know what you are thinking…online tools were supposed to provide a FREE way to reach mass, global audiences! While it is theoretically possible to reach a mass audience for free, more often payment is needed to rise above all the others who also believe they can reach out for free. Payment also tends to expedite the process. Video seeding is not something they talk about in the Youtube Creator Playbook though, is it?

Whether you are trying to attract “buzz” for your film’s premiere (and make a big distribution deal, say at a festival like Sundance), get more people to watch your webseries or transmedia project, or sell more cinema tickets, you might want to build some significant video seeding money into your budget. It is still cheaper than TV spots and with the ability to place well in search results, it may be a smarter  and longer lasting advertising spend.

To find out more on how Media Needle and YTM can help you, contact Erick Brownstein Erick@medianeedle.com

 

 

Cross platform case study-Guidestones

October 26, 2012
posted by sheric

This post was originally published on The Film Collaborative blog.

In the continuation of a look at recent cross platform/transmedia projects, this case study will be particularly relevant to those working with low budgets and ambitious plans. Writer/director Jay Ferguson’s initial inspiration for Guidestones came from his late father’s fascination with serialized shorts. Growing up in the thirties and forties, Ferguson’s father went to the cinema and was ‘hooked’ on serialized shorts where bad guys tie distressed maidens to the train tracks and such. Ferguson thought that the internet would be an ideal place to try to recreate that experience for this century.

Again, thanks to Storycode.org for providing the video presentation (found at the bottom of this post) from which these notes were culled.

Jay Ferguson, writer/director, 3 o’clock TV

Synopsis

Two journalism students, investigating an unsolved murder, uncover a global conspiracy centered around the mystery of The Georgia GUIDESTONES, an enigmatic monument nestled in a farmer’s field in rural Georgia and inscribed with directions for rebuilding civilization after the apocalypse. The story is based on a real monument and on the real account of a Toronto woman’s experiences.

GUIDESTONES uses elements of transmedia and ARG storytelling to take viewers on a thrilling chase that crosses two continents and three countries in search of the truth. The project uses a hybrid mix of traditional narrative and formal and non-formal documentary styles.  Shot vérité style in Canada, the USA and India, the series moves seamlessly between the real world and the ?ctional account of how a young woman named Sandy stumbled upon a murder mystery.

Three minute episodes, 50 in total so far, with audience participation elements.

Intent:

Ferguson wanted to tell stories by professional storytellers that would guide the audience  an online and offline experience.  He observed that, though audiences wanted to participate in the story somehow, no one wants to pay for online content.  Also, how to keep audiences coming back? Too many webseries start out with the first few episodes being ok then die with audience numbers. Ferguson and his team have endeavored to keep up a fast paced, engaging story that pushes the audience to continue the journey.

Funding:

A mix of self funded, Canadian Independent Production Fund, some matching grants from the Ontario Media Development Council , sponsorship from Samsung, Carbon Clothing, Major League Baseball/Toronto Bluejays, Pizza Pizza (Canadian Domino’s).  The online platforms (Hulu, Youtube) did not put in any money. The total budget is around $300,000 CAD. Estimate to reproduce at market value would be $1 million.

Revenue streams:

Product integration, merchandise/music/ringtones, rev share from Hulu. Recently launched on iTunes and considering a DVD to sell. 

Audience demographic:

While there were certain demographics in mind, the production recognized that different audiences will want to interact with the series, so  different ways to view the project were developed. In the Push version, one can sign up for the show and have the episodes delivered via  e-mail to experience in ‘real time’ as the characters are exploring the mystery. The Linear version is for those who want to be more passive and treat it like a traditional serialized show.

Background of the team:

Jay Ferguson is an award-winning filmmaker who has contributed as a writer, director, producer and cinematographer to over 15 feature films. His work with institutions such as The National Film Board of Canada has garnered him several awards, including the top cinematography award at the Atlantic Film Festival (Animals, 2005) and from the Canadian Society of Cinematographers (Inside Time, 2008). He was nominated for a Gemini Award in 2005.

Jonas Diamond is the CEO of iThentic, joining the team in the fall of 2008. Jonas is producer of the award-winning animated series Odd Job Jack (52×30). The series received a Gemini, CFTPA Indie, Banff Rockie and Canada New Media Award for Best Cross Platform Project. Additional Accolades for Odd Job Jack include a nomination for Best Interactive Program (2006) and Best Animated Show (2005) at the Banff Rockie Awards, second prize for Best Interactive Design (2006) at Vidfest, Best Convergent Project by the Banff Institute as well as multiple Gemini and Canadian Comedy Award nominations. Jonas? producer credits includes Odd Job Jack, Hotbox and Bigfoot for The Comedy Network / CTV, Pillars of Freedom for TVO, Turbo Dogs for CBC / NBC, The Dating Guy, skatoony, Sons of Butcher and the upcoming Geofreakz MORPG for Teletoon, The World of Bruce McCall, and the interactive storyteller Legends of Me as well as many other projects for various platforms.

Supinder Wraich, Guidestones

Development phase:

It took 3 years from conception to launch.

Thinking through each platform:

50 webisodes were shot and edited for use as video links, the main storyline.

50 different websites were needed to house the clues for each webisode.

Content was hidden online for viewers to research the clues given during the webisodes.

One of the really hard things was creating 50 story arcs. Each episode is on average 3 minutes long and it is difficult to find an interesting opening, build the story and then a climax to lead into the next episode in such a short space of time. For feature films, you may only have to do one or two of those, but 50 is a lot. The interactivity was very difficult to make happen…very time consuming.

Production workflow:

The production used a very small crew and shot with a Canon 7d digital SLR in order to have flexibility and adaptability when on location. It allowed them to get into places that you regularly would not be allowed to shoot. In India, there were some places that do not regularly allow filming, but they were able to shoot some scenes in a few minutes and not bother anybody.

8 months in production, with 8-10 hour days

Location shooting: 3-4 weeks Toronto, 1 week in Georgia, 1 week in India

Post production meant bringing together all the elements of web and film. Before locking an episode, online properties needed to be created and sites linked to other sites so that the minute it was live, everything was in place for the viewer to experience.

Digital team included:

A graphic designer

Website builder

1 person to buy and manage urls

people to develop online presences on Linkedin and MySpace

2 editors full time

2-3 editors part time

a media manager

effects supervisor

effects editor

Brad Sears who designed the Push system and email system.

Deployment strategy

They launched the “push” system in February 2012. The viewers sign up via email address on their website to follow the episodes. Links are emailed to them with the episodes.  Emails are timed to coincide with the happenings of the characters (if something happens at 9am, the email is sent at 9am). It takes the viewer a month to experience the whole thing and it is evergreen which means anyone can start it whenever they like. There is no “starting” and “ending” period.

After launch, the team received a lot of feedback from viewers. High schoolers in particular were impressed that they could Google things they had seen in the show, and something was actually there online.  Also found that high schoolers do NOT use email like adults do. They communicate more via Facebook. Production team then modified the “push” system to run on Facebook.

For older people, they complained of too much email (50 episodes plus supplemental info). Some complained not enough episodes being released fast enough.  They modified their release pattern/experience. Now viewers can choose to experience via Facebook, email or in a linear version where they just watch the episodes on their own time instead of following along with the characters.  The linear version is on Hulu and on iTunes.

Building the Audience

Ferguson concedes that not enough money has been spent on publicity. Largely marketing has been a mix of public speaking, interviews in publications on the process, word of mouth by the viewers with a tshirt promotion for those who bring in 5 viewers. Brand sponsors are doing some of the promotion, particularly Pizza Pizza who play a 30 second ad for Guidestones in each of their stores across Canada. They are hoping that being on Hulu will help garner a larger audience for the project due to its large amount of traffic.  Both Pizza Pizza and Samsung have done prize promotions on their Facebook pages for the show.

Achievements

-The clue finding is actually going very well. People really love it and get excited looking for the content. The first season really taught lessons in how to create on-line interactivity…now the team wants to take it further and have many ideas on how to get even more interactive.

-Through connections gain on other projects, the team was able to broker an agreement with Hulu to host the series and have an advertising revenue share.

-The series is now selling on iTunes in the TV show section. The whole season download  is priced at $9.99 or one can buy them per episode for $1.99.

-The acting is critical to the storytelling and the believability of any story. Supinder Wraich (Sandy) and Dan Fox (Trevor) have a real honesty that is hard to find in actors. Both can act really well directly to camera because they are able to empathize with the characters and that brings this very genuine quality that audiences respond to, it is very hard to fake that emotion without the audience feeling it. Ferguson’s tip in casting is that when watching the actor closely, don’t worry too much about the words or the actor’s look necessarily, look into the eyes, see if there is a true belief in there. If they believe it, so will the audience.

Challenges

-To the conventional viewer, the non-totally immersed viewer, the Push system adds up if they are not able to get to the emails often enough and that became frustrating for some people who didn’t realize there was a more linear way to watch.

-The team was surprised that the South Asian community has not taken to the series yet as the “Sandy” character is a great character for the South Asian community. The series still struggles to get any real traction there.

-Promoting the show for a bigger audience. Most of the limited funds had to go into production. This is the classic conundrum for lower budget productions…all your money goes into making the thing and none into promoting it.[editor's note: A word to the wise, budget in significant money for a publicist (traditional and one geared toward reaching fans directly), online advertising, video seeding, promotions, Facebook promoted posts, etc].

- Post-production has been about a year long with four working on it full-time and six or seven people working on it part-time, unlike editing a 120 minutes of content  which can be done in a few months.  Every single step of the way requires so many elements – a ringtone,  a song, a site to house that audio, a site to house a different type of clue that has to be searchable only in a certain manner… all these things are endless and each has to be built because there is no preexisting system.

-The only way they’ve been able to do this on a low budget is that the studio where they work [for day job projects] has audio people, graphic designers, visual effects artists, people who can build apps, all in-house. While they set out with a specific road map and  60 to 65% of that might have remained the same, about 40% has definitely had to change in post-production because they found certain approaches don’t work and when one things is changed, all the elements have to be adjusted since everything is built together. Everyone on the team understands that they’re trying to prove a point with this, build a new model, but it is really hard to do unless you have infrastructure behind you. At one point, Ferguson thought if grant money and sponsorship money didn’t come in, he would still try to do this on his own, but he now concedes this was a ridiculous notion! “It would have taken me 15 years to do and I wouldn’t even have the skills to do most of it.”

A huge thanks to Jay Ferguson for sharing his details for the benefit of all who are interested in these new forms of storytelling. Below, please find his presentation

 

Other sources used in this post:

http://www.ithentic.com/p/2012/01/17/commentary-jay-ferguson-guidestones-webseries-tips/

http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/xedqq/iama_creator_of_a_web_series_alternate_reality/

http://wildeffect.com/jayferguson/

 

 

The Future of Storytelling

October 8, 2012
posted by sheric

This annual, invitation only event was held last Friday in New York City. Unfortunately, I did not attend and I am quite disappointed because I would much rather spend my time listening to people like this than the ones invited to speak at most film industry forums. It was just pointed out to me that videos from some of the speakers were loaded up to Youtube and I encourage you to check them out.

For anyone interested in understanding the way storytelling is evolving; from fan participation to using digital tools for promotion and distribution to understanding that there may be no more stopping points in a story; watch this series of videos from some of today’s big thinkers.

Brian Seth Hurst explains that audience and storyteller can achieve levels of engagement with each other that were never possible in the pre-Internet, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter era. This fact is fundamentally changing the way stories and storyworlds are conceived, disseminated, and branded.

 

Ian Shafer explains the way stories take root in the individual and collective consciousness nowadays. Narratives are delivered in smaller and smaller bits, the most successful and influential stories—whether an advertising spot or a Facebook post—are designed less for digestion than for quick and easy sharing: vibrant, picture-driven packets of information that invite surprise and make you want to type, “Hey, check this out.”

 

 

David Weinberger explains now knowledge lives on the hyperlinked Net, and links offer a never-ending invitation to go further, to know more. The cardinal challenge of the storyteller in the age of networked knowledge is to expose us to points of view other than our own, to free us from the “echo chamber” of narratives that merely reinforce what we already know or believe. The best stories should honor a simple yet stubbornly elusive truth: that different people start from different places, and that what happens to them matters just as much to them as what happens to us matters to us.

 

 

You can see all of these short videos on the Future of Storytelling Youtube channel. 

 

 

Are you brave enough to shun social media?

August 31, 2012
posted by sheric

This post was originally published on The Film Collaborative blog on August 29, 2012

It is a question I was thinking deeply about because I encounter filmmakers and industry players all the time who say that they put up a Facebook page, opened a Twitter account, started a Youtube channel, but the people didn’t come, views didn’t go up and the sales didn’t happen.  So what’s the point? It doesn’t work, clearly. I know they opened those accounts because it is “the thing to do” and besides it was free which is totally budget friendly, but just opening up accounts with no time, commitment, team, strategy, budget to maintain and grow them and truly utilize what they are best at  is not going to work and I recommend to go ahead and close them. Seriously!

Yes, social media is the newest communication tool (really it isn’t that new, but some still think it is) and Americans in particular spend almost 80% of their time on the internet (30% are online globally), with 22% of their time on social networking sites and 21% of their time in internet searches (there are over a billion search queries on Google every day!). I’m sure you can find another way to communicate with these people though, perhaps visiting door to door or cold calling or throwing obscene amounts of money into advertising all over the place and crossing your fingers (works for Hollywood). You’ve got that kind of time and money, yes? Honestly, start now thinking about what tools you will be using instead.

 

Which one has been your strategy?

 

Once I look at what is being done with these sites, I am hardly surprised that it isn’t working. Most artists do not have a commitment to building up strong ties with an audience, they do not use social tools for “listening” and researching what audiences respond to, they do not post regularly except for “please make it happen for us on Indiegogo,” “Vote for my film on (name some film contest site),” or “my film is now available on iTunes.” Basically the chatter is all “do something for me” which is really tedious to read (I would say every day, but they don’t usually post regularly). For many publicists, this is how the channels are used as well; here’s a press kit, write about my client except that instead of only reaching writers, they are broadcasting to everyone and rarely listening at all.

 I wrote some time back about how Facebook wasn’t a good sales medium and I still stand by that post though there have been changes at Facebook that affect showing up in a newsfeed and the use of landing pages. Facebook, of course, would have you believe that it is a good sales tool, after all they have the most to gain from perpetuating that idea  in the business community.

If all you are using social media for is sales, STOP. I release you from feeling the burden of using auto tweeting and sending that same message through all of your profiles. No longer should you hire outside companies to do it for you either and pretending to be you. If you have done this, you already know it doesn’t work. Stop paying companies to send 5 prewritten tweets a day about your film to their 60K+ followers. You will not find that it makes much difference if that is the only effort you are making. Stop making inquiries for “some of that social media stuff” so your trailer will “go viral.”

Here is what the tool is very best used for; name/brand recognition, trust and loyalty building, sustained interest, long term sales and that most indescribable feeling of connection that begins to permeate. This is really an emotional space and it is something I would think independent artists would understand, you express ideas and emotions in your own work, right? And you hope to convey that to other people and elicit some kind of emotion from them. I know you don’t usually start from “I’m making a product that’s going to sell” point of view so why do you use social sites that way?

I say indescribable because you can’t point to that one “campaign” that brought your work to someone’s attention, it is an ongoing process that sinks deeper than “a message” or tagline and begins to spread and lasts far longer because little pieces of your thoughts, your connections and projects leave footprints behind online; not just on Twitter and Facebook, but everywhere on the internet globally. Someone who stumbles across your efforts, even years later, can find you and evidence of your work. No ad campaign or newspaper clipping is going to allow for that. Many people point to Twitter streams and Facebook newsfeeds as being fleeting and they are, but you can make more, endlessly. Can you do that for little money with an ad in the Times (pick a city) or a magazine cover story? While you may feel like you reach more people in a short amount of time, there’s a new cover story tomorrow or next month about someone else. There are only so many covers to fill, only so many talk shows to be on, only so much space in the newspaper or magazine for ads. Should you ever use traditional media? Should you ever use advertising? Yes, of course, but now you can have one more tool to use that is available to anyone, anywhere. You can choose to use it or not, but make sure you understand how to use it correctly and commit to doing it, every day. Also come to terms with the fact that if you are choosing not to use it, you are totally dependent on having third parties promote your work. New artists emerge every day and very few companies [and consumers!] are truly committed to anyone.

Without a commitment to developing a community of supporters by using social media, save your time and possibly money and find another tool. You won’t be successful here.

Sheri on Google+