By lance weiler, February 22nd, 2008

I’d like to take a moment to introduce a new contributor to the Workbook Project. Zachary Mortensen is an accomplished producer and co-founder of production company Ghost Robot. He’s produced numerous feature films, shorts and music videos. Recently, Zachary opened a new web shop called Space Unicorn which is helping independent filmmakers to build an online presence for their films. In his first article Zachary breaks down the importance of having a site an why it’s never too early to build one.

Zachary Mortensen reports -Every film needs a website, which may seem obvious but like many aspects of filmmaking is often overlooked. For example, taking publicity stills on set while you have your actors in costume and on location is a necessity. How many of us have great publicity stills? Exactly.

The home for a feature film should be on it’s own standalone website. Information about far too many films languish in obscurity in a binder on the bookshelf in the producer’s office. And professionally, a myspace page is not a real substitute.

The right time to start a website for your film is:

- in pre-production.
- while shooting
- during editing
- when the film is finished after years of toiling from script to screen, then to the edit room, after the sound mix and finally into an envelope to be submitted to the festivals.

The wrong time to think about making a website for your film is after the festival announces their line-up. At this point everyone who has waited with baited breath; filmmakers, sales agents, distributors, publicists and an ever-growing audience of independent film fans and fanatics flock to Google to find out more about each film.

At this point, you need a great website to greet them, if you don’t have one, you just missed the first group of important eyes in your film’s journey to the public.

The website is a tool.

Pre-production is not too early to start a website. The feature film website is really the latest tool in the filmmaker’s box. We use our websites to disseminate production materials and information throughout pre-production, the shoot and the edit. We share schedules and location photos, edited scenes, the current version of the script and much more. You can use a blind directory on your site as a centralized link-collection for the free commercial services you’re already using, like flickr, google maps, google calendar, or vimeo, (perfect tools for location photos, prop photos, location maps & directions, shoot schedule casting clips) Then you can use the home page as a place to start collecting all these links, providing quick access to this information for your crew, cast and other key elements. This traffic will also help establish your site in search engines.

The website is the film’s home.

Sony http://www.vantagepoint-movie.com/index.php probably spends more for their tent-pole websites than you and I have for our entire feature film, but, the independent film website doesn’t need to be an entertainment destination for the audience. The independent feature film website needs to be a dynamic source of information that people can find (see Brian Chirls comments on flash sites).

A dynamic site has automatically generated content as well as easily updateable content by the filmmaker. The information is in a format (part of a database) that search engines can find and add to their network of links allowing your site to be found through keyword searches.

A static website is one where the information is fixed, it never changes. Since the content doesn’t change, it is not updated in search engines as frequently, or given as many opportunities to be linked to, thus it is less visible to search engines. People will not find a static website until marketing dollars have been spent to raise awareness in traditional and print media and then after they are introduced to your film and hopefully go in search of more information, they will try to find your site. Not the ideal route.

After you have made a home for your feature film, you need to make your film’s home discoverable.

You get out of it what you put into it.

The tools for making your film’s website dynamic are out there and readily available. The key is harnessing RSS feeds and basing your site on a content management system (blog http://wordpress.org, software is a great way to go) that will easily allow you to update the content and exploit that information. No website is going to be dynamic without work and input from the filmmaker. You have to think about what you are going to include and how often you are likely to update it. Having a big important “News and Screening” section that is out of date by a year, does not provide the person who stumbles upon http://www.stumbleupon.com your site the information they need, and they aren’t that likely to dig http://digg.com it. Having links to relevant articles and news on key people who are involved or related topics might get them to stop and take a look, or better yet even make a link in their own blogs.

Make a plan for the information you will include (beyond the contents of your press kit). Be realistic about how often you’re going to update your site.

Simplicity will go a long way. http://www.dayzeromovie.com

dayzero.jpg

A simple site that works is going to have a lot more impact than a half-baked overly complex and confusing site. If you have to ask yourself “What is this site about? Why can’t I figure out how to contact the filmmakers?” then it’s not working. Make it clear and easy to use.

The industry used to talk about short films as the filmmaker’s calling card. The difficulty has always been getting that calling card in to the hands of the right people. The website is now that calling card, the film is the content you have created. Now you have a place to show your short films. You have a place to show your feature film. You have a place for people to find your film, even when it is not currently screening in a film festival or on a cable channel. You have a platform and a home base to launch the sales of your DVD, downloadable copies and pay-per-view streams.

Think about how long it takes to make a film. Now think about collecting the email addresses of everyone who comes in contact with your project over the course of production. Now think about having a place where every person who searches for the subject of your documentary, will be able to find your film.

Right now is the first time that this outreach and awareness has been within our reach. Filmmakers need to harness these tools and be smart about it. You will spend a lot of time and money creating the film. Don’t forget to build and take care of a home for your film as well.

zach.jpg
Zachary Mortensen, founder of Ghost Robot, has produced many feature films and documentaries including “Choking Man,” “ROAD,” “Hell House,” and “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox” along with countless music videos and commercials. In late 2006 Mortensen and producing partner Joshua Zeman created Space Unicorn to address the needs of filmmakers on the web. Space Unicorn designs and creates websites and web strategies for motion pictures.

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lance weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects

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