By lance weiler, April 11th, 2008

We’re pleased to welcome another contributor to the project – Mike Ambs. I had the pleasure of meeting Mike at SXSW last month and he along with Amanda Walker have created an interesting new project called Pedal. In his first post Mike shares some insight into the post production process and how various web 2.0 techniques can be applied with interesting results.

By Mike Ambs:: I should be upfront in saying that I’ve never gone to school for film making or editing, short of the two times I was allowed to sit in the back of the film class at Washtenaw Community College. Despite this, I’ve been lucky enough to have spent time editing for NBC’s “dot com” department, where I learned a lot about editing workflows.
Reaching the conclusion that… they are out-dated. Very out-dated.

Coming back from our road trip last summer, we had about 120+ hours of HDV footage, several rolls of 16mm film, and hundreds of individual Mp4 clips taken with several small hand held cameras. I realize that’s probably a bit larger in scale than most people reading this post might need to worry about. But what I love about my current workflow is that it holds up on both smaller projects and larger projects (so far).

I knew the traditional way of logging and organizing would involve lots of comments and labels, and sub-clip bins. Perhaps some color-coding for interview footage, b-roll, and so on. Trying to make the most of a hierarchical order for months worth of footage seemed… a nightmare.

So, I thought of how I organize the other media in my life, most of which, lives online. And came up with the following – the workflow I’ve been using the last few months, I’m about half way through importing my HD footage and so far, in the time it takes me to type out 3 or 4 key words, I’m able to find *everything* I’m looking for no matter where it’s stored.

1. Importing: The most important change in handling footage – is using tags as the main form of organization. But before I get into that; tagging your footage would not be possible (or at least as easy) if it weren’t for Final Cut 6’s ability (with the Sony HDV import setting) to break each cut on the tape into a separate independent movie file (you can also do this in iMovie).


Also, if you were using one of the many impressive tapeless ACHDV cameras available (which is what I’d prefer to be using currently), you would, by default, be handling all your footage as individual clips.

2. Quicklook: One problem I knew I would run into was having Final Cut being tied up during the import process – it would essentially take me twice me the amount of time I had in footage to import and then later log it.

So I started thinking about organizing with 3rd party apps’, but I also didn’t want to bog down my system resources by opening file after file in QuickTime just to take a look at it, enter Apple’s new Quicklook.


By opening up my capture scratch folder, I can tap the spacebar and scrub through an entire clip in seconds. This might not work as well for editors who didn’t also shoot the footage they are working with – but in any case, it’s still fast, it doesn’t involve opening up a bunch of different files – just tap the spacebar, and instantly scrub through your clip.

3. Tagging: I tag my Flickr photos, my bookmarks on, the music I love on, basically everything. It’s how I’m used to organizing just about anything. This method works especially well in OS X; with spotlight and 3rd party app’s that take advantage of Apple’s ‘indexing’ and ‘comments’.

Although OS X has a powerful built-in search and filter for Metadata, it’s still short on an easy and visual way of applying that info. Which is where Punakea comes in – Punakea gives you several ways to tag files on your machine. You can drag one or even dozens of files to a drop box (that hides on the edge of your screen), or you open up the ‘tagger’, which obviously, lets you tag the media you’ve dropped in.


Punakea keeps track of all the tags you enter on your machine and on any external drives, so it auto-finishes your words for you. If I want to tag a few dozen clips with: Larry, Jay, Anacortes, Pacific, Ocean, and Sunset – I only really have to type “La… J… Ana… Pa… Oc… Su”.

4. Color coding: This helps distinguish between cameras visually much faster – I *do* use a naming convention that tells me the camera model, the tape number, and the clip number, for example: “z1u_t019_c” is what I would enter into the description area within FCP’s capture window, then FCP would progressively number each break, giving me: z1u_t019_c-9… z1u_t019_c-10… etc.


But each physical tape is wrapped in a colored sticky note, yellow for the Fx1 (which almost always had the HDV35 kit attached), purple for z1u (which was generally the wide), and orange for HC1 (that was used mostly in interviews). The same colors are applied to the file, so in Finder I can quickly scan through and see where the tapes end and begin.

5. Transcribing + Metadata: Bill Cammack brought up a great tip, suggesting that on top of transcribing the interviews and important conversation into script form, that by tagging the clips with, as an example, the first four words to an important sentence, I can easily search for both (the clip, and the script) with just a few keywords. Which works perfectly in Punakea’s Browser: by clicking on the tags “Larry” and “Conversations”, I can see a cloud of script-snippets between Larry and whom-ever else.

6. Searching / Browsing: What good is all this tagging without a way to find and filter this info’ just as fast as I can type it – spotlight does allow me to quickly find what I’m looking *for*… but if I’m just looking around for ideas, it doesn’t do me much good. Punakea has a ‘browser’ window, that shows me a tag-cloud for everything associated with Pedal.


Each time I choose a series of tags it narrows down the cloud.


As long as I’m detailed in my tagging, including the: who, what, where, and when – in just a few seconds I can find every clip and photo I have of, for example: “Jay Bicycling (with) Larry (in) Washington (near) Marblemount”… weather it’s HD footage, 16mm, Mp4, a Polaroid scan, or digital still.

7. Room for improvement: Sadly there is no spotlight feature in FCP, you can use ‘Find’ of course – and have it create a pop-up bin of results, but the tags aren’t search’able. So… there’s this bridge of info’, on one hand, I can find exactly what I need, or browse in a much more visual and creative way for media… but then I have to either a) re-dump that media into the timeline, or b) go search for the file I decide I want in FCP.

I’m hoping that if any editing suite is going to be an early adopter of system-wide metadata and tags, it’s going to be Apple’s Final Cut. But when that will happen and how it will be implemented is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, I plan to continue to work with both apps to speed up the overall workflow.

8. Step away from the computer: Bill, again, has this great tip to share in the comments of a workflow vlog (if you’d like to *see* what I’m blabbering on about ) I did several weeks ago:

The tip from Ultan, which really blew my mind in its simplicity is very similar to what you’re doing with Punakea, going outside the program to increase your efficiency and productivity. What he did as we were working on a project was he kept scribbling on stickies and placing them on the wall in the order of our cut. Each stickie had reference words to the dialogue on them as well as the reference ID of the clip that I had in the timeline.

I thought what he was doing was very funny (and useless)… until he started rearranging our edit in spit seconds by merely removing a stickie and switching it with another one so the flow of the dialogue changed. We were able to arrange the edit *on*the*wall* MUCH faster than I would have been able to rearrange the edit on the machine, play it down and undo it if we didn’t like it. I was completely amazed at something so simple making us so incredibly efficient, and when we were done, all I had to do was match up the reference IDs of the clips to the order they were now arranged in on the wall.

I think this is a great tool – but something I will hold off on until my edit is a bit more laid out – and needs fine tuning. Getting caught up for days re-splicing and re-aranging in the timeline can get you no where some days. And this tip, of stepping back, and using a large blank wall to visualize your edit is a perfect way to switch creative gears.

Michael Ambs – I started out editing in the computer classroom after school hours in Onsted, Michigan, writing shorts and directing impromptu music videos with my friends. What started off as an innocent way to pass the time in a small town, has grown into a part of my life I hope I’m never without – I enjoy writing, filmmaking, vlogging, riding the subway, mint chocolate chip ice-cream, taking photographs, designing websites, and all other things web-geekery.

I co-created a project, tentatively titled ‘Pedal’, with Amanda Walker, which documents a young man’s long distance bicycle trip. We are currently in the editing process for the feature length film, and are also releasing a making-of short series to better explain how we made the film, what it took from us on a personal level, and to better explain the story we hope to tell in the end.

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Posted in education how to post pov resource sharing tech tools web 2.0

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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By lance weiler, March 13th, 2008

For anyone who isn’t reading Brian Chirls’ blog you are missing out on a valuable resource. He’s a self professed Indie Nerd Filmmaker (Director, Distributor, Technologist) with a unique perspective on the emerging digital DIY movement. In addition to contributing to the Workbook Project he is also the Head of Theatrical for From Here to Awesome.

by Brian Chirls – Here at SXSW, I’ve met a number of cool, smart, ambitious filmmakers, some of whom even have great films. Even as I attend premieres and parties that fit the fantasy, the sad reality of distribution prospects for the films is all too evident. That’s why I’m working with the From Here to Awesome team to build a strong case for DIY distribution. Maybe, rather than drag filmmakers kicking and screaming, we can see a DIY distribution as a positive opportunity.

Inspired by our roundtable discussion, I pulled out a couple of old distribution contracts I had and took them apart to look for the value that the distributors brought to the table in exchange for the rights granted. A typical distribution deal will offer the following:

  • Physical distribution
  • Cutting the deal
  • Promotion
  • Cash advance and/or minimum guarantee

If we can understand what this value is, we can evaluate whether these distribution deals are the best option. Here is a look at what each of those means and which rights and costs to the filmmaker are associated with each service.

Physical distribution

Getting your film (and soundtrack, posters, t-shirts, etc.) to an audience is a clearly necessary and valuable service. It includes replicating and shipping DVDs and placing them in stores (online and offline); theaters and film prints or digital cinema; and digital download or streaming services. Most of the above services are commodities, in that there are many competitive companies from which a filmmaker or distributor can choose, so prices tend to be reasonably close to the actual cost of time and materials. For physical distribution, the filmmaker often pays either a fixed fee or a small percentage of revenues. Exclusivity is almost never required, and contract terms are for short periods of time.

DVD replication is a great example. Depending on volume, you can pay about a dollar or two per DVD. Shipping costs are fixed, as is the amount per unit that a retailer will usually pay. Download services are not quite there yet as far as deal terms. ITunes is pretty good, passing along 70% of gross revenues, though you have to go through an aggregator, who will take their own small cut. (See the next section.) Other download services have yet to come on board with reasonable terms. It is fair for a download contract to lock you in for a certain amount of time to cover encoding costs, but those costs are always falling and terms should become shorter. (The term should be somewhere from zero to no more than three years, but about one year is fair.)

Cutting the deal

Unfortunately, many distribution platforms won’t work directly with filmmakers, so you need someone to close the deal for you. This could include a lawyer to double-check your contracts. Again, iTunes is one such example; they require that you go through an aggregator, though it’s very possible that they’ll eventually drop that requirement as they learn how to scale the acquisition process. Think of these people as agents, whose services might be worth about 10%.


Promotion is perhaps the most illusive and tricky of all the value points distributors will claim to offer. They will often incur costs for advertising, though incurring cost is not the same as providing value. Unless you have the kind of movie that is well represented by newspaper ads, billboards and trailers on television, a distributor is not likely going to know better how to promote your movie than you do. To look at it another way, you can spend $30,000 (guesstimate) on a quarter page ad in the New York Times. For a truly independent film, that might bring ten or twenty people to a screening. (For Four Eyed Monsters, it brought one.) Now, imagine what you could do spending the same $30k on a web video series, where your audience can subscribe and interact repeatedly directly on your website.

Promotion is particularly nasty because it’s the primary reason for someone to demand exclusivity. The idea is that if a theatrical distributor pays for a newspaper ad, someone might see that ad and then buy a DVD instead of going to the theater. So they need to not only get a cut of that DVD but also determine how and when you can sell that DVD. You can get around exclusivity by working with companies that don’t do much or any promotion, though there are many that will claim that they promote your work but don’t really. A buried listing on a website or in a catalogue is not sufficient promotion to justify exclusivity. You may want to offer very limited exclusivity (e.g. on a given platform for 30 days) in exchange for a great promotion or placement opportunity.

Cash advance

At the point that a film is picture locked and ready to screen, filmmakers often find themselves desperate to make a deal that will cover their budget. Such desperation gives any source of said cash undue negotiating power, and the whole situation should be preventable by preparing distribution funding in advance. Consider that a distributor’s advance/minimum guarantee is simply time-shifting of money and sharing of risk. It happens that these are the exact services that financial institutions and equity investors provide. So why would you go to a movie company for financial services instead of to a financial services provider?

Typically, before shooting a single frame, a filmmaker will raise money from one or more investors – perhaps private equity (like a dentist uncle), from a production company or by credit card. At that point, the investor is taking on a great deal of risk and will expect an accordingly high share of the profits. Maybe the film will stink; maybe the production will go catastrophically over budget; or maybe the director will get hit by a bus. But once the film is completed, much of that risk has dissipated. The movie has been delivered, and maybe it’s even pretty good. Any further investment from then on should take significantly less ownership, corresponding to the lower risk.

Given an investor-filmmaker relationship that has been successful enough to make it to picture lock, a filmmaker might be best served to return to the original investor(s) to fund delivery and distribution until revenues start coming in from box office, retail, etc. Better yet, one might prepare a business plan to receive a first round of production funding with a high-risk return, followed by a second round of distribution funding at a pre-determined lower return rate once the picture lock milestone has been reached. This is no different from how start-up companies prepare for venture funding.

Build vs. Buy

Whatever resources I need for a film project, I’m always asking myself whether to build or to buy. I look at the costs and benefits of hiring another company provide a service for me, compared with the costs and benefits of putting together the resources to do it myself. Once you break down the real costs and added value of any distribution or other deal, you can determine at each step whether you really need someone else to do it for you. Depending on what you find out, a distributor may be the best way to go, or maybe it’s just better to DIY.


Brian Chirls is a filmmaker and technologist in New York. He has worked on the film Four Eyed Monsters as Manager of Distribution and Marketing. Brian is currently consulting on the distribution of John Sayles’s latest film, Honeydripper, while continuing to develop and write about ways for independent artists to create and distribute their work. Brian has also produced and directed a number of short films, video blogs and a bit of machinima.

Before becoming a filmmaker, Brian built financial software and worked in construction management on subway stations and highways. He graduated from the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology at the University of Pennsylvania and is the least successful member of his graduating class.

To learn more about Brian’s work, see

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Posted in BTS audience biz community content deals delivery digital downloads discovery distro diy doc dvd pov tech theatrical tools tv vid web 2.0

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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By lance weiler, March 7th, 2008

We’re happy to introduce another contributor to the Workbook Project. Steve Balderson is a DIY filmmaking machine. He self funds, produces, and releases his own films. Some of the films have been shot on 35mm and others on miniDV. He’s taken his work on tour and staged his own “freakshows” in cities across the country. We’re excited to have him join the project and if you happen to live in the Boston area make sure to stop by and meet Steve when he presents his latest film “Underbelly” later this month.

By Steve Balderson – We’ve all learned that we can make our own movies without the establishment, so why once we’ve finished our movies, and we want to release them, the first place we go to is the establishment?

You don’t need someone else to release your movie. It’s YOUR movie.

There are two kinds of filmmakers in the world. The kind who wants to appeal to industry executives and other filmmakers, and the kind who wants to focus on the audience watching his movie, regardless of what other filmmakers and executives think about him.

I am an independent filmmaker. I am not dependent on someone else to finance my movies, write my movies, make my movies, shoot my movies, design my movies, market my movies, or release my movies. This gives me the freedom to not be bothered what other filmmakers or movie execs think of me.

It took me a long time to get to this place emotionally because I was always so concerned with what people thought of me. It didn’t take very long financially because I made a project called “Phone Sex” that sold very well and didn’t cost a cent to produce.

For some it is really challenging to NOT compare yourself to other filmmakers or what the neighbors are doing. I had trouble at first. But trust me: once you confront it, and move past it, having total FREEDOM is something you’ll never want to let go of.

Like a wise investor who wants to diversify his portfolio, it is more logical for an independent filmmaker to make six $50,000 films than it is to make a single film for $300,000. There is a greater chance at the return on the investment. After all, you only have to sell 2000 dvds to make your money back.

Simply identify how many units you think your target market will purchase. If you think you’ll realistically sell 4000, and you want to make some money, you should probably not spend more than $60,000, or so, on the movie. I would avoid going into the movie making process without having first figured out how you plan on making your money back.


Let’s examine my newest, “Underbelly,” which is a belly dance documentary co-starring Margaret Cho. The target market for this kind of product does not read the Hollywood Reporter or Variety. So it would be illogical of me to try and get those publications to write articles about me making that movie. Instead, I decided to focus all the attention to belly dance magazines and the gay/lesbian crowd.

I noticed that filmmakers usually don’t have a merch table when they do screenings. Musicians do at their concerts. I think it’s really important to have dvds available for sale at a festival so when the audience walks out of the screening they can buy a dvd immediately.

It only costs $1500 or so to print a thousand dvds (that means you only need to sell 60 of them to pay for a nice looking dvd). There’s no reason not to do it!

And repeat.

On March 23, Steve will unveil “Underbelly” at the Boston Underground Film Festival. On April 2, he goes into production on his next feature, the outrageous “Watch Out” based on the best-selling novel by Joseph Suglia.
For more information visit:


Roger Ebert named Steve Balderson’s film FIRECRACKER (with Karen Black) on his list of 2005’s Best Films. Currently filming WATCH OUT, based on the best-selling novel by Joseph Suglia, Balderson’s other work includes: PHONE SEX (featuring Margaret Cho, Ron Jeremy, Penn Jillette and Lloyd Kaufman), PEP SQUAD (the satire that predicted American school violence), and UNDERBELLY (a year in the life of Princess Farhana). Steve is also the subject of the award-winning WAMEGO documentary series about DIY Filmmaking. If you are unfamiliar with Balderson’s movies, you can purchase them from anywhere in the world.

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Posted in BTS audience biz community discovery distro diy doc dvd festivals pov production promotion resource screening theatrical

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

By lance weiler, March 3rd, 2008

by Alex Afterman – Since 2003 I have run a video label called Heretic Films. I used to refer to our company as a DVD label, and sure enough DVD is what we specialized in (with occasional forays in to theatrical and television, but I always was clear with potential acquisitions that first and foremost we were a DVD company).

Back in the old days it was easy to see how a company such as Heretic was necessary for filmmakers. For one thing, we had the resources to produce Hollywood level DVDs, launch a full marketing campaign, and replicate thousands of DVDs.

But even more importantly, we had access to retail accounts that the individual filmmaker simply did not. Wanted to be in Best Buy? We could get you there – good luck on your own. How about Hollywood Video or Blockbuster? Same story. Borders, Virgin or Tower? You guessed it – there was no interest on the retail end in working with individual filmmakers. They wanted to work with companies that they knew would consistently provide them with a pipeline of content. It wasn’t worth their time doing small deals with tons of different content providers.

That’s still the case, only unfortunately for us most of the big retailers and rentailers are either out of business (Tower, Hollywood shortly), struggling (Borders) or just plain uninterested in indie content (Best Buy, Blockbuster). For an explanation of why that is check out my last piece for the Workbook Project.

OK, so where is that audience going? They are going to VOD (such as cable OnDemand systems or set top devices like Vudu), digital download services (iTunes, Amazon Unbox), and streaming services (Netflix SVOD). And the next natural question I had was, is there a place for the video label in this brave new world?

Guess what – there is. There may not be the financial barriers to entry in digital that there were with DVD, nor the marketing costs (with the advent of viral marketing and social networking a lot of hustle can overcome a lack of a professional publicist or money for expensive ads), but one major obstacle remains. The services don’t have the time or inclination to deal with individual films and filmmakers. They still want to make one deal and have one set of paperwork that guarantees them a steady supply of films, not a ton of small deals each providing one or two films for their service.

There are exceptions to this rule of course – certain films with huge buzz are attractive to a service like iTunes simply for the marketing attention. But that is the exception, not the rule. If you have such a film and you can get iTunes to return your call and offer you a deal more power to you – you, my friend, do not need a video label. But most filmmakers out there probably will.

So here’s what going with a video label for your VOD and digital sales can do for you:

1. Access – Access to the services that simply aren’t interested in dealing with individuals or small groups of content. This is the biggest advantage but not the only one.

2. Delivery Requirements – Take care of the various delivery requirements for the different services. Most of the services, at least in this nascent stage, have wildly differing delivery requirements for both the video itself and the associated metadata. Presumably at some point some standardization will occur, but for now each service seems to have different requirements. Some are as easy as submitting a DVD, but in most cases they require different encodes, different media (tape, disk, drive) and unique sets of associated metadata. Can you do all this on your own? Sure – if you made a film you almost certainly can handle this. But it’s a lot of work, can get fairly expensive, and if you plan on immediately launching in to another film probably something you’d prefer to offload.

3. Marketing Support – yes, it’s easier than ever to do it for yourself. But, just as with the delivery requirements, wouldn’t it be a lot nicer if someone else was doing it for you? Someone who has been there/done that, has contacts with the major publications and can do group ads that provide lots of exposure at lower cost per film?

4. Accounting – It’s a lot easier for a label to get timely and accurate reporting when the service is depending on the label to continue to provide more content.

Again, in some cases, with that particular film that has really hit, you won’t need a label to navigate the digital waters for you. If you’re dogged about finding your own way, and willing to put in the time and money yourself, you may also not need a label in the digital age. But if you made a good film, want it to get exposure and create revenue for you, but also want to continue your career as a filmmaker rather than a film marketer/cold caller/hustler/self distributor, even in this new democratizing digital age there remains a place for the good old fashioned video label.

Just don’t call us DVD labels anymore!


Alex Afterman is the co-founder and Vice President of Heretic Films, a San Francisco based independent DVD/VOD/Digital label founded in 2003. As label head Alex is responsible for managing everything from acquisition of new titles for distribution, co-ordinating the creation of key art, authoring, production and replication of the DVDs, logistics, and marketing and publicity, including determining advertising budget, co-op purchases and handling all media relations.

Prior to founding Heretic Films Alex spent several years working as a Product Manager and Account Manager for various new media companies including internet content syndication company iSyndicate and web based real estate portal LoopNet. In addition to his responsibilities for Heretic Films Alex also co-produced the documentary ‘24 Hours on Craigslist’, which had a successful theatrical run before being released on DVD through Heretic Films.

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Posted in biz content deals digital downloads discovery distro diy dvd pov resource vid

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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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 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, 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 your site the information they need, and they aren’t that likely to dig 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.


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.

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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