By lance weiler, March 31st, 2008

The following was originally published in Filmmaker Magazine. I thought it was appropriate to re-post since the FHTA submission period is coming to a close not to mention numerous filmmakers have been asking for info on ways to spread the word about their work. This article was one of a four part series entitled “Lessons in DIY.” Make sure to read the article it covers three other interesting projects that decided to take a DIY path.

By Lance Weiler – “Do it yourself” is a simple phrase. Filmmakers have been “doing it themselves” for years, especially when it comes to production. However, the concept of DIY distribution, often considered to be a last resort or even a sign of failure, has recently become a first choice for many filmmakers.

The digital video revolution of the late ’90s ushered in a new wave of filmmaking by making the tools of production accessible to the masses. That democratization has, in 2007, become a bittersweet reality. While producing new voices and stories, it has overloaded the current system, flooding festivals, distributors and theaters with movies. The old adage that quality work floats to the surface is quickly becoming a myth, especially with the thousands of films produced every year.

With so many independent films pouring into the marketplace, how can indie filmmakers hope to break through the clutter and get their work seen? One answer is to build value around films through the Internet. Falling storage and bandwidth costs combined with a boom in user-generated content and social networking sites have created a number of free tools and services that can be used to promote and build audiences for independent movies. Below is a discussion of these new tools, many of which I used to promote my own latest feature, Head Trauma.

 

HEAD TRAUMA MAKING-OF SHORT AND COMIC.

WEB SITES

For any filmmaker the first Internet marketing material to be created should be a simple Web site. When building a site, create something that embodies the spirit of the movie. Also, make sure the site has hooks to keep the Web audience coming back. For example, when it came time to distribute my feature, everything started with a Web site that reflected the story, mood and style of the film. The site was our anchor point. Head Trauma tells the story of a drifter named George Walker who returns after many years to stake a claim on his deceased grandmother’s abandoned house. Struggling to build some semblance of a normal life for himself, George tries to clean up the place by day. But his nights are uneasy and plagued by troubling visions of a mysterious hooded figure. Despite his best efforts things grow worse as the house is condemned and his nightmares refuse to remain in the dark. To capture the feeling of the movie we designed the Web site — www.headtraumamovie.com — in the style of an interactive comic with a number of things hidden under the surface. Visitors were teased by an immersive experience that told a story.

SYNDICATION

Filmmakers can use syndication tools to reach large audiences with information about their films. Most famously, Arin Crumley and Susan Buice created a video podcast for their film Four Eyed Monsters which has been viewed by over 1.5 million people in just one year. The podcast was syndicated using a RSS (really simple syndication) feed. RSS can be read by feed readers known as aggregators, certain browsers and services like iTunes. But RSS is not just limited to podcasts; it is often possible to pull a feed from your blog. For example, your audience could subscribe to your RSS feed. Every time your blog is updated, they will receive a headline, or the whole blog entry. The updates can be delivered and read by a feed reader or as e-mails by using services like Feedburner, Zookoda or rssFWD.

Syndication allows your audience to receive updates without having to travel to your site or blog. RSS feeds can also be embedded into your fan’s sites, blogs and networking profile pages, which means your fans can “broadcast your feeds” and help amplify your message.

GETTING FOUND

Search-engine optimization is a big business. Firms and consultants get paid large amounts of money to help companies rank higher within Web searches. But there are a number of simple and free things that one can do to help increase a film’s Web site ranking, which in turn makes the marketing materials contained within easier to find.

Since search engines crawl for links, they look for link activity in the form of hyperlinking. Basically, the more a site is linked by other pages the more you, the site owner, link to them and the easier it is for a search engine to find you. One important tool for discovery is keywords and tags. When you prep your site and blogs you can add keywords to the title section of your HTML pages. Tags can be used to identify your media within social and video-sharing networks. These keywords and tags are picked up by search engines, which then direct surfers to your site.

When thinking about keywords and tagging it is important to consider your own searching and viewing habits. Netflix’s recommendation engine, Movies You’ll Love, pulls from over a billion users’ reviews and ratings in order to service each customer with a unique set of movie recommendations, recommendations that account for about 75 percent of the DVDs that Netflix ships in a given month. Although most filmmakers do not have the luxury of such a robust system, one thing is obvious by the Netflix example: the true power of a viewer’s recommendation. When coming up with your own keywords and tags, consider how you might recommend your movie to your friends and embed accordingly.

THE SCATTERSHOT APPROACH

One Web strategy that we used for the promotion of Head Trauma was what we called a scattershot approach. All told, we created and maintained the following 13 domains:

headtraumamovie.com official site
htmob.com/blog official blog
htmob.com/vlog a podcast site called HT radio
myspace.com/headtraumamovie social-networking site
audience.withoutabox.com/users/headtrauma social-networking site for filmmakers
social.indiewire.com/userprofile.php?u=Lw social-networking site for filmmakers
iklipz.com/headtraumamovie social networking site
tagworld.com/headtraumamovie social-networking site
pageflakes.com/lw.ashx Ajax-based startpage
headtraumamovie.suprglu.com Web site that allows you to combine RSS feeds
flickr.com/photos/headtraumamovie photo sharing
youtube.com/headtraumamovie video sharing
del.icio.us/htmob/news social bookmarking site

We hyperlinked between all these domains and, where possible, pulled RSS feeds from one domain into another. We also used an effective keyword and tagging scheme based on a series of terms we felt would hit our target audience. Our goal was to scatter the domains all over the Web, and then by hyperlinking pull them back together again.

Before we started the scattershot approach it was impossible to find our site using Google because the term “head trauma” was so generic. A search would spit out a ton of medical documents and sites but no mention of the movie. But as we built out the domains and interlinked them “head trauma” began to climb within search results and now sits on the first page of a Google search.

DIGITAL SWAG

Movie promotions usually involve swag — posters, T-shirts, coffee mugs and the occasional kids meal. Most swag is well beyond the budgets of the majority of filmmakers, but digital swag is easy, cheap and sometimes even viral. For Head Trauma we adopted an “embed and spread” campaign and created a number of digital assets to help promote the movie.

EMBEDDABLE VIDEO

Thanks to the abundance of free video-sharing sites (YouTube, Google video, MySpace, etc.), it is easy to find places to handle your hosting needs. Once you have uploaded your video, you can easily embed the video into your Web pages. With a little bit of extra work, you can place the embed code right below the video. Then it can easily be copied and placed into other pages.

For Head Trauma, we created experimental loops, behind-the-scenes shorts and two different trailers. Most of the media was open for anyone to take and use, but for certain outlets we created exclusive content. One successful outlet for an exclusive behind-the-scenes short was Amazon.com. We worked out a deal where Amazon would feature the behind-the-scenes short and a trailer for the movie on their main DVD page, the DVD horror page and also give it placement on the sales page for the actual DVD. In other cases we would offer embeddable media to online horror and movie news sites to accompany an interview or review of the movie.

AUDIO PLAYERS

Numerous social networking sites allow you to place audio players into your profile pages easily. Once you have the player in place you can point it toward audio files that can help promote your film. For instance, you can let fans listen to songs from your soundtrack or interviews with your cast and crew.

An option that worked extremely well for us was the creation of our own flash audio player. By using the XSPF (musicplayer.sourceforge.net ) open-source music player, once people embedded the player, which we called HT Radio, into their pages, we could easily update it via XML files. The new audio would then automatically play in all the places that had embedded our player. In effect we created our own broadcast channel, and HT radio players started popping up all over social networking profiles in addition to people’s blogs and sites. As the audience quickly grew listeners started to ask questions and I would answer them “on air.” I even worked out a way to update HT radio from my mobile phone. I could call in from the road and the audio would be automatically uploaded.

GRAPHICS AND PHOTOS

A very simple form of digital swag is banner links. Banner links are excellent tools for social networks because they can be used as a giveaway to fans who can place them in their pages, profiles or within a comment section of a page. For example, we created banners and wallpaper for the film that have been extremely popular within social-networking sites and on portable devices like the PSP. By downloading these simple digital assets, fans felt they were discovering something they could share with their friends and thus increased the film’s exposure.

EMPOWERING YOUR AUDIENCE

The Internet enables filmmakers to build audiences for their work in a cost-effective manner. Over time an audience can grow with a filmmaker and, if cultivated with care, enable the funding and distribution of future work.

One emerging trend is filmmakers using their audience to fund and assist with the distribution of their projects. Robert Greenwald’s work is an example of this new model. For his latest film, Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, Greenwald and his team at Brave New Films reached out to their audience with a special fund-raising request. Via a mass mailing to their fan base, they asked for donations. Within 10 days they had raised over $200,000. During the production of the movie they turned to the audience to gain their insights on certain topics, and some audience members even assisted with the creation of bonus features that can be found on the DVD. When Iraq for Sale was released earlier this fall, it was available for screenings at house parties organized by audience members. The success of the house parties has lead to the formation of a new division of Greenwald’s company called Brave New Theaters. Brave New Theaters allows filmmakers to tap into a screening system they have created. Filmmakers looking for screening venues and audiences looking for films are paired together in what is becoming a grassroots screening network.

In one final example of what some are calling Cinema 2.0, or open-source cinema, a group called Swarm of Angels (aswarmofangels.com) is harnessing the Internet to raise its own production funds for two feature films. When an individual joins the Swarm for a small fee they become an Angel, a contributor to the project; they have access to everything from script to screen and can vote on key decisions in the film’s production. When a project is finished everyone in the Swarm will assist in the seeding of the film across the Internet for download by all of the members, who are then able to remix the film or use elements of it in their own projects.

In the end, there is no one right way to distribute or market your film. But if making Head Trauma has taught me one thing, it’s not to lose the sense of empowerment experienced during the production of a film when you get to the distribution phase. With the new tools of the Web you do not have to be powerless once you finish.

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Posted in audience community cross-media crowdsourced discovery distro diy dvd experiment how to online resource sites tech theatrical 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 26th, 2008

:: PROJECT -Nerdcore Rising is a fun glimpse into the world of the nerd hi-hop movement. Negin Farsad’s doc follows the trials and tribulations of MC Frontalot as he embarks on his first national tour; complete with strange opening acts, missing gear, and a single groupie that follows them from the Florida panhandle to New Orleans.

WHY: An entertaining look at a subculture that has legions of dedicated fans. What’s interesting about the self funded flick is the strong following the film has created by identifying its audience and turning to them to help spread the word.

::TOOLS -Friendfeed – for those looking to find an easy way to aggregate their social feeds into a single outlet – Friendfeed might be for you. One of a number of services that is offering to help make discovery easier. Keep up-to-date with your friends and share links, music, photos, blog entries, and video.

WHY: Lifestreaming is an interesting emerging trend that promises to ease discovery. Friendfeed is a simple services that allows for a wide variety of feed importing so you can snag blog, youTube, flickr, twitter, and bookmark feeds.

:: SITES -indiegogo – an interesting crowdsourced funding site that enables filmmakers to raise money for their projects. Filmmakers create pitches and provide a variety of perks that allow contributors behind the scenes of the process. Interested parties can make a contribution to a project to help support it.

WHY: Since the site’s launch in mid January three projects have raised 10k in contributions. And some filmmakers are even using the site to raise money to promote and distribute an existing project.

*WEB 2.0 -Plugoo is a service that allows you to bring IM to a site or blog. By embedding the chat client you can easily communicate with visitors to your site or blog in real-time.

WHY: For those looking to extend a personal touch to a project it is a simple and free way to engage your audience. The only downside is a conversation limit of five people. Other solutions like meebo rooms allow for more participants to a chat but have become the target of IM spam.

:: TOOLS -Sprout Builder is a service that lets you construct robust widgets within minutes. You can add video, audio, photos, news feeds, and bookmarks. The interface enables you to construct a flash based widget that can be embedded in a blog, social networking profile and / or site.

WHY: Widgets are a good way to help promote a project and to keep audiences update. But since widgets can be embedded within sites your audience can help to amplify your reach.

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Posted in audience call for entry community content crowdsourced discovery embed funds hoard online promotion resource sharing sites software stream 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, February 25th, 2008

For those of you who don’t know FROM HERE TO AWESOME is an extension of the workbook project. In the spirit of bringing an open source philosophy to various parts of the filmmaking process, FHTA is focused on education, discovery and distribution. Over the next few months leading up to the festival’s kick off in Paris on June 3rd, FHTA is constructing a series of vids that detail the current state of filmmaking.

We’re looking for people who would like to contribute not only submissions, but also thoughts and suggestions on how to improve the festival. And if you’d like to lend a hand with the fest we’re looking for volunteers to come along for the ride.

Wonderful animation by Jordan Gray and Jeff Hockett that explains the festivals submission process.

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Posted in News animation audience call for entry community crowdsourced digital downloads discovery distro diy doc dvd education embed event experiment festivals narrative online remix resource sharing short form sites theatrical user-gen vid vidsocial 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, December 13th, 2007

M dot Strange reports – So I was lucky enough to be summoned to make an animated music video for one of my favorite bands “Mindless Self Indulgence” I used Cinema 4d 9.1 w/Cactus Dans tools, and After Effects 6.5.

I thought I would out together a little thang documenting my work on the Mindless Self Indulgence music video “Animal” There’s a ton of music video making-of’s out there but since I’m bored waiting for 3d renders to finish I’ll add one more to the mix.

So this is my process….

The sonG – The first thing I do is listen to the song over and over and just see where the sound takes you… If nothing really jumps out…if scenes don’t start building themselves in my head I’ll go read the lyrics and see if that does something for me… The title can also do thing for you… For this song I just kinda had an idea about the singer being chased around a weird city by a bunch of strange animals. So I listened to the song and drew up some totally photorealistic storyboards.


Storyboard Example

After doing the rough boards I had an idea of what I was going to have to model for the video. I had to model, texture and rig the four members of the band. Now I’m not trying to impress anyone with my modeling abilities. There’s no use in creating a multimillion polygon model if you can get the same effect with a 10,000 polygon one. When I’m designing characters for a project like this I just try to create very simple iconic figures with strong silouettes. Since my roots are with 8-bit video game graphics I approach building a 3d model like I’m creating pixel art except I use 3d primitive cubes in place of pixels. This leads to the 8-bit/lego-ish look of the models. So I always trying to use as few polys as possible with my models. I run my 3d app and render clients (cinema 4d) on Windows XP 32bit so I’m prone to out of memory errors which suCK really bad. So I try to keep the characters low poly so I have a lot of free polys to use for the ridiculous backgrounds I like using. So a simply designed cool looking character animated in a funky fashion in front of complex backgrounds.


Non textured Model

So after modeling all the characters and adding temporary textures to the them I hand them off to my old media friend Sean Boyles so he can hand paint the textures. He uses the colors and designs from my temp texturing but applies it by hand with Bodypaint 3d. This adds enough imperfection to the model to make it look less like it came off an assembly line.


Textured Model before my modifications

Once the models are textured I’m free to add joints, skin and rig them. Since all the bodies have the same geometry and only the heads are different it was a fairly quick job. I think I did it all in one sitting in the cafe before my laptop battery died. I use the excellent Cactus Dan plugins for adding joints, skinning and rigging. The Cactus Dan plugins make the process much easier and faster. So I just created a skeleton for one model and copied it over to the others. I use the joint mirroring and auto-skinning to speed up the process and the C4dIK plugin’s make rigging a snap. So once they’re all ready to animate I put them in cool poses and just make sure they look right together.


My evil 8-bit Lego MSI peeps

Since I only had less than two weeks to make this video I didn’t have time to create new sets and backgrounds so I just used some sets from my animated feature film “We are the Strange” I built an entire world in 3d for that film so I guess its like my own private backlot I’m shooting on now ^^ So once I have the time consuming modeling and rigging out of the way I revisit the storyboard. I add in new scenes that came to mind while in 3d land and then scan in my crappy drawings so I can create the animatic.


Animatic SnippeT

I use the shot times from the animatic as a guide for the 3d animation. Also by looking at my animatic I know exactly which shots and which parts of the song will require lip sync. I had a few people helping me out with this video project and since lip sync is SOOOOO fun ^^ I asked my friend DemonicBunny if he would do the honors. Like the character “Pasteur” in WATS I wanted the lip sync to be created in MAriopaint. So this would be a 2d pixel animated mouth pasted onto a 3d animated character. So I sent him the sound files for the clips that needed lip sync and a reference image for the style/shape mouth I was looking for. In a few days he sent me the adobe illustrator sequence files I needed for the mouth.

Mouth shapes made in Mariopaint for lip sync

Since I didn’t need to do any lip sync I could instead just focus on the character animation. I’m already familiar with the band and they’re performances but I went ahead and got some reference videos from youtube of the band performing the song “Animal” The singer is always the center of attention in a performance so the singer would be the focus of the character animation in this video. By looking at the animatic I figured out which shots would require synchronized animation and music. I went ahead and animated the Jimmy model synced up to the song in empty scenes for all the shots I needed. My composition contain many layers… I start with the coolest stuff first and than add on top of that. So for this video I had to make sure that the singers animation was entertaining enough on its own before worrying about anything else. I then animated all the shots that needed Jimmy to perform and slapped the lip sync animation on. So the scene’s looked like this.


Animation Test

At this point I’m already past the one week mark so I didn’t have time to keyframe animate the rest of the band for every shot. Well what does a band do anyway? They play right? So I utilized a little procedural animation to get them to play for me. Cinema 4d has an excellent Xpresso scripting module so all I had to do was parent the instruments to the models bones, set up the proper set driven/driver relationships then add use a noise generator to drive the rotation on the models spine. After tweaking with the setting for a few minutes to get they’re movments roughly synced to the music I had this.



Simple Xpresso setup for procedural animation

So now all I had to do was drop my band in a scene and they doing they’re thang. Once I had the singers and the bands performance animations down I could focus on the other character animation in the video. This includes the singer running around getting captured by giant monsters and flying around with his fiery fairy wings. Once all the 3d was animated I set it off to render and waited. Well thats what I’m doing now…waiting for 3d renders. I never do any of my skies in 3d, I prefer to composite them in After Effects. Since Cinema 4d generates After Effects project files with 3d light and camera information it makes this really easy as well. So once all the 3d is rendered I’ll drop in the skies and proceed to color correct and stylize the shots to my liking.



FINISHED CLIP

Then once all the shots are rendered out of After Effects all I have to do is replace the animatic shots with the final ones and hand the 1080p version of the video over to the band ^^ I don’t know when the band will make the video available online but be sure to check it out when it is. Here’s a little teaser video I put up for the music video.


Music Video TeaseR

And two other video that are pertinent to this making-of post…


MAking of Part 1


Making-of Part 2

mdot.jpg

M dot Strange is a mixed media animator from San Jose, Ca. He recently singlehandedly completed an 88 minute animated film entitled “We are the Strange” which made its world premiere in January of this year at the Sundance Film Festival. A reviewer that saw the film M dot made in his bedroom with 9 PC’s over the course of 3 years said “it looked like something Hollywood would make for 70 million” He has recently been featured in the NY Times, ABC World News , Wired.com and his youtube videos have been viewed over a million times.

Find out more about M dot Strange and his work
www.wearethestrange.com

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Posted in BTS News arg audio case study community design digital downloads directing discussion distro diy doc dvd education interview legal mobile production program remix resource roundtable scripting sharing sites tech update vidsocial

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, November 21st, 2007

wrenchsm.jpg

SITE: www.mogulus.com

SERVICE: TV studio in a browser —

Broadband penetration + drop in bandwidth costs + low cost gear + Mogulus = your very own TV channel. There has been a rise in streaming video solutions hoping to do for video what push button publishing did for blogs. Their focus is ease of use and the target audience is anyone who wants to pick up a camera. The term “Public Access” has taken on a totally new meaning thanks to tools like Mogulus.

I signed up for the Mogulus beta other day and I have to say, in terms of the solutions that currently exist, they are head and shoulders above the rest. Some might find the steps to taking their channel live a little intimidating but the potential far out weighs the minor learning curve.

The Live Switcher gives you full control over your show.

liveswitcher.jpg

Mogulus packs their beta with a TON of great features. There are graphic packages, news tickers, a multiple camera live switcher, and if that wasn’t enough you can work with others in real-time to build a show. It is truly a TV studio in a browser and it only requires the flash 9 player.

Footage can either be uploaded or added by searching for videos on youTube. Storyboards and playlists are how a show is constructed and they can be shared and edited in real-time by a group. When it comes to syndicating your channel, the site provides an embeddable player for blogs, sites, and social networking profiles. Another key feature is the ability to let your pre-recorded show program itself thanks to a time saving auto pilot feature.

Storyboards and Playlists help to organize your show.

mstoryboard.jpg

Rating:
ease of use: 7.5
functionality: 10
features: 10
filmmaker value: 10

overall: For those looking to experiment with live TV or the creation of a channel, Mogulus is an excellent free services. The features are very impressive and once you get the hang of the interface, you will appreciate the thought that has gone into the service.

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Posted in audience digital downloads distro diy embed sites tools user-gen vid vidsocial 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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