Over the next few days we’ll be posting various videos from the DIY DAYS LA event. The day consisted of a number of keynotes (Robert Greenwald, Marshall Herskovitz), panels (Tommy Pallotta, Femke Wolting, Alex Johnson, Micki Krimmel, Mark Stolaroff, Ondi Timoner, Hunter Weeks, Saskia Wilson-Brown), case studies (M dot Strange, Arin Crumley, Lance Weiler), a series of special video presentations (Matt Hanson, Brett Gaylor, Brian Chirls, Christy Dena, Timo Vuorensola) and a conversation with director Mark Pellington.
M dot Strange, Hunter Weeks and Ondi Timoner – photo by Mike Hedge
The Realities of DIY
There’s been much discussion about the democratization of the tools but what’s really involved in taking your film from a concept to something an audience will pay to see? How can you fight your way through the clutter and what are the pitfalls to avoid when you decide to go it on your own?
Discussion Leader: Mark Stolaroff – panelists Arin Crumley, Ondi Timoner, Hunter Weeks and M dot Strange.
Posted in BTS DIYDays animation audience biz case study deals discussion distro diy doc dvd education event festivals funds how to narrative online panel podcast producing production promotion resource sponsorship tech theatrical tools tv web 2.0
This edition of TCIBR is brought to you by IndieFlix and Breakthrough Distribution – Inventing the Movies is a new book by Scott Kirsner that details Hollywood’s epic battle between innovation and the status quo. Scott joins us for a discussion about cinema’s past, present and future. Of particular note for filmmakers is a discussion around the pull economy / attention economy and how building and maintaining audiences is going to be the future of independent filmmaking.
For more on Scott visit www.cinematech.blogspot.com
To buy a copy of the book:
To listen NOW click the play button below.
Download Adobe Flash Player.
Download Adobe Flash Player.
Posted in animation audience audio biz deals delivery development digital downloads discovery discussion distro diy education experiment funds interview online podcast production resource tech theatrical tools
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 Del.icio.us, the music I love on Last.fm, 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 http://blog.projectpedal.com/2007/12/week-one-my-workflow.html ) 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.
Posted in education how to post pov resource sharing tech tools web 2.0
by Marc Lougee
:: Mini Cameras: Small, like Diamonds There’s much talk on and offline concerning the advent of mini camera’s used in stop motion animation, specifically when used in tandem with DSLR’s. Some folks love’em, some hate’em, but either way, they keep proving themselves useful, relatively inexpensive and hard to boot when faced with the alternative of shooting all day only to find yourself facing a re-shoot for lack of a decent preview. I’m a big fan of the mini cam and keep a couple in my toolbox all the time. Light weight, reasonably durable, replaceable lenses and output to various devices (like television monitors, VCR’s, etc) make these things handy. This is similar to the version we used;
Did I mention they’re pretty cheap, too? Low-light levels and high contrast tend to be good for the size as well. Most will come with a o.o5 rating for low light, but the best option is to go lower, like 0.03/ 0,02 at F1.8, for instance. Some research is in order to find the right camera/ lens combo for your particular use. Should you grow weary of using the mini cameras for animation, they’re imminently well suited to monitor the front door for pizza deliveries.
The Mini Camera is Go
Initially, we attached these mini-cams to the camera as a sort of parallax viewer, but found we could attach it to sit directly against the viewing glass on the rear of the D70s, allowing the animator to see a live feed from the set to the computer, via Frame Thief.
Several lenses are available for the Clover camera, providing a range of focal lengths. These are handy depending on individual shots, the DSLR viewfinder, preview requirements, etc. I bought a few sizes with to experiment, settling on the 16mm for the viewfinder / mini camera set up. You may need to experiment with a few of the lens sizes, to see what works best for you. The 16mm offered the best focus and contrast thru the D70s/ lens at smaller apertures settings, while fitting snug against the viewfinder glass. We eventually had an aluminum plate shaped to fit in to the flash mount atop the camera, on which the mini camera was mounted, holding it snug to the D70s viewing glass.
Download Adobe Flash Player.
Ghost in the Machine
As for process, it’s totally subjective. Ours went like this: Tweak/adjust/animate. Shoot reference frames (with Frame Thief); loop the sequence for playback/ review. Once satisfied with the animation progress, activate the Capture NX window and shoot/ capture the corresponding number of high resolution frames (using Capture NX), checking that these frames are directed to a dedicated file on the external hard drive ( as massive file storage on the Mac Mini would eventually bog it down). Once you’re satisfied Capture is storing your frames where you want them, re-activate the Frame Thief window and head back to the set, cleared for takeoff. Animate, review, capture, repeat.
Here’s a more linear breakdown of our workflow;
1. Animate, Capture low-res mini cam image to Frame Thief.
2. Capture high-res frame with Nikon Capture NX.
3. Store each shot to proper file destinations (ext. hard drive or 2 G Flash card).
4. Import RAW images into Adobe Photoshop CS2 (I use Adobe Light Room).
5. Convert to targas, uncompressed jpegs, or whichever file format needed for post.
6. Save to a new file, do effects work, rig removal, compositing, etc.
7. Re-size the images as 1920 x 1080 pixels (the RAW files will be far larger)
8. Save the shot as a targa sequence.
9. Drop targa sequence in to FCP HD for editing.
10. Export as uncompressed QuickTime, or whichever format you desire.
Since Capture NX numbers incoming files sequentially, it was easy to batch convert entire shot sequences at a time, keeping everything in sequence. Of course, here is where you could use (low-res) versions of the shots for cutting into the animatic with iMovie HD. I find it useful to show everyone how the shots are cutting together by reviewing the animatic inter cut with approved shots. This helps everybody stay amped by gauging progress as animatic sketches are replaced with finished animation. It’s cool to see the film being built this way and makes shot approval fast and efficient. Equally handy is a 2 Gig memory stick to move shots from one animation station to another, allowing access to the completed shots for perusal. I’d wander around, load up the latest stuff onto the shooting stations between shots and voila! We’re all on the same page.
Another option is to use 2 Gig Flash cards to store the high-res frames in the camera body, unloading these from the card at end of day, or when it’s full, dependent on your output. I like the idea of the card storage on large jobs, with several shoots happening simultaneously (series television, for instance), but it can bog down an individual with much to do beside downloading cards during the day. My preference is storing frames to external hard drive(s), then burning a back-up DVD data disc at end of day. This keeps the hard drive in place and you walk with the DVD. Pro’s and con’s abound either way, so see what works for you.
DSLR = Small Rigs
The relatively small size of the DSLR make it conducive to rigging. Traditional camera moving equipment can be big, bulky and heavy, often proving counterintuitive to small sets and puppets and potentially making access to puppets for animation a back- breaking affair. Foregoing the heavy equipment approach, set builder Adam Weir made a few very simple wood & PVC pipe camera mounts that were small, light and yet strong enough to secure the DSLR and lens combination. These cool little rigs could handle pan and tilt, as well as provide a sturdy support for tracking shots. The small size of the cameras and mounting rigs enabled extreme close ups with wide-angle lenses without impeding access to the puppet for animation. There’s lots of off-the-shelf machine motion stuff out there, but with a little ingenuity, rigs for DSLR’s can be super simple, steady and secure for very little cash outlay. When I do need to get hold of small mechanical gear for table top camera moving rigs, I go to Small Parts, Inc. (http://www.smallparts.com). Below is a test set up we used prior to mounting the mini cam on an aluminum plate, and sliding the plate into the flash mount atop the camera.
The Parallax Question
As cool as the DSLR system proved to be, it wasn’t without a few difficulties. Long exposures and deep focus dictated we shoot with very small aperture settings, which affected our mini camera image preview as we were shooting animation reference thru the D70s viewfinder & an 18-70mm zoom lens (manual). I felt a parallax perspective would prove more troublesome, contributing too much hair pulling for those brave souls animating, so I attempted to avoid it if at all possible. Our initial tests went well, with a wide aperture, but once we stopped down to F11- 16, things got interesting in a horror-show sort of way. I considered shooting with the mini camera’s attached to or over the D70s lens, but settled this ‘thru the lenses’ method due to tight framing and focal shifts following movement of the characters. In the end, this is really a project/shot specific consideration.
One way to avoid parallax mishaps would be to frame slightly wide, accommodating for movement in the frame. In post, we found we could push in/ adjust up to 10% without any noticeable resolution loss, as long as the source image was RAW (zero compression, full frame). This allowed some movement over the frame, creating a ‘camera drift’ effect, or ‘breathing’ which we incorporated during compositing.
Speaking of breathing, I’m back to lenses for a moment. With a less expensive zoom lens, (say, the 18-70mm zoom packaged with the D70s), there is quite a bit of ‘breathing’ in the lens during an animated zoom or rack focus during a shot. These pre-packaged lenses are not meant for cinema-style shooting, so you’ll see focus aberrations in the shot after its completed. This stuff is not readily apparent in the preview, nor in the single high –resolution frames. But, like flicker (see below), it becomes quite apparent and bothersome during playback at 24-30 frames per second. Tough time to find out the lens went soft throughout the shot. We opted to replace the pre-packaged zoom lenses with more expensive cinema-style primes, and for zooms, we either moved the camera (like a dolly shot) or made small focus shifts after testing for focal shifts in the lens.
Flicker: Easy to get, hard to lose
Here’s where that aspirin may come in handy. There’s a bit of an anomaly prevalent with DSLR animation, referred to as the much dreaded ‘flicker effect’. This is caused by a variety of situations, a few of which I’ll address here.
The hitch is when viewing several still images in rapid progression (24- 30 frames per second), versus looking at each image one at a time. Many DSLR’s have flicker issues due to the iris having to open and close for each shot, neglecting to return to it’s precise former position, thus causing a change in exposure. Minute exposure variations aren’t noticeable when viewed as single images, but when strung together for rapid viewing in sequence (animation), these exposure variations appear as a ‘flickering’ effect. This noise or pixilation fluctuates in the frame, seemingly more prevalent in the darker areas.
Beside the shutter’s operation noted above, another cause is due to the sensitivity of the camera’s exposure sensor chip in conjunction with the aperture and shutter speed. This normally a good thing, sensitivity, but with DSLR’s with automatic lenses, there is a problem with the repeatability (consistent exposure) required for animation. In DSLR’s with a manual lens, the shutter and the aperture work independently of one another, allowing adjustment between the two, resulting in a consistent exposure. Once the shutter speed and aperture are set, they fire the same way each frame without control by the camera’s on-board program. The D70s we bought came with an 18-70 mm zoom, but being automatic, so we sought to bypass the auto aspects get it to work act like a manual lens. Eventually, we purchased fully manual lenses, but this approach below worked fine until then, without any apparent harm done to the lenses or camera.
One trick that worked well was rotating the auto lens off its contact point on the camera body. Rotate the lens counter clockwise a bit less than a centimeter, while keeping the lens attached to the body. The plan is to break the electric connection that sends signals to the lens. This essentially reverts an auto lens to manual, and the aperture will stay constant once set. Along with this maneuver, be sure to set everything in the camera to fully manual. This will necessitate going thru all the sub-menus, switching anything that’s in Auto mode. The camera literature will be handy here, as the sub-menu’s can be deep and elusive if you’re not careful. I dislike reading manuals as much as anyone, but it was worth the time invested.
Another cause of flicker is electrical fluctuation at the source. We had a very unstable environment to shoot in, with lots of computers, heavy-draw lighting (outside the shooting area), and a massive air conditioning system switching off and on throughout the day. This combination caused major fluctuations in our electrical current. The spikes and drops in current to our lights and cameras caused variations in exposures and lighting, sometimes noticeable, but often not until we’d assembled a sequence. Most building’s electrical is not set up for ‘clean’ power, so we had to find ways of stabilizing the current for the equipment.
While shooting the CBC’s animated series What It’s Like Being Alone, we incorporated power scrubbers at the wall outlets, adding high-end surge suppressors closer to the cameras and computers. This minimized flicker significantly once we had the cameras properly set (switching Auto features to Manual & rotating the lenses). Any flicker we did notice was often minimal and easily removed in the post process using either the De-Flicker plug-in for Adobe After Effects.
Stopping down and using longer exposures also worked well. One backfire on this was the mini cams. The mini cameras supply a ‘live’ or active image, versus the DSLR’s cumulative exposure for a still frame. They don’t get any more light with long exposures as they only get what’s coming thru the aperture, and that isn’t much at F 11–F16. We got around it by adjusting the lighting & shutter speed to accommodate the mini camera a bit. This took some time, so I’d suggest setting aside time to allow yourself room to work out a range of possibilities. The mini camera’s had a Lux reading of .05, which was Ok, but I think an even lower rating would have been ideal.
In retrospect, here are few things I hadn’t mentioned earlier, but may prove useful;
- A Shooting Checklist. Good to have a fall back until everyone is comfortable with the entire window switching/ frame grabbing stuff is well in hand.
- Practice File Naming conventions. Many a shot has landed in the Bin of Despair as a ‘lost’ or misplaced shot due to abstract file naming, so do yourself a favor, and work out a plan prior to starting. There will be a lot of high density storage going on and redundant/ misnamed/ misplaced files will be an equally large hassle. We nearly lost a couple of shots, and in animation as it is in live action, DIY folks really can’t afford to lose anything.
- Voltmeter / Rheostat for larger lights. The voltmeter will let you see fluctuations in the power supply just prior to shooting a frame (minimizing flicker), and the heavy-duty rheostats (not household wall dimmers) will help suppress power spikes in the line, as well. It’s a rental, but these can be bought too. Worth considering if you’re planning on a long shoot.
- Surge suppressors. We went for the larger type with a built-in battery back up. Eyeball the surge/ spike/ drop specs carefully. Shop around as a decent version is between $90-130. Well worth having at least one on the camera/ computer power supply. Lots of these available from various electronics manufacturers & retail online.
- Using remote capture. There are several benefits too using the computer keyboard to trigger frames grabs/ captures, the most immediate being a static camera during an exposure. It’s easy to inadvertently bump the camera after many hours into a shoot when you’re tired, addled with caffeine and your client is getting restless.
Once the film was completed, we had the opportunity to screen at AFI DALLAS during its inaugural year. This was the first time I had seen the film in a large, theatrical venue, so I was suitably anxious to see the results on a large movie screen projecting from an HD tape. Apparently, I was the only one worrying as the audience was thrilled with the picture quality. The film looked fantastic. Our next stop-motion film, EA Poe’s THE RAVEN is to be produced using the same system, with a few requisite tweaks, but definitely a DSLR- based pipeline.
Hopefully, the DVD of the Pit and the Pendulum, and nearly 2 hours of production clips, will be ready to ship Spring 2008. Our hope is that between the articles and the DVD extra’s, more folks will be inspired to shoot with a similar, or improved, pipeline, creating stunning looking digital films for all to see. I hope this has proven helpful in gaining some understanding of what went into the pipeline of the film.
If you have questions concerning the process above, feel free to get in touch thru the film website, http://www.thepitandthependulumshortfilm.com. Time allowing, I’ll do
Marc Lougee – Creative Producer / Director, Hand Hade Heroes Marc’s work as a director blends techniques ranging from 3D/ CGI computer animation to stop motion to classic 2D character animation. His projects integrate live action, special effects, puppets, miniatures, models and all manner of visual effects illusions.
Marc has lent his expertise of mixed-media animation production to scores of national commercial campaigns and broadcast interstitials, including work for ABC Saturday Morning, MTV, HBO, Epic Records, Fox Television, Kool Aid, Parker Brothers, Mattel, Hasbro, The Pillsbury Doughboy and the original “Bud Bowl” Super Bowl half-time campaign for Budweiser (which logged over 350 million viewers worldwide for the 1.5 minute spot).
Lougee enjoys applying his creative sensibilities to broadcast series programming. Working closely with Producer Susan Ma, he played a key role as Creative Producer in assembling the creative team for What It’s Like Being Alone in 2005/ 2006 and his contribution as Episode Director provided a major creative force behind the show. Marc’s directed animation on several series and pilots for MTV, Discovery Kids, Fox Television, Sci Fi Channel, HBO, BBC and the CBC. Several of these series are currently on-air, including the DiscoveryKids! / BBC’s Dinosapien, MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch, and the BBC’s Ace Lightning.
Marc directed and co-produced (with Susan Ma) the award-winning short film, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, executive produced by animation and visual effects legend Ray Harryhausen (Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, 20 Million Miles to Earth, Clash of the Titans) and Fred Fuchs (Francis Ford Coppolla’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein).
Since it’s premiere, “The Pit and the Pendulum” has been chosen as an Official Selection in over 150 film festivals worldwide, garnering several awards and nominations, including Best Animated Film at Miami Shorts International Film Festival, Best Adaptation at the International Horror & Sci Fi Film Festival, Best Animated Short Film at the Dragon Con Film Festival, a Storyteller Award a the Redemptive Film Festival, an Ideology Award at the Cinepobre Film Festival and Best Animated Film at the HD Fest Awards.
More info on the film and the trailer can be found on the official film site;
For the latest news, screening dates, locations check the blog;
Posted in BTS animation diy education how to producing production resource sharing software tech tools
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted in audience community cross-media crowdsourced discovery distro diy dvd experiment how to online resource sites tech theatrical tools web 2.0