By Mike Ambs, February 1st, 2009

When Amanda first posted about us (mainly me) being concerned with our lack-luster number of RSS subscribers – ie: less than 5,000 – It came across as a “why do our numbers suck” post, and that’s a fine question for us to be asking, our numbers do need improving just in a general sense.

But I’m less concerned with specifically the RSS stats, and more with our lack of tools in place to prepare ourselves for the future.

Even if our blog has subscribers in the thousands, we have nothing in place right now to make the best use of that readership. And that, out of everything, is what I stress about the most. Mainly because it’s a problem I don’t have the technical skills to solve on my own, but also because for every week that goes by, on editing and writing, it’s another week we have make-up for in the future.

I have ideas on what tools I think we need, and I’ve been searching, within my little social circle, for someone qualified to help build them. And I’m interested in building tools that would help every filmmaker, and even beyond that, tools that could easily be used for projects of any kind.

I’m not a fan of forums, I’ve never been able to get into them or find them efficient – even in the 90s, when that’s all there was outside of IRC. And there are a handful of tools, like Ning, that allow you to structure your own social network, but I’m snot ure a network, or a forum, is exactly what an indie film “movement” needs.

Before I talk about the two tools I’ve been thinking about the most, I wanted to stress that my main motivation behind worrying about this at all: is planning for the worst (or to be realistic, planning for the most likely). It’s highly unlikely that For Thousands of Miles will blow people away at Sundance. Hell, it’s unlikely it will even get into Sundance. It’s even more unlikely that the film will be picked up by any distribution house. It’s even more unlikely beyond that, that even if we got an offer for distribution we would take it. Amanda and I have come way too far with this film to sell it away for a next-to-nothing first-time-filmmakers compensation, loose all our control of the film, have them make a half-assed attempt at a theatrical run, and be stuck in a shitty DVD-release contract.

So, I want to plan on distributing this film ourselves. I don’t want to spend a great deal of energy and time cutting For Thousands of Miles, and then, when it’s complete, have it sit on a shelf and collect dust because we didn’t have a plan B in place. It is time for Amanda and I to start putting into motion the audience now that will want to see the film later. So we can hit the ground running when it’s ready to be seen.

Okay, two quick tools: A basic map-based request tool. Arin and Susan of Four Eyed Monsters used a Google Maps mash-up, plus a piece of code a friend wrote to allow those interested to put their name and zip down. Once that number reached a certain point, it was enough for Arin and Susan to cold-call theaters, which got them several screenings of their film all over the country.

I’m working on a map that has “phases” to it, all states begin at phase 1, all states have a low, realistic goal of needed request. Once a state reaches that first goal, let’s say California needs 100 people to complete the first phase, it moves onto phase 2 and Amanda and I are required to dump more resources there with the people interested in the film. Using the first 100 request as a stepping-stone, asking those people to see if their friends would like to request the film, and so on. Mailing out flyers and buttons to those people. Branching out in baby-steps. I have the map designed, and the state-shaped-links are all entered into a basic template… but I’m having issues building a smart request tool around it.

Which brings me to the second tool I’ve been thinking about. Amanda and I had lunch the other afternoon with the lovely Jessica Stover, from Artemis Eternal, near the end of our lunch, we started talking about Twitter. Jessica said that Twitter seems to be nearing the point where a filmmaker could almost drive their entire movement with Twitter alone. Which got me thinking about Facebook Connect, which then got me thinking about Twitter Connect (which doesn’t exist… yet).

A tool that I would give anything for; would be the ability to have people interested in the film, request it not with a basic “fill in your general info here” box, but to link their request to their twitter account. Allowing you to build a movement not enclosed on a forum, but open on Twitter’s timeline. It’s such a simple, powerful, immediate tool that tying it into a film’s network of fans would be very interesting.

Giving you options of having people’s activity on your map, or community, be broadcast automatically to their stream (if they want it to).

With the way things generally work now, a person would fill in their info for the map, request the film, be taken to a thank you page that ask them to also twitter about it. I’m sure someone out there is working on such a tool for general use, but in any case, I am looking for people savvy enough to code it.

Online tools are always presenting themselves, and people are always looking for new ways to take those tools and expand on them. Indie filmmakers stand to gain so much by re-packaging those tools to best fit their project. Do you have a project of your own? How are you planning for the future?

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Posted in For Thousands of Miles

Mike Ambs currently lives in Ypsilanti. He loves to film things and tell stories. And read on the subway. He's pretty sure blue whales are his power animal.

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