Today’s guest post is from Seed&Spark’s CMO, Erica Anderson. Seed and Spark is selective crowdfunding platform. Before Seed&Spark will approve a project for the platform, all components for a successful campaign need to be assembled: a strong team; the seed of a great film; and a compelling purpose behind your proposed film.

One of the hardest things to remember when you’re thinking about taking a film from idea to execution is that raising money is not, in fact, the hardest part of filmmaking, though it may be the most uncomfortable. The most difficult task is getting anyone to see it when it’s finished. It’s not only difficult, it can be really expensive.  Studios spend 1-10x production budgets on marketing. Indie filmmakers don’t stand a chance in that environment (although, marketing should ALWAYS factor into your budgets). Enter crowdfunding: a way to raise money while marketing your film.

In this light, Seed&Spark would like filmmakers to start viewing crowdfunding not as a necessary evil (or a mark of a film that simply can’t get financing otherwise), but as a key tool to engage their audiences in the filmmaking process and to grow a devoted fan base. The fact that you also get to raise a chunk of change is important, but it’s the short game. (A devoted fan base will make raising equity So. Much. Easier.) The long game is your career and making sure there are people who want to pay to watch your films for as long as you can make them.  That means building in to your preproduction an audience-engagement campaign. Every film is different, and there are as many ways to engage your audience as there are filmmakers. That said, we have identified some guidelines and critical questions every filmmaker should consider if they want to crowdfund (With us, and with anyone else.).

Seed and Spark crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is not an exact science or a paint by numbers affair, but the wheel does not need to be invented with every campaign. Lists are really helpful. Below is a list of criteria that we look for in project submissions that would like to crowdfund with Seed&Spark. These “guidelines” are largely based on the potential for a filmmaker and project to foster a supportive and engaged audience. We work with all our filmmakers to make sure they’re maximally set up for success – a tactic that has led to a 70% crowdfunding success rate (compared to less than 40% on other platforms).

Pitch video:Your pitch video should either make us fall in love with you or give us a great sense of what the finished film will be like. The best pitch videos will do both. Because this is a campaign for a film, the video has to be great and should exemplify your filmmaking abilities and techniques. Remember, people will invest in you andyour storytelling talent, rather than in a “concept.”  You have to demonstrate you’re a good editor: people stop watching pitch videos at 90 seconds.

Story: The story of your project is why YOU need to make THIS film NOW. Film and filmmakers are naturally suited to building their audience using Who are YOU? What is THIS project? And WHY does it need to be made? Give me an arc! Give me Drama! Make me care as much as you do! We ask you to tell us about this project. It should be personal. What are you offering to the community such that they should want to get involved with you?

Audience: The easiest way to start telling this story is to think: who is the actual audience for this film? Where do they hang out online? (So I know where to share the campaign?) What speaks to them? If you’re saying to yourself “Well, it’s men between the ages of 18-25,” you’re doing it wrong. Do you have a sense of who your audience really is?  What kinds of music, events, things do they like? This is important not just for your pitch video, but also building your wishlist and incentives. They need to be personal and interesting to your crowd.

Team: The scope and budget of the film can be aspirational, but should match your experience, abilities, and stage in the process. If you’re raising $500,000 for a big period drama, you and your team should reflect that capacity. (Also, don’t run a crowdfunding campaign by yourself. Just don’t do that to yourself.)

Outreach: Take a look at your current social media and personal reach. If 6% of those people give $20 bucks, do you reach your goal? No? Then you have to formulate a plan to reach beyond that circle. Regardless of where you are in the filmmaking process, are you already engaging with your potential audience? Examine what gets people excited when you post. Do more of that. Do you have a social media presence on as many outlets as possible? Have you organized your contact lists on email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit etc? Or do you know your audience spends most of their time on just one of these platforms? Focus your efforts on what works, and don’t waste time on what doesn’t. That means you’ll have to run some tests along the way.

A plan for success: Have you thought through how to successfully complete your project and get it to an audience? Your distribution plan could range from “We’re planning to apply to top festivals and get picked up by Magnolia Pictures” to “We’re going to pursue direct-to-audience distribution as soon as the project is complete.” Frankly, since option #1 happens for 0.01% of films, you should probably have a really comprehensive, thoughtful backup distribution plan that involves just as much work as the crowdfunding campaign. Don’t assume you can jump right in to your next project after this one premieres at festivals. 99.9% of the time, you are also responsible for getting that film to market. That is also a plan for success.

Time: Do you have time to run a campaign? Contrary to popular belief, if you just build it, they will NOT come, no matter what platform you use to crowdfund. You will have to capture your audience and then keep engaging them – long after the campaign and film are finished. A crowdfunding campaign should be thought of as time added on to pre- or post- production, not as something that can be run in tandem. In order to maximize the utility of crowdfunding, you’ll want to build in time once or twice a week for your entire career to engage with the folks who have chosen to support you.

While this list is not exhaustive (though possibly exhausting for some), it’s a very good start. These are questions I pose to every filmmaker who is interested in our platform. Submitting a campaign is a process and we don’t expect all of these criteria to be met before accepting a project.  However, we find these criteria and questions essential not just to successful campaigns, but successful filmmaking. As our inspiring CEO and my dear friend Emily Best said so eloquently, “Great crowdfunding is the efficient frontier between belief in your idea and the desperation to get it made. If you’re willing to put in the work to make a campaign successful, you’re on your way to a lifetime of truly independent moviemaking.”

 

 

 

 

November 25th, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Part 5, the final in our series on social media tools. Find the rest of the series on these links  Mindset Change, Myths, Facebook, Twitter

In its 8 short years of existence, Youtube has managed to become a powerhouse online destination for all things video and, according to Nielsen, reaches more US adults ages 18-34 than any cable network. However, 70% of Youtube traffic comes from outside of the US. The site is so active, over 100 hours of video are uploaded every MINUTE and over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube—almost an hour for every person on Earth!

Setting up a Youtube account and channel is fairly straightforward. It is generally based on having a Gmail account, which is free, and Youtube channels are also linked to a Google Plus account. Here is a video on creating a Youtube channel

Here is a video on how to create a Youtube channel if you DO NOT want to use a Gmail account:

http://youtu.be/NHRkpYbvSys

In March, Youtube started implementing their new channel layout so if you have a channel that was launched before this time, you will probably find that it looks very different now. Now, there is only one large cover image, just like on Facebook, and it matches the dimensions seen on G+ 2120px by 1192px. All channels have this layout and it is supposed to make it easier for mobile devices to see the channels in a uniform way. Pay special attention to the middle section of your image because on mobile devices, that is what will primarily be seen. Those measurements will be 1280px by 350px.

Your cover image is the face of the channel brand. Choose an image that tells a viewer exactly what she is in for when she visits your channel (your brand personality) and what to expect from the project. Also Youtube will prominently display a little “intro to your channel” video for those who haven’t subscribed to your channel yet. It is like a channel trailer or pitch video which lets you highlight your channel’s value and encourages subscribing.

Examples of personality branding on Youtube channels:

Conan on YT

Kevin Smith on YT

As with most things online, you will want to integrate all of your online channels so that the viewer is aware you have them. Add in links to your Youtube channel that include your main website, iTunes URL, Amazon URL, Facebook, Twitter etc. Don’t forget to add new ones all through your production process since you won’t initially have  iTunes/Amazon/Hulu etc links.

Be sure to include a call to action on your videos. This can be “subscribe to our channel” “join our email list” with a URL to the sign up page, or “Like us on Facebook.” These calls are best used as speech bubble annotations that flash on the screen while the video plays. You can set this up inside the Youtube video manager setting.

When you don’t yet have a large stockpile of videos created, build up playlists of videos that were not created by you, but suit the interests of your core audience. You can elect to feature these playlists when viewers visit your channel. There is the ability to configure what viewers see on your channel when they visit. Here is a tutorial on how to configure your channel sections:

Ultimately you are trying to build up subscribers on your channel, not just views. In fact, Youtube has recently redone their algorithm to favor videos from channels with a lot of subscribers because they want viewers to keep coming back to the site. If you plan to have a trailer and that’s all on your Youtube channel, you won’t attract many subscribers and you could be penalized in Youtube search. Also, subscribers give you the ability to be in contact with those who liked your video. They can be notified via email and within their homepage news feed when you have uploaded a new video.

A factor in making sure that your video can be found in Youtube search is tagging. Upon uploading a new video, you will be asked to add a title and description for your video. Write titles using a relevant and, hopefully, unique keyword. You can look for keywords using Google Keyword Tool. These same keywords will be used for your tags. Place the most important keywords and keyword phrases at the start of your tags fields. Include common and specific keywords (but not spam) and their misspellings because you want your videos to be found in any way they could possibly be spelled into the search bar. Write 12 or more tags and use as much of the characters as possible. Be sure to use appropriate keywords that will attract interest from potential viewers in your core audience.

Youtube is social, just as all social media is. Interacting with other channels, leaving  comments on other’s videos, subscribing to channels, answering comments on your page will help you see better results than simply using the site to host your trailer. If you have other channels hosting your trailer (ie MovieClips or a distributor’s channel), be sure to drop in to those channels and answer comments there too. The most common question is “When can we see this film?” and it will be surprising how little those comments receive an answer. You want people to know when and where the film will be available right? Be sure to answer! Engage your audience!

Having a lot of video responses in your comment section, as opposed to only text comments, will also help indicate to YouTube that your video is popular and relevant and will help with rankings. Respond to comments in the first hours after your video is published because building comments early helps build rankings in YouTube search.

Of course, everyone likes to see their videos getting a lot of views. In fact, having millions of views can turn into media coverage and reaching the trending topics section of Youtube which then perpetuate even more views. There are paid services you can use (see Virool.com or Channel Factory) to help seed your important videos across a network of online sites. These services can be very expensive to use (often $.10-$.15 a click with very high minimums to reach), but this is the way many corporations and Hollywood studios get millions of views to their videos and trailers in a very short amount of time. You didn’t REALLY think that was all organic, did you? Video seeding in essence is paid advertising, but if you need your trailer to go viral, this is the quickest way.

Youtube can be a source of revenue for your production company via embedded advertising if you are generating a lot of views. Revenue will only be significant if you are dedicated to creating video on a consistent basis and growing your subscriber base. For distribution companies, this should be something to add to their revenue streams since they are likely to have the ability to generate a lot of video. Check into joining the Youtube Partner Program for more information.

Youtube has created The Creators Playbook with all kinds of useful information regarding using the site.  The Playbook is free and updated regularly.

Sheri Candler

June 26th, 2013

Posted In: Marketing, Social Network Marketing

Tags: , , , ,

For the next several weeks, we will feature information for filmmakers who want to get started in using social media for their personal career and for their projects. These posts will be very basic in nature as we have realized that many members are confused/apprehensive/non tech savvy and we want to encourage them to be excited and proactive about sharing their work with an audience. At the heart of all social network marketing is the authentic, human need to connect and communicate with like minded people. This first post will prime you for the mentality change you need to succeed in using social channels. Quick jump to subsequent posts MythsFacebookTwitterYoutube

Changing the mindset and finding the time

Before starting with questions like which is better, Facebook or Twitter, we need to recognize that the whole idea of sharing online and communicating directly with an audience takes a monumental shift in thinking. While it was the accepted norm that an artist would be separated from her audience and expected to create away from the public eye, only allowing them to see the work when it was launched into the market, this is no longer the case. Artists, and all people and companies really, are now expected to be open, accessible and willing to speak with the public.

Whether one agrees with this expectation is immaterial, it is a fact and those unwilling to accept it are quickly falling behind. Are there well known artists who haven’t accepted this, who still enjoy popularity despite being inaccessible? Yes, for the time being. But 99% of artists reading this post do not fall into that category and cannot compare themselves to these personalities. Even within that category of artists, there is a changing mindset with very prominent directors (ie., Ron Howard, William Friedkin, Darren Aronofsky, Spike Lee etc), cinematographers (Roger Deakins, Matthew Libatique), producers (Frank Marshall, Dana Brunetti, Gale Anne Hurd) and screenwriters (John August, Craig Mazin, Roger Avary) actively using social channels on a consistent basis. If they can find time in THEIR schedules, so can you and you must.

audience shouldn't be disposable

Ending the disposable audience mentality

Every project you make is a startup product, but meant to further the whole of your career in the future. Your body of work should build on itself, growing in experience and helping to push out to the wider world with each successive project . However, it is a mistake to think that audiences also have to be looked at as a new startup with each new project. I would like to do away with the practice of discarding the audience after a film has run through its release windows. This goes for artists as well as distributors. It is extremely wasteful and even rude to court an audience for a period of time and then drop them only to start up again in a year or two or to regard them as mere receptacles for your one way advertising messages. The audience is growing used to expecting access on a near constant basis with brands (if you are an artist, you are a brand) and your brand needs to be more than a logo. It has to be a personality, an identity, it has to show the world what you believe if you expect any loyalty or relationship.The days of viewing your audience as some abstract entity or eyeballs with wallets are over and the days of thinking that all you have to do is make great work and it will just be found are over. Artists need to start cultivating their own audiences for a sustainable living.

Starting from Open, Random and Supportive*

Closed, Selective and Controlling. This is the mindset we have been used to in most aspects of the arts and in business. We have been operating mostly away from the public, hidden behind a logo and faceless entities we hired to speak for us (distributors, managers, agents and publicists). We listened to selective voices and we allowed only a selective group behind our closed doors of creation. We controlled all access in how our work was seen, experienced and who could talk about it or share it. This is NOT the world we live in any longer.

we're open

We need to open ourselves up to meeting all kinds of people and listening to all kinds of voices. Openness helps us grow. Be Open in accepting that this change in how people communicate has already happened, no matter how much you wish it hadn’t or how much you think it is just a phase. A major change in human communication has happened and the days of closed, selective and controlling are not returning.

Accept Random information. There is an endless supply of information streaming at us every day and the answer is not to cut yourself off from it. Learning to filter the noise, analyze the random in order to find the relevant is becoming a human skill that we will need in order to evolve and survive. Our children are already learning to do this, we need to catch up.

The Internet operates best in an open environment where sharing information, educating people, and building a large number of connections breeds success. Rather than thinking from greed and competition, think about how much faster you can grow your success by being Supportive of others and giving instead of only figuring out how to take from them.

Social channels are only tools

No matter which channels you choose, know that they are only tools to help accomplish your goals. When evaluating the tools, be realistic about the strengths you are going to bring to them yourselves. If you aren’t much of a writer, blogging probably won’t be a good tool for you I don’t care how much people say you should blog. Having a poorly maintained blog is worse than having no blog. If shooting video or photos is more your speed, then using Youtube, Instagram, Vine etc are tools on which to concentrate. If you would rather engage in short, pithy dialogue, Twitter will be your best tool. Not only will you need social accounts, you will need to populate these channels regularly. If you pick a tool that is torture to maintain, you won’t do it and you won’t accomplish much with it.

Goals to accomplish**

One goal for artists is to secure funding and one of the biggest opportunities in funding art projects is crowdfunding. You know what is at the foundation of successful crowdfunding? Having online connections with a core group of supporters.  Crowdfunding can help you expand an audience, but it is extremely rare to have a successful campaign starting at zero connections. If you don’t have an active presence online, it will be exceedingly difficult to raise money this way.

Another goal is industry networking. I haven’t met a first time or unknown filmmaker yet who didn’t say they wanted their work to be a calling card to lead to future work. While you can tour the festival circuit or hit all of the pitchfests in hopes of making industry connections, you can also accomplish this by following prolific industry executives online and interacting with them in a valuable way. Valuable in this instance meaning how you show your value to them, not how they can be valuable to you. We’ll talk about adding value in subsequent posts.

Reaching a group of interested people. While you can do this only through releasing remarkable work, you can do this on a daily basis as well. In sharing what drives you artistically, professionally, you can pull in those who have the same sensibilities as yourself. You can also be a catalyst for meaningful dialog and change. If the thing that drives you as an artist is to raise awareness or give a voice to the voiceless through your work in a visual medium, you can do the same thing on social channels every day. You can mobilize communities and create change.

In the next post, I will talk about the main myths behind social network marketing and you may recognize a few that you believe to be true. In subsequent posts I will highlight the main social channels in use today. Bear in mind that new channels are being adopted and existing ones are being replaced every day. Also there are near constant changes to the capabilities on existing channels. Such is the challenge to using these tools, but the core of what you are trying to do with them is not changing. Connecting and relationship building with an audience will become a cornerstone of your creative success no matter what online tools you use.

*based on this talk from Thomas Power.

**based on Jon Reiss’ 5 goals common to filmmakers when releasing their work

 

 

 

May 29th, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding, Marketing, Social Network Marketing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

By Sheri Candler

To coincide with 2 large events of interest to the cross platform storyteller, London’s Power to the Pixel and Los Angeles’ Storyworld Conference, I wrote up this case study of a cross platform project that was featured on the Storycode site. For the visual learners, there is a video of the presentation at the bottom of post, but it does run over an hour and a half.

Cross platform case study from Canada

Jay Bennett, VP of Digital/Creative Director, Smokebomb Entertainment, Toronto

Project: Totally Amp’d

Totally Amp’d is a mobile-only (Apple devices) series created by Smokebomb Entertainment and  the first App of its kind for the underserved tween  (ages 8-14) mobile entertainment market. Telling the story of five talented teenagers who are brought together to become the next big pop group, Totally Amp’d comprises a 10-appisode live-action musical comedy series, an original soundtrack, and a suite of interactive activities designed to fully immerse kids in the action.

Intent:

To make an episodic show inside of an app which would incorporate all sorts of interactive elements including  music creation, movie editing and fashion design. Also, to experiment with the idea “We are the broadcaster” and see if it is possible to bypass traditional television gatekeepers and connect directly to the audience.

Funding:

Production funding came via the Canadian Media Fund Experimental Stream which supports the creation of innovative, interactive digital media content and software developed for commercial potential by the Canadian media industry or for public use by Canadians. Grant award was less than one million dollars (CAD) of which the video production budget was by far the majority of the budget, around $500K. The app technical development fell between $50-$100K. With an inhouse team this could have been lower, but they used a third party developer.

Audience demographic:

They intended the series to target 8-12 year old girls and focus on music and performance, capturing the American Idol/Glee set. Aim was to create the show for an older girl, a 14 year old, because then the 8-12 year olds will watch.

Background of the team:

Bennett came up through the ranks of digital advertising agencies conceiving and executing ARGs, puzzles and finding code in URLs to tell stories. He disagrees with that approach to storytelling because he sees himself as the average user, not someone used to looking for the magic rabbit hole in a story.  He wanted  the story to be more accessible through video because it is a medium the average user understands. While he believes that there are opportunities for deeper content, he would rather spend the majority of the budget on video content and much less on puzzles, games, ARG type experiences.

Smokebomb Entertainment is the digital division of Shaftesbury Productions, a leading Canadian TV producer.  Totally Amp’d is their first completely original project to launch.

They brought in Karen McClellan as head writer with experience in the children’s TV market as well as writers from from the young adult market to give the scripts a more mature feel. The cast they chose played within a year of their real ages, not having 22 year olds play 17, in order to have more authenticity.

Development phase:

During research, they found a lack of good content apps aimed at the female tween demographic.

Though they started out thinking conventionally ( a webseries with some interactivity as an app), the research showed that most people now have smartphones and tablets or would have them very soon so they decided to take the whole project into the app space and viewable on a mobile device.

They only developed the project  for Apple products (iPod touch, iPad, iPhone) because they felt that when people think app, they think Apple iTunes. There was a revenue incentive as well since people expect online content to be free of charge, but they don’t expect all apps to be free and they are used to paying via their iTunes account for music and other downloads. This would alleviate the need to access another way (like via credit card or Paypal) for people to pay.Since music was the major focus of the project, they brought in a professional composer who could create pop music worthy of its own release. Kids would know if they were being given “adult” music masking as teen pop and they wanted the music to be a revenue generator so it had to be top notch.

Also, they brought in a production designer to give the set a look that would be remarkable on a small screen. The result looked half real life, half cartoon, a bit like rotoscope. Elements of the set were painted on real glass plates that cost about

 

$2400 a piece to create, though much of the time they ended up using green screen and VFX which was even more expensive.

Thinking through each component of the app:

This an episodic show about the musical arts so possible  elements to include would be music, music videos, fashion, community where kids could discuss the content together, an avatar to use in the community, game to build up points within the community, unique production design that would make the project stand out and sharability on social platforms.

But legal concerns got in the way of building a community forum because legally they needed a moderation team, especially for kids. Big broadcasters have this, but if you don’t have that support (YOU  are the broadcaster, remember?), do you have the resources to do it? Also, the avatar idea was dropped because of the cost of building an avatar generating system, the game idea was dropped due to budget concerns and as was social sharing because of deadline issues and the ability of the app to handle pushing out that size of a file to a Facebook or Twitter page. Dropping social sharing was probably a mistake when it came to promotion.

Typical shoot for the video episodes:

6 days, 16 cast members, 72 shooting pages, 58 minutes of content, 10 episodes with an average of 5 minutes per episode, 2 RED cameras, 7 music videos.

The App

They intentionally tried to keep the app simple to use due to budget constraints and due to the age of the audience who could be as young as 5 years old. They needed something very intuitive.  The app encompassed both the episodes and  the activities. At the end of each episode, a new piece of video content would unlock.

There is a music studio with all the songs from the episode. One could remix the songs with a choice of different instruments, save the creations and play them back, record your own voice singing the songs so you could be the star.

There is a video studio for the music videos.  There are 3 screens showing different camera angles of a video  and the viewer can edit them however they want.  Editing was just a series of touching the screen and the app would remember the sequence and play it back.

Finally, the design studio for the fashions. Viewer is given the blank outline of the outfit and given a choice of material patterns, colors, decorations then dress the characters from the show, a la digital paper dolls, and put them in a scene background from the show. The creations can be saved and turned into wallpapers, screen savers etc.

Deployment strategy

With file sizes like this, wifi connection is a necessity. Although putting  the whole app out at once would be a huge download issue, the team thought making kids wait episode by episode would tax their patience. The file size was one gigbyte, about a 20-30 minute wait for download on iTunes.

They put out the first episode for free on Youtube, but to get the whole package, the viewer had to pay one price and it opened the whole app with all of the episodes and special content.

Deciding on a price point

Free was out of the question and 99 cents still felt like free. It would be difficult to raise the price if it started at 99 cents. For an hour’s worth of content plus the extra material, the price they settled on was $4.99. That is the median price to rent a movie on iTunes and so it would be a comfortable price point for most consumers.

Building the Audience

There was a 2 prong strategy; getting attention from the industry/technology audience and from kids/parents of kids who would actually use the app. Parents often browse the app store looking for interesting content for their kids. Since Smokebomb was the broadcaster, they had to be the promoter too.

For industry attention, they used the in house Shaftesbury Media publicity department.  In the US, they used a company called One PR.

They received lots of coverage from industry press and business press.

For kids/parents attention, they enlisted the help of mommy bloggers. They did a press junket for a group of 8 influential mommy bloggers to come to Toronto to watch a shoot, see the making of the videos etc. This cost about $15000, but in hindsight  they would have bought Facebook ads instead.  Not that the goodwill hurt, but to spend that money to get these people to write reviews, it is likely they would have written about it for free just like any other journalist.

For social media interaction they worked with Fisheye Corporation. Tools they utilized included Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, own website with videos and contests.

Created 73 video assets of behind the scenes of production in order to get viewers to know the characters more intimately with backstories and explanations on using the app and what the show would be like. This was slowly dripped out in the lead up to launch.

The team released iPhone recorded videos of music recording sessions, dance rehearsals, cast doing demos of the app to show how it worked. Prize giveaways consisted of asking viewers to record themselves singing one of the songs and uploading it to the Facebook page for a chance to win.  They Livestreamed the launch party on Facebook so the audience could join in and people could ask questions with the cast standing in front of the camera to answer. A street team was deployed at local pop concerts happening in Toronto with flyers promoting the show. This was all done in the lead up to launch day in order to build up audience anticipation.

Partnered with Wattpad, a young adult fiction site where amateur writers upload their stories without pay, but some writers have millions and millions of followers. They worked with 5 of the most popular writers and gave each a character from the story and had them write a backstory that did not previously exist. All the backstories led up to the first episode the viewer would see.

They promoted it on Wattpad with character videos explaining what the app was, encouraging viewers to read the backstory on Wattpad, and promoting the launch date and Facebook page.

Deployment implementation

Episode one was released for free on Youtube on Christmas Day.  They released lots of teaser clips in the lead up to the first episode release.  The clips were featured on AOL Kids which helped the episode reach 320K views.  Official launch was January 26, 2012.

There is a risk with doing this. If the audience doesn’t like the first episode, you’ve lost them forever.

Successes

-the project actually launched, and on time

-strong press and critical praise

-industry praise from broadcasters at MIPCOM who said they beat Disney and Nickelodeon to the punch

-Disney wanted to buy the app, but Smokebomb said no because when that offer came, the project hadn’t launched yet and they wanted to see it through.  Also, they would have to get agreement from each department head involved at Disney (broadcast, interactive, music etc) and that is very arduous and would take another year to sort out. Also, Disney would own it, there is no revenue share with them.  In other words, you get one check and any revenue success Disney has on it (or lack thereof) belongs to Disney.

-launched to great success with fans asking for more! This was a mixed blessing because there wasn’t anything else being created in the immediate future.

Lessons learned

Danger of the all at once release strategy

After 3 hours, the viewers had burned through all the content and wanted more. The danger in allowing binge viewing is all the build up dissipates in a short amount of time. If they had dripped out the episodes, which they hadn’t wanted to do because they felt the audience wouldn’t be patient, then they could have done more to stoke up the conversations in between episode releases and that would have taken 10 weeks to do, instead of 3 hours. As it was, the audience ate up all the episodes and then were gone to the next thing.

Danger of the file size

Since the app was 1 gig and had a 30 minute download time, some may have given up before the download finished.

Being the megaphone

In doing this without a broadcaster’s support, it is exceedingly difficult to reach millions and millions of people on your own, only a fraction of whom will actually buy and download. Undeniably, once the initial launch efforts were finished, the download count dropped. People are still downloading, but nowhere near what they were at the start. This is all down to having a strong and sustained publicity effort going. Once the promotional budget was spent and efforts ceased, the buying went down.

Selling the rights in other territories

[editor’s note: I know many creators count on the revenue stream they are sure to get from broadcasters/distributors] No broadcaster cares about buying the rights to 10 episodes of a webseries. They will only get 10 weeks out of it on TV and then the show is finished. They don’t want to work at building an audience for only 10 episodes, they want 100 episodes. Same for selling broadcast TV syndication, you can’t sell a show with less than 3 seasons.

Axing the social sharing capability

By axing the social sharing due to budget, they also disabled the ability for free messaging by the viewers to spread their efforts wider. The purpose of social networking is sharing content you are excited about and they didn’t enable an easy way to do that. People did find a way around it, but it could have been done more easily.

Next steps based on those lessons

-Perhaps strip out the episodes and put them online for free to build the widest audience possible.  Once you have that large audience, find opportunities to sell either advertising or to a broadcaster who will commission more episodes. [editors note: while this theoretically could work, many, many Youtube channels are already devoted to doing this and very few have accomplished it].

-Perhaps keep the interactivity portions to sell as an app, making the app shorter to download and cheaper, like 99 cents. With many more people watching, it is a much bigger pool of people to ask to buy a 99 cent download app.

-Extend the experience without making new content, new shows, because the production fund is spent so there is no money to make anything new. Perhaps they could build a website as a portal to discovery of other content already available online. Examples: existing unknown bands with the same music sensibility as the show and highlighting them; calls for UGC content as well.

-Look at this project as a pilot for TV or web series for a broadcaster. Truthfully, broadcasting is still where the audience is in a mass way. Are there viral hits on Youtube, yes  a few, but the mass audience isn’t consistently on Youtube yet. The ultimate goal is TV, mobile, games, live event, the whole package.

Questions to consider

-How do you create an app that massively catches on when tons of people are creating new things and uploading them every day?

-Once your app is found, how do you keep people engaged from week to week? What mechanisms are you creating to keep your project top of mind?

Thanks to Jay Bennett for being candid about Smokebomb’s process and outcomes. For the video of his presentation including the post Q&A session, watch this

 

October 16th, 2012

Posted In: transmedia

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By Sheri Candler

This post was originally published on the Sundance Artists Services blog on March 26, 2012

To start with, I’d like to say that filmmakers should focus on the word social and less on the word marketing. This type of promotion is about relationship building and it is really difficult to build a relationship that starts from the premise that you are only there to sell something. Also, I take the position that all artists should be connecting directly with an audience not on a project-by-project basis, but on a personal one. Instead of starting over again for each project that is incredibly wasteful of time and money, you strive to keep building up the audience base for all of your work, really for you as an artist with a unique vision and a unique voice. No one else can tell the story the way you can. Even behind the scenes crew have a unique vision and unique talents. They should be sharing those with the world.

We all sell every day, we sell a concept of ourselves in how we speak to people, how we present ourselves and I think we inherently understand this. But before I want to do business with someone, I want to know I can trust them, and that I am not being used. I think many corporations still don’t get that about this medium yet. People don’t join your Facebook page to be your word of mouth sales force. Building up trust with your audience is paramount and you do that by giving first. You have to give something, and often for a long time, before you can ask. In fact, if you do this right, you won’t have to ask, they will ask you, they will offer to help.

Don’t attempt this begrudgingly or because everyone says it is something you are supposed to be doing. Start from the place that you are trying to find the people who would love what you do and you want to interact with them. Unless you are anthropophobic, this should be human nature, to connect with kindreds. There are people in the world who are like you and now you have this amazing tool to find them wherever they live in the world. Leave behind the notion that this is about numbers, this is only about sales, this is about buzz and think of it as a way to meet those who will love what you love. All of that other stuff is a by product of this. It will come, but it won’t come immediately and you need plenty of time to build up to that and it will take consistent effort daily.

I realize this is not the stance that most businesses take or understand. They want numbers, they want quantifiables. Utilization of social is no longer something that needs to be justifiable for business goals. Along with advertising, it is a business tool, increasingly a major one. Internet users expect to find you on social platforms whether or not you feel like that benefits the bottom line yet. It is and it will continue to do so.

Also note that this will not be your only tool when you are ready to start selling. Publicity, advertising, and email communication still very much have a place in your overall marketing efforts, but if you build a following consistently, your reliance on those more expensive tools will be minimized.

The key platforms for social network marketing:

I believe pretty much any site on the web is a social networking site. Any place where people can post links, comment, upload information, follow others has a social aspect to it. So those could be blogs, forums, publication websites (New York Times, WSJ), photo sites like Flickr or Instagram, video sites like Youtube and Vimeo, podcast sites like BlogTalk Radio, streaming sites like Ustream. I think people hear social networking and mostly think Facebook and Twitter, but really to be effective in reaching an audience, you have to know where they particularly hang out and it may be on Facebook and Twitter, but it also may be a LinkedIn group, or on Amazon, Meetup or certain blogs.

Any priority ranking to them?

It is hard to argue not being on Facebook since they have over 800 million users worldwide and 435 million are using Facebook from a mobile device. While 155 million of those users are from the US, 43 million are from India and the same from Indonesia. Other top countries are UK, Mexico, Brazil and Turkey.

Based on Alexa rankings, the top social networking sites for the US market are:

  1. Facebook
  2. Twitter
  3. LinkedIn
  4. MySpace
  5. Google Plus

But there are surprising ones in the top 15 such as: Tagged, deviantArt, Orkut, Ning and CafeMom. Don’t underestimate the power of Pinterest too.

It really depends on who your audience is and what they respond to, where they spend their online social time. You will have a mixture of sites, not just one and you will need to test which ones are giving you the most interaction. Maybe your audience really loves watching videos or they really love deep discussions at the end of blog posts. You will need to test what posts are popular and elicit interaction, even from your own website, which I will say you also need. You should never be totally dependent on a third party site. Just ask those who had free Ning sites instead of websites. When the free option went away, they risked losing their communities and had to pay to upgrade or start from scratch again. The same with Facebook and their EdgeRank algorithm. If Facebook deems that one of your fans doesn’t interact with your page enough, they remove it from their newsfeed, often unbeknownst to that fan. Since you haven’t been able to message them directly, there really isn’t a way to bring them back into awareness of your page barring spending money to advertise.

A website you own is the only true online real estate you can control. It is the central hub of all of your activity, everything else is just a spoke on that central hub. Collecting email addresses is also extremely important, but that is for another post.

There is no magic formula for being successful at social, everything has to be tested and the results will vary with each project.

Does it depend on the nature of the film?

No. The decision to be social really isn’t up for debate anymore. Americans spend 22% of their online time each day visiting social networking sites, 65% of all adult internet users have a social network account of some sort. This is not a fad that is going away, the upcoming generation doesn’t even know a time that social networking didn’t exist. It will get bigger, not smaller. Deciding which sites to spend time on will be determined by the kind of audience with which you need to connect.

What are key tips for social network marketing?

  1. Get a personal account going on the sites where you think your audience hangs out and start using it. I am astounded at agencies that sell social networking solutions and don’t have much of a presence themselves on social sites. How can you advise how to use them when you don’t personally do it for your own business? How can you handle someone else’s account when you don’t have one of your own? Every filmmaker hoping to connect with an audience needs an account.
  2. Start by listening first. This is best accomplished when you don’t need to build an audience by tomorrow, you know what I’m saying? If you have this pressing need to start connecting, people can sense it right away and they won’t interact. It is like the insurance guy who walks around a networking event handing out cards in order to meet a sales quota, not actually speaking to anyone other than a sales pitch. No one likes it in real life and they don’t like it online either. This is not a one-way message medium like advertising. If you want to speak, but not interact, just buy an ad. Listen first, determine how best to interact and then dive in.
  3. You are now a publisher. No way around this, it is just the way it is now. A new term for this is social business. A business that can collaborate, share insights and knowledge, and provide value to their audience is going to be way more profitable and sustainable than those who remain closed off from them. This means publishing content of some sort, either generated from your production or generated by your fans, but probably a mixture of both. It needs to be entertaining, insightful, worthy of discussion and sharing, and pulls the audience back for more again and again. We just entered an era of waaaay more work than we used to do. Not one piece of creative advertising, but hundreds of pieces in different mediums and across multiple channels that are meant to lead to discussion with the brand (yes, you are a brand) and with others also connected to that brand.

What are some key mistakes? Some “Don’ts”:

Waiting too late to start and using social only to self promote. Remember, self-promotion is about helping OTHER people. It sounds counterintuitive, but when you help others, THEY promote you. If they don’t, then you weren’t really helping (the help originated through clearly selfish motives) or you just haven’t connected with the right people.

A couple of examples of filmmakers who really get it right:

I hate to give the same examples as everyone else, but the best I’ve seen as far as sustainable interaction (meaning they aren’t clearly doing it just to promote their latest project and then drop out of sight again) are Kevin Smith and Edward Burns. They are consistent, they interact, they use multiple mediums, they don’t use social as a one-way shill mechanism and I don’t think they have an outside agency cultivating their communities.

I also really admire Tiffany Shlain, she has a great grasp of the power of social networking even though she advocates unplugging (gasp!) for a day each week. Her film, Connected, is about the power (and the curse) of the Internet to connect people, but Tiffany was doing this long before she made the film.

I know there are now more and more filmmakers building up their own audiences, but they may have only started in the last few years and they didn’t come out of the old machine so their followings aren’t as large as those examples. People like Gregory Bayne (Driven), Zak Forsman (Heart of Now), Kirby Ferguson (Everything’s a Remix), Jennifer Fox (My Reincarnation), Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere) are all building up their own followings, not just around their films, but around themselves as artists. Even people like Hal Hartley and Abel Ferrara are now starting to embrace social networking and crowdfunding. I really hope to be able to list tons more doing this every year.

It is completely perplexing to me that those who already do have a following from the traditional machine, do not reach out, really have no idea who watches their films and have no interest in knowing. This mentality is not going to serve them well with the consumers coming up in the world today who are used to interacting, who expect to have a dialog. The only thing I can think is, well, no one is popular forever, no one retains power forever. There will always be a new crop coming up behind and I think indie filmmakers who are embracing this concept now are well positioned to be the new crop.

 

Sheri Candler, social network marketing strategist can be contacted at info@shericandler.com or sheri@thefilmcollaborative.org and found at SheriCandler.com

April 24th, 2012

Posted In: Marketing, Social Network Marketing, Uncategorized

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This post originally ran on Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity’s blog

I am prompted to write this post because I have been hit up many times lately about supporting, advising or donating to various crowdfunding initiatives. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t quite a complaint because I have been known to support many campaigns by doing any one of these things (ask anyone else offering their advice if they have done any of these things by the way, the answer could surprise you). I do get frustrated by the ones who contact me because they have embarked without thinking through the strategy or they are very close to the time limit and very far from their goal. I thought it might be helpful to list out some ways to fail in this endeavor so you can be sure to avoid these mistakes.

1) You do not already a have a support network online. This is a biggie. I know you’re thinking Sheri, how can I already have an audience and supporters of my work when I haven’t raised the money yet to do my work? Do you have a personal identity built up? Does anyone actually know who you are yet? There are many ways to do this, starting with sharing your knowledge and experiences with people and championing others as much or more than you do yourself. This identity building takes time and should be started well in advance of asking for favors. If you don’t have a strong support network of friends, colleagues and people who enjoy the work you do, do not introduce yourself and your project by asking for money.

2) Your goal is unrealistic. At the moment, the highest amount I personally have seen raised is $30K.  That was for a feature and mostly used on principal photography. Most of the other projects I have seen find success are raising under $10K. Crowdfunding is meant to get your project started, get your project finished or be used for something clearly defined like a festival run or your own screening tour. It is not going to be your only source of financing for your feature film. In time, as your audience grows, this could change for you. Unless you have the base of fans mentioned in #1, try raising $5k and see how you do.

3) You do not know who your audience is. In addition to that base of supporters, you will also need to reach those most interested in the kind of story you are telling. Many filmmakers just keep their campaigns limited to targeting other filmmakers. Folks, I don’t know any filmmakers NOT looking for money to fund their projects. While they may love and support you, you must venture out of that pool to find alternate sources for donation. I was asked whether I felt that crowfunding had reached its peak yet. Hardly! Ask any average joe on the street what crowdfunding is and you’ll get a blank stare. These are the guys you need to hit up, the ones who aren”t completely burned out by being bombarded by appeals and who might enjoy what you are doing.

4) Your campaign length is too long. Kickstarter has advised that the most successful campaigns are the shortest. Why? Because you and everyone else you know gets exhausted fundraising for 90 days. The campaign starts off strong (you hope) but somewhere around the 30 day mark it wanes big time! The momentum stalls, people get tired of shilling for you, you get tired of shilling too. Set the goal for 30 days maximum and work it nonstop during that time. Hint: that doesn’t mean your only communication is donation appeals. A reminder or two a day will suffice. The rest of the time, tell us about what you have planned for the project, comment on other conversations, share some useful links. Don’t be a complete pest!

5) Just offer tshirts and DVDs as perks. Nothing meaningful or imaginative. While I usually do not donate based on the perks, but on how well I know the people and how much I believe they can carry off the project, many people are all about the perks. If you are offering the same run of the mill stuff that can be purchased way cheaper at Walmart than at your minimum donation level, you need to think from the greedy donor perspective. I can get tshirts for $5 and a DVD of a film I have actually heard of far cheaper than a donation at the $50 mark. Get creative on what you can give donors that they will actually like, need, and most importantly, talk about. Are you a great cook? Can you do cool magic tricks? Are you a poet (I’m looking at you John Trigonis)? What can you offer your donors that is special to them and won’t cost you much if any money to manufacture?

Anyone else have some mistakes to add? Advice from those in the trenches is always appreciated.

Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist who helps independent filmmakers build identities for themselves and their films. Through the use of online tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, online media publications and radio, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged and robust online community for their work that can be used to monetize effectively.

She can be found online at www.shericandler.com, on Twitter @shericandler and on Facebook at Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity.

October 12th, 2010

Posted In: crowdfunding, Uncategorized

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