In 2008 we began production on a Super 35mm short film called Ten for Grandpa. After blowing up a car in an underground parking garage for my 2006 short, Anniversary Present, it seemed only natural to raise the ambition level and build nine sets on a sound stage for my next seven-minute film. Four years later, after an amazing festival run (including a Sundance 2009 premiere, and screenings at more than 50 other international fests) it was finally time to release the film for free on the Internet.
In the few short weeks since we launched online, Ten for Grandpa has racked up more than 33,500 plays on Vimeo (from 800,000 hits plus thousands more plays on other sites), and has been featured on Short of the Week, Film School Rejects, TheAwesomer.com, Oscilloscope Laboratories, directorslive.com, Flavorpill, theworldsbestever.com, johnaugust.com, directorsnotes.com, notcot.org and many others. Ten for Grandpa—which you can check out here—is centered around a list of 10 unanswered questions for the grandfather I never met. So it’s rather fitting that MovieMaker asked me to write a list of 10 answers to how we ran our Web campaign.
1) Quality first.
If you want anyone to take notice of your film when you launch it on the Internet, you’ve got to do one of two things: Film some folks willing to engage in coitus on camera, an infamous dilettante who will let you point your lens as she smokes salvia bong hits, or make damn sure that your film is of super high quality. From the writing to the production to the love you and your crew pour into every frame in post-production, getting folks to dedicate precious minutes of their time to watch your latest Internet offering is harder than ever. If the work is quality, your job will be much easier. We spent two years making Ten for Grandpa and another year getting it out there on the festival circuit. As they say, it’s shit in shit out. Do the work up-front and you’ll find your audience.
2) Lets give ’em something to talk about.
So you say you want to send out a media blitz? Spend the time putting together your best still photos, making a detailed press kit with tons of info and pull quotes and if you have behind the scenes materials, a previs, art department drawings or even your shot list, post them online too, so that you can give the press something to write about.
3) Choose your weapon.
In 2007, my film Anniversary Present was launched online by Atom Films and received more than 425,000 plays. In 2008 I co-directed a music video for Kaki King for her track “Pull Me Out Alive” that got featured on the front page of YouTube and racked up more than one million hits. But it’s 2011, and although I like a stuttery, highly-compressed cat on a skateboard as much as the next guy, in this day and age, Vimeo is the place for filmmakers to be. If hit counts are all you care about, then you should consider YouTube, but with 1080p image quality that destroys the competition and an interface that just won’t quit, Vimeo brings the goods.
4) Recruit your pals.
During the first week of Ten for Grandpa’s online release, I recruited full-time volunteers to help for the first five days. Launching on a Monday, together we emailed hundreds of publications, blogs and Websites with a clean little email letting folks know that the film was launching free online and telling them something about the film and it’s life on the festival circuit. Just like every other aspect of film collaboration, one of the greatest rewards in filmmaking is sharing the successes with your team. No one likes to drink alone; once the film starts to catch on, pop some bubbly to thank your friends for helping out.
5) Make friends with strangers.
When your film airs on TV, you deliver the broadcaster a tape or a digital file, and then if you’re lucky enough to be working with a great commissioning editor, they might be able to tell you a little something about how the film’s ratings racked up once it went to air. It’s an anonymous audience that is next to impossible to reach out to with your micro-distribution budget. With Vimeo and YouTube, the more users you befriend and the more channels you join, the more likely you are to get the film noticed and drive up your daily views. Don’t be afraid to send a personal message or two to channel moderators who are the gatekeepers to thousands of viewers. Just write a brief little note and let the film speak for itself.
6) Get social.
Facebook, Google+, Linked In… love ‘em or hate ‘em, that’s irrelevant. If you’re not using at least one of these imaginary friend portals, you’re going to have a tough time publicizing anything in this day and age. That said, you can’t rely on just your social network to get your films seen. And frankly, if you do, chances are you’re going to be de-friended pretty quickly. Just as the work has to speak for itself, so does the news. My approach has increasingly leaned toward just letting the folks in your network know that things are happening instead of trying to get them to make anything happen. All you have to do is keep the conversation going. When your film gets featured on a blog, magazine or movie Website, re-post it. When the film reaches a certain amount of hits, gets a positive review or even gets slammed by an angry critic, let your social contacts know.
7) Tell, don’t yell.
If you keep at it, every one of the acquaintances and strangers we call “friends” will take a look at the film, and if it’s of quality, they’ll pass it on and on and on. Be warned though, the last thing you want to do is bug people; you want your network to get behind the film’s success and be a part of that progression. When we crowdsourced the seed capital for my soon-to-be-released first feature, Art Machine, what started out as $25,000 grew and grew into a multi-six-figure budget as we expanded our network outward and more people caught on. But if we had burned out our social networks early on, that never could have happened.
8) Nobody’s gonna make it happen for you.
When AtomFilms.com acquired the rights to webcast Anniversary Present five years ago, not only did they kick a quarterly check our way for the ad revenue they were pulling in, but they also got more than 425,000 eyes on the film. I did nothing, except get paper cuts on decent little revenue checks that helped pay off the budget of our ambitious little Super 35mm unromantic comedy. Sadly times have changed, and with the exception of certain corporate partners who will want to stick their dirty little fingers into the creation of your content—and too few Websites like funnyordie.com, which have the celebrity power to drive the shorts they like—it’s increasingly up to the moviemaker to publicize his or her own project.
9) Enjoy it while it lasts.
One of the major themes of my upcoming feature, Art Machine, is impermanence. And nothing is quite as impermanent as the collective online consciousness all descending on your film at once. But don’t worry too much about the dwindling hit counts after the viewership has hit its peak; the biggest joy of making films—at least for me—is the work itself. Which brings me to…
10) Keep ’em coming.
Lock yourself back in a room, flip on a great album and work your way out of that creative vacuum, because once you’ve had one online film success, you’re gonna leave us wanting more.
Doug Karr has been creating original independent films since 1997. His credits include narrative shorts Anniversary Present, The Straitjacket Lottery and the award-winning documentaries LSD25, The June Bug Symphony, Lifecycles: A Story of AIDS in Malawi and The Face of AIDS. The writer of six feature-length screenplays, Karr’s script for My Thermonuclear Family won the Grand Prize at the 2007 Filmmakers International Screenplay Competition. His films have been seen by audiences around the world and on numerous television channels. Karr’s latest short, Ten For Grandpa, premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and has gone on to screen at more than 50 international film festivals, winning multiple awards. Karr’s latest film, Art Machine, stars Joseph Cross (Milk, Flags of Our Fathers, Running with Scissors), Jessica Szohr (“Gossip Girl,” Piranha 3D) and Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy, Big Daddy). Karr is represented by Caliber Media Co. To find more work by Doug Karr, visit http://www.piefacepictures.com.