We Make Movies (Better): New grass roots and the digital age of moviemaking at SXSW
by Jennifer Flaks


OliviawildebodyI have a confession to make: I’m a bit of an interloper in the film world. I was an actress for 15 years, having done my first Equity show at 16, but realized when I got to Los Angeles that my meritocratic beliefs don’t necessarily meld well with the realities of “showbiz.” I’ve written about my experiences here, so no need to wax poetic about the one-sided structure of the Hollywood machine. I have since transferred my artistic energies into an equally creative pursuit: digital marketing and social media. It is through the lens of a Master’s student at USC’s Annenberg Program in Online Communities and the founder of G.Stein Design, an online marketing and design firm, that I experienced this year’s 20th anniversary of SXSW Film in Austin, Texas.

I went to Austin with the intention of learning more about the convergence of film and digital, which proved fortuitous due to the simultaneous Interactive conference structure. Although my film badge did not secure access to the Interactive panels, I was able to glean plenty of useful information about the disruptive technologies that are challenging the “Industrial Age” models of the entertainment industry.

Beyond moving content online through YouTube, Vimeo and other video platforms, the Internet has opened up the market for independent filmmakers. As Krista Smith of Vanity Fair shared at the start of the “New Grass Roots: Digital Age Moviemaking” panel, “[In 2013,] what happens when you have a movie? Now, it’s a much, much different scenario and landscape of how a movie gets seen. You can’t be a filmmaker or even an actor and even assume that you don’t have to participate in the social, digital world.”

Olivia Wilde was on the panel, speaking about her role as an actor and producer on the film Drinking Buddies. She credits the cast’s strong presence on Twitter for the film’s attention at SXSW. “There is a bit of anticipation for a movie here, a little bit of buzz, and I think all of that is because of what people are saying on Twitter.”  The panelists offered numerous examples of how having a strong online community can create anticipation for a film, ensure a strong opening, push through multiple weekends, and find a receptive audience even when a film is not embraced by the critics.

Technology and social media have begun to provide feasible alternatives to the traditional multiplex cinema release. Where an OnDemand release was typically associated with a “failed” movie, it is becoming an increasingly viable way to introduce a film to a new audience and interact more directly with fans. Jason Janego, of RADiUS-TWC, added “there’s this generation who doesn’t know what they’re supposed to be doing in a movie theatre. They think that they’re going to be able to tweet. That generation is going to grow older and I don’t think they’re necessarily going to shift to the way things have always been.” Readily adopted among TV viewers, the use of the Twitter hashtag as a way to engage in a real-time discussion about what they’re watching is proving a strong tool for content makers to see who is watching and talking about something in real-time and, more importantly, to identify and grow the show’s audience. OnDemand and other digital platforms are providing filmmakers an opportunity to build on TV’s success by providing content to that same at-home—but actively engaged—audience.

In addition to these panels, I spoke with several local filmmakers about the use of social media beyond promotion. In the actual filmmaking process, Aaron Koontz of Paper Street Pictures used social search to find members of his crew, including a musician based in Poland who scored the film, as well as an artist based in Portugal who designed the poster. Amazingly, he never met in-person with either, but found them through Facebook, evaluated their work online, and then contracted with them. Other filmmakers shared similar stories about using social search for location scouting and casting needs.

Technology will continue to push filmmaking from the “Industrial” to the “Innovation” age. The filmmakers and studios would be well advised to get on the winning side of progress.

Photo of Olivia Wilde courtesy of SXSW

 

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