Filmmaker/Writer John Wayne Bosley
Obviously, my own experiences will always impact my film business perspective, however, three events since 2009 have significantly changed my perspective. These events weren’t huge festivals or conferences that I attended, or even great advice from a filmmaker that I admire. Instead, the following events were all Internet-based and provide a foundation for the film business changes I am proposing:
1. Nov. 3, 2009: Uruguay filmmaker Fede Alvarez posted his 5-minute short film, Panic Attack, on YouTube gaining over one million hits within 24 hours. This film also acquired the attention of Hollywood, which eventually lead to a one million dollar director deal (with Sam Rami’s company) converting his short into a feature.
2. Nov. 2009: INK was pirated over 500,000 times in 5 days on The Pirate Bay (a bit torrent site).
3. Winter 2009: Ted Hope posted a 3-4 part YouTube video that was recorded at a Canadian conference for film and television. (I could not find the original post on Ted Hope’s blog, but he was the one who originally posted the links.)
First, concerning Fede Alvarez: When every filmmaker I knew on Facebook and Twitter saw the huge media attention and Hollywood deals Alvarez was being offered, many of us reacted with anger. Many may not specifically admit that they were angry, but I believe that the anger was justified. Many of us had made feature films and yet this guy makes a 5-minute short film and Hollywood went crazy? When I went to bed that night, I was angry and bewildered: “Could it be that writing a great screenplay and struggling it out doing a feature film didn’t matter? Could it be that just packing five minutes worth of special effects and dropping it onto YouTube was the great answer?”
I woke up with an interesting thought: Maybe… just maybe, this filmmaker from Uruguay actually stumbled upon a secret answer to the new age of filmmaking. So, I set out to investigate why Alvarez’s short film worked and I soon found that there was a trend starting. Hollywood producers were picking up indie filmmakers making short films (Many of which weren’t the typical “short film,” but instead a micro-sized, 5 minutes or less, short film.), but not filmmakers with feature films. Here’s a few examples:
a. Nuit Blanche (4:42 TRT) by Arev Manoukian. Four days after it was posted on the Spy Films website, Hollywood agents contacted Manoukian and he signed with WME (William Morris Endeavor). The director of WANTED (2008) wants to produce Manoukian’s next feature.
b. Alive in Joberg (6:25) by Neill Blomkamp. This short was not discovered on the Internet (It was shown to Peter Jackson.), but it still illustrates the point that shortness is effective. As most know, this short was turned into the feature film District 9 (2009).
c. Azureus Rising (5:37 TRT) by David Weinstein. After this short went viral on the Internet in spring 2010, Weinstein signed with CAA (Creative Artists Agency).
d. Pixels (3:00 TRT) by Patrick Jean. Adam Sandler is now talking about developing it into a big screen feature with Sony.
e. Chloe and Keith’s Wedding (My Clumsy Best Man Ruins Our Wedding) (0:44 TRT) by Archie Gips. This short clip went viral with over 4 million hits on YouTube and tons of national attention.
Sadly, most of the above projects are very CGI driven. However, there is still an underlying principle that can be applied to all films.
It’s not as simple as uploading your short film to YouTube and waiting for the media calls and adoring fans. There’s a strategy and mindset to achieving these results.
Time to step back to the 1990’s… Sky Captain of The World of Tomorrow and The Blair Witch Project:
Sky Captain of The World of Tomorrow was made because the short film, Sky Captain (Contrary to popular belief, Sky Captain is NOT a teaser trailer.), was shown as an example of what the first five minutes of the feature film would look like, if produced. In 1998, Kerry Conran showed it to a friend of the family, Marsha Oglesby, who introduced him to Jon Avnet. Avnet stepped in as producer and the feature “Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow” was released in 2004.
The Blair Witch Project gained attention until it was screened at Sundance and then at its subsequent theatrical release. Everyone has talked about it’s transmedia campaign and it’s great website, but they missed what really launched Blair Witch into public attention. In Chris Gore’s “2nd Edition of The Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide” he gives a chronological order of events leading up to Blair Witch‘s success:
June 1997 At the Florida Film Festival, Dan (one of the filmmakers on the project) does some extra work shooting footage for John Pierson’s television show Split Screen. Dan gives a copy of the investor tape (stuff they had shot of the Blair Witch docudrama) to Pierson, hoping that he may help them.
Late June 1997 Disturbed by the tape, Pierson calls up Dan. He totally buys the reality of the film. Dan eventually lets Pierson in on the truth. Pierson purchases the rights to air the segment on Split Screen. The segment will run as the cliffhanger for the first seasons’ finale episode.”
Later in April 1998 they aired a second segment on Split Screen, pointing viewers to the filmmakers’ website which launched it into the public attention.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER:
Do you think that if the filmmakers just had a really great website they would have gained as much attention? Maybe. Or, maybe not.
Do you think if a filmmaker made a really great website for their film they would get attention today? No. It is a proven fact that on today’s Internet you have to drive the traffic to your site, not hope for someone to “Google it” and find you. Nothing happens by complete accident.
Why were film festivals so relevant for so many decades? Because they gave filmmakers a platform in order to draw attention to their films.
Why are television networks so important to the studios when it comes to show their trailers? Because millions of viewers will see it quickly.
So, back to the three events that changed my perspective: the success of Panic Attack, the pirating of INK, and the entertainment lawyer’s speech to Canadian film and television people. Panic Attack showed that you can theoretically create a viral campaign for your film before making it into a feature. INK’s pirating showed the importance of realizing that your film is going to be pirated (so get it pirated ‘”file shared” before releasing it as a feature), and the entertainment lawyer pointed out the four reasons people go to see a film, in the following order: the thrill ride, memorable moments, memorable characters and finally…. the story.
I’m going to pause there for a second and focus on the above reasons why people GO (or, get off their butt and pay money) to see your film. People either pay to watch your film, watch it for free (pirated), or watch it for cheap (Netflix or DVD). –We will focus on the people who pay to watch your film. I want to believe the story is the most important reason people watch a film, but there is no way to prove it until they see it, causing the story to be put at the end of the list. And, because of that, you must show the thrill, the memorable moment (just need to show you have at least one to hook an audience) and your unforgettable characters. The “thrill ride” doesn’t need to be a CGI extravaganza. It needs to be one of those moments, something that encapsulates the major emotion of the film. That way you say, “this is how you should feel, these are the type of moments you’ll not forget and these are the characters you’ll fall in love with”.
In conclusion, every other business in the world runs on the concept of supply and demand. For instance, in the auto business, they know a certain amount of mini-vans sold last year so they have an idea how many they’ll probably sell this year. But, the film business makes no business sense. They’ve been trying for years, but can’t come up with a usable formula so many recite the mantra “nobody knows nothing.”
Television is a much smarter business than film. In television, a producer will ask the network for the funding to produce a “pilot episode” for the show. This episode will be broadcasted during pilot season in key places like NYC, LA, Chicago, etc. From that pilot episode, they’ll be able to gauge the amount of demand for that show. Little to no demand means they don’t make the show. High demand means a show will be made.
Now, filmmakers have made pitch videos for years. Technically, Alive in Joberg and Sky Captain would have been under that category of “pitch video.” They created a simple, short video of the concept with the sole intent of showing it to key individuals who might invest in the feature. In those cases, you need to know people or know people who know people.
Introducing… The Internet
Just imagine that your YouTube channel is your TV network. You control the content. You’re also responsible for the marketing. I am proposing an idea that I have termed: The “Micro-pilot“.
Micro-pilot: the concept of a TV show pilot meets viral video. There is actually a simple format on how to create an effective micro-pilot so that it creates an emotional response. I will detail more of my discovery about this in Part II. And by the way, I’m not just proposing an idea, I’m wrapping up production my own micro-pilot, which will be released Feb 2011 called Awakening.
To Be Continued…
John Wayne Bosley is writer/director/producer who created "The Allan Carter Saga Part I: Amnesia" (2008) and created the first Twitter-Based Film Festival, Rebfest (2009). He is currently working on Awakening, which is planned for a Feb 2011 release, on the internet.
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