My Secret Weapon Part II:
“What Makes A Great Micro-Pilot”
John Wayne Bosley
So you’re expecting to go make your own micro-pilot, post it on the Internet, get a million hits on YouTube in 24 hours and Hollywood is going to be banging on your door wanting to make you the next great success story?…. GET REAL.
Now that I’ve bust that bubble of over-enthusiasm let’s deal with reality. There are so many factors that go into why a film gains one million hits that it is a far better idea to create a more reasonable goal for your micro-pilot. Something that is potentially attainable. Yes, there’s that rare chance that your film can gain one million hits, but there are a ton of YouTube shorts with one million hits, or even more, that haven’t been seen or acknowledged by Hollywood. Why? Because, for some reason, the connection between Hollywood and the filmmakers didn’t happen.
What’s a realistic goal to shoot for? Something like 20,000 hits in a week or two. Or, maybe 50,000 in a month. I know that doesn’t seem very grand or exciting, but it is better to shoot for something realistic and then be surprised by something epic. If the reverse happens, your self-esteem will take a huge hit: “I will make one million hits and go viral or I’m a failure as a filmmaker.” This results in filmmakers over-criticizing their talent and work. Things happen. Things we can’t possibly predict can keep great talent from being the next “Cinderella Story.”
Let’s focus less on the word “viral” and use the phrase “rapid-accelerated-word-of-mouth” instead.
There’s a big difference between a micro-pilot and other films that could be the same length: film shorts (the 5 minute version) or scene selects. A film short is just that; a shorter film. It has a definitive beginning, middle and conclusion (though some really artsy films don’t ever entirely “conclude”). A scene select is literally a scene that was ripped out of a film, usually during post-production. It is shown to the public in order to build interest prior to the film being completed and released. (Sometimes a fan can also rip their own scene select out and place it on the Internet for your viewing pleasure via pirating. i.e. “Office Space.”) Even though both of these types of films are similar lengths, the intent and form are much different than the micro-pilot.
The micro-pilot is created prior to production. A micro-pilot is a scene that encapsulates the concept of the film in approximately 5 minutes or less. It has to hook you in from the first frame and pull you all the way through till the final frame. Initially, it’s about hit counts but also about making something that has a form of self-marketing involved. People need to watch it all the way through ‘till the end so the hit on YouTube counts and they also need to love it so much that they click the “share” button and tell all their friends. Unlike a film short, it has a beginning, middle and ends with a hook. (I’m not saying it has to end with a LOST ending.) The hook needs to make the audience realize that there is more to your story than what they have seen. Think of it like going to a grocery store. In order to get people to buy a new food product, a taste tester offers free samples. The taste tester doesn’t offer you the whole thing for free, just a sample of it. They’re just wetting your taste for more. And… if you really like it there’s a good chance it found it’s way into your grocery cart.
I’m great when it comes to the subject of history, but not so great at math. Why? Because I see the historical moments as images in my head that then have dates attributed to them. I aced those type of classes. Not so with my wife. She’s like most people: she see dates and times and it just seems like data entry. While helping her study for a History of the Western World final in college, I learned that the best way for me to help her remember was using images that could be easily recalled during the test.
Peter Dekom’s speech, mentioned in my last blog post, stated the four reasons that an audience member goes to see a film (in order): thrill ride, key moments, memorable characters, and the story.
Make your micro-pilot contain memorable images. For instance, in 1968’s The Planet of the Apes, the destroyed Statue of Liberty at the conclusion of the film was a memorable image. People talked about that image for months after the film was released. It struck such a memorable chord with its audience that the film was show to the UN Council and started discussions on ending the nuclear arms race.
What distinct image(s) do you want your audience to remember days after seeing your micro-pilot? Telling a story isn’t good enough when it comes to the micro-pilot. You need to really stamp a visual memory recognition moment in your audience’s mind.
Recently, “Modern Times”, another short film that was released in December, has gained huge buzz from Hollywood. There’s a specific visual memory recognition moment that specifically stuck with me: The “audience” saw something on the surface of the moon. (If you haven’t seen the short, I won’t spoil it by saying what that “something” is. Check it out for yourself and see if you notice the visual memory recognition moment.)
Audio memory recognition is also very important and could be sounds, dialogue or music. Think “Jaws.” Anyone in the 1970’s that saw “Jaws” on the big screen would probably forever hear it’s music playing in their head while they’re at the beach or lake… anticipating some shark or sea monster to come gobble them up. Or, consider “Psycho.” Many people (including my wife’s grandmother) wouldn’t take showers after seeing AND hearing the shower scene. Star Wars left a permanent impression on me as a kid with Darth Vader’s breathing and the inevitable music that accompanied his entrance. Audio memory recognition doesn’t need to be complicated, it can simply be something like a certain repeated sound or a catchy phrase that people will love to quote (i.e. the “sound” that accompanies the LOST title).
The point is, in order to make a micro-pilot have effective self-marketing, it needs to have something unforgettable and something that inspires people to “share” it.
The “big talk” in the indie film world during the last year has been the new term PMD (Producer of Marketing and Distribution). Even though I am a big fan of PMD’s, their results are only as good as the material you give them. If you think like a marketing guru or publicist than you make their job results even better! If you just get lazy and only give them minimal information to work with, you’ll have an extremely frustrated PMD. For example, my wife is a web designer. Some of her clients would ask her to make a website, but would have no idea what they wanted or needed. Do some thinking about your story and how to best get the word out.
One of the most important means to promoting your micro-pilot are key influencers. After doing some research, I came up with a hypothetical reason to why “Panic Attack” was so successful. First, it had one million hits in 24 hours because Kanye West blogged about it. How did Kanye West find out about a YouTube video when it only had a few thousand hits? Should I think that he was randomly browsing the Internet and “stumbled upon” this video? –Yeah right. The answer can be surmised when you checkout Fede Alvarez’s YouTube account.
“Panic Attack” was originally created to be a music video for a band. The band’s song was called… wait for it…. “Panic Attack.” He created the entire sequence, and just before compositing the band into the shots, and adding their music, he posted it. The version he posted used the soundtrack from “28 Days Later.” The reason he posted the video ahead of time was to build up hype so when the music video was released it would already have a fan base. I don’t think Fede Alvarez expected the first one to go viral.
So what does this have to do with Kanye West? Well, Kanye West is in the music business and likes to voice his opinion on just about everything. Remember, “Panic Attack” was supposed to be a music video. Either the band knew Mr. West or, through a few connections, the video was passed onto Mr. West.
I think the same thing happened also with “Modern Times.“ With “Modern Times,” the news stories never talk about it going viral, but instead, about the filmmaker being the big buzz of Hollywood. He probably passed along the film’s Vimeo link to some “connections” who passed it along. I believe there’s a possibility that this may have been originally conceived as a pitch for a commercial, then was passed along until it ended up in the right hands, who saw it’s potential from a film production point-of-view. (Many of this micro-sized short filmmakers are in the business of making commercials)
Key influencers are a huge factor when it comes to your film career. Get to know people. Filmmaking is about storytelling, but the film business is about relationships. I’m not talking about butt-kissing. No one likes butt-kissing, it usually means someone wants an obvious favor. Instead, connect with people and make great cinematic storytelling. People who are all talk (which happens a lot in this business) annoy people. However, people who can do both “show and tell” impress people.
To Be Continued…
(And yes, I’m wrapping things up with “Awakening,” my first micro-pilot. It will be released at the end of February.)
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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