Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thou Shalt Spread the Virus

So, as of this morning "The Tolltaker" has been viewed 50 times on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 15 was the halcyon day, with a breath-taking total of 19 views. (And, at this point, that is breath-taking.) Alas, the number goes down on succeeding days: ten each on Friday and Monday, and four the remaining two days.

So, once again, here's the pathogen all the busy little vectors out there need to spread the disease:


Of course, I'm encouraging people to email the link as far and wide as possible. My strategy has essentially two components: place well at film festivals and chalk up views and "Likes" of the film online. The ultimate goal: get a feature-length version of the Tolltaker made. The next intermediate step to get to that goal is to find a partner who has the resources to produce "The Tolltaker" and distribute it to both national and international markets.

When you're asking people to part with money, they're going to want to see numbers. The online views and Facebook "Likes" are going to provide those numbers. The trick is to get those numbers as high as possible. That's where promotion comes in.

These days, the most successful promotional campaigns are viral campaigns. The idea is not just to get the message out to people through some mass medium like television or magazines, but to get each person who sees that message to pass it on to his/her family, friends and associates. That way , the message spreads. Like a virus.

What are the chances of success with this route? Well, she's not trying to make a movie, but web star Marina Orlova, I'm told, makes well into five figures each month from her YouTube channel "Hot for Words." But the channel has racked up somewhere in the neighborhood of 420 million views so far. My paltry 50 hardly compares with that.

One thing I need to make clear is that I'm not asking anybody for money (and neither does Marina, by the way - her channel is ad supported). I have absolutely no intention to receive financial compensation of any kind from The Tolltaker. At least as a short film. As a feature film, that's a different story. But that story hasn't been written yet.

No, what I want is people to simply take 23 minutes out of their lives to watch the movie on Vimeo and "Like" it on Facebook. I understand that's a lot to ask these days. The vast majority of viral videos are no more than a minute long, and are passed between people as a goof. For them to commit to watching something that's the length of the average sitcom, they're going to have to be pretty engaged in whatever that video's about.

So, we have the same task that faces the marketing team on any feature film: hook people's interest, so they'll make the effort to go to a movie theater and sit through your movie, and pay for the privilege. So what do you do? Make the content - the story - leap out at the viewer in a way that's simply irresistible. Plant a question in the person's mind that just has to be answered. A compelling image can do the trick, given context by a clever tagline, the best being one that can be taken several different ways.

I like to think I've done that with my efforts so far to promote The Tolltaker. At the very least, those were the objectives I had mind when I sat down to make the Tolltaker postcard. Does it work? The only way to tell now is if the numbers on Vimeo and Facebook go up.

And, as a call-t0-action (which is that thing, that specific physical action, that most ads exhort you to do), I don't think it's much to ask of a person to click on a link to watch a short film, one that (hopefully) intrigues them anyway.

There are filmmakers out there who are trying to finance their films through subscriptions they solicit online. The hook is to tell the people who are giving them money that they're "producers" of the film. To date, I don't know of any mainstream (or even sub-mainstream) film that's been made this way. My instinct is to condemn this as unseamly, but I'm not ruling anything out yet. Who knows? You might see me out there on a street corner, hat in hand, with a sign that says "The Tolltaker wants your money."

Nothing's off the table.

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