Film Fund-amentals: Friending the Network

It must be something in the water. Every indie filmmaker on earth is totally convinced that the key to success is the use of the social media. Countless blogs have been posted hammering away at this point. Numerous self-appointed experts have emerged to guide people through the digital universe for fame and fortune. An incredible number of Tweets have been posted, and virtually every other comment on most social network sites is from someone wanting to know if this really works.

So right off, let me start by saying something that no one else will say regarding this topic: I am not an expert. To be honest, nobody really is an expert on this topic (or at least a mere .1 per cent according to Gary Vaynerchuk). Social media are so new and still in such an early stage of development that it would be impossible for anyone to be an expert. Experienced, perhaps. An expert, nah.

What I do know is an odd combination of passing experience and observation. This isn’t much to go on, but it is almost enough to make me a self-professed expert. Obviously I am pressing for membership in that 99.9 percentile that Vaynerchuk talks about.

Everyone has to adapt and use the social media. Today it is the primary focus of any media campaign, big or small. Every major studio in Hollywood has adapted, some much more grudging than others. A Facebook site has become de rigueur. YouTube is peppered with movie trailers and “leaked” footage sent out to go viral. PR agents are stoking Twitter with the latest “scoops.”

In principle, the use of social media sites provides media operators with direct and immediate contact with the audience. In reality, the major players are not really looking for any give and take. They just want to steer the audience in their direction. But what everyone is really seeking is exposure. Vast, unlimited exposure to a worldwide following.

Does it work? Yes, sometimes. One of the first mistakes people make is to think that social media sites provide a quick and magical fix. They don’t. They can be an extremely useful part of a larger approach, but on their own they can be pretty meaningless. This is a problem that many young indie filmmakers run into. They need to create a more extensive strategy to actually get use out of social media systems. Facebook, MySpace, or any of the other sites are only a component to a larger game plan, and if you don’t have this larger plan you will find yourself vanishing somewhere in digital space.

Arguably, the social media systems are most functional as secondary digital components rather than primary. They work best as a reinforcement to your web site and/or blog. A good example of this is the method used by the makers of Iron Sky. They have their web site that is used for trailers, fund solicitations, news briefs and profiles. Then they have their blog site as an extension of the web site, which gives people a good opportunity to try and learn Finnish (I assume there is an English version somewhere but I haven’t found it just yet). Finally, it is all connected to the Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook and MySpace accounts. It’s a total integrated package for wall-to-wall digital networking. Sure, this is a lot more work to set up, but it is how you must do it.

So first, you will want to build your web site. You will want to find a company with reliable service and low rates, and you are best advised to start by cruising through the consumer reviews at such spots as Award Winning Hosts, Web Hosting Geeks, and Thanks to the ever-changing nature of the business, you will want to cross check every comment and review you read about any web server (and pay attention to the dates on all reviews — a company that was good in 2009 may have fallen apart by 2011). Most important, get a good domain name. Normally, it will be the title of your film. If that domain is taken, go for something that reflects the title (even if you have to use a name that looks a bit like a vanity license plate).

Unless you are an experienced web designer, go with a company that provides extensive support in building your web site (or else find yourself a web designer who works cheap — the design schools of virtually every college are stacked with talented folks who might be willing to do an intern project). If and when you need extra software for developing your web site, you can either try any number of commercial systems or take a crack at the OpenSource model. Setting up the social media accounts is a lot easier, but you will need the web site as the real centerpiece of your promotional plan.

Most commercial web services will provide a blog site as part of the deal. If you need to create a blog site on your own, you will most likely find yourself (along with a sizable portion of the rest of the planet) using the basic plan at either or Blogger. Each system has its ups and downs, so take your pick. The important point is to have the web site, the blog and your social media accounts all feeding into each other.

Now that you have this all set up, you are ready to engage in the hard part. Do you have a promotional strategy? Did I just hear somebody say “A what?” All of these systems are utterly useless if you don’t have a clue as to what you want to present. More important, do you have anything to show that might be of any interest to anyone anywhere on the face of the earth? Better still, is it something that you can get linked up with other sites in a strong and mutually supportive manner?

Next time we will explore some of the basic points of the mystical art of promotion and some of the reasons why I worship Joseph E. Levine.