It’s been a long time under wraps, but glad I can finally announce that my short doc Strike: The Greatest Bowling Story Ever Told is now on The New York Times, kicking off their new curated Kickstarter documentary series. Check it out below and please share it!
A few weeks ago I wrote about all the press Dolphin Lover was receiving (which for a quick backstory is a short documentary Kareem Tabsch and I made that premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival). The pinnacle was getting an entire riff on @midnight and Mazel of the Day from Andy Cohen.
But the buzz has slowed down, so here’s a look at the things Kareem and I learned, what could be done better, and how we totally messed up so you don’t have to make the same mistakes we did.
But first a preface. The doc obviously has a sensational logline ripe for tabloids – man has sexual love affair with dolphin. While the film is an unbiased look at Malcolm’s experience and zoophilia, it’s easy for the sensational aspect of it to get carried away, which is definitely what drove both the press and negative comments it received. It’s also a polarizing subject (another plus for virality) – Kareem and I couldn’t even get a publicist to take on the project (which obviously was unnecessary in the end).
So while the subject matter definitely stirred up the press, these are takeaways I’ll still be using on future projects.
I first put the trailer up on Vimeo because Vimeo is for Cinema with a capital ‘C.’ While Vimeo is a great, clean player with excellent quality, it’s terrible for audience building. I realized this about 30,000 views in when I knew we had to switch gears to capture some of the traffic we were getting, both for future Dolphin Lover videos and to cross-promote other projects.
So I uploaded the trailer to YouTube (but forgot one crucial thing that I’ll mention later), swapped out the hosted trailer on the site, and pushed blogs to use the YouTube embed. It worked. Channel subscribes shot up from about 100 to nearly 1600. Thanks to annotations, when I posted new clips from the film, they got about 200k views combined (all the Dolphin media has gotten about 600k views).
Another thing I learned that YouTube added – you can now link directly to your website with annotations, as long as you get it authenticated with Google Webmaster Tools. You can put all the links and info you want in the description – no one is going to share that when they embed the film. It needs to all be self contained (more below). Annotations are key.
Another draw for switching players was monetization. I realized this could possibly be the only money we see from this project, so better capitalize on it while we can. I’d also been curious how much YouTube ad revenue will bring in. So what was the tally for over half a million views? About $200. Dinner’s on YouTube!
Point the traffic somewhere that brings in money
As traffic to the trailer and website shot up, there was somewhat of an end goal of where to funnel it – YouTube and newsletter subscribes. These were both successful in increasing numbers but they don’t guarantee revenue down the road.
Ideally we would have been set up with a distributor and had pre-sale links ready on YouTube, iTunes, and other VOD platforms. But if we couldn’t even hire a publicist it wasn’t like a distributor was going to talk to us. That was the point of Slamdance, to attract attention. So by the time the film started to take off and we were talking to sales agents, getting on VOD right away wasn’t an option because they require a few weeks lead time.
However we could have done our own pre-sales with VHX and captured the people that were really, really interested in seeing the film. Now we’ll have to hope they come back and buy or watch once the film is out.
Every piece of media associated with the project needs to stand on its own
Expect everything to be stolen, nothing to get linked to, and the film’s title changed to something else. Because it will happen.
WTFark was the first video to hit the web making fun of the trailer, but I realized that they’re talking about the film and using clips from the trailer but not linking to anything. Every frame of the trailer needs to promote the film. So I watermarked the hashtag I’d been using and the URL in the corners of the trailer. I was able to swap out the Vimeo file because they let you do that, however this was after I had already uploaded to YouTube and I couldn’t switch out that file. But all future video clips had the watermark bugs in the corners. The strategy worked – RT never cited a website but the clip they showed had it all over it:
Though it would have been nice if I could have gotten the URL out on @Midnight.
Now there were other times that were just frustrating in the lack of source attribution and I don’t see anything that could’ve been done about it except publicly vent. Some examples:
One of the most popular tweets about the film links to absolutely nothing
A 63-year-old Florida man claims a dolphin seduced him into a year long relationship. pic.twitter.com/WXuBL1oJc8
— What The F*** Facts (@WhatTheFFacts) February 3, 2015
World Star Hip Hop totally ripped one of the clips (luckily watermarked) and hosted it on their own player. If their stats are to be believed, it has over 200k views and 16k comments. Would those 200k views have translated over to YouTube? Probably not. But still, WTF.
The UK’s The Mirror went a step further and pulled short excerpts I had posted on my Instagram, stitched them together, and put it on their own player as a Mirror exclusive.
While I’m thrilled to have a project on the always entertaining and extremely popular Florida Man Twitter, they tweeted one of the worst articles that links to absolutely nothing and has no videos.
Florida Man Says Dolphin "Seduced" Him Into Having Sex | http://t.co/Mw9KdhBAvh
— Florida Man (@_FloridaMan) February 2, 2015
Bottom line – every video, poster, picture should be able to stand on its own and not hope that a blog will link back or even mention the project’s name.
There was no international strategy. When I noticed a Spanish blog picked up the story and was driving a lot of traffic, I had Kareem (who’s half Cuban) write out Spanish subtitles and I put them in the video. This should have been done from the start for all the videos.
A popular Hungarian site also picked up the story and Hungary became the third largest source of traffic (after US and UK). But sadly I don’t have any Hungarian friends so there’s no translation.
Websites are responsive
I was pretty aggressive in reaching out to websites and writers via contact forms and Twitter to correct links, spellings, and quotes, and surprisingly they were pretty responsive. While most of the websites are copying and pasting from a handful of sources, they’re still open to corrections, tweaking the story, and swapping out videos.
One more thought and I still don’t know where I land on this – I decided not to make a project specific Twitter or Facebook page. For Twitter I used the hashtag #DolphinLover and my own account and for Facebook I used the Coffee & Celluloid page. I’ve had project specific accounts in the past, and I’d probably still do it for a feature, but for a short I see the account getting some action but then things will slow down, it’ll get dormant, you stop posting, and now you’ve lost all those follows you gained.
My thought is it’s better to use these projects to build up an audience for a larger brand, say a filmmaker or production company. With each new film there’s a bigger platform to launch on. Content stays fresh and the audience stays engaged.
I’m sure there’s some other lessons learned but these are the main highlights. Open to thoughts on this or other things we could have done differently.
If you told me a year ago that I’d be running, boxing, and doing CrossFit, I’d have thought you were slightly nuts, especially the running part. The only history I have with sports and fitness is the PE class I took online for high school.
However I had been feeling low energy, mentally foggy, and when I was on shoots I’d get sharp muscle pain in my arm from holding the camera rig. I was doing a lot more post work than before, so lots of sitting was involved (which is quite hazardous). I knew I needed to get more active, both for health and to be more functional.
So I joined
the cult of CrossFit (I know, I know). What attracted me to CrossFit was the intensity and variety. In the future I’ll cover some thoughts and lessons learned as I progressed, but what struck me the most was how remarkably quick you see gains. It becomes addicting and effective at getting your mind going, more so than caffeine for me. CrossFit lead to boxing (which was being offered at the gym), though I’ve since paused due to some knuckle issues.
All of this is leading up to Mt. Rainier. After getting into shape I was reminded of how much I liked climbing mountains in Boy Scouts and that it was something I wanted to try out again, but on a more technical level. I also wanted to expand my skill set for the type of work I can do and remote areas I can shoot in. So this summer I’ll be taking a mountaineering course that ends with a summit of Rainier.
While reading books about mountaineering it was becoming clear that one of the best ways to prepare was to run more. Running has always been my least favorite activity. Hike? Yes. Run? No. But thanks to the few months of exercise I had been doing, when I started to run, it wasn’t so terrible. It’s actually one of my favorite things to do now (I’ve even brought my gear with me to run in the snow in Park City and Boston).
This is all to explain why I’ll be doing some posts about health and fitness, from the perspective of a guy who has no history of physical fitness but has dropped 30 pounds and is preparing to climb a mountain. So much of filmmaking (and especially documentary filmmaking) involves sitting at a computer for long hours and it’s killing us. This is about getting healthier and working better.
This is just a a quick writeup of some of the films I enjoyed most at Sundance. More importantly, these are out of a very small pool of films I was able to see, because even with a badge, it’s really, really hard to see films at Sundance. To get a ticket for each of the film’s below required waking up at the crack of dawn to walk a mile in the snow to the box office to buy tickets only for that day. Plus you’ve got to wait in line for about an hour before showtime to get a good seat.
Buy, watch, repeat. And in some cases like Meru, it took four early morning attempts. But in the end, all these movies were well worth the early rise and cold weather to see, so I encourage you to see them because I’m sure the obstacles in you watching them will be way lower.
I’m a sucker for mountaineering docs. Meru is about the journey of three close friends to make a first ascent on a new route up Mount Meru. The obstacles and injuries they overcame is mind boggling. But unlike most mountain docs that involve a lot of re-enactments in controlled environments, Meru was shot by the climbers (two of which are National Geographic photographers) during their multiple attempts. So you’re right there in the action, seeing their struggles and getting their unedited thoughts as they attempt the climb.
Witness the birth of pundit television. In 1968 ABC staged a series of debates during the political conventions between leading conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. and leftist novelist Gore Vidal. Dead last in ratings, the televised sparks between the two shot ABC to number one and a new type of political theater was born. Funny and witty, Best of Enemies pulls from a great collection of archival footage and source material that really brings this engaging political boxing match to life.
Louie Psihoyos’ follow-up to his Academy Award winning doc The Cove. Racing Extinction uses the same guerrilla style filming with covert cameras and hidden microphones to create an eco-thriller exposing all sorts of extinction threats, from illegal wildlife trading to a tricked out Tesla that can film and project CO2 emissions. It’s the Blackfish of 2015.
An exploration into the amateur porn industry, where young girls respond to Craigslist ads in search of fortune and glory. Following a group of girls based in a house in Miami with their ‘manager,’ the film has amazing access to capture the journey of the many girls that come and go. It’s often a short journey as they get burnt out or producers become interested in new talent (as the pool is seemingly endless).
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Not a documentary! This was one of the films that was getting a lot of buzz, so I wanted to see at least one movie that was going to be a break out hit. It did not disappoint. A high school pic about an awkward, movie making senior who befriends an ill classmate, it has the joy and quirkiness of Napoleon Dynamite with major pull at the heartstrings. And for taking place in a high school, a setting that you’ve seen countless times on film, it had some of the most inventive and beautiful cinematography I’ve seen in a long time.
So this was a Slamdance pick but I definitely wanted to give it a mention because it was a great film following the Haitian presidential campaign of Michel Martelly with the help of Pras Michel, founder of the band The Fugees.
I’d say it’s been a hell of a week, but the week isn’t over yet. Last Thursday was the second and last screening of Dolphin Lover at Slamdance. Shortly after that we received an honorable mention for short documentary from the jury, which was awesome.
— Slamdance (@Slamdance) January 30, 2015
At Slamdance we had created a bit of buzz, mostly from our provocative poster, a great article by Arielle Castillo at Fusion, and an interview with The Miami New Times.
— Fusion (@ThisIsFusion) January 26, 2015
— Miami New Times (@MiamiNewTimes) January 29, 2015
Nothing crazy. We flew back on Friday. When we landed, Kareem and I saw that WTFark had done a 4 minute sketch about the film.
— WTFark (@WTFark) January 30, 2015
Clearly this thing is getting some traction that a 4 minute parody video would be produced about it. It started snowballing from there. Over the weekend all the major British tabloids picked up the story (because how could they not). Now this wasn’t original reporting – it was just a mesh from the few original sources and interviews, plus oddly some of my videos pulled from Instagram merged into an ‘exclusive’ clip. Sometimes they didn’t even cite sources (*cough* Mirror). Quotes usually stay the same, but it sometimes becomes a game of blogger telephone.
— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) January 31, 2015
— Daily Mirror (@DailyMirror) February 1, 2015
From there things just kept picking up speed. On Monday I woke up to interview requests from the UK, Australia, and some US outlets. Online the game of telephone kept moving rapidly (with some original reporting). Here’s a sampling:
A man's summer-long fling with a dolphin named Dolly is the subject of a new documentary short called Dolphin Lover http://t.co/nP5kVATNGZ
— PEOPLEPets.com (@PEOPLEPets) February 3, 2015
— VH1 Celebrity (@VH1Celebrity) February 3, 2015
Just a simple story about a man and the dolphin he says seduced him http://t.co/Wim2hGcVBy
— New York Post (@nypost) February 3, 2015
New documentary features man's sexual affair with a dolphin http://t.co/814wd61TpK
— HuffPost Weird News (@HuffPostWeird) February 3, 2015
Sundance Film Festival 2015: was it all about sex? http://t.co/NNND2rH09b
— Telegraph Film (@TelegraphFilm) February 2, 2015
— VICE (@VICE) February 3, 2015
There’s still more press to come. There’s been a lot of lessons learned in viral strategy. We definitely weren’t prepared for this and have been adjusting the website, videos, YouTube channel, and other media as we go. I’m noting it down – will round it up in a future post.
Follow the updates of Dolphin Lover at the website www.dolphinlovermovie.com.
Our poster is getting some buzz. Film premiering tonight!
Now that's a poster: pic.twitter.com/EghifXajXI
— Alison Willmore (@alisonwillmore) January 23, 2015
Though we live in a digital world, for anyone that’s run a Kickstarter campaign, the reality of manufacturing and shipping is a frustrating, hair pulling event.
Obviously if your campaign is for a product this is to be expected, but I’m specifically focusing on films because, you know, that’s what I do. DVDs, posters, t-shirts: most Kickstarter film campaigns have physical goods involved which need to be made and eventually shipped.
As a one man band this can get costly and time-consuming. For Strike, one of the rewards included a bowling pin. But I only had to ship 5. Thinking about buying the boxes and packing material for such a low quantity, I knew it would either be pretty costly, eating up about 15%-20% of the cost of the reward, or I’d have a shit ton of boxes and packing material lying around from buying bulk.
So once I finally got the bowling pins and DVDs and posters together, it sat for a good month or two as I delayed trying to figure out how to ship them.
Then came the magic of the internet. I had been seeing ads for Shyp for a few weeks, mainly since they launched in Miami. For $5 they come to your house, pick up what you need to ship, and take care of the rest. You just pay the carrier fee (they price shop based on the weight and go with the lowest) on top of the $5 service charge.
I gave it a shot with something else I had been meaning to ship. Now I assumed that it was a $5 service fee per package. So when the Hero (Shyp’s name for their package pickup team) arrived I chatted about the service fee and found out that no, it’s not per package but per pickup. That’s the cost for them to go to your place. The number of packages doesn’t matter. He gave an extreme example that you could move your apartment for $5. Don’t think I’ll go that route next time I need to move but good to know.
As soon as I heard that it’s unlimited packages it wasn’t hard to guess where my thoughts went.
So I got back onto Shyp and started adding every reward that needed shipping. The annoying part was individually taking a picture of each shipment and typing every address out on my phone. A bulk upload feature would be nice but I realize this is probably an unusual use for the app.
I submitted to Shyp, the Hero arrived, we put each shipment into it’s own bag and he took it all away. Later that night I got an email confirmation saying everything had shipped along with tracking numbers. Weeks of procrastination finally over with a simple app.
You can use this promo link to sign up to get $30 credit towards a shipment (if you do ship I’ll also get $30 credit. Win / Win).
Exciting news to kick off 2015. Papa Machete, the film I co-produced in Haiti, will be having its US Premiere at Sundance. Dolphin Lover, a short doc I produced, shot, and edited, will be having its World Premiere at Slamdance.
Excited to finally head out to Park City for the festivals with two projects. Though coming from an 80 degree beachy winter in Miami I’ve got a lot of cold weather gear to buy.
Papa Machete trailer below.
Dolphin Lover to come soon, but let’s just leave it with the Slamdance logline. The true story of a man with a porpoise.
A month or so ago Panasonic released a firmware update to the GH4. The biggest feature that got a lot of buzz was a 1:1 shooting ratio, enabling better use of anamorphic lenses. But there was another interesting feature listed that caught my eye. Way down at the bottom of the new features list was this final note:
Loop Recording function is added, with which the camera keeps on recording video while deleting the old footage automatically.
After some research and talking to a Panasonic engineer, it is indeed like a pre-recording feature, though a little clunkier. If you turn the mode on and hit record, the camera will roll. Then once the clip hits the 10 minute mark, it will go delete the first 2 minutes of the clip while still recording.
So say you’re filming Planet Earth, trying to get a shark breaching the water. You’d start the camera and just let it record while you wait for the action. It will keep deleting the beginning of the clip while it records, adding the new footage to the end and just cycling through. Then when you get the action, you stop recording. So now you’ve got a 10 minute clip, of which the part you’re interested in is in the last minute or so.
Not as streamlined as a simple 30 second pre-roll buffer, but it can get the job done if you’re waiting for a quick action shot. Apparently there’s no plans right now to add an actual pre-roll mode.
GoPro announced their anticipated HERO4 camera that now shoots 4K (did they plan their model numbering system years ago to coincide with the rise of 4K?).
4K for $500, not bad. How good is the quality? The release trailer with action shots from the camera says pretty frickin good. I’d say the improvement in quality is not just the resolution but the new Protune feature, letting you manually control the camera’s color, sharpness, ISO limit, and exposure.
The Silver edition is $100 less. While it doesn’t shoot 4K it does have a built in touch screen monitor. Hopefully it has a decent battery system to keep the camera going on a charge.
What I found just as cool as the HERO4 is the new price for the base HERO model – $129. Not that anyone wants to lose a camera, but this is a great price for a crash cam or some precarious angles. Also for the price of one HERO4 you could get 3 HEROs and stock up on different angles.