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10 MPH DIY Manual: Online Experience

With the advent of the Internet, we make instant judgments on something after viewing its website. Especially movies. Before making films, Josh and I both worked for a software company managing websites. Between this and numerous things we tried to do on the side, we learned how to design websites and master web marketing. This, in my opinion, is one of the keys to our success. The following is a list of ways we've used web marketing and an online experience to help with our success:

1) Design
I'll go into this more below, but the design of your website is critical. When making a movie, your brand often starts with the website. Eventually, if you have the luxury of getting picked up by a big distribution company, they'll control all of this. But when you are distributing and creating awareness for your project, it's critical to make something that looks like it could have been produced by a distribution company which has $30,000 to spend on web design. Because of our backgrounds, we were able to absorb this cost ourselves. If you have no web skills, I'd advise learning them. It's not too hard to hack something together based on a borrowed concept. Or find an amigo who can do this stuff and entice him/her to work on the project with either profit guarantees or some other creative payment scheme.

2) Blog/Vlog
This one is obvious, but it's very tough to do it right. With a good blog, you'll get about 100 of your friends to come check up on you every once in awhile. Below with email marketing, you'll see how to grow your base of 'friends' and hopefully get them to come to your website more often than once a year. People will go to your website initially to learn about you and your product(s). After they establish an initial impression, they'll very quickly determine whether or not they should ever bother to come back. If you provide consistently good content, you may entice them to come back on a regular basis. This is getting trickier, though, as thousands of people start a blog everyday. What's encouraging and discouraging at the same time is that 90% of those new bloggers and vloggers won't succeed in generating a growing audience. What's key to remember with producing a blog and/or vlog, is that you are creating the tools to help you tell your story and give insight to your product(s). If you do this right, people will come and the big blogosphere will pick up on what you are doing, saying, and showing - and you'll see your traffic start to grow. My suggestion (and again I haven't mastered this): have a strong personality, don't censor your thoughts, and publish often.

3) Database
I hate this word because for some reason it reminds me of those banal afternoons where my eyes felt droopy, a migraine teased me, and the square footage of my cube felt like it was shrinking. But building a database is probably one of the most important things for any business endeavor. Yes, making films is business. It's very creative, but if you don't think of it as a business, your odds of success are free fallin'. When we set out to make 10 MPH, we started by traveling across the country and calling our experience 'America at 10 mph'. We didn't know much about databases, but had some web friends set something simple up for us. We collected email addresses and people's locations, so we could get in contact with them when we came into their neck of the woods. We also had a form on our website where people could tell us they wanted to meet us. After we got picked up on Yahoo Picks and NPR Weekend Edition, we had several thousand people access our forms. We collected a lot of information from this and that in turn started a relationship with the people that would eventually buy our movie and support our careers. Start simply - get all the emails of your friends and close connections. Once you start emailing them on a regular basis, you'll need to follow CAN-SPAM regulations and make sure you give them a way to get off your lists. But I'm assuming most of these people (if you were honest about them being friends or close connections) will want to support your endeavors and stay up-to-date on what's going on.

4) Email Marketing
After shooting 10 MPH, Josh and I were dead broke & in debt up to our ears (sounds like a typical filmmaker, eh?). So I started working full time at an email marketing agency. I learned a lot about email marketing and also realized the entire world was starting to do it. Before 10 MPH, we had some experience with email marketing at the big ol' cube farm that we worked in. No one was emailing back then. But it's so cheap to do that companies are figuring out how to do it and do it often. Hence the problem we face with spam. But, if you are growing your database right and offering valuable and interesting information in your emails, you should get respect from your list. They will hopefully actually read your email and not just delete it right away. We use Vertical Response to send our emails, but there are many options out there and if you know someone who knows how to program, you can actually set up a script to use your own web server to send emails. The problem is that these may be more susceptible to getting caught in spam filters or could ultimately get you blacklisted which would mess up all your outgoing email. There are challenges to growing lists and marketing to them; Everything from providing content that interests your customers to not having to spend too much money on the emails. When you are making a movie, you often have to wait years before you can make any money off the product. So if you are sending an email every month or so to your audience, costs will add up. But if you do this right, these costs will pay themselves back 10 times over (at least) when you release a product. Making films is an eternal investment. But, once the cycle starts to pay, it'll get a little easier.

One other thing - make sure you take the time to get a nice HTML template for your emails that showcases the brand of your film(s) or production company. We've tried some experiments with text-only emails and HTML emails seem to consistently perform better. Many email vendors provide metrics on all the links in your email and open rates. One more thing (last one, I promise; this topic deserves a book) - when we launched our film, we found that every time we sent an email to our database (which we started 1.5 months before the DVD release date), we'd sell DVDs. I kept wondering when our database would grow tired of these emails. We definitely saw a few people unsubscribe, but ultimately people sometime need 7 reminders to buy your film before they actually do.

Looking back, I think one of our keys to getting this online experience off the ground was by developing a production that was a lot more than just making a film. We set out on an expedition that lasted over 100 days and wanted to share this experience online. An old-school notion in film is to keep things on the down low. You don't want a big studio to snag your idea and run with it. Or you don't want too many people to hear about your project, which might ruin a big release when it goes through a traditional big festival launch. These are risks, but I think they are pretty inconsequential and often stifle the potential success you can generate by opening up the experience and manifesting your own viral energy around your ideas. When you weigh the chances of getting into the main festival circuit with creating success on your own, I think the direction is obvious. And the best thing about having a solid online experience is that everyone experiences it: prospective film festival programmer, prospective press, prospective sales agent, and your prospective fans.

Next Chapter: Design & Branding
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DIY Resources

Other DIY films
+ Four Eyed Monsters
+ Tijuana Makes Me Happy
+ Head Trauma
+ The Talent Given Us
+ Guatemalan Handshake
+ Book of Caleb
+ Black Gold
Film Festivals & Distribution Books
+ The Insider's Guide to Independent Film Distribution (Stacey Parks)
+ Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide
+ The Complete Independent Movie Marketing Handbook
+ I Wake up Screening: What to Do Once You've Made that Movie
Filmmaking & Production Books
+ Planning the Low Budget Film
+ The Complete Film Production Handbook
+ Clearance and Copyright: Everything the Independent Filmmaker Needs to Know
+ Film Scheduling: Or, How Long Will it Take to Shoot Your Movie?
+ Film and Video Budgets
+ Filmmakers and Financing, 5th Edition: Business Plans for Independents
+ The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers: A Legal Toolkit for Independent Producers
+ Independent Feature Film Production: A Complete Guide from Concept Through Distribution
Key websites
+ IndieWIRE
+ Greencine
+ Spout
+ Workbook Project
+ cinematech.blogspot.com
Major Film Festivals
January
+ Sundance Film Festival
+ Slamdance Film Festival
+ Intl. Film Fest Rotterdam
February
+ Berlin Intl. Film Festival
+ Miami Intl. Film Festival
+ True/False Film Festival
March
+ SXSW
+ AFI Dallas Intl.
April
+ The Gen Art Film Festival
+ Full Frame Doc Festival
+ Hot Docs
+ Tribeca Film Festival
May
+ Cannes Intl. Film Festival
+ Seattle Intl. Film Festival
June
+ Los Angeles Film Festival
+ Silverdocs
September
+ Telluride Film Festival
+ Toronto Intl. Film Festival
October
+ Sidewalk Moving Pic Fest
+ New York Film Festival
+ Woodstock Film Festival
+ Hamptons Intl. FF
November
+ Amsterdam Intl. Doc Fest
+ AFI Fest
+ Denver Intl. Film Festival

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