Blog, business, post production for film and video

What I'm working on

I have been musing over several different conversations from the past 10 days, all having to do with the topic of “story.” And I’m going to get my thoughts together on that really soon andpost it here. But for a quick taste, check out this L.A. Times story [spoiler alert in the Times article!] about the antecedents of story and story-structure in the awesome new Pixar movie UP. We saw it this past weekend, and I can’t say how wonderfull it is to watch these storytellers get better with every subsequent movie that comes out. I think my favorites are The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and UP, but how could I leave out Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo, and Bug’s Life? A friend mentioned to me this morning that Pixar is not making movies that now appeal to an older audience to the exclusion of the younger set; instead, they are making movies that have such powerful storytelling that they appeal to an extremely broad cross-section of the public: both young and old alike could root for the lead characters in UP or The Incredibles or Finding Nemo.

Then check out what Ira Glass has to say about constructing stories. And try hard to not be intimidated by the implications of what he’s asking:


More later. Gotta go back to work.

Blog, business, portfolio, post production for film and video, sound, Uncategorized

Panasonic P2 cards to come down in price

StudioDaily reports today that Panasonic is releasing a new, cheaper line of P2 memory cards for their video cameras. The P2 is a card, kinda like an SD or CompactFlash, but bigger. It does away with tapes in the production workflow, and, more importantly, can completely eliminate the “capture” process (where you have to play the tape back off of a deck to ingest the footage into the computer) — instead, you just dump the video files over from the P2 card onto the computer!

P2 cards originally were as expensive or more expensive than the cameras, making them prohibitively expensive. But with this new announcement, it looks like Panasonic is truly trying to carve out a niche for this technology. One of the cameras I am interested in is an HVX200, and the price-cut in P2 cards makes this option even more lucrative.

I wonder what will happen with Panasonic and Sony and Canon when Red releases its incredible Red Scarlet camera? It completely bypasses tapes or cards, and works direct to hard drive (I believe), and has a higher resolution than most of the current offerings.

So maybe there is a silver lining to not being able to buy a new camera just yet: there will be several new offerings by the time we are ready to acquire some new equipment…

Blog, business, post production for film and video

Star Trek rocks, brings in new FX workflow

I just got back from watching the new “reboot” of Star Trek. I really think J.J. Abrams hit it out of the park on this one. But that doesn’t surprise me: I have enjoyed parts of Lost, Alias, and his take on the Mission Impossible franchise.

What interested me was the seamless integration of really complex FX work. And when I read that JJ changed many FX shots after they were completed, I understood why the film flowed so well: he broke the cardinal rule of FX — plan so that you don’t have to re-do shots — so that he could tell a better story. But this created havoc in their production schedule, such that ILM had to create a new workflow. As Paul Kavanaugh describes it:

“I thought that we had to work as efficiently as possible or we would be spinning our wheels for a long time,” he says. “We needed to get multiple takes to J. J. quickly and get him to agree. So I combined layout and animation into one department for the show. I picked animators who had done cameras and layout artists keen to animate.”

Woohoo — a new workflow! What does this signify to me? As awesome as the “old” Hollywood studio system is, there is bloat and inefficiencies in the extreme specialization that occurs at every level of Hollywood movie-making. So ILM dumped it, in favor of speed — using animators who had operated a camera, or camera operators who wanted to work on animatics — and came up with a wonderfully fast, new way of doing FX work on a major motion picture.

And the proof is in the pudding: the film, story, acting, FX all flow together seamlessly. The reason people are liking this movie so much ($75 million at the box office on opening weekend!) is that, even though it is a sci-fi movie, story is at the heart. JJ gets it: tell a good story, and people will flock to the theater.

Good job. I like it when telling a great story compels people to think out of the box.

Blog, business, post production for film and video

How to push past viral, or, viral is dead

So, we’re getting our first month sales figures back from the November 18 release of The Fair Trade movie, which is very exciting, especially since the preliminary numbers look really good, at least for a production of our size. But how do you keep the momentum going? I’m spending time checking conversion metrics on Google (absolutely none), Yahoo (none), and Facebook (a few sales that I know of), and trying to think up new ways to make the movie into a truly viral success. And then I read a post by Joe Marchese, where, in the same article, he quote a fellow panelist (Henry Jenkins) who says “When it comes to social media, if it doesn’t spread, it’s dead,” (i.e., viral is good!) but then goes on to say

But before you try to say the word v…v…vi…viral (had trouble spitting that one out), there is a key difference that Jenkins pointed out between viral and social spreading. People spread viruses by accident. It is not intentional to give someone a cold — at least I sure hope not — but when people pass things to each other by way of social interaction, there most certainly is intent. This means that people are rational about spreading something through their social connections.

And he’s right. I realize that I don’t want The Fair Trade to have a “viral” spread. I want people to intentionally tell other people about it, and then spread from person to person to group to group. So how do I do that?

Well, sales help, because the more people that see it, the more people who want to talk about it. But I would love to help that process along, and I’m still brainstorming how to go about encouraging people to “intentionally” spread the word about the movie.

I’ll keep you posted.

Blog, business, graphic design, post production for film and video

Case Study: The Fair Trade movie online branding, part 4


The Fair Trade movie at screenshotA re-branding of the MySpace page was completed on October 17, 2008. The look of the page now closely resembles other pieces of the online presence for the movie, as well as directs people much more quickly to the official TFT site.

The TFT trailer has been viewed over 300 times on MySpace; we have a network of over 500 “friends” that we can push information out to through the MySpace network.

Tamara Johnston and Rayne Roberts have been consistently intrumental in adding friends, sending bulletins, and responding to messages on the MySpace account.

In the future, it would be interesting to see how much larger we could make the MySpace network of “friends” and how that could be monetized with the upcoming DVD release.


The Fair Trade movie on Facebook screenshotThe Facebook presence is in its infancy. We have almost 50 “fans” — those who sign up as a fan. These people can be communicated with directly from Facebook, and can recommend the movie to others on Facebook.

Challenges to overcome: Facebook does not allow visual branding in the same way that MySpace does, so we cannot differentiate ourselves with visuals; additionally, we need to see how to increase our numbers and referrals here in addition to MySpace.

The Future

Opportunities for online growth come from a few areas:

  • New online content. HCS will edit and upload video of Lauralee and Tamara from the premiere, as well as possible “webisodes” that can update fans on where Tamara, Anti-Body, and the filmmakers are now.
  • New online marketing tools. Providing downloadable flyer and poster blanks for those sponsoring screenings would be a perfect way for sponsors to get the word out, and would extend our “brand” further into the online sphere.
  • New online targeted social networking. Finding social networks built around fair trade, etc. would be much more targeted than Facebook or MySpace.
  • Exploiting the retail channel. Ensuring that positive user ratings and reviews are constantly submitted to many online retailers.
  • Targeting new online efforts to a smaller audience. We should, in the future, target new online efforts to smaller, more lucrative audiences: film critics, fair trade afficionados, Christian groups, etc., in an attempt to maximize time spent online. As this article says, “there is a process of self-selection online” that means we can be much more targeted and take for granted that they already want to see something like we are offering.
  • Finally, social networking is like trying to get momentum while rolling a ball slightly uphill: it doesn’t work until gravity changes. And gravity only changes when the size of your target audience keeps growing because more and more people start intentionally spreading the word about your product. A wonderful blog post about this can be found here. Our job will be to continue to expand the audience of people who know about and advocate for The Fair Trade movie.

In part five: Updates, search ads, retail rollout recap.

Blog, business, graphic design, post production for film and video

Case Study: The Fair Trade movie online branding, part 3

Retail Search

The Fair Trade movie Google product searchRetail search is incredibly successful given that the movie is pre-order only as of November 1: “the fair trade”, fair trade movie, fair trade film, fair trade documentary all showed TFT in a top-5 spot (interestingly with different retailers for each search term combination). Additionally search rankings on Google have changed every day, even for the same search terms. Either this is due to Google changing their algorithm or retail databases changing daily. Either way, we have no control over this aspect of the seach milieu.

Retail Channels

The Fair Trade movie at Amazon screenshotThanks to the partnership with Ryko and FilmBaby, TFT has found its way into most online retailer databases, although it is hard to find in some (Target) and not at all in the largest (Walmart).

Challenges: ensuring that database information (directed by, etc.) is correct across all retailers; supporting the release; encouraging user ratings amongst those who have already seen the movie.

Image Search

Although we have not successfully made our photography lucrative to Google’s image search engine, Flickr pulls our keyword-laced photos to the top for the following search terms: fair trade movie, fair trade documentary, and fair trade film.

We are unsure of the continued necessity of trying for ubiquity on image search; however, all images used on the blog will continue to be uploaded through Flickr so that they will be indexed separately with keywords.

Overall, although we are novices at search, 90% of the traffic to the website is coming from search engines. Therefore, we are confident that we are on the right track with search engines, keywords, and optimization.

In part four: Social Networking, online video, and the future.

Blog, business, graphic design, post production for film and video

Case Study: The Fair Trade movie online branding, part 2

Website Traffic

The Fair Trade movie site stats screenshotAfter the initial buzz surrounding the premiere in January 2008, traffic to the site leveled off around 1500 visitors a month. The average user viewed two pages on the site, with the second page after the homepage most often being navigating to the trailer or music clips.

After the redesign and accompanying back-end optimization strategies, viewership jumped by another 500 viewers in October 2008. It will be interesting to see if the redesigned site and enhanced coding will make that number rise, or if it is a bounce. Also interesting will be to see how much cross-traffic there will be between the new retail channels and the website.

Blog Traffic

The Fair Trade movie blog stats screenshotThe blog started small, with less than 1,000 people viewing it in each of the first two months. The slow start was unsurprising due to the fact that there were only a few posts and even fewer links to other sites and blogs. As the blog matured and gained links in search engines and social linking sites (Digg, Technorati, etc.) the viewership of the blog skyrocketed, with over 6,000 viewers accessing the site in October 2008.

The challenge for the future of the blog is ascertaining how to monetize the impact of the blog — converting blog-views into sales.

Search Engines

The Fair Trade movie Google search resultsThe Fair Trade movie now occupies the top spot on Google for the following search terms: fair trade movie, fair trade film, “the fair trade movie”, “fair trade movie”; and top-10 spots for the following search terms: “the fair trade”, Lauralee Farrer, fair trade documentary.

On YouTube, The Fair Trade has top-5 placement for the following search terms: fair trade movie, fair trade film. (Unfortunately, the search for fair trade documentary sends us to a video on the premiere that was not produced by BH.) The trailer has been viewed over 600 times on YouTube alone. (Interestingly, the Lauren clip has been viewed over 600 times [more than the trailer] — maybe because she is romantically involved with Seth Rogen.)

This positions The Fair Trade as the first and most important film dealing with the subject of fair trade, an enormous success. The credit for this success must go to Lauralee for naming the movie The Fair Trade — every keyword you are looking for right in the movie title.

Tomorrow: retail search and retail channel saturation

Blog, business, graphic design, post production for film and video

Case Study: The Fair Trade movie online branding, part 1


Online marketing for the documentary was ramped up around November-December 2007, in anticipation of a January 2008 premiere for The Fair Trade. Since then dozens of screenings have taken place, countless smaller-scale screenings have occurred, and the film has shown at several festivals. Fortuitously, FilmBaby inked a partnership with Ryko Distribution that we were able to exploit to move TFT into retail channels.
Every step of the process of rollout, screening, and distribution, has been documented online through blogs, a re-designed website, and presence on several social networking sites. Through a continued attention to these avenues, TFT’s online buzz continues to grow. For a very small amount of money, we have achieved an incredible level of online recognition. This movie is a textbook case on how to accomplish online promotion of a small movie with almost no budget.


Moving forward, several challenges remain. As the DVD rolls into retail channels in November, some amount of support or marketing should accompany the release date. Additionally, attention needs to be paid to how best to boost 1) sales and 2) user ratings on each of the retail sites. We would like to see a continued increase in web traffic to the blog, website, and then move each of those visits to a sale.

Finally, a long-term online strategy needs to be envisioned: will the website stay up indefinitely? Should the blog have a termination-date, or transition to a multi-user forum instead of the blog? How can we best market the movie in the long-term, with a minimum of involvement from the BH team? These questions will need to be addressed as the online presence for the film moves into maturity.

The Website

The Fair Trade movie homepage screenshotA successful website was launched in Q4 2007, designed by Travis Hardy, that supported the rollout of the film in Q1 2008. With the maturation of the movie and the impending DVD rollout, the site was redesigned in September 2008, integrating new reviews, festival announcements, additional video content, and the integration of social networking tie-ins to maximize the movie’s (and site’s) exposure.

In the beginning, the site was the primary online method for disseminating information about the movie. As time goes on, the site’s function will change to be that of secondary “repository” of rich media and static content; dynamic content will be added to the blog and social networks.

Nevertheless, the website has been an excellent marketing tool.

Tomorrow: website traffic, blog traffic, and search engine optimization (SEO).

Blog, business, graphic design, post production for film and video

Tooting my own horn…

Just wanted to pat myself on the back. And pat a bunch of other backs too. The group of us who created The Fair Trade movie, a documentary about Tamara Johnston McMahon, loss, grief, and fair trade business, have worked hard to get the story out. And, with the help of FilmBaby, Ryko Distribution, and Hearken Creative Services, we are now in just about every online retailer:,, Circuit City, Barnes & Noble, Deep Discount DVD, Best Buy, and many others like Target and, well, you get the idea. In the next few days, I’ll probably outline here on the blog just how we went about getting this kind of exposure, and what kind of challenges we still have. But, in the meantime, it’s really exciting to see your movie showing up all over the place. Cool.