Monday, 21 April 2008

I'm an expert, apparently.

Image from Bertram Gugel's blog (see link below), comparing viewing performance of videos due to choice of thumbnail. Who'd a thunk it?

I was invited to take part in a discussion panel at Dresden Film Festival on Saturday. The theme was "Production and Distribution Strategies for Independent Animators", or, in practical terms, "How To Get Noticed On The Internet", and I was invited because... Well, I was invited because the organisers' first, second and third choices of "Successful Animator" couldn't make it.

Like a village fete. If all goes as planned, we'll have Laith Bahrani or Darren Walsh on the playing field. If it rains, it's Mike Booth in the parish hall.

Also on the panel were a young chap who writes a blog on internet video platforms (in German, unfortunately for those of us who are lazy with languages), a handsome media lawyer preaching dire warnings about copyright infringement and lawsuits, and François Chalet, a truly successful animator, illustrator, VJ and artist. The audience was a group of recently-graduated animators mostly from Rumania and Germany, all with embarrassingly near-perfect English.

The main point that was made during the panel discussion and next day's workshop was this: If you're an animator/filmmaker, you're not going to make any money via the internet. A couple of exceptions were mentioned: "Ask A Ninja" and "Happy Tree Friends", both of whom seem to be doing okay through merchandising. Although this is mere speculation - for all we know they might only be covering their costs.

Q: So what use is the internet, if you're a filmmaker who wants to quit their day job?
A: Publicity.
Putting your stuff online isn't going to bring you any direct income, but it might lead to contact with people who want to:

a) Broadcast the films you're making on the tellybox, or
b) Hire you to make music videos or commercials.

Both of these things happened to Laith Bahrani after he got internet-famous with his video for Radiohead's "Creep". He sold his series, and was hired as a director. Interestingly, Mr Bahrani doesn't put his work on YouTube or any of the other mass video portals, where it may just get lost amongst the dross (although I suspect people would have lifted it out of the soup eventually). What he did was very clever, attaching beautiful animation to a well-known song by a world famous band. People search for "Radiohead" every day; with the quality of his work, getting noticed was surely only a matter of time - and instead of ending up on just another anonymous YouTube channel, interested parties were directed to his own website, and subsequently could see that the guy was serious and knows his stuff.

That's all very well if you're somebody who has that level of talent, but most of us don't. The workshop at Dresden focused on the techniques proposed by Mr BrickSmashFace, the "viral marketing" genius I linked to in the last blog entry: join online communities with the specific intention of spamming your films on their forums. The problem with this, personal ethics aside, is that for such a strategy to be effective it has to be a full time job. And you're still left with the fact that yeah, you now have an audience. But are any of them ever going to put money in your pocket, or are they just people like me, who are quite happy to watch videos online but would never dream of hitting the "Donate" button?

The main thing this weekend taught me is that if you want to make a living by making films, you still have to get offline. Horrible to contemplate for those of us fused to our keyboards, but fact. Producers and distributors don't spend hours scouring YouTube, because they simply don't have time to wade through all that shit. Producers and distributors go to film festivals. Why? Because the film festival selection committee has binned the dross before they arrive, and what's left is generally worth looking at. Even if it's a dreadfully earnest, tedious artfilm, at least it's a well-made tedious artfilm. Possibly using some creative new technique or style that advertising scum can steal when planning their next blight on our culture.

And there may be a tip here for getting to see good stuff even if you can't make it to a festival; check out the programmes for respectable festivals, usually posted online, and then track down the films in internetspace. Even at 320x240 pixels, they'll be time better spent than gnashing your teeth at some v-logger pleading for cash to support his habit.

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