New Social Media: The Web's Latest Film-Slingers
By KJ Relth
Long gone are the days when filmmakers saw the World Wide Web as just a place to house a website for their latest film. Independent filmmakers have recently been turning to third-party platforms of all shapes and sizes to help promote, sell and distribute their projects with even more success than they might find outside the digital sphere. Filmmakers are now learning that in this new age of rich online social interactions, the audience for their film is out there. They simply have to find them.
The seasoned veteran of social networking sites, Facebook, for one, was approaching 1 billion monthly active users as we went to press. But CEO/founder Mark Zuckerberg's well-established baby is now old news; crowdfunding, digital distribution and transmedia projects are the new headline-makers, and independent filmmakers are finding more and more ways to reach their audiences outside of the old theatrical and broadcast windows.
Enter the (relatively) new players in the online social media playing field: Sparkwise, Slated, Tugg and reddit. We spoke with representatives from each of these companies about how documentary filmmakers can use these sites as viable social media tools.
"Tracking the right metrics in the right context can help us gain a deeper understanding of the communities we serve, so we can make a lasting impact," says Wendy Levy, co-founder and head of strategic partnerships at Sparkwise. "There are multitudes of dashboard tools that measure and report real-time social data, cool maps and charts, and other creative and interactive data visualizations. What is unique about Sparkwise is the intersection of data and storytelling, of quantitative metrics and qualitative experience." Put into layman's terms, Sparkwise is a place to put together all of your online voices-website, social sites, fundraising campaigns, etc.--to see what kind of a reach you have.
While the platform may still be in beta (published in a limited release), Sparkwise already has significant backing from such organizations as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Fledgling Fund. Support from these funders means that Sparkwise has solidly aligned itself as a tool intended to serve arts organizations and initiatives.
Levy also wants to emphasize the massive potential benefit available for nonfiction filmmakers. "Data from multiple sources can be aggregated and compared in a single place via Sparkwise," she explains. "And every data point is potentially interactive through customizable action links to real-world activities. This is a new innovation in audience engagement for documentary filmmakers. Your story world now includes data that can be shared broadly with audiences where they are."
On the business side of things, Levy reminds us that Sparkwise "also allows filmmakers to report more effectively to funders and stakeholders at the end of a grant period." We're starting to see now why enterprises such as the Fledgling Fund would want to partner with such a platform.
Some examples of documentary films whose teams are using Sparkwise include Sin by Silence (Dir./Prod.: Olivia Klaus), Budrus (Dir./Prod.: Julia Bacha) and The Revolutionary Optimists (Co-Dirs.: Nicole Nernham, Maren Grainger-Monsen).
According to its website, Slated is "an exclusive community platform designed to connect investors with a global network of filmmakers and industry professionals."
Launched earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, Slated is the digital alternative to brick-and-mortar film markets. For a filmmaker looking to sell her film, Slated provides "a platform to promote [a film] to an active audience including investors, distributors and sales agents." Now only in a beta release, Slated is already being used by talent from such films as An Inconvenient Truth and Pulp Fiction. With big names and stellar angel investors, Slated aims to bring the concept of crowdfunding to a higher level heretofore unseen in the online space.
After making it through the application process, experienced directors and producers can begin to share information about their project and start vetting viable investors, who have also run through a rigorous process of application and community approval. With $100 million in combined capital, Slated might not be the venue for smaller passion projects. But it's certainly an option to keep in mind for those documentary filmmakers who have more than a couple of successful titles under their belt.
"Unlike donation-based sites, Slated is comprised of accredited investors putting actual equity into film projects," explains Susan Wrubel, film industry liaison at the company. "As Slated can be considered a ‘matchmaking site' for financiers and filmmakers, it is a great place for documentary filmmakers to look for opportunity, as many of the investors and financiers on the site come from outside of the film business, and may be motivated to support film for reasons different from those of traditional film investors. That may be purely based on subject matter, a good cause or something about which they just feel passionate. As docs tend to be issue-oriented, or have more distinct target audiences, Slated is a place that can help identify film projects that meet specific interests of specific financiers, and it is always helpful for filmmakers to know that they are pitching to an audience who wants to engage and get into ‘an actual relationship.'"
Some of the recent documentary projects that have been listed on Slated include Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out (Dir.: Marina Zenovich) and Waiting for Superman (Dir.: Davis Guggenheim).
We at IDA first heard about Tugg at the 2012 SXSW Conference last March, and we couldn't wait to share what we learned with our friends in the independent film world. Simply put, Tugg is an online platform that makes it easy to get your film in a theater--all you need to do is sell tickets. Using online tools like Facebook, Twitter or the social media platform of your choice, you promote a screening you would like to curate at a local theater. That screening will proceed as planned-that is, as long as the film has the minimum amount of RSVPs pre-set by the theater.
"Documentaries often address topics that engage passionate communities," says Nicolas Gonda, Tugg's chief executive and co-founder. "Tugg is a perfect mechanism for providing those communities with an avenue to come together to support these films. Through Tugg, audiences are also able to eventize their screenings, and often choose to host discussions, Q&As and fundraisers to further highlight the ideas and issues presented by documentary filmmakers."
With the ability to choose from over 500 titles made available through partnerships with film studios down to indie producers, or to provide your own title, Tugg allows your film to be seen by members of your local community. Their innovative process is something everyone should be pulling for.
Here are some documentaries that have already screened around the country through Tugg: Craigslist Joe (Dir./Prod.: Joseph Garner), #Regeneration (Dir.: Phillip Montgomery), One Day on Earth (Project Founder: Kyle Ruddick), Strong! (Dir./Prod.: Julie Wyman).
With this social, open-source, news-sharing space where anyone can create her own community, there is a place for everyone on reddit, which touts itself as "the front page of the Internet." Into cycling? Check out /r/bicycling. Want to gush about that incredible meal you had last night? Head into /r/foodporn to see photos of the most decadent edible treats you could possibly imagine (Don't worry, folks. It's totally safe for work). So it only makes sense that in an online space where everyone has his place, documentary filmmakers should be able to find their niche, too.
Cue affirmation from Erik Martin, reddit's general manager: "I think reddit is a great place for documentary filmmakers and fans. In general, redditors have a certain curiosity about the world that fits well with documentary films. For filmmakers there are opportunities like IAMAs [a space where members of the reddit community can ask questions of well-known or intriguing figures], crowdfunding (reddit drives a lot of traffic to Kickstarter, for example), and even discussions on tips and craft with other filmmakers at subreddits (sub-communities) like /r/DocProduction and /r/Filmmakers."
Martin himself toiled in the documentary world before getting his start at this seven-year-old social news site--or before he "got hooked on reddit." As a fellow redditor, you can take my word: Once you find a community with like-minded souls, you too will be totally hooked. And if you look hard enough, you'll find a subreddit suited to your taste. Even if that taste might be /r/lockpicking. The best subreddits for nonfiction and independent film fans: /r/documentaries, /r/TrueFilm and /r/cordcutters.
Have another (relatively) new online platform you think the documentary community would love to know about? Submit your favorite up-and-coming Web platforms to email@example.com.
Katharine Relth is the Web and Social Media Producer at IDA.