Bringing entrepreneurial spirit to the indie film scene
By Evan Pleger
Evan is a passionate transmedia storyteller. From film and media to brand and marketing, Evan helps clients communicate their vision to targeted audiences and makes creative projects come to life. With a BFA in Film & Television Production through the Academy of Art University and experience as a freelance content producer, he leverages outstanding creative and interpersonal skills to craft exceptional content for a wide variety of clients and audiences. Evan has produced, written, and directed short films as well as created videos for small to medium businesses, non-profit organizations, interest groups, artists, and crowdfunding campaigns. He specializes in social media and crowdfunding marketing strategy, video production, conducting and recording interviews, event videography/photography, company promotionals, and call-to action videos.
Alex Ferrari of Indie Film Hustle is back for Part 2 of our interview! In this episode, we talk about Alex’s use of previous content to market his latest project on Seed & Spark, a crowdfunding site for independent films, and as perks to incentivize contributions. We also hear a great anecdote which relates his experience running a gourmet olive oil business to being an indie filmmaker and content creator.
Our guest, Alex Ferrari of Indie Film Hustle, was gracious enough to do a second take with us when we had technical difficulties with our first interview. On our second go, we talked about so much more that we’re splitting this up into two episodes! Part 1 is all about building up a content library to enhance your indie filmmaker brand and how to utilize all the various channels available to support your film career. Thanks, Alex, for all of your amazing insight!
When I bought tickets to my first VidCon last year, I was very excited. I had been interested in the online video revolution for quite a while and as a burgeoning video producer myself, I was convinced years ago this was the wave of the future of digital distribution and entertainment. However, when I’d eagerly tell friends and professional colleagues I would be attending, most hadn’t heard of it, didn’t think it was for them, or didn’t think it a credible or serious industry event. However, after only a few years, I could see that VidCon was quickly becoming the hub for online entertainment. So, with a Creator badge around my neck, I dove into something very new, vibrant, and innovative. After my experience last year, I knew I had to come back and I will be attending this year’s convention in Anaheim this June 23rd-25th. I feel that even “serious” independent video producers should not ignore what VidCon has to offer.
VidCon started as a fan convention founded by noteworthy YouTube celebrities Hank and John Green (Vlog Brothers). The first convention in 2010 had 1,400 attendees and an “industry day.” In 2016, more than 20,000 attendees are expected to attend and there are now separate Industry and Creator badges with their own content.
As the convention has grown, so has its incredible offering of insightful panels and workshops. This year, Industry track attendees will have access to “22 master classes taught by top industry experts,” as well as the inside scoop on what’s new in the business of online video. The Creator track, which was started last year, acts as a video production school, teaching up-and-coming vloggers about cameras, lighting, and script writing, while improving the skills and knowledge of veteran producers with tips on branding, legal concerns, and expanding production. Creator track workshops and seminars are taught by YouTubers and online video producers which give you a look into online production workflow.
I attended last year as a Creator and personally found a lot of the workshops to be fairly basic, having been to film school. However, these teenager to twenty-somethings were receiving a pretty comprehensive crash course in video production. With dedication to producing regular content, taking an iterative approach to their craft, and checking in yearly at VidCon to learn more and receive advice from other content creators, I could see that these young creators had the potential to outperform and outgrow the current media industry, without having to pay for a film school education! For me, and those of us who had experience with production, I found some great insight from attending Q&As of noteworthy creators. Other creators and I had the opportunity to ask questions about the process and received a transparent look into what it took to make videos like theirs.
As a content creator, I would highly recommend staying abreast of what’s happening at VidCon. When you stand in the convention hall, you can feel the pulse of innovative energy that will sustain new media growth. The information available from industry professionals, creative content producers, and interested fans is incredibly valuable. Be warned! A majority of attendees still are those tweenage fans of internet celebrities and a huge portion of the convention is dedicated to their enthusiasm and entertainment. (See inflatable fun zone below.) But, the potential for networking in and learning about a powerful media sector shouldn’t be passed up. I got my tickets early and badges are currently sold out, but you can tune into the live stream. Plus, there’s always next year.
I want to close with a quote from Hank Green, co-founder of VidCon, who revealed during 2014’s keynote speech a bit about the incredible momentum there is in online video creation. He said, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no idea. I don’t think that any of us know what we’re doing. There is a wave, and it’s made of technological things and sociological things, and it’s individual people making individual decisions about how they’re going to spend their individual time. And we are riding it. And that’s impressive. But it is not as impressive as understanding the wave.” The wave originates at VidCon. Cowabunga.
In this episode, Ben interviews Angie Wang, the filmmaker behind Cardinal X! Angie talks about the experience of switching careers -from sales to film- and how she used her sales skills to drum up support for her first feature. Angie’s unique story and colorful language make for an entertaining and informative listen. She also begins a discussion about Hollywood’s distinct lack of Asian representation and remaining uncompromising on casting an Asian lead in her feature.
E: We got into the technology and what it will possibly be doing, but do you think AR or VR will facilitate transmedia or not? Are they exclusive experiences, like the movies used to be? Or is there a function of transmedia here?
B: I definitely think there can be uses for transmedia there. There’s kind of a misconception about transmedia. It’s not an all-or-nothing sort of thing. It is a tool that you can use that is appropriate in some cases and not appropriate in others. That’s really all it is. There are some times that using transmedia can really increase revenue for an independent film, either by increasing awareness or potentially even creating a revenue stream. However there are also some times that it’s a time sink and the cost doesn’t really improve your margins. It’s all about how you do it and when and how you execute it. If executed poorly, it’s a complete waste of time and money.
E: What technologies that exist now, do you think, will fall away?
B: It’s hard to tell on these things. Most of the platforms that exist now that have their communities will continue to exist. Snapchat may be a fad as it exists right now, but the thing about Snapchat isn’t really the platform itself, it’s the self-deleting technology behind it. I think the technology behind Snapchat will grow and be able to be used in different platforms and different places. I think that’s the reason for it’s, something like, 9.5 billion dollar valuation. I think that’s the key differentiator for Snapchat. Snapchat probably will fade away, but I don’t think the technology behind Snapchat will fade away. That will grow. There are a lot of uses that could be widely applied to military, high level business, and other forms of communication. Of course, it could also be I’m old and just don’t get you kids and your snapyscaps.
E: I want to move this conversation to crowdfunding. I think that crowdfunding is the the ultimate transmedia marketing experience, because you cannot just crowdfund out-of-the-blue. It needs at least a social media presence, a website, and media or a product at the end…
B: And friends! E: …and friends, and collaboration. A crowdfunding campaign necessitates transmedia. How do you think crowdfunding will evolve? Will crowd-equity take hold or is it too controversial or risky?
B: I definitely think crowdfunding is more than just a fad. I think crowdfunding is here to stay. I think crowdfunding, at least for film and media projects- and to some extent tech and gaming products- will be the first stage of financing for the foreseeable future. It’s not right for all tech, like B2B tech won’t really work for it, but hardware relies on it to a very high degree.
Equity based crowdfunding is going to be an interesting experiment. I think that any successful crowdequity company is going to need to charge something more like 20% versus the 5-9% for Indiegogo, and to have an investor relations board that goes with it. Any startup that is crowdfunding from so many people- even if you’re getting a slice- there’s no way they can manage that many investors, especially for how little amounts of money we’re talking about.
Investment is kind of a wonky term. It can refer to straight equity. It can also refer to a promissory note for debt-with-interest, or even convertible debt which, for those of you who don’t know, is debt that you can convert into equity at a later stage. So depending on how you’re looking to raise, it can get really complicated really quickly and those regulations can easily become burdensome and make the amount of money impossible to raise. Although currently, crowd funded equity is in a legal limbo with the SEC, as it basically changes the entire idea of high risk investments and can quite easily open up a can of worms and make it too easy for people with less moral scruples than you or I to take grandma’s retirement money.
E: The final thing I want to ask you about is where does transmedia fall into the marketing system versus the narrative one? Are they actually separate? Which is more useful or engaging?
B: Personally, I think transmedia is best done when when it serves as both a marketing campaign and storytelling platform. At its heart, marketing is storytelling. When you do it well, the two work very well together. If you’re telling the story of a product, let’s say it’s a film, why not expand on the universe around that story and get people excited about it? Then that essentially serves the same purpose as marketing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “Transmedia” and what that’s going to mean for the future of media creation and marketing for the foreseeable future. So, when my friend and colleague, Ben Yennie, came to “camp” and do work with me at The Crepe House III in San Francisco, I turned on my phone’s voice recorder and asked him a few questions. What follows is a transcription of our conversation, where we discuss predicting the future of transmedia, the development of VR and AR, and more!
Follow me, @IndieEvan, on Twitter for more content on digital, emergent, and transformative media.
Evan: Where do you see Transmedia and/or Transmedia storytelling going in the next five to ten years?
Ben: I think we’re going to see a lot more utilization of Transmedia marketing and monetization. I think all mainstream TV and movies will have some transmedia elements in them and very high social media presences. The more successful ones will actually have content that’s exclusively available on separate platforms and devices. Marvel’s actually done a really good job of this, you can’t get the whole story just by going to the movies. You have to watch their myriad of TV shows, and I think they’re even starting some more web-based content now, too.
E: They also have short films released in the extras of the DVDs for the movies that come out.
B: See, I didn’t even know that.
E: So there are, like, eight short films that you haven’t even seen that also add to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
B: And I was having trouble keeping up with just the movies, god… damn. Anyway, the success that Marvel’s having from this explosion in transmedia content is probably going to be emulated- sometimes successfully, sometimes not-so-successfully- by major studios. Sometimes it’ll be clear that it’s just a marketing grab and sometimes it’ll be actual, good content, like Marvel seems to be doing.
E: I see this happening now. Will this still be the case in 5 years?
B: I think it’s going to become even more of the case. We’re moving further and further away from traditional movie screens more into what are referred to as “second screens” which are tablets, mobile devices, and even computers [being used in conjunction with the main form of content]. I wouldn’t be surprised if Netflix releases an app that integrates with your Netflix account, but isn’t about watching Netflix, it’s about communicating with others who are watching the same thing you are watching, especially on early releases or HBO could do the same thing for, like, Game of Thrones premiere nights, things like that. Essentially the same thing is already happening on Twitter, but it’ll be interesting to see where it goes.
E: So, this second screen environment that you’re talking about… is that five years down the line or closer to ten years down the line?
B: That’s right now. It’s already happening. The second screen environment is only going to grow over the next two to three years. It’ll be a lot more prevalent in two to three years, in five to ten, it’ll be ubiquitous- the same way smartphones are.
E: What technologies do you think we’re seeing now that will persist for the next five or ten years?
B: Honestly, I think the biggest thing that we’re going to see emerging- more in ten, than in five- is virtual reality. It’s already starting to emerge; it’s in its infancy. We’re in the “Pong” days of virtual reality right now. It’s changing rapidly, though. There was just an announcement earlier this week that, I think it’s in the UK, they’re opening a virtual reality theme park that will be the first of its kind. There’s no announcement as to when, exactly, it will open, but the idea is… having real, immersive, interactive, live, virtual reality environments, kind of like an arcade, where you can join a team of four and go fight a dragon with virtual swords. I mean, I would pay to go there. I would pay lots of money to go there and I think that’s going to be how it starts. These virtual reality setups are too expensive and too impractical for [individual/private use], but putting it into a theme park environment works really well.
E: I feel that, maybe, augmented reality would become more prevalent? Because that way, you’re only producing some elements for a live video of the existing environment instead of creating a completely unique one. Do you think augmented reality will be the “layman’s virtual reality”?
B: I don’t think gaming or entertainment is going to be all that well served by augmented reality. I think it will be very useful for informational uses and extremely useful for people like contractors and biologists and I don’t think augmented reality is going to be “consumer” for a while.
E: Or narrative?
B: Or narrative. I don’t think AR will ever be narrative. I don’t think it’s going to be consumer-facing for quite a while, that’s why Google backed off of Glass.
… to be continued in part 2 where we talk about the impermanence of Snapchat, the potential for crowdfunding, and the nature of transmedia storytelling!