When a Project Feels Like Coming Home: Us Among the Stones

Us Among the Stones

After assisting on the pre-production crowdfunding campaign for Us Among the Stones (which was then titled This Family), Sprites is back working with writer/director D.R. Hood and the Likely Story team for their post-production crowdfunding campaign, which launches at the end of this week. Returning to the project feels like coming home. Rather fitting, considering the film is centred around a dutiful son (played by Laurence Fox) in thrall of his dying mother (played by Anna Calder-Marshall) who visits his childhood home during one weekend. Recently separated from his partner, he ends up in the middle of his colourful extended family as they descend on the family home.

Us Among the Stones is a film that has been 20 years in the making, sparked by the story of D.R. Hood’s sister’s visit to a big house as an architecture student. This house had an ancient wine cellar, pre-medieval origins and was presided over by a hippy laird. The story would end up being the foundation (no pun intended) for what would become Us Among the Stones as it is today.

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Ungraded still of Owen (Laurence Fox) and Marianne (Anna Calder-Marshall) in Us Among the Stones

You may also be familiar with D.R. Hood’s first film, Wreckers, starring recent Emmy® Award-winner Claire Foy, Emmy® nominee Benedict Cumberbatch, and Shaun Evans. Wreckers won Best Film of the Perspectives Competition at the 2012 Moscow International Film Festival. D.R. Hood was also a nominee for Best British Newcomer at the 2012 London Film Festival and New Voices/New Visions Grand Jury Prize nominee at the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival. Us Among The Stones also reunites Hood with Wreckers creative collaborators Annemarie Lean-Vercoe (as DoP), Claire Pringle (as editor) and Wreckers actress Sinead Matthews starring as ‘Anna’.

D.R. Hood says: “my hope for the film is that people feel they can relate to the characters and story even if very different…at the heart the film is about a man who comes home stuck and leaves liberated, and it explores what ties home and family can have for us, even long after we have apparently ‘grown up’. It is also about time- the time we live in, and the deep time we come from, and an uncertain future. What does family mean? Family is not always just the people you are related to.”

Us Among the Stones is taking over the Twitter and Facebook accounts of Likely Story, so be sure to follow them, and use the hashtag #UsAmongTheStones. The crowdfunding campaign is launching very soon.

Why Hoping to Go Viral is Like Waiting For a Fairytale Prince

Why hoping to go viral is like waiting for a fairytale prince

A note: while I’ve used the concept of a fairytale prince, you can substitute it for ‘princess’, ‘Iron Man’, or a gender-neutral savior…whatever suits you- the point is, you’re waiting to be saved! Now, carry on…

Gangnam Style. The Harlem Shake. Rebecca Black’s Friday. Chocolate Rain. They shared, we shared, they went viral, we moved onto the next viral hit. One of the things I’m asked most is “can you make me go viral?”, which ultimately gets a hard “no” from me. Why?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go viral. The prospect of having your work go viral is exciting, right? But keep in mind the fact that just like having the ‘flu (which is a virus), the infectiousness of your viral content will pass, too. Add to the fact that, according to Socialbakers’ Jan Rezab the lifespan of virality is on the decline thanks to social media going mainstream and hoping to go viral is basically like waiting for a fairytale prince. Not convinced? Read Jan’s post Stop Trying to Go Viral on Recode- he gives evidence but also gives some fantastic alternatives that really work.

Add to that the fact that since the advent of social media in the mainstream there has been a consistent and steady stream of content available to the public, and it’s harder to make a dent virally. Even Tay Zonday of Chocolate Rain fame thinks that it’s more difficult to go viral now than back in 2007.

If you use virality as a sole benchmark for the success of your work, you’re going to end up feeling pretty bad about things- not because your work isn’t great, but because virality is so unpredictable and on the decline. There’s also this myth that going viral means you become an overnight success and everything is peachy keen. That can happen for some, but the experience is different in every case.

I always say to people when it comes to building an audience for their content: “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Even though virality is juicy and attractive and seems like the goose that laid the golden egg, it’s less valuable in the long-term. As with any relationship-building, it takes time and care. You can’t just throw any content out there willy-nilly and hope it sticks. Experiment. See what your audience resonates with, and what they’re not so keen on. Keep tabs on engagement levels and what your audience is saying about your work. And most importantly, let them know that you appreciate their shares, comments and support. Build a solid foundation for your work and your brand and you will reap more consistent benefits than a moment of overnight success with a viral video.

Great Aunt Gladys Wants to Pay By Check and Other Unusual Things That Can Happen When Crowdfunding

Unusual Things That Happen On Crowdfunding Campaigns

99% of the time, crowdfunding campaigns run relatively smoothly. You plan, prepare and launch your campaign, the contributions start to roll in, and things go according to plan. But there are times when things go “off script”. It doesn’t happen very often, and for the most part they’re things you may not have to worry about, but I think they’re worth mentioning in case they do arise in your campaign.

All of these examples are things which I have seen happen in campaigns over the past 4 years of assisting with crowdfunding through Film Sprites PR‘s publicity and social media marketing services. They’re atypical, but knowledge is power- if things like this happen, at least you’ll know what to do about them:

Great Aunt Gladys wants to pay by check: in the digital age, we’re so comfortable with hopping online and submitting a payment to a crowdfunding campaign that we forget that some people aren’t comfortable with that method of payment (for whatever reason). Occasionally, you may get someone who wants to contribute to your campaign via check or cash. That’s completely doable! You have two choices- bank the funds in the account you’re using for your film funding, or, if you have an all-or-nothing crowdfunding campaign where every cent is vital in order to receive your campaign funds, you can bank the funds in your film funding account and then put those cash or check contributions into the campaign and up on the page. Either way, don’t forget to thank your contributor, and be sure to ask them if they would like a perk.

This is something to bear in mind if you decide to have a pre-launch fundraising event as well. You can upload those cash or check contributions on the first day of your campaign.

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Caught by the FB police: now this has only ever happened once in the 4 years I’ve been working on crowdfunding campaigns, so again it’s atypical but definitely worth noting. It’s the final week of a crowdfunding campaign, so things are amping up. The team who are assisting on the campaign (which included the director, several of the actors, and some really passionate fans who went above and beyond) are ramping up their posts, sharing more progress about how the percentages are creeping ever closer to 100%, etcetera. Everything’s going absolutely tickety boo for the first three days…and then ALL of the Facebook and Instagram posts were flagged as spam or offensive content. Yes, caught wrongly by the Facebook Fuzz and Insta Police. Even promoted posts had been flagged! After submitting reports on each of the flagged posts, pointing out it wasn’t spam, the posts were released from posting purgatory, but by that time it ceased to matter- we had no time to lose and then concentrated our social media efforts collectively on Twitter.

The algorithm at FB and Instagram had gone “danger, Will Robinson!” over the upswing in posts for the campaign and flagged it as spam (which it wasn’t). It doesn’t happen often (it’s only happened once in the time I’ve been doing crowdfunding), but if it does happen via social media platforms then it’s time to think about how to work with this sort of obstacle. In our case, we decided to forego Instagram and FB posts to concentrate on our Twitter audiences…and it worked. People were not only contributing, someone was making the most amazing .gifs using pictures of the cast and started helping to spread the word, and people were asking the people involved about the film (and of course we gleefully answered their questions).

If something happens in a campaign which throws up a bit of a barrier, take a deep breath and think: “how can we get around this or work this to our advantage?”

Your all-or-nothing campaign was unsuccessful: all-or-nothing campaigns have their pluses and minuses, and one of the minuses happens when a campaign is unsuccessful. You haven’t received the funds you wanted, but it’s not a waste of time by any means! For one, you’ve gained valuable insight into things like your audience and their demographics, you’ve secured awareness of your film and probably also increased your following on social media, and you have seen how much individuals were willing to pledge.

If there are a few individuals in particular who were willing to pledge a significant amount to your campaign (over $1000), it would be worth reaching out to them post-campaign to see if they would still be interested in investing in the film in some capacity. This could be via an equity arrangement, or in exchange for a credit as a funding producer, etcetera. This is something I have seen happen in the past, and it can make a significant difference when funding your film.

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Your all-or-nothing campaign has an hour to go…and you’re 95% funded: this can happen, but there’s one solution to consider that will not only ensure you get over the line, but that you secure the funds that your amazing contributors have pledged: you contribute yourself. That’s right- if you’ve got that 5% available, contribute it! There is absolutely no law which states you can’t contribute to your campaign yourself. Otherwise, if you have a team member, family member or close friend who is willing to come in and contribute that 5%, that can be a life-saver as well.

As I stated earlier, these are not things to stress out about, but they’re worth being mindful of. They’re aspects that should never hinder your ability or enthusiasm to go out and crowdfund for your film. Happy filmmaking….and happy crowdfunding!

 

REALLY Stuck For Blogging Ideas? Here’s Some Sanity Savers

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As you may know, we’ve made blogging for filmmakers a focus of our blog content this month, and SURPRISE! here’s a bonus entry to round out the month.

When it comes to growing your audience for your filmmaking, blogging is one of those things that is nice to have but isn’t essential. That being said, if you’re keen to add regular blogging to your film publicity arsenal, there can be times when you might be stuck for ideas. Eeek! I’ve been there! If you’re keen to do a blog post (or have a few up your sleeve for later), but find that suddenly the creative synapses are firing, here’s a few ideas to help get things revved up again. They’re based on my very own experiences of having a complete and utter ‘brain fart’ (for want of a better term):

Do a content digest: ever come across content on the web that you think everyone should see? No, not just cats in suits. Or maybe that’s just me….! Perhaps you find an inspiring TED talk about creativity, a SXSW chat with a filmmaker, or a book on screenwriting that rocked your socks off. These can be repurposed into a content digest blog post. I have done this several times on here, mostly because I had found books, videos apps and filmmaking tools that were too good not to share. In fact, one of the most visited and shared posts on this blog was The Indie Filmmaker’s PR and Digital Marketing Toolkit

Make a list: it sounds like a no-brainer, but how many times do we have ideas swirling in our brains like some delicious creative soup but we don’t write them down? Take some time, make a list, a mind map, a diagram…whatever your chosen recording method is. Get those potential blog post ideas down on paper and keep them somewhere you can refer to them for later. Another option if you’re not going to be doing a blog post updating people on your film’s progress, etc, is to have a jar on your desk where you’ve written blog post ideas on slips of paper and pick one.

Elaborate on past posts: perhaps you’ve touched briefly on a topic in a previous post and think it would make a really excellent separate post. Or perhaps you want to revisit an earlier post and elaborate further (or do an update). Either way, there can be some hidden gems in previous posts that can be teased out, repurposed or elaborated on in a fresh and exciting way in a new post.

Don’t sweat it: if you’re really, truly stuck…don’t sweat it! Walk away, do something completely different, or leave it for another day. Blogging shouldn’t be a chore or something you feel tied to. If you’re not feeling it, just leave it. And don’t feel obliged to write about the things you think people want to hear about, either. If it’s not something you’re passionate about sharing, don’t force it. I look at it like redecorating your living room. You redecorate your living room in the way you want to redecorate it, in a way that reflects you, your lifestyle and your family. You don’t look at the redecorating process and go: “gosh, I should have a red feature wall with my awards on it, because that’s what Cindy likes. If I don’t have that red feature wall, Cindy won’t want to come to our housewarming.” That redecorating analogy was brought to you due to the fact I’ve been binge watching Queer Eye on Netflix, but it’s true! There are way too many other things in life that cause pressure and stress, and blogging shouldn’t be one of them.

Happy filmmaking, and happy blogging! If you’ve enjoyed this month’s spotlight on blogging for filmmakers, we’ve got a treat in store for March. March is going to be a spotlight on crowdfunding, with loads of hints, tips and real world advice on how to make the most of crowdfunding your film.

Answering Questions About Blogging For Filmmakers

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This month we’ve been looking at how blogging can be another tool to assist you in growing your audience for your filmmaking, and gave you some ideas to help get you started. We end our focus on blogging this month by answering common questions about blogging for filmmakers. Hopefully our spotlight on blogging this month has, at the very least, given you another tool to consider when building your audience and promoting your films. Time to answer some common questions about blogging so you can be inspired to give it a try if you haven’t already!

Q: How often should I post? It depends on whether or not blogging is a big part of your marketing strategy for your filmmaking or a particular film you’re working on. You also need to take into account how busy you are at any given time- for instance, if you’re currently in principal photography chances are unless you have a team member dedicated to blogging on your behalf you’re not going to have a lot of time or energy to devote to such a rigorous posting schedule. Experts say you should post once or twice per week, but you don’t have to adhere to that particular rule, especially if you are posting regularly via social media.

You also don’t want to feel constrained by an obligation to post once or twice a week- you’re a creative person, and blogging shouldn’t feel like a chore. Post as often or as little as you like, but make sure you don’t have your blog going completely dead. Want to blog infrequently but still have a desire to create blog content about filmmaking or your film? See if there are indie film blogs and websites that would be interested in having you as a guest blogger.

Q: Where should I host my blog? The beauty of blogging is that there are hosting options a plenty! Depending on your website platform you may have the option to integrate a blog into that website (as we have). You may choose to operate a stand-alone blog in conjunction with your website. Alternatively, you may choose to have an account on a stand-alone publishing platform like Medium. It’s a good idea to weigh up your options before committing to something you may not end up using in the long-term.

The benefit of having your blog on your website is that it will help to drive more people to your website- they’ll come for the blog post and hopefully stay to look at your website.

Q: Should I share my blog posts on my social media channels? Absolutely! Blogging provides even more rich, shareable content to promote via social media. Some blogging platforms will have an integrated setting which allows you to share immediately to your social media channels when you publish, which takes the stress out of remembering to share your blog link.

Q: Help! I’m really stuck for content ideas! Have you tried turning it off and on again? Kidding!!! Check out our blog post about content ideas HERE. Currently filming or in post-production? You might want to see if one of your cast or crew would like to contribute a blog post, talking about the process. Perhaps your DoP wants to share some hints and tips, or one of your makeup SFX artists wants to share their career insights and give a sneak peek into their process. Blogging doesn’t have to be a solo effort.

Hopefully our spotlight on blogging in February has been food for thought. If you have a filmmaking blog (or you start one after reading our features on blogging), we’d love to know! Happy blogging and happy filmmaking!

 

How Blogging Can Assist With Promoting Your Indie Film or Webseries

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In the 21st century we tend to take things like blogging and social media for granted. It’s part of our everyday landscape. It’s easy enough to check your social media feeds and read a blog you love about a topic you’re passionate about. Back in the late 1990s when the Internet was starting to become mainstream blogging and social media were twinkles in the eye of their creators.

Blogging as we know it today didn’t exist, but there were websites which served as proto-blogging/ social media platforms, like Open Diary (which is now a subscription-only service) and Live Journal. You could share your thoughts and feelings with people around the globe, build up an audience…well, you get the picture. We now do this with social media and via blogs. These days, for every interest or topic there is a blog to match, including film.

Now, as you may already know, we’ve talked at length about how social media can assist with promotion of your film, but what about blogs? What benefits are to be gained by blogging regularly, and how can they translate into growing your audience for your films and filmmaking? This month we’ll be answering these questions and giving you some suggestions to help you create great content that people will not only enjoy but will share with their networks.

So, how can blogging be beneficial for promoting your indie film or webseries?

1. You can provide your fans with filmmaking updates: the beauty of blogging is that there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to the content you create, and updating your fans and audience is one way of producing great content. It can often be used instead of, or in tandem with, an email mailing list (but we’ll talk more about that in later posts).

2. It provides another way to reach and connect with your target audience: blogging can provide another piece of the audience building and publicity puzzle in conjunction with social media and earned and/or paid traditional media coverage. Not everyone likes or uses social media, so this is another way to reach hearts and minds online.

3. It can be beneficial when it comes to SEO of your website: if you choose to have a blog on your website as opposed to solely having a stand-alone blog, your posts can assist with site views and engagement through the tags, categories, blog titles and excerpts you choose to use for each post. Prior to having a blog on the Film Sprites PR website it was just a website, and once I began blogging regularly the site saw a huge upswing in visits which also culminated in more queries about PR and digital marketing services and more clients!

4. You can let people in on your filmmaking process: one thing I’ve seen filmmakers do very successfully with blogging is they let their audience in on their process. Just as behind-the-scenes photos and videos give audiences a tangible taste of your filmmaking, blogging can be a longer form of this. There are endless subjects to write about, and if you’re a keen writer and love sharing your process, inspiration and ideas then blogging is a very valuable tool for you to consider.

Stay tuned for our next post as we focus on blogging for filmmakers in February!

Why There’s No Such Thing As A Wasted Opportunity

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Many years ago, I trained to be a primary school teacher*. I was fresh out of high school, the world was big and uncertain and I chose to go to Teacher’s College. On the first day in our first class, our lecturer got us to introduce ourselves to one another. There were so many bright, bubbly people who were excited to be undertaking the journey. Some had waited their entire lives to become a teacher.

And…then there was me.

I couldn’t tell you why I wanted to be a teacher. I think partly it was parental pressure, partly trying to suppress my real desire to work in the film industry. So I persisted with this path for 3 years. I did well with the academic work, my teaching placements also went well. I was one teaching placement and a university paper away from graduating when I decided that this really wasn’t for me.

I felt like a complete and utter failure. My parents were supportive of my decision to leave, but I knew they were disappointed as well. In hindsight, it was the right thing to do- schools need teachers who are 100% passionate about what they do and can instill that into their teaching. The classmates I had whose eyes lit up on the first day and had wanted to teach from a very young age were exactly what the education system desperately needed (and subsequently they have gone on to have very successful teaching careers).

But what at first seemed like a complete loss was actually a gift. I may not have gained my teaching degree, but along the way I gained valuable skills which transferred over into everything I did subsequently. Even now, the skills I gained all those years ago are appropriate for the work I do in publicity. There’s not a lot of difference between the research, planning, implementation and review of a lesson plan and the research, planning, implementation and review of a publicity campaign. Teaching taught me how to be adaptable, to manage my time effectively and work with a wide range of people. Better yet, when I did a Bachelor of Arts a few years later I was able to cross-credit some of my teaching courses over into my BA and ended up completing my degree in 2.5 years instead of 3.

I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a wasted opportunity. Even in your bitterest disappointments, you’ll find a diamond in the ashes. You might have to wait a while to find that diamond (because let’s face it- disappointments are awful and you might ruminate for a while), but it’s there. If you’re in the indie film industry, you’ll know that sometimes productions fall through, you might not get the role, or locations that were initially viable at the start of production are taken off the table suddenly. None of this is a waste of time. A production that stalls or doesn’t go through to post is valuable experience. The role you didn’t get gave you the opportunity to audition and put yourself in front of an agent and director and put yourself on their radar for future projects. The location you had your heart set on that was made unavailable may open the way for a better location.

A few years ago I spoke to a filmmaker whose short was crowdfunding on Kickstarter. With Kickstarter, it’s a case of “all or nothing” for funding, and the campaign didn’t look like it was going to reach 100%. The filmmaker was incredibly positive about things. “OK, we’re not going to get the funding. That’s fine,” he said to me, “but having our crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter meant we were able to gain positive awareness around our campaign, so we’ve got a solid grounding for the next steps”.  He subsequently used the data from the campaign to look at what worked, what didn’t and what they could do in the future to ensure they had a successful campaign.

Currently, I am transitioning from working for myself to potentially joining a new PR team and that has meant sending out a lot of applications and getting in touch with agencies. I’m not worried about rejections, because connecting with agencies is another opportunity to network, and at the very least they are aware of me and what I have been doing as a freelancer. I chose to look at this undertaking as being a positive one, no matter what. Eventually, there will be the right position and it may come from somewhere completely unexpected. You can never underestimate the power of networking- there are times when someone will know of another person who is looking for exactly the skillset you possess and can put you in touch.

So if you receive a rejection e-mail, you don’t get a callback or things go kaput on a production- find the gift in it. There’s always some experience or skill you have gained during the process that can be of use later on, you just have to find it.

*= for those of you who are American, primary school is the equivalent of elementary school.