Thursday, January 24, 2013
As I was turning in this blog post on Wednesday, Tom Scott’s Tumblr blog “Actual Facebook Graph Searches,” was going viral. Scott searched things like Mothers of Jews who like Bacon, married people who like Prostitutes, and current employers of people who like Racism, and more disturbingly, family members of people who live in China and like Falun Gong, and Islamic men interested in men who live in Tehran, Iran. It’s likely that some of these “likes” were intended to be ironic; I’m dubious that people would say they liked Prostitutes, even if they did, and Gizmodo found people with dubious likes for “Shitting my pants,” as well as some creepy things that might not be ironic. Also the men in Iran said that they liked both men and women, and it's not unusual for people on Facebook to interpret that preference in a non-sexual way. But as has been noted a lot, it would be hard for people in China to say they were joking about liking the Falun Gong.
I will write more about this, but I would advise all of you to go to “3 Privacy Changes You Must Change Before Using Facebook Graph Search” (Gizmodo) and Facebook Graph Search: Now Is The Time to Go Over Your Privacy Settings (ABC News). I also think it would be worth taking a look at The Facebook Privacy information page .
Last Tuesday, Facebook introduced a new feature called Graph Search at a highly hyped press conference. Wall Street, which had been expecting a phone ,was not impressed, and the stock dived by 6.5% (it’s since recovered). On the other hand, the social media bloggers almost unanimously called Graph Search a triumph and Mashable declared: “Facebook Graph Search Could Be Its Greatest Innovation.”
What is it? Graph Search gives you the power to tap into the web of connections between you and your friends in a way that has never existed before. For example, if you type in a question like “Which of my friends like Moonrise Kingdom?” you will be shown a list of your friends, weighted by the ones you interact with the most, i.e., best friends on top. You could also ask, “What films do my friends like?” and presumably--I haven’t seen it yet--the films at the top of the list will be the ones most liked by your friends. You can also add other variables to your search like “Which of my female Los Angeles friends who speak French like Moonrise Kingdom?” As Graph Search indexes photos as well as likes, you can ask to see pictures from the photo libraries of all your friends who have liked something or other on Facebook. You can see more examples of what Graph Search can do on a very Apple-ish video, and sign up for their Beta here.
Consider for a moment how Graph Search could supplement or compete with the services that other websites provide. Yelp tells you what friends have to say about restaurants and other businesses; Graph Search tells you which ones are liked by your friends and their friends. LinkedIn is a powerful hiring tool for searching through people’s resumes; Graph Search lets you make targeted social inquiries, such as finding which friends of your friends are film publicists. Match.com, as USA Today pointed out, allows you to see profiles of strangers who have signed up for the service; Graph Search shows which of your Facebook acquaintances and their friends are single. (Female Facebook users… prepare to be pestered!)
At this point Graph Search only indexes what’s in your profile and the pages you’ve liked, so its usefulness is limited by how much our Facebook profile tell about us. However, Mark Zuckerberg says that his ultimate goal is for Graph Search to include all the content posted on Facebook. Imagine if you could instantly call up comments that a trusted friend made about a movie three months ago? That would indeed be very useful, but it will be many years before Graph Search can do that. In the meantime, if there’s anything that Graph Search can’t help you with, your search goes to Bing.
If people having all this instant access to your data disturbs you, remember that there is nothing accessible through Graph Search that you haven’t already made public, and it only works within your circle of friends. This is an excellent time to revisit your privacy settings, perhaps take down some pictures and remove tags. Here’s Facebook’s information page and the video below about how how privacy works with Graph Search.
As far as your film’s fan page goes, Graph Search will force you to change your strategies. In the past, your page was the nucleus of a network, branching out to your fans and their friends, and to the tributaries of Facebook users that stem out beyond them. Graph Search serves people on the outer margins looking in. Previously the likes, comments and shares drove your message into the network, and the number of likes was secondary, but if Graph Search catches on, the number of fans will be very important to a search for “What movies do my friends like?” However, the quality of the content will be as important as it was before, because it will move your film up to the top of the list.
Will Graph Search become one of those big ideas that changes the way we use the Internet?
Time will tell. As I said before, Graph Search’s viability is limited to how much our profiles express who we are, and that is never the whole story--all of us enjoy more movies than we “like” on Facebook. Will people hike up their privacy settings so much that Graph Search never reaches its potential? (If that happens it would have a detrimental effect on advertising.) How well will Graph Search work on phones? What will be the impact of all the bots and fake likers on Facebook? On the positive side, will Graph Search make it more likely that people will like film pages and write positive comments, as they can see how it will make a long-time difference? Secondly, if Graph Search truly lives up to its promise it may become the “killer app” that convinces Facebook holdouts to join so they can get access to it. At this point I think it’s too early to separate what is hype from what could be a seismic change. Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg had the right tone when he said, “This is just some really neat stuff. This is one of the coolest things we’ve done in a while.”
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Many of you are at Sundance now with a new movie. Congratulations and I wish you the best of luck. I know you’re overwhelmed with the experience and it might seem a ridiculous time to ask: “Will your film still be watched in 2043?”
With the advent of digital streaming, movies available for round-the-clock viewing have already become needles in haystacks as high as Everest. Netflix claims to have 90,000 DVD titles and 12,000 streaming ones. Add to that, movies from other streaming sites like iTunes, Hulu, Amazon, CinemaNow, Mubi, Fandor, Snagfilms, Crackle, YouTube, Indiepix, Crunchyroll, and apps like HBO to Go, that even allowing for overlaps, it becomes numbing for most people to pick a particular movie out of the pile. In 2043 there will undoubtedly be hundreds of thousands of films and TV show episodes available instantly, but all current indications suggest it won’t be a comprehensive list or include the best films. The lack of selection isn’t an issue today, but I believe that future cultural and technological trends will lead the mass public to select among what is most convenient and instant, and only the most discerning viewers will seek the best of cinema history on plastic discs.
You’re at Sundance now with a film--and in the future, many films-- that audiences love and critics do too. (You can stop reading this if that’s not true.) Moving forward you should know that it’s rare to find a career that doesn’t have its ups and downs, and some people fall so far off the radar that when they return to the public eye we call it a comeback even if that person worked steadily while they were “away.” Don’t let that be you. Here are some things to think about.
Keep at it. Woody Allen makes a film every year. People don’t like some of them? They go crazy for “Midnight in Paris”? It doesn’t matter what happens; he’s always on to the next one.
You have to learn media skills. Here’s some basic advice you can use today. First, when you speak to a journalist it’s not a chat, it’s an opportunity. Imagine that you weren’t you, but someone else trying to persuade somebody to see it. What points would you want to make? Don’t force things, but do try to say things that help and avoid things that don’t help. Never do anything that doesn’t take you towards your goal, which is to find the reasons why people should see your movie. Second, just as you study the art of the great filmmakers, scrutinize carefully the skills and technique of the most brilliant marketers. Third, be willing to devote some time. Ang Lee takes nearly a year after every movie traveling the globe to promote it. If you meet with a potential distributor during the festival, they will be very receptive to you throwing out how much energy and time you are willing to put into selling your movie. (There’s so much more I can say here, and I will write about it later.)
Branching out. The more things you do, the more you will stay in the public eye. Actors become directors, directors become actors, and both actors and directors become producers. Some filmmakers also work in theatre and TV as well as pursue causes and politics. The ultimate multi-tasker is Robert Redford, who in addition to his never-ending initiatives to expand the mission of the Sundance institute, and his career as an actor/producer/director, has devoted much of his time to environmental activism. Wanting to branch out is a personal thing, but there’s no harm in stopping to think now and then about things you always wanted to do… and whether it’s time to start doing it.
Change and reinvention. As artists move through their careers, sometimes they face the riddle: “If I keep making films like I did before then people say I’m in a rut, but if I make different kinds of films they say they liked the old ones better.” There’s no safe choice to this, so if you do have the inclination to change course, I say go for it. I don’t think change is ever wrong, as that’s how you grow. If your experiment leads you towards taboo subjects, you might get a lot of attention, and there’s nothing wrong with that, unless you’re doing it only for the publicity. You can take that to the extreme and never stop the process of reinvention.
Let me talk about your legacy now.
If all goes well you will spend a lifetime making good films and working hard to get your films seen and make your presence felt in the world. If you reach a certain level, it won’t be an issue for you to be remembered, but if your work is wonderful but less celebrated? What happens to your legacy after you retire or die and your movies fall into the morass of too many streaming movies?
Not to be dramatic, but I have been amazed and disheartened with the fickleness of the public and how quickly they can forget the films of the past. Here is what I have discovered from my decades as a publicist.
There has to be at least one person or an organization willing to carry the torch.
These caretakers will endeavor to get all your films online and have copies available that can be screened in theatres. So often the films that a writer and director is best known for fall out of circulation for one reason or another.
They will strive to set up theatrical retrospectives. There must be events where the films are shown as a group, so that the totality of your work can be appreciated. This creates a news peg for the media to cover. Every time there is a retrospective, your work will become new again. People who read about it will seek your films out on home video.
Often the reason that an artist’s work is sent to oblivion is not because nobody wants to memorialize it, but because the authorized person impedes or blocks it. There are many stories of a widow or widower asking an unreasonable price for a film with a limited audience with the result that nobody sees it.
Thinking about who’s going to look after your work when you’re not around is important, like making a will. If God forbid, anything happens to you, who would it be?
Social media is essential. Extending a legacy is what social media does best. I’ve written about how this works here. If you haven’t done so, build a Facebook page when you get home and learn how to get the most out of it. If you sell your film to a distributor, ask if you can be in charge of social media. Unless they’re Focus Features with their dedicated social media staff, it’s unlikely they will have as much time or motivation to lavish on a Facebook page as you will, and they certainly can’t do it with your voice, which is the most important thing.
If you’re at Sundance, think about this when you get home. If you’re not at Sundance, then what are you waiting for? Facebook is a magical tool that never existed before so why not use it? You’ve put your heart and soul into your movies and I’m sure you want them to live on. More than anything, I do too.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Imagine if an idealistic multi-billionaire became determined to reinvent independent film.
Imagine if he sought out the most talented, but not yet established, filmmakers in this country--the stars of the film schools, people, festival prize-winners, critically acclaimed directors whose movies have not turned a profit. He invites each of these people to his office in California, where he takes them for a nature walk to explain his dream of a colossal experiment in cinematic collaboration, larger than anything the world has previously seen. Not incidentally, he offers each of them a substantial salary to take part. Most will grab the money or be curious; others will be suspicious of his motives or wary of being tied up and say no. It will take awhile to put together the perfect group, but
the entrepreneur is patient and won’t quit until he’s assembled hundreds of people, the best of the best of the best. Of course, sometimes he’ll make the wrong choices, but one thing he’s known for is his decisiveness about letting people go when necessary.
The ultra-wealthy man hires one of the world’s most acclaimed architects alive to design the biggest open office space on the planet, a Xanadu where all these filmmakers can work together. There are no private offices, only a single floor and the owner works in the same gargantuan structure as everybody else.
What would happen if such an abundance of talent were brought together in the same place? Is this clear-eyed passion or mad folly? Would it be an unwieldy mess, a total waste of money and time? Or is there a chance that something wonderful might emanate from this imagination factory? Maybe even something unimaginable and new?
Change “gifted film director” to “visionary hacker” and that is very similar to what Mark Zuckerberg is planning to happen in the Xanadu that Frank Gehry is building for him.
Architect Frank Gehry and Mark Zuckerberg review the Facebook West design with Gehry's partner, Craig Webb. Source: Frank Gehry/Gehry Partners
My mind boggles when I visualize Zuckerberg’s huge room, several football fields long, chock-a-block with tech geniuses. What will be born when so many fertile imaginations collide? His venture is so outsized it reminds me of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York,” rebuilding New York City inside a warehouse. No matter where Zuckerberg’s audacious dream takes him, it’s an artist’s dream, not a businessman’s dream.
While many Facebook-haters cast Zuckerberg in the mold of an arrogant commander like Steve Jobs or a socially uncomfortable nerd like Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network,” his lack of impressiveness as a speaker belies his undeniable brilliance, and I actually find him kind of sweet. I believe in his sincerity when he says that “Facebook was not originally created to be a company… it was built to accomplish a social mission—to make the world more open and connected.”
Zuckerberg is the opposite of Steve Jobs. Jobs didn’t want anybody to know what the person in the next office was doing; Zuckerberg doesn’t want there to be offices at all, he wants “hangouts” where people can congregate. Jobs was obsessed with secrecy; Zuckerberg wants his staff to work in transparent ways. Jobs didn’t want anybody to know about his future plans; Zuckerberg loves to talk about them. For example, if you want to sleuth out what companies Zuckerberg is buying and what people he’s hiring, you’re going to have to go to this page in Wikipedia where they are all listed. In the past he was more interested in so-called “acqui-hires,” people taken on solely for their brains, rather than the startups they created (which sometimes pared down their services or shut down altogether, to the chagrin of their users), but lately he has been buying companies useful to mobile, most famously Instagram, but also Tagtile (mobile-based customer loyalty app), Glancee (location app to connect strangers with common interests), Karma (gifting app, which aided the very successful Facebook Gifts), Face.com (facial recognition) as well as many more acqui-hires.
I am particularly fascinated with the acqui-hires, because they are brought in with no specific ideas for how they might improve Facebook. I also believe that the entrepreneurs who do come in with companies attached are also acqui-hires as it is the nature of tech people to follow up a success by moving on to develop new technologies, just like a successful film director often wants to try out something different from what they’re known for.
This venture has been widely reported in the tech media but the mass media hasn’t given much notice to it. It’s a very big deal and it’s sitting right in front of people’s noses. The problem with most people is that tend to judge a company like Apple or Facebook based on what it looks like at the moment they’re looking at it. They aren’t capable of considering what it might become because they’re not Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg themselves. Therefore Apple could bring out the iPods, iPhones and iPads, and everybody is surprised, until one day it isn’t Apple Computers anymore, it’s just Apple. But why should each one of those things continue be so astonishing when you look at what Jobs had accomplished previously and you knew what a hungry mind he had?
Facebook has over a billion members and is adding a hundred thousand a day. It has changed the lives of many people. What other twenty-something has built a company like this? You have to give Zuckerberg a lot of credit for what he’s already achieved. As for where he’s going in the future, it’s my hypothesis that he hasn’t assembled this group merely to make Facebook “better” any more than Apple brought people into the company in the late 90’s solely to improve the iMac. I believe that the Facebook of the future will be a much more evolved social network, but also an umbrella under which many technological marvels as yet unknown will flourish. I think the idea of Facebook will be something much more expansive than what people consider it to be today.
There are a handful of technological ideas that will transform our lives in the future and I believe many of them will be born in Zuckerberg’s workshop.
Thursday, January 03, 2013
Can you really sell your film on Facebook with one of those dinky ads on the right side of the page?
Let’s begin by taking off the table the fact that many people really hate them. Assuming that that’s not the case, usually the 100 pixel x 72 pixel size is too small to even show the poster image, and the maximum 90 characters makes a tweet look like a novel. It’s true that Facebook ads can be dirt cheap-- for the price of one weekly ad in IndieWire-- I once got 60 million “impressions” (times displayed) on Facebook-- and it offers prodigious targeting abilities allowing you to zero in on fans of any director, actor, movie, social issue, among other things, but still, you end up with a bargain price on a zillion itsy-bitsy ads that I personally don’t think will directly lead to anything as big as a ticket purchase or a video viewing. Selling shoes or an exercise program or ice cream cones, yes; movie tix, no. In my opinion, the sole purpose of those itsy-bitsy teeny-weenie ads on the right side of the page is to drive people to like your Facebook page. It’s worked for me and countless others and it can work for you (if you do it right).
Now that you have a lot of fans on your page, do you blast them with a hard sell? Do you put up a series of links to reviews that call it a masterpiece or one of the year’s ten best or the funniest or scariest movie in town?
I’m hoping most of you know the answer to this one, but all of you don’t because I see it all the time.
Earth to Facebook marketers! Anything that looks or feels like ads is the epitome of what people don’t want to see on social media and will make them unlike your page or hide your posts pronto. You don’t like it on your page, do you? The harder you sell the easier they unlike.
Do you sell your movie on your Facebook page by begging your fans to go to the movie theatres?
Your posts only reach 16% of your fans, of which more than half have already seen your film. If anybody in that 8% is willing to see your movie as a favor, that’s because they have more of a connection with you than clicking a “like button” and you can reach them much more efficiently through email. There are many examples of successful social media campaigns that ask people to reach out to their friends, but I personally think it’s a lot to ask your 8% to reach into their contact lists to notify their out-of town friends every time you book a new playdate.
Do you sell your movie on your Facebook page by keeping your fans up-to-date with the latest news?
If you’re a passionate fan of a film, it’s wonderful to receive information about awards, events and the latest reviews. And it’s a nice thing for filmmakers to be in touch with their fans, particularly when the fan base gets big. But what’s the point in communicating with people who have already signed on? You are putting time into Facebook because you want to reach the friends-of-friends, friends-of-friends-of friends, and friends-of-friends-of-friends-of friends. You want to keep reminding people who have never liked your page and never will… but might be aware of it and this will help keeping it on their wavelength. My blog post about “The Wire” shows how this can go on indefinitely. There is nothing in simple news by itself that makes a fan assume their friends will be interested. You need to create the kind of content that people will want to share.
So how the hell do you sell your film on your Facebook page?
You sell by not “selling.” You sell not by asking, but by giving.
You win when you grasp the concept that it isn’t about pushing your product on consumers, but initiating a dialogue. You succeed when you strive to give your fans an experience that is as close as possible to the one they enjoy with their most interesting and fun Facebook friends--intriguing and funny comments, links, questions, pictures and videos. You have a lot of tools like trailers and ads and publicity to help you get through the weekend. Social media is not about this week; it’s about what “Homeland”’s Carrie Mathison calls the “long game.” Social media is about forging relationships that will last throughout your career.
Don’t let anybody ever catch you “selling.” Facebook will work for you from the moment you understand that you only get when you give.
Tuesday, January 01, 2013
I read that 57% of people say they talk more online than they do in real life. Whether or not this suspiciously precise statistic is wholly accurate-- it paints a realistic picture of the way people I know live today, and how we will live as we move forward to 2013 and beyond.
Does social media increase our connection to each other or does it tear us apart? By communicating with more people more of the time do we let our face-to-face social interaction skills deteriorate? Will we evolve into creatures with very small mouths and extremely dexterous fingers?
Of course, not all the changes wrought by the internet have kept us physically apart. In almost as many cases it has brought us together, for example: computer dating; reunions with long-lost friends; joining with strangers at meetup.com live events; connecting with nearby friends through 4Square, to name but a few. The truth is that the internet has probably connected more people in the real world than any entity that preceded it, and it has opened up previously unimagined opportunities for lasting connections with the people we already know.
How does the internet impact moviemaking? While technology has created the opportunity for parts of the process to be done in isolation, mostly we band together in groups of varying sizes during film production. In addition, most of us interact at film festivals and through organizations like the IFP, the Sundance Institute and Film Independent. Where the fissures between people are growing is in the way we watch movies, which is less and less in movie theatres.
Technology is chipping away at the idea of cinema as a communal experience, and this concerns me. The small screens cut into the art of the cinema and into the vitality of the experience, which is at its best when it flows from the credits through the café conversations that flow afterwards.
Technology has proven its ability to help get people into the theatres, notably the transformation of the experience created by online ticketing. Social media can help people find out what their friends are seeing and recommending. I do miss the golden age of the film critic, but I realize that the purpose of sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic is to get people out of their houses and into the theatres.
I’m as big a believer in social media as you can find, but I am more cheered by new ideas in micro-exhibition like ReRun and Rooftop Films, and the alternative distribution models being explored by people like Peter Broderick, Jon Reiss, Scott Kirsner, and the creator of this blog. We need more ideas like these and we need to integrate them at their core with social media. As a marketer, I do advise people to consider the digital route, but I never advise them to leave some kind of theatrical showing out of their plans.
My plea to the independent film community for 2013 is simple: let’s use technology to bring us together. See you at the movies!