Releasing a film in the time of Covid-19 continues to be extremely challenging.
The premiere of our documentary, The Faithful, is now less than a month away. We've been busy building our virtual cinema, setting up marketing channels, and creating a ticketing experience for both web monetization users and single-visit viewers. Current work focuses on ways to both promote the film as well as finish building the shared viewing experience which culminates in a Q&A session with the filmmaker.
We've built an entitlement system using the web monetization api that grants these users access to the movie without needing to purchase a single-use ticket. As part of this system we've integrated Coil OAuth authentication and polyfill so that the movie experience is monetized regardless of whether a user has the Coil extension installed.
We're planning on having two exclusive screenings for Web Monetization subscribers on the first day of launch, each with the filmmaker present and the ability for the audience to chat with each other in a virtual "lobby". This first day will also see the movie released on the Cinnamon platform for web monetization members. (Subsequent screenings are also viewable by web monetization members, but just won't be exclusive.)
The crux of our application and proposal remains: we're showing our film online in our own virtual cinema. Moviegoers get to watch the movie, then participate in a Q&A with the filmmakers.
We have deviated slightly in a few areas. For example, our grant application proposed releasing the film on Cinnamon.video where users would "pay" via web monetization. We still intend to do this, however after speaking with end users and reviewing the user experience patterns available we made the decision to also sell "traditional" tickets alongside Coil.
We realized we had two challenges: 1) explaining what our film was, and 2) explaining what Coil was...all while on a third party platform. "Watch The Faithful on Cinnamon by paying through Coil" was just too confusing of an elevator pitch. We're still hoping to streamline the process of signing up for a Coil subscription from users who click on our "watch" button–we've just de-risked this by providing a secondary option for users. (We'll be gathering data on user patterns for these two options and intend to report back with recommendations.)
At present we're busy at work attempting to tell this story to the media and to find interested parties to join our movie watch parties. Somewhat surprisingly our DIY approach made getting press coverage a little harder rather than easier as we had surmised. The reason for this is that the traditional film press has a series of gatekeepers that expect a film to be validated by going to certain festivals, or getting picked up by a particular kind of distributor or streaming platform. Because we've largely sidestepped this process many of the pr firms we spoke to didn't know if they could help us make an impact.
“The marquee and ticket booth” - Currently live.
“The lobby” - A login and entitlement system is in place to enable users to see the film during the event.
“The movie” - We're streaming this from our own platform as well as plan to upload to Cinnamon.video. Cinnamon doesn't have an ability to make videos "unpublished" so as soon as we upload the video to the site it will be live. ... consequently we haven't done this yet.
In the film world, there is an order to one’s release - festivals, theaters, educational, then streaming. In this COVID era with festivals and theaters worldwide going virtual and filmmakers lamenting the realities of these experiences, we naively assumed film publicists would understand what we were doing and help us craft this story.
Needless to say, publicists described a traditional press that would only cover certain kinds of releases - top tiered festivals or cinema releases. Without either of those, our best bet was to sign with a known distributor. Yet, we’d heard what some of those much sought after deals looked like from our colleagues and couldn’t quite understand why filmmakers would so willingly sign away the rights of their films for so little. Perhaps now, if anything, we have a greater understanding and appreciation for what a good distributor does bring to the table.
This meant that instead of relying on the world of a reputable publicist and big advertising spend, we built a small army to support our outreach efforts - a publicity strategist to help craft and disseminate our story (how the tech story interweaves with the creation of the film), a freelance journalist, a social media consultant in the film distribution space, and designers to craft ongoing social content for organic reach and amplification.
Simultaneously, we’ve been working on building partners and sponsors to co-present certain screenings and introduce their audiences to the film. One thing we’ve learned is how long these relationships take to develop, including that with the press.
Another hurdle was not being able to release our film’s marketing materials until we obtained Errors and Omissions insurance, which took much longer than we ever anticipated. New Media Rights (another GFTW recipient) took us in and offered valuable advice at a time we needed it most.
Publicizing, publicizing, publicizing! We are continuing to build out the viewing platform and live capabilities (chat, Q&A), and testing all of that. This week we will officially release our trailer and spread the news to our mailing lists, social accounts, and press. Meanwhile, we will write and create our own content, seek more partnerships and alliances, and get the word out every way we can. We will begin a paid social advertising campaign, in house utilizing our advisors and tracking, for the biggest possible spend.
We'll then wrap up with some analysis of the data we collected during the events and generate a GitHub repo with our findings and code.
Please spread the word to all current Coil members about our viewing events on the 18th (and beyond).
Additionally we need help from everyone willing to spread the word about our event.