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Hey dude, why does DIY filmmaking suck?

  • Yes Beavis, DIY filmmaking literally does suck.

    Let me tell you about my experience producing Quality of Life.

    Each day, I worked a full-time day job and then put in 4 - 8 hours more on the film at night. I still declared personal bankruptcy during pre-production.

    Then I was fired from my job for focusing on the film too much instead of my work.

    My girlfriend nearly left me since she never saw me.

    My friends stopped returning my calls for fear I'd ask for favors for the film.

    And in the end, the entire "indiewood" film industry basically ignored us. Sundance, the speciality distributors, the major indie film press outlets and of course just about anyone with money couldn't be bothered.

    And that was all before we decided to self-distribute the movie and things really got rough.

    So listen up: DIY filmmaking is not for the faint of heart. It sucks.

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March 18, 2010


Scott Walker

You captured a lot of the main points here; I suspect you've got more coming in part two, and at the risk of spoiling that...I humbly offer my two cents.

It might be helpful to distinguish 'transmedia storytelling' from 'transmedia marketing' and recognize that up to now, most transmedia offerings have been funded by the marketing department, not the creative departments (I'm obviously ignoring the oft-quoted examples of Matrix and Star Wars).

It's much harder to achieve quality parity between marketing and storytelling if you start from the marketing side of the house (harder but not impossible).

[To be honest, in an ideal world there is no marketing, just extended storytelling. But I have yet to find an ideal world, and it's useful to maintain a storytelling and marketing distinction for now.]

That said, transmedia marketing can help DIY filmmakers build audiences way ahead of the launch/premier (see Rob Pratten's writeup on transmedia as an audience-builder: )

But equally important is understanding the limitations of transmedia. It's not a silver bullet for your marketing / distribution / discovery / revenue woes. It is not the future of all entertainment (or even most). It is not a panacea for poor storytelling.

And it's beginning to receive some backlash in the entertainment industry.

I noted with interest Diane Nelson (President of DC Comics) stating that it's a red flag for her when she's pitched properties built to be transmedia from the ground up. She still wants a single story, well-told that can be migrated to other mediums/platforms later; not a world of multiple stories that are launched simultaneously and immediately.

Still, for DIY filmmakers, transmedia can be a powerful tool for certain projects that naturally lend themselves to transmedia storytelling/marketing.

Use transmedia sparingly. Ensure your use is a required part of your storytelling/marketing, not a bolted-on, check-the-box, everyone-is-doing-it-so-I-should-to approach. Understand how it helps your project. Know its limitations.

I professionally view transmedia as a stop along the way towards the real goal, which is collaborative (commercial) entertainment, where fans can participate meaningfully (i.e., canonically and monetarily) in the creation of a property.

Transmedia does not inherently require a changing of the rules. It does not require a change in how fans interact with content from a legal perspective. In that way, I view it as 'more of the same.'

But as a consumer, the potential for transmedia experiences is alluring. We've only just started to really experiment with what transmedia storytelling can do in our increasingly technologically capable world, and I'm personally looking forward to seeing how it plays out across all the entertainment industries.

I'm also looking forward to part two...!

I think it's excellent that you're helping highlight new opportunities for indies. I like the style of your writing too ;)
And thanks to Scott for referencing my post on Culture Hacker!

The current issue (#59) of Indie Slate magazine ( has an article I wrote titled "Transmedia Storytelling for the Indie Filmmaker" so I'd encourage anyone reading this blog to go pick up a copy.

In the article I argue that filmmakers (or anyone really) should think first about ENGAGEMENT rather than IMMERSION. The problem with the later is that it can lead to tons of additional media (and hence additional work) which is little more than backstory and exposition. I appreciate that hardcore fans like to dig deep and love all this detail but as an indie you're going to have few hardcore fans and little money. If you think about engagement first you're likely to limit the number of platforms and assets you tell your story across but do so in a more interesting way.

I'm currently producing a transmedia project called LowLifes and I can tell you that with just three media (book, video, blog) there's a lot of writing development required to tell the story properly.

Scott is right of course that transmedia storytelling and transmedia marketing are different animals but I think the challenge is merge the two so that the marketing is baked into the storytelling.

Luci Temple

Great post - looking forward to more in the series:)

Check out or for examples of the many varied and frequently low budget ARGs - it's just that the big budget ones have the money to do the extra fantastic stuff so they are always the one cited as examples. [Who doesn't want to talk about mobile phones ringing from the center of cakes?]

I recently blogged about a low cost one that is in promotion of The Secret World (an upcoming game) - it's had three 'episodes' of ARG so far, spread out over 2.5 yrs, and none of the material looks like it would have been too expensive for an indie filmmaker to emulate.

Bad Vegan

Thanks for the great feedback and comments Scott, Robert and Luci.

Re: the marketing vs. writing divide -- I mean, I was at freakin' USC, so what should we expect?

Still, to Henry's credit he said he would have more DIY transmedia next year at the conference.

It kinda comes back to the baseline: content builds traffic. I've even seen that play out on this site (since I started posting content-heavy posts, our traffic has increased five-fold, including 10x spikes at times -- I even have PAID ads now).

Marketing for marketing's sake (which is how I categorize most known-brand ARGs including the ones I cite) is just lame.

The rest of the series (probably two more parts, given the volume of notes I have) will have to wait until after Wondercon. I'm on an indie sci-fi film panel there (Fri 4/2 at 6pm -- join us!) plus launching a new site that weekend for my day job (guess which hot new device it's focused on....).

In other words, give me a few weeks. Let's play make-believe and say this is a monthly mag for the moment. Close your eyes and pretend it's 1982 again and we're waiting for the next issue of Dragon Magazine. Such sweet anticipation.

Damn 24/7 Internet. How am I supposed to sleep?

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