Friday, May 15

Releasing Indies: What Goes Up

When you're working against the clock on a theatrical release of an indie film, anything can happen and usually does. That was how James Hoke, executive producer with Three Kings Productions, described it last April.

One month later, I can attest to the fact that he is right. Much like life, it's filled with hits, misses, and unknowns.

The Three Kings film, What Goes Up, wasn't really known as 'What Goes Up' five weeks ago. And for the most part — despite Steve Coogan, Hilary Duff, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, and Molly Shannon — it wasn't even known. Today, the film that will open in select cities on May 29 is known mostly through its growing groundswell.

The original model was different. Social media was meant to serve as a supporting mechanism for media engagement. And, right now, there are no less than 40 requests for interviews on the table being fielded by ten different public relations and marketing firms divided by region and product (film and soundtrack).

The bottleneck for success has become a function of scheduling (with Coogan wrapping his world tour; Duff walking for AIDS, which is close to our hearts; etc.) and possibly the earliest reviews.

Variety wasn't kind to the movie, making the film into some sort of statement against journalism. It isn't. But the review from Pete Hammond, at, isn't up yet to provide a contrast.

'''What Goes Up' is a 2009 sleeper, a complete original, and definitely not your typical teen comedy. It's a darkly funny, wonderfully twisted story that marches to its own surprising beat. The entire cast is superb. Steve Coogan is perfect. Hilary Duff's seductive presence proves she's an actress to watch. Olivia Thirlby is a real find." — Pete Hammond,

One of many fan comments we've read reinforces the idea. Teresa Reile from Buffalo, New York, where the film debuted at a film festival, called it "The Breakfast Club meets Mulholland Drive. It will become a cult classic!!" She nailed it.

As such, not every critic or moviegoer will get it or like it. Entertainment is like that. It's something I've known all too well after covering fan campaigns to save Jericho and Veronica Mars. The net result is the same. When traditional communication slows down, social media speeds up. Since fans are in the balance, we wanted to avoid making any them feel like Jericho or Veronica Mars fans did. It makes a difference.

Where social media has been hitting, missing, and providing unknowns.

If Geoff Livingston's post isn't enough evidence that social media is fluid, then 'What Goes Up' drives the point home. While the production blog provides a diary of sorts, the real interest remains on existing fan forums, Flickr, and YouTube. YouTube, specifically, delivered 200,000 views (building to 20,000 to 30,000 per day) before one of the unknowns happened.

The YouTube account was mistakenly suspended by an automated process. While one of the studios involved is making inquiries, there is no time to sort it out. So, in the interim, we shifted the cast interviews to Revver while setting up a new direct channel for the producer. It's a good thing we have a blog, which has helped facilitate the transition.

What can't be saved is the viral nature of the interviews, which were shared by several popular media sites, nor the basic nature of content that spreads. Much like Twitter followers, videos with 40,000 views attract more attention than videos with 40 views. No matter. Social media is situational. Each program is different. Yet, all of them require that you manage and move with it. You cannot control it (not that communication was ever controlled anyway).

For this program, some elements have worked better than others. Despite high engagement, Twitter is comparatively time intensive. Facebook much less so, because of the variety of communication methods, allowing us to message, post, share, and chat with fans on their terms. Like all of our components, we chose every network based on where fans wanted us to be and not where we wanted to be. And, if this was a long-term program, I would likely shed some components along the way.

When communication changes, the seven Fs still apply.

Yesterday, I mentioned the seven Fs. They apply to indie films. Perhaps they do even more so because we balance what we can share and what we cannot share about the soundtrack and the film every single day. We don't do it for us; we do it to prevent confusion.

While we would love to be transparent, transparency would have killed any sense of community long ago. Things change all the time, sometimes on an hourly basis given the intricacies and interests of many different stakeholders. Instead, we rely on authenticity, which means minimizing the steady state of changing communication and settling on those items that are least likely to change.

Sometimes things change after we report them, but minimizing any communication that changes and impacts people seems better than changing up the communication every five minutes or so. Even more important, when we do change the communication, we consider the obvious. They aren't just users, customers, consumers, or participants (even if we use those words as descriptors) — they are stakeholders, and some of them already "feel like family."

A couple of my colleagues told me they don't "get" everything we're doing. That's okay. We're not writing for them. We're working for our stakeholders, which in this case are fans. As Valeria Maltoni might say, we always were. And, we always will be.


Rich on 5/16/09, 12:07 AM said...

More words:

I finally had a chance to see the theatrical version tonight as opposed to the rough cut. So, in case I wasn't clear, I really like the movie.

It's different and non formula. It makes me realize how much we need a little more different in our lives. Routine sucks.


WagerWitch on 5/16/09, 5:08 AM said...

This is an excellent post Rich, and I find myself more intrigued, not by the movie, but more the process of how it is being marketed.

I see that this particular situation, is in fact, a new attempt in marketing strategy - which I think, may be a bit strange at first... But will in the long run prove to be an excellent and well thought out experiment.

The social medias are just beginning to mark the world and leaving their branding, much the way television started off. Slowly at first, then every home had one... Then every home had more than one - and then *gasp* there were more than 3 channels available.

In the long run, these social media platforms may be more than just communication, but may become more of a way of life - and as such, it is a very wise move to integrate the individuals using them in a viral marketing strategy.

Again, you are right. The individual is the end reason for marketing. Leave a mark upon that person and you may have a customer or friend for life.

The contacts that are made with the fan base and the communication techniques will prove to be an incredible wave of information sharing and an almost tangible source of media broadcasting.

The Internet, no matter how much you dice it up, has become the way of life - and will continue to be so for many years to come.

It,(the online marketing of this particular movie)is probably one of the smartest marketing moves I have ever seen.

And I wish you the best.

I'm glad you enjoyed the movie, and I look forward to being able to assist you in any way, if you so need it.


Rich on 5/19/09, 12:11 PM said...

Thanks WW,

I really appreciate your well thought out comment (and wish I had a chance to respond sooner). I expect we'll see more integrated communication in the future.

There are so many ways to connect with people. It only makes sense, given the amount of time we all spend on the Web, that online communication will simply be consider part of the whole, much like television is today.

Great comment!

All my best,

WagerWitch on 5/20/09, 7:46 AM said...

Rich -

*wink* No problem - some days there just isn't enough time on the clock to separate the thought processes from each other!

I'm curious - have you seen the NIN marketing strategy with Trent Reznor's model?

It might fit in to some of your work.


HiLDoMe on 5/23/09, 4:00 AM said...

Totally agree. Excelent post.

Since I first saw the movie began filming and i learned of the cast and read the synopsis i really thought it looked like a different movie.. I agree that routine totally sucks ( i go to class, go to work, study and lots of others HAVE TO DO things that make my free time really short ).

I think movies have to be realistic but they have to be special, they have to be original... nothing like the lives we're living nowadays.

i'm really greatful that the WGU team are making such an effort to get to fans and expand the knowledge of the movie.

I have seen the trailers, and some scenes from the interviews to the cast. And it made me even more interested in it. I also am greateful that they made a facebook page because i'm from spain and getting information of USA, movies, cast etc is quite rough.

I totally agree that not everyone will get it, not everyone will like it, not everyone will judge it the same way (perhaps because they don't like a scene or whatever)... but this bussiness is tough in every way. The important part, I think, is that it has something differnt and that the cast and crew works hard ( as i'm sure it has for WGU ).

Sorry for this large comment but i really think that this post deserves it.

Keep the hard work and I really hope that this movie gets the reviews and the results are satisfying :)

Rich on 5/24/09, 8:03 AM said...


We've been tracking NIN social media efforts, especially since Trent lashed out at Apple. It fits his brand. (He does some other stuff too, of course.)

We could have lashed out at YouTube, but then it would detract from the movie release. Since writing this, the James Hoke channel has really taken off. It hasn't gained the same momentum as the insider channel did, but it's still very respectable.


Speaking for my whole team, I cannot thank you enough.

Social media is a good tool, but when you know that it really is touching fans who are interested in the film, it makes everything that much more worthwhile. Your comment is great in that it really demonstrates how much more powerful engagement is over random impressions.

I really hope we have the opportunity to manage the Spain release (pending who owns the rights). Its fans like you who keep us working hard to develop enduring value.

All my best,

HiLDoMe on 5/24/09, 12:37 PM said...

I really really do hope so.

If I can do something, please, just let me know!

The premiere day is getting reaaaaaally close :D can't wait to see pics, reviews and see the impression people get :D


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