This is the Why, Pt. 2

19 01 2010

When we started this we weren’t particularly focused on how many views each episode would get.  Still — as is the case with producing anything — you hope that people will see your work, take something from it and be energized enough by it to recommend it (or in this day and age: embed it, blog it or email it along).  And while we’ve never been focused on the numbers, part of this project is about learning how to build an audience online and seeing if indeed there is an audience for the kind of nonfiction films we’re interested in making.

Right now Episode 3 (Pornstar Karaoke) has been viewed somewhere around 3000 times in ten days. It’s hard to know what to make of that number.  In a world where this video of a kitten being surprised has been viewed millions and millions of times that seems like a very small number.  But, we made a ten-minute documentary called Porn Star Karaoke that offers nothing in the way of titillation and in a lot ways subverts the expectations of the people most likely to want to check it out. In that context, 3000 views feels like a lot.  (Also: Have you seen the kitten surprise video? Even his feet are surprised!)

Here’s another way of looking at it:  Last weekend while talking with some filmmaking friends about Sparrow Songs we talked about what the avenue for these films would be were we not releasing them online.   My guess is that the films would follow the path short documentaries have always followed: we’d spend money and time submitting the film to festivals, we’d be patient during the lag time and if lucky and well-received (not guaranteed) the film would play at ten to twenty festivals over seven or eight months.  Even if you had 250 people at each screening – which for short documentaries would be unheard of – it would take months and months before 3000 people had seen your film.

Nothing can replace the festival experience.  It validates the film, it validates you as a filmmaker, you get to meet other people going through the same joys and struggles as yourself and you get to watch your work with an audience.  And, the audience comes because they have a relationship with the festival. Essentially they trust the festival, if nothing else they trust that the festival will program good films.

Still, in order to be involved the filmmaker must submit: they must write a check to someone for the explicit purpose of having that unknown person watch their work and judge it. Every submission is asking a ‘yes or no’ question: In your eyes, is this worthy or unworthy of being seen?

Still, in order to be involved the filmmaker must submit: they must write a check to someone for the explicit purpose of having that unknown person watch their work and judge it. Every submission is asking a ‘yes or no’ question: In your eyes, is this worthy or unworthy of being seen?

When you believe in the work you’ve done and you’re happy with the film you’ve made asking that question again and again begins to pose a number of problems.  My experience (and it should be stated that my experience is only with shorts, but my suspicion is that this problem occurs with features too) is that you’ll have your film play at a top tier festival only to be rejected by much smaller festivals.  Often you’ll get into smaller festivals, but won’t be able to attend and won’t get much feedback from the screening either.  It’s a crapshoot.  But filmmakers continue with it , we continue to submit and to ask the question again and again.  Why? Because right now there doesn’t seem to be any better way of getting your work out there.

What we’re doing with Sparrow Songs is – in part – trying to find a different way.  Instead of asking the question, “Is this worthy of being seen?” We’re giving ourselves a directive, “Make this worth seeing,” and we’re doing it each month.

And so far, each month different blogs and news sites embed our films or write short pieces about the project, but from all these different sources the result remains the same: people see the films.

The hope then is that over time some percentage of that initial audience – no matter how they came to the films or to the site — will come to believe that the work of this project is worth seeing – both the successes and the failures. Moreover, after a time they won’t need the imprint of a festival to trust that the work is worth watching, they’ll have come to know it themselves.  With that the viewership grows and the audience itself becomes the validating force.

Or at least that’s the hope.


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One response

3 02 2010
lucija7

I usually don’t do this, but I just had to tell you that Porn star karaoke was one of the most moving pieces I’ve seen in a very long time. Congratulations, and keep up the good work!🙂

Lucy

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