Saturday, January 13, 2018

WEB 2.0 Will vlogging boost two Smiths?

More widely seen through Facebook, but in 5 days 125k views (link)
Vlogging and other examples of web 2.0 application are more readily associated with the music industry: from Lily Allen's (quietly corporate-funded) bedroom recordings and MySpace, to Gaga's self-contained Little Monsters site and Biebers army of lunatic Beliebers on Twitter and anywhere else anyone dares to question their deity, while he pours out seemingly unfiltered nuggets on those same platforms.

Will Smith has just gone viral with one of a recent series of seemingly off-the-cuff, unfiltered videos, or vlogs (vodcasts). I've seen it through my own Facebook feed, switching it off after a few seconds of what struck me as American hokum (though I'm sympathetic to the general point of the potential power of learning from failure).

The article on this struck a particular chord (i'm even writing this post a 2nd time after a finger slip lost me an hour's worth of phone tapping on the blogger app) as 2 of his tracks popped up on a shuffle play of one of my more eclectic playlists during an hour or so at a local hostelry yesterday - deeply buried amidst 1,293 tracks with Slayer and Celtic Frost among other delights - and the clear retro-fuelled buzz (yup: namecheck for Simon Reynolds' book Retromania but also the ol' uses and gratifications theory...) it sparked.

Smith's stellar career has dulled, with the Netflix-distributed Bright not exactly setting the world alight. Haven't seen it yet, so I'll reserve my own judgement, but the LOTR-Lethal Weapon mash-up it suggests at least sounds faintly intriguing.

As is more often the case with musicians, fans are very prominent in his banner + the auto-play vid, with other social media also hyperlinked (cropped off from this screenshot). Will Smith's Channel, 13th Jan 2018.

Watch his Facebook Live...
So, is this is a notable new trend in the film biz? Time to deploy the best phrase in the known universe: yes and no.

Vlogging like this is certainly much more associated with the music industry. The uproar around abuse within the film industry sparked by the Weinstein case has seen a dramatic escalation in the use and (just as significantly) reporting on social media utterances of actors and other film insiders, and Smith's new lo-fi venture is notable as unusual for such a high-profile A-lister.

Nonetheless, if you have followed this blog for a while you may have noted my post on the generation X hero that is Kevin Smith. Many folk aged around 35-44+ will know the name; most younger won't.

I count him as a personal hero, the Tarantino figure that never quite made to the A-list summit, though he has been on the periphery of the comic book franchise hegemony, and is a star turn at Comic Con himself. Smith scraped together bits of film stock to record Clerks over several months while working at the small store where it was set, and imprinted Jay and Silent Bob on the minds of those of my generation who eschewed the mainstream multiplex cinema for Indie treasures like this. Snoochie boochies! Silent Bob's Jedi mind trick in Mall Rats, Batfleck not being awful in Chasing Amy, not even the misfire of Alana Morrisette as Jesus in Dogma could kill my lingering affection for Smith.

The point ... being that Smith has lately become better known, and lives off, his podcasting and vlogging/vodcasting than this actual film output. I regret being too busy to go and catch him recording his weekly podcast on stage in Manchester - he often tours, with 'evenings with...' generally selling out around the recordings - and those ticket prices are hefty!!!

Smith uses Facebook Live as much as vlogs/vodcasts; I didn't catch it live but have watched every moment of his 20-min return to the mall where Mallrats was shot, this engaging me much more than Smith's personal trainer-like entreaties.
You can read all about it on Mallrate!
If I was minded to use any theory I'd quickly lob in Simon Reynolds' Retromania, that ol' nugget uses and gratifications, Stuart Hall's theory of readings, and any number of theories on audience pleasures (often linked to genre) such as the writings of Steve Neale...

If you're tasked with engaging with the concept of digitisation and its impact on the film industry, you've got many handy and snappy mini-case studies like this to get into, once you've gone over many of the wider issues:

  • piracy
  • undermining age ratings
  • reduced cost of distribution - 1 consequence is rise of boutique local cinemas (eg Ilkley)
  • NBC-Universal's Prima as the extreme end of home cinema; the rise and fall of 3DTV (Sky Movies 3D, launched with such fanfare with the Avatar premiere, has now closed!) and the coming age of VR
  • reduced cost of production: Le Donk £48k and Warp X generally (funded to create low budget digitally produced movies); Moon and Monsters much more but still prove the point; Tangerine and other iPhone-shot movies - use the links list I've screenshotted (again!)!
  • linked to that, convergence and the prosumer (what Smith took months to do, scrimping and saving, you could do today with no real budget, just your smartphone and a Mac, with the cost of film and its development taken out)

Although the YouTube/google adsense revenue sharing model, and Smith, K's ticket sales, mean direct monetising as well, what we've really been discussing is using web 2.0 tools for marketing, side-stepping the above-the-line marketing costs of paid-for ads (though Kevin Smith's promoters do take out some of these). This is an ever more important aspect of the film biz, and provides production companies (especially where their deals with distributors involve some revenue sharing) with the opportunity to complement the marketing efforts of distributors (who are traditionally responsible for the promotional push). Working Title are masterful at this, Warp have largely failed to take up this opportunity, though of course their dramatically different funding and revenue levels are a factor.

Here's a chunk of my already lengthy (I'll be adding to it!) post on Warp's latest, Ghost Stories:

Warp failing again to build interest in their own productions?
With the notable exception of Le Donk..., which provided customisable Christmas cards and a downloadable comic, Warp's use of web 2.0 tools has been surprisingly weak. In theory, the radically reduced costs of online distribution (with digitally equipped cinemas, something the UK leads the world on, able to stream films or play through hard drives/DVD/Blu-Ray) and marketing somewhat level the playing field with studio subsidiaries like their UK rival Working Title.

Remarkably, this is the extent of Warp's own promotion of their upcoming film!
Marketing is of course the principle domain of distributors, not producers, but Working Title have shown how a producer can successfully boost the marketing of a film independently from their distributor. The Cornetto Trilogy was boosted by clever, but cheap, arcade game adaptations (Shaun of the Dead Pacman, Hot Fuzz Space Invaders: fun for a youth audience used to mobile gaming, and nostalgic for an older audience who are also represented by the films' characters). They commissioned web designers RedBridge to boost their website with such marketing materials, accompanied by a wide range of stills and videos posted during pre-production, the shoot, post-production and all the way through the release phase, including Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's video diary. Films such as Paul, also starring Frost and Pegg (with the usual Working Title addition of an American A-lister, Seth Rogen, and also set in the US; the Brits were the true aliens of this sci-fi comedy hybrid) also benefit from Facebook pages run by both Universal and Working Title in multiple languages to directly target multiple territories (France, Spain and more in the case of Paul).

Click on the YouTube and this is what you get!
The YouTube link has been clumsily mis-entered - and never corrected

As of May 2017, over a year since the Lionsgate pick-up announcement, with shooting wrapped in Nov 2016, the Warp website presents a single image with a broken YouTube link, and a non-functioning hyperlink on the sole image itself. Click on the Twitter link and instead to taking you to the film hashtag, you get a tweet template. Click on a dropdown arrow and you get greeted with an illustration-free ream (3 scrolled PC screens worth) of grey text on a black background - which hasn't been updated for nearly a year ("shooting started yesterday...")!

They even seem to have messed up the Twitter element
This highly unappealing text, horribly outdated, is all thats below the dropdown arrow.

Gettin' vloggy with it: how YouTube might save Will Smith's career

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