BE STRATEGIC, PATIENT

I know that when you’re filming your movie, you’re excited and want to share that excitement with your friends on various social networking sites.  But think twice about posting photos too soon.  Movies take a long time to complete, and in this world of “now, now, now” you might be shooting yourself in the foot by posting things prematurely.

Think of it backwards.  When your movie is about to premiere at a festival, you’ll want to publicize it and get people to go see it.  So, naturally, you’ll want a website and a press kit, photos and such, and a trailer for people to see.  This will get them excited about the film and hopefully they’ll want to see it.  So, I’d suggest launching the trailer for your movie about a month prior to that first screening.

Backing up from there, a month or so before that trailer launch, you’ll want some kind of web presence to showcase some photos and information for festivals.  Maybe you’ll already have a trailer, but my advice is to keep it hidden from the general public.  A password protected Vimeo or unlisted YouTube page work well.

But, before you can submit your movie to festivals, buyers and critics, you’ll have to complete the final sound mix, score it, and do the color timing.  All of those things take time.  Some of those can be done quicker than others if you’re paying top dollar.  But if you’re paying less, it might take four to five months to complete post-production.

Think of it from the audience’s point of view.  When you see a trailer for a movie, and it says “coming soon” at the end, do you expect that to be in a few weeks, a few months, or a couple years?  Ask yourself if it’s a year later, will you still be interested in seeing that movie?  Will you even remember it?

It’s very important to tell your actors, crew, and friends, that when you’re filming your project, it might be the best idea to WAIT and not post any photos or news about the film until after it’s totally complete.

That first premiere screening very well might be—at the earliest—an entire calendar year away.  And most likely the release of that project will be the following year.

I made this mistake when promoting my film FIRECRACKER.  We filmed it in 2003 and couldn’t find distribution for a long time.  I had to invent a way to keep hooking the audience that was already generated, to keep them interested until it came out.  So, first I made a behind-the-scenes documentary (WAMEGO: Making Movies Anywhere).  I released that and used it as a promotional tool for the film, without giving anything about the movie away.

FIRECRACKER was based on a true story, so I gathered up all my research and figured out a way to showcase bits of information on a monthly basis via a “True Story Investigation” section of the website.  This would help pacify the fans who were there already, and would hook new ones.  Without those monthly updates, we likely would’ve started to lose our audience, as they slowly lost interest before the film was eventually released.

It was fun to do all that, but it was a full-time job.  It’s much easier to be strategic with your marketing and wait until the movie will be ready for people to see.  If you tell them about it too soon, you might lose them by the time it’s released.

So take all the photos you want, and make all the behind the scenes clips you can!  But, just be careful about making them public too soon.  Because coming up with a really great idea to maintain awareness of your project to last the next two years can be tough.

IN WITH THE NEW

Each New Year’s Eve I try and be in bed as early as possible.  My favorite thing is to celebrate by having a great dinner and having a really nice sleep.  That way, I can wake up feeling refreshed and focused, ready to start the first day of the New Year in clarity.  It’s also quiet—no calls or emails to answer—because most everyone else stayed awake waiting for midnight to roll around, and are likely still asleep.  It’s really a wonderful way to start the year.

2013 was a wild ride, to say the least.

In January I produced and directed my 13th feature film – a romantic comedy from Jim Lair Beard’s acclaimed screenplay OCCUPYING ED.  It was a welcome diversion from the pain of being blind-sided, betrayed and abandoned by my partner of 14 years two months earlier.  I was dreading the new year, but with the help of a new film and some great new friends, I managed to repair the broken heart, keep my spirits up and navigate into a new future.

While I was producing the new film, I completed my previous movie, FAR FLUNG STAR, which was filmed in Hong Kong.  Critic Richard Uhlig calls it, “a Visually-stunning gem, a NORTH BY NORTHWEST for the digital age.  This caper film doesn’t let you rest for a second.”  What a compliment!  You can watch the film here: www.Vimeo.com/ondemand/farflungstar

FAR FLUNG STAR premiered at London’s Raindance Film Festival in September, where I met up with my mom’s cousins Karen and James Lowther.  Karen is an author (her amazing new book THE PERFECT CAPITAL is out now), and James is co-founder of M&C Saatchi, one of the world’s largest ad agencies.  The Lowthers invited me to stay at their country house called Holdenby.  It was magical.

While in London I also taught my first Masterclass on Maverick Filmmaking to actors and aspiring filmmakers.  Teaching is an inspirational experience and I’m looking forward to doing it more frequently.

I also traveled to Santa Barbara, the wilds of Maine, Paris France, and even down to Texas (where I spent a surreal weekend at a festival with my friend Jane Wiedlin, her man Travis, and Rutger Hauer and his wife).

2013 also brought the passing of my dear friend, the legendary Hollywood actress Karen Black.  Karen starred in several of my films and became a dear friend to me over the years.  While losing her to a rare cancer was heartbreaking, reflecting on her amazing life and career and the fun we had together has been inspiring.  Karen planned her own funeral, and it was the first funeral I’ve attended that was actually fun!  Sure, everyone was moved and in tears, but the stories we all shared were hilarious and everyone was laughing out loud.  To have known Karen, and to have had the privilege of being one of her “insider” friends, has made my life immeasurably richer.  Though I will miss her, the support and encouragement she gave me will live with me forever.

I come to the end of 2013 feeling renewed and invigorated.  What started off fairly depressing has ended with much hope for the future.  Between several new film projects, some commercial work with 502 Media Group, the new teaching gigs and a new editing suite featuring the latest in technology, I’m raring to hit the new year with gusto and with creativity cooking on all the burners.

Join me!  There is no better time to finally put that pen to paper and write that script you’ve always wanted to.  Start a new project!  Travel and see something magical and expand your horizons!  Eat a wonderful meal with friends and dare to dream the impossible.  There is proof all around you that those seemingly impossible things are just within reach.  So grab them.

DIVORCING YouTube

I loved YouTube.  I really did.  It was always there for me, during thick and thin, and never once raised his voice.  But now, the bastard is beginning to piss me off.

Back in 2006 or 2007, I was invited by one of the founders or higher-ups at YouTube to become one of the first YouTube Partners.  As a YouTube Partner, I was suddenly able to post videos of unlimited length, and I was also able to monetize my videos by allowing advertising in them.  This was a fantastic opportunity, and I would receive checks from Google every now and again.

Then I was invited to showcase the feature-length documentary about me called “Wamego: Making Movies Anywhere” as one of the first YouTube Spotlight videos.  One of the founders or higher-ups was a fan of mine, and loved the doc, and was excited to share it.  I was a great and historical honor.

Life with YouTube went along fine until I realized a lot of other filmmakers were signing up with official channels and their brands were being used to name the channel.  When I signed up with YouTube, it had just started, so I used an email address I only engaged for online Christmas shopping.  So the name of my channel was called “pipistrello2004.”  There wasn’t an option to call it “Dikenga Films” at the time.

I contacted the Head Honcho YouTube guy who invited me to become a Partner and for the video Spotlight honor and he told me that there was no way I could just change the name of my channel.  That if I wanted to set up a new channel, I’d have to re-upload all my videos, lose the view count numbers, and all that.  I was bummed.  But, I decided to just keep the pipistrello2004 name as the Channel name and figured no one really cares anyway.

Life went on, new movies were made, new videos were uploaded, and then YouTube started fiddling around with Google, and then suddenly the whole site was different.  Google Adsense, links, emails, channels, names, networks, blah blah blah.  It was enough to confuse anyone, so I just stayed out of it.  (Sometimes its best to let your significant other just act like a brat so you can get on with dinner).

Recently, I realized that the Google checks had stopped coming.  And the other day, I noticed that some of my videos were not being monetized.  I went to the Video Manager, clicked “Claiming Options” (so I could claim copyright for my videos), and then selected the go-ahead for monetization.  And when I clicked “Save” I got a Server Error.  So my recent videos were not able to be copyright claimed or monetized.  Even though all my earlier videos from 2006-2008 were being monetized.

I went to my gmail account to search my history in order to locate the Head Honcho YouTube guy’s email address.  Then I noticed that YouTube’s owner, Google, for some reason, limits email history, and because I have so many messages going in/out each year, my gmail database does not go back far enough.  So I was unable to locate Head Honcho’s email address, which is why I can’t remember his name.

You might figure, as I did, that I could just call up YouTube customer service and tell them my issue and find a solution.  Well, guess again.  Being a special YouTube Partner might sound special, but it clearly doesn’t mean anything.

There is no such thing as YouTube customer service.  Not even for the Partners.  One has to post public messages on the help boards, or weed through endless, and totally worthless FAQ lists on the help pages.  And yes, while I can see that there is such a thing as a Frequently Asked Question, I’m pretty sure that my question isn’t frequent.  How often does YouTube get a question or concern from one of the original YouTube Partners who was able to monetize their videos BEFORE anyone else was able to?

I’ve tweeted @YouTube, and posted dozens of things to the Help Boards, and while certain people have been extremely nice – none of them work at YouTube and they can’t actually help me.

EVERY major company has a customer service phone line.  Well, EVERY company except YouTube and the stupid IMDB, which is owned by Amazon.

So it is with great sadness, I’m thinking about aborting YouTube all together and moving in with Vimeo, who has been very kind to me thus far.  I can post videos on Vimeo on demand and charge for them (brilliant!) and also there’s a thing called a “Tip Jar” that allows fans to donate something small to show their gratitude.  Plus, videos on Vimeo just look better.  She’s a real peach.

In this world of the new Black Market distribution of all things entertainment, I feel abandoned and betrayed by YouTube.  Perhaps one day I’ll get an email from a human being at YouTube who can help me.  But, until then, I’ll just be thankful I don’t work there.  Can you imagine how miserable the internal bureaucracy is in a conglomerate like that when its customers are going through it too?