Attend the tale of plucky young independent filmmakers Susan Buice and Arin Crumley who have tapped every device available to them in the era of participatory culture to get their feature film, Four Eyed Monsters in front of an audience. Rather than waiting for the film to come out on DVD to offer director's extras, Buice and Crumley shot a compelling series of videos about the film's production and released them via iTunes, MySpace, and YouTube, where as of August 2006 they had been downloaded more than 600,000 times. As audience interest in the property grew, the team used their own blog/website to solicit support from their fans, promising that they would insure that the film got shown in any city where there were more than 150 requests. Indeed, they were able to use the online interest expressed in the film to court local exhibitors and convince them that there was an audience for Four Eyed Monsters in their community.
As Crumley explained in an interview with Indiewire:
Most theaters would normally avoid a project like ours because we don't have a distributor who would be marketing the film and getting people to show up. But because the audience of our video podcast is so enthusiastic about the project and because we have numbers and emails and zip codes for all of these people, we've been able to instill enough confidence in theaters to get the film booked.
As of today, the site has received more than 8000 requests from screenings. Fans can use their website to monitor requests and to help them to identify other potential viewers in their neighborhood. As Crumley explained,
We've learned that it's almost impossible to distribute your film to theaters the way the current system works, but their are loop holes, and they are building your own audience and then proving to theater owners you have that audience and that they are willing to show up to pay money to see your film that's something distributors don't have to do, but theaters would really benefit if they did.
The film and the web campaign behind it has drawn interest from the Sundance Channel which plans to broadcast it down the line but who used it to launch a series of screenings of independent films in Second Life, where once again it played to packed houses.
Based on their experiences, the filmmakers have started talking about what they call "collective curation" of content: a scenario where independent producers court audiences via the web, creating interest through clips and previews, and identifying where they have a strong enough following to justify the expense of renting theater space and shipping prints. They believe that such an approach will help other directors get their work before enthusiastic paying customers.
Seeking to support other filmmakers who want to follow in their footsteps, the Four Eyed Monsters team has posted a list of more than 600 movie theaters around the country which they think might be receptive to independent films and encouraging others to fill in relevant details.
The filmmakers will be sharing some of their experiences and perspectives to those attending the Beyond Broadcast conference this Saturday. As reported here earlier, this conference is being co-hosted by the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program, Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet Law, and Yale's Information Society Project.
The Four Eyed Monsters team also play a prominent role in the newly released documentary on videoblogging which CMS graduate student (and Beyond Broadcasting organizer) Steve Schultz has helped to produce for the Project nml Exemplar Library. As I have mentioned here before, we are producing a series of web-based documentaries for use by schools and after school programs interested in getting young people involved in media production projects. I will be featuring more information about this documentary down the line but I wanted to call it to your attention in advance of the Beyond Broadcast conference since it provides such a useful overview of the implications of citizen-based media. This is the first of the documentaries produced under the supervision of our newly hired production coordinator, the talented Anna Van Someren.