Independent Films by the Numbers

The marketing of Independent Films

Archive for February, 2009

Website analysis of the Dead Snow (2008) film website

Movie: Dead Snow (2008)
URL: http://www.deadsnow.com
Designed by: Unknown
Reviewed: 2/25/2009

Overview:
An extremely simple flash site with an embedded trailer over the top of splash image.

Film Description:

Zombie Nazis in Norway. Do I need to say more? Maybe a little more. The film is a Norwegian language horror/comedy, which was picked up after its Sundance 09 premiere by IFC films.

Marketing Notes:

There is not much here in terms of marketing. The site and its buzz strategy are fairly simple.

The splash background image is cool with the film title in red and a series of three Nazis in the snow. This image is textured to appear as if the image is painted on canvas. The colors are nicely shaded in mottled dark blues and greens with occasional punches of red. On top of this background, the trailer plays off to the left side.

In general, I like the look of the site. The trailer is fine. I think the trailer could have been more playful or suspenseful, but than again this is a film whose premise sells itself. It does not take much to market a film about zombie Nazis, since the draw is the concept. Too artsy a trailer is probably over-thinking things.

I would have like a few more marketing features on the site such as a signup for updates or some way of contacting the production company Elle Driver. That being said, the site works for me, since it nicely focused on creating buzz by having a home for trailer. The idea of a film about zombie Nazis will probably do the rest. You really don’t need more.

It is very good that they were able to get the URL deadsnow.com. It makes them much more findable than using less obvious URLs such as deadsnowthemovie.com. BTW, the title of the film is excellent. The combination the works Dead and Snow makes for a memorable and evocative title. I like it.

Technology Notes:

I do not like the fact that I cannot pause, rewind, forward, or mute the flash video. I can hide the trailer via a button at the bottom of the page and start it up again, but that is all. The size and quality of the video is good, but it is clearly only directed at broadband users. The design is likewise optimized for at least 1024 pixel wide screen.

What I like least about this site from a tech standpoint is its use of a frameset to place the flash movie on the page instead of using DNS, redirects or content publishing to make a more seamless implementation. The real content sits at http://kampanje.filmweb.no/euforia/deadsnow/. There is no excuse for this kind of sloppy use of frames in my mind. The HTML is sparse, except for a large number of largely unused meta-tags, which suggest this site was developed using some sort of publishing framework (maybe hosted by filmweb.no). In general, these issue are not so good for search optimization.

The site’s traffic is being tracked by Google Analytics.

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Review of the We Live in Public website

Movie: We Live in Public (2009)
URL: http://www.weliveinpublicthemovie.com/
Designed by: Unknown – Perhaps by the filmmakers themselves
Reviewed: Feb 2009

Overview: For a net savvy film, this site is amateurish in its design and execution. The site does provide most of the standard needs of visitor, so its marketing faults are largely experiential, design, and organizational in nature. I do commend the director for putting Flickr.com to use in promoting the film at Sundance and beyond. This use to real-time blogging is a nice parity to the subject of the documentary, which deals with what happen when you start living your life 24/7 online exposed to the World. That being said, they could have taken this effort much further and more playfully than the lightweight Flickr coverage they did for Sundance.

Film Description:

A Sundance Grand Prize winning documentary (90 minutes) that follows the founder of the online video network Psuedo.com in his experiments with living life publicly on Internet under around the clock surveillance. Directed by Ondi Timoner.

Marketing Notes:

The marketing of the film is very centered on the filmmaker Ondi Timoner perhaps to the detriment of the film’s content. That being said, her heritage as the director the Sundance winning documentary Dig! does give this project some heft, but I still would like to connect more with the movie itself via the site. The movie itself seems at times to be almost a secondary thought for the site.

The homepage is somewhat emotionally detached and not in a good way … the colors are cold without a punch and there is the lack of human contact. If it were not for the image of Ondi Timoner accepting her award at Sundance, the homepage would be lifeless. This one human image looks away from us and is too shot wide. It would have been better if this image was cropped more intimately so the face is better highlighted, and either mirrored or moved to right so her eyes draw us into the page rather than away to the edge.

The content of the site was generally comprehensive for most visitor’s need and covers most of the standard site visit use cases. Visitors can watch the trailer, find out about screening, know who was involved with this film, and read synopsis. If I want to read more about the film and its characters, the site seems thin.

One of the most glaring marketing issues with this site is the signup for updates being totally buried at the bottom of the homepage way below the page fold. I almost missed it even after a number of visits to this page. This signup is a simple email link rather than a more comprehensive form, which probably came about due to the flat HTML design of the site limiting its functionality.

Given the social technology theme of the project, I would like to have seen a RSS feed option for this site to stay connected with the sites update and news like most blogs now offer. You can follow the film and its makers on Flickr, but Flickr is a better messaging/PR solution than it is straight up direct marketing tool. Flickr is very ephemeral, which limits is ability to broadcast information if someone is tracking many Flickr users at once. I will say that I do wish Timoner used Flickr better. Her posts are not frequent enough and the content reads like a link farm for mobile phone shot images, which limited drawing in outsiders to caring about her film.

Maybe I am just getting older with poorer eyesight, but I struggled with the extensive use of white text on a black background. While this style choice seem cool, it does lead to more eyestrain than black on white text, so it is discouraged. I would also have chopped up some of the text on the site to make it more readable. The web tends to favor shorter paragraphs than traditional print. All in all, I struggled with reading the text of this site, which places a limit on this site’s ability to clearly communicate to its audience.

All the above issues have left me wondering about what the brand actually was for the film. Based on the site alone independent of the trailer, it is hard to tell. The trailer was strong and stood apart from the site in style and tone. It made me want to see the movie and by extension to push the trailer to the front page of the site. The trailer should have been the basis of website in its prominent positioning and by extension of its tone.

An image of the movie poster is prominent on the home page, but its low resolution made it not work for me despite the fact that I do like the design of it. I think that this poster could have been better integrated into site as click through to a high resolution image from the sidebar, as part of the about the film section, or a playful design concept for the homepage. In its present usage, the movie poster is a waste of valuable homepage real estate.

The site has clearly been maintained with updates many of which are prominently displayed on the homepage. The Sundance win is nicely displayed as is the fact that Timoner is the first two-time top winner in the history of Sundance.

I would have liked a press section to help the PR about the movie spread faster. The press section was all about past reviews and not about providing materials to help publishers write new articles about the film and its director.

Technical Notes:

It was clear from the start of my analysis that a professional Internet person did not build this site. When looking at the source code of the pages, I quickly discovered that the site was actually a giant frame referencing the real site hosted at the Apple managed domain –http://web.me.com/interloperfilms/We_Live_in_Public/home.html. Instead of using 302 permanent redirects, DNS mapping, or content synchronization to make a seamless experience, they choose to use html frames to bring the content into the newly purchased domain. Frames are frowned upon today due to their issues with search engines not always knowing how to index the content within those frames and the general clumsy execution of frames within a web browser.

I was disappointed that the trailer failed to run on my machine as coded into the page. The format was a .m4v video file (which surprised me) that was loaded by a JavaScript call. I was able to quickly unpack the location of the file directly at http://web.me.com/interloperfilms/We_Live_in_Public/Media/WLIP_TRAILER-notitleSM-2.4.09-desktop.m4v, which allowed me to view the trailer directly without problem. Clearly, the JavaScript call to the movie file had issues. The .m4v format of the trailer can also be problematic on PCs, since it is actually a MP4 container format (audio/video mix) with an Apple non-standard extension ending its file name. This can confuse some PC-based video players who do not recognize the file naming convention. It is best practice now to rename the file with a .mp4 extension or translate the file into .mov or similar format, or better yet convert the file to .flv and play it through a simple flash movie to prevent players issues. Given the ubiquity of flash video enabled flash players, this last option is the best. Flash video also makes it a bit harder for someone to pick up your trailer and drop it on another site without your permission.

The site is a flat HTML site coded using Apple’s iWeb, which explains the web.me.com domain. As with all GUI based HTML editors, the code leaves something to be desired with plenty of strange hypertext structures and waste. I did not quality assure the site through a PC browser such as Internet Explorer, but I would not be surprised if there were issues.

The site does have some limited Flash in the photo section and a sprinkling of iWeb standard JavaScript. All other video links beyond the trailer reference YouTube hosted content.

The sign up for the mailing list is simple once it is found by user – a Gmail address in a mail link with the subject line of “Add me the Mailing List.” While workable, it would be preferable to have this form feed directly into a database rather than relying up this data being rolled up via Gmail. Databasing allows more information to be collected such where the person lives (a nice piece of information to target emails about local screenings), while easing data entry and management issues. The good news for them is that Gmail has some of the most aggressive Spam filters, so this mailing link will be completely inundated with Spam due the address being public. Even legitimate bulk senders can have difficulty getting past Gmail’s defenses (this in another discussion for a later date).

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Site Analysis of Cold Souls (2009) Website

Movie: Cold Souls (2009)
URL: http://coldsoulsthemovie.com
Designed by: Antimony Design www.antimonydesign.com
Reviewed: 2/9/2009

Overview: The design is nicely minimalist with a letterbox design to minimize scrolling. The feel has a nice cool emotional feel matching the movie’s storyline and title. There is little waste on this site, but there is also lost opportunity. One has a feel that despite being developed using blogging software it is not being updated.

Marketing Notes:

This site appears to have been put up as a touch point to support the films recent release at the Sundance Film Festival, so it is missing a few critical marketing components in my mind.

I do in general like the feel of the site, which reflect well in tone and color the film’s brand. It is simple and not over worked. The site also does a good job at orienting me to contacting the distribution and producers of the film for sales or other business opportunities from a clearly marketed and nicely detailed contact section.

There is lost opportunity on the home page to: show a trailer to entice me to see the movie, promote the fact that it premiered at Sundance (an official selection logo would be nice), or give a positive quote from a journal I liked. In sticking to a fully minimalist design for the homepage, the homepage is a place where not much happens. If a user does not drill into the site, they would be left with a clue about the film except for the name and an image of main character standing in the cold.

The site falls short as a marketing tool in it failure to allow user to provide their emails for future contact and the site’s poor performance in search engines. Google has indexed the site, but a lack of inbound links has limited the site ability to show up in a search. A query for “Cold Souls” did not have the site in the first page of results. I have to question the tuning of this site by its designers to be more search friendly through the use of text about the film hidden in a unseen DIV tag on the homepage. This is a strategy most often seen in less reputable sites trying to manipulate Google for ill gain, and could be counting against this site within Google’s search engine. Ultimately, the search issue is probably a failure of PR and outreach creating more inbound links to raise the site’s ranking.

The URL for the site is decent, however it would have been better to have coldsouls.com. This domain is a parked site and maybe was unavailable for a reasonable price. BTW, I love the film’s name.

The marketing of this site rests firmly on marketing through its cast, especially its star Paul Giamatti. This is shown in the extensive use of his image, the cast obsessed meta-tag keywords, press kit, and

Technical Notes:

Site appears to be powered by blogging software WordPress (v. 2.7). It is designed to fit a 1024 by 600 pixel display with its 960 pixel width and attention to keeping text above a 600 pixel fold. The coding of the site is simple with some JavaScript and no Flash. The home page cold references a RSS and ATOM feed for the site, but both are empty. These feed tags are unused relics of the site’s WordPress heritage.

The site uses a well formatted CSS stylesheet. The description and keyword meta-tags are used on all pages with the tags largely being composed of a list of cast names. The home page description reads — “Cold Souls is a movie starring Paul Giamatti, Dina Korzun and David Strathairn about an emotionally drained actor that has his soul extracted to provide relief from the burden of his soul.” The URL has an icon showing a small image of Paul Giamatti’s face.

I did run into a bunch of Internal Server Errors (500), while looking at the site. This appears to be some issue with WordPress caching. Unlike the branded 404 (page not found) error, the 500 error resulted in a generic error.

The site is doing its analytics and site tracking through a Google Analytics javascript Urchin tag.

Design Notes:

The site has a letter box design optimized to 1040 by 600 pixel display. The color palette of White (#ffffff), Teals (#aeebeb, #669a98), and Grays(#666666, #8b9298) on a pure Black (#000000) background gives the site an intentionally cold feel. The homepage is wide letterbox with an image of Giamatti standing on snow against an industrial background with logo above and the navigation below, w hile the sub-pages are divide the letterbox area into two sections with a cropped image in the left third and the right two thirds having content on a white background.

Emotionally, the design works to give the film a feel fitting the name Cold Souls. Despite wanting more marketing on the homepage to better orient and entice the visitor, this design works for me.

coldsouls11
coldsouls2

The Navigation:

The site’s navigation is generally straightforward with the exception of the navigation link to the cryptic soul extractor. There is little secondary navigation, but the site is flat enough to not require it. I would have pared down the main navigation by an item or two . The navigation items and the content of their pages are as follows:

* Synopsis – A short and fine synopsis
* Stills – a series of four small 2 5 5 by 1 4 0 pixel stills with a link to more images. I wanted to click on these images to zoom, but could not.
* Cast – this section shows actor bios starting with Paul Giamatti’s bio with navigation to the rest of the cast. Each cast member has a photo, which is good.
* Crew – list of primary crew members using Javascript to dynamically open up a bio when clicked, while closing all other bios. This keeps the text above the browser fold. Interestingly, this page will not break with Firefox’s text zoom – a nice touch.
* Director’s Statement – a simple not too long statement about how a dream of director Sophie Barthles turned into a screenplay. Good story telling, a nice hook for the press.
* Festivals – Describes Sundance screenings and no others. Is this a lack of maintenance of the site or a lack of new screenings?
* Press Room – A list of press materials including hi-resolution photos, a PDF of Press Notes, a PDF of Photo Captions, and reviews (a link to the Reviews page via redundant navigation – this is actually smart and not a problem).
* Reviews – List of hot-linked reviews… This is good, but it might prove problematic as this section grows. It will eventually break the design or force older reviews to be archived.
* Soul Extractor – Expected more with such a provocative title, but this actually was a set design drawing for the Soul Extractor within the movie. Good idea, but navigation to it is poor. Would like to see more drawings and maybe have this under stills or some other navigation item. I was kind of relieved that this was not some useless, rarely played game that showed what your soul would look like if it was extracted. That being said, this kind of thing might be a nice idea for a viral piece, but you would have to make it break out of the site proper and have its results on people’s blogs.
* Contact – a nice and detailed list of contacts including Publicist, Domestic Sales, Foreign Sales, and Producer contact info.

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