Independent Films by the Numbers

The marketing of Independent Films

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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