Sunday, March 7, 2010

Marketing, 19W Style

There are
some pretty cool things happening at the DC Independent Film Festival between now and March 14th, when Ghosts Don't Exist has the honor of closing the show. The festival isn't just about the films themselves, of which there are over 100 to choose from this year. In addition, there are plenty of seminars and workshops available, aimed towards educating filmmakers about the intricate process of making movies—and the details that transcend production and post-production. 19th + Wilson was pleased to be invited to speak at Saturday's Marketing and Distribution seminar, and Creative Director Richard Friend was on hand to discuss some of the ways 19W and Ghosts Don't Exist have generated attention.

DCIFF Founder & Executive Director Carol Bidault and 19W's Richard Friend

Friend described the creative process that the 19W team has taken to spread the word about Ghosts Don't Exist, beginning with social media. "Facebook has been such a tremendous help," he says, citing the creation of individual film Fan Pages—such as the one for GDE. "It gives us an opportunity to interact with fans that just didn't exist a few short years ago."

But really getting the word out about a film requires more than just creating a Facebook page; you not only have to recruit fans—you have to keep them coming back. Friend believes the 19W marketing approach has been successful because of the coordinated efforts of its group. "We try not to rely on just one thing," he says. In fact, they have a number of mediums through which they get the message out:,, the GDE blog, and their personal Facebook and Twitter updates.

Friend also explained the team's process of disseminating that information. "Rather
than giving away the whole story, we like to think of it as a gradual, layered process—like unwrapping a gift. We start by giving them hints... Revealing little pieces of information as we go. The idea is to create a sense of mystery and generate interest. Sometimes you have to look beyond merely posting generic updates, and start developing your own stories and content that's relevant to the project."

He described director Eric Espejo's idea of starting a production blog, which began as a means of updating fans live from the GDE set during filming. "This was a first for us, and it was a fun way to document the entire process. I can remember blogging from each location; describing the tone of the set each day and some of the challenges we faced." The blog provided an opportunity to share unique behind-the-scenes experiences with fans that might otherwise have been lost.

But Friend also recalls the uncertainty he felt as the 15-day production drew to a close. "I worried about what we'd do with the blog after filming wrapped. We didn't want to just let it languish after all the fun we'd started."

That's when the team began experim
enting with sidebar stories—profiles of cast and crew, and other behind-the-scenes tidbits. "We knew we wanted to keep the buzz going long after production ended, and we realized that we didn't have to be on set to do that. There were so many wonderful people associated with this film—experienced crewmembers with fantastic stories... Just writing about them was a nice change of pace, and a great way to let our fans get to see a different side of production."

Have You Been There?
Friend explained how the team also tries to deliver its messages in new and creative ways—ways that engage the audience rather than simply updating them. He believes this was perhaps best demonstrated when the team cryptically unveiled its next project last summer.

"We didn't just one day announce 'Hey, we're going to be doing a film called ----.' Instead, we came up with an oblique phrase that we thought would generate curiosity: Have you been there?" But it was how the team delivered the phrase that got the most attention. The entire 19W family, including GDE producers Chris and Tanner Cooley, updated their Facebook status simultaneously at 10PM with the unusual question, "Have you been there?"

"It was awesome. People thought Facebook had been hacked or something... because all at once, the entire news feed was filled with this one status update! The screen showed all these different people, all saying "Have you been there?"

We were getting
questions from friends, family, and even cast and crew who were in the dark—'what is this all about? Have I been where?!' Some even began posting the message themselves, without knowing what it meant!"

There's an App For That
Another topic of discussion was the iPhone app, Ghost Capture. Friend explained how he and Aaron Goodmiller created the paranormal photo-faking application as a relevant means of promoting Ghosts Don't Exist. "We timed the initial release before Halloween," he said. "Then we decided to try something different. We made it free."

The free app was downloaded thousands of times globally, with each new user being made aware of this little American indie film, Ghosts Don't Exist. "We didn't really know what to expect," he admits. "And then, all of a
sudden, we see the app breaking into the Top 20 on iTunes... and then the Top 10."

Ghost Capture was also getting decent reviews, thanks to its user-friendly interface and eerily realistic imagery. "The only real complaint we were hearing was that there weren't enough ghosts," Fr
iend says. "And that's exactly what we wanted." Earlier this year, iTunes released an enhanced version, available for 99 cents. The expanded edition includes 30 ghosts—three times the number available in the original. The free version also remains available.

While the app is fun and provides earning potential, Friend insists that its primary goal is still to promote Ghosts Don't Exist. The team continues to find new ways to utilize the app to engage users, such as the current Scariest Photo Contest.

Periodically, users are alerted via pop-up
messages directly within the app. "They'll certainly be alerted when Ghosts Don't Exist is released on DVD, for instance," he says. "And we have to believe that at least a portion (of app users) are going to buy it as a result."

The app got an unexpected boost in February, when British tabloids including The Sun ran a story about a builder who had allegedly captured a ghost in a cellphone photo. It quickly became apparent that the "apparition" was actually straight from the Ghost Capture app, and once again, the number of downloads soared. "The free version has been downloaded over 500,000 times already," Friend reports. "We often joke that the app could actually end up grossing more money than the film itself, which is why this kind of marketing is so important."

Ghost Capture enjoyed a recent European boost, thanks to a U.K. prank that garnered international attention.
The app reached #1 in Sweden, and rose all the way from #300 in Spain to crack the Top 10 overnight.

Festival-goers will see the 19W marketing efforts in full bloom, as Ghosts Don't Exist postcard giveaways have been a hot item since opening night. "We've also got an extra little surprise for everyone attending Sunday night's (sold out) premiere," Friend says. "But they'll have to wait until after the movie to find out."

Naturally. :)

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