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Fearless, Viral, Spiral

Here in the Twin Cities we have a regular event called Fearless Filmmakers. The next event's theme: "The Viral Market".

The invited filmmakers have an interesting variety of backgrounds. Some of them are from agencies or productions companies, the others are indie filmmakers. Ryan Wood surely has the most bona-fide viral hit in the group, with his multi-million-viewed short film Fear of Girls. Fear of Girls 2 is going to premiere at the screening - sweet!

I dearly love my friend Melody Gilbert, but her MySpace page for Urban Exporers has a very small (but I'm sure devoted) audience. Likewise, her Best Buy "webisodes" on YouTube have been viewed around 400-500 times each. The virus has not proved contagious there. I think the most baffling inclusion may be Julie Rappaport, whose Smokin' Yogi Films (or "platform") has produced a project called Abnormally Normal. Regardless of the content or merits of the project, I just don't understand how or why this is "viral."

Putting a video on a web site, creating a MySpace page, or calling something a "webisode" does not make it viral. Not in my book, anyway. What does? I think of viral as simply word-of-mouth at Internet speed. You see something, and think "I've gotta forward this to my friends." Immediate gratification. I don't think it requires any certain type of content, but it tends to be the Q-word: Quirky.

Napoleon Dynamite could be called viral, in a way. Subservient Chicken is probably one of my favorite viral experience.

But hey - I ain't gonna hate on these fine folks. I'm glad this showcase has come together and I plan to be there if I can. I thought this was an entirely curated selection, but apparently anyone could apply for some open slots. So, more power to anyone dipping their feet in these waters. My feet are all soggy and wrinkley, and that makes me cranky and spitty.

January 17, 2007 at 04:56 PM in Film, Local | Permalink


MySpace is incredibly lame, but Melody's urban exploration movie has garnered a pretty huge buzz within the admittedly small subculture, and attracted a lot of (positive) attention locally, as evidenced by the sold-out preview at the Mill City Museum a few months ago. Considering the website never gets updated, the MySpace page never gets updated, and there's been no real advertising, I'd say she's done pretty well at the much-overhyped "viral marketing" thing. Sure, she could be doing a lot better, but that's Melody - she's much better at promoting herself than at promoting her work.

Posted by: Nemo at Jan 20, 2007 1:32:24 PM

I'm actually pro-MySpace, though it is certainly lame. Mostly because of all the ads and spam.

Yep, I give huge props to Melody to generating the buzz she has around the film. Of course when you make a documentary about a subculture, chances are they're going to get excited about it. I'm just looking at the numbers... Urban Explorers has 2485 friends. That's actually pretty damn good for an indie documentary. (Vlog Santa only has 482 friends, though they were all acquired in the space of a couple weeks effort.) However Melody doesn't have any video or anything on her MySpace friend, and like you say doesn't update - no content to actually be viral.

I think one thing I'm struggling with is levels of viral. For something to "go viral" automatically requires spread and be seen by a lot of people. Otherwise it didn't really "go viral" - that's the common assumption. But I think Urban Explorers and Vlog Santa are examples of projects that "go viral" on a smaller scale, within a certain community perhaps, more of a Long Tail viral.

Posted by: chuck at Jan 21, 2007 12:33:27 AM

I'll show you what a "Long Viral Tail" looks like, but you'll probably vomit afterward.

Posted by: taulpaul at Jan 21, 2007 1:08:21 PM

Yeah, drawing the line between "gone viral" and mere "generated much buzz" is semantically pedantic, but important. Should active efforts to attract attention count? Should passive efforts? Is professional production and presentation good or bad? (Linkbait!) I am not the arbiter of trendy buzzwords, so I can't say. It does seem that being viral is like being hip, or being sexy, or any number of similar (dubious) virtues, in that it's almost certainly not true if you declare it yourself.

Sure, it's kind of lame that anyone can submit their own work and call it "viral", in much the same way as submitting your own work and calling it "influential" or "revolutionary", but again you run into the problem of what constitutes "viralness", and what metrics you measure it by. Is 5,000 downloads a good sign? Do they still count if they're the result of being /.ed or farked?

As far as subcultures being excited about documentaries about them, that definately wasn't the case early on with UE; a *lot* of the initial responses were along the lines of "Oh god, shoot me now"; considering how allergic most urban explorers are to publicity, the positive reception by those involved in urban exploration is fairly remarkable. Then again, urban exploration is quite a bit different than, say, championship slot-car racing, or the wild and exciting world of professional darts competitions...

At one time Melody was working on a documentary about "professional" shoplifters and shoplifters-for-hire; I wonder what ever happened to that?

Posted by: Nemo at Jan 22, 2007 12:52:49 AM

I can attest to the "shoot me now" reaction - definitely a response I got from lots of bloggers when I started Blogumentary. :-)

Posted by: chuck at Jan 22, 2007 1:52:19 AM

I went through some of the BB videos, and they seemed a little forced, and a bit uninteresting.

Viral = Word of Mouth

It's not so good for corporations that like control. Viral, in it's essence, requires you to give up your control on the content.

Posted by: taulpaul at Jan 22, 2007 1:19:58 PM

interesting convo here.
and nice to hear that chuck dearly loves me, even tho i'm not very viral :)

a couple of things to note.

* i did not submit the best buy webisodes to be part of the "viral market" screening. the guy in charge contacted me when he heard that best buy had hired an indie filmmaker to make something that was specifically for the web. i told him about chuck, but it was too late--he already had the others booked. anyway...i'm not particularily proud of the webisodes in terms of creativity or exposing some new subculture, but i do think it was rather forward thinking on the part of the best buy to try this kind of stuff. all i did was make them. they were supposed to take care of the viral part.

* about the urban explorers websites...yeah, well my editor takes care of those sites. we're gonna get better at keeping those sites updated from now on. i'm about to have my national premiere in CA in a few weeks, so i will try harder --i might even put a video on myspace friend just for chuck! but i have to say it has been really fun to watch the number of myspace friends grow over time without doing any soliciting. slow is viral, too, i think.

* and about that shoplifting documentary...cripes i do hope to make that one day. i just need to steal (oops, borrow?) a new HD camera so i can actually make it :)


Posted by: melody gilbert at Jan 24, 2007 1:27:56 AM

hey look, it's Melody!

i hear you on all counts. (i'm not sure how i ended up typing "video on her Myspace friend" -- what the heck does that mean?!)

doing this online video for H&R block was similar to Best Buy, though they had a bona-fide vlogger organizing it. they purchased space on YouTube's home page for a day, and our friend's video was viewed over 1,300,000 times. but -- that's not really viral either. (oh nooo!) i'd say Urban Explorers is more viral because it had to spread naturally. being on YouTube's home page and getting a shit-ton of views in 1 day is more like a TV commercial.

anyway, yes good convo. i'd LOVE to see you make a shoplifting doc!

my "Citizen Journalists and the Edwards Campaign" video *might* be at the Full Frame festival this year. crossin' my fingers.

Posted by: chuck at Jan 24, 2007 8:07:59 AM

I think today's AdAge article pretty much wraps it up for me. (Imagine that...AdAge. I agree with AdAge...huh...)


"Buzz is not a strategy but an outcome." That makes sense to me completely. There's a point where a commercial "viral" video usually jumps the shark and it ceases to be real and/or compelling and/or funny. Sometimes the funniest part is when the guy/girl farts. I mean, ya just gotta go with it. Don't mix that out.

Posted by: andrew at Feb 1, 2007 9:03:21 AM