Making the Movie

19Aug/090

Stull: A Completed Movie Website

UPDATE: DVDs of Stull are now available! Buy one today.

screenshot of Stull movie website main pageThe "Stull" website is complete! I didn't anticipate spending several weeks hand-coding it, but I consider it an investment in the future, because I'll use it as a template for other films. Here's what I learned...

Everything a Movie Website Needs: Advice on Building a Movie Website

Step 1: Finish It

A good website is now probably more important than the trailer or the key art. I had been remiss in not finishing the website first.

I've had the main page up for a while, but I think what you'll see there now is more what I consider the minimum: a main page with all of the essential information, and a handful of informational pages.

I started with an existing template and used a text-editing program called...

Continue reading my steps to making a movie website... Amaya, which is good as far as it goes. It lets you edit the code and see the output at the same time. Or kinda. It's open source -- which I support -- and the price was right: free. The rendering engine is kinda broken, which defeats the purpose a bit. Someone needs to plug in Mozilla or Webkit or whatever open source engine is out there, then it would be a good program.

To make up for Amaya's poor rendering, I kept the page I was editing open in Safari and just hit cmd-R to refresh from time to time to see how a real browser would display everything. (Firefox is my main browser and I didn't want to mess with all my tabs.)

What got the site done was just devoting a few hours every evening to working on it. When I hit an HTML or CSS snag, I googled it. (There's information on how to do pretty much anything on the internet, but website design tutorials, unsurprisingly, are legion.)

Step 2: Introduce Your Movie

Make it short and sweet. One of my pet peeves is going to a website for a movie and not being able to learn anything about it. It's okay to tease, but the tease should at least give me something to hold on to.

The way most people are accustomed to being introduced to a movie is through a trailer. You'll see the trailer embedded right there in the middle of the "Stull" main page. I'm using Vimeo for it, but last night I also uploaded the trailer to YouTube. People are more comfortable with YouTube, it's compatible with iPhones, and now with H264 it doesn't look so bad. I've been finding Vimeo is jerky playing back so I may yet swap this out with the YouTube version. Right now I just have a link to the YouTube version below it.

If you're using something like Blip.tv that has the ability to add ads, the temptation may be there to do so with a trailer. I have no data on this, but my spidey senses tell me it's a bad idea. Even if it didn't annoy the viewer, it would distract attention from what the trailer is really advertising: your movie.

Stull.  Four teens went looking for a gate to Hell.  They found it.Step 3: Call to Action

For me right now -- that's to get interest for festivals. That's why one of the first things you'll see on the site is information on festival screeners. I've never heard of festival directors making a request based on a website, but even if a festival director never sees it, it lets the general audience know where the movie is at in its lifecycle. (In this case: about to begin a festival run.)

I've also made a deliberate decision to have DVDs ready to sell as I go out to festivals. The old thinking was that having the DVD available made you less attractive to distributors. The new thinking is that you'd be a fool not to have it in your distribution contract that you can sell from your own movie's website. Distributors are smarter now and know that any promotion a filmmaker does helps their sales too.

Since "Stull" is a short film, the DVD is going to be a tough sell. It will be cheaper than a feature -- but I haven't settled on the price yet. Ideally, I'll add a few more little bonus features as I finish the DVD. I think attractive bonus features are one of the best ways to interest people in ordering a DVD. As you can see, I list the current bonus features, including the most unique one, which is comedy commentary by The Flop House Gang. (If you haven't listened to The Flop House podcast before, check it out. They are hilarious. And I don't say that just because I'm friends with one of them.)

Sometime -- maybe in the near future -- it won't even be worth a filmmaker's trouble to sell DVDs. Everything will be downloaded or streamed. Eventually, I also want to sell digital copies of "Stull". The biggest market to do this would be iTunes, but there are only a few brokers that can get an indie short onto iTunes. I'm still considering my options in this area, but when I do decide on a digital solution, look for that to be the most prominent call to action. It's a no-brainer that people on the web will want a way to watch the movie on their computer.

screenshot of Stull movie website press kit pageStep 4: Press Kit

Unless you have a massive marketing budget, you have to rely on free press and word of mouth for people to find out about your film. The best way is to have a film that's fun to talk about, or topical. The good news is, with a little creativity, I think you can find an angle on any film that would make for a good news article or t.v. report.

Look at your film from the perspective of a local newspaper reporter, t.v. journalist or niche blogger. What would make it easy for them to talk about your film? We had a lot of luck on Rain in the Mountains by flat-out writing articles and submitting them to newspapers, which often printed them without editing. Writers with more time and resources will want to be able to create original content.

I let potential media producers know right up top that I'm available for interviews not just about the movie, but about topics related to the movie. Then I also provided easy access to pictures, artwork and video. I'm not doing their job for them, but I'm doing what I can to make it easier.

UPDATE: I just thought about radio/audio postcasters. Will definitely add audio clips soon. One way to make it easy is to give them the audio of the trailer as an audio file - not make them strip it out.

While I could've created another page with cast and crew bios, I chose to include it in the media area. I have great actors but none of them has name drawing power, nor do I think I did anything so amazing with my writing or directing that I should sell the film on my name. I'm betting what is most interesting about "Stull" is the story. (I'm also hoping local Kansas press will be interested in the 'shot locally with local crew and actors' angle.)

screenshot of Stull movie website credits pageAnother page I did was a simple credits page. I've never submitted to the IMDb, but I hear they can be difficult and, let's face it, we've all found typos and discrepancies on their pages. While I do plan to submit the credits for "Stull," I don't have to wait to make an official list of credits available to the internet.
Step 5: Background Material

The story brings me to the background material. Although it may not look it, this is the part of the site I spent the longest on by far. I wanted to show that the Stull legend has been around and been discussed in many venues, but I also wanted the quotes to serve as an introduction to someone who hasn't heard of the legend as well as serves as a springboard for that person or a journalist who wants to learn more.

screenshot of Stull movie website real legend pageI had done a lot of research before making the movie, but I never saved it (at least not that I could remember). So I went back again and tried to pick out the sources that would provide quotes that would tell the story. My original plan was to have five short quotes, to keep it simple. I ended up having more -- including song lyrics, a painting and a YouTube video. I hope it's not too overwhelming.

It should have a good search profile, although perhaps not so good as if I'd written it up Wikipedia style. But that sort of style is not in keeping with the story and thus the website. It's all about how it's a local legend, passed from generation to generation and still evolving. "Stull" is meant to fit into the tradition -- another telling of the legend.

Step 6: Share

Unlike my coming movie, Natural Victims, I don't have a plan for viral marketing. I'm hoping "Stull" has some international appeal, especially in Catholic countries, since in some ways the story could be seen as a battle between the Pope and the Devil -- and who wouldn't want to see that grudge match?

But most of my sharing is right here on Making the Movie, just talking to other filmmakers about what I've learned in making the film. I've talked a bit before about using social media to promote a film. Chances are, if you follow Making the Movie on Twitter or Facebook or RSS, you heard about "Stull" there. I'm not making any special efforts; I'm just letting the website speak for itself.

I'm not a professional web designer or even that knowledgeable, so don't expect anything Hollywood-style. But I'm happy that I was able to get the website to match my modest vision.

Check out the completed "Stull" website and let me know what you think.



About J. Ott

John Ott is a writer, filmmaker and technology geek. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
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