VfR – Vision for Reality

I’m beginning what will grow into a series of posts and other content around a new theme I’ve been thinking about for a long while. I call it:

VfR – Vision for Reality  

Peony collage
A single Peony bloom – reconstructed in a digital montage.

I’m a media person – both a content creator and a strategist. I’m asking myself how to think best about social media and other new media technologies. A term to encompass these is “New Media.” The discussion of new media commonly includes things like: artificial intelligence, virtual reality, social media, big data aggregation, internet-of-things, questions of privacy, tech mediated relationships, (can you add to this list?)

The core idea, or theme of these posts will be to encourage and equip the Church to embrace its prophetic role in culture related to technologies that are radically reshaping our cultures and us as individuals.

Being prophetic is not about telling the future. Being prophetic is telling it like it is, revealing the truth, and exposing lies. The Church is always meant to be a community that calls out and invites in. But it is always, to some degree or another, outside of all other things, whether it be culture, politics, movements, and other worldviews.

For instance, we can read a lot about research that implicates our addiction to smartphones and social media in various crises. Youth depression and suicide seem to be negatively affected by these innovations. If social media is proving to be a negative force in our societies then how should the Church respond? What answers and alternatives can we and should we provide?

But you might argue, we always run into this with something new. We can’t be Luddites or we’ll be irrelevant. And, where should we have stopped our development? Horse and buggy, steam engine? Or before that?

My feeling is that this tech and innovation is different from what we’ve encountered before. It’s a new level that impacts everything from automobiles and washing machines. You might be able to posit both negative and positive fallout from even those long-ago developments.

I want to think about what may be significantly different about the developments that are presented to us now: artificial intelligence, virtual relationships, virtual worlds, internet of things, pervasive data collection and tracking?

It’s not all insidious on the surface, but if we consider it all together, I think it should raise some questions in our minds.

What part do we play?

What part can we play?

What part should we play?

Is this all bad? Is this all good? Is this a mix?

How do we feel about that?

If we (followers of Jesus, in His Church) fully embrace these technologies,

  • What do we gain?
  • What do we lose?
  • Why does it matter?
  • What can we, or should we, do?

Does anyone want to have this conversation? Let’s do it!

Ministry Media Audit

002-laptopPeriodically, and especially when you are beginning to plan a media strategy or campaign, it’s important to understand where you have been and where you are right now.

In the marketing world, this is called a social media audit and competitive analysis. The goal is to examine what you have been doing, historically, to help guide your next steps.

I’m going to tweak the language here to better fit media ministry teams, but there are a lot of resources out there that provide various kinds of social media audit checklists, templates, and advice. I also assume that your past media presence may have not been exclusively in the new/social media space.

As we look at an existing media ministry, large or small, here are some key points we want to study:

  • Current Media Activities and Content
  • Current Media Presence
  • Current Audience
  • Current Performance
  • Our Persona in these channels and in this content
  • “Competitors” – Analysis

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of each section. You’ll want to make lists and gather information on:

  1. Current Media Activities and Content
    • Projects (broadcasts, distribution, and campaigns of various kinds)
    • Content Assets (films, programs, recordings, and other media we own or create)
  1. Current Media Presence
    • “Traditional” media (TV & Radio stations, print distribution, etc.)
    • Social/New media (web sites, blogs, social pages, accounts, etc.)
  1. Current Audience
    • Size (overall, and by channel, above)
    • Description (demographics, personas, and how they compare with your Objectives)
  1. Current Performance
    • Growth (Do you have historical numbers?)
    • Compare with Objectives (If you have existing objectives, do a comparison. If you are creating new Objectives, how does this fit?)
    • What kinds of content have been most effective in reaching your goals for each media channel?
  1. Our Persona in these channels and in this content
    • Ways we present ourselves (Do you have a consistent public ‘face’? Do you feel that our identity is appropriate to your Objectives and ministry Context?)
    • Consistency across your media channels and content
    • Consistency with your Objectives
  1. “Competitors” – Analysis
    • Like-Minded: Are there others in this same ministry space? (Objectives, Content, Success, Strategies, etc.)
    • Others: Are there others, even opposition, who are influencers in your area? (Objectives, Content, Success, Strategies, etc.)
    • What can you learn from others in your ministry space? (Things you might like to imitate? Things that seem to work toward your Objectives? Things you want to avoid?)

If you take the time to dig into these questions in more detail, it will help you see our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and to help guide your Persona, Follow-Up, and Content development.

This content is part of what I teach in the Foundations of Media Strategy course at MissionMediaU. Check it out if you want to learn more.


Icons made by Freepik from http://www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC 3.0 BY

Real News for iPads and Filmmakers?

It goes way beyond guys using iPads to read e-mails, rehearse scripts, and watch demo reels. Here’s how…

I am getting to the point where I yawn when I read another article about how the iPad is taking over some new industry niche. Are there still people for whom it’s news that people in Hollywood are embracing iPads? I guess this article in the NY Times: Pitching Movies or Filming Shows, Hollywood Is Hooked on iPads is still news to some people.

Stephen Elliot, author of "Adderall Diaries" on iPad

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a filmmaker and I love my iPad. But I think the real news goes way beyond guys using iPads to read e-mails, rehearse scripts, and watch demo reels. Another article in the NY Times got me thinking much more about the paradigm shift brought on by mobile devices – and it wasn’t even talking about films. Here’s the article in the NY Times: Blurring the Line Between Apps and Books.

The article describes some new book publishing paradigms that have come out of what I think of as a synergy between e-books and social media. What authors are now able to do is publish their work in apps rather than ‘traditional’ e-book formats. By ‘traditional’, I mean Kindle, Nook, and the like. By making the book an app – a standalone application rather than part of an e-reader library – they are able to connect more solidly with their readers. They can do things like add conversation groups directly to the book in the app, rather than on scattered web sites and blogs. They can connect with reader fans to let them know what they are working on, etc. Especially for authors who write for smaller ‘tribes’ of readers (not the NY Times Bestseller authors) it means they have a way to understand and connect with their readers and vice versa.

For a filmmaker, what’s more exciting, guys reading scripts on iPads, or the potential for filmmakers (like the authors in the second article) distributing their work in a way that gathers a community around them? I was reading the article this morning and imagining a small consortium of filmmakers who produce films of a similar genre – let’s say short thrillers. What if they got together and wrote an app to deliver their films and connect with their audiences? The app gives them connection and control that other on-line delivery methods don’t. Maybe this is happening but I know mostly about the various web communities who are trying this.

Touching Stories from Tool

I did download an app that is a set of short films called: Touching Stories that brings together four short films by a group of filmmakers. Perhaps this is the kind of thing that will become more common. It got some press when it was released earlier this year, but not much. Their shtick is interactive movies. They work OK, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by them to the point I’d want to become a fan or anything. I think some of the filmmakers have real talent, but these films felt like novelties. And, the app didn’t take the important step to gather followers or begin conversation or connection. I think that was a missed opportunity.

What would you do if you could distribute your film as an app rather than merely a download or DVD? What opportunities would that present?

Mysteries of AdWords for Indie Film

I have not read a lot of articles on the use of AdWords to promote smaller indie films. I’m sure it is being done, but I’d be interested to hear more about what has worked and what pitfalls may exist.

I have not read a lot of articles on the use of AdWords to promote smaller indie films. I’m sure it is being done, but I’d be interested to hear more about what has worked and what pitfalls may exist.

We have just begun to develop Google AdWords campaigns for our film, The Enemy God. We worked our way through festivals, found a sales agent, and are now working on some hybrid self-distribution. That is, we have sold the worldwide rights to the film but we retained the right to sell DVDs on our own sites. Therefore, we want to build our own, very specific, audiences through targeted marketing – and encourage them to check us out and buy a DVD!

There are a few things that attract me to strategies like AdWords:

  • You are able to target and customize your ads to your unique audience. (If you can’t identify and target a fairly narrow market, you may still have some thinking to do. It’s not wise to try to just say, “My film will appeal to everyone.” You don’t want to be using keywords like, “comedy film”, or “horror”!)
  • You can manage your expenses by establishing your own budget and you only pay for clicks, not impressions. The beauty of this is that you can avoid being stuck with an ad that just doesn’t work. You can tweak and re-shape an ad campaign on-the-fly or just cancel it if it’s not working for you.
  • There are tools to help you figure out if your ad is working: are people coming to the site, which phrases are attracting people, and what pages of your site are most interesting.

Our film is very out-of-the-ordinary, so that helps us in some ways. I have never seen a narrative film like it; we tell an indigenous story from the Amazon rainforest. We are working with keyword phrases that would not normally be used for indie films, such as: indigenous culture, Yanomami, and the names of famous anthropologists who are connected with the tribe. You can’t do that with a suburban romantic comedy or thriller; I think it’s a more difficult challenge to come up with unique keywords to help promote a more mainstream film. We are hoping that we can take advantage of our out-of-the-ordinary themes to help target ads to folks who might be interested in our film.

We’re only beginning to get enough data to get a good sense of what’s working and what’s not and are thinking of how to tweak ads, landing pages of our web site, messages on the site, etc. to help folks who do click on the ad to ‘stick’ with us in some significant way. We want to develop true fans as well as sell DVDs.

I’ll post again with examples of results we are seeing and what we seem to be doing right and wrong.

The Death of Merely Good Films

The loser in a world of almost limitless entertainment choice is not the hit, but the near-miss.

“The loser in a world of almost limitless entertainment choice is not the hit, but the near-miss.”

As a maker of films that fall into ‘niche’ categories, I appreciate new technologies that enable us to reach smaller audiences in new and creative ways. When I began my career, the options were few and if you had a film that wasn’t a mainstream film, it was almost impossible to get it to audiences. You could show it on one of the Big Three television networks, in theaters, or…

…I guess there were VHS tape and home video stores. But the reality was that everything was pretty locked-up, especially for smaller filmmakers who had films that would appeal to a smaller segment of the audience. Even if you could identify them accurately, it was really difficult and/or expensive to reach them.

The development of broadband internet and social media and all of the other constantly changing technologies now make it possible for us to target and actually touch audiences with niche media. This is the promise of the new media world and we are all clinging hopefully to that promise!

Interestingly though, another side-effect of the new media world is what I would describe as a widening gap – kind of like what happens in developing economies. Instead of a great, flat, democratic media landscape where everything has equal footing and ability to impact audiences, we are seeing an interesting trend in the world of the ‘blockbuster.’ While there has been tremendous growth in the production and distribution of small films to small audiences, there seems to be a greater emphasis at the opposite end of the spectrum. What is being lost is in the middle – those films that aren’t quite blockbusters but are bigger than the niche film. Are the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer?

This interesting article (originally from The Economist) describes the phenomenon very well. “Independent filmmaker earning a living in world where blockbusters dominate”

How does this impact folks like us? It’s not really my dream to make ultra-low-budget films ($0-50,000) for the rest of my career. But I am called to stories that fit smaller niches. It would be nice to be able to gradually make larger films, fill the gap between the blockbuster $150 million films, or even the average $50 million studio feature. Isn’t there a huge market now for low-budget films that are of high quality, made for $3-5 million? I know people who are aiming there. This article suggests that they are in for a battle for an audience.

What do you think?