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“You May Have Made the Most Amazing Film in the World, But You Have Zero Followers on Twitter”: VHX’s Jamie Wilkinson on Building Film Communities

Jamie Wilkinson, CEO of the direct-to-fan online video platform VHX, had some words to filmmakers on Peter Katz’s Hollywood 2.0 podcast. Specifically: amp up your social media game. In the conversation, which also discusses some of the platform’s early successes, the role of filters and gatekeepers, and VHX’s partnerships with distributors, he preaches the virtues of building an audience online.

“How do we get people promoting each other’s works?” he asks. “You may have made the most amazing film in the world, but you have zero followers on Twitter. How are you going to get the word out? In the old system that meant ‘take it to festivals and get permission from a lot of people to get it out to audiences.’ In the new paradigm, you can get it out on the web, and there are so many people who can help promote it. The question is, how do I get in touch with them?”

It’s important to note that those “so many people” Wilkinson references above are not all journalists, festival curators and distributors. No, I believe he’s talking about both filmmaker colleagues as well as just regular people invested in the themes of your movie who will naturally amplify the message you put out. But aggregating these fans takes time, and you can’t just start a month before a festival premiere — or after your film has been rejected everywhere.

Wilkinson goes on to say that when predicting a project’s possible success on VHX, “The easy thing to look at is someone’s social media presence, and how good a job they are in marketing online… The more you are on the internet, the more successful you will be. A lot of the successes we’ve seen, like Indie Game the Movie, or the YouTubers who are using the platform to sell, they have built up that audience natively… Over years of distributing content for free on YouTube or on social media have built up their own audience.”

Indie Game the Movie is still the blue ribbon example for fan engagement. Last year for Filmmaker they wrote, “How To Success at Self-Distribution if You’re Not Louis CK.” From the article:

When looking at Louis CK, it’s important to reach back, prior to the glory of launch day. LCK spent decades as a working comedian, perfecting his craft, building an audience. He built toward that fantastic moment in December through countless sets and club bookings. There was lead up. Decades of it. This may be a discouraging thought for first-time filmmakers, making the prospect seem much further away, but every good self-distribution example has a similar story of building audience and momentum.

Our version, in the broad sense, includes 10 years of doing commercial work — learning and becoming better filmmakers. But in the immediate sense, the Indie Game: The Movie fan base started at absolute zero at the beginning of 2010. It grew to a modest (but cherished) 297 through our first Kickstarter, and then over the course of production, into 30,000-plus prior to launch.

We built this foundation of support by engaging our audience, being very open and thinking like a fan. We put out tons of video extras (88 minutes worth) and blogged consistently throughout the process (184 posts). We responded to every e-mail, Tweet, Facebook post — everything. Our version of working a small comedy club in Idaho was spending five minutes responding to an e-mail about what type of camera we were using or replying to countless Tweets about the film. Little by little, it added up, building an audience one person at a time.

Read the entire article at the link, and listen to Wilkinson below.

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