The chance you will watch an independent ‘film’ in a theatre has decreased significantly just in the last 10 years. The sheer volume of titles available on Netflix Watch Instantly, not to mention VOD IFC, HBO, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon and countless other streaming and on-demand services means viewers no longer need advance planning to watch at home (or anywhere they have a laptop or iPhone).
Filmmakers can find this a bit depressing. Watching a film in a theatre is exciting. It’s big! It’s usually calibrated to look as good as it can. And most importantly, there are a bunch of people—strangers!—watching it together.
Creating this sense of spirit is a challenge for independents and perhaps the main opportunity to compete with the mainstream industry. We don’t have studio-size spends, but we can understand our audiences more precisely and have a more personal relationship.
For live settings, event screenings work very well. But can we make digital screenings social? We generally have little to no control over when people watch the films online, their physical circumstances, who, if anyone, they are with, or even if they watch the whole film.
Still, filmmakers have come up with some innovative ways of bringing the audience for digital screenings together. Transmedia, expressing your story in a different context, can play a great role. Lance Weiler’s Head Trauma featured a game that embedded clues in flash frames of the film itself, so viewers had to watch the film repeatedly to play and engaged with each other on the film’s site. You could offer live events to viewers of the movie during a digital rollout, such as a Skype-based Q&A. Using a technology like CrowdControls, viewers could identify their location and you could plan post-screening events in popular places.
Do you have other examples of ways to make online screenings exciting or social? Or are we doomed to living in a room with a virtual helmet?