Using Ustream to promote your micro-budget indie movie (Part 1)

If you’re making, or have made, a micro-budget movie, your plan probably looks similar to mine:

  1. Build an audience on Facebook and Twitter and maybe even a crowdfunding site like IndieGoGo or Kickstarter
  2. Make movie, hopefully without going broke
  3. Screen at film festivals and in your home town
  4. Sell movie on DVD, Amazon, hopefully even get it on iTunes, Netflix and Hulu without paying exorbitant “encoding” fees.
  5. Sign royalty checks (my first royalty check just came for $14.56!)

But the problem is that the audience you built in step #1 isn’t clamoring to buy the DVD/download you’re selling in step #4.  Maybe they re-tweeted the link.  Maybe they even shared it on Facebook.  Whipping out the debit card?  Not so much.  Your master plan (okay, fine, my master plan) had a fatal flaw in that people’s support of your project is occasionally limited to things that do not require them to make purchases.

And remember, that’s the mindset of your FANBASE.  People who actually like and approve of what you’re doing.  So how do you get people who have never heard of you or your movie to pay for it?  Well, maybe you don’t…

The Waiting List was my first micro-budget movie.  It’s based on an experience I had waiting overnight in a preschool to get my daughter enrolled.  It’s a movie about parenting, by parents and for parents.  And I would really like every parent (who doesn’t mind vulgar language and uncomfortable honesty) to see it.  Which is why I decided to do a little test earlier in the week to see if my slow-ish home network was capable of streaming it live on Ustream.

I sent out a link on Facebook and Twitter moments before streaming the entire movie live, for free.  I’d love to say hundreds of people showed up, but it was really more like ten.  Which isn’t bad considering it wasn’t actually promoted.  My interest in this first round was just to see if it would work from home and if the video looked good.  A few of the cast members showed up and we started chatting about the making of the movie in a DVD commentary kind of way.  (It devolved into too many raunchy jokes–sort of like being on set.)

It made me think that maybe a few live Ustream screenings should be on the distribution checklist of any micro-budget filmmaker.  Giving your product away for free might not make sense on the surface.  But…  Will people show up knowing they’re getting something for free they’d usually have to pay for?  Will any of those people decide to buy the DVD now that they’ve seen it and chatted with the filmmakers?  Will they tell their friends (people you don’t know) about it because they’ve had an actual experience watching it?

This is an experiment.  One of the best things about being a micro-budget filmmaker is that you have nothing to lose and don’t need to ask permission.

So I’m planning another live Ustream screening for April.  Things you’ll be able to do?

  1. Watch the movie for free
  2. Live chat with the director and some of the actors (like an interactive DVD commentary)
  3. Possibly a live video Q&A (ask questions in the Chat window and see them answered via a webcam)

But I’m not a Ustream expert.  What else could be done to make an online screening fun?  What are other ways a filmmaker can interact with an audience during a live stream?  And–in addition to selling a DVD–is there any way to increase the film’s “box office?”  Sell t-shirts?  Tip jar?  Crowdfunding page?

What would draw you to watching a micro-budget feature on Ustream?

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