Introducing… Phrenic version 2.0!

I’m happy/relieved/excited to finally release the second version of my iOS app Phrenic. I’ve learned a lot since launching it in March (and even more since the initial app rejection in October–long story). What’s new? Why should you download it? Why am I making the totally unreasonable demand that you pay .99? First watch the new trailer, then read below…

More Stories, Episodes, and Extras

Now I can add new content without forcing you to install another app update. Just launch Phrenic 2.0 and you’ll have the latest story elements and behind-the-scenes extras. This version has a new mini-episode, a new short story, and a way for fans to submit their own content.

Phrenic still does not have push notifications because I hate those and turn them off except for things like Twitter.

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 6.29.50 PM

Audience Participation

I get asked about allowing fans to get involved by submitting stories or videos to be included in the world of Phrenic. Not that fans are actually requesting to do those things, but some people think a good transmedia project MUST have audience participation. I was initially skeptical but I’m coming around. There are some risks to opening a project to fan generated content (which I talk about here) but I realized I can let someone else’s lawyers worry about that.

mike vogel in doll mask

I’m now using Theatrics to allow Phrenic fans to submit videos or other content. To stoke creativity and give people a chance to remain anonymous, I’ve created a cut-out doll mask where people can disguise themselves and record a video about being a clone (or clone protesters). Approved videos will show up on the Theatrics site, PhrenicWorld, and the iOS app. A rough storyline will launch next week that will make it easy for engaged fans to jump in. If you’re thinking of doing it, PLEASE DO!

Here’s a picture of me wearing the doll mask….

No More In-App Purchases

Phrenic_EpisodesPhrenic 1.0 was free to download and watch episodes 1 & 2, but then it cost money for episodes 3 – 7. What a genius way to keep making money off your audience by releasing more episodes and charging for them! Except people don’t like that idea very much and the always-imminent cost becomes a barrier to getting involved in the story. I’m asking for a very small, one-time fee of .99 and I’ll give you a new kind of story that I hope you’ll enjoy so much that you tell everyone with an iPhone to download Phrenic. I like this model better.

The other reason I got rid of in-app purchases is a technical one. To sell the episodes as IAP, you’d have to download them to your iPhone or iPad. That’s fine if it’s a pre-determined, finite amount, like a movie or comic book chopped into chapters. But Phrenic is on-going with no end in sight. There wasn’t a clean way to delete the in-app purchase episodes and adding more would quickly fill up your device. Phrenic used to be about 45MB before you bought all the episodes, at which point it ballooned up to 165MB or so. The more you watched Phrenic 1.0, the more it bogged down your device. What do you do when an app takes up too much space? Delete it! Phrenic 2.0 is down to 9MB now because all of the episodes are now streamed (which means you’ll have to be online–deal with it!)

How to Sell Digital Downloads of Your Movie

A few months ago, I started selling digital downloads of my movie “Did You Kiss Anyone?” It seems like a lot of filmmakers are considering this option but don’t know how to do it for themselves or rely on third-party platforms that take a big cut of their profits, so I thought I’d write a quick guide to setting it up. I’m using WordPress, PayPal, and Amazon Web Services S3. I’m going to link to a lot of sites/services here but none of these are affiliate/sponsored links. When we’re done, you’ll be able to put buttons like these on your site to sell directly to your audience.

Okay, you want to sell your movie like Louis CK? Here’s how….

First, the infrastructure…

Here are the things you’ll need:

  1. A web hosting account with WordPress installed. There are plenty of options and tutorials for setting this up, so Google it to find the best one for you. (Note: If you plan to store your video on your web host, make sure your plan includes enough disk space and unlimited bandwidth.) [I use Namecheap, if you’re curious.]
  2. A PayPal account. I signed up for a free business account so I can show my company’s name instead of my personal email. People don’t need a Paypal account to pay you and you’re able to accept credit cards. (Square is cool, but not currently supported.)
  3. Optional: Cloud storage – An Amazon Simple Storage Services (S3) account–or you can use Dropbox if you have a Public folder (your account has to have been opened prior to July 31, 2012). The key is using a cloud storage service that lets you link directly to the file. (For instance, Google Drive and Dropbox accounts created after July 31, 2012 do not currently allow you to link to the actual MP4 file.) Having an Amazon S3 account will also be more secure and reliable than your web host or a free service. If lots of people start downloading your movie, you don’t want them to encounter problems that will make them unhappy and take your time responding to angry emails. Amazon S3 pricing is here (about .12 cents per month to store and about .18 cents each time you serve a 1.5 GB video) but if you’re a new S3 customer, you’ll probably get most of what you need free for the first year.

Encode an MP4 file

If you’re going to sell your movie, it’s a good idea to make sure it will work on as many devices and operating systems as possible. Right now, your best bet is an MP4 file. I used the resolution 1280 x 720 because it’s technically HD and isn’t as large a file to download as 1920 x 1080. (My 96 minute feature is 1.75 GB. I think it’s best to keep a download under 2 GB.)

You should be able to export an MP4 from your editing software (Premiere, Final Cut, etc). Or you can encode an MP4 using a program like HandBrake or VLC. (I love HandBrake!)

I try to give the file a clear name so when someone downloads it, they’ll remember what it is. Avoid acronyms and spaces, use underscores. For example, instead of DYKA-HD-1280 x 720.mp4, use Did_You_Kiss_Anyone.mp4

Upload the MP4

Once you have the MP4 file encoded, you’ll need to transfer it to your web host or to a third-party cloud storage company like Dropbox or Amazon Web Services S3.

  1. Web host: Again, if you upload it to your web host, make sure your plan has enough disk space and unlimited bandwidth.
  2. Dropbox: If you upload it to Dropbox, place it in the Public folder. You’ll probably have to use the Dropbox desktop client (not their website) because the file is so large. If you don’t have a Public folder (because you opened your account after July 31, 2012) then you can’t currently use Dropbox for this.
  3. Amazon S3: Upload the files using your S3 Management Console. You will have to create a “Bucket” to put them in and once it’s uploaded, right click it to make it Public. There is also an Amazon S3 extension for Easy Digital Downloads so you can manage the uploading from WordPress.

Install the “Easy Digital Downloads” plugin for WordPress

Easy Digital Downloads is a free plugin for WordPress. This will make it easy for you to create a shopping cart environment on your WordPress site and deliver downloadable files to your customers who have paid via PayPal. If you’ve just started your WordPress site and only plan to use it to sell downloads, EDD has designed free Themes as well. (If you like the EDD plugin, consider buying the developer a coffee!)

To install “Easy Digital Downloads,” log into your WordPress admin console and go to:

  1. Plugins > Add New > Search for: Easy Digital Downloads
  2. Click Install Now.
  3. When it’s done, you should have a section on your WordPress admin menu called “Downloads.”

Personalize the customer experience

Go into the Downloads sections of your WordPress admin console and click Settings. There is a good YouTube tutorial and some official documentation, but here is what I did:

  1. General
    • Change the Purchase Page to “Checkout.”
    • Change the Success Page to “Purchase Confirmation.” (I also edited this page to be more personalized and gave contact info in case something went wrong.) 
  2. Payment Gateways
  3. Emails
    • Fill out all the fields with the necessary info: From Name, From Email, Purchase Email Subject.  (I used “Your download from mikevogel.com” for my subject.)
    • For the Purchase Receipt area, you can use their template tags to customize it.
  4. Under “Styles,” I changed the button to Orange (you can change this on the download page too). I didn’t touch the “Misc” tab.

Create your first Download product

Go into the Downloads sections of your WordPress admin console and click Add New.

  1. Title: I named mine after the movie title, then added (Download Movie) after. For example: Did You Kiss Anyone (Download Movie).
  2. Post: I kept it simple. A tagline and the trailer. The purchase button is automatically entered once it’s saved.
  3. Download Configuration: I also uploaded a Featured Image so a thumbnail image would show up on my downloads page.
    • Pricing: I priced my movies at $5.00, which is sort of the standard set by Louis CK and seems right for a feature.
    • Download Files: I named the file the same as the movie (Digital Download). For example: Did You Kiss Anyone (Digital Download). For the File URL, paste the direct link to your MP4 file. This will either come from your web host, Dropbox, Amazon S3, or some other cloud service.
    • Purchase Text: The default is just “Purchase” but I like to make it longer because once they click Purchase, the button changes to Checkout. It’s the same number of letters, so it’s hard to tell that the button changed. I ended up putting: Buy “Did You Kiss Anyone?”
    • Link Style: Button
  4. Here’s the link to Easy Digital Download’s tutorial “Creating your first download.

Test it out (with Discount Codes)

Go into the Downloads sections of your WordPress admin console and click Discount Codes.

I created two discount codes to test. One is a 100% discount and the other is 99% discount. I used the 100% discount code to check to make sure the emails are formatted correctly and that the download link works. Once that was squared away, I used the 99% discount code to check and make sure PayPal is working.

When you’re done testing, don’t forget to Deactivate or Delete the discount code.

Promote it!

You have different options when spamming informing your social networks…

Individual link: Each product has it’s own page, so you can send a link out to that specific movie:
http://mikevogel.com/downloads/did-you-kiss-anyone-digital-download-mp4-hd/

Link to all downloads: Or you can send people to all of your downloads, which show up on a /downloads page:
http://mikevogel.com/downloads

Widgets: It’s also important to keep links to your downloads present on your site. I added a link to my Downloads page on a Widget, so it’s available on any page. I also used the “Downloads Cart” Widget that comes installed with Easy Digital Downloads to add a shopping cart type presence in case someone wants to navigate to other products.

Shortcodes: Every product you create has a shortcode that can be found in your WordPress admin console under the All Downloads page or on each individual product. It will look something like this (but in brackets):

purchase_link id=”2560″ text=”Buy: The Waiting List” style=”button” color=”orange”

When a shortcode is pasted anywhere on your site, it looks like this (shameless plug!): 

You can also use Discount Codes to promote your movie. Since my movie has “kiss” in the title, I discounted it on Valentine’s day so it would only cost $2.14. You can also set limits on the number of times a discount code can be used, so if you want to give away 5 copies or give a 25% discount on the weekend, you can easily do that.

Provide Support

Remember to give people an easy way to contact you in case things go wrong. And reply quickly if there’s an issue.  I make sure they know they can reply to their confirmation email, and I have my Contact info on my website.

Do-It-Yourself, AGAIN!

If you’re reading this,  you probably took a DIY approach to making your movie. Don’t just hand that over to a third-party platform and give them 30% of your earnings (possibly tempting you to raise your price to absorb that loss) when you have all the tools to do it yourself. You made your movie, now go sell it. Make it easy for people to buy it. Cool (and famous, established) people like Louis CK are doing this. It’s okay to try and do something awesome too.

Film festival thoughts (Columbia Gorge Film Festival screening)

Before I made movies, I always thought of festivals as a gateway to having the Weinsteins pluck my movie from obscurity before starting their aggressive Oscar campaign on my behalf. But now I see them as an opportunity to show my movie to an audience and any time I can show my movies to an audience, I feel very appreciative. Unless your film is in one of the top five festivals, there will be no Weinsteins there, no matter how many all-caps, self-inflating press releases you send.

That’s totally okay because the people who attend film festivals really love movies. Why else would you show up to watch a bunch of films you’ve probably never heard of unless you were the type of person who loved to discover new movies? At a time in cinematic history where they’re making an ALF movie and continually rebooting superhero franchises, it’s nice to know some people still take risks when going to the movies. If you’ve ever attended a film festival, you are OK in my book. If you’ve ever organized a film festival, please keep doing it. I hate paying your entry fees, but I’d hate it more if you didn’t exist.

So… my second movie, Did You Kiss Anyone?, is playing at the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival on August 18th, 2012 at 6pm. It’s in Vancouver. This will be the first time the movie has ever been shown in HD. Ever. Oh, and the whole festival is FREE! And there’s some sort of after party with beverages and possibly salty snacks.

Here’s the trailer, which (for me) plays like a moving yearbook of memories of the 13 months we spent filming it. We showed it at the Bagdad and the Salem Film Festival and people really liked it, so please come and see it if you’re in the Portland/Vancouver area!

My DIY DVD packaging for “Did You Kiss Anyone?”

I tried to only sell “Did You Kiss Anyone?” as a digital file. It’s easier for me, it costs less for you, and there aren’t any plastic clamshell cases that could be used as a landfill starter kit.

The problem is that not everyone knows what to do with a digital file or has the ability to play it on a screen they’d actually want to watch it on. Plus DVDs make wonderful gifts to buy for all your friends. So I decided to make a DVD.

I loved the packaging of a Filmed By Bike DVD I own. The case is from Stumptown Printers and it’s made from foldable chipboard. There’s no plastic, it feels nice, and it’s kind of awesome.

But getting them printed is expensive. So my friend created a design for some rubber stamps that I could put on the cases. The human heart stamp came from Collage and somehow seemed to fit the tone of the movie too.


I decided to throw in some behind-the-scenes photos because it seems like it would be fun and feel more personal.

I went from not liking the idea of selling a DVD, to realizing I just don’t like the mass produced DVD cases for indie movies trying to look like Hollywood movies. Mine are hand-stamped and folded together by me. I make these.

You can buy them at DidYouKissAnyone.com

Distribution is easy, finding an audience is hard

It’s been almost a month since I decided to release my second movie “Did You Kiss Anyone?” using the Louis CK way of distributing.  (Someone pays me $5, I give them the movie to stream or download in HD.)

Some people think this is idiotic, but I don’t have any investors to answer to and I want to make it as easy as possible for people to see the movie. (If you don’t have $5, you can watch my first movie for free or you can watch the webseries called “Did You Cast Anyone?“)

When I considered doing this, I thought it would be really complicated and possibly cost tons of money I didn’t have.  Louis CK has said his site cost about $32,000 to get running.  I wanted to see if I could do it for less–a lot less.  Here are the steps I identified as most important:

  1. Secure payment: People should be able to pay with a credit card and I should not know anything about how they paid, only if they paid.
  2. Unique link & order number: Once you do pay, you should get a unique URL to the movie and an order number so if things go haywire you can send me an email and complain.
  3. No hassle streaming or downloading: Once you get the link, you should be able to stream it (in HD) or download it immediately, without any technical difficulties caused by me choosing a crappy web host that’s unable to reliably deliver a 1.75 GB file. Also, you shouldn’t need to have an account for anything.

I’m already paying $7/month to host my movie websites on Front Ave.  In addition to this, everything above cost me $5 PER YEAR. One sale covers the video hosting for the entire year (!).  Here’s how I did it: [UPDATE: How to Sell Direct Downloads can be found here.]

  1. PayPal handled the secure payment. I signed up for a Paypal business account (it’s free) because I needed access to their API. You don’t need to understand any of that, other than knowing where to get your API key within PayPal.
  2. My site is created in WordPress and I used a plugin called MarketPress (also free).  It gives you shopping cart functionality on your site, plus it integrates with PayPal using the aforementioned API key.
  3. The MP4 movie file was uploaded to Google’s cloud storage infrastructure (aka Google Docs).  This is where the expense came in.  I needed to upgrade to 20GB of space, which costs $5 per year. Once you get your custom link, you can begin watching immediately or download it.

People would’ve crapped their pants ten years ago if they knew you could do this.

But now the hard will always be: how do you find an audience? And don’t start regurgitating thought-leaders about building an audience online with social media. No one follows you on social media to buy your stuff.  They follow you because you tell funny jokes or take cool pictures or because your avatar is a hot girl who looks like she’s going to have sexual intercourse with you if you star all her tweets. And the thought-leaders don’t make money selling movies, they make money talking at conferences.

My own movie’s made a little bit of money that I’m going to use to try and find people the old-fashioned way: advertising.  But I want to do the old-fashioned way in a relatively new-fashioned way: targeted advertising that leverages your social graph or things you’re searching for.  I have no idea how I’ll do it exactly, or if it will work.  But I’ll let you know when I get any interesting results, like this.

Okay, now go read this this PBS article because I was interviewed for it and it talks about a lot of this stuff too.

Here's how the Bagdad screening went…

I spent two years making a movie in Portland so it was fun to finally show it in Portland. I’ve always loved the idea of screening a movie at the Bagdad. It’s one of those renovated movie palaces where you can drink beer and eat pizza. Plus it has an awesome marquee.

I always worry that if I show my movie in a theater, no one will show up.  Not only did we fill the theater, but there was a line out the door waiting to get in. If you’ve ever hated waiting in line at a theater, know that somewhere, you are making the filmmakers of that movie very happy.

It was great hanging out with some of the actors who I haven’t seen in forever. I spend a concentrated time on set with actors, then rarely seem them until there’s an event like this. Which sucks because they are all really cool, funny people. So I need to write another movie so I can hang out with them again.

Sibyl, Amanda Charr, Audrey Walker, Adrienne Vogel

I showed slides of things like Carolyn Main’s Sex Wizards and my friend Candice made a great playlist of Portland bands that played while everyone was waiting for the show to start. Once everyone got in, we started with some storytelling by Bill Reagan and Heather Goguen. Bill told a hilarious story about prom with a date who was wasted and Heather told a story about marrying her internet stalker that included the twist ending that she’s not just pregnant, but double pregnant. Both Bill and Heather should be in Backfence PDX, so someone please make that happen.

I showed a lost episode of “Did You Cast Anyone?” and if you weren’t there, you’ll probably never see it. It’s pretty silly and involves various terrible things happening to my head at the hand of Teresa Decher.

Once the movie started, everything was kind of a blur for me. I was nervous people would be uncomfortable with the Shi**ing with the Door Open scene that takes place early in the movie. They laughed. A full theater of people laughing. It was awesome. That’s what always motivates me when I make a movie.

Once the movie was going and I knew people were enjoying it, I went up to the balcony to get my computer to update the movie’s website with the link to buy it. There were people in the balcony! Lots of people. And they were watching my movie! It still seems crazy.

I posted some QR codes around the lobby so people could scan and buy it on the spot. One person actually did! And people must have told friends about it because I sold a bunch of copies for the entire week after. (You can still buy it for $5 at buy.didyoukissanyone.com.)

After the movie, lots people stayed for the Q&A. I came out wearing the mouse mask from the furries scene, but no one could understand me so I had to take it off. Some sort of alarm went off in the middle of the Q&A. I was joined by Brian Mohr (Cinematographer), Trevor Bennett (Score), and Jon Vogel (Producer/brother). It had that awkward feeling all Q&A sessions have.

We went for a few drinks at the Back Stage bar and I got to hang out with Brian and Amanda a little bit, the two people who I spent the most time with making the movie. It was a great way to end a perfect movie screening evening.

Time to go make another one.

If you took any photos while you were there (especially if you have some shots of the audience) please send them to me or give me a link! I would love to see them.