Guest Post Simon Pulman: Transmedia for Low Budget Filmmakers

by | October 21, 2010 | Tips, Transmedia

Today’s guest post is from Simon Pulman who writes an incredibly interesting and informative blog on transmedia: Transmythology.

To me transmedia is the future for independent film – and perhaps all film. It is already happening all around us – whether we realize it or not. I essentially backed into transmedia on Bomb It. We knew we were generating way more content than would fit in one feature. In 2005 – our thought was that we would ultimately make 6 features from the material! But we ended up producing a webseries for Babelgum which was became a transmedia extension of Bomb It – realized after the fact. This in turn led to Bomb It 2 which was conceived of as a webseries for Babelgum – but still ties into the Bomb It “brand”. There is no way that I would have done another graffiti feature this past year – but a web series was a much more manageable way to keep exploring the concept of Bomb It. Simon addresses these issues in his post that follows. (BTW – this is a two part post. Part 2 will run next Thursday).

Transmedia for Low Budget Filmmakers

Part I: Why Consider Transmedia?

I’m going to assume for the purposes at this article that you have read Think Outside The Box Office, and are familiar with the principles presented within.  I don’t think an artist of any kind should proceed with a project without at least reading and considering Jon’s ideas.  We’re moving towards an age where personal branding and fan engagement will become increasingly important strategies in differentiating yourself from the crowd.

Due to the difficulties inherent in financing a feature film today, an increasing number of filmmakers are going DIY – foregoing years of fundraising and investor courtship to produce something relatively cheaply using inexpensive cameras and small non-union crews.  This concept should be familiar to anybody who has read Robert Rodriguez’s Rebel Without a Crew.

The downside of this trend for filmmakers is that the proliferation of lower budget films makes it very difficult to stand out from the crowd.  Unlike in Rodriguez’s day, merely making a film cheaply is no longer an interesting enough story to ensure that people pay attention.  The result is that even well scripted and produced low budget films are not guaranteed to find an audience.

With that in mind, I am going to suggest an alternate course of action: Transmedia.  If you’re unfamiliar with the term, I suggest you look into the work of folk such as Jeff Gomez, Lance Weiler and Mike Monello.  You can also check out my blog at

My suggestion is that filmmakers considering the production of a low-budget feature film should look into the possibility of creating a cross-platform narrative instead – thinking not only outside the box office, but outside of the 90 minute feature film format altogether.  Here are some reasons why:

1.              Less Upfront Audience Commitment

Audiences today have roughly the same amount of entertainment time available to them as they had twenty years ago, but have thousands more options.  Expecting somebody who has never heard of you to pay and sit for 90 minutes to watch your film is asking a lot.  Even on Netflix, a viewer can easily stop a movie after five minutes and watch something else – heartbreaking if your film only really gets going in the second act.  However, a viewer might be willing to give a 6 minute episode a shot.   Because you’re smart and understand Transmedia story principles, you’re going to hook them with that 6 minute episode – and supporting Transmedia content – and never let them go.

2.              Scheduling Cast and Crew

Feature films are extraordinarily difficult to schedule and shoot.  They require people to commit for the equivalent of at least three weeks, often for virtually no money.  It’s hard to keep top notch talent around for that block of time when they can make better money elsewhere.  By comparison, web shorts can be shot in one or two day blocks.  Furthermore, Transmedia allows you to schedule an actor for half a day, tease viewers with his or her presence, and continue his story on another platform (book, comic book, audio story, video game).

3.              The Theory of Relativity in Production Value

When you produce a cheap independent feature film, you are being compared to other feature films.  Non-expert moviegoers don’t necessarily understand the limitations of different budget levels, so they instinctively wonder why your $50,000 feature doesn’t look like There Will Be Blood.  Conversely, much web content features atrocious production value.  If you produce something that looks and feels good, you will stand out.  I suggest you read my article titled MTV’s Valemont – Lessons Learned for more on this.

4.              Keeping Audiences Satiated

Even if you do manage to hit one out of the park with your debut feature, it’s difficult for you to quickly supply more content to audiences.  Another feature film release is at least 18 months away, by which time you may be forgotten.  Conversely, with a Transmedia project based around a webseries, you can engage with your audience every single day.  That kind of interaction is absolutely priceless.

5.              Responding to Audiences

How many feature films have you seen where you loved the first act, but it all went downhill in the middle?  When you are releasing content incrementally, you are constantly receiving audience feedback.  I’m not suggesting that audiences are always right – or even know exactly what they want.  But at least you can take criticism on board and tweak as you go.  If a particular character really resonates with fans, consider giving them more (even by selling merchandise immediately with that character’s image on it).

6.              Building a Fanbase

Because a Transmedia project can release content incrementally over a course of months – and even years if a success – there is a much bigger window for somebody to “find” your project.  A Transmedia project by definition has more entry points.  One person might follow a twitter link to your webseries, another might be hooked by the graphic novel you’ve written and, if you’re really audacious, another dozen might find you through the flashmob you organized in Union Square.  All those people begin to follow your filmmaking brand and – because you have earned their trust with detailed, expansive stories – will follow your future work.  Now, when you propose a feature film, you can point to 10,000 people on Twitter that you know will see your film.

7.              Baiting The Press

To date, a handful of people (at most) have executed a Transmedia project extremely successfully.  Transmedia is increasingly becoming a buzzword.  If you can do something new and interesting, you stand to profit from widespread interest – both online and from the mainstream press.

8. Maintaining Rights

When you distribute your content directly to audiences, you cut out the need to cede various rights to a large distribution company.  Theoretically, you maintain complete creative control.  See Think Outside The Box Office for more.

That concludes the first part of this introductory article.  In its conclusion next week, I will discuss ideas for executing your project.