Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Importance of Social Media

Without a doubt, the process by which I have been making this film would be completely different were I doing it years ago. Social media, or Web 2.0, is fascinating to watch and I have been learning all I can about it at work.

Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia is an example of social media and defines the term as umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio. This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and "building" of shared meaning among communities, as people share their stories, and understandings.
Essentially, social media tools (like this blog) are changing the way we communicate by allowing us to share information faster and easier. And it allows us to reach people that we would never otherwise reach.

For example, my last post was about a book I bought. I wrote about it the evening I bought it, and by the time I woke up the next morning he had commented on my entry! A few years ago, the two of us would have had to communicate by email or snail mail, and the likelihood of him responding might be slim to none. But today, I wrote about it and a few hours later he had responded.

There are people in social media that track and analyze things like this and could probably respond in a matter of minutes or hours. That's the speed of communication we're hitting now, which is incredibly fascinating. Of course, the phone is just as fast if someone answers, but this is all electronic connection, and because of that the echos of the initial conversations (or spirals, or threads) are the true genius. One person does something that another writes about, and then another writes about that, and then before you know it you've reached hundreds of people.

Social media is giving everyone of us a voice. It's a "power to the people" revolution. In May I attended an AMA event called Social Media Marketing Workshop, led by Jim Tobin of Ignite Social Media. The event was very helpful in showing me how to share what social media is, exactly, and why corporations are slow to jump on (when they should be tuned in and ready to act instead).

The next day I attended Blog Carolinas, a "conversation about social media in the enterprise", which was also very informative. It was great to meet other folks who were thinking about social media, and networking with folks who have the answers others are seeking.

Last night I attended a Blogger Bash in Raleigh, an event Chris Moore told me about. It is another example of how social media tools are changing how we communicate with one another. I was working the concessions stand at ComedyWorx one night and a girl told me that she just started following my feed on Twitter. We had never met in person, but because of Twitter I now had a new connection that would otherwise not exist.

The Blogger Bash was really fun. As it turns out, there were quite a few social media faces I recognized, one of which was my very first improv teacher! I had not seen him in years, and it was great to catch up and be introduced to his wife. Because of social media tools, people all over are reuniting.

The point to all of this is that social media (or Web 2.0) is expanding the means by which we make things happen. Words become more than just words, they become action. And that action leads to other action and so on. I'm still learning all I can about it so that I can better verbalize what social media is and why it is important, but I already recognize how it is changing the filmmaking process for me.

Because of social media tools, I have found support from volunteers willing to offer their time and support. And before the film has even been completed, there are people expressing their interest in seeing it. And we don't even have the film's website up and running yet! I think that is so amazing.

There is much more work to be done on the film, and I am certainly trying to stay focused on the next steps. We are almost finished with filming, and have already started the transition into post-production. Tapes are being digitized and transcribed. I've been reading books by Dr. Hickey so that I can be a better representative of information about the Montagnards. And I've been writing plans so that we can stay on track and have this thing completed in the coming months.

Yes, there is much work to be done. But for just a few moments, I wanted to pay homage to the very exciting things happening. They are not tangible for some, but for me they are signs that this film can have a lasting, positive impact.

Oh, I've also been reading Made to Stick for work, but its connections to this film project are eerily spot-on. Chapter 1 starts off with, "Every move an Army soldier makes is preceded by a staggering amount of planning, which can be traced to an original order from the president of the United States." The entire chapter was so connected to my education about the Montagnards and the Vietnam War, it could not have been more planned had a college professor outlined it in the semester's syllabus! I've been reading this book to learn how some ideas stick around longer than others, and by what process that takes shape. It, too, is fascinating.

My education continues each day. And each day I grow more and more excited, nervous and anxious at the thought of sharing this film with audiences locally and nationally. It's a project that could not be more perfect for my first film, and the entire thing has been one lesson learned after another. The more I talk about it with others in real life, the more excited I get. And the more I talk about it with my volunteer force, the more anxious I get at the thought of sharing it publicly. The idea that folks will (hopefully) want to see my first film, and (hopefully) recommend it to others to see is very exciting! Mostly because it means that more people will be aware of the Montagnard plight, and hopefully be inspired to do something about it.

The other day I was explaining some of my filmmaking mistakes to Surry, frustrated that I wasn't able to execute some of the tasks as smoothly as I had hoped. Then I remembered another book that explains how we must be free to fail when we are in a chaotic space because we're learning something new. Of course there are going to be hurdles to overcome--it's the first time I've done a project like this, and I shouldn't beat myself up over it. You fall the first time you learn to walk, right? And, besides, just imagine how EASY the next one is going to be because I've already learned things the hard way!

But thoughts about the next project, whatever that may be, will have to wait. Right now the clock is ticking and my to do list grows with every thought about this film. There is much to be done, little time to do it, and zero dollars with which to execute these plans. But that's the exciting part! Will I finish it in time? Will the final product be as good as I have envisioned it? Will miracles happen? Will there be an audience to share it with when we're ready? Will the film have a lasting, positive impact for the Montagnards?

Only time will tell, but I certainly hope all goes well. There is a force beyond my control leading this thing as it only continues to gain momentum. That is both terrifying and exhilarating in the same breath!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Another Crabtree Valley Evening

Tonight I had another training at the Apple Store on the Final Cut Pro Creative Suite. They have made a lot of improvements since I was using it almost four years ago, many of which are really exciting. Tonight we focused on a program called Motion that will allow me to zoom in/out on still photographs, which is something I had been curious about for quite some time. We only had an hour for an intro to the program, and plan on going over some more in-depth details next week.

Tom, the guy who is going over everything with me, has been really helpful. He was pretty funny tonight, and has been really patient in explaining the programs to me (especially when I ask really silly questions). I'm excited to learn the programs and spend time with them so that I know the full extent of what can be done with our film, so that it is executed as professionally as possible. To have these things at my finger tips is very exciting!

After leaving the Apple store, I was sucked in to a quick visit at Barnes & Noble again. I do love being surrounded by books. Tonight I went in thinking I could do some quick searches on filmmaking and the Vietnam War. They had quite a few Vietnam War books on sale, one of which I have been enjoying a bit this evening. It's called "The Vietnam Ware Experience" (as if you could fit that into a book). It has a lot of images and things you can pull out to read. I really like the design of the book, in that it feels like you're looking at someone's scrap book instead of a coffee table book about the war. I've been flipping through it and enjoying it a lot.

There were only a few filmmaking books that I liked, though. Most of them are film encyclopedias of sorts, and others are about how to make it in Hollywood--neither of which are of interest to me at this point. I did end up picking up a book titled "$30 Film School" which has a great opening, which I will summarize:

"I get my stuff seen worldwide. You can, too.

Don't wait for some lumbering corporation to give you permission to make your art! This book is a map for D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) art--specifically filmmaking. Guerilla, no-budget, drive-by filmmaking, to be exact.

I will teach you some techniques--enough to get started. This is the how of filmmaking. I will then cover concept; in other words, the why. And this can be applied to any art, not just filmmaking. This is life lessons, brothers and sisters. It's The Artist's Way meets The Art of War. Grab a camera and join us!...

Books kill trees. I need trees to live. Please plant a tree after you read this book."

--Michael W. Dean
His introduction is part of what had me sold. He got straight to the info I needed, and added a little humor and 'green message' at the end. Just what I like! So, I haven't read much of the book other than the table of contents and a few chapter starts, but what I have read I do like thus far. I'm excited to read the section on promoting / selling. He adds a lot of great resources outside of just his book, too, which is something I really like.

I have no doubt that more exciting developments are to come, and when they do I will be sure to share them with you here!

As always, if you know of someone who wants to volunteer to help with the film (design, editing, marketing, promotions, hanging up fliers, etc.), I'd love to speak with them. There are many aspects to the project that cannot be completed by one person, and I am happy to work with anyone that wants to get involved. It's going to be an exciting fall this year, I can feel it.

Growing Inertia

Last weekend felt pivotal to me, as more and more people take interest in the film project. My improv team, Big Fat & Stealthy, performed to a sold out crowd! There were so many people there, a few of which are friends who recently found out about this film project. And I realized that I had not shared the news among the improv community (except for those who know me well).

Many of them asked me what I'm working on, how I got interested in the subject, and how we plan to make money off of it. It's been a very interesting series of conversations with people that I know, and each of them lights up when they hear me talk passionately about the process. And those conversations are great, because they prepare you to answer the question the next time. And the next time. And then, you are able to speak eloquently about the subject matter because you've had that practice.

Just how much effort I am putting into the film was solidified when I realized how long it's been since I have seen some of my family and friends, though. And then on Sunday I got a fairly pointless ticket from a very polite Raleigh Police officer while Surry was in the car with me. His kindness was just what I needed as I grew angrier and angrier at myself for getting a ticket for an expired tag. His perspective was a healthy one, and helped keep me on track.

In fact, his expertise and coaching is something for which I have been incredibly grateful over the years. He is undeniably a guiding light for so many people he meets, and I honestly hope that I might be able to pay that forward one day. He's reading this so I won't gush too much, but I wanted to capture how absolutely grateful I am for that support.

Each day I also feel very lucky to have a growing number of volunteers helping with the project, too. There are so many aspects to the project, and making it all come together is becoming more and more feasible with all of the well-qualified volunteers that keep knocking on the door.

Just this week alone I have gotten emails from three key individuals who are making this happen. Matthew Duckworth is capturing the footage we've shot, and has helped create a process by which we can now start editing the film together without having to drive back and forth repeatedly. Annie Beth Brown Donahue, a friend from my hometown of Little Washington, has also been incredibly helpful in gathering music samples from local artists who can help us (hopefully) create an original score! That is something I certainly had not dreamt of doing with this project because of the lack of time to focus on the organization, and she has been hustling a lot to create a pool of talent. And Emma Finch, one of my old coworkers, has been doing research on film screening venues and film festivals so that we can be sure people get to see the film. She sent me a long email the other day just full of delicious information!

And the list of volunteers continues to grow. I've been talking to graphic designers, editors and media relations experts as well. I am hoping to put together a "street team" of people who can help deliver fliers and put up posters in local businesses when we get venues and screening events organized. And perhaps even some fund raising events could take place! I had a dream about a black tie benefit, which would be incredibly cool to arrange. It would take a lot of effort, so I have not thought on it too much as I am focused on finishing the first cut of the film right now. But this visual experience continues to return to me on occasion while driving or walking, and so I feel I cannot ignore it too much.

These next two months will be absolutely critical in getting this project completed. We have a lot of work to do in order to get it finished, but I am certain it can be wrapped. All in all, I feel so lucky each day that I think on the project. And as more and more people find out about it, and as more conversations take shape on their own (without me leading the conversation to the subject of this film), I feel the inertia growing. I feel the interest growing each time someone excitedly asks when they can see it. "Soon," I tell them. "Sometime very soon!"