Underground Film Blogging: The Ugly, Fun World Of Promotion
One of the things I’ve been thinking about recently is how weird it is that an actual “underground” of film still exists in the world when films that once had been scarce and rare and extremely hard to see are now available to view on demand on the web or via DVD rental and sale websites. There’s nothing “underground” about these delivery systems. They’re mainstream and everywhere!
Yet, films remain in the theoretical “underground” because they’re hard to find because not that many film websites are writing about or linking to them. A film blog that can write easily about Avatar, Iron Man 2, An Education, etc., can just as easily put up a link to or embed a feature film by Bob Moricz, Damon Packard or Georg Koszulinski — but they don’t! Why not? Why not give the “little guy” a chance?
Oh, they will when enough sites decide that a “little guy” needs to become a “big guy.” And when do they decide to do that? Well, honestly, it all comes down to money.
Running a website isn’t free. It costs me money to run the Underground Film Journal, from the monthly hosting fees to the site registration fees. Luckily, the labor is free as I maintain everything myself: I do whatever engineering work needs to be done, site design and layout, image creation and, of course, all the writing and editorial decisions.
But, when “professional” websites want to get up and running, they need a designer to create a logo, hire engineers to write the code, hire web layout people, hire writers, editors, etc. That all costs money. So, if somebody is investing in a website by hiring all these people, plus typically owning the servers the site is hosted on, then that somebody needs to make money back, which is done by selling ads based on pageviews. And how does a film website get pageviews? By writing about films and film festivals everybody already knows about! Just plug yourself into the existing money structure and hopefully some of that cheddar will start flowing down to your site. (And you.)
Underground film bloggers don’t have that money system to even try to plug into. So, as I’ve also been thinking about lately: If the reality you want to exist doesn’t, then you have to create it yourself. (I probably stole that phrase from somewhere, but I don’t know where.)
One of the ways I’ve been trying to make a more visible underground personally is through semi-aggressive self-promotion around the web. And, in the spirit of trying to build and improve upon the existing underground film “loop,” I want to share those promotional efforts publicly in case anybody else wants to increase their site’s visibility. In my view of things, a little self-promotion of the Underground Film Journal will lead to a greater visibility to the underground filmmakers and films I write about on the site, which is my ultimate goal.
Underground film on the web stays underground only if a general audience doesn’t have the opportunity to come across it on other websites. So, it’s not enough for me to keep my content just on the Underground Film Journal. One of my goals is to plant seeds on other, larger, major websites that will draw a larger audience not just to the Underground Film Journal, but also to my comrades in arms on other underground film sites.
These efforts have proved successful on the Underground Film Journal, increasing awareness of the site. But, I also truly hope I’ve been able to increase awareness of the other sites doing similar work in this difficult field.
And I’m writing this specifically to get other underground film bloggers thinking about how to use these tools. And to help encourage other aspiring bloggers to get their sites going. Don’t think you can’t run a successful underground film blog because the mainstream sites will ignore you! Get out there and create our new reality!
Enough generalities. Here’s my specific list of awareness-raising efforts:
1. Reddit: I use this site to bookmark links on both the Underground Film Journal and other underground film sites, plus random film stuff I find interesting. It’s nice, as of now I have 124 followers of my links who don’t bump my articles up in popularity too often but at least sometimes; plus, I do get some actual traffic from using this site and hopefully drive some to my brethren, too.
2. VodPod: This is a video collection site where I “drop” all the videos I feature on the Underground Film Journal, and other videos I just find interesting. This draws zero traffic to the Underground Film Journal, but at least people watch the videos I post on there, raising awareness and viewership for great underground filmmakers. I’ve also created a companion “Cinema” site using VodPod that gets pitifully low traffic, but still it’s another way for people to find underground film on the web. Plus, I love my nifty sidebar VodPod widget that appears on every Underground Film Journal page.
3. Wikio: It’s a little difficult to explain how I use Wikio, but I’ve subscribed to the RSS feeds of many underground film sites on it so that Wikio will know that they exist and thus those sites will show up if Wikio users search for keywords that appear on those sites. For example, if you search for Jonas Mekas on Wikio, lots of Underground Film Journal entries will show up in the results, but so will results from Invisible Cinema, a blog I “follow” on Wikio. (Plus, other random results I don’t have anything to do with.) I don’t visit Wikio myself very often, but I do get some traffic from them.
4. Blog Catalog: I set up a profile on Blog Catalog and pretty much ignore it. But, it imports feed headlines from the Underground Film Journal, plus my other activity around the web, e.g. Twitter and YouTube. Drives very minimal traffic.
5. Delicious: This is another bookmarking site that I use like Reddit, but I don’t think very many film people use Delicious. I get zero traffic from this site and none of my bookmarks get shared around. Kind of useless, but I still bookmark on it to increase link visibility.
6. Propeller: Only started using this recently. Again, it’s a relatively useless bookmarking site like Delicious as I don’t think hardcore cinephiles use it. I don’t get “propped.” I get no traffic. But, good to have links on it.
7. YouTube and Vimeo: Every underground video I watch and think appropriate to share, I “favorite” or “like” on these sites. On YouTube, I have lots of “friends” and subscribers to my channel page, but I don’t know and can’t find out stats for whether that increases viewership of the videos I promote. I hope it does. As for Vimeo, I don’t know those things either, but the community over there is nicer and chattier and that’s one way I frequently correspond with certain filmmakers. Vimeo is more of a filmmaker friendly site than YouTube is.
8. Twitter: Yes, I have a Twitter account. I only “tweet” a few times a day, sometimes no times a day. The traffic it actually drives to the Underground Film Journal is minimal despite putting up lots of links. But, still, yes I do think it’s an invaluable tool and traffic on the Underground Film Journal has gone up in general since using Twitter. I think it’s just an awareness thing. It lets people know I’m here and alive and active.
9. Facebook: As of now, this is the granddaddy of ’em all. Facebook has been an invaluable help in putting the Underground Film Journal together. I get post ideas from filmmaker status updates. “Friends” sneak me info when they don’t want to post it publicly. I can contact filmmakers and not worry if I still have their email address. I get “invited” to lots of events around the world that I clearly can’t go to, but can write about in the Underground Film Journal’s screening section. And, on the Underground Film Journal’s Facebook page, I import the Underground Film Journal’s full feed. I was a bit nervous of doing that at first, thinking it would lead to a drop in traffic to the Underground Film Journal proper as Facebookers wouldn’t have to come to my site anymore, but, if anything, Underground Film Journal traffic has gone up since doing this. Go figure.
And, that’s it! That looks like a big list of things to keep track of, but as I noted for many of them I just set up accounts and put my setting on “ignore.” Plus, for the most part, I put in minimal effort on the others, but over time it all builds to decent results. So, please think about using these tools, too, to create even more awareness — and a new underground film reality.