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Do we need an i-doc sourcebook?

In All posts, Interviews, Research Articles by Sandra Gaudenzi

If you have worked in film/tv production you will know that the industry sourcebook is your bible: this is the place you go to to find where to hire your equipment, what is the date of the next film festival and how to get to the freelancers you need in your team. Now… we don’t have an i-doc sourcebook – is this a problem?

Reginald Blackledge believes it is.

For the last 8 years, Reg has been trying to solve this problem. You may remember the website WiredMovie… well that was one of Reg’s attempts and prototypes. Reg has now launched FilmKode.com: a new platform to connect people in our industry. I invite you to check it out and to help him populate it with information relevant to you, so that it becomes a useful tool for us all.

The following is an interview I did with Reg because I wanted to understand the genesis of his project and the purpose of his new FilmKode website.

Sandra Gaudenzi:  I am curious about the story behind WiredMovie & FilmKode: when and why did you created them? What was your vision when you started it?

Reginald Blackledge: The original inspiration for the WiredMovie (WM) concept, and my newest endeavor, FilmKode.com, goes back a few years to my master’s thesis titled, “Post- Documentary.” As part of that thesis, I was curating international news and projects related to interactive-documentary filmmaking, and sharing that information via social media.

At the same time, I was planning to enter an Ed.D. or Ph.D. program at Teacher’s College at Columbia, or Universitat Oberta de Catalunya in Barcelonia, and my thesis project was to serve as a vehicle for informing my academic endeavors, as well as the foundation for my doctoral proposal: “Post-Documentary: Emergent nonfiction media practices in the digital world.”

The concept for WM came about after graduate school, and my return to Southern California to build a design agency. Because Post-Documentary’s Twitter followers had grown to over 700 in a short period of time, I was wrestling with whether or not to keep the account active, since it was time consuming. But, because of the encouraging follower feedback, I decided to maintain the account, and began exploring ways to best serve its followers, and the emerging i-doc filmmaking community as a whole.

“WM was centered on four problems I’d identified within emergent filmmaking (e.g. i-docs): 1. public awareness, 2. audience engagement, 3. distribution, and 4. monetization.”

SG:  Lesson learned from WiredMovie?

MRB: When starting any type of business venture, rule number one is to solve someone’s problem, and with that in mind, the initial charter for WM was centered on four problems I’d identified within emergent filmmaking (e.g. i-docs): 1. public awareness, 2. audience engagement, 3. distribution, and 4. monetization.

WM went through 4 iterations, each built on a slightly different platform with a unique feature set, based on user feedback, and evolving business models. Each of the iterations directly correlated to the core problems defined in the original charter, as outlined earlier.

After collecting 6 months of data, the site had nearly 16,000 organic page views with an average bounce rate just below 35%. And, 44% of sessions were from returning visitors; the average session duration was about 7 minutes. Said differently, the metrics suggested that without any advertising, people were visiting the site (90 per day on average), the majority of visitors were finding the site relevant, and nearly half were returning regularly. So, with these and other metrics, I felt that there was ample interest to continue moving forward with the project.

Keeping aligned with the original goals, WM version 2.0 was enhanced to include several new features intended to target both the general public, and the production community. Although, after 3 additional months, the data for version 2.0 suggested that while people were still visiting, it was clearly moving in the wrong direction with a higher bounce rate, and lower user engagement.

For WM version 3.0, the site was overhauled, this time built on a social content sharing platform, and included a name change from WiredMOV to WiredMovie. The final two iterations of the site incorporated social networking, social news sharing (similar to reddit or Digg) along with several gamification aspects. Additionally, “WiredMovie PRO” was introduced to test out demand for i-doc promotion, distribution and monetization services.

WM version 4.0, the final iteration, was live through the end 2015, and outperformed all previous versions for overall visitors, however, there was a lack of traction for social networking, and social sharing, despite my attempts to encourage participation.

SG: Why moving to FilmKode.com?  What is the aim of the project?

RB: First, I’d like to point out, just so your readers understand, WM, and now FilmKode.com, are “passion projects”, and I dedicate time to them in-between working on client websites, or digital marketing activities at my design firm, IntraActif. And, these enterprises are often diverse and very personal; for example, another of my projects is SoilSurfer.com, chartered with encouraging urban agriculture and sustainability, by connecting landowners with urban farmers.

Because there’s only so much time I can dedicate to ancillary projects, I follow the axiom to “fail fast.” In the startup realm, this means that if something isn’t going to work, it’s crucial to move onto a new idea or direction as quickly as possible.

“I returned to square one equipped with a new perspective”

So why the pivot (i.e. a dramatic change in direction) to FilmKode.com? In retrospect, I think WM was trying to solve too many problems, and ultimately, problems emergent filmmakers weren’t willing [or didn’t need] to pay someone to solve.

So, I returned to square one equipped with a new perspective, but this time, rather than trying to solve multiple problems, the aim would be to identify and focus on a specific problem. During the ideation process, I came up with several potential ideas, but one stood out among the others: something very basic, yet affecting everyone working with i-docs, virtual reality, and emergent [interactive] filmmaking production.

What was it? The lack of a production “sourcebook”.

Why is this a problem? Because, there’s not an easy way to keep up with the rapid expansion of tools, technologies, services, and new organizations within this budding field, and a production sourcebook could solve that.

Reflecting on my time at university, every film student had a production sourcebook (sometimes called a “production guide” or “guidebook”), and this annually updated index was a directory of companies, studios, tools, and services for filmmakers. Eventually, these physical sourcebooks morphed into websites, and are still used by filmmakers today, but there isn’t one serving the needs of the i-docs and emergent [interactive] filmmaking community.

“There’s not an easy way to keep up with the rapid expansion of tools, technologies, services, and new organizations within this budding field, and a production sourcebook could solve that.”

As I started researching the idea for a specialized online sourcebook, I discovered that nearly every i-doc related website–non-profit and for-profit a like–had some form of “resources” or “tools” page, but there wasn’t a central hub for this information. So, from there, I socialized the idea a bit more, and with the additional feedback, began work on FilmKode.com.

SG: What is FilmKode.com bringing to us, academic and practitioners and how should we use it?

RB: FilmKode.com was created to help digital storytellers navigate the expanding list of companies, institutions, products, and services within emergent filmmaking. As an online sourcebook, FilmKode.com is intended to connect filmmakers with tool makers, service providers, and related organizations.

The benefit is twofold: 1) Filmmakers have an easy way to find resources, and 2) vendors and organizations have an easy way to reach filmmakers, and promote their offerings. And, as an added benefit for digital storytellers, FilmKode Canal, lets artists and filmmakers submit and showcase their work for free, helping with SEO and audience engagement.

FilmKode.com members can add free or enhanced listings, and each listing comes with the ability to add classifieds, events, digital downloads, and a metrics dashboard with built-in analytics; this way, anyone who adds a listing can see how well it’s performing. These “listings” are seen by anyone who visits FilmKode.com, and convenient for providing feedback and reviews, not unlike Yelp.

Below, I’ve outlined two example scenarios for how 1) a company, and 2) how a creative might use FilmKode.com:

Example 1: “ACME” (A business)
In the first example, lets say that “ACME” is a company that makes tools for digital storytellers. When they add a listing to FilmKode.com, they can do the following:

1. Add a listing for “ACME”
2. Add a company summary and meta data
3. Add downloadable brochure(s) for their products
4. Add contact information, and link to their website
5. Add a an upcoming workshop event to the events calendar
6. Add products, product images, price and links to an external store
7. Add links to social media channels
8. Receive contact requests from potential customers
9 Receive, and respond to customer ratings and comments
10. Review an analytics dashboard to see impressions, clicks, views, etc.

Example 2: Creatives (A Filmmaker)
In the second example, lets say that “Kelly” is a filmmaker embarking on a new project. Kelly can go to FilmKode.com and do the following:

1. Search for companies, tools, services and other resources
2. Contact “ACME” and ask questions
3. Visit a vendor’s website
4. Download product specs
5. Purchase products directly from a vendor listing
6. Add her interactive documentary to FilmKode Canal (Free)
7. Add production credits, images and/or PR items
8. Add a link to her i-doc’s website or App
9. Add contact information, and social media links
10. Add her i-doc’s premiere to the events calendar
11. Write a review about a tool she liked
12. Read a review about a tool she’s thinking about purchasing
13. Bookmark a tool to her favorites list
14. Add a listing for her own studio, or service
15. For her own studio or service, do anything that “ACME” did in Example 1

SG:  Your vision: where would you want FilmKode.com to be in three years time?

RB: Well, given the rapid nature of emergent filmmaking, technology, and the Internet in general, it would be difficult to define an outcome so far out. But, if I had to look beyond the initial proof of concept goals I’ve set for FilmKode.com, then I’d want it to be a community marketplace where filmmakers, and tool makers [and other organizations] come and make transactions (both non-profit, and for-profit), and ultimately kindle economic growth within this unique production community.

Anyone interested in finding tools and resources, or adding their own tools and resources, as a business or creative, can join FilmKode free at: www.filmkode.com.

SG: Actually Reg, would you tell us some more about you? Your background, your hopes & dreams…

RB: Until age 17, I spent the better part of childhood on a wheat farm in rural Nebraska, where my father worked an agricultural pilot, and wheat farmer. My interest in filmmaking arose at an early age after my sister and I appeared, by chance, as extras in a television series being shot at a local airshow. For me, seeing the big 35mm motion picture cameras in action was awe inspiring, and after the experience, I started reading more about cinematography.

After high school, I applied to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and University of Southern California (USC) because of their exceptional film programs. And, I was accepted into USC, but the costly tuition prevented me from attending. Instead, I studied at Arizona State University, where I also worked as a media tech, film splicer, and projectionist to help pay tuition.

While at ASU, I wrote and directed several student films, including my final thesis film, a documentary titled, “The Last Resort”, about Castle Hot Springs, an abandoned circa- 1920’s luxury resort, concealed in the Arizona desert. The resort was a getaway for celebrity A-listers, and political figures in its heyday.

“I was inspired to encourage the use of storytelling within our game degree program”

After graduating, I spent time working as an Event Videographer, along with a few other production gigs, but wasn’t able to find steady work. One of my sisters had invited me to move up to the Northwest, and offered a place to stay while looking for work; eventually, I walked into a temp agency in Seattle, and was hired as a computer analyst. My first real job was with Wizards of the Coast, a game startup, now owned by Hasbro. Because I’d been using non-linear editing systems at school, to edit student films, I knew my way around an OS pretty well.

Working at a game company was a lot more fun than I expected, given the creative and lively culture. In the next few years, I made my way to Microsoft, and eventually, an opportunity lead me to California, where I joined an Internet startup. The timing was awful given the dot-com bust, but fortunately for me, Electronic Arts and Sony were hiring.

For over 10 years, I managed centralized-production services groups, within product development across Asia, Europe and the US, and watched as the industry expanded into a juggernaut. At one point, I was managing a global organization of over 1000 people, and spending much of my time traveling. In 2008, I stepped away from the industry to design the inaugural interactive (game) degree program for The Los Angles Film School.

“”i-docs” seemed to be a near- perfect union of story, interactivity, and filmmaking;”

One of the great things about working at a film school was being able to fraternize with the faculty, many whom remain active in the industry, and I was inspired to encourage the use of storytelling within our game degree program. Like many great films, games and interactivity have the potential to bring awareness to important social, ecological and humanitarian issues, and not solely for the purpose of entertainment.

Around this time, I discovered interactive-documentaries while researching “serious- games” and realized that these so called “webdocs” or “i-docs” seemed to be a near- perfect union of story, interactivity, and filmmaking; perhaps, and an ideal vehicle for public awareness and social action. Shortly thereafter, I started work on a master’s degree at The New School in New York City, with the hope of someday creating an academic program that combined story, interactivity, and filmmaking.

Thank you Reg for your time, and good luck with FilmKode!

Any comments on how to improve FilmKode, or on what you would like to add to it, please comment below.