Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Social media and the local film community

Poster for the Utah-produced
film "Friend Request" (2013)
(Sense a theme in this entry?)
Independent filmmaking and social media seem like a natural fit. From networking and organization to flooding the newsfeeds of friends and groups with pleas for support and links to crowdfunding campaigns.

There’s no magic formula for creating a successful and engaging online forum where individuals can interact, seek advice and hire talent for their projects. Though it’s usually a simple matter of who gets there first, that doesn’t mean a newer forum won’t gain momentum and surpass the original(s).

Take, for instance, a little Facebook group started by this writer back in 2010 called “Utah YouTubers.” At first, it had only a handful of members and very little activity. Largely dormant for a number of years, around 2016 there was a surge in membership and activity. More and more people started to join and share their Utah-based YouTube content. It was later discovered that subsequent to—and completely independent from—the creation of that first “Utah YouTubers” group, another group with basically the same name had really taken off. Rather than try and compete, the original group was content to be associated with the more successful group and is now known as “UTubers Forum”, a public group that hopes to serve as a stepping stone to the more professionally-minded space catering to more experienced content creators.

As far as Facebook groups dedicated to filmmaking in Utah are concerned, there are several (as shown in the graphic below) and it’s not uncommon for someone new to the filmmaking community to join every single one that they find. However—as this writer discovered a number of years ago—one quickly learns that the membership of these groups consists largely of the same people. With an eye toward cleaning up one’s newsfeed of identical film-related posts from the same people, the question needs to be asked, “Which group do I join?” Or, more often, “Which group—or groups—can I just leave?”

The groups that aren’t doing anything or only engage members sporadically—usually because of low membership to begin with—are the easiest ones to let go of. One should also note which groups are posting the same information—in other words, find out which groups are populated by mostly the same people—and just stay in the one that’s most useful. Participate in the group that has experienced members that are willing to answer questions, offer sound advice and honest critique. Commit to the group that takes filmmaking seriously as both an art form and an industry.

Of course, the UFA™ is going to recommend the de facto group for Utah Filmmakers started by Ben Hawker, Utah Filmmakers and Actors. With the largest membership of any group of its type—over 13,400 and thousands of active participants at the time of this post—one can’t go wrong by clicking on that join button and answering the two basic screener questions for admittance: “What is the nature of your involvement in filmmaking?” and “Where in Utah are you based?” Since the group welcomes both film industry professionals and beginning filmmakers, it would be difficult to figure out an exact ratio of professionals to novices in the group without doing some exhaustive research. However, one can make a conservative estimate. Assuming that only 1 in 50 members of the group works or has worked full-time in the film industry with a guestimated average of ten years of on-set/in-studio experience, that's over 2,600 combined years of industry experience in our one group. That is a pretty impressive source of information and know-how that one can turn to.

While Utah Filmmakers and Actors is a valuable group for local filmmakers to be part of, there are other groups that cater to more specific topics of discussion such as Utah Film Writers and groups set up for local college and university film students. Another group that this author participates in is the Utah Video and Film Production group which offers a low-key but valuable discussion environment consisting largely of local industry professionals.

There are many other groups that have been started with goals similar to that of Utah Filmmakers and Actors. This writer is also a member of a few of them but doesn’t actively follow many of their news feeds for the simple reason that much of the information that they offer is identical and their community access limited to a significantly smaller audience—an audience that’s most likely also part of the Utah Filmmakers and Actors group, especially when it comes to novice filmmakers and those just starting to make inroads into the industry.

Redundancy can be a good thing when it comes to filmmaking—having a backup shooting location, extra lenses, mics and lighting options on hand in case of unexpected complications, for example—but when it comes to resources for hiring, networking and collaboration, it can be confusing. The fact that a few of these other groups have actually been started by existing and former members of Utah Filmmakers and Actors—for reasons that include disagreements with group policies and/or admins acting in accordance with said policies—doesn’t help either.

Graphic created by the author,
derived from publicly sourced data.
Higher Resolution Version

Utah Filmmakers™ and UFA™ are trademarks registered with the Utah Department of Commerce Division of Corporations and Commercial Code, Registration Numbers 10706542-0190 and 10502093-0190 respectively.