What Happens When Your Movie Unexpectedly Goes Viral? Ben Howling & Yolanda Ramke's 'Cargo'

Tropfest Short Film - Ben Howling - CargoIt's a phenomenon that didn't really exist before the internet: going viral. The term has come to mean quite a few things and can be applied to all sorts of different scenarios, but in this case, we're talking about a video that is seen by millions of people in a relatively short amount of time -- a near impossibility for the average person just a decade ago. Ben Howling had this exact situation happen to him about a month ago, when the movie he co-directed with Yolanda Ramke for the Australian Tropfest Film Festival was considered a finalist and then posted online, going viral long after. It has now been viewed over 2.7 million times in just a matter of weeks. Check out the short below, followed by a discussion about the production and how the sudden success of the film caught the filmmakers off-guard:

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=gryenlQKTbE

The film is one of the more touching I've seen in a while, and it's also a fantastic lesson in "show, don't tell." Without any dialogue at all, the filmmakers managed to create a moving and emotional piece that deserves the attention it has received.

I talked with Ben recently, and here are some details on the actual production itself:

It was shot on Red One MX, with Zeiss CP2s. Was mostly handheld, with some Steadicam. Pre-production was messy, because Yolanda (Writer/Co-Director) and I were working interstate at the time, whilst our producer and DOP (also a producer) were doing the ground work and recces to help find locations. Landing Andy Rodoreda was a big coup for us, because he's had some leading feature roles over here, and we didn't think he'd be interested in a little short film concept. When we contacted his agent, he informed us that Andy had recently stepped away from acting, but he was happy to pass on the script - and from there, Andy liked the script, and the rest was history. Everything was sorted via emails and drop box. Yolanda and I were back in Sydney 3 days before shooting. We shot it over the course of a weekend, had 2 weeks for post, which was made even tighter because it was around Christmas time, so people were flat out with end of year deadlines, and going away for Christmas. Our Composer was actually working on Christmas day for us!

From there, we entered it into Tropfest, were listed as a Finalist, had a great time but ultimately didn't place on the night. Since then, we've submitted to other festivals, and been invited to screen at others. But then, out of nowhere, Cargo was picked up and screened on Buzzfeed and Sourcefednews.com, and the video took on a life of its own from there. Part of the T's and C's with Tropfest is that they own the rights to distribute the film as they see fit, so they put all finalists online. Ideally, if you're submitting to other festivals, you don't want that, but in this case, it's worked out well for us and garnered more exposure than we would have had hope for on the festival circuit.

After the film was picked up by a number of different outlets online, it blew up:

The response to Cargo has been overwhelming, to say the least. We've had people from major agencies and studios in the USA and UK reach out to us, and off the back of that we're now organising a trip to LA to meet with them.

Moving forward, we're currently developing our next short film with plans to go into production later this year, and we have a slate of feature concepts which we are also developing, with the intent to make our feature debut in the near future.

His advice to anyone releasing a film:

For anyone else who is planning to release a short film in the near future, my advice would be to be prepared. Have your next project ready to go, so that if it were to start gaining viral traction, you can capitalize; whether that's via talks with agencies and studios, or launching a kickstarter campaign to fund the next project.

I think his last point is something everyone should keep in mind. You never really know if a movie you're making will find its way onto millions of screens, so having a few projects ready to go isn't a bad idea. I know for film festivals, if you catch the eye of a producer or agent, it can help to have other material prepared (like scripts) or at least an outline of a number of different movie ideas. Even if you release a short and it doesn't go viral, having a strategy for getting the movie out there and getting it seen by as many people as possible is important if you want to take advantage of any possible exposure.

We should hear more from Ben in a few months, but in the meantime, feel free to ask any questions in the comments and he should be able to answer them.

Link: Ben Howling -- Website

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Your Comment


This should have won tropfest none of the other submissions had even close to the emotional weight that this film had behind it

May 10, 2013 at 10:33PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


That was brilliant!

May 11, 2013 at 1:11AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Peter Kelly

Well, the aftermath of the supposed car crash looked as unconvincing as the zombie make up. The decal of the family would never have been applied in such a way to allow the actor to remove it. What an untrue moment. Details matter when making a film. Also, I did not believe the baby would have waited to cry after the zombie dad was shot, it would have been screaming all along. This was just the director trying to get a cheap reaction from the actress. Good storyline, but it would have been cool in 2005, now they are just jumping on the bandwagon.

May 11, 2013 at 5:46AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Well James, clearly you didn't read the comment policy above - how is anything you said constructive?

It's a feat to create a memorable and engaging film, even with ample time and budget (soderbergh's address posted on this site states this beautifully), let alone being able to create something within a crazy short timeframe and no doubt minimal budget! And to the quality that this did.

Job well done, and congrats to the film makers on its success.

May 11, 2013 at 6:25AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


While i don't agree with James' comments I think they are constructive and he shouldn't be criticised for stating his point of view, which as I said I don't agree with.

I think in a zombie film you can grant leeway on small details like the ones he points out for the sake of story. We all knew the baby was going to cry when he did, for me it didnt take away from the piece.

I love this short, but my criticism is the lack of dialogue. While I like the idea of not using dialogue, I think it should only be the case if the people don't speak for a reason. For me at the end it was unnatural for the other characters not to speak to each other. In that circumstance people would converse. The lack of dialogue worked for the rest of the film, particularly with the baby crying and the good sounds, but just at the end it fell down a little for me.

Great piece though!

May 11, 2013 at 11:56AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Peter Kelly

Yeah... you forgot to point out that zombies aren't real either. Don't be haten, this was very well done regardless of the cliche genre. I usually don't like zombie flicks, but I (and many other people) loved it. Congrats to the team that made this!

May 11, 2013 at 12:14PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Untrue? Erm... You do realize there are zombies in this?

May 11, 2013 at 4:37PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


This short blew me away. I don't care how trendy zombie stuff is, this one is really about family and fatherhood. So well done.

May 11, 2013 at 9:54AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Agree with Jim. It's not about zombies, it's about family and doing everything you can, no matter what, so your kid gets a chance. And I'm a big fan of little-to-no-dialog films. They're MUCH harder to do than talky ones. Great job, guys!

May 11, 2013 at 1:06PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Hey Joe, thanks for the write up! And thanks to everyone for taking the time to watch the film.

May 11, 2013 at 4:05PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Wow. Excellent. I expect Hollywood to be knocking at your door in no time.

May 11, 2013 at 7:53PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


This was really great. Absolutely not about zombies. It takes the genre and transcends it.

May 11, 2013 at 4:25PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM



May 12, 2013 at 1:46AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Antonio Pantoja


August 12, 2013 at 1:41AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM