Zeke Zelker is a pioneer of transmedia, which is storytelling through multiple platforms. Today, he shares his experiences with No Film School.
Zeke wrote this op-ed for us to share his new work in transmedia and tell us about how he's bridged the gap between business, art, and culture.
How can art, commerce, and filmmaking coincide?
Art is hard; it’s a challenge to make, get an audience for, and earn a living at. I’ve thought long and hard about this and began developing a four-stage process for creation that I feel is the best way for creatives to achieve success. This process can be applied to ANY creative endeavor. I’m currently testing my process with my latest project, Billboard, which is a multi-platform transmedia project that I call a cine•experience that includes a virtual radio station (wtyt960.com), a web series (The Billboard Sitters), a feature film (Billboard), and live events.
Years of R&D has proven my hypotheses and at times I’ve refined my approach, learning from challenges and setbacks. I strongly believe that every creative endeavor needs to take a “make and break it” approach. Refining the piece of work, sharing it with an unbiased audience, then reworking it until it’s ready to share with the masses. I’ve broken a lot of things, and spent a lot of money in the process, in hopes that you won’t need to.
Phase I: Ignite
Launch + Aggregate Capital
Every creative person needs the necessary tools to position themselves for success. Being creative isn’t enough. For those who have struggled making money in their artistic pursuits and for those who want to take their creativity from a hobby to making it a living, I suggest you take the time to ignite your project.
What do I mean? Take the time to fully explore your creative endeavor, explore it from the outside in. Look at it from your audience’s point of view. To ignite your project, you need two things; the resources to create and an audience to share it with. It’s important that you begin building an audience early and take them along for your ride.
I suggest creating a web site using WordPress. There are tons of themes you can alter to make your own, spend the time to do so. This will be the place you direct everyone to. It’s also important to create a pixel on your site so you can market to your audience. On your site, I encourage you have a sign-up page for your blog, a weekly/monthly/quarterly update on your creation. By creating a sign-up page you can create direct marketing email blasts to your audience. This is your informer to the world tool. Detail your project, include your bio, a vision page, store, etc. This site should transform as your project takes life and also gives your credibility. I also suggest creating social media pages for your project as well and link everything together.
Think about it in all four phases of your project and how your site will evolve with them. I will touch upon this in each of the phases. Our site for Billboard, wtyt960.com has changed over the course of time, which we created to feel and look like an indie alternative rock radio station on a budget. This is site is an important story element for the project and made the project feel so much more real, authentic.
Creating a site for your project also starts you thinking about a lot of other things. How am I going to fund this? How am I going to make money? What do I need to make this happen? Take a long hard look at yourself, pull up your boots, walk the walk, talk the talk. Make IT HAPPEN!
Take an inventory of all of the things that you have at your disposal then plan around that. Who do you know who owns a helicopter for those vast aerial city shots that a drone just can’t do? What church can you cook the meals for your production out of? Which artist in town may have excess materials that they don’t need? Take a drive on garbage night for props. There are many resources available to you, you just have to look at the world a little differently. Let people know you’re in need.
I don’t want to get too deep into funding a project. I’m going to be hitting on this on my blog sooner than later. Crowd-funding platforms are great to build a nest egg for your creation and an audience to share it with. Is your project something that might need outside financing? Does your project appeal to brands? If so which ones and how? Bring them on early so they can maximize their exposure. Brands are always looking for new and exciting ways to get their products in the hands of people. After you’ve brain stormed ideas to include them, create a one pager outlining the opportunity and how they will benefit. Then approach them. Partnering with brands can bring a lot more exposure to your project. I have brought in over $140,000 to Billboard through sponsorship and another $20k in in-kind product placement.
You may be able to accept donations and take advantage of non-profit rates by getting a fiscal sponsor such as Fractured Atlas. It’s a hell of a lot easier asking your parents for money if they can deduct it from their taxes.
Creating off of cash flow. Think of things you can sell early in the process. T-shirts, prints, USB drives, DVDs, digital downloads, copies of your script and make sure you have an e-commerce page on your web site. People will buy things if they know they’re supporting a real artist. This cash flow makes your project become a business.
Conjure ways how people can co-create with you. Enabling people to feel that they are a part of something converts your audience into fans. I have had people create contestant submission videos and bands submit music to become a part of our radio station’s playlist. We selected music from the site to be in the soundtrack for Billboard. Making people a part of something also makes them more willing to share it.
The big thing in this first phase it to take the time to set things up properly, figure where you may need help and seek it out. We all need to take the time to think and plan before we begin creating. Too many of us jump in and then later realize there are many unforeseen challenges that will disrupt creative flow. My biggest challenge is not having enough resources to carry out my vision to its fullest potential. This is a flaw that I’m beginning to work on. This means I’m going to need to ask for help. I’m trying to get over the idea that asking for help is showing weakness, not thinking about the joy it may bring to others to become a part of what I’m creating.
Phase II: Insight
Letting People in & Sharing
Create and offer serialized content of how you create. Everyone creates differently. Right now, I’m pecking at my keyboard listening to Sting, with a fan blowing on my face and black coffee just within reach. Share the process (this is something I need to work on more), this is how social media influencers have become influential.
I would suggest taking this concept one step further by creating short form content that you can share. This may be a story tangent, prototypes of your creation, the drum track of your new song, behind the scenes footage, a web series, or episodic short documentaries, it can be as simple as a photo. Be sure to think of 50 key words that describe your content and use them as hashtags on social media, 30 at a time.
People want more. This also allows you to keep your audience engaged and exposes you to more potential fans. Host these on YouTube or Vimeo and imbed them into your own site. I suggest uploading your content to as many sites as possible. Don’t use an aggregator. API algorithms like original content.
You can use your web site as a catch all for all of this content, embed this content from the different sites that are hosting your content.
Be sure to be sending out monthly emails updating your fan base on your happenings. Post short blogs on sites such as medium on how you create and share it.
Whenever possible, create co-creation opportunities with your audience. This could be something like... "Hey I need a poster for my band's next gig. Please create a poster and the poster with the most votes will be on our guest list all year long." This engages your audiences deeper. They're taking ownership in your work and sharing it with their sphere of influence, building your audience
These things are a challenge for me to do as I’m creating. I take on far too many tasks that it only leaves time to spend with my family and not much more than that. If this is the case for you as well have someone help you with this. It’s very important that you begin marketing as you’re creating. Who knows, maybe people will start pre-buying your creation before it’s complete.
I’ve found this valuable because it also offers insight into what I’m creating and opens myself up for criticism, giving me time to adjust and make my creation better. I did this through the creation of a web series that we’ve been releasing across social media as well as constantly posting to social media.
Phase III: Illuminate
The Main Event
Entertaining audiences is generally the creator’s main goal. The featured event enables the creator to reach out to their established audience base, promote their project, marketing to a wider audience, and distribute the work through a myriad of channels.
Leading up the release of your work, the focus should be positioning your project in the market place, through a combination of PR, promotional partners, marketing and advertising. Your project will benefit from the enormous amount of user data collected in every phase leading up to this. This data will enable you to fine tune your marketing and promotional efforts. Your web site should change from a how I’m doing this to a marketing and sales site.
Remember the Ignite phase where I mentioned the fiscal sponsorship, brand involvement and co-creation? Fiscal sponsorship will allow you to save on paid advertising and venue booking fees. Your brand sponsor will help in the promotion of your project to their customers and loyalists. It’s important to foster these relationships. You can engage co-creators to help design the marketing campaign and determine which collateral pieces resonate better with audiences. Keeping the audience engaged in every phase of the project will not only grow your audience base but ensure success.
Getting your project seen, showcasing your work is paramount for long term success. Invite critics, writers, tastemakers, celebrity to your events. Promote, promote, promote. Please don’t do the same thing over and over again, change it up, keep it fresh. I strongly suggest sharing your work over the course of time and to different audiences. What will play well in Pittsburgh may not in New York. Do your homework on audience tastes and hone your marketing to those tastes. Be sure to collect data from those in attendance. By collecting these details you can send follow up thank you’s and keep them abreast of new events/creations. Oh and have items/merchandise for sale which will improve your bottom line. Illuminate others with creation.
Phase IV: Inspire
Pay it Forward
I, like many of my peers, don’t look back after creating and unleashing my latest creative endeavor. After years of doing so, I have come to realize that I am missing a huge opportunity which brings me to my fourth and final phase for my creative success, inspire.
In this final phase it’s important to remember to thank and reward the people who have supported your creation. By rewarding your audience (especially early supporters/adopters of the project) creates true fans, who will support your next creation. One of the things we’re doing as at select screenings of Billboard is handing out free stuff based on the content of the picture.
When was the last time you wrote a thank you card? An actual hand-written note. I’m trying to do more of it and am always tickled when I get one. This creates an amazing amount of good will.
Where's it all lead?
Another thing you can do to show appreciation is to offer assistance on someone else’s project. This speaks volumes on your love for your craft and also opens the door of other possibilities. Offer to speak at colleges, rotary club meetings, over 55 communities, anything. Be sincere, be authentic, inspire.
Game play based on all of the work that you’ve produced encourages people to view/review all of the elements of your project. Game Play stimulates word of mouth, increasing the audience base. Once people realize that they can win something of value in return for just viewing/purchasing/attending your work, will encourage more viewer-ship, participation and income. This can be a scavenger hunt where you provide clues via twitter. It can be a mobile app or something creative on your web site. There's a cool Philadelphia company, Milk Crate who builds apps for this purpose.
I feel giving back is as important as the creation its self.
Please reach out to me for a deeper dive into this. I’ll share what I've learned.