After two years of production ‘The Underwater Realm,” one of the most impressive Kickstarter campaigns, is finally available for free online. Let’s not beat around the bush here, they’ve had a lot of hype for films (thanks to their excellent marketing campaign, great posters and terrific social networking) which are “just” for the internet, so there has been a lot of high expectations.
I was supposed to be at the theatrical premiere of the 5 short films last month but the unfortunate December I had meant I was in the wrong part of the world and had to miss it…it was part of my perk for my Kickstarter support actually! I somehow actually ended up donating $1000 to them! I had huge faith and belief in them, even though there was zero financial return for me – I truly wanted to see these get made. $1000 is a whopping lot of dosh and perhaps too much in retrospect for an investment with no actual return for me. But that is the problem with Kickstarter for non product backing. You are really donating, not investing. UWR, for short, did offer loads of great incentives for backers though, rather than the usual copy of the film, signed photos etc…their campaign should serve as a case study of how to successfully get people to support you in a very overcrowded crowed-funding time. I do get asked constantly to RT or back projects and it’s hard not to do it as I want to support everyone, but I am not made of money at all, I wish I could.
The films went online on YouTube at Christmas and today have finally (after much nagging from me!) gone onto Vimeo (there is a reason why and this is covered later).
I actually only saw them just after New Year. Initially on my small laptop (a mistake, don’t do this) and was, to be totally honest, a bit disappointed. It was only on second viewing at home on my 55″ TV that I was able to watch them properly, and this did make a massive difference. They still have their problems for me, mainly when it comes to coherence of the 5 shorts and their links to a whole, some of the acting didn’t work for me and the actual stories themselves didn’t feel complete…that is part of the problem…they are teasers for potential future features, but they are not clearly billed as such, so many will watch expecting a complete story and come away disappointed.
That is the biggest problem with things which are hyped. It sets expectations levels really high. It happens with Hollywood movies all the time. Sometimes the hype pays off. Very often it doesn’t. It’s always better in my opinion going into something knowing as little about it as possible. Of course for UWR, this was not possible due to their immense openness with the project from the very beginning.
Some I really enjoyed, some I didn’t as much as I wanted to, despite some amazing special effects and production. I wanted them all to be simply amazing, I am a backer and as associate producer via this, but more than that. If you’ve followed their journey, which they have been so open about, you want them to succeed beyond all measure. These are young filmmakers with enormous ambition, vision and confidence. They have to be, to attempt something like this! On top of that, Eve the DP has become a really good friend through this project. So of course I want the end result to be mind blowing.
I think a couple suffered due to the too-brief running time and for me, partly down to the problem that there is no dialogue from the Underwater people, which made it look like these were people holding their breath…not breathing down there. Don’t get me wrong. These are incredible pieces of work and I am in awe at the job they have done. I could not have done this or anything close to this. The cinematography by Eve Hazelton is brilliant. The production design was fabulous (we are looking at swimming pools most of the time!) and it was especially amazing that all the underwater stuff truly was underwater. Those actors can really hold their breath for a long time (an amazing thing despite my misgivings about the downside of just holding your breath). What these guys have achieved is utterly astonishing, let’s not forget that!
The Realm Team have been completely open throughout the whole process – talking about all of their challenges and problems through a weekly warts and all blog. I asked them if they would do this blog post with me and talk about the release, reaction, feelings and the future.
Bloom: Now they are finally out there, how do you feel?
DAVE: If you look hard enough, you will find people eager to teach the creative aspects of film – writing, lighting, shooting, cutting, visual effects – and there are a million inspirational messages to keep you going through all of your challenges along the way – but there is one really important area that I don’t think is talked about enough, the scariest part of the creative process by far: putting your work out there!
Bloom: How has it been hearing what people actually think of what essentially has been the last two years of your lives?
EVE: It comes with a load of excitement, and fear! What if people hate them, what if it was all for nothing?!
The first thing to remember with all of this is that it is never EVER for nothing. It doesn’t matter if everyone hates your work – nobody can take the experience and lessons away
RICH: it’s been really interesting watching the release, and seeing all the feedback come in. This is the first time I have put anything out there in a big way – it’s sort of terrifying! To have something this big, and to suddenly be totally at the mercy of the audience.
JEN: obviously Dave, Eve, Shaz, Jon – they have all been here before, they did their first big release when they were still kids. But for a lot of the crew it’s our first time!
Bloom: What sort of feedback have you been getting? I have read some and it’s very mixed. Some great some bad, many citing that it had so much potential but didn’t fulfil it. Youtube commentators are not ones for holding back…
EVE: The films have been getting some great feedback – some positive, some negative. The positive feedback is easy to deal with right? But the negative feedback can be tough – if you let it get to you.
JON: What has been most interesting about UWR feedback is the huge difference we have had between industry feedback and public feedback.IIndustry feedback has been enormously positive (Richard Taylor – head of WETA Workshops simply said “Ha, Incredible!”) whereas some comments, especially on YouTube have been less than favourable.
Bloom: Why do you think there is that division? Industry feedback is great but these are films and therefore are not made for the industry but for the audience so that feedback is as important if not more so…
ALAN: I think a large part of it is the format we chose, and the films we were imitating. We looked at a lot of short films that had become Internet hits and lead to feature deals – Alive in Joburg (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=le3y0QlLjJE), Panic Attack (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dadPWhEhVk) , Pixels (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ou8vRWTSsJo) , Mama (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRqS6pBC42w). We decided to push that idea forward, to introduce not only the world and the idea but characters, snippets of stories. I think the industry recognised this format – while ironically the feedback on YouTube has been that there isn’t enough story!
MARK: I think some people in the audience were so caught up in the blogs, the posters, the trailer – they forgot that we were making five teasers, not five features!
JEN: I think we got a bit carried away sometimes and over-marketed the films, made it seem like there was more than just 5 x four minute shorts…
Bloom: I think that is my biggest problem. Some of the teasers simply didn’t tease me quite as much as I like to be teased…you want to be left with more but I felt we were cut short before that moment on some and I screamed out…don’t end there, I want to be left gagging for more! I didn’t need 5 cliff-hangers but I wanted each one to end with more of a punch…Any particular comments that are really memorable?
SHAZ: My personal faves are: “Peter Jackson would have made 2 1/2 hours with this. Depressing.”
“With all that money you should have made a feature of this”
Of course, the Hobbit spent twice our budget just on Coffee [fact!] – but nevermind… there are seven billion people on the planet, don’t let one of them ruin your day!
Bloom: What about the really hard feedback – the stuff you know is a little bit true, as opposed to the completely irrational stuff? When you are so close to something it’s hard to hear things you might not agree with…it’s like being told you kid is stupid, ugly or that your mother was a hamster and you smell of elderberries!
DAVE: Personally, I love getting bad feedback – it keeps you grounded, it keeps you a little bit unhappy with your work. I think that’s a really heathy way to stay if you can handle it. I see some people finish their work all proud as punch, and then spend five years marketing it – never letting the idea enter their head that maybe they should just try again – try to be better.
I try to find a balance between being proud as hell of my achievements and being a little embarrassed about my work. It sounds grim, but the moment you stop wincing at your own work is the moment you stop seeing ways to improve.
Watch out for all the positive feedback – it’s easy to be convinced that you are already where you need to be. You aren’t. Never stop learning.
Bloom: Admirable stuff Dave. I can’t admit to be being anywhere as near as positive in the face of bad stuff. But then I have always been an oversensitive drama queen! So you guys are now out and proud… so what now?
EVE: The biggest thing we are up against now is getting the films out there. This is by no means the end of the story – these are just five teasers for the feature films we want to make! We need people to help us get them out there – help us tell the story to the world.
JON: We need to get the films to 1 million views, and soon. It’s just like our kickstarter all over again. Just because the films are finished doesn’t mean the job is done – there is still a long way to go to get these features made!
Bloom:That is a huge challenge Jon. Going viral is not easy and a million views is a fair amount. My biggest viewed video on youtube has had 29 million views, an accidental viral, but mostly because it has the words “naked’ and “women” in it…my other biggest video had had a few million but we set out to make just that a viral for Adidas and a fair amount of cash was sunk into it. Fiction films ironically tend to be hardest to go viral …so with that in mind do you have any advice to help people who are putting their own work out there into the big wide world for the first time?
DAVE: We all know the expression: “success is getting up one more time than you get knocked down” and never is it truer than in this industry. Except maybe professional wrestling. Better than a nice ‘quote for the day’ are these factual examples:
Walt Disney was fired from his job at a newspaper for having a ‘lack of imagination and no original ideas’.
J K Rowling’s Manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected by twelve separate publishers before it was finally accepted by Bloomsbury.
Oprah Winfrey was demoted from her job as a news anchor because her bosses thought she ‘wasn’t fit for television’.
At 30 Steve Jobs was forcibly ejected from Apple – the company he had spend years building from nothing.
1. If you aren’t getting bad feedback, maybe you aren’t rocking the boat hard enough. There is enough mediocre out there already – and guess what? It doesn’t get bad feedback. It’s just average.
2. If you went your entire career without bad feedback – where the hell are you going to learn the strength to dig in and fight when it really counts?
For Disney and the others above it isn’t just a setback to be avoided
– it’s a really important part of the character building process that made them who they were. Pursue this!
3. If your career goes to the top like you want it to you are going to have to go toe to toe with some hard, mean people that don’t like what you do. And they will certainly not always be wrong. You just have to learn to deal with it – take it on board, but dont take it to heart.
EVE: An don’t let some spotty kid on YouTube scare you off before you even get started!
Bloom: Very true Eve. Youtube can be one nasty mean place, mostly populated by those spotty teenagers in their mother’s basements which of course brings me onto this last question – you released the films on YouTube to start with – why on earth no Vimeo release?
JON: We love Vimeo – we have always put our blogs up there because the customisation options are terrific and it’s where our community hangs out.
We talked about putting the films on Vimeo – we certainly wouldn’t have had to deal with the negative comments – but there were two main benefits of YouTube:
1. YouTube supports 4k – the films were shot in 4K, they look much better – even on a 1080p monitor. It’s also a great marketing opportunity, because there isn’t much 4K up there.
2. YouTube is where the audience is. The most viewed videos on Vimeo are 20 million, 10 million, even 5 million by the time you get to the top 5. YouTube has just passed a BILLION!
If our last film Zomblies was ranked on Vimeo with its 5 million YouTube views it would be the 5th most viewed video on the site!
The market for these films is not just filmmakers – it’s people everywhere. It needs to be where those people are.
DAVE: If getting a higher quality video and a bigger audience means we have to risk some trolls and negative comments – that’s a no brainer.
That said – we have now uploaded them to Vimeo too, to expand into the audience of people who don’t like to use YouTube.
Bloom: Thank god…As much as I respect Youtube for what it has done, its lack of moderation and the difficulty in finding quality stuff drives me nuts! I love Vimeo, clean site, great community too…personally, I recommend either clicking on the watch later on the below embed, get yourself an Apple TV, or a lovely modern Samsung Internet TV like me with Vimeo built into it and watch them on that OR even simpler, simply download them, there is no 4K, download the “original version” which is 1080p and stick them through your media player on your TV. Any Vimeo member can download, even free ones (although there is a cap on how many free downloads are available a day) PRO and PLUS members don’t have this issue. Also get some good sound and crank it up! Please don’t watch these on your iphone, even if it’s 3 cms from your eye to emulate a 5 foot screen!!
Anyway thanks to the UWR team for taking the time to chat. Please check out their website for all the BTS you can want…Now sit back and enjoy the films. I am sure they will want your totally honest feedback, good and bad in the comments below. Remember there are no trolls on my site. Just lovely constructive people!