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BloodSpell Development Updates

BloodSpell and Hollywood

BloodSpell Development Updates

BloodSpell and Hollywood

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So, I've been saying for a while now that I'm going to write an editorial about our promotion strategy for BloodSpell. Here it is. Advanced warning: I'm going to swear.

It's interesting that Hollywoodiness has been by far the most controversial aspect of BloodSpell, more so than the music, the engine, or the self-harm aspects of the film. We've been told that BloodSpell gives people a "Hollywood feeling", I've been told that I'm being "selfish and damaging" for comparing BloodSpell and Hollywood productions, even if it's in the context of a more indie competitor. And I've seen people complaining that another film (Potentior by Nicholas Werner) "emulates the Hollywood epic style",

So... BloodSpell gives you a "Hollywood feeling"? Great. It should. It was written following the precepts of Robert McKee (the master of story in Hollywood right now) and the writing techniques of Joss Whedon (firmly Hollywood, no matter how brilliant he is). It was explicitly concieved as an epic, Hollywood-style action movie (you'll see that phrase crop up right from the start of this blog), as a result of my mantra for years that Machinima allows indie producers to create films with a plotline previously only accessible to the big studios.

(I don't understand the prejudice - and it is a prejudice, often held by the same people who are queuing up at the multiplex - against Hollywood movies. Sure, many of them are shite. Have you watched the average European indie film lately? They've got a reputation for quality because we only see the very cream of the crop - the rest of them, frankly, range from average to suck. Hollywood at least manages to hit "watchable" most of the time - and at its best, the system produces films that just couldn't have been made anywhere else. )

Machinima allows you - allows me - to create epic sets, to create casts of thousands, and to film the lot in your bedroom. Which means you get to miss out on all the exciting backstabbing and politics, the tiny, tiny chances of even modest success, the process of endless committees and producer meetings which my friend Alasdair Watson once memorably described as "taking your creation into a room and then fucking it with razorblades", and still make a Hollywood-esque movie.

So are we competing with Hollywood? Fucking right we are. I'm not interested in being seen as a "nice little Internet short". I'm not interested in being "user-made content". It's not what we're doing here. We're not their "users", we're their competition.

But surely I can't mean that I'm competing with Hollywood? I mean, they've got top stars, amazing visuals, special effects, genius cinematographers. BloodSpell's just a little game-engine project, with blocky characters and dodgy lipsynching.


No, BloodSpell doesn't look as good as "Cars"*. In fact, it doesn't look as good as "The Return". (Ezra and Terran are officially Overly-Talented Bastards in my book). But the Blair Witch Project didn't look great, either. Nor did Clerks. Looks aren't the only way to compete.

My feeling is that Machinima and Machinimators have gotten scared. We've been burned by Ottowa, we've been burned articles in popular media. We've all shown what we consider great Machinima to someone whose opinion we care about, only to be told "I don't get it".

And so we've aimed our sights lower. I've seen advice on the Machinima.com forums recently saying one of the most important things in making a Machinima movie is to make it "short and sweet". I've seen people attack Machinima films purely for being too ambitious.

And we've set our critical faculties to kill. I've heard people saying that we need yet more criticism of Machinima (when the most vibrant and active Machinima community, Sims99, is also by far the nicest and most welcoming). I've heard prominent members of the Machinima community express the feeling that it would be good to exclude "some of the dross".

Right now, we've got a huge opportunity to do - well, whatever we want. More people than ever before are watching Machinima and watching films that are part of a dialogue, not a monolithic corporation's broadcast. That are full of ideas, perhaps even new or dangerous ideas, that haven't been carefully filtered by 50 lawyers and a room full of "producers" worried about how the movie'll play in the Midwest.

Sure, we're not in Empire yet, and I don't think Nicole Kidman or Johnny Depp will be queuing up to star in BloodSpell 2. But BloodSpell is winning viewers, thousands of them. And every single person who chooses to watch BloodSpell rather than whatever's on TV right now - that's a win. That's someone who has conciously decided that BloodSpell is a better watch than Friends rerun #24 or a dodgy late-night SF series starring that character actor whose name you can never remember - or, indeed, something as good as The West Wing or Buffy.

There's only one problem - in order for people to decide they like BloodSpell, or "The Return", or "An Unfair War", they have to find out about it. And that's where Hollywood still has a huge advantage.

So that's why we're putting ourselves out there so much, why we're using every tool available to us to make ourselves visible over the ambient noise of the mainstream media**. Because we want as many people as possible to see BloodSpell, so that the ones who would like it will find out they like it. And if we have to portray ourselves as being rivals to Pixar - why not? It's the truth.

If you're publishing video drama, in any fashion, you're competing with Steven Spielberg, you're competing with Pixar, and you're competing with Fox, whether you like it or not. The only choice you get to make is if you throw in the towel and claim you can't possibly win, or if you decide to make a fight out of it.

We've decided to make a fight of it. I hope more Machinima producers will do the same.

*I'd prefer to say we were competing with Peter Jackson, but there's the whole "animation" hurdle to get over. Evidence suggests people have real trouble comparing animation to non-animation, so Pixar it is.

**Oh, and on the "BloodSpell is big" front: BloodSpell has taken over 10,000 man-hours to make so far. Acts 1 to 3 contain 1,159 seperate shots. I've done a quick estimate and we've got over 90 speaking roles, and an estimated runtime of 115 minutes or more. If you know of a Machinima film bigger, send me stats, and we'll talk. Otherwise, the "biggest Machinima film ever" tag is here to stay.
  • (Anonymous)
    It's hard to say things about this without sounding negative about Bloodspell - I just wanted to clarify that. I enjoy the series and appreciate the work. Episode 6's last scene had me laughing my balls off, and that doesn't happen all too often with machinima. :P

    But again, the point is about the marketing. I won't go too long again since I think you guys get the point by now - all of those successes like RvB, Blair Witch, South Park, Clerks, any small, independent productions or "cult hits" like that became big and successful not by press releases and self proclaimations, but by curious audiences and word of mouth.

    Their story is a tale of rags to riches. Zero to hero. But you guys seem to bet on success with numbers and statistics. Another thing about those films' success is not just the content. It's culture. They are made at the right time and right place, etc. and you just cannot plan for that, and that is the risk we take with art and the gamble for success.

    "Biggest machinima ever" can be a wow factor when you mention it ONCE. The law of diminishing returns rules us all. And remember that Waterworld was one of the biggest budget films in Hollywood history. And we all know what happened there.

    Maybe it's just the wording that throws me off. It just gives out the wrong vibe, if you know what I mean. Why not try "ONE OF the biggest machinimas ever attempted?" or something to that effect? You're still getting the point across and you're no longer self claiming a #1 position, but rather, representing a part of a whole.
  • (Anonymous)
    Jeez... I forgot my name AGAIN. =/

    - Executor VI
  • (Anonymous)
    "Huh? Easier to avoid it all in the first place and focus on the Bloodspell attitude and Strange Company brand itself."

    What he said. Two words:

    Punk edge.
    • Another two words:

      Good point.

      Although, I must confess, how to market in a punk way is a bit of a mystery to me. I shall have to buy some books on the history of punk, and start reading.
  • Very interesting stuff - and thanks for the compliments.

    I'm going to say you're wrong, then I'm going to say you're right, then I'm going to say I'll think about stuff.

    Blair Witch, South Park, Clerks... became big and successful not by press releases and self proclaimations, but by curious audiences and word of mouth.

    Now, this is an interesting point, because arguably the most famous thing about the Blair Witch Project was its brilliant, unconventional marketing campaign - the campaign that ensured the whole world was talking about it.

    It's the campaign that brought the term "viral marketing" into the public eye - from their (completely untrue) claim that the film was "real", to the wonderfully crafted website (it was one of the first films to use the Web effectively). Any time there's a discussion on film marketing going on at a festival, "Blair Witch" is likely to pop up as a brilliant, quite, quite concious and extensive marketing campaign that really worked.

    I don't know as much about how Clerks or South Park were marketed, but I know I've seen plenty of South Park marketing material out there.

    All these films were marketed in a different way to the conventional Hollywood movie, to give the impression that they were spreading by word of mouth, but marketed they certainly were - and the Blair Witch's case, it's quite likely it wouldn't have succeeded as a film without the campaign.

    Also - all the examples you quote except for Blair Witch are comedy, not drama.

    Comedy works in a very different way to drama in terms of spread, grab and marketing strategy, particularly on the Internet - it goes viral much more easily, it's much more suited to quick-flick viewing. It grabs faster. I can easily hook someone in with 45 seconds of Red vs Blue - imagine trying to do that with 45 seconds of Brokeback Mountain, say.

    (Incidentally, ever wondered why most of the successful Machinima is comedy? The marketing problem's part of it.)

    Hence, we can't copy Red vs Blue's marketing strategy. We need to use different tactics.


    "Biggest machinima ever" can be a wow factor when you mention it ONCE. The law of diminishing returns rules us all.

    That's a very good point, and one I'm going to think about. There's no point continuing to beat on the same drum - and this echoes what HatHead was saying.

    And there's the whole punk thing. Our current strategy is fun, and obvious, but it's not very punk. It's not very indie. That's a problem, because it means we're peddling mixed messages - and nothing turns press off faster.

    Expect to see some new directions from us soon in the marketing department. I'll warn you now, you may well not like the new directions either, but at least they'll be new!
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