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The NYU Cinema Research Institute brings together innovators in film and media finance, production, marketing, and distribution to imagine and realize a new future for artist-entrepreneurs. 

Online Vs. Offline Organizing


Online Vs. Offline Organizing

Michael Gottwald, Carl Kriss & Josh Penn


What is the difference between Online vs. Offline Organizing? Online organizing uses the web to motivate people to get involved in a campaign, whether it is through email blasts, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or an interactive website with a blog that features. These serve as tools to focus on a certain action item, or to make a certain “ask” of the supporters. In contrast, offline organizing focuses on motivating people to get involved through human interactions that take place outside of the web, i.e. one-on-one meetings, canvassing, phone calls etc. From our background working on the Obama campaign, we saw firsthand how both offline and online organizing methods worked best when they complemented each other. Filmmakers and producers however rarely consider offline organizing tools when talking about grassroots film distribution. In the article “Independent Film Distribution IQ,” Angelo Bell discusses the importance of developing a niche audience; however he focuses mainly on using online, instead of offline organizing tools. Angelo advises independent filmmakers to “develop and cultivate our fans and audience relationships through rich teaser content on mediums such as YouTube and Facebook.” Although online teasers may be helpful for promoting a film, their impact could increase exponentially if used properly through relationships fostered in person (See our previous post in which we mention the misguided tendency to use the term “grassroots” as a euphemism for merely any action taken through Facebook or Twitter – mediums that are par for the course for any distributed product these days).

In contrast to Bell, Bajir Cannon’s dissertation “The United States of Unscreened Cinema,” suggests that filmmakers using offline organizing tools are able to significantly increase their online audience. One of the filmmakers Cannon interviewed was Tom Quinn who made a film that is set during the Mummers’ Day Parade in Philadelphia. Quinn recalls that to distribute his film he “went around to a good chunk of the Mummers clubs, and talked one-on-one with them about how we were going to donate part of the proceeds back to the parade, and the Mummers organization got behind the film doing press as well, which was huge. I think our Facebook fans went from 200 people to 2,300 people in one week.” The irony here is interesting: offline organizing led to a rise in online metrics. But we can see this as a success because we know that that increase in “likes” (a metric that by itself one should be wary of) reflects a community that was actively engaged in a deeper way. They felt the personal touch of the campaign, and “liking” the film on Facebook is just one reflection of that.

Similarly, the Obama campaign deployed thousands of field organizers to meet one-on-one with local supporters to connect their interests in the community towards promoting the message of the campaign. The personal contact of one-on-one meetings helped give a face to the Obama campaign, motivating people to sign up online and get involved further. The new media director of the Obama campaign, Joe Rospars, explains “The relationship that Obama built with individual supporters and between them was the unique part. Our tools were sort of the glue for the relationships, but if you’re not running a campaign where people understand that those relationships are central to winning, they don’t care about tools on your website.” Joe is not suggesting online organizing is not effective, but instead highlighting how offline organizing plays a critical role in making the online components of the campaign more relevant to the public and personal. Although the offline organizing techniques for film will obviously differ greatly from the standard canvassing and calling done by political campaigns, filmmakers like Quinn are proving that the combination of offline and online organizing methods are very effective for distributing film. The leads us to ask, what specific combination of offline and online organizing techniques are most effective for distributing film?

-Josh, Michael, and Carl