Almost every film that is released these days has its own website. Filmmak-ers, distributors, and studios have all learned the promotional value of the web when it comes to getting their films out into the world. One can go to a film’s site and view trailers, read the credits, the reviews, and experience the “hype.” But independent films are not Harry Potter 1, 2, or 3. Too much hype-oriented promotion and advertising can actually dilute from what makes independent film independent. But the right website can take a film to the next level, giving the audience a hint of what the experience of the film will be without inundating them with advertising.
The website for Capturing the Friedmans is a good example of a site that is less advertising and more an extension of the film itself. Director Andrew Jarecki points out that for this site “The idea was not to make it like a website to sell the film. There was to be no, or at least very little, reference to normal things like the credits on the film or where it was playing or anything promotional. Rather, it was to be its own little piece of art, something to extend the viewer’s understanding and sense of the Friedman family.” The approach to the site is simple. Since the film is about a family over the course of many years, the site is designed to resemble a photo album. But in this photo album there is audio, and the pictures change and shift to reflect different aspects of the story. “For example, you see a perfect picture of Arnold Friedman, the ideal dad, but after a few seconds it shifts suddenly to a mug shot of Arnold. Sort of chilling, and it made the point that (a) not all was as it seemed in the family (and by extension in the family album), and (b) how quickly everything in our lives can change, and how one shifting image—a perfect dad instantly morphing into a convict before our eyes—tells the story.”
Eugene Hernandez, editor-in-chief of indieWIRE, says, “I sometimes feel that promotional film websites are too focused on bells and whistles. As much as I love the internet, I quickly get very annoyed by sites that try to do too much.” He continues, “The worst thing that a site can do is feel too much like an extended TV commercial. Why do sites have to be promotional? Why can’t they be an extension of a film and offer a deeper insight on the movie itself?” Jarecki concurs, “If it feels promotional—like it is just advertising dressed up as a website—it’s worse than not having a site at all. The idea is to make the site function in a way like a piece of a DVD for the film, giving you more material that couldn’t fit into the film while still not giving away so much of the plot that it becomes like those trailers where, at the end, you feel like you’ve seen the whole movie in three minutes. So, the site should maintain the suspense and mystery of the film while taking the audience to new places.”
Boogie Milivojevic, the site’s designer, points out that a film website can be much more than just advertising. “When you’re making a film site, you generally have much more creative freedom, at least that’s the way it should be. Films themselves are works of art, so building the website should be a continuation of the filmmaker’s craft. Andrew came up with the whole album concept, which I think is great because it allowed me to bring the whole site to the level of an interactive trailer.” Jarecki explains, “Once I described the photo album idea, Boogie tapped right into it and had a million ideas immediately. Then we shared with him the many photos and other material from the film, and he started working. One of the great things about Boogie is how fast he is, and that is important because it enables you to work from prototypes he builds, and to adjust the concept and make improvements as you go.”
The most important aspect of the Capturing the Friedmans site, for Jarecki, is its ability to get the audience talking. “Now that the film is out, the one page called ‘The Film’ is getting tons of response,” he says. “It lets people write comments and read those from others, and it lets them put in their e-mail addresses “to receive some Answers to Most Frequently Asked Questions and to find out what Jesse is doing now. That is very popular now, and thousands of people are asking for more information. The movie leaves a lot of things unanswered, and people are hungry for more information.” This opportunity for audience members to interact in a meaningful way with the subjects has added a tremendous amount to the experience of seeing the film. Hernandez stresses, “Sites that offer the makers of a movie the opportunity to interact with website visitors are best, in my opinion. I wish more filmmakers who create sites to promote their indie work would find ways to develop an audience for their film, rather than feel like they have to create sites that rival the ones that are made by the Hollywood studios.”
To view the website, log on to www.capturingthefriedmans.com