I’ve just come back from an intriguing experiment, having watched an unfinished version of David Mackenzie’s Hallam Foe, in the company of a small and relatively random bunch of bloggers. Everybody knew someone else there, and we all knew Hugh, who, in all probability, pretty much constructed the experiment and convinced David to do it. If you’re interested, you can find out more at the Hallam Foe Blog.
Before I describe the experiment and share my thoughts on it, I think I should provide some context. So here goes.
In that still-only-partially-discovered space where the blogosphere meets “marketing”, the jury is still out. There are many people who believe that the web must remain pure and unsullied by anything as unseemly as “marketing”, who therefore object to anyone and anything that seeks to bring the two together. Successes like Sandi Thom and Arctic Monkeys and Diane Setterfield draw groans from many, claiming that the system is being gamed. Events like Lonelygirl15 only served to fan their flames. On the flipside, phenomena like Snakes On a Plane and The Sony Bravia Ad help douse some of those flames, even if Jose Gonzalez probably built a career via the bouncing balls. [An aside. Unless I went to Wikipedia I’d never have guessed that Jose Gonzalez was Swedish, just goes to show…]
If markets are conversations between people in a trust relationship, then, as has been debated for a while, “marketing” in a web world is now all about recommendations. Preferably unsolicited, independent, no-axe-to-grind, “trusted” recommendations.
And it is in this context that I believe that the web can’t be gamed. You can game your Google PageRank, you can game your Technorati ranking, but that is all you’re gaming. The ranking. Not the market. Not the audience. Gaming the ranking is a bit like cheating at Solitaire….you’re only kidding yourself.
Now to the experiment.
So it was with all this in mind that I went to the raw screening of Hallam Foe.Â A belief that there is a space for recommendation-based marketing on the web, and a willingness to be open about any experiments in that context.
There was something very blog-like about the experience. David and Hugh were in their own way pretty nervous; they had (and probably still have) no real idea how the 30 of us present would react. When you hand a brand over to the Man On The Clapham Omnibus you make yourself vulnerable. When you share something provisional and unfinished and creative in such a way, you make yourself very vulnerable.
This air of provisionality and vulnerability was tangible as we began to watch. Soon I felt at ease, transported to the stark yet haunting ambiance of Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities. Tortured youth, conflicted adolescence, a coming of age and a riveting close. And closure. Any more and I might as well tell you The Butler Did It, so I won’t. See it for yourself.
It’s a tough film with raw and punchy dialogue set in stark surroundings, dealing with uncomfortable subjects taken to extremes. Over dinner, James Governor said something which probably summed the film up for me, describing it as a series of unexpected punches to the thin membrane between “private” and “public”.
So there it is. A raw film, vulnerably exposed in a provisional state to untutored bloggers, part of an experiment in where-blogs-meet-marketing-through-recommendation. A film that dances between public and private in stark and unexpected ways. A film with some very strong performances, some brilliant performances, and a thoroughly satisfying ending.
David, Hugh, it was a brave thing to do. Sharing something creative in an incomplete state is not easy. But I don’t think you need to be nervous. I know nothing about being a film critic, wouldn’t even know where to begin.
But I know what I like. And I liked it. Thank you.