In the summer of last year, we took an exciting new project with an independent filmmaker named Amy Do. She needed a website and blog for her first feature-length film, Rabbit Fever — a documentary about…well, rabbits. She had a very distinct aesthetic she was looking for on the site, and the effort was truly a collaboration. It was a lot of fun to work on and the Rabbit Fever site is still one of our favorites. Having more than a passing interest in indie filmmaking, I caught up with Amy to learn a bit about what it’s like to be an independent filmmaker and the effects of social media on the industry in the first of what I hope to be an ongoing interview series with creatives in a variety of different mediums.
So, you had your debut screening recently in San Francisco, how’d that go? That’s home turf for you, isn’t it?
Yes – I was so honored that Bill Banning, one of the phantom programmers for the San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, invited Rabbit Fever to screen as a work-in-progress at the historic Roxie Theater, which is home to a lot of arthouse movie gems. At that stage, he had only seen a rough cut, so I’m glad that he felt it was strong enough to be featured in the festival. I was nervous about it of course, and felt like vomiting a couple of times, but being able to experience the film through the fresh eyes of an audience was really rewarding.
Has Rabbit Fever shown anywhere else yet? Where else is it heading?
Now that Rabbit Fever is finished, I am currently submitting it to film festivals for release in 2010. As far as where it will premiere, that’s TBD.
From what I’ve seen via the Twitter feed, Facebook page, and the blog, reception has been pretty positive. Have you gotten slammed yet or gotten any press that you weren’t expecting?
There was a plug on Alice Radio, a very popular radio station in San Francisco, that I’m probably going to regret mentioning after this. Hooman Khalili, who does a lot of movie reviews for the radio show, was nice enough to champion Rabbit Fever, but his co-hosts started judging it from the get-go, thinking that the film was going to be all about the deep underbelly of the rabbit show world and how rabbits are brutally killed. Luckily, Hooman helped clarify the film’s actual story, but by then it was already too late. Now, whether or not this discussion helped give Rabbit Fever more air time on the radio, and therefore more people in the seats, I’ll never know. They say that even bad press is good press, right? Regardless, I still felt a little bit shaken up about the whole ordeal, only because I’m so protective over the wonderful people that are the film.
Is the trailer done yet?
Tell me a little bit about why you chose rabbit breeding, and in particular, rabbit shows, as your subject matter. I understand you had rabbits when you were a kid…?
When I was younger, my parents never let me have a dog or a cat, and a rabbit just seemed like the next best furry, cuddly animal. That’s when I discovered that rabbits are just as smart and friendly to their owners as dogs are – as my pet rabbit, Thumper, would faithfully greet me by the door when I got home from school everyday. Sometimes all I would have to do is stand up, walk across the room, and then look at him and he’d come running to me. It was so sweet – I almost felt like Snow White with an animal pal accompanying me everywhere. Later, during college, I missed having a pet around, so I adopted a rabbit that I had to pick up at a rabbit show. It was my first time being exposed to that world, and I was amazed that it even existed. No other film or television program has ever covered the subject of rabbit shows before, so I thought it would make a great short documentary subject for my film class at USC. My instructor, Oscar-nominated documentary director Chuck Braverman, loved the piece so much that he encouraged me to make a feature-length version of it. Flash forward 8 years later, and I finally got around to making that happen.
Film is one of those things my dad always said would be great if you could manage to get in, but don’t get your hopes up. And I studied film and theatre in high school and college, so it’s something I’ve always been attracted to. What led you to want to pursue filmmaking as a real career?
My dad made me shoot all of our family home videos when I was a kid, so I got to know the camera pretty well and it pretty much replaced any toys a normal kid my age would have. I had this thing about recreating cheesy commercials and music videos in my spare time, and back then, since we didn’t have a NLE editing system like Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro, I had to edit my footage in-camera or tape-to-tape using VHS. It looked horrible, but I think the experience I gained from doing it the hard way made me a better filmmaker. Anyway, by the time I was 18, the camera and film industry had grown to become an extension of me. So, much to my parents’ chagrin, I went and applied to film school and surprised them with my college acceptance letter to USC. It’s funny, because it’s still a tough industry to really break into, and 11 years later, I still feel like I’m disappointing them by pursuing it as a career. Nevertheless, they’ve been really supportive of my happiness, and that’s really what matters most to them.
What’s up with the rabbit ears thing? How did that come up?
Rabbit ears are so much fun! I’m really big into costumes and I’m always dreaming of the day when I could fill a room with a bunch of people in white rabbit suits. Just the visual image of it would be really crazy. For the San Francisco screening, I wanted it to be festive, but I didn’t want to deal with the financial logistics of renting or purchasing a bunch of rabbit mascot costumes and plus, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find all of the bodies to fill them. My sister and I were brainstorming one day and we thought rabbit ears would be cute, but what were people going to do with them? They can’t wear them during the movie! But then, I thought, wouldn’t that be a great photo op? So, now for every screening, we’re going to give every audience member a pair of rabbit ears to wear for a full theater portrait. I think it would be neat to have an album full of rabbit ear portraits one day.
Do you feel that using social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook as well as your blog to communicate directly with your audience has had a significant effect on getting the word out and promoting your film?
The website/blog is probably the #1 marketing tool for the film, as it’s the hubsite for everything and the first place anybody will go if they want to learn more about Rabbit Fever. The look and feel of the website also plays a huge role, as it helps with the branding of the film and is a reflection of the movie’s tone and subject matter.
I am on Twitter (@RabbitFever), but honestly, the best success I’ve had so far is with Facebook. The response is outstanding and people are always reading their friends’ newsfeeds, so when they see that their friend has become a fan of Rabbit Fever, they’ll likely be curious and follow suit – especially since like-minded friends share the same interests. Plus, when we post a video on the Fan page, it’s easy for them to share it on their page and their personal newsfeeds as well, which really adds traffic to our YouTube links.
Yeah, your Facebook page in particular seems to be doing really well…have you done anything (aside from the badge on the site) to push that or did that sort of just happen on its own?
The amount of fans on the Rabbit Fever’s Facebook page actually snowballed on its own, whereas I’ve had to encourage people to follow @RabbitFever on Twitter. I also think that having the Facebook fan widget on the website really encourages people to become fans, especially when they see the photos of other people who have joined. There’s something about seeing a human face that really helps a person feel more inclined to connect to things more openly online. Plus, the hand drawn image “Become a Fan on Facebook” that Arcane Palette created for the website really stands out because it’s not only strategically placed on top of the website, but it also manages to meld well with the rest of the site’s rugged design. So, who knows…maybe if I gave Twitter more of a visual presence on the website, the film would have the same success in that realm.
About the most exciting and current thing I know about indie filmmaking is the Red camera…what kinds of tools (software, equipment, etc) did you use in making the movie?
Since I started the film 8 years ago, I finished the film in standard definition video, which is unfortunate with the advent of HD. Nevertheless, new technology has allowed me to upscale the footage to HD, and it holds up really nicely on the big screen. So, hooray for new technology! The film was shot on the Canon GL1/XL1 cameras and edited using Avid.
Chris Reynolds is one half of Arcane Palette and writes the majority of the blog posts on this site. He also has a personal blog, jazzsequence, where he shares links, videos, thoughts about music, technology and gaming, and posts various personal music and writing projects.