After the wild success of the Twilight series of books and first movie to hit the big screen, the small town of Forks, Washington, was plunged into the spotlight as a major tourist phenomenon. People just couldn’t get enough of the town that was the setting for the Twilight phenomenon. Now, anyone can get a glimpse behind the scenes at the city of Forks, thanks to a recently released documentary, “Twilight in Forks.” And when the filmmakers decided to build their mobile app they chose Mobile Roadie.
I recently had the privilege to speak with the film’s producer, York Baur, and the director, Jason Brown for the scoop on what how the app is working for them and where they plan on taking it going forward.
Why did you decide to build a mobile app?
York: It’s an interesting scenario for us. It was done as an independent film and then we did a licensing deal with Summit for distribution. Of course, there was, and continues to be, a huge slipstream effect around our movie as a part of the overall Twilight saga, which as you know is wildly popular. So, that’s very helpful but at the same time you can’t rely on that alone. You have to create your own buzz as the filmmakers. That’s really what led us to the decision to try an iPhone app alongside of the some of the other social media things we were doing as well as traditional PR. So it really was part of an overall viral promotional campaign that led us down the road. We’re happy to say that it has been one of the more successful aspects of that campaign.
It has been very successful. Can you share with us some of the success that you’ve had?
York: We’ve had 38,000 downloads at the moment. And that’s without any promotion around the app specifically. The MTV article is really the first formal promotion around it. The rest was us tweeting and facebooking about it and it was carried virally.
Why did you choose to go with Mobile Roadie versus other options when deciding to build an app?
Jason: The traditional path of a customized solution, in my view, has a couple of drawbacks. It takes a while and it’s usually expensive. On top of that, there’s typically a lot of revisions. So when we came across the Mobile Roadie platform, both from the phone interface side along with the back end content management side, it just seemed like it was tailored to do all of the things we were going to design into our own app, and a few that we thought would be nice but didn’t want to [spend] our time figuring that out. They had already did that for us. [It gave us] the level of customization for our title, on top of a pretty rich set of attributes that were friendly, easy to use and easy to update. We’re using the iPhone app almost [to distribute] deleted scenes or additional content that you would traditionally find on the DVD. We’re actually going to do all of that through the web and specifically through the iPhone.
York: I’m a data junkie. I have a background and a career in marketing, in particular online marketing. You can feel good about things but they are difficult to manage and correlate and to know where you should place your next investment of time and energy. So the back-end and the ability to see data in real time was a crucial element of our decision as well.
Are you seeing a lot of interaction with the fans using the app, are they engaged?
York: Yes, and that’s really exciting to see, quite frankly. Globally, what’s interesting about it too, if you look at the distribution of the app, it’s not just a U.S. app. Our film, of course, is not just a U.S. film. So the interactions are interesting to watch because they really span a wide range of demographics and geography. We were surprised at the level of interaction, not only on the posts on the fan wall, which has been fun to watch, but also specifically on things like the photos. You wouldn’t think that people would take the time to comment on a photo on a device like the iPhone, which is principally a content consumption, not a content creation device. It’s not the world’s easiest thing to type on. And yet a ton of people have commented, multiple times and multiple people have commented on each individual picture. That’s been great for us to see, not only because we’re hitting the mark, but it gives us real time feedback of what fans are drawn to. As filmmakers, that’s worth its weight in gold because it helps shape what you do next and how we go about it.
Jason: One of the things York’s talking about that is crucial to how we shape all of that content is the feedback. That’s one of the greatest things about the iPhone. You know people took the time to download the app, sign up to be on our list and comment on a photo. They’re engaged, right? So, when we put something out we get feedback right away and we can tell what they like. In essence, it gives us almost an instantaneous way, to have a little sandbox, to interact with the fans. You can do that on the web and on Facebook and on your own website, but they have to decide to keep going back. But the great thing about the iPhone and mobile applications in general is that they have it with them.
What are your favorite overall features of the app?
York: I would start on the user end of it first. Certainly the CMS and the data are great for us, but if you look at it from a fan point of view, there are a couple of things that are kick ass for the fans. Number one, the fact that it plays music at all, but particularly that it streams music when you open it. We’ve received a lot of very positive feedback about that and, of course, you can favorite a song based on that. The second thing, which you guys just added here recently, is the offline photo capability, because the photos have been a much bigger deal than we would have anticipated, given that we’re a video offering, not a photo offering. The offline photo thing is crucial, because waiting for that stuff can be like watching the grass grow. So, once you’ve gone through that once, the fact that you can now pull it up and show your buddy or look at something that’s special to you again in real time without having to hassle with that, that’s a huge aspect of it.
What are your plans going forward with the app? Do you guys make use the push notifications?
York: You know, that’s something we’re going to roll out here in the next week or so. So we haven’t even done that yet, and we still see this great adoption and participation.
Jason: Well sure, a couple of things. You asked earlier why we picked Mobile Roadie. It’s because we don’t want to write software, we want to give the fans what they want. Mobile Roadie did a great job of allowing us to do that. In fact, I put the whole thing together in one day, no training. I never even had to contact support.
York: I had the same experience. After Jason set the app up originally and worked through the approval process and so on, I went up there and added some additional stills. And again, no training, no muss, no fuss. And that is something we’ll continue to do. It’s very interesting to see the great petri dish for testing content. If you look, for example, in the photos, you’ll notice I didn’t group them in any order. Well, what’s really interesting, if you’ll look at the responses, is the number and enthusiasm. If you look at the last picture up there, you see that’s Bella’s truck, the real Bella’s truck, from Twilight. That got some of the largest number and most enthusiastic comments, even though it’s the last picture up there. So clearly people are drawn to certain things, and that gives us as content producers the ability to test what is the most germane to the fan base, and that’s worth its weight in gold.
What would you tell somebody if they are looking to do a mobile app? Is it worth it?
York: Totally. There are going to be 65 million smartphones sold in the U.S. alone this year. So if you’re not thinking about this as a way to get the word out about you and your content, your band, your film – whatever it might be – then you’re missing the boat. It’s certainly not the only mechanism, but it’s becoming a huge mechanism, so you have to pay attention to it. Then, to echo the points Jason made earlier, Mobile Roadie is easy, good and affordable. And that’s a pretty hard combination to find out there, particularly because, like us, I doubt people want to be in the business of writing software.
That wraps up our case study for this week. We certainly wish the Twilight in Forks app continued success and can’t wait to see where Jason and York take their app from here.