Monday, November 21, 2005
WORLD-CLASS FILM FESTIVAL WEBSITE FEATURES
Oddly enough, film festival websites sometimes make it difficult to determine the simplest things. It is all too often difficult to figure out even the name of the festival, the dates of the next festival, or how and when to submit films.
I just looked at a whole bunch of FF websites. Very few leverage the excitement of the films and movie stars they are hosting to create an entertaining and attractive website.
I decided to note some of the most important features of a FF website. It would not be "Quick" (as in the Q in QPORIT) to completely analyze the requirements for FF websites. As will be immediately apparent from sketching out the basic requirements, a detailed design would be a seriously long document.
So... the plan is to outline the specifications and just highlight some of the features that are most necessary, and those that are most often missing.
In an earlier post, I noted some features of a successful film festival. Like the film festival itself, a film festival website has many important purposes. First, it must serve the people who come to see films. Next it must serve the people who are supplying films. It has informational, promotional, and commercial functions.
Here are some of the things I think need to be part of a website for a film festival (FF).
As in the FF itself, there are several groups that all need to be served:
- The public audience
- The sponsors
- The film makers
- The press
- The film business
Additionally, there are several phases to a festival site.
- Film submissions
- Pre-festival preparation -- selling tickets; arranging press & publicity.
- Festival time (during which things are constantly evolving)
- After the festival
Note that this means the site must be dynamic. In fact, especially during festival time, the website should be extremely dynamic, reflecting the activities of the festival -- parties, premieres, celebrities, news coverage, schedule changes, introductory events, and final awards -- all of which could and should be covered by the website.
Moreover, there are two parts to the site, a public site, and a protected site for the film business, including film makers and the press.
And finally there are several aspects to a web site
- Provide information
- Promote the festival
- Make money
I believe that a film festival site should not only be useful, it should be attractive and interesting, and therefore a web destination on its own.
The first and most important feature of the web site before and during the festival must be a clear description of the films and special events; a timetable; and a method for buying tickets.
The films should be briefly described (with something better than the cryptic "haiku" that all to often passes for a description of the film).
There should be a link from each brief description to a web page/site for the film or event. This web site should contain a lot of information, including complete cast and credits, and also any related special events, such as a panel discussion about the film that is part of the FF. It should also contain a link to "private" information for the film business and press, concerning contact information, what rights are being offered or sought, people available for interviews, and similar items.
One place where many film festival websites could be vastly improved, I think, is that the website should be constantly updated before and during the festival with the latest news and information. There should be a BLOG on which the latest news is published, such as changes in screening times, the availability of cast and director for Q&A after a film and similar up-to-the-minute news. There should be constantly updated pictures and videos, both for the public and for press use. (Similarly, the private site should contain a BLOG with last minute information about press and business information.) Moreover, the film descriptions, and the festival news should be "entertaining", containing, for example, VLOGed interviews, a live video feed, and film previews in streaming video, to give the website a life of its own.
On the technical side, it would be very helpful if the structure is sufficiently well designed long enough in advance that much of the content can be dropped into a pre-formatted template. However, the entire site should not be templated, to allow for flexibility and interesting variation in design.
The e-commerce features of the site should allow for convenient ticket sales, and for the sale of T-shirts and other souvenir items. Ideally, the private site should have the facility to match up buyers and sellers, and match press with interview subjects, parties, and other story resources.
A FF site has many objectives. Yet this abundance of riches should not be an irritant to any user, who has only one objective: his (or her) own! The key to a good site is to make the navigation very easy, fast, and obvious -- to any information or service a user may wish. This requires both a simple logical design, and an easy-to-use visual design.
Here is a basic list of FF website features:
- Festival name
- A brief description of the festival
- Contact info
- Rules (and forms) for submitting films
- Info on how to get a job, or volunteer for the festival
- History of the festival
- Information about sponsoring
- Housing, food and transportation information
- Maps and venue information
- News; press releases
- List of films
- Description of films with links to film websites
- Schedule of films and other public events
- Schedule of private screenings and other private events
- Business information about film rights for sale
- Press information
- Ticket purchases
- Reservations for press / sponsors
- Souvenir purchases
- Information about sponsors
- Information about the community where the FF is being held
- Live video feed from the festival
- Entertaining (with images, audio and video) and informative sections based on previous festivals
Without naming names, a quick look at some festival websites (see our post for a sampler of FF sites) showed examples of the following errors in one or another of the various sites. :
- The name of the festival is ambiguous -- one name in one place; a slightly different name someplace else
- The home page is ugly; in fact it is also almost unreadable -- the background image obscures the text.
- The press section does not contain any information for unaccredited members of the press. (Is everything secret?)
- The date of the next festival is missing. Or there is a date with day and month but no year. (Is that the last festival or the next one?)
- Too slow for dial-up users; or not providing enough quality material for high-bandwidth users.
- The website design and navigation is weird.
- American festivals with a large international presence which do not have any foreign language versions of the site.
- A lack of up-to-date information (a web site which still has the last festival info up after the next festival has already begun).
Since film festival websites are blessed with the availability of an incredible bounty of great material, a passionate consumer audience, and a dedicated business audience, FF websites can and should be among the most exciting, entertaining, and useful destinations on the web.