Yesterday the Wall Street Journal Online published an article by Michael Totty entitled "How to Be a Star in a YouTube World". This feature covers the basics of what it takes to create a successful video blog or podcast, but I found many crossover elements to making movies. Several of the points they make could be considered universal to entertainment, however the internet angle is really the focus here.
The main points are these:
Many of the most popular podcasters and video bloggers take a lesson from traditional media and offer new content with a disciplined regularity. This is more in reference to video blogging and podcasting, but I can see how it could apply to any body of work. Make good stuff and release it regularly, and you will have a following. Wait too long between projects, and your audience will evaporate. Good advice for any kind of blogger as well.
Get in Early.
Since it's harder to break in now, aspiring stars must do more to stand out. They must have a new twist on an existing idea or do an old idea exceedingly well, such as produce a video series with very compelling storytelling. They give the example of how "Rocketboom" was one of the earliest video blogs, and how they capitalized when opportunity came along, making them very popular. The best parallel for this is probably that when you have a good idea (like releasing an entire movie for free on the internet to drive DVD sales), you might want to use it now before everyone is doing it, making you less relevant.
Find a Niche.
Newcomers could also look for a niche that hasn't yet been filled. A common theme among low budget movie bloggers is to identify your audience first, then make a film for them. If you can establish this before you write word one, you can start generating attention very early on. Having a built-in crowd (such as sci-fi or horror fans) is much more practical than trying to create a brand new one. Being unique helps, but using a popular genre is just good business.
Work Your Network.
Online hits depend heavily on word of mouth -- and Internet stars are good at working the virtual room. Using the internet to your advantage is critical to successful low budget distribution. Whatever online social networking service you frequent (YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, etc.), be sure to use their tools of subscriptions and communication to promote your stuff. If no one has heard of your movie, no one will want to see it. Create a void in people, then fill it with your creation.
Act Like a Pro.
The Web is full of material that looks like it was produced by amateurs. The most popular material is definitely more polished than the rest of the pack -- even though it may look rough by TV standards. This is a critical point, and one I've mentioned before. Use sound filmmaking techniques and you will rise above a lot of the crap that gets slapped online (not to mention on DVD). It doesn't have to be broadcast quality, but should be the next best thing. Equipment and techniques are easily at your disposal--use them and make your movie that much better.
People who are unusually attractive stand a much better chance of getting attention. This is the biggest no-brainer of them all. Casting good-looking actors can only help your cause, especially when promotion time comes along. We all like pretty people, and they are a dime a dozen in the film world (even in the microbudget arena), so be smart and cast some of them. Just don't go crazy. Sacrificing acting chops for looks is never a good idea, unless you're making exploitation, in which case it's expected.
Be sure to read the entire article, as it's very enlightening. Also check out a similar post from Lance Weiler called "Cutting Through the Static". It hits a lot of the same ideas, but is aimed directly at the filmmaking crowd.