Taking the 1967 disappearance of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt as his inspiration, writer and director Scott Mannion made The Defector, a short film described as “a subversive Cold War thriller”. Starring Sean Taylor as Holt alongside Malcolm Kennard as intelligence director Charles Forwell, the 15 minute short posits a rather paranoid and fantastical explanation for Holt’s vanishing – yes – even more so than the notion that the PM was a communist agent who was extracted via submarine.
Of course, making a film is only half the battle – you need to get it in front of an audience. At the time of writing The Defector has racked up over three million views on YouTube and Vimeo, and has attracted a wide audience on Steam, where it is one of a growing number of films being distributed through the hugely popular gaming platform. Speaking to FilmInk, Mannion reveals the canny marketing tactics he employed to get so many eyes on his weird Antipodean thriller – and what led to it being banned in China.
Did you do anything specific to spread word about the film via YouTube and Vimeo? Why do you think it’s gotten so big an audience?
Firstly, you need to make a movie that’s remarkable in the traditional sense – something people want to talk about and share. That’s a necessary condition of the whole process. Others will be the judge of whether we achieved that, but marketing-wise I implemented a growth hack strategy: instead of begging people to share and do us a favour, we allowed people to get part two free and earn free content by sharing. As soon as the movie finishes playing, the user is prompted on screen: all they have to do is tweet the movie, or share on Facebook and they get part two free, and immediate access to my other films, weekly content and the book The Art of The Defector. It’s simple and easy. Two clicks. When they click ‘claim’ I grab their email for our mailing list and deliver the rewards.
The effect is dramatic, who ever does this shares it with their entire network, and their entire network should have at least two people who like the film and go through the same process, and friends usually like similar things right?
How did you get that started?
Well, that’s a little more darkweb. I reached out to pirate streamers 123movies, who have combined traffic well exceeding the most popular entertainment and movie websites on the internet. No one has released a film on these websites officially.
I convinced them I had major publications lined up ready to report on this being ‘the first film to release officially on a pirate stream’, and with that comes public interest and more traffic for them. They featured it and put YouTube as the primary host embed for the first three days of release.
The truth was I didn’t have anything lined up. I tricked them, but I don’t feel bad about that, these guys are thieves. I chalk it up as me scoring points for the home team.
How did you find out it was blocked in China? What did you do – and how did you go about contacting the Chinese? What was that conversation like?
I signed a nondisclosure agreement with Steam to become a Steam partner, but what I can say is when I was notified of the ban I spoke with the Chinese embassy, then SARFT [State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television – China’s media department] and China Film Group. I asked the reason why this had occurred, and made the case to lift the ban. I was told the ban can’t be simply lifted, referred to their film legislation, and told to apply for cinema release licence if I wanted the ban reviewed.
I think it was either the ‘supernatural’ clause or the ‘revision of history’. That and our use of soviet communist imagery.
For more on Scott Mannion and his work, head over to his official site.