SANTA MONICA – People in the industry like to talk about how, for creatives, one of the primary appeals of working in the digital space versus traditional TV and film is the speed of the process. But things might’ve been just a little too fast on the AwesomenessTV movie Expelled, which was released online last December following a brief limited theatrical run.
The four-week shoot for the film – toplined by social media star Cameron Dallas (7.6 million followers on Vine; 3.54 million subscribers on YouTube) – began on Sept. 15, 2014. The picture was locked before Thanksgiving, and it premiered in Los Angeles on Dec. 11.
To say that Expelled‘s first-time feature writer/director/producer Alex Goyette was under the gun would be a massive understatement.
“For almost three months straight, I didn’t really get days off,” said Goyette, who will participate in a panel discussion about the film at Stream Market June 4, titled “Getting Expelled: The Making of the #1 Social Movie of 2014.”
“When I would come off set, I would immediately go into the edit bay to check in with Josh Noyes, who was our editor. We’d go over the footage, look at some of the problems we had and have discussions about that. We spent the weekend doing that, then I’d go back to set.”
One of the reasons for the film’s tight schedule was its ultra-low budget. Another was the desire of its producers at AwesomenessTV to have the movie ready for the holiday season, when Dallas’ largely tween girl fan base would be flush with gift cards for online retailers like iTunes and Amazon.
“Kids don’t have credit cards, so it’s not so easy to go out to iTunes and buy something,” explained Mary McLaren, COO of 20th Century Fox International Theatrical and Home Entertainment, which released the film. “But, when you have a gift card, you can do it on your own, so that was a very important lesson. If you want to appeal to this audience, you’ve got to have a way for them to get it.”
The strategy paid off: Expelled debuted at #1 on the iTunes movie sales charts within hours of its release as a digital download-to-own title on Dec. 16. On Dec. 31, it was made available as a VOD rental.
“To have the VOD available on New Year’s Eve was a really smart thing to do, because that’s a time when kids are gathering together, they need something to do, and it’s really easy to rent a movie on digital,” McLaren said.
Expelled followed the model used on Camp Takota, a movie stacked with YouTubers Grace Helbig, Hannah Hart and Mamrie Hart, released direct-to-digital in February 2014. In addition to Dallas, Expelled also features YouTube stars Andrea Russett, Lia Marie Johnson, Teala Dunn, Michelle Glavan and Marcus Johns.
Goyette had previously directed Dallas in several clips for the latter’s channel, including a handful of prank videos and a Coca-Cola promo.
“I quickly saw he has this raw ability in front of the camera, and he did a great job with improvising,” said Goyette, who is a popular YouTuber in his own right, with 124,000 subscribers. “Expelled is obviously an entirely different animal than a two-minute promo, and he had an acting coach on board, Marjorie Ballentine, who really helped to collaborate with me to get those performances the way we wanted them. He’s been putting in a lot of work to hone his craft, and now he’s doing all kinds of stuff.” Dallas’ other projects include the NBC series American Odyssey and another feature that follows the Camp Takota/Expelled model, Fullscreen Films’ The Outfield.
Expelled played a total of three theaters in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas from Dec. 12 to 18. While Netflix has given some of its original films limited theatrical releases to qualify them for Oscar consideration (e.g. Virunga), there were no such aspirations with Expelled.
“It really was just to get (the stars) out on publicity tours and get good buzz opportunities and raise the profile of the movie,” McLaren said. “Because, since it came out so fast, there really wasn’t the time to do a traditional media approach. This was a social media marketed movie. For us at Fox, it a test was to see to see if you can release a movie without spending the money to put a media campaign behind it. And, in fact, yes, you can.”