Special Report

2019: Quality v. Quantity

2019 Year In Review Feature Image

The third full year of Indievisual brought much improvement in many areas and exciting developments personally for my writing career. No longer bound to comic book work, my first full year of being a dedicated film translator and writer was quite exciting. Though paid work still took precedence over this side project, with my comic career behind me I no longer had to make the mental switch from being visually creative to clearly communicating through language and vocabulary; writing is more right-brained than one might think. The ability to focus specifically on the research and practice of composing articles meant content on Indievisual took a qualitative step forward though in terms of specific figures the results for 2019 were mixed overall.

Interviews

Only a single interview was published last year, a further drop from the two in 2018. However, there were mitigating circumstances. In addition to my own work schedule, scheduling a follow-up with Yamamoto Hyoe (pictured above) took up quite a bit of time. A busy filmmaker working on a new documentary with changing developments regarding the subject matter, communication proved to be sporadic over the course of the year. This was also the case when the time came to take his portraits for the article and associated promotional imagery. Ultimately, Yamamoto-san generously committed his lunch hour to meeting with me to have his photograph taken. I can not express enough my gratitude for the effort he made to help complete his interview. The irony of selecting Yamamoto-san because of his English speaking skills to shorten the production time of the interview can not be stated enough. That is not to say work on other interviews was not also occurring concurrently. Over the summer I met with Nakano Ryota on a different writing assignment (more on this later), but also took the opportunity to conduct follow-up questions on the interview I did with him previously for Indievisual. I knew what his schedule would be like toward the latter half of 2019, so I also made sure to photograph his portrait at the time as well. It had been my full intention to have his interview published before the end of the year, but work interceded causing a delay in sending the proof of the interview as it would appear online for Nakano-san’s approval. As I write this, the article is now live.

Nakano Ryota’s interview also marks an end to the stock of interviews conducted 3-4 years ago in preparation for Indievisual’s early inception. I look forward to conducting new interviews which incorporate writing and interviewing techniques I have been studying or observing through reading (or watching in the case of videos) interviews conducted by others. There is a very long list of directors with whom I wish to speak. I will also seek to balance male and female filmmakers equally. The challenge now is to determine whom to reach out and if they will agree to be interviewed. The goal is to publish an interview every quarter of the year, but with Valentine’s Day approaching, there is much work to be done on an interview I have yet to even start in order to meet my own ambitions. But sometimes, that is the joy of it.

Eye On

2019 Eye On Image
The six filmmakers featured in 2019’s International Women’s Day “Eye On” focus

There were 20 movies highlighted through the Eye On section in 2019 (by the way, did you notice the relabelling from “Caught My Eye?”). That is the most in a single year since the launch of Indievisual. Shifting to “themed” posts helped facilitate the upswing by helping to put a focus on what movies to feature. From the ongoing “International Women’s Day” post to a set showcasing one short and a feature-length by four directors (resulting in eight movies featured in a single time), themed posts have delivered quantifiable results. However, there are still a large number of films being released or are in some phase of production currently, so much so that the backlog of titles I honestly do keep my eye on is growing at a pace clearly becoming overwhelming. In order to deal with this backlog, I am considering adding a regular “theme” to Eye On akin to “International Women’s Day” called “Call Back”. Titles featured under this theme are slightly or somewhat older, having been lost in the mix or unfortunately overlooked, but still worthy of attention. Not dealing with the latest news, movies, and developments in the industry has always been a founding tenet of Indievisual, however delivering information beyond its relevancy is a disservice to the work and the creators–especially when the shelf life of indie movies tends to be shorter than major releases. The integration of this new theme hopefully will be an aid to finally introducing titles toward the bottom half of an every growing list.

Features

Excluding these year-in-review pieces, there were two feature articles published in 2019, an improvement over 2018–but obviously not by very much. I was fortunately able to continue covering the Osaka Asian Film Festival’s Indie Forum lineup though I could not personally attend. Through the OAFF staff’s generosity, I was able to contact the print sources who provided online screeners which afforded me the ability to write about the Indie Forum selection. More than likely I will not be at Osaka again this year and will turn once again to online screeners to cover Indie Forum 2020. In terms of the coverage itself, I do want to return to more succinct impressions of the movies as seen in my first reports of the Indie Forum. Recent coverage have begun to take on the trappings of traditional reviews and I want to take a step back from this in 2020 by placing greater emphasis on story and themes in a concise manner without delving too deeply into particular scenes, techniques, etc.

Andrew Kirkham Profile Image
©Silk Purse Enterprises/Andrew Kirkham

The one other feature article published was a profile of Andrew Kirkham, a friend and industry veteran who works tirelessly behind-the-scenes to deliver supplemental content and subtitles for home video releases of Japanese cinema abroad. I have always wanted these profile pieces to complement the interviews published on Indievisual as a way to focus attention on people in the Japanese film industry who are not directors but still deserve to acknowledged. In the blog post titled “Content Creation Conundrum” I do address the difficulties I have faced creating these individual profiles as well as other feature articles that would add some variety to the interview-centric nature of Indievisual. I also admit in the post my motivations were driven more out of a concern for the quantity of articles on the site rather than the quality. I still hope to publish a more varied range of feature articles, but readers should be forewarned that for the immediate future, these will still be very few and far between.

Backstory

2019 Backstory Vikander Image
From a clip of Alicia Vikander talking about Earthquake Bird

There were 13 posts made in 2019 on a very mixed bag of topics. Some were simple quotes by filmmakers, others were videos showcasing not only trailers but clips from interviews as well; and there were posts on industry developments, a memorial to a deceased filmmaker, among others. The blog saw a sharp improvement in views, some certainly attributable to actor names in the title. The Sonoya Mizuno quote from 2018 still enjoys a healthy amount of views per month just from searches of her name. This does mean actions to improve the blog’s discoverability planned in 2018 are yielding results. There were far fewer days with “zero views” in 2019 than ever. Promoting on social media, better SEO practices, and design improvements throughout the Indievisual experience (more on this later) have all contributed to the drastic upswing in Backstory views.

2019’s most viewed article was my impressions of The First Supper with a total of 912 views since it was published in August, an impressive 754 in that month alone (it has since picked up 13 more views since 2020 opened). Active participation by the filmmakers, particularly director Tokiwa Shiro who shared the article on his social media sending his followers to Backstory, as well as the positive buzz the movie itself has received driving searches about the movie to the blog post are responsible for its incredible numbers. Unfortunately, I believe most of these views are from local visitors considering the spike in views coincided with the release of The First Supper; fans of cast members such as Toda Erika and Mori Nana energetically showed their support through social media. Being an English article meant for readers overseas, I am curious just how many of these views came from abroad. Sadly the particular analytics tool with which I am supplied does not provide a breakdown by country. That being said, enough can not be said about the importance of engagement by the filmmakers and their followers to promote these movies as in the case of The First Supper. The visibility of Backstory has benefitted greatly from these more so than the actions taken on Indievisual to improve discoverability. The “web” of interconnected traffic driving viewers to sites (i.e. “engagement”) is still the best way to gain visits and views; in other words, actions by people rather than robotic algorithms.

2019 Backstory The First Supper
Still from The First Supper | ©2019『最初の晩餐』製作委員会

Indievisual

A significant goal put forward in last year’s year-in-review was to make design enhancements to the site in order to increase discovery of the blog and other sections. Did you notice the bit of color added to the Eye On category on the front page? This was intended to draw more attention to the section and the movies featured therein; improved views of those titles on a day-to-day basis suggests this small change alone has aided in catching viewers’ eyes. Similarly, images were added to the sidebar featuring recent posts on Backstory. Previously only text was visible. Again, on a highly visual site, the addition of each article’s feature image may be a contributing factor to Backstory’s vastly improved daily views. Other slight rearrangements were made to sections just to improve overall visible flow and to keep a variety of content in front of viewers. I have also made slight improvements to the pages detailing other aspects of Indievisual such as About, Newsletter, etc. Reading through those texts, I realized how sterile and businesslike they were so slight changes have been made to “relax” these somewhat. However, I think some overall rewrites are in the works now that I have been able to slowly define Indievisual’s personality.

Improvements were also made on the official Instagram. Promoting blog posts or articles became a tedious chore of re-editing the profile text’s URL link; Instagram only allows one of these otherwise, links in photo descriptions are not live. I have turned to Linktree to provide a menu of links not just to the latest article being promoted, but to all relevant sections on Indievisual as well as the Facebook page. I believe this has also assisted in driving more traffic to the magazine site. These tools to create better awareness has resulted in more follows on social media with large spikes in visits/views depending on the content as mentioned earlier. The challenge moving forward is continuing to build upon the traction Indievisual has been (slowly) gaining since engagement has been drastically falling on Facebook (for reasons attributable to Facebook itself). This includes possibly expanding to other platforms such as Twitter which I have avoided for the simple reason of I don’t really get it. However, articles and testimony from friends clearly provide evidence of Twitter leading in driving traffic to one’s site. If trying my hand at Twitter will add to its awareness, it is at least worth giving a try…maybe.

Writing Work

As a writer, I was also honored to have authored my first paid articles. One was a talk with Nakano Ryota regarding One Cut of the Dead for Cathay Pacific’s in-flight magazine. The “My Choice” article is meant to give a filmmaker the opportunity to talk about a movie currently showing on their onboard entertainment system. It was a short article, but one that was an absolute pleasure to create. I am continuing to stay in touch with the magazine’s publisher for possible future assignments. Special thanks to writer Kevin Ma for the connection. The other article was actually a massive essay commissioned by the Five Flavours Film Festival in Poland. The essay can be read here exclusively on the Five Flavours blog until the next edition after which I will post the article on Indievisual as well. Special thanks to Jagoda Murczynska for reaching out and asking me to contribute to their wonderful festival.

Conclusion

All of this has been an incredible and equally confusing learning experience. But building a magazine from the ground up will always involve steep learning curves; doing so in the modern age of digital media complicates matters further. Technologies, platforms, and trends are constantly changing. And it is impossible to utilize all of them. The important point is to find the ones that work best both for my own workflow, branding, and in this day and age, ethics. “Quality over quantity” happens to be appropriate in this case as well.

In terms of setting goals in 2020, the first of these is to finally bring the newsletter online as this, too, will be an important tool to build and engage with Indievisual’s audience. Next is to post a few more “process” articles on Backstory. The namesake of the blog has fallen by the wayside recently, but I will remedy this in 2020 with entries about the development of the masthead, what I have learned about conceiving interview questions, how portrait photography has affected my personality, and more. I would also like to write another essay this year; a deeper dive into a subject matter than the usual Side Story articles.

2019 Shell and Joint Poster
Shell and Joint poster

Of course, I will continue to talk up the works of filmmakers working in the independent sphere or its periphery plus providing updates on the recent activities of past interviewees. I know Miyazaki Daisuke has been cooking up a couple of new works (not to mention the Japan Premiere of his latest Videophobia at OAFF 2020); Yamanaka Yoko has shot a new short through VIPO; Hirohara Satoru is shooting his FILMeX Screenplay Award-winning script; Asakura Kayoko hopes to shoot a previously planned project this year; Kato Yoshio is in post-production on his latest; Nakagawa Natsuki completed her graduate thesis work at Tokyo University of the Arts; Hirabayashi Isamu’s Shell and Joint just finished runs at Rotterdam and Slamdance so it is sure to feature prominently on Indievisual. A new Indie Forum article will be forthcoming and more. I’m sure there are plenty of surprises ahead as well. Indievisual is finally beginning to hit its stride. If you’re new to the magazine, welcome and do poke around. If you’re an Indievisual audience member, thank you for your continued support. I can’t promise how big Indievisual can get, but I can promise it will steadily get better.