ALGORITHM had it’s world-wide free premiere day yesterday. And, after what happened, I’m not sure any of this is a followable model anymore. Now, it might be more of a historical record.
* * *
ALGORITHM went viral.
* * *
The numbers were so far beyond what I could have hoped for or ever dreamed. I was tingling until about 1:00am from the adrenaline rush. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up a bit.
* * *
A few days ago I got the final versions of the soundtrack in .mp3 format. I zipped them and posted them on the /store section of the website. I was worried Squarespace wouldn’t allow a file of that size, but they did and so it went up for sale.
So far the sales haven’t been worth mentioning. They have started though. We’ve sold about 10 copies of the soundtrack, and that’s the only thing that’s for sale. A few of the sales happened before anyone had seen the movie. I haven’t really been promoting it.
Based on the suggestion of Caitlin M. Shultz, who plays Kat, I put up a page that allows people to donate. This was a great idea since we’re offering everything so far below standard market prices. Also, if someone likes it that much, there’s no limit to the amount they can donate.
* * *
For a few days I was having trouble getting a final version of the movie out of Final Cut. It turns out there’s a bug in Apple Compressor where if you use multiple cores to transcode a movie file that’s going to be uploaded, then only the first section that’s finished gets uploaded.
That meant I had to back into FCPX and reexport the movie as a h.264 file. Of course, that file was 8 gigs and I have only paid for a max upload size of 5 gigs on Vimeo, where we’re hosting the videos. It was a bit of back and forth trying to figure out the right video bit-rate, but 7k seemed to do what I wanted. It looks great. It’s not Blu-ray quality, but I haven’t seen a single streaming movie on any network that is. So, we’re good.
One of the things Vimeo does is, when I upload a 1080p file, they downgrade it to 720p, because they say it’s easier for people to watch. That was fine, since the size of the file didn’t change either way. I can’t figure out why that’s the case, but it is. What it means is, before ALGORITHM goes on sale, I’ve got to upload another version and keep it at 1080p. Then, when someone buys the movie, they’ll be forwarded to a page that has the option of either 720p or 1080p, and they’ll be able to download the movie.
* * *
Before the 07/14 release, I sent out the movie to all the cast and crew. I also sent it out to Steve Gibson. He watched it that night and loved it. That was where I started to feel really good about what we might achieve. Programmers and information security people don’t get any better than Steve Gibson. He writes his own programs in Hex. That’s hard. That’s really hard… and it gives you total control of the machine. When Steve gave it the okay, my spirit began to soar.
He also said he would help promote it on his Twitter feed with 40k+ followers. That’s huge too.
I chose to set the release date as Bastille day, in France, which means it launched on 07/13 at 3:01pm on Sunday for me in California. It caused some confusion and might not have been the best idea, but in the end it didn’t seem to matter much.
So, at 3:01pm Pacific, I removed the password on the video on Vimeo, then I took the video page, which was a hidden link and made it the homepage for the site. Anyone visiting www.thehackermovie.com would see the movie before they saw anything else.
I also sent out tweets to all the major tech news agencies I could think of, as well as all the major and minor media personalities I know on Twitter. I also posted it on Facebook, Google+, Stage32, and App.net. Those are all the sites I’ve been building a social media presence on.
One of the Twitter accounts I sent it to was Cryptome. They’re basically the U.S. version of Wikileaks. It’s run by a guy named John Young, who I made contact with earlier in the year when I asked him to use one of his pages as an easter egg in the movie. Cryptome shared it in their stream. That’s another 10k+ people.
And this is where things turn a bit.
This is probably not the exact way things went, but since I don’t actually have the resources to trace and confirm everything, I think it’s the most likely. One of the people I’ve been trying to reach for the past two years is named John (Cap’n Crunch) Draper. He’s the guy who figured out he could hack AT&T’s tone-based phone network with a whistle he found in a box of Cap’n Crunch cereal (hence, his nickname).
Draper is also the inspiration for Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s first company, before they founded Apple. Draper is also the inspiration for a few of the characters in the movie Sneakers, which is one of the two great hacker movies. The other movie is WarGames.
John Draper managed to find ALGORITHM while he was in Thailand and watch it. He loved it. The exact quote from him is available at www.thehackermovie.com/about, along with some other quotes. Praise from Draper meant the world to me. Things continued to be amazing when he contacted me on Twitter and followed me. We started talking. I was in shock. One of my hacker heroes and I were on Twitter, chatting, like two regular people, which I guess we are.
Shannon Morse (co-host of the computer security podcast Hak5, and indisputable proof that women are perfectly capable of being awesome hackers) mentioned the site on her Twitter feed. She’s got about 20k+ followers. She is also friends with Serafina Kernberger, who was ALGORITHM’s production Coordinator.
The day was gnarly. I had been updating Joseph and Phillip Matarrese throughout the day with the site statistics and video statistics and at midnight (Pacific) they were: 1.8k views, 2.2k loads, with 10.8k page views on the site.
I had been doing a Q&A on all the aforementioned social media sites for the previous 8hrs and I was tired. I went to sleep thinking that our numbers were probably as big as they were going to get.
* * *
I woke up about 9 hours later, groggy, but feeling pretty well rested. I brushed my teeth, made my morning instant mocha, did other things, and then woke up my computer.
The movie had been over 8,000 views! It had been viewed almost 3x more than the trailer. The site had gotten over 20,000 hits. I had no idea where these numbers came from. I’m still not entirely sure. The news was beginning to spread. People loved it. It seemed everyone, everywhere in the world loved it. It was beyond anything I could have hoped for… and it was just beginning!
I had to tear myself away from the computer to each lunch. Even then, I was only able to eat one quick sandwich. My stomach was doing cartwheels. It might have been the mocha, but I’m pretty sure it was the movie.
I spent most of the day watching real-time analytics www.thehackermovie.com via Google. It was wild to see how many people in which countries were watching. On the page there were numbers and listed countries. On the other side of the page was a map with visit-plumes (I’m sure there’s a more technical term for this). It was mind-blowing to watch it spread, in real-time.
One of my reoccurring thoughts was that the Nielson Rating System couldn’t hope for this kind of real data.
We live in the future!
Back to the story.
At around 1:00pm (Pacific) there was a surge in traffic. I knew it was coming from somewhere, but I was too fascinated with the real-time analytics to care to track it down. In the end, it didn’t really matter where the traffic came from as long as it kept coming. At least, I thought it didn’t matter. It turns out it will be one of the defining moments of my life.
At about 1:30pm someone on Twitter let me know that we had gotten a mention on Gizmodo. That’s one of the major geek news websites. But, that’s not the good part. In the comments, after the Gizmodo article, someone had left a review. That someone was Steve Wozniak (Woz). In case you haven’t heard of Woz, he’s the mind behind Apple. He’s the guy who designed and built the first Apple computers. His genius in hardware is unparalleled. Steve Jobs was the voice and the taste-maker at Apple. But, Woz was the brain.
I’d been trying to reach Woz for years, hoping for an interview or a comment. Something. I couldn’t get to him… at all. I’d sent him emails, even a letter. Nothing. He’s too high up to reach, at least for me.
But, John Draper… he used to work at Apple. I’m sure he and Woz are friends. Draper built some of the early modems for Apple, but was fired because he made the modems too well. They were able to replicate his tone-hack. The execs at Apple thought that might cause future legal trouble. Draper must have told Woz.
While I was sleeping, Woz wasn’t. He started watching ALGORITHM and couldn’t turn it off. I don’t know if he’s the shoutout we got that turned 2k views into 8k, or if it was just time and people talking. But, Woz watched it and loved it.
Kevin, the hacker who helped me come up with a lot of the hacks in ALGORITHM and I were chatting about this moment. Woz is one of Kevin’s heroes too. Here’s a transcript.
Me: Woz saw it and loved it.
Kevin: Wait… What?
Me: [link to Gizmodo article]
Me: Read the comments.
Kevin: That’s like saying go to mos Isley and order the daily special.
Me: Uh… what?
Kevin: Read the comments…?
Me: Yeah, but Woz is in the comments.
Me: First Draper, now Woz. I don’t know if it gets any better than this!
Kevin: Oprah? Obama? Snowden?
Me: That’s not going to feel any better than Woz seeing it.
Me: It will make more money, but it won’t feel any better.
Kevin: I can dig that.
The irony to Kevin’s references to Oprah, Obama, and Snowden is that a friend of mind who used to have a cooking show on Oprah’s network, and who was my first acting teacher, watched ALGORITHM and loved it. And, Snowden is giving the keynote, along with Daniel Ellsberg, at HOPE X, where ALGORITHM will be screening later this week.
But, like I said, It’s not going to feel any better than Woz seeing it.
* * *
My brother, James the ad executive, is blown away. People who don’t pay for advertising don’t get this kind of traffic. This entry has gone on long enough. Suffice it to say, the free world-wide premiere went better than any of us could have hoped. Here are the final stats:
165,402 page views.
* * *
The phrase I keep repeating is one from The Social Network, said by Mark Zuckerberg, “We did it!”