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Social Doc in Real Time: Prepping for the Real World

Maher's webisodes let women see what it's like to work with midwives in a hospital setting -- before she releases "The Mama Sherpas."Some filmmakers struggle with walking away from their documentary once it’s over. But when Professor Brigid Maher attended the Center for Social Media’s Media That Matters (MTM) conference earlier this year, she learned that finishing your film doesn’t mean your film is finished.

One of the panelists at MTM, acclaimed social documentary filmmaker Paco de Onis, talked about his success with letting another organization take over a past project so he could focus on future work. Maher realized she could start preparing her latest film, “The Mama Sherpas,” to thrive on its own once she's done with it--two years before it's even released--by releasing weekly webisodes."

For Maher, the early release of webisodes is a way to build longevity both for the film and for lasting impact.

Maher's latest webisode is about a Labor and Delivery nurse, Meara, who works at the Birthing Center in Sutter Davis Hospital.

Release Outtakes before You Release the Film

“The standard outreach model,” Maher said, “has been to release outtakes and create educational material affiliated with the release of the film.”

So when she chose to release additional footage before the actual film, she knew it was a tricky move. “You don’t want to show all your juicy footage up front. [And] you don’t want your possible distributors to worry: ‘Why would we broadcast your film when it’s already out there on the web?’”

Maher argues that filmmakers often have to leave out great scenes that just won’t fit in the final cut, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them. She decided that, for every hospital visited, she would use five or six takes from that location as weekly webisodes. With the help of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and press release blasts, she’s letting her audiences know what to expect years in advance of the film’s wider distribution.

Webisodes: Two Birds, One Trans-Media Project

Maher didn’t want pregnant women to have to wait for the kind of information “The Mama Sherpas” provides, so one of the reasons she’s releasing the webisodes is to provide educational material for expecting mothers.

“Watching a three-minute scene on what it’s like to be seen by a midwife is really important,” Maher said. Getting a sense of what collaborative care models look like in real life is the first step to answering potential questions.

But she's also releasing them for promotional strategy. The webisodes show expecting mothers what to expect and leave them wanting more. “Our primary audience will be primed and ready for this longer-format documentary when it is released.”

Maher can also tell her distributors that she already has an active audience, since many of them are looking for prepackaged outreach. “I’m just flipping the [outreach] model on its head.” And from that angle, webisodes can promote outreach before the release of your film while sustaining impact long after the credits are rolling.