Going Viral the Organic Way: New Media Meets Human Engagement in Tiffany Shlain’s Character Day

Like many moviemakers, we think of our films as providing a moveable feast for the mind: the film being the appetizer, and the conversation that people have afterward—hopefully about the big questions of what it means to be human in the 21st century—being the main course.

So when we were brainstorming around the release of our new eight-minute film, “The Science of Character,” we asked ourselves: “How can we launch this film to have more impact and reach than ever before?” The film explores the science of how character strengths can be cultivated to lead a fulfilling life, and our aim was to reach the largest possible audience of teachers, parents, and students, ingraining character strengths into daily life for the benefit of families, communities, and society.

In the past, we’ve experimented with distribution strategies from theatrical and online releases to digital distribution (Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, etc.) and special events—but we had never had a truly global, simultaneous premiere, and this film was perfect for it. The film itself was collaborative in its making, created with videos sent in from people all over the world via what we call “cloud filmmaking,” where we write a script and ask people to contribute images and videos for specific sections of it. Once these “cloud films” are complete, we offer them to schools and nonprofits for free, with customized endings where we put their logo and their call to action at the end. To date we’ve made four of these cloud films (“A Declaration of Interdependence,” “Engage,” “Brain Power,” and now “The Science of Character”), and have customized the films for over 1,500 schools and nonprofits. (Visit letitripple.org to view these and customize your own version.)

We took the collaborative nature of cloud filmmaking and pushed it a step further with a collaborative premiere: creating a day to galvanize people in schools and organizations worldwide to focus on character development. Each would host their own event centered around the film, accompanied by online resources and a big global Q&A on Google Hangout, led by experts in the fields of education, neuroscience, social science, and character development…

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