Are Mobile Apps the Future for Independent Filmmakers?

at 9:47am Apr 11, 2012

How I made my low-budget short film, “Dumbleweed” into an interactive multi-platform brand

Around February of last year I became obsessed with tumbleweeds. Yes. Tumbleweeds. Those lifeless, scratchy shrub like creatures that invade lawns throughout America and careen at high speeds across roads and highways whichever way the wind blows. I became obsessed with them. And eventually, being that this is Los Angeles, together with a group of talented filmmakers, we made a short children’s film about a tumbleweed, called “Dumbleweed” which will see its premiere this week at The Sonoma International Film Festival.

But after making the film, and armed with lots of positive reinforcement about how cute our lead character Dumbleweed was, I became obsessed with another thought.

In today’s world, where most successful products, whether film or fashion line, are brought to our attention on a multi-platform level, what was stopping me, an indie filmmaker with no budget, from turning Dumbleweed into a multi-platform brand?

The short answer (the long answer is much too long for this article) is, really, nothing. Now-a-days major film studios will define a successful film not just by its box office records, but how much of a brand it can become. Does the name “Batman” mean anything to you? From an independent filmmaking perspective, it is impossible to match up to that sort of success, but sometimes it’s not impossible to spread the name of your product across multiple platforms. Especially when your film is for kids and about a tumbleweed.

“Dumbleweed” could have gone in several directions as a multi-platform product. It could have been a toy, a line of t-shirts, a fuzzy pillow. But really, the only thing that made sense from a monetary perspective, was to turn it into a Mobile App Game.


Creating a Mobile App, especially when it’s a small team and you’re all working for free on a concept you care about, will give you almost a full return on your investment. Even if your concept doesn’t hold up, all that you will have really lost is time. And money on coffee and bad pastries.  But you will have gained friends and experience in this wild west of multi-platform branding that we’re all still getting to understand. And, if you’re lucky, your film will have the chance of being seen by a wider audience.

After arriving at the decision that I should make a Mobile App game, the next step was finding someone who actually knew something about making a Mobile App. I personally knew nothing. So much like you have to call friends and friends of friends when making a short film, I called around until I found an amazingly talented App developer named Crossman Wilkins. Crossman cared about the concept, which was most important to me, and he was okay with getting paid on the back end.  And I could tell that he knew what he was talking about.

The next step was really a series of steps. Making sure that we set aside time every week for the next several months to meet and talk about the game and what it could be and what it should be. We discussed the essence of what it was to be a tumbleweed – to move about constantly – and how to translate that into a game. We also felt that the game had to be easy to play the way that Angry Birds is easy to play.  And that it would have to be bright and colorful and bold so that young kids would enjoy it. Next Crossman set out to actually do the work of creating the game using his Corona App developing software, which he already owned. We continued to meet each week  to discuss the progress of the game. Again. Much like making a film.

After months of hard work, the game became what was released on iTunes just earlier this week. A combination of Doodle Jump and Ski Free.  And (to my knowledge) the first Mobile App based on a short film.

Writing about the process now it sounds pretty easy, even though it wasn’t. And there’s no guarantee that “Dumbleweed” the game or short film will have any success. As a filmmaker and game maker you’re more than likely to fail than you are to succeed. But still. Here we are in the Wild West. And there’s nothing from stopping us from trying again if it doesn’t pan out the first time.

You can download “Dumbleweed” the App here:

About the Author: Natasha Khrolenko