Toronto After Dark

In case you’re wondering why there haven’t been too many significant updates to Opus in recent days/weeks, the answer can be summed up in five words: “Toronto After Dark Film Festival” (aka “TADFF”). Todd from Twitch first brought my attention to the new festival, after he got the gig as the festival programmer (which, on a sidenote, means that the festival’s going to have a sweet line-up of films).

Earlier this year, some folks from TADFF contacted me, including Adam Lopez, the festival bigwig. After some negotiation, we reached an agreement, and I started working on the site around early March.

From the getgo, the site presented some challenges. How do you differentiate a film festival site from all of the other festival sites out there. And that’s especially hard when the festival in question is focusing on cult films in the sci-fi, horror, and action genres.

For starters, you resist using visual clichés as much as possible. You don’t design the site so that it looks like a film reel, for starters. You also do everything you can to avoid making the site look like a bad high school goth site. And of course, you try to make the site as well-organized and structured as possible, both from a content and structural perspective as well as a coding perspective (let’s hear it for semantic markup).

The site was also challenging in that, this being a brand new festival, we were all going about things a bit blindly. For example, none of the site’s content had been created yet, which is a bit backwards from how you should normally go about things (in my experience, anyways).

You start with the content, see how it can and should be organized, and then base the website structure, interfaces, and flow around that, as opposed to creating the design with some basic structure in mind, and then try to shoehorn your content into it.

The latter approach rarely goes smoothly. You almost always end up having to redo parts of the site design and navigation because the content is invariably at odds with some of it, or doesn’t fit into all of the structure you’ve created, or demands a slightly different layout.

This became very apparent in the week or so before the site launch, as Adam was in a content-generating frenzy. Everytime he sent me content, we also had to make some modification to the design (such as adjusting the menu options), so that the content would fit properly and make sense.

So consider this a bit of advice: if you can help it, always start with the site content. Don’t push a single pixel or type a single bit of (X)HTML and CSS until you’ve got the site content written and organized into a fairly final version. It’ll make the rest of the process much easier.

One thing I’m kind of proud of is the festival mailing list portion of the site. The mailing list is being managed by a third party vendor called Constant Contact. Originally, I was going to develop a mailing list administrative module, but Constant Contact’s system is much more powerful and flexible than anything I could’ve developed given the time and budget we had.

Normally, Constant Contact’s system typically works like this: you add a link to your a site that launches a pop-up window that contains a form that the user fills out and submits. However, this form resides on Constant Contact’s server. Unfortunately, this requires A) a pop-up window (a huge no-no) and B) for the user to leave the TADFF website (also a no-no). Fortunately, we were able to work out a solution with Constant Contact, so that when you submit the mailing list form, some nice PHP scripts send all of the form data to Constant Contact’s server behind the scenes, leaving the user on the TADFF website.

Also, on another geeky note, this was one of the first public sites where I got to incorporate more unobtrusive JavaScript. I won’t go too far into detail as to what exactly that is — there are resources out there capable of explaining it much better than I can — but I will say that it’s a very good and cool thing, and I don’t want to ever write JavaScript in a different way.

Obviously, the site isn’t done yet, mainly because the festival program hasn’t been finalized yet. That will most likely happen towards the end of September. Which will facilitate a slight overhaul of the site to get the film info on there, as well as redo the mastheads to spotlight the various films.

Enough talk, now go check out the Toronto After Dark website already. Join the mailing list, and if you’re a filmmaker, maybe submit a film.

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