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Three Tools to Unlock Bright Star’s Online Potential

Three Tools to Unlock Bright Star's Online Potential

Thompson on Hollywood

In the second of a series of service pieces about independent film marketing, digital consultant Chris Dorr uses Bright Star as an example of a movie that has not taken full advantage of its online potential. He offers three ways the film could unleash the passion online that is in such evidence onscreen:

When a filmmaker creates a movie, she brings many tools to unlock her artistic passion, which she attempts to capture on the screen. These tools; the screenplay, the actors, the physical setting and the cinematography all combine to bring into existence a new emotional experience that is shared with an audience.

Today, as a result of rapid digital innovation, a filmmaker has the opportunity to use another set of tools to unlock and organize the passion of her audience. When deployed successfully they give an audience a chance to share a passion with each other and connect with the creator of the movie. Through their use the filmmaker expands her audience in every venue her film plays. These digital tools are broadly available across many online social networks and they are FREE.

Are filmmakers and distributors truly taking advantage of these tools? Let’s look at the recent release of BRIGHT STAR as an example.

BRIGHT STAR is an exquisitely realized movie in every way, from its acting, its directing, its screenplay, to its cinematography. It was a pleasure to watch with an audience. Jane Campion made great use of the tools she was given.

What about online?

Thompson on Hollywood

BRIGHT STAR’s web site looks well designed, plays music that sets the proper mood and provides links to basic information about the movie. It all looks great. Unfortunately the site just sits there, like a dressed up newspaper or magazine ad. This is how the web was used five, even ten years ago.

At the bottom of the page there are links to MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. Aren’t they the web of today? Look at these links closely. The MySpace fan page has 21 friends, the Facebook page has 1,409 fans and the Twitter account has 261 followers. These are all small numbers, even Facebook’s. These social networks are vastly underutilized.

BRIGHT STAR put up its website and began posting to these platforms on August 13, roughly thirty days before the initial theatrical release of the film.

This was their first mistake. You can’t engage with an audience online and get their attention within social networks on such short notice.

Since the launch online they have posted 7 times on Facebook and have created 59 Tweets on Twitter. This is a very small number for two months of activity.

On Twitter, BRIGHT STAR is called @keatstweets, on Facebook, BRIGHT STAR. The tweets never appear on Facebook, nor do the Facebook posts appear on Twitter. In addition, none of the tweets contain a URL that directs anyone to more information about the movie, where it is playing, who is in it, who directed it, or more importantly what other people feel about it.

The mistakes include; starting late, creating only a small number of posts, naming the BRIGHT STAR effort different things on different platforms, failing to link the platforms being used and not understanding the specific value each platform has to offer. In sum, not a great use of the tools.

More importantly, there is one fundamental mistake that undercuts all of BRIGHT STAR’s digital efforts.

The distributor is not selling the right brand to organize and deliver the audience they seek. The brand that needs to be “sold” here is not BRIGHT STAR. It is JANE CAMPION. Why? Audiences want to EXPERIENCE BRIGHT STAR but they want to CONNECT with JANE CAMPION. In the social web that makes all the difference.

What do I think should be done to gather an audience online and deliver paying customers to movie theaters?

Here are a few ideas. They would apply to any independent filmmaker or distributor, so Jane Campion is really a stand in for every filmmaker.

FIRST– Jane Campion should have a blog that is called Jane Campion. On it she should post anything that gives everyone a sense of her artistic vision, such as links to her movies, links to interviews she has posted on YouTube, comments about her favorite films, influences, etc. She should have a fan page on Facebook and a Twitter account, (also under Jane Campion) so that whenever she blogs it appears on those platforms as well.

SECOND–When she starts making a film– no later than the first day of preproduction–she should post to her blog and tweet regularly about the production. This allows the audience to share in her experience as the film evolves. She should continue this through the completion of the film all the way up to and during the release of the movie in every market in which it appears.

THIRD–When the film is initially released she should attend as many regular theatrical shows of the film as she can and meet with her fans one on one when they exit. She should tweet her location before she arrives to let people know she is coming and what she is hearing from fans. She should have someone with her use a smartphone to record, publish and tag these conversations for all to see—all flowing back to her blog, to Facebook, and Twitter. She should encourage all her fans to create and share from their phones as well.

All of these ideas use digital tools that exist today and are FREE. They unlock the passion that resides in the audience, their desire to connect and share. They generate a very large multiplying effect. (In the old days, this was called word of mouth.)

Now, ask yourself the following. If Jane Campion had the same number of followers on Twitter that Zoe Keating has (1,131,033, @zoecello), and she used the three ideas above, do you think BRIGHT STAR’s box office gross would be higher than it is today?

And what about BRIGHT STAR’s Academy Award campaign? Would it be more successful?

Chris Dorr can be followed on Twitter @chrisdorr

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Chris Dorr

The Future of Movies–Thanks for your comments and for posting your link. There will be more to come from me as well as the surface of all this is barely being scratched.

The Future of Movies

Hi Chris,

Great article. I completely agree with your suggestions for improvement on the ‘Bright Star’ online presence and find it shocking that any of the comments would suggest a filmmaker’s job ends with production. The job is to tell a story and connect with an audience. Years ago you could hire a distributor to fill in the blanks, but no more.

This is my brief follow up…

But I have plenty more about this topic on the site as well.

Thank you for explaining this and using concrete examples of a film that is currently happening. Hopefully some other films will learn from the mistakes of films like ‘Bright Star’.

-The Future of Movies

Chris Dorr

Anonymous–Thanks for your note. I wish I could respond to a person with a real name as I believe in real conversations online between real people who are more than willing to identify themselves and stand behind their statements. But I digress. First, I am not perfect, but thanks for thinking I might be. Second, though this is a new company, it is run by people who are very experienced professionals in the distribution business. Any criticism or suggestions I make are done so because I love the film and want it to succeed. The arena of online social networks, the real time web and of mobile to which I refer in my post are all very new and very few people in the movie business really understand how they intersect with each other and how to use them in a positive way to engage an audience. I think Bright Star is an example of a missed opportunity in those areas and they still have the chance to grab that opportunity as they continue to release the movie. I wrote this post in the hopes that they might grab that opportunity sooner than later, not just for future films but for Bright Star as well.


I think that this is about as unfair a publication as one can post. Where is it stated that Bright Star is the first film from a brand new distribution company – this is akin to posting a restaurant review during the first week. I guess the author is perfect and comes out of the gate on all new endeavors spot on each time. Grow up and review attempts by companies with a few films under their belts.

Chris Dorr

Martin, Thanks for your comments. I read your blog and reviewed your slide share presentation–all 302 pages!

You have a lot of great material in the blog and the powerpoint. However, it is all buried by too many graphs, too many case studies and way too many slides. If you want to convince an audience of anything, this will simply not work.

I would challenge you to do the following. Come up with a presentation that is no more than 10 slides (with only a small amount of key information on each slide). The notion of a “conversation” with an audience is a radically different one that “marketing” to an audience. You must capture that and make it clear. As you present it now, I fear people will not get it. Good luck.

Chris Dorr

jl, Thanks for sharing these numbers. It would be interesting to see the split for just 20 or 25 and above or even 30 plus, which is a more important demo for indies, as teenagers rarely go to independent films, let alone talk about them. Twitter for example is used much less by teenagers that people 25 plus, as teenagers use sms as a tool to communicate much more. No self respecting teenager would be caught dead at a screening of Bright Star for example. It is also true that women over index on almost all social networks and women 54 plus for example are the fastest growing demo on Facebook, a prime audience for Bright Star. They are not even included in the study carried out by OTX, which is not surprising at OTX is working for the studios not independents.

Martin Walsh

Hi Chris,

Great post and I couldn’t have written anything better!

Coincidently I have been asked by SPAA (Screen Producers Association Australia) to run two sessions at this years SPAA Conference in Sydney between 17-20 November in Sydney and my blog post is very similar in detail but much more comprehensive.

I’ve lead digital marketing for Microsoft for the past 4 years and I am also an award winning producer and I am investing in a couple of film projects.

I have written a detailed blog post to provide context and background to the problem with Australian films titled “Can Australian Films Make Money?”

I am also bringing out two of Hollywood’s top digital marketers to help me cover the topics:

Gordon Paddison – Principal, Stradella Road & former Executive Vice President New Media, New Line Pictures (District 9, Lord of The Rings trilogy, Snakes on a Plane, Austin Powers and many more & Variety’s “Integrated Marketer of the Year” Award in 2005)

Stephanie Bohn – Director of Worldwide Marketing, Digital Distribution Warner Bros (The Dark Knight, Sex and the City, Hangover, Harry Potter and many more)

In our two SPAA sessions my co-speakers and I will help you gain a more comprehensive understanding of targeted movie marketing, divulge inside tricks, techniques and trends, outline how and where audiences are consuming content, take you through some case studies such as District 9, Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Watchmen, Snakes on a Plane and provide an essential perspective that will help reorient your approach to storytelling, distribution & marketing. We will also have a guest panel of industry experts taking Q&A’s at the end of our Part II session.

I also have a comprehensive PowerPoint on Digital and Social Influence Marketing on SlideShare –





“OTX did an online survey of nearly 1,500 moviegoers in mid- September, the bulk of the sample being moviegoers from age 13 to 49, the key moviegoing demographic group. When asked what was the most influential source for word of mouth, most respondents picked “family and friends and coworkers,” which scored 40%, followed by Facebook (31%), MySpace (9%), IMDB (8%), with Twitter and online message boards bringing up the rear with 6% each.”

Chris Dorr

Sam–Thanks for the kind remarks. Among independent filmmakers I think no one is too big to avoid jumping in. And only by jumping in and experimenting with it all does anyone really figure this new path out.

Sam Kitt

Chris Dorr has offered up some very useful and illuminating advice on how to to amplify positive “word of mouth” by stitching together social networks for the “viral marketing” of films that need this kind of boost to reach their full potential. In our new world filmmaker who are “above” this sort effort may find cold comfort in blaming distributors for not implementing these strategies. As Dorr points out, these are new tools for communicating with an audience and isn’t that a large part of what filmmaking is all about? I envy filmmakers who have a strong enough market profile to delegate these tasks but if you are still trying to get there you ignore these ideas at your own risk.

michelange quay

Ok, fair enough. As long as its not disgusting! ;)

Chris Dorr

Michelange Quay–Thanks for your comment. You are right that this has the potential to become solely self promotion as art, etc. However it does not necessarily lead in this direction. In fact, in the hands of gifted people it becomes quite the opposite. It becomes the possibility of sharing with the world what is most compelling, the artistic vision itself. Again, as I wrote in my article on Zoe Keating, google her name and see what she has done. Not of it is self serving or a self surveillance exercise or “disgusting” in any way. It is all very dignified for all concerned.

michelange quay

all this about turning the pre and prod process into a constant self surveillance exercise and public diary writing campaign disgusts me. some of us practice the art so that the work speak for itself, and retains some dignity, some intimacy, for both the creators and the viewers – away from this Maury Povich meets Houellebecq art as self promotion as art as self promotion stuff. Cant people make and or watch films in privacy anymore? next thing you know we’ll have to blog as spectators while watching. Yuck!

Chris Dorr

Sheri–Thanks for your kind remarks. You are very right about conversation as the key to all this. Many marketing people do not realize that the world has flipped on them in the last two years. You have to reach people where they live and connect with the passions that move them. The only way you can do this is through a two way conversation. The days of simply broadcasting a message are fast disappearing.

Melissa–You are very right about the groups that could respond to this movie. They are really about crafting something with your hands. I would reach out to the community built up around Etsy, which sells hand crafted items over the internet, for example. Jane Campion hand wrote some notes about directing to give guidance to someone who might want to direct. They are beautifully and simply expressed. They are buried on the website, I would bring to the fore as they reinforce this theme. Here is a link

Melissa Silverstein

As a person who does online marketing and who have loved to have sunk her teeth into Bright Star my online outreach strategy for Bright Star would be to engage people (particularly women) in the targeted markets that the film would be opening in.

One way I would have done that thing would be to reach out to the huge online knitting/sewing community. Knitting/sewing is such a big part of the film, and it is a way great way to engage women who are passionate about that to see how the film relates to them. On this film, I would also be hitting the poetry world hard. Suggest that people come to the movie and then organize a poetry slam afterwards.

To get very busy women who are passionate about a topic into a movie and then to talk about it and recommend it to others you need to reach them where they are in their lives.

I think Bright Star has great potential but these types of strategies take time and creativity. The good news is that Bright Star has a ton of potential. As Anne said on her Oscar podcast it needs to be able to sustain some box office momentum in order to keep on people’s radar screen to get noticed in the awards season.

I think this is a top notch film and utilizing online strategies could really enhance box office and buzz in this next crucial month.

Melissa Silverstein

Sheri Candler

You sooo rock Chris Dorr and you are right on the money. WAKE UP filmmakers, marketing IS your responsibility and it has to be done from the script stage no matter how you are distributing (but especially self distributing!).

I love the comment (and tweeted it in fact!) “You can’t engage with an audience online and get their attention within social networks on short notice.” As film marketer for low budget filmmakers, I usually get inquiries from filmmakers who didn’t find traditional distribution and now want to self distribute, TODAY, with no audience built up. That takes soo much time and effort. Totally worth it, but must be started early in the process. Obviously someone like Ms Campion doesn’t feel this kind of thing is her worry, but I bet her distributors and investors will think so if they don’t make money on this very niche film.

I might make one other suggestion. Social media (especially Twitter) is two way conversation. It isn’t a ad platform, per se. You the filmmaker or distributor, whatever, must engage with the “Fan” “Follower”. Think of it as a big party. No one likes to listen to someone constantly talk about themselves with no regard for their listeners. Open up that wall for photos and videos. RT or reply on Twitter with your followers. Don’t constantly send me to your website or only tell me when there is a new article available. I will unfollow and so will others. It is not a place for self advertising only, it has to be earned through engagement.

The tools are there, the tools are free. Use them or find someone who knows how to use them help you.


Agreed! :) Thanks for your thoughts!

Chris Dorr

Adriane, Thanks for your note. I would say the following. If this movie had 10,000,000 friends on these social networking platforms, you can bet the distributor would be making this movie available everywhere they possibly could. I bet if it had only 1,000,000 friends it would be literally forced to put it in more theaters as demand would be so great.


Thanks for the comment Chris. Let me first say that I’m just a fan of Jane’s and don’t know her personally or work for her as I don’t believe I clarified that in my statement. I don’t believe that Jane has ever really wanted to promote herself but rather she relies on her work to speak somewhat for itself. I just don’t believe that Jane would promote herself on-line and relies other people to do their jobs which is to stand behind her work as she does. In any case, I do agree that the ball was dropped somewhat in the promotion of the film on-line and I hope that people WILL SEE Bright Star.
Another thing I don’t think has been mentioned as that this film is available by limited release only in the States right now. I live in a small town and have not even seen it yet…and it probably won’t come here unless it is nominated for Oscars…that’s another thing about promotion…even if there were 10,000,000 friends on the Bright Star myspace, facebook and twitter, it doesn’t do any good if people can’t even see the film in their hometown to begin with!

Chris Dorr

Josie–you are right Jane Campion can not be at every screening everywhere. I know this. I however believe that being at every screening at an opening weekend say in Manhattan can have a huge impact on the numbers of people who attend then and who come to hear about the movie. Imagine that every person who meets with Jane takes a picture, makes a video or posts a comment about the film online on Twitter, on Facebook, etc. Assume that 500 people do this, now assume that each person has 200 friends or followers on these networks. Do the math, that is 100,000 people who now have a personal recommendation and connection with Bright Star and Jane Campion and a strong incentive to see the movie. It gets better, now assume that only 10% of these 100,000 share this media with 200 of their friends. The new number is 10,000 x 200 which equals 2 million. This has a huge multiplier effect that pushes the movie into the marketplace with a big bang and it’s FREE!

Adriane, Thanks for your comments I do not fault Jane Campion either. I just think that filmmakers do not realize the power they are given with this digital media. I urge you and Jane to look at Zoe Keating as an example to follow–see my post of last week for more detail–She too is an artist , a cellist,dedicated to her craft. Yet she has dedicated herself to promoting herself online, (with no support from a record label, no manager, no agent, no pr firm) she has over a million followers on Twitter, etc., while she composes and records her own music. What is the result? She makes her music the way she wants to make it with no interference from anyone and she supports herself entirely with her music. This is what every independent filmmaker wants as well. Use the tools!


I run the Strange and Strong filmmaker Jane Campion page and and I understand the implications of what you’re saying. I’ve been running the page since May of last year and noticed just a few weeks ago that the Bright Star page popped up and offered to help promote the page by sending out bulletins, blogs about it, etc. Everytime I get a friend request or accept one, I push the film by putting the trailer or pictures from the film as well….the Bright Star myspace page is under the radar to be sure.
It’s my understanding that the distribution company is new and just barely got under way before Bright Star was released here -thus the reason things are slim on-line.
The Bright star scrap book site has been on-line for quite some time and to me, it’s even better than the ‘official’ Bright Star site.
I have however noticed that the film has been pushed on cable t.v. and have seen the trailer on the Sundance Channel a few times and on the IMDB site.
I can’t fault Jane Campion for any of this. She has been pushing this film by doing heaps of interviews and the film is being reviewed like crazy and being shown at many film festivals. This is not a film that your average movie goer is going to want to see so marketing for this sort of film is normally done somewhat differently anyway.
Besides all of this, Jane is working on not one, but two upcoming projects and I’m sure she has little time to deal with on-line websites! <<


i definately think jane campion should be at all the screenings meeting her fans one by one, country by country

Chris Dorr

Thanks for all the comments, please keep them coming. If I can make a few responses.

RJ I think my suggestions might be simple, but I think they are a bit more than simple minded. Filmmakers should control their personal brand and use it to gather audiences within social networks. Those that do this gain great power when their movie gets a distributor. I offered only a few ideas as to how they might do this. Is this a lot of work, yes, but I believe there are many positive results for the filmmaker who wishes to remain independent.

Ryan Sartor–yes you right in suggesting this is done with marketing folks who work at a distribution company.

Alan Green–I could not have said it better than you have. Great points!

taptup–Actually I have worked on a number of movies and recognize as you do that a director is swamped with much to do when a movie is being made. Every director may not want to do this. Fine, I am suggesting that if they want to succeed in getting people to come to their movie, it is now almost a necessity that they make this part of their arsenal, especially if they wish to succeed in the marketplace. Is it a lot more work? Absolutely.

AlanaSmithee–I also appreciated what was on the web page about the film. However, the big mistake made was there was no way I could easily share this great stuff with others. If I see an interview with Jane Campion or a piece she has written, make it easy for me to share with all my friends and followers. This online campaign did not do this.

Anonymous–you are very right, which is why filmmakers must push the envelope to make those things happen that create greater transparency. Let the audience in.

Ginger Liu–great comments, you are absolutely correct.

Johnson–I am aware that this company was not involved with the film from inception. Another reason why the filmmaker has to make these things happen, onerous as it might appear to be. However, there is no excuse for the online marketing effort that was deployed. It was very poor: in planning and execution. It was a campaign that could have done 5 years ago, a lifetime in internet terms. The internet has changed and is changing quickly. Everyone has to keep up or get swept aside.

In general I appreciate that everyone wishes to leap to Jane Campion’s defense. I too would like her to spend her time making great movies. My goal is to shorten the time between her movies, to help her get financing more easily and keep her independence. Gathering her own audience and bringing it to the table every time she makes a movie will help her accomplish that.

Alan Green

the content of posts/video/stills etc on production blogs would, of course, have to be moderated by someone or a group. common sense dictates you can’t say ‘this movie is going to suck’ on a production blog. you also couldn’t allow for video of takes that give away plot elements. et cetera

while the major studios need to exercise control over released materials during production, somebody somewhere at some time has to realize the current model is broken. if things continue on this track i would not be surprised if we see the majors collapse (or merge in order to survive) within a few years.

there are just too many examples of the classical approach failing. more every weekend. they fail to the tune of millions. we just saw some colossal economic upheaval. it’s a weird thought, but who could suggest it’s impossible for a major studio to go bankrupt?

in my opinion the current set up will fail. for sure. very soon. it’s collapsing now. whoever adopts a new model utilizing (free) internet saturation will survive and, hopefully, thrive. whoever doesn’t will almost certainly fail.

(most) movies should be shot for very little, digitally (as opposed to using film), and go viral online. while this may be considered paranormal activity for the major studios it seems like a viable approach to me.


Except this was an acquisition – so criticise the marketing strategy all you want, but ultimately Apparition wasn’t involved in the film when it was shooting and so inherited a lot of its materials from Pathe who sold the film internationally.

ginger Liu

I always recommend using a production blog. A website can be a bit static. I also post interviews with cast and crew and keep the info fresh -lots of images -stills and video. These create additional links to post and encourage link backs to the films blog, website and trailer.
Through combined strategies: blogs, forums, social networks -and constant postings and updates -buzz is created. It really works but you have to put the time and effort into it. I love it.

Ginger Liu
Ginger Media & Entertainment


The suggestions are good, but Hollywood tries to squelch the voices of the filmmakers, cast and crew during productions. In fact, it is not uncommon for crew to be asked to sign elaborate non-disclosure forms these days, preventing them from discussing, writing about or blogging anbout a film, or in any way, exercising their right to freedom of speech while the film(s) are in production.

Studios and marketing people also try to stiffle and control the PR to the point of strangulation. The reason is allegedly to stop “bad word of mouth” and/or to enable the studio to be able to “spin” a film’s marketing and production on their own terms, and not based on the actual reality of any given film, which might be infinitely more interesting. However, this excessive paranoia also prevents “good word of mouth” as well. This is a case where “no news” is not good news. Out of sight, out of mind!


I found two websites for Bright Star which is the site Chris Dorr refers to with the music, trailer, etc.
But there is also a wonderful scrapbook of production. I’ve spent time on the site particularly reading Ms. Campion’s notes to her apprentice director, which I have sent to every aspiring filmmaker I know. I also got a chuckle from the story of the young boy playing an extra who thought he had to pay to be in the film! Both these sites reflect the beauty of this film which I have seen. I personally would rather see Ms. Campion make more films than busy herself with posting tweets and blogs!


“He’s saying that the marketing team should advise Ms. Campion to do all of this.”

And WHY should she do that? Her work is to make the movie, not to sell it. I think Mr. Dorr knows very little of the process of making films. A director doesn’t have to be distracted by tweeting and posting messages. Some directors who did so said that it was helpful…but their movies were crap.

I think they should use those tools, but when they make an independent film with no distributor nobody should focus on that.

Alan Green

most effective tool in my opinion is the production blog. daily posts/observations, photo stills, video. starting with pre-production.

i’d give a still or video camera to anyone in the production that wanted one. all they have to do is shoot their daily experience. what’s it like to go get coffee for the crew at mcdonalds at dawn? how about the actors? what’s their daily life like? how tired do you get working 18 hour days?

put stuff like that up and you gain a following. a cross-platform approach should be de rigueur for movies today. make the video embeddable — invite anyone who is interested to post the material on their blog. saturate the web — official website, but also facebook, blogs, youtube, nyt, whatever, anything you can get.

i don’t see why movie makers think they can a) make the movie without involving the public, in a secretive way, then b) release it in theaters and automatically draw an audience. we should bring the public into the process, make them feel like it’s a family and they are part of it. let them see the daily grind (not the glossy fluff production videos that are meant as dvd filler, but regular minute to minute stuff), let them post comments, try to respond (in the 25th hour of the day if necessary). then when the movie comes to theaters you have a fan base that wants to see the product because they feel like it’s partly theirs. because they watched it being made. because, in a way, they were on set with the crew every day.

i think hollywood treats the public like drones. they think they’re entitled, elite, above it all. they make a non-commercial movie in a secretive process, then spoon feed the public a glossy expensive ad campaign, and expect us to gobble it up. this model is antiquated. big stars do not carry movies anymore. expensive ads do not sway people anymore. the public does not march to the theater on auto-pilot anymore.

we say it over and over. it’s time to change the approach. just look at the big budget movies with big stars that fail. one after the other. something isn’t working.

Ryan Sartor

I don’t think that’s what Mr. Dorr is suggesting. He’s saying that the marketing team should advise Ms. Campion to do all of this.


Dorr’s comments seem a little simple-minded, as if the director had full control of the distribution strategy. It would be more interesting to hear if Dorr has advice on how the distributor, not the just the filmmaker, can be successful online. In many cases, the filmmakers lose their influence as it relates to marketing once it’s sold … or they’ve moved on to other projects. The reality is that it’s the distrib’s job to build awareness, fill the seats, monetize the audience — it’s their money (advance, guarantee) at stake.

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