GADZOOK FILMS Producing independent film in Seattle, Los Angeles and beyond.

8May/13Off

Monetization of New Media – a panel recap

Hi there! I was lucky enough to attend a panel discussion at USC this past weekend featuring the likes of Freddie Wong (FreddieW YouTube channel), Mike Tringe (co-founder, CreatorUp), Matt Arnold (RocketJump), Jeremy Azevedo (Sr. Director of Original Programming at Machinima), Seth Jaret (CEO of ContentEngine), and Tarika Khan (Maker Studios). The subject of the panel was Monetizing Content for New Media Platforms. As this was a pretty common subject during my webseries meetups I thought it was prudent to attend. Here's what I picked up:

Note, if you're a frequent visitor to my blog you'll not see a lot of new info here.

Let me start out by saying the theater was packed for this. And why not? This is some juicy shit right here. We all want to know how to make that Google money. The general consensus across the panel was to diversify your revenue streams as much as possible - organic brand integration and Google ads being the top money-earners for YouTube channels. Other streams include getting paid to tweet, crowdfunding, merchandise sales, and licensing deals (work for hire). Of course none of these are really possible until you have an audience.

So we come back to content and developing your content along with your audience. Freddie, Matt, and Seth were very clear that your content is who you are - this is quite simply your business. Don't skimp out on content just to get shit up. Make something you're passionate in and research who might also like that. Target that audience - blogs, forums, Facebook groups, etc. Find wherever this audience may be hiding and direct them to your channel. Then work with them to improve and provide more of what they're looking for. But bottom line if you're not passionate about your work your audience is going to lose interest as well.

To be truly successful it entails a lot of work. You need to have a new video at LEAST once a week. Your audience is content hungry. The channel reps - Jeremy and Tarika - emphasized this point. Their channels aggregate millions of views and content is continually being uploaded and spread across their network. There's always something new. If you're releasing once a month or less (like I am!) you'd better be backing that up with content elsewhere like a blog, website, Twitter, or better yet all of the above.

I'm not sure who on the panel said it but you want to "establish your eyeballs" first. That is, grow your audience using your content. Once you've got a sizable enough viewership then you can start to make a dent in monetizing. I can tell you first hand that even 10,000 views on a video amounts to a pittance in Google ads. Something like $0.24 or so. But if you're posting multiple 10,000+ view videos a week, that can slowly add up and your content then becomes more valuable to brands looking to expand their own viewership.

Freddie had a good point in encouraging new producers to not rely on view count alone. Audience engagement can be worth a lot more in the long run than strictly views. If users watch the first second or so of your video and then turn it off or switch to something else you'll never keep them long enough to watch that mid-video embedded ad. An engaged audience member is many more times likely to follow an advertiser you link to, share your video, and donate to your Kickstarter campaign.

If you want to get yourself involved with a network like Machinima or Maker you need to establish yourself first. Both entities work with "personalities" and deal less with producers trying to pitch shows to them than they are incorporating producers who already have shows running with modest success. The benefit of joining a network like that is an increased viewership and a revenue stream that's spread over many similar channels.

The main thing to remember is that you are your brand. Owning your IP (as Felicia Day has done with The Guild) is of utmost importance. But, as Jeremy at Machinima stated, it should not kill you to keep your IP. Be prepared to negotiate in order to get what you want.

Lastly YouTube is not, as many people believe, a "meritocracy." No matter how good your show is it could linger at the bottom of YouTube searches for a myriad of reasons. Think "virality" when you create content in addition to production value. Work on tags and metadata. These will help bring in that audience to help you monetize your videos.

What do you think? Agree or disagree with the panelists? Were you there and think I missed anything important? Let me know in the comments!

5Oct/12Off

Where Does Money Come From?

Piggybacking perhaps on my recent post about selling out, just where do you hope to find your financial backing? In the web-series world I think a lot of faith is placed on the nebulous world of online advertising. Still others are hoping some mysterious force - be it fans or sponsors - will see the work they do and offer to help out. But all of these methods insist you actually make your show FIRST.

This method has like a 20% success rate. That's a completely made-up and biased number based on little more than my impression of the industry. But go with me here. How many of you have started projects offering folks deferred pay with the promise of creating a stellar project which would - now here's the key - lead to financing for a 2nd season. Raise your hand. Now how many of you have successfully financed a second season. Like, raised everything you needed to fully pay everyone industry rates AND pay them the deferred fees agreed upon for the first season? Is your hand still raised? If so we definitely need to talk. If not, read on!

Truth be told most projects, including many Hollywood endeavors, start off as passion projects. At least one person commits the time and energy and (often) money out of pocket to get their project to a level where people with money will actually look at it. This could be a script to pitch, a Kickstarter campaign video, or an entire first season of a web-series. You can't really get away from it, you can just strive to limit the time-suck by getting your shit together before you ask other people to come on board.

OK, so let's say you've gathered your team and they have all agreed to work on this project for nada. Remember you've promised them that with excellent work and the kind of production value you expect from a million-dollar per episode television series, you'll be able to pay them because... ?

Sorry, how will you?

If your business plan is simply to make an exceptional project and hope for the best then you're not finished with that plan. I would hesitate to even mention it to anyone - be they potential crew or potential investors. With film business plans it's imperative to present to your investors (including potential deferred cast/crew members... yes they're investors too!) not just the sort of business you expect to do (comparables) but also how you hope to acquire that business (revenue streams). This info can easily be extrapolated to web-series as well, and I strongly recommend you go through and make a business plan now (or update it).

Think about it. No one expects you to make a shitty web-series. Everyone is gonna hope for the best of course! So promising to make the best one you can is a foregone conclusion. But once production is over how hard are you looking for your audience, aka your financiers? You MUST start before you hire your first crew member or cast your first role.

Trust me I'm a gold-winning overly-excited-filmmaker. When I have a project idea I want to MAKE IT. And that works if you don't care about making money. But if you are promising people that, yes, eventually, you want to be making money then you need to think about it.

OK. But where, pray tell, is that money? It could be via a distributor (XBOX Live), via a sponsor (Sprint), via audience support (Kickstarter). I will most definitely go into this in a future post but I want to hear from you. Where are YOU looking for money? You don't have to give specifics but what is your business plan looking like? Have you advanced beyond the "hope for the best" mentality? Have you approached backers somehow before you started shooting?

26Jul/12Off

Cloud Atlas and the Myth of the Standard Length Trailer

There are two things to get into with the release of the 6-minute long trailer for Cloud Atlas (and additional director preface). One, it shatters the concept that a trailer must be short. And two, these are industry pros making, essentially, a Kickstarter video package. Check it out. Go ahead... I'll wait.

Didja see it? Wow, right? Epic. I haven't read this book and I LOATHED the sequels to The Matrix, but this might have me back in the Wachowski's court. Let's talk about the trailer. It's long, but to me it's just long enough. It touches on just about every aspect of the story it seems and, to a keen-eyed observer, appears to give away several major plot points and narrative directions. In trailers I generally hate it when they give too much away - it feels like the movie as a whole then has very little to say. Why would I want to sit through a 2-hour movie when a 2-minute trailer does a better job of telling the story? But that's sort of been the deal with trailers for a decade or more. Trailer editors are experts at condensing a story into it's best parts. For some movies that means showing all the big explosions and set pieces. For others it's capturing that moment that echoes throughout the whole story.

Compare, say, the trailer for Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon... with the first teaser for WALL•E. Pretty different, I'd say.

In the Cloud Atlas trailer - can we even officially call it a trailer now? - there's all of that and more. It starts off more like a short film and then contracts into the typical trailer format but for an extended amount of time. With the prelude you only just start to care about the characters (especially Jim Broadbent), which makes the visuals later on have a slightly greater impact. It's a very interesting concept and one I think filmmakers working on short subjects could learn from. I know I did.

Now let's shift to the director's preface. Or commentary. Or interview. Whatever you want to call it. It's scripted, sure. And hey, that's Lana Wachowski (formerly known as Larry)! She looks great! But you really see the passion these three have for the project. It allows all three a moment to connect and works similarly to those, ya know, anti-drug/anti-cancer ads where a group of people are all saying the same thing but the cuts between them make it that much more meaningful because they're saying it in their own voice.

I think if you're planning to crowdfund you can take this VERY simple technique with you. It's about the passion. Why should we care about your movie? What drew you to the story? What do you like most about it? What is the call to action? All of those questions are answered in this piece. Plus it's a third the length of the actual trailer, which is ALSO good. We want to see passion but we also want to see you know what you're doing and can back it up. They didn't overdo it. It's exactly as long as it needed to be.

What do you think? Again, book adaptations aside, this looks like it could be pretty interesting. On a filmmaking level how did it play to you? Was the trailer too long? Did the directors convey anything to you that pushed you one way or another?

21Mar/12Off

Myth of the “no-budget” anything

For some filmmakers the perfect budget is $0.00. Many of these filmmakers tend to believe the project itself is the reward and everyone should be happy (even enthusiastic) to work on it for free. When anyone tells you they can make something as complex as a film for nothing you should immediately be wary. Even (especially?) if it's me. Making shows is never free. There's always some cost, hidden or otherwise, that should be accounted for. So just what is a baseline of "no-budget" filmmaking?

Costs come from various sources. I'm not going to give a line-item description of all those costs (that's a whole 'nother blog - do you even know of a good budgeting blog? I don't.) but you still need to know what these line-items are. Without an accurate picture of what goes into making a show (be it a webseries, film or TV project) you can't adequately plan what you need to beg, borrow, or steal. Costs breakdown into a few categories: cast, crew, equipment, food.

When you're planning to shoot with a next-to-nothing budget you need to be more diligent in your pre-production, not less. You've gotta be clear about your vision, what you're trying to accomplish and what your endgame is. Having a clear plan from concept through distribution will help win people to your cause.

CAST & CREW
The #1 cost associated with filmmaking - and subsequently the one most filmmakers try to avoid - is crew salaries. Obviously, hiring people will send your budget skyward. Bringing on volunteers will reduce the budget considerably but it also, in some cases, makes things infinitely more difficult. Suffice it to say, if you're not paying people to work on your show you'll need to give back to them and be flexible. This goes well beyond simply offering a credit and some cold Nalley's Beef Stew.

The question should never be "Can I get a cast and crew to work for free." It should always be "Do I have to?" Once you commit to not paying anyone you have a lot more hanging on the project than just your reputation. Give them a reason to come work on (and finish!) your project. More on this in a follow-up post.

Moving on... At the very least, assuming the production is an intimate, contemporary, talking-head, one-location snooze-fest, you're still going to shell out money for equipment and food...

EQUIPMENT
Some people try to argue that they'll just buy the equipment outright and resell it when they're finished production thus resulting in a $0 balance for equipment. This reasoning fails to take into account any possible reshoots where the equipment might be needed and the fact that even the cheapest camera, lighting, and sound set-up will cost a couple thousand dollars, and even the best equipment will suffer a depreciation in the marketplace once used. And what if it breaks? You're out the resell value and will have to either buy or rent new equipment. You'll probably have to buy insurance too.

Sure, plenty of indie filmmakers have shot hours of footage on a used DVX100a without a hiccup. Plenty of indie filmmakers have also never made more than one movie because of their cheap-ass ways.

FOOD
If you've got someone who wants to be a chef and is up for cooking 30-40 meals a night and keeping them warm and ready to go the next day, someone with that kind of kitchen space and basically no other life... great. You can't do it because you're the filmmaker, you've got other things to do and don't even try to kid yourself into thinking making chili every day of the shoot will satisfy your obligation to your cast and crew. You're gonna need to go to Costco and get a shit-ton of crafty, and plan out hot meals for any day you'll be shooting more than 8 hours. You might be able to get a local restaurant to donate meals but you cannot count on this.

There are a bunch of other factors that could cost money. Don't even get me started on post! Oh man, from editing to music to color grading to distribution (yeah, you gotta buy those DVDs you want to send to fans), you either know it yourself or have a friend you can pester for months on end to get it done. Otherwise it's wallet time again! And locations! Geez... if you want to do something even mildly dangerous (say, having a guy chase another guy with a fake gun that doesn't even go off) you'll probably need to buy insurance to secure a location. Unless you shoot in your apartment and how boring is that?

If your goal is to spend as little money as possible your script needs to mirror that. You shouldn't come to the table with the next Avatar unless you're also willing to do most of the work yourself and do it for the years (YEARS!) it will take to finish it. Regardless of your script's scope, you need to budget out all real and potentially real costs before you can move on.

8Dec/08Off

T-Shirts

Hey everyone! So some exciting news just in time for the holiday season. As many of you know we here at GadZook Films have been collecting a slew of funny sayings and non-sequiturs. What better way to enjoy them than on a t-shirt? Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the GadZook T-shirt store!

T-shirts are now available from GadZook Films!

T-shirts are now available from GadZook Films!

We're beginning a fundraising push here to raise some money for equipment upgrades and more. Stay tuned for the unveiling of our IndieGoGo fundraising site in the next couple of weeks.

21Nov/08Off

Social Media Fundraising?

EDIT: Since I wrote this more research has revealed some specifics. I'm sharing that now. Thanks!

Lots of exciting things going on here at GadZook Films. First off I started a Twitter account. You can follow me and the GadZook crew by clicking the little icon in my sidebar.

GadZook Films is also on Myspace and Facebook, so add us to your friends and group lists! You'll feel so smug when all of your friends marvel at how GadZook Films was your friend months before we accepted their friend request. There's a link in the sidebar to the Facebook group as well, if, ya know, you just like to watch.

But here's the real issue: can independent filmmakers, like us here at GadZook Films, raise money using the internet's vast social networking resources? The folks at IndieGoGo believe we can. They have an interesting, albeit not new, business model. You, as Joe Filmmaker, set up a project on their site, establishing a specific fundraising goal. You e-mail friends, family, fans and let them know about what you're doing and how they can help. Theoretically the whole 6 degrees of separation should nab you more fans and more potential donors.

With regards to the fundraising aspect of IndieGoGo, it's a pledge system. Donors may pledge money to your cause using Amazon Payments (a filmmaker must setup an Amazon Merchant account). Money is not taken out of the donor's account, however, until the project meets its goal. IndieGoGo charges a 9% administration fee against all the money you end up actually raising. If you don't get any of the money then you don't pay. 9% is pretty high, more than some of the film-related non-profit umbrellas I've worked with in the past charge anyway.

For the record, Fundable.org, another web-based fundraising tool for filmmakers, charges a 10% admin fee. They use PayPal instead of Amazon to delivery payments.

It's basically a method of leveraging any sort of social network you've constructed for yourself to help raise money for film projects. And I'm going to be a guinea pig and try it out. Head over to my IndieGoGo site, become a fan of GadZook Films and stay tuned. I'll be uploading a project in the next week and try to raise some financing for it. Help me out and you'll see first hand how it'll help! Questions, comments?

In next week's column I'll discuss paying for online video content.