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Jonesy Jones

Is Sustainable Independent Filmmaking Possible?

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Let me clarify.

I have been a learning, improving, growing semi-professional videographer/filmmaker for the past decade. I lost my day job a little over a year ago and have been a full time freelance filmmaker since. This was based mostly on 2 clients who have sustained me for the past year. One of those just ended. The other will last several more months and then be done. 

I understand that sustainable freelancing is possible, I've done it, but honestly I don't want to do this forever. Clients can be frustrating and unpredictable. Hustling gets old. I don't mind freelancing some, but at some point soon I would like to create an income based on original content that I produce. And hopefully, slowly grow that to the point where it can altogether replace my freelance income.

Let me also say that I have zero nada zilch no interest in the Hollywood path, or really the festival path either. Waiting/hoping to get a green light or producing something with a lotteries' chance at getting a large enough distribution deal is not attractive to me. I want to create projects and self distribute them and monetize well enough that I could sustainably do it again, and again. 

Now there are plenty of services out there that allow me to monetize on my content, but I just don't really know if it works. Do people even buy/rent digital content these days? My assumption is that these days the vast majority of long form consumers 1) watch movies at the theater, 2) rent movies from Redbox, 3) watch shows/movies on Netflix or Amazon Prime, or 4) watch shows right from traditional broadcast. Of those, #1 (theaters) is not really a sustainable practice at my level. I think I can actually make a few buck here, but not nearly enough. #2 (Redbox) is not possible. #3 (Netflix) can also bring a small income, but again, not nearly enough. And #4 (broadcast) is out of the question. 

So again, the real question boils down to, can a filmmaker independently get enough digital/physical sales to sustain more projects? 

Vimeo has some very attractive monetizing services. These are easy to use and very doable on my end. But will enough typical consumers sign up and pay for content on Vimeo?

Amazon is attractive because consumers are already here (unlike Vimeo). However, their freemium model pays so little to filmmakers that in itself it is unreasonable to expect sustainability. And their profit share on buys/rentals is 50/50, which is a pretty substantial chunk from the filmmakers income. If Amazon brings along enough foot traffic all on it's own or makes the paywall way easier for the consumer, then the profit share setback is equaled out. But does that work?

Bottomline: if a filmmaker chooses strategically marketable projects, executes production well and ends up with a professional product, and implements the marketing plan well, can a filmmaker be sustainable? Do people buy long form content anymore? If you have any experience with this or have done research on this and may have info I do not, I would really really love your input. Thanks guys.

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30 minutes ago, Jonesy Jones said:

Let me clarify.

I have been a learning, improving, growing semi-professional videographer/filmmaker for the past decade. I lost my day job a little over a year ago and have been a full time freelance filmmaker since. This was based mostly on 2 clients who have sustained me for the past year. One of those just ended. The other will last several more months and then be done. 

I understand that sustainable freelancing is possible, I've done it, but honestly I don't want to do this forever. Clients can be frustrating and unpredictable. Hustling gets old. I don't mind freelancing some, but at some point soon I would like to create an income based on original content that I produce. And hopefully, slowly grow that to the point where it can altogether replace my freelance income.

Let me also say that I have zero nada zilch no interest in the Hollywood path, or really the festival path either. Waiting/hoping to get a green light or producing something with a lotteries' chance at getting a large enough distribution deal is not attractive to me. I want to create projects and self distribute them and monetize well enough that I could sustainably do it again, and again. 

Now there are plenty of services out there that allow me to monetize on my content, but I just don't really know if it works. Do people even buy/rent digital content these days? My assumption is that these days the vast majority of long form consumers 1) watch movies at the theater, 2) rent movies from Redbox, 3) watch shows/movies on Netflix or Amazon Prime, or 4) watch shows right from traditional broadcast. Of those, #1 (theaters) is not really a sustainable practice at my level. I think I can actually make a few buck here, but not nearly enough. #2 (Redbox) is not possible. #3 (Netflix) can also bring a small income, but again, not nearly enough. And #4 (broadcast) is out of the question. 

So again, the real question boils down to, can a filmmaker independently get enough digital/physical sales to sustain more projects? 

Vimeo has some very attractive monetizing services. These are easy to use and very doable on my end. But will enough typical consumers sign up and pay for content on Vimeo?

Amazon is attractive because consumers are already here (unlike Vimeo). However, their freemium model pays so little to filmmakers that in itself it is unreasonable to expect sustainability. And their profit share on buys/rentals is 50/50, which is a pretty substantial chunk from the filmmakers income. If Amazon brings along enough foot traffic all on it's own or makes the paywall way easier for the consumer, then the profit share setback is equaled out. But does that work?

Bottomline: if a filmmaker chooses strategically marketable projects, executes production well and ends up with a professional product, and implements the marketing plan well, can a filmmaker be sustainable? Do people buy long form content anymore? If you have any experience with this or have done research on this and may have info I do not, I would really really love your input. Thanks guys.

Make compelling content for youtube and make it often enough to generate sustainable income.

Depending on people to pay you individually for specific content without some sort of marketing service doing the selling for you is not going to fly.

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Use patreon, I know some are sustainable but some still got a few miles ahead by using patreon. Subscription (or monthly contribution) is the way to go.  There is different mindset of paying to support and get content vs paying to buy content, which I doubt many want to spend to buy just the content, I know I wouldn't.  (look at honest trailer, their $1 subscription end in epic failure, if they do it on patreon that will be a complete different story)

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I still think the Amazon Prime deal is pretty good. Especially once you realize that there are over 80 million Prime subscribers worldwide and you are getting money even if the viewer only watches 5 minutes of your movie. And since it's listed for free, most viewers will give it 10 or 15 minutes. How many places can your movie be listed right next to a Hollywood movie?

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1 hour ago, ntblowz said:

Use patreon, I know some are sustainable but some still got a few miles ahead by using patreon. Subscription (or monthly contribution) is the way to go.  There is different mindset of paying to support and get content vs paying to buy content, which I doubt many want to spend to buy just the content, I know I wouldn't.  (look at honest trailer, their $1 subscription end in epic failure, if they do it on patreon that will be a complete different story)

I had never heard of Patreon before. This is another great option and very interesting. Thank you for posting this. This is exactly why I started the thread. Any other services that offer a way to monetize? 

54 minutes ago, mercer said:

How many places can your movie be listed right next to a Hollywood movie?

This is the draw of Amazon Prime isn't it. This is very attractive.... until you do the math. If one were to make a 90 minute film, you'd need 44,444 people to watch the ENTIRE movie to clear $10K, and $10K is not even close to sustainable. Maybe tier it off so that for a time your film can be watched only for purchase. Then after a while, only for rent. And then much later go the Amazon Prime route. There's also an ad model in the Prime options, not sure how effective that would be.

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It really boils down to creating content for which there is a large enough market to support your venture. The key to growth is virality. If your viral coefficient isn't greater than 1.0, you'll need to make some changes. This is true for all products, not just video.

If people aren't sharing your content/product with others, it's not yet good enough or you're marketing to the wrong audience. Finding your audience is just as important as creating great content.

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Edward Burns does something a bit different...they do small features....the crew (skeleton) all own shares in the movie (no crew pay)...he writes and directs...not sure how they deal with equipment and then the big part is how do they distribute...everyone obviously have to be able to sustain themselves till the film sells and all get paid...I saw him discuss this in an online interview once...you may find it on line and pay closer attention than I did...perhaps some wisdom/usable info for you in his interview.

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7 hours ago, ntblowz said:

Use patreon, I know some are sustainable but some still got a few miles ahead by using patreon. Subscription (or monthly contribution) is the way to go.  There is different mindset of paying to support and get content vs paying to buy content, which I doubt many want to spend to buy just the content, I know I wouldn't.  (look at honest trailer, their $1 subscription end in epic failure, if they do it on patreon that will be a complete different story)

I've never done crowdfunding but from the people that I know who have, it only really works if you already have a large fanbase/network. Starting without or concurrently building one would likely be an exercise in frustration. And it tends to only work well in niche networks (conspiracies, UFOs, cult historical figures, etc)

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2 hours ago, jonpais said:

I thought this was informative - a look at how Griffin Hammond released his documentary Sriracha, along with a breakdown of earnings, marketing...

I think this is a very viable model and good info. 

The thing to realize here too, is that the movie is okay, nothing special at all; meandering and narratively frustrating, but it's about a thing people are curious about, so they're willing to drop a few bucks on it. 

These sorts of niche markets are everywhere. 

Also, FWIW, I talked with the producer of this film earlier this year,

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/first_girl_i_loved/

and he was very encouraging about the self-distribution/marketing paths that currently exist for smaller films. The cliff note gist of that chat was essentially: "DIY niche online marketing with a budget" -- and, if you have a decent product, that'll generate enough sales to get things into the black. 

His essential sales avenue for that flick is iTunes. 

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6 hours ago, jcs said:

It really boils down to creating content for which there is a large enough market to support your venture. The key to growth is virality. If your viral coefficient isn't greater than 1.0, you'll need to make some changes. This is true for all products, not just video.

If people aren't sharing your content/product with others, it's not yet good enough or you're marketing to the wrong audience. Finding your audience is just as important as creating great content.

First of all, yes. Thank you jcs for sharing this. I find info like this, even though it is not a solution per se, helps me to see reality. And if you treat a film like a business, one needs to live in the real world. And that article was great and extremely helpful. 

However, I don't know that it necessarily addresses the problem. The problem is that people don't really want to buy content anymore. Most consumers still go to the movies. Most consumers rent from Redbox. Most consumers have Netflix or Prime or both. Most, or at least many, still watch content on broadcast. But who buys anymore? Does anyone? And honestly, it is the indie filmmaker who is most affected by this because all or most of those other outlets are not really available for the indie. Buying is our bread and butter. Even if my viral coefficient is huge, at least in the sense that my first customers tell everyone else about my film, if no one really buys anymore, if that's not how people consume content anymore, then it doesn't matter. I think most people just say, "meh, I'll just watch it when it comes on Netflix." 

On a side note, have you looked at Netflix's streaming offerings lately... it's pretty meager. Not too long ago I could find a rich mixture of older classic films and newer ones, as well as some great shows old and new. I was just fishing there yesterday and the pickings are slim. Amazon Prime too. I wonder if studios are realizing that streaming content is killing the industry. 

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4 hours ago, jonpais said:

I thought this was informative - a look at how Griffin Hammond released his documentary Sriracha, along with a breakdown of earnings, marketing...

Now that, and the included update link from the article, was fascinating. Honestly it's both encouraging and disheartening all at the same time. $80K for 3 years. Not huge money, but if he could repeat that even once a year, it could accumulate significantly.

But also, isn't this guy the frugal filmmaker or whatever? I mean, doesn't he have quite a social media presence already? I guess, most of his sales probably came from people who had never heard of him, but perhaps his following is what got the film off the ground. From there his "viral coefficient" took over. 

Also, it was very interesting to learn about windowing, which is exactly what I described earlier. 

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1 hour ago, Jonesy Jones said:

First of all, yes. Thank you jcs for sharing this. I find info like this, even though it is not a solution per se, helps me to see reality. And if you treat a film like a business, one needs to live in the real world. And that article was great and extremely helpful. 

However, I don't know that it necessarily addresses the problem. The problem is that people don't really want to buy content anymore. Most consumers still go to the movies. Most consumers rent from Redbox. Most consumers have Netflix or Prime or both. Most, or at least many, still watch content on broadcast. But who buys anymore? Does anyone? And honestly, it is the indie filmmaker who is most affected by this because all or most of those other outlets are not really available for the indie. Buying is our bread and butter. Even if my viral coefficient is huge, at least in the sense that my first customers tell everyone else about my film, if no one really buys anymore, if that's not how people consume content anymore, then it doesn't matter. I think most people just say, "meh, I'll just watch it when it comes on Netflix." 

On a side note, have you looked at Netflix's streaming offerings lately... it's pretty meager. Not too long ago I could find a rich mixture of older classic films and newer ones, as well as some great shows old and new. I was just fishing there yesterday and the pickings are slim. Amazon Prime too. I wonder if studios are realizing that streaming content is killing the industry. 

This is a sales issue. While "people" won't pay for content, your fans absolutely will pay for your content. All you have to do is figure out how to provide them value and they'll pay you. What value does your content provide? Is it funny and unique, not available anywhere else? Is it dramatic, does it tell great stories, does it help people improve themselves, does it help people make decisions, etc.? Can you use your videos to sell related products? For example, we're starting to sell a line of CBD products which we'll promote on our free personal-improvement videos.

YouTube ad sales for videos appears to be on the decline for a variety of reasons. That's why people are moving to Patreon.

I cut the cord years ago and have been using Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Apple TV to watch online content. Lately I've been using the YouTube app for living room/bedroom viewing and Apple TV or Amazon (not very often) for paid content. I joined Hulu to get Rick & Morty- since the new season isn't on Hulu yet, probably time to turn it off.

As a "startup" filmmaker, I think it's important to focus on content and finding your audience to build a fan base. Give it away for free, then later ask for subscriptions once your following is large. Keep some content free to attract new subs. Keep production costs very low, and focus on story and value to others. I remember seeing a couple make videos with an iPhone and a ring light with over a million dollars in revenue.

I started out with low cost cameras, lights and mics, and finally have end-game level gear (C300 II, Schoeps mics, high CRI lights), meaning I can't spend any more money to get higher quality (e.g. an ARRI Alexa isn't really going to look any better in the studio vs. the C300 II, plus it doesn't have AF ;)). The only thing holding back increased sales is producing more valuable content and finding fans who value this content. 'Value' is the key word.

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I think it's very possible but it's difficult. I think Rocket Jump has the closest thing to a good model that there is. They are absolutely cleaning up. But at the begging, when you're small, it's going to be very hard to monetize.

If you can move from day job with freelance supplementing it to freelance with creative work supplementing it to creative work paying the bills to creative work making you rich... then you just lived the American dream. If you have a vision, go for it. 

I have no advice except look to Rocket Jump and only do it if you have a vision and you're willing to fail but so desperate to succeed you don't worry about setbacks and failures. Look to Patreon and YouTube channels, too. 

And let me know what you find out!

And start small. Gall's law is truth!

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Thanks for starting this great thread!

I first heard of Patreon when I used to read interesting 'Doctor Who' articles by someone who was on it! It's an interesting idea: contribute to the person rather than the particular project.

A film-specific crowd-funding community I found (but haven't used yet myself) is Seed and Spark:

https://www.seedandspark.com/

Here's an article by Kevin Kelly about fan bases (probably a bit out-of-date now) called "1,000 true fans" which I found quite interesting when I first read it:

http://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans/

And also another by him about the nature of distribution in the age of 1:1 digital copying versus the era of precious copies:

http://kk.org/thetechnium/better-than-fre/

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17 hours ago, Jonesy Jones said:

I had never heard of Patreon before. This is another great option and very interesting. Thank you for posting this. This is exactly why I started the thread. Any other services that offer a way to monetize? 

This is the draw of Amazon Prime isn't it. This is very attractive.... until you do the math. If one were to make a 90 minute film, you'd need 44,444 people to watch the ENTIRE movie to clear $10K, and $10K is not even close to sustainable. Maybe tier it off so that for a time your film can be watched only for purchase. Then after a while, only for rent. And then much later go the Amazon Prime route. There's also an ad model in the Prime options, not sure how effective that would be.

I think you are right and wrong, it isn't a great deal or very encouraging if you look at it as though you need 44,000 people to watch your film, but when you look at the 80 million worldwide subscribers to Amazon Prime and think about it in terms of viewable hours instead of fully watched films, you will see that you get credit even if the viewer only watches one minute of your film. Of course, yeah it is hardly sustainable if you're trying to raise a family off it from day one.

But I do feel you have the possibility of making more money than a rental fee variant... because quite frankly... nobody knows who Jonesy Jones is, nobody knows the actors in your film, so without press and reviews... who will pay to watch your film?

The key to this, in my opinion... is cheap and fast. To have any sustainability, you need fans and without a catalogue of works, how do you build a fan base? So, make 3 or 4 movies over the next year and create a social media marketing strategy, submit to festivals, even small ones will give you the laurels to put on your poster, also there are a bunch of review sites that get a lot of traffic that you can submit for a review... some require a fee, but also guarantee a watch and review... but they do not guarantee a good review, the quality of work still matters.

I would love to hear @Zak Forsman 's thoughts on this because he has sold a movie and has titles on major VOD sites.

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16 minutes ago, mercer said:

I think you are right and wrong,

I agree. After reading through Griffin's experience and that he has made a decent amount ($23,000) over a couple years on Prime, it seems like it could in fact be a significant portion of sustainability. However, he also used "windowing" which is probably how he was able to monetize as much as he did. VOD first for the immediacy factor. Prime second. With Hulu in there somewhere too.

22 minutes ago, mercer said:

The key to this, in my opinion... is cheap and fast.

I agree, and add "good" to the list, and put if before the others, because the audience does not care how fast or cheaply it was made (in fact that would be a negative in their eyes) they only care about how good it is.

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I liked your post for diy lights here. 

I have contributed to a few youtubers with Patreon. $1 to $5 coming out automatically, for contents I'm interested in, I'm in.

If you want to go that route. 

 

 

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1 hour ago, Jonesy Jones said:

I agree. After reading through Griffin's experience and that he has made a decent amount ($23,000) over a couple years on Prime, it seems like it could in fact be a significant portion of sustainability. However, he also used "windowing" which is probably how he was able to monetize as much as he did. VOD first for the immediacy factor. Prime second. With Hulu in there somewhere too.

I agree, and add "good" to the list, and put if before the others, because the audience does not care how fast or cheaply it was made (in fact that would be a negative in their eyes) they only care about how good it is.

I agree... The Break In, which is the best case scenario, of the Amazon Prime path, was shot on an iPhone. Well, we discussed this already, found footage movies are popular, so it is an easier audience to grab for and I believe the iPhone angle was paramount in that film's "success." If the average audience member even knew it was shot on an iPhone (doubtful) it may have excited them. They have a great idea for a movie, they have an iPhone. But also, we are part of a specific niche involving no budget, DIY filmmaking and that brings its own audience to the table as well. So fast and cheap could help with the marketing of self-distributed material. But in the end, the cream will rise to the top, so making a good movie is as important. 

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So I think that it is smart to design projects that have the best chances of being marketed to not only a mass audience, but also to a DIY filmmakers audience.

But there is also this misconception that if you make a project you are passionate about, then it will only help you and that is true, to a point, but if you're passionate about 19th century ceramics, it will definitely be harder to be sustainable even if the movie is better than a found footage movie, or a slasher film, or an action film, or a crime film. At our level, I believe, a genre film will give you better odds at success.

Also, I think "good" is such a subjective word, with so many variables, that it may be important to have a voice than make a "good" movie.

This is probably the best topic posted in weeks and one I have been exploring as well. I would assume a multi-thronged attack, including festivals, is the smartest play to make a living as a narrative filmmaker. And even then, on micro budget scales, you will probably need to supplement your income with other means.

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