How are you going to make money out of video production in the future? Sam Mestman takes look at the current state of the industry and describes what he would do to capitalise on future trends and opportunities.
Sam here… just a heads up… my articles, at least initially, are not going to be tech-heavy… mostly, that’s because I feel like that gets very well covered by other people. While I may do the occasional geek out over the nuances of Multicam metadata workflow… I think there are bigger fish to fry these days.
Instead, what I really want to focus on here with what I do at fcp.co is helping filmmakers, editors, and content creators get something no one really ever gave me… which is a way to connect to their unique, authentic voices as storytellers and give them access to real world, practical ways to approach their content careers that will save countless hours, make them a lot of money, and get them where they want to go with minimal stress and frustration.
I want to help people set realistic expectations of what they can expect from the content creation world so that they can become the best version of whatever their dream in this business now is.
The world is a very different place from when I went to film school and decided I wanted to be the next Kubrick/Scorcese/Tarantino.
My childhood was spent living at the multiplex, playing nintendo, watching VHS movies, and absorbing an insane amount of cable TV. I occasionally went outside and played basketball. Back then, it felt like I was preparing for some kind of calling and that I needed an encyclopedic knowledge of every moving image ever created so that I could live my dream.
As I look back on it… maybe I should have had different priorities… but either way… the world is different now. It’s so different, in fact, that a few weeks ago when I went to Chicago and asked the high school kids I was teaching iPhone filmmaking to (which didn’t exist when I was a kid) how they watched content these days, not a single one of them said they went to the movies anymore.
Also, none of them watched cable TV. So… after I got over feeling really old… it also occurred to me that I don’t watch cable TV or go to the movies anymore either… so maybe that’s even stranger.
Here’s the truth that I now fully accept… my dream of becoming the next Kubrick/Scorcese/Tarantino is now dead and impossible. It will never happen… because the world in which people like that make 2 hour masterpieces that we all go to the theater opening night to see no longer exists. It’s dead and gone.
Tarantino released a movie into the theaters a couple weeks ago that I have not seen yet, and there’s a chance I might not even see it during its theatrical run. I honestly can’t believe I typed that sentence… but I did and it’s true and I’m fine with it. The world is better than it used to be. It’s time for all of us to live a new dream and the question now is… which one?
Here’s the thing… the concept of the mega-auteur was built on a fundamental scarcity archetype. Only a select few were knighted to become directors because making a movie used to be damn near impossible, and an insane amount of resources were required in order to make one… so you had to really prove that you were deserving.
This scarcity led to an intense initiation process where you had to work yourself up a ladder no one would ever explain to you, write a ton of scripts no one would allow you to make, and essentially run around Los Angeles with your hand out begging everyone you came across to help you make your movie or series.
Occasionally, a couple people would hit the lottery, and either their crappy little indie movie would get bought (see Kevin Smith or Robert Rodriguez) and they’d get launched into the mass consciousness, or you’d grind away for 20 years while the Wizard of Oz beat you into submission until maybe he’d finally let you direct something that kind of resembled the script you initially wrote… if it was something you had written at all.
If you were lucky, The Wizard of Oz might even let you into the edit room to make some decisions on the edit… and you’d turn in your directors cut that would typically never see the light of day… but if it was really amazing and you became famous one day, they’d write a book about how you got screwed by the studio and talk about that directors cut like it was the holy grail of filmmaking (See Blade Runner).
Anyway, if you made a couple of these movies that did well, maybe you’d gradually get more creative control as you churned out romantic comedies for the system. These were your options for success… unless you were a high priest of Hollywood like Kubrick/Scorcese/Tarantino and they let you make what you wanted. Also… no one really told you this is how It was when you went to film school. They just told you it was going to be hard to break into the business. I, like everyone else who came to Hollywood, assumed that even though it would be hard, I would be the exception. There are a lot of would-be exceptions walking around Hollywood. Don’t become one. Be something better. Lets talk about how to do that now.
First… there’s a fundamental rule you need to follow if you want to make money in the world… in order to make money, you need to be able to solve a problem (so long as you don’t want to be a professional parasite, which is a route a lot of people unfortunately choose).
When you apply this rule to content creation… it means you should make content that solves a problem for people. The larger the amount of people you solve a problem with your content for, the more money you are going to make (if you monetize your content properly… but we’ll get to that in future articles).
The bottom line is this… if you want to get paid to make content, be that as a filmmaker, editor, actor, or media professional, you will need to solve a problem for the person paying you. The person paying you might be a producer, Hollywood, Netflix, Amazon… or it might even be your next door neighbor who needs a video for his small business.
The thing that you need to realize, though, is that you are solving a problem for someone with your content when you are being paid for it. Currently, the biggest problem you can solve for people is… eyeballs.
The biggest problem ad agencies, corporations, studios, and traditional Hollywood companies face now is that they’re losing their eyeballs. These eyeballs have become really hard to reach as the eyeballs are realizing that they don’t like to be sold to anymore. The eyeballs find traditional marketing tiresome and annoying. In fact, the average set of eyeballs hates being sold to now.
Eyeballs, especially the educated ones with lots of money now pay more to be ad-free. They hate 30 second spots. They hate pharmaceutical ads. They have better things to do with their time… you know, like, literally doing anything else with it. Eyeballs now make fun of slogans and tag lines. Eyeballs have started to only gravitate to trusted sources… to what they call INFLUENCERS, who are now the keepers of the eyeballs. Influencers are now the new high priests. It’s better that you know this than pretend things are any other way.
Influencers come in many forms now.
They could be YouTube creators with millions of subscribers that get paid by companies to review products or create the world’s most elaborate domino setups.
They might be on instagram posing with really intense serious faces talking about inspiration as they wear clothing or certain kinds of makeup conspicuously… they might be on Twitter recommending articles about the illuminati… they might be on a website teaching you tricks about your favorite edit software… it doesn’t matter really… so long as you get the eyeballs of a certain paying demographic, there will be companies lining up to pay you for your efforts and fly you around the world to go places.
They’ll want you to do unboxing videos and say really clever things about the latest release. They’ll want you to pose next to things and smile as you talk about their brand.
Basically, companies, now that they can’t get you to watch their 30 second spot, need to find new ways to reach the eyeballs… and THIS IS REALLY HARD. They have no idea what they’re doing anymore and it becomes progressively harder as the average pair of eyeballs gets progressively smarter and can spot all the tricks of the trade.
In the end, what everyone is finding more and more is that people are dividing up into niches and echo chambers, and are rallying around things that resonate to them and that they find to be authentic. This is good news for you. You know how to be authentic… or at least you can learn. If you can become authentic and create content that rings true to others, you can be paid for this content.
Authenticity is your new blueprint as a content creator, and broadcasting your truth is your value proposition. I am currently living proof of this as you are currently reading this sentence.
So… what would my tactical blueprint for the modern content creator be in this new world where everyone needs authenticity and eyeballs on their business and everyone has to become an influencer?
I’d take a look around my world, see what I was an expert at (or if there was someone I knew who was an expert that didn’t know how to market themselves), and I’d start making incredible content that shared that expertise with the world in a way that no one had done it before.
I’d put most of it on a YouTube channel where I put something out once a week, but I’d also put a bunch of the short form stuff on instagram (30-90 secs) twice a week. I’d do a weekly or bi-weekly podcast with knowledgeable guests, I’d wrap it around a nice looking blog or website (and maybe connect it to Patreon), and I’d start building my audience and contacts in the industry I was doing this in… and I’d make each piece of content for as little money as humanly possible until I had fully developed my style, built a decently sized audience, and started to bring money in from what I was doing.
I would expect there to be a strong learning curve to this, but I would know that if I stayed consistent and listened to my audience, eventually I would stumble on something that would allow me to pay my bills… and then I’d be off.
I would also realize that the content I was creating was as much advertising as it was content, and I would start establishing relationships with other businesses in my field either for consulting work or as sponsors for my content. In some cases, I might use this all as an audition to get hired at the company in my space that I had always wanted to work at. The point is, make a lot of content consistently, see what resonates with people, and adapt as you need to seeing which media platforms work well for what you’re doing. Eventually you will find your way.
Also… If I was camera shy didn’t want to be a YouTube star or Instagram influencer and I wanted to make money generating content, I’d go start solving eyeball problems for local businesses around me, or realtors, or accountants, or other freelancers I knew who didn’t know how to make video, and I’d help THEM get the eyeballs they need by making quality authentic video and social media content for them that was effective.
I might even partner with the right influencers in their field to help them promote it. There’s a huge market right now in the small business realm if you know how to turn around great content quickly, and if I knew how to build effective video templates for people that helped promote their business affordably for the web or social media, I’d be working all the time.
Small businesses have no idea how to market themselves through video, they all have small budgets for marketing that they waste on hideous content that doesn’t work, and there’s a big market in just about every town for someone who makes great, affordable web and social media video for businesses (also called content marketing).
If you did quality work, word of mouth would spread quickly (believe it or not, NO ONE knows how to turn around short form video quickly and cheaply… but people who use FCPX should), and you’d have more clients than you could handle fairly quickly, especially if you could make the whole widget yourself (production and post).
You’d be able to get a name for yourself, create your own video team, and within a few years have a pretty modern sustainable business. I know this, because we sold Jellyfish to a ton of these people around the world the last few years, and this is a growth market. The bottom line is if you can solve a problem for a lot of small businesses quickly that generates a bunch of word of mouth, and if you can market yourself effectively and have good people skills, you will quickly generate more work than you know what to do with.
Here’s the thing… the old Hollywood way of breaking into the business just is not viable anymore.
That game is rigged, but the game does not have to be rigged for you. Solve problems for people and the universe will take care of the rest. If you can center yourself on what makes you unique, and you can solve problems for a worldwide audience or help local companies and people around you tell their stories effectively through video, you can make your own personal version of Hollywood.
I know this because I did it. My truth and authenticity has gotten me out of the Hollywood rat race, allowed me to start We Make Movies, found LumaForge and launch the Jellyfish, and has gotten me my current dream job of going all over the world teaching people filmmaking with their cellphones and writing articles about it. My question to you, person who wants to be a content creator, editor, media professional, and storyteller… what will your honesty, truth and authenticity create for you?
Sam Mestman is the lead contributor for FCP.co, the CEO of We Make Movies, and the founder of LumaForge. He’s had all the jobs and done all the things… but and more than anything… he's a guy who likes making movies, telling stories, and making the film industry faster, better, and cheaper. You can follow him on IG/Twitter at @sammestman. You can see his film community at @wemakemovies or www.wemakemovies.org