You love the craft, the process, and the art of filmmaking (or making any kind of content), but at some point you want your passion to help you earn a living. Eventually you want to make money.
The simplest path is to get yourself hired by a producer or a studio or someone who needs help on their content. But what if you want to create your own stuff? How do you make money off your creations?
First, let’s be clear about one thing: There’s no shortcut to making money in direct-to-consumer content, especially as a new creator. It’s a slow and deliberate process that requires that you spend time refining your material, figuring out how to monetize it, establishing a platform, and building an audience.
But it’s important to put yourself in the right position so that you’re ready when the day comes that your audience is ready to part with their cash. In this article, I’ll explain what it takes to start generating revenue as quickly as possible.
It All Starts with a Platform
If you are serious about producing and selling your own direct-to-consumer content, it’s important to build your own platform. Yes, you can earn some money by publishing your stuff to YouTube, Facebook, and other similar places, but those sites are owned by somebody else. At any moment, they could remove you from their platforms and shut down your entire revenue stream.
That isn’t to say the social media sites don’t have any value. They are great promotional tools to drive traffic to your own website, but you can’t rely on them for income. By all means, accept whatever ad dollars they’re willing to give you, but think long-term by creating your own website.
Fortunately, building your own platform is a hell of a lot easier today than it was 15 years ago. You’ll need a few tools.
- A website. I always recommend WordPress because it’s scalable, relatively inexpensive, and highly customizable. You can make it do and look like whatever you want.
- A content gate. This is a tool that restricts people from viewing content unless they pay. I recommend MemberPress because it works well with WordPress and it’s not expensive.
- Merchant account and payments gateway. You have a lot of options here, but I always recommend Stripe because it’s simple, trusted, and reliable.
Next, you’ll need to set up a business in whatever state you’re working in. I strongly recommend using a corporate structure with an S-corp election.
Think About Monetization Early
How will you generate revenue from your content? Will you sell tickets? Will you sell a subscription? Get paid from sponsors? Sell ads? Hawk physical products? Or maybe a little of everything? You don’t have to have it all figured out right away, but it helps to have a monetization plan early. This plan will inform your content planning.
For instance, if you want to sell subscriptions, it would be smarter to release episodes of your content over time (like a dramatic TV show’s format) to keep people subscribed. If you wanted to make money through affiliate revenue, you would need to know what you’re promoting before you produce your content.
Bring in Partners… Carefully
A partner or two can actually help with early monetization. More hands means faster work. You’ll have to split the income, but the smaller portion may be larger if the combined team can build a larger content machine, especially if they know marketing, distribution, and tech.
Personally, I recommend working with other people. It’s possible to work alone, but you’ll have knowledge gaps. Bring on other people – but no more than two – to cover your bases. That said, someone should always have 51% control so you don’t get stuck in decision-making stand offs.
You can also bring people in on a per-project basis for participation. For instance, you might offer participation to an editor for the one project he works on, not for a share of your total business. This is a great way to bring in experts for specific roles without giving away the farm.
If you decide to work with people, try not to be a douche. Learn how to compromise. Being a dictator will just alienate people. None of this is brain surgery – it’s Communication 101. If you suck as a person and a boss, they’ll just go work somewhere else.
Early Revenue Generators
Once your platform is ready – or at least in the process of being ready – you can set up some revenue generating initiatives to bring in a bit of income. These will not make you rich, or even pay your rent, but they can somewhat subsidize the cost of content production.
Patreon is a membership platform that connects creators and supporters. Supporters can donate to support their favorite content. Yes, people actually throw money at you so you can keep creating. It won’t be a lot, but something is better than nothing. Plus, Patreon gives you lots of ways to customize how they support you, so you can set up the arrangements that work best for your audience.
If you’re creative with your products and designs, people will absolutely buy swag. If you choose WordPress for your website, use WooCommerce to integrate a store. Or you can build a store using other popular ecommerce platforms, like Shopify, BigCommerce, etc.
It’s possible to put ad space on your own site, even if you don’t have much traffic. Google Adsense, for example, will put ads anywhere and pay you each time one of your visitors clicks an ad. You can set these up and forget about them. Your income will scale up as your traffic grows.
There are countless affiliate networks to tap into. Amazon Associates is the biggest, but many big and small retailers have them. If you think your audience will buy a particular product, reach out to the vendor to see if they’ll cut you a commission for each sale. Then recommend the products in your content.
If you think you have a particularly good idea that people might pay upfront to enjoy, consider launching a campaign on crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo or Kickstarter. These platforms are pretty simple: You create a page that explains why your content is awesome and people pledge money. If you reach your fundraising goal, you get the pot.
Remember how I said to use social platforms to promote your work? Well, monetize those. If you put a trailer on YouTube, make sure ads are enabled so you get whatever pennies the tech overlords are willing to throw your way. It’s not much, but it adds up.
I recommend spending money on a publicist before you spend much on advertising. There’s a reason studios parade their stars out on red carpets and in press junkets and chat shows. That shit works to drive eyeballs to your content. Don’t neglect the broad-based formats.
Get Paid Upfront
Let’s say you decide not to sell your content directly to consumers. You want to license it to a distributor who will put it out in the world for you. That’s totally fine.
But in order to make income from that kind of arrangement, it’s absolutely critical that you get something upfront. Every distribution deal should have some kind of minimum guarantee. If you don’t get anything, you will get screwed. In fact, I just spoke to a filmmaker who sold his contents into five territories (including the U.S.), but didn’t ask for a minimum guarantee. He got nothing. Literally nothing.
An old partner used to say, “In Hollywood, you’re either making money or getting fucked.” Ideally, your minimum guarantee should add up to whatever you spend on the content, but that isn’t always possible. Just make sure you get something.