“The Onion” has a band of satire that is second to none. Usually they take on political figures or world events. But today they featured a video sarcastically making fun of the plight of thousands of content creators and aspiring filmmakers who don’t understand how to build an audience for their creations.
The video is titled “Web Series Reaches 100 Views”. It follows the “wild success” of two roommates who randomly start filming their daily exploits and post them on Youtube.
How to Attract Fans
So many aspiring filmmakers believe that if they just shoot something… be it a short film or web series, then just post it on Youtube, people will just start showing up and watching it.
It doesn’t work that way. You actually have to learn how to build an audience and promote your content.
Step #1: Create Engaging Content
The “web series” example in this video is pretty dead on. The biggest problem with short films and web series, and even indie features, is that the content simply isn’t engaging. I’ve sat through literally hours of youtube videos and student films, and it’s painful.
Simply put, you need to entertain. The problem with film schools is that they completely overlook this basic premise. If you want to make a film about your goldfish, they say go for it. If you want to make a movie with lots of weird random images, then you are an “artist”.
Perhaps, but you will never get any fans.
The key is to step outside yourself and ask what your viewer will think of what you are shooting. Why should they spend their time watching your video when there are literally thousands of others they could be watching.
Step #2: Target a Niche or Audience
We shot a couple of short videos for a Youtube Channel called “Skip College TV”. We did so with a specific message, intent, and audience in mind. In this case, we wanted to bring humor to the “higher education” conversation. And we knew that people have very strong opinions on this topic.
We didn’t do any promotion for the video, but the content was engaging enough that a popular blogger saw it and put it on his site, which got us 5,000 views in one day and a total of 14,000 views for the channel with only a couple of vids.
Before you shoot anything, ask yourself what the intention is and who you want to reach, and why a complete stranger would be interested in watching it.
That’s one reason why a web series called “Awkward Black Girl” is doing so well. It resonates with a very specific target audience.
Step #3: Stand Out From the Crowd
Awkward Black Girl” isn’t brilliantly written, but she does have an original voice. It’s definitely unlike anything else out there.
The biggest problem on the net is being derivative. “Gangham Style” is super original, and then millions of people make videos copying it.
The guys in the fake “Onion” video are like a lot of videos out there, which could be called “normal white guys imitating things they think are funny but have been done a million times.”
It’s true some videos get traffic from reposting or redoing things that are already popular, but it’s still rare. Your best bet is to research and know your market and ask yourself “what’s something that hasn’t been done?” Even if it isn’t great, people love originality and get really tired of people doing the same old thing.
This is one reason why my course Film School Solution trains students to create a Feature Film. Many web series run an hour and 30 minutes or more. But a web series just isn’t as compelling or marketable as a feature. And making a feature instantly sets you apart from the competition. And the incredible thing is that, thanks to digital technology, shooting one no longer has to cost as much as a house.
Step #4: Paid Promotion & Social Media
Did you know that, for a relatively small price, you can actually promote your videos the same way the Hollywood Studios do? It’s pretty amazing. Online marketing has leveled the playing field and allowed indie creators to reach a much wider audience than ever before.
We cover in depth online marketing techniques, free and paid, in Film School Solution. Most filmmakers spend way too much on their first feature and then blindly hope for a distribution deal that will never come. Our students learn how to build their own fan base and how to promote their own projects.
That way, you aren’t just uploading your trailer to Youtube, hoping people will come, and settling for a measly 100 views.
To learn how to write, produce, and promote your first feature and realistically launch your directing career, click here to learn more about Film School Solution.
Over and over and over again, I see aspiring filmmakers focusing on the wrong thing. On the one hand, I am delighted when I see someone skip film school, grab their own camera, and just start shooting. But then, people get really obsessed with something that has absolutely no bearing on your success as a Director: the camera.
One of my favorite websites is “NoFilmSchool.Com”. It provides great resources on indie filmmaking and the technical side of the craft. Whenever I see a blog post about the latest firmware update for Magic Lantern or an argument about which camera’s image quality is best, there are literally hundreds of comments. People write long paragraphs vigorously expressing their opinions on pixels and low light sensitivity. And that’s great.
But when there is a blog post about the craft of visual storytelling… there aren’t many comments. And that’s a shame.
The Audience Doesn’t Care About the Image
It’s kind of like a nervous teenage girl on her first date. She may spend hours fussing over her makeup, but the guy doesn’t care about that. Same thing with movies. You may spend hours trying to get the lighting just right in a certain shot, or stressing over the perfect camera to shoot your movie, but that isn’t why people go to the movies.
People go to the movies to get lost in a story. Always have always will. They did this in the 1920s when the images were in black and white with no sound and looked pretty awful.
It’s one of the reasons why Directors like Kevin Smith, Christopher Nolan, and Darren Aronofsky made their first feature breakthroughs with films that were shot in black and white and looked pretty awful.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a decent camera and good lighting. You should. But for heaven’s sake, it’s the era of HD. Cameras at Best Buy get great images. It’s not what makes for a great Director.
In LA, so many people bought RED cameras a few years ago that the market is saturated. My colleague placed a crew call the other day and was hit with over 200 resumes (TWO HUNDREDS) from local Cinematographers… even though he was working on a nearly no budget project for the web.
There are still great DPs worth their weight in gold. The point is that the skill set of getting a high quality visual image is no longer as valuable or as rare as it used to be. Therefore, focusing too much on the camera is a bad idea for a director. It’s like thinking that an expensive pair of basketball shoes will make you Michael Jordan.
How to Build a Valuable Skill Set
What is extremely rare, and always has been, is the skill of telling a compelling visual story and getting it to an audience.
In film schools, students do a handful of rudimentary film exercises that teach them the basic technical aspects of filmmaking. At NYFA, “Continuity” is one of the first exercises. That simply means showing a sequence of shots in order. At NYU, students do a “Chase Scene”. At USC and Chapman, students shoot a “music video”.
What’s wrong with these exercises? Nothing… if they were part of a one semester course called “Filmmaking Kindergarten”. The problem is that students spend years of their time and tens of thousands of dollars on exercises that don’t teach them how to engage an audience, and often leaves them with a belief that technical expertise is the basis of good Directing.
If you want to be a good Director, you need to focus 99% of your energy on developing your style, and creating content that is going to hold people’s interest. It’s that simple. Movies should hold people’s interest. Basically, if you can practice keeping people interested in your stories, you will be a good Director. Learning to get a quality visual image is definitely a component of that, but it isn’t the main thing. And you should learn how to get your movie to an audience directly.
These are the Skill Sets we focus on in our new course, Film School Solution. The 3 aspects of training a Director that gives them the most powerful position when they build their career.
You Do Want Good Images, But Get Them Inexpensively
Okay, just to clarify, I’m not saying your movie should look terrible. I just want to help save you blowing your budget on a fancy camera when you could get amazing images with some very affordable equipment. Part of what I teach in Film School Solution are the subtle differences between Hollywood lighting and most student film lighting, little techniques that make a $600 camera look compete with ones hundred times more expensive. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these images:
I’m not saying that a Canon DSLR is as good as a RED or Film – but to the average viewer watching a movie on their TV or Computer screen, a few pixels isn’t the reason why the will or won’t watch your movie. Once you get the image to this level of quality, it looks professional and the audience couldn’t care if you got the world’s greatest DP if the story sucks. Just to illustrate the kind of images you’ll learn to get in Film School Solution, here’s my reel from last year, shot and lit by a one or two man crew, a couple hundred dollars worth of equipment, and a $600 camera:
So don’t let lack of funds or a fancy camera hold you back. If you haven’t already watched our webinar on how to launch your directing career, click here to do so now!
And if you have, then what are you waiting for, click here to learn about our Curriculum.
For the past 2 years, I delighted in sharing no BS insights into the film business in a small course called “Film School Secrets”. My team and I helped hundreds of students from around the world get on real film sets and begin planing their careers in a practical, powerful way.
However, I realized that while the course was superior to what is taught in film schools, it still wasn’t enough. That’s why I took the course down in November of last year, and began creating our new program “Film School Solution”.
The new course is a step by step coaching program designed to help aspiring filmmakers become great visual storytellers, and learn insider tricks to make their movies look cinematic even with inexpensive equipment. But more importantly, it provides detailed training and support on writing and producing a feature film, and then promoting and distributing it directly to a fan base.
When I say detailed, I mean detailed. There are over 50 exercises in the first month alone to help students make movies that people actually want to watch. And there is in depth marketing training that you’d expect to find in an MBA program.
In addition, the course includes weekly coaching and support. Not only during the course, but after. This is something that is sorely needed and missed from traditional film schools. Typically a student goes through an expensive program and looks up after graduation with no clear path on what the heck to do next.
The outcome of the course is to have every student write, produce, and promote their first feature film, even if they have no previous experience. It takes a ton of commitment, but we show you how it can be easier than you think.
While I have focused nearly 6 month of development into the new course, I have continually received emails from people looking for the original “Film School Secrets”. And I finally decided to re-issue it, at least temporarily. Because the original course, while small by comparison to our new course, still provides an incredibly powerful overview to your film career. It’s what I’d call a “primer” towards our new course, and it’s a great value for people who aren’t ready to to make the commitment for Film School Solution.
A couple of days ago, my girlfriend brought over one of my favorite movies ever that she took out of the library. The movie? “Quick Change”. An early 90s gem starring Bill Murray, Geena David, and Randy Quaid.
The concept is pretty simple. A guy dressed as a clown robs a bank. It’s the perfect crime… except the clown and his team can’t get to the airport afterwards.
It’s hysterical. Sharp writing and great performances abound, including a chance to see Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub in their younger years. I think I love this movie because my family rented it when I was a kid and we all enjoyed watching it together.
There’s a new movie coming out called “Now You See Me”, and the pitch is that a bunch of magicians rob a bank. In fact, you could say “Point Break” is about a bunch of surfers who rob a bank. “Dog Day Afternoon” is about a bisexual guy who robs a bank for his lover’s sex change op. I think you probably make a great movie about anything to do with a bank robbery.
How’s this… what if a BABY robbed a bank? That would be classic.
Anyway, “Quick Change” is highly original and very endearing. Supporting characters also include Jason Robards, Philip Bosco, and even good old Phil Hartman.
I recommend watching it not only for the comedy, but for the incredible structure. It’s very tight, with a lot of tension, even though it’s a comedy. And if you have ever lived in New York, you’ll really enjoy it, because it’s basically about how all of the stupidity and chaos of the city prevents them from getting out of town with the money they robbed from the bank.
Also, believe it or not, Murray co-directed the movie. It was directed by Howard Franklin and Bill Murray, which is something you rarely see. Most teams of directors are brothers, for some reason, like the Coens. But Murray proves he is a worthy co-director. You can get the DVD of “Quick Change” here, or you can always rent it from Netflix.