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Shooting Documentary Short Films

Lesson 13 of 16

Distribution Platforms, Funding, & Building an Audience

Griffin Hammond

Shooting Documentary Short Films

Griffin Hammond

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Lesson Info

13. Distribution Platforms, Funding, & Building an Audience

Lesson Info

Distribution Platforms, Funding, & Building an Audience

Yeah, I just got the file of the rough cut of this this movie that we worked on yesterday on a little later we're gonna talk to steven, who edited it, and, uh, we're also at that point in the presentation in the seminar today, that's hopefully you've now created your film you've now learned howto find a good story how to shoot the interviews that should be role, you've edited it, and we're at the point where you have a completed film just like we do now, but you'll watch but it's time to distribute that film and build an audience for it and make money off of it. Maybe so we're going to take a look at some ways you could do that. We're in this segment, we're going talk about distribution, we're gonna talk about building an audience we're talking about debunking some legal myths were going too, then talk about the budget of suraj erection take a really honest look at the money it's made and where it can make money the best and where was kind of not so great and they're going to watch tha...

t film talk to steven and finally we're talking about finding work in this industry and will take our last questions of the day so let's bring up a slide real quick don't try to get there a lot of this stuff pretty quickly here are a bunch of places where people can watch your film, and these are actually a bunch of places where not all of them I'm not on hbo or anything or netflix, but these air, these air places, a lot of places where sir roger is available. Um and one thing, teo, the way I split this out was you have places you could do it yourself, self distribution, you have places that you need a middleman, and then there are places where you just need to be asked to come along so self distribution. We've got video on demand. We have ad based platforms, subscriber based platforms and people that license it. Video on demand means that people just by the film and they watch it and there are several places where you can do that yourself and that's video thx seen spark a bunch of option suraj is available in video and, uh, a little bit. I'll talk about why I chose video. It has the best profit margin. I mean, they take the least amount of money from you, so I really like them. It was a beautiful player. I tried thx it also has a lot of amazing options, it just at the time, a year and a half ago, it didn't look as pretty as me. Seen spark is another website I just haven't really used the film is on there, but I haven't promoted it at all. I think two people have watched it there where thousands of people watch it on video uh, I also recently got the film on itunes and amazon, and there is a video on demand way to do that people can buy on itunes so they could buy it for two, ninety nine on itunes, they could buy for tuna on amazon or a dollar ninety nine for a standard definition version, but then there's also the amazon prime option, where it's frito amazon prime users they're paying subscriptions same with hu lu hu lu also has subscriptions, or you can get money based on the advertisement there watching so suraj is available for free on hu lu and I get a little bit of money for the ads there. Likewise, with youtube, I put my film on youtube and make some money on ads, although I will show you in a minute it's not very much uh, that I've made there and then lastly, if I want to get on something like netflix, they have to ask me to join I can't can't self do it um I have to wait for them tow to invite me a netflix please put suraj it's great documentary on your platform these aggregator ones, though, are ones that you can't do yourself it's it's interesting because final cut just added a feature where you can make an itunes package out of your film problem is you can't then send it to itunes. You have to have someone else do it for you, it's kind of a middleman approach it's a quality control thing, it's we can't trust that you're going to give us the right file for itunes or what kind of weird stuff you could upload itunes, eso there's, this middleman, the aggregator that decides whether or not you could be there? Well, really, you just pay an aggregator to be there? I payed premier digital five hundred dollars, and I got my film on itunes and amazon because of it so just expense I had to consider, and briefly I'll talk about some of the before I go into the numbers, the lessons I've learned about these different platforms. I want to talk about marketing and building an audience um, because I did fund suraj through kickstarter and one of the things I did is started to build an audience during production. I mean, if if you want people watch your film, you need to start, then don't get a finished film and say who wants this because no one will want it unless you get them excited beforehand hopefully you've made a film that you're excited about you're curious about I think that that worked for me I made a passion project in suraj and it got people interested but what happened really with my film was I started shooting it and randy clemens this guy that's in the film is a writer in los angeles he has some writer friends and once he posted a picture on facebook saying, hey, look, I'm in a documentary so people start asking questions and pretty quickly within a week I was in some local news and local news gets read by bigger news and they write stories and they write stories they write stories so by the end of the week first week of starting to shoot a documentary huffingtonpost was writing about it and all the major news was writing about it I just thought, man, this is so ridiculous because if the headline were illinois independent filmmaker begins production on a short documentary, there is no reason for having imposed to write about it but because it was so raja and uh I mean, I guess that's a consideration is are you making a film that will get people excited that already has an audience? I don't necessarily think you should that's not my driving force here it was that I actually was curious about suraj and I love it and I want to make a documentary about it and that worked out for me. Um, I think you just have to you have to focus on on the passion projects, and I think if you find a story that naturally has a community, I mean, most stories do you know this a mac short film that we just shot is going to be really interesting to the imac employees? I mean, is there some people there's, always some people that are going to be excited about the project you're working on using to find those people and activate them? So in the case of my film during production, while I'm first starting to shoot it, when I'm building a facebook audience and twitter profile and all that, and I start to kick start a project, not even so much for the money, I knew that this film would probably cost me about ten thousand dollars to make, and I was comfortable with that because I loved the idea of having this film done. I was doing it for me, and I wanted it on my really I just wanted this film to exist, that's the reason I made it and I knew, would cost me some money, and I thought, well, it's important enough to me that I will come from paying for it, but I did a decent job building an audience beforehand, just telling people that I'm doing this thing and people going oh, well, I would like to stretch documentary and people on youtube telling me, well, I would help you like I would pay for that. Andi realized you'd be foolish not to go to kickstarter too definitely not ask for a handout. I think people who approach kickstarter thatwe are doing it wrong. It is not charity and if you're doing it that way, good luck. I don't think it's gonna work out. I think too many people to kickstarter campaigns and it's a little bit of charity it's like we're gonna give you a reward, but it's actually not that good you're pretty much paying you're pretty much donating to me, so you get a sticker out of it something you give me twenty dollars, you get a sticker and I think that's terrible, so I sold my film for five dollars five dollars is what got you the film digital copy on my focus was digital copies I had some other rewards like blue rays and posters and stuff, but really I just wanted people to buy the film that's all I'm asking not not charity just if you want this film pre buy it now and the great thing about this is it wasn't the money that helped the project like I could have paid for it and I probably would have made my money back in the end, you know, it would have been the same in the end. The benefit of this is that I got thirteen hundred people excited enough about the film to pre by it and those air thirteen hundred people that are going to stay with that's my audience, those are the people that are most excited, and they're going to share this thing on facebook when it comes out. So I built a really great audience to kick start and that's what I think is the power of kickstarter is not the money. I mean, ask for a tiny amount of money ask for the minimum amount of money that you need and that you would still make your film anyway, like, if I if if if if all you need is five hundred dollars and you're willing to put up the other ten thousand, then asked for five hundred dollars, I asked for five thousand dollars knowing I needed about ten, but it's not like lowball it like I know I want to get that goal a and the narrative I created with a kickstarter project that's successful is so much better than the narrative of a failed kickstarter project. I I did a good job. Getting people excited, you know, building that audience of facebook and then activating them at the moment the kickstarter campaign launched and what that did was within eight hours we hit the five thousand dollar goal, and by the end of thirty days we had twenty one thousand dollars for the film, the fact that I quadrupled my goal sounds so much better than had I asked for twenty thousand dollars and barely made it like you control the narrative of marketing your film so not that you're like setting the goal low, but just make sure you make it right, it's like you want that successful narrative about your film? Um, so kick starter really to me is a crowd building exciting base more so than a money uh, generating base so let's actually take a look att at the money now we were talking about money, so this is the costs associated with my documentary. It cost me twelve thousand dollars to make the film, so it gets a little bit more than my first estimate, but most of that was travel. I mean, this is a film that I needed to go to l a and I didn't live in l a, and this is part of my epiphany actually, of making this film is realizing that I don't have to wait around for a story that's uniquely in my geographic area like earlier I talked about kind of boxing yourself in creatively and looking for what you have one of the things I realized I had was an ability to travel I don't have to wait I don't have to be like the bloomington, illinois filmmaker that only tells those stories if there is a story out in california that I won't tell aiken go and that was my major expense was going out to l a going up to new york going out of chicago going out to thailand to tell this story hotels it's all travel for me uh licensing footage actually have ah clip that I needed for the film when you pull that up the new vietnamese government considered ethnic chinese like david and his family and unwanted minority and pressured them to pay their own way out of the country on crowded, dilapidated freighters oh around mei mei my friend my read him they lived with them so I followed them after a five day voyage thirty, three hundred refugees code named frozen ducks arrived unannounced in hong kong waters. They sat stranded on that ship for an entire month before british authorities allowed them to land. So an important historical segment about the protagonist of my film the challenges he overcome hey overcame and there's a pretty good example of like we had vo in there we had assad's and we had a net sound breaks this was an immigration control area all of those pieces but that footage I felt like I was really important to film but it cost me twenty five hundred what did I say? Um twenty eight hundred dollars just have thirty seconds of footage uh and we'll talk in a minute about legal myths but no, I couldn't just use that footage for free I had to pay for it but I felt it was important for the film uh you know help tell that story and then like I said earlier I only rented one light for this film of sixty five dollars to rent a life rent a thousand dollar lights that was my big expense for equipment, food and all that medical was I had to get some shots before I went to thailand. You could sort of that part of the expenses of the film so film production is twelve thousand dollars that's right here that's how much the film cost to make? In the end, the film has generated seventy six thousand dollars in revenue and when you add up the production cost plus all the commissions and fees I have to pay pretty much I'm counting all the money that people are taking for like it to be on itunes and video and all of that and I'll go through this uh really it's costing about forty thousand dollars to make this film although some of those cost scale the fact that I want to put it out there and spend money to have it out there spending more than the original cost of the film and in the end it's it's profited thirty six thousand dollars that sounds good it can sound good um because he made a profit that's that's really rare for me for indie films but you have to consider the fact that my budget did not include pay for me I did this because I wanted to and it's like what's the opportunity cost of working on a documentary for eight months how many freelance jobs that I turned down probably about thirty six thousand dollars worth maybe more than that I don't know uh so this was not it was not you know what? I wasn't in this for profit and it's probably about a wash for me but it's cool that it that it did okay and the good thing is a lot of expenses were up front and they're done now and the movie still has a long tail it's not making as much money now as it did in the first month but has that ability to keep going so I want to talk about a few lessons that I've learned through all of this through finally compiling this data I've learned a few things about what I have here the first is that like I said video has been a great place for it uh the expense ratio is pretty low they take ten percent as a commission then you also lose a little bit too a transaction fee from papal so in the end I've generated twenty five thousand dollars on video they've taken four thousand for a profit margin eighty three percent just good in this industry because itunes takes thirty percent amazon takes fifty percent um and in the end I've generated thirteen thousand new audience members for the film because of its kickstarter I sold this many in advance and that's how much money I made the expenses include things like actually includes um my blue ray expenses in there some of the rewards were in there outside of the cost of film, so in the end you know I'm paying some of those things to the rewards. One of the things that I was scared about was that I just assumed that I couldn't give the film away for free I have a successful vo de thing going people are buying it on video for the first five dollars and I dropped it on the two ninety nine that's where it is now it's also to ninety nine on itunes and amazon I was scared about giving it away for free and a good reason for me to be scared was I put for example on youtube a director's commentary version of the film you could watch the film right now for free on youtube with the director's commentary, I thought be nice behind the scenes for people that were like, oh, the film is free, I was like, well, it's, not really the film it's me talking all over it, so hopefully you'll confuse the two, but on youtube, forty thousand people have watched it great that's like three times as much people has watched it on video in eighteen months and they did it in like six months and my ad takeaway is one hundred ten dollars, so I have to look at this from two sides like audience building is good, I want people to see the film like for that reason, I'm okay that people are pirating my film uh, because those people that would never buy it at least I'm getting more people watching it. Um, but like, that is not sustainable. Some people ask me when I first release the film and video like, why don't you just put it on youtube? Why aren't you giving it away for free and it's like? Well, because I'm not gonna make any money back, uh doing it that way, it just it doesn't work, so youtube is kind of out, but I changed my tune a little bit I learned that there are places where giving away the film for free can work pretty well as an aside, I give it away for free on facebook for three days and it generated ten thousand views because facebook really likes their video player and if you put something on the facebook video player it has the power to go go pretty big but of course I made no money on that can't monetize facebook videos but when I went to hu lu, my distributor jansen media suggested I go to lulu and I thought do I really want to just give the film away for free? Like what am I going to make it there? And it turns out very little purview five cents so we have vot three dollars advertising based on who lou five cents of you sounds terrible, but two hundred thousand people have watched it on who they got popular on who have landed on the popular documentary section and that's pretty good like in the list of video doing really well, kickstarter was good hu lu is eventually going to overtake maybe I don't know like so and actually turned out to be a really smart place for to be and that changed my mind on amazon amazon I had the choice when I distributed after I paid premier digital two hundred fifty dollars to put my film there do you want it on prime or do you just want the od and I said, oh yeah, just beauty for now well well, you know, it would be unfair. I kind of thought, like, two video we're asking people to pay for it on video on that pay for it on amazon, we won't give away free yet that turned out to be a mistake because in, like, six months or a few hundred people have watched it on amazon. Uh, and then I thought about it, I thought I'm an amazon prime subscriber. Do I ever pay for films? No, I only watched the free ones, and what I learned from hu lu is I'm not really just getting money from the advertising. I'm getting money from the fact that people are buying hu lu plus subscriptions, and I get a little a piece of that. I don't like what percentage it is same with amazon prime there paying in dams on prime, there is some money there that they give a little bit to you, so I don't even know yet how that's doing that happened just weeks ago. But in about a month of being on amazon prime, it went from ten reviews earned over, like six months people, customer reviews to seven hundred sixty reviews. People are watching it, and a lot of them are watching, and I'm thinking, man, how many people write reviews like one percent what? I'm guessing probably thirty, two hundred thousand people have probably watched it on amazon now and I don't know what the payout is how it compares to you, lou, but it's probably going to be okay, so don't be afraid of those platforms that could be a great way to build audience too. In the end, this hasn't really been about making money. This is about the opportunities that come from people seeing your work and getting excited about your work. So that's been pretty cool. Another lesson I've learned is that I mean, I suspected this dvds and blue razor terrible don't make them I made them because I know that on kickstarter people want something it's nice to get a physical thing in the mail, but if I had to do it all over again it's like a digital digital digital digital this all digital this is where the money is because it's it's no overhead, you make the film once and then you can sell it. You don't deal with stuff dvds I'm paying for packaging unit cost me five, ninety nine to make a blue ray then it costs me a dollar ninety nine shipping in the us and it cost me twenty five cents to put in a bubble mailer, and if I send it to amazon to put it in their stock, I have to pay but another half of the profit I could be making on that in the end the profit margins real well forty percent on dvds and blue rays so they're fun tow have I hope you like and cherish your dvd simply raise but you're not like they're just they're hassle on their going away you know how many people are doing that other things on here public performance writes some people have have paid to screen this in public some of the reason that there's expenses here and on who liu thirty percent is the thirty percent take that my distributor takes for having put it there for me on they take some of the cut of the performance rights and in the end festival's film festivals were a lot of fun I spent sixty seven almost sixty eight hundred dollars to enter forty two festivals uh not to enter them to enter and travel to how many did I go too I want to about eight of them I got into twenty four festivals and I traveled toe hated him I think and you know it's hard to say what that cost did for may maybe getting all those laurels maybe winning a couple awards maybe that's why people are watching it on who I don't know so it could be that the six, sixty seven hundred dollars is a great investment all I know is I really enjoyed my time meeting people going to film festivals I would do it again, but I can't really say that it's, like, made me money. Yeah, so for film festivals, um, is there? Do you have to show it in film festivals first and then you can make halvah go digital and sell your dvds? Or what happens if you do that before the film festival circuit? You don't have to. Some festivals have premier restrictions like you need to premiere here first and maybe and for some festivals, even if they don't say that they would prefer it. Like maybe they make a decision to show your film because it hasn't premiered yet. Uh, my general thought was like, this film is not going to be made or broken based on film festivals it's done, I'm excited about it. People are excited about it, there's an audience for it. I am going to the web now and that's what I did on december eleventh, two thousand thirteen, I permitted the film months before any film festivals would have played it. That was my decision. Fortunately for short films, there aren't a lot of premier restrictions at film festivals like that's, not a big deal. If you're making a feature, maybe you need that premier to get that distribution deal. But I am a d I y guy and I would much rather just finished my film and get it out to the audience and this is my this is my d I y revenue I mean, I didn't really get much help on this this was all me um putting it out there yeah, each of the distribution channels was it a conscious effort or goal ofyours to hit, you know, maybe like a list of certain ones or each one that it landed at amazon hu lu was it a natural progression like it's just okay, well, this opened up and I went here and this opened up because I think that kind of plays a role and maybe now like you learned a lesson, it seems like, well, this one's more profitable so for next time I will go this route. Yeah, I think my idea was that I mean, you don't want to cannibalize your own film on different platforms, so like I premiered strong on video, I went to the mule first it was easy to tell my audience like this is where the film will be and have a lot of control there, and I know the film the film does look better on video than it does on itunes or amazon um because they just don't care about the quality is much but mostly audience doesn't care of quality so I was really happy to premiere there first and I guess I knew in my head that after I do video and after I feel like I'm being exhausted that a little bit then I should go to itunes I probably could have gone to itunes and amazon sooner but I don't know for me it's worked out well just the timing of like when people got excited about the film and when there was press about it uh I guess I can't say I would change a lot except that I would definitely go to amazon prime of the beginning and maybe I would have gone to hula sooner um I don't know but yeah I think I was just looking for a tail on this thing like if I look at all these the chart of all of these video made six thousand of that revenue in the first week I think or something that was ten thousand in the first month so it's really top loaded it's right at the beginning and then it its scales off I got a little bit of the same thing with julia because you've got something like julia and you are the new film you show up in the new category and so people are see it and they watch it and you get that tail again and itunes too and it landed on there is a new film so there is maybe some reason to kind of schedule it out because you get a bump from each one. And maybe someone sees it on itunes and they go. Oh, this is that thing I saw on video and go buy it there too. So it's, like it all helps, I think, views the more places people can see it. Uh, I'm excited about me like it was a natural progression just by have bashers in the nationals in business and accounting. You know, looking at the numbers I can kind of see through. Well, I'm glad I did this job cause this was really like me making it up as I went along. This is my first time experiencing this that's why I'm sharing this because, like, I hope that you this helps you because I wish I knew this going in. Yeah, the licensing film clips that licensing finished chunks of your movie or just the foot some footage you shot. It was it was a bit of both. Amex american express license. The entire film have a platform on, like, broke who have their own little movie channel. They licensed it. It was thirteen hundred and fifty dollars for, like, six weeks or something. Which sounded okay to me because I've heard that netflix offers pretty low licensing deals like I've ever get on netflix like maybe they'll say we'll give you five hundred dollars for a year and maybe a million people watched the film, but you get five dollars I don't know I don't know what the deals are, but I know they're not amazing. So when hammack said thirteen hundred dollars for six weeks okay, yeah, why not? And they're the only ones I have license the whole film from a I'm a little bit wary about that because I have control of it I mean it's it's on my platforms where it's doing okay, um but then I've had several companies it's funny that they're going to the same problem that I went through two years ago. I showed up of so excited to make this documentary I just showed up in june at the factory and started shooting and learned that, oh, they don't harvest the peppers all year round they do that in the fall a big part of my film like the process, I don't have that that's what everyone is doing right now all these people that excited about suraj right now we're going out to the factory, the filming, the stuff they're realizing, oh, we can't get the pepper stuff, so I keep getting these calls saying, hey, you have this great pepper footage human. If we we license that so nbc's licensed it to tv shows of licensed it. S I'll make a few hundred dollars here and there, that's what, that thirty six hundred dollars number is the great thing is there's, no cut of that. I'm doing those deals directly, and so it works out pretty well for me, and I feel ok, like after I paid that twenty eight hundred dollars for a clip feel okay than making your favorite bike, but I also recognize that man, it really was terrible have to pay twenty six hundred dollars for clips, so I am not. I could be gouging people, and I'm not. I feel like I'm offering pretty fair licensing deals. If anyone would like some pepper footage, I have.

Class Description

Today’s media landscape is largely made up of regular folks who know how to spot a good story and use basic gear to document the world around them. Find out how you can join their ranks and make compelling, marketable shorts in Shooting Documentary Short Films with Griffin Hammond. 

Griffin made a name for himself with the ode to an iconic hot sauce, Sriracha. In this class, he’ll teach you how to identify, shoot, and share documentary-style video. 

You’ll learn how to:

  • Recognize and tell a good story
  • Capture high-caliber footage with low-budget gear 
  • Incorporate all the essentials for online and TV news
  • Produce corporate work clients love
  • Find your audience and monetize your work

Griffin will share tips on lighting, framing, and interviewing subjects so you walk away with lots of usable footage. You’ll watch as Griffin shares clips from a one-day shoot and you’ll learn exactly what it takes to turnaround a complete documentary-style short on a deadline.

You’ll also learn a handful of helpful editing techniques and get insights on the ethical and legal responsibilities of documentary filmmaking.

If you want to learn how to tell meaningful stories that look great and sell, while working on a shoestring budget, don’t miss Shooting Documentary Short Films with Griffin Hammond. 


Bruce Gruenbaum

First off, if you have not watched Sriracha, go and do that. The techniques that Griffin used in it are pretty incredible. This course expands on those techniques and what really surprised me about this course is how simple the setup is that he uses to make some absolutely amazing documentaries. The quality of what you can produce with the most basic of equipment is really mind-boggling. Some of the most interesting stuff was about B-Roll and how to use it to create a visually interesting presentation. The idea of a lot of small clips that show specific information is invaluable. The techniques he uses to create shots like the one where the camera was placed on top of a cart and pushed down an aisle was amazing. More than anything else, the ideas and tips I came away with have helped me find ways of making my own videos much more interesting.

a Creativelive Student

Griffin is a great storyteller and I was hoping to learn a LOT from this class. But I didn't. I'm an experienced corporate video editor/shooter who's always dreamed of doing a documentary. About half of the class is the very basics of video production (b-roll, rule of thirds, good audio) and the other half is interesting content that seems to cut off just as it becomes engaging. I'm not sure why Creative Live edited it that way other than to extend the number of segments? Although the next segment doesn't seem to pick up where the previous left off. I've never felt that way before about CL, but it seems like every segment is cut right as it gets to things I'm interested in. It did have some great information about revenue streams for a short form documentary, but I was left wanting to learn more. If you're just starting out... this is a great resource to learn the basics of non-fiction filming. If you already work professionally in the field I would pass.

Tim Greig

This is brilliant. Griffin is such a generous, self-deprecating filmmaker you just can't help but love him. He goes into great detail on just how he makes his documentaries and other work and is so inspiring, mostly because he is a one-man band and produces such interesting and wonderful videos. Thank you Griffin and CreativeLive for offering this.