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Sponsor: Well-chosen music is often the missing ingredient that can take a film from good to great. That’s why Music Vine offers a curated selection of exceptional tracks, an unrivaled search interface, and super flexible (and affordable) pricing. Crank-up the volume & enjoy!

 I’m guessing you’ve been told to “build an audience” before.

That phrase is right up there with “tell good stories” for the most ubiquitous filmmaking advice ever.

Don't get me wrong, it's a great piece of advice.

An audience, when built the right way, is one of the few assets that can alleviate the most painful parts of the filmmaking process—funding and distribution.

When you have an audience that's engaged with your work, crowdfunding becomes way easier. So does attracting and persuading traditional investors.

And when it comes to marketing and distribution, an audience gives you leverage and flexibility. It makes you far more attractive to distributors, and dramatically increases the odds that DIY and direct distribution will be profitable for you.

Basically, "build an audience" is great advice for any filmmaker who wants more control over the financial side of their profession.

But there's one big problem.

Usually what people mean when they tell you to “build an audience” is to “get a lot of social media followers.”

And those are not the same thing. Not even close.

“An audience puts you in charge of your own future. Instead of hoping and praying for industry gatekeepers to put you on the map, once you go through this process, you’ll be calling your own shots.”

So my goal with this article is to dispel some harmful myths about audience building, and share how to do it in a way that’s ethical, fulfilling, and profitable.

I want you to have a strong foundational understanding of this concept, because going forward, this site will be the definitive online resource for filmmakers who want more control and leverage in their careers.

And like I mentioned, building an audience is the key that will unlock more doors than anything else you could be doing.

An audience puts you in charge of your own future. Instead of hoping and praying for industry gatekeepers to put you on the map, once you go through this process, you’ll be calling your own shots.

If that sounds good to you, read on amigo.

What building an audience means

Let's start with the basics. What is an "audience?"

As far as I'm concerned, there are actually two types of audiences you should think about.

  • potential audience is a group of people who would dig your work, and who would be interested in hearing from you on an ongoing basis about said work.

  • built audience occurs when you attract these folks into your world, and have a reliable, direct means of communication with them.

But let's back up a little bit and talk about this potential audience some more.

These aren’t just generic people who like watching generic films. Nope, this is a specific niche of people, and your primary job as a creator is to serve those people better than any other content creator anywhere.

As indie filmmakers, we can’t compete with Hollywood. We can’t beat them at the game of saturating the mass market with high-budget, commoditized media. If we try to accomplish the same objectives without their resources, we'll lose every time.

What we can do, however, is niche down.

The trick is to find a niche that's small enough that Hollywood doesn't pay attention to it, but is large enough to earn a living for us and our collaborators. We're looking for online communities and networks who are underserved by traditional media, but hungry for content nonetheless.

Once we find them, we can focus our energy on serving better and mattering more to that chosen audience than Hollywood ever could.

And when our work matters more to people, there’s higher potential for us to earn a great living, all while doing work we’re actually passionate about. That’s the goal, right?

Finding your audience

In order to truly matter to a niche audience, you have to deeply understand these people. And I mean deep—often deeper than they understand themselves.

You have to understand their worldview and psychographic profile so that your content appeals to them on a psychological, foundational level. Getting this one thing right is the key to mattering more to people than Hollywood ever could.

I won’t dig too far into how to do this right now, because just this concept alone could be a course. But for now, start thinking about it like this…

You’re looking for people online who share one or more core aspect of your identity—those few people who jibe with your specific brand of “weird.”

Because let’s be honest. You’re weird. I’m weird. Everyone’s weird.

And part of what we all want as humans is authentic connection to people who accept and value us for the weirdos we are. This pattern shows up again and again in psychological research. It’s one of the core drivers of human behavior.

And we can use this in our audience building efforts.

“Part of what we all want as humans is authentic connection to people who accept and value us for the weirdos we are. This pattern shows up again and again in psychological research. It’s one of the core drivers of human behavior.”

There might be thousands, or tens of thousands of people online who meet these criteria. Thousands of weirdos just like you.

Not just that, but these potential audience members are doing stuff online. They're congregating, consuming content, having conversations, and buying stuff. More than anything, though, they’re searching for their “tribe of weirdos” even if they aren’t consciously aware of it.

So you’ve got this potential audience of weirdos, but you just have no way to reach or communicate directly with them… yet.

The art of attraction

And that’s where the “building” in “audience building” comes in.

Building an audience is the process of discovering who those weirdos are, figuring out how to reach them online, then creating content to attract them into your world.

Notice how I used the word “attract” there. That’s important. We’re not bribing or coercing or bullying people into paying attention to us.

There are certainly people online who act that way, including massive brands, but that’s not what we’re going for here.

Nope. This is all about being an ethical human, and treating our potential audience members with the utmost respect. It's about building relationships and treating others as you would like to be treated.

In other words, when you’re building an audience, you should follow the Golden Rule. Forever and always.

That’s why we seek to attract people into our world.

And the way we do that is with content. Whether it’s video, photo, audio, text, or any other content form, the right kind of content to the right person creates a bond.

By entering the spaces your niche already hangs out online, and creating irresistible content and films based on their psychographic profile, your potential audience actually want to be part of our world.

No bribes necessary.

Storing an audience

This brings us to the next critical piece of the audience building puzzle.

It’s not enough to just attract people into your world, or get them to follow you on social media. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough.

For this to really be worth your time, you must have a place to store your audience—ideally on turf that you own—which means that you must have some way to consistently and reliably communicate with them at scale.

For most people, this is an email list.

I know, I know. I can already hear you grumbling about how you hate email and how nobody uses email anymore and yada yada yada.

To that I would say…. sorry bucko, you’re wrong.

Email, despite being old fashioned and often misused, is one of the best ways to build trust relationships at scale. And when it comes to selling your work, email outperforms social media by 40X.

Not 40%... 40X. Let that sink in.

But perhaps the most important reason email lists are so powerful is that it’s an asset you own. It’s literally just a spreadsheet of names and emails that you can take with you, even if your email marketing company shuts down.

A cautionary tale about relying on big platforms

When your audience is people who’ve liked your page on facebook… that’s bad news. Sorry to inform you, but in that case, it’s facebook who owns that relationship, not you. Same goes for twitter, instagram, YouTube, or any other major platform.

Why’s this such a bad thing, you might be asking? Well, here’s a cautionary tale for you…

About 5 years ago, anyone with a facebook page could easily reach the majority of their audience every time they posted to their page.

But then, facebook realized they could be making money from people with pages. So they changed their algorithms, and virtually overnight, people’s “organic reach” dropped to dismal levels.

Now, if anybody wants to reach all the people who have liked their page, they have to pay facebook to “boost their content.”

That, my friend, is why you must own the means of communication with your audience. Otherwise, your business could be wiped out overnight by some change to the platform you’re using.

Yes, using these big platforms is easier and more convenient. But the price you're paying for that convenience is high.

So even though you may hate it, email is still far and away the best way to own that relationship and means of communication with your fans.

Another option if you really, really hate email

Now, if you’re stubborn and insist that you’ll never use email, there are other options. And there will continue to be other options as tech advances and hits the market. You just gotta keep your eyes out for them.

So right now, in 2019, the other option that really works well for building an audience is to get your audience members into a community platform of some sort.

Since you're only attracting a small niche of likeminded people, there's a ton of value in connecting them with one another.

Like I said before, we're all searching for connection with likeminded folks who share our interests and values. If you can facilitate those connections, your audience will love you.

Practically, speaking, you could do this with a facebook group—although this suffers from the same issues I just talked about—or it could be some kind of other community platform like Mighty Networks or Mobilize.

Hell, you could also use a combination of both email and community (this is what I do).

Getting on the email list is the first step, where the initial relationship is built. But eventually, when I want people to join my inner circle, they get into my private community. It’s part of how I create “super fans” for what I do here at Filmmaker Freedom.

You don’t have to get that complex with your audience building though. Just letting you know how deep the rabbit hole goes.

That’s it. Building an audience is about attracting the right people into your world, and having a sustainable way to communicate with them on an ongoing basis.

Not too crazy, right?

But there’s one more thing I have to tell you about before we wrap this up.

It’s not enough to just “build an audience”

In order for an audience to be a profitable asset in your life, you can’t just have this email list or community or whatever and ignore it.

Nope, in order for it to pay off in any kind of substantial way, you must develop a relationship with your audience, and consistently work to deepen that relationship.

Let’s think about this in a context that every filmmaker should be familiar with… networking.

When you go to a networking event or a festival or whatever, there’s always that one guy who’s eagerly schmoozing and handing out business cards.

If you’re unlucky enough to land in a conversation with him, he’ll talk incessantly about how great he is and what amazing projects he’s working on and how he’s probably going to win an Oscar next year…

Uh huh.

And then, without showing an ounce of interest in you, he’ll ask for something. He’s looking for some kind of big favor.

But he didn’t build a relationship with you. There's no trust there, and you have no reason to do anything for him. So you send him on his merry way, empty-handed, so he can accost another poor stranger.

“That’s the magic of building an audience in an authentic way. When you do it right, the selling takes care of itself because of how deep your relationship is and how much trust there is between you.”

That’s one of the biggest mistakes people make when building audiences. They get people into their world and onto their list, and then they start bombarding them with “asks.” Buy this product, do this, do that.

It’s a huge turn off. Obviously.

And that’s why your goal must be to play the long game and focus on building a relationship.

Like all relationships, that means giving just as much, though ideally more, than you take. And like before, content (preferably sent through your email list or community) is the primary way to do this.

And when you consistently deliver content and experiences that reinforce everyone's shared sense of "weird," you strengthen the bonds between you and cultivate goodwill.

Then, when it comes time to launch a film (or a crowdfunding campaign), your audience will pull out their wallets with glee, because you've already enriched their lives so much. They're just looking for an opportunity to reciprocate the value you've delivered to them.

Just know, when the relationship with your audience dies, so does any chance of earning a living from them. So treat that relationship like one you want to last forever. Put the work in, and you'll be rewarded.

Wrapping up

That’s it, amigo. We just built a strong foundation for how to build an audience in the internet age, and not feel like a total sleazebag while doing it.

In fact, if you work through this process, the people in your audience will not only adore you, but they’ll love hearing from you. And most importantly, when you have something to sell—a film for instance—they will be more than happy to buy from you.

That’s the magic of building an audience in an authentic way. When you do it right, the selling takes care of itself because of how deep your relationship is and how much trust there is between you.

So let’s go over what we covered, because it’s quite a lot.

  1. Building an audience is not the same thing as getting a lot of social media followers.

  2. Instead, it’s about attracting a small niche of likeminded “weirdos” into your world with remarkable content that appeals to them on a deep, psychographic level.

  3. For longevity, you must own the means of communication with your audience, and that means getting them on an email list. A community platform can also work, but be careful relying on platforms that you don’t own.

  4. In order for an audience to be profitable, you must consistently work to build and sustain a relationship with them. Without the relationship aspect, and without trust, the audience isn’t worth much at all.

Alright, my friend. That’s enough for today. But like I mentioned before, this is just the beginning. Over the coming months and years, I’m going to share everything I know about building audiences online. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

So if you’re interested in the freedom that comes from not having to rely on middle men and gatekeepers to make a living, stick around.

   

One of the biggest ways to 'strike a chord' with your audience is through the music you use. This is why it's so important to invest in the right tracks.

Thankfully, Music Vine makes it easier than ever for indie-filmmakers to find and license awesome tracks from world-class composers and artists - so that you can ensure your film's soundtrack leaves a lasting impression.

If you enjoyed this article, you'll love Filmmaker Freedom Weekly. Each week, I share my latest writing, curated stories from around the web, a short film that I love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

Are you ready to take your filmmaking to the next level?

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Sponsor: Need some world-class sound effects to accompany your music? Soundsnap gives you unlimited access to quality sounds at an affordable yearly price. It’s a no-brainer for leveling up your audio game.

Music is responsible for much of what an audience feels when they watch a film.

So if you’re serious about telling stories that resonate, the last thing you want is generic, boring stock music.

Luckily, in 2019, there are more licensing companies than you could count on five hands. All of them aim to provide filmmakers with high-quality, royalty-free music at legitimately affordable prices.

And though I haven't used all of them, I have used quite a few. This post explores my favorites.

Notes about the 2019 update

Since I originally wrote this a few years ago, the music licensing space has evolved quite a bit.

For starters, there's been a massive push towards subscription services in addition to (or completely replacing) single track licensing.

As a filmmaker and content creator, these are hugely exciting, because they dramatically reduce the price of using multiple tracks on multiple pieces of content.

That said, there are also arguments to be made that business models like this, while good for filmmakers, devalue the work of musicians. I’ll leave it up to you to sort through that moral complexity.

Another interesting thing I've noticed is that companies are getting more competitive with their single track pricing, plus they're innovating with their design and discovery features.

With huge demand for royalty free music these days, especially with YouTubers and other types of content creators, the competition between these companies is getting rather fierce.

And when companies compete for our business, we as creators and consumers win. Some of these companies, such as the ones on this list, are competing harder and innovating better than the others.

Anyhow, before we get into my picks, here are the criteria needed for a company to make the list.

  • The quality of the music has to be excellent. It has to be sourced from musicians who clearly care about their craft just as much as I care about mine.

  • The interface must be clean and intuitive and help me find what I'm looking for. There's nothing more annoying than scrolling endlessly through a bunch of irrelevant songs.

  • The pricing must be flexible and reasonable. I work primarily in the indie film space, which means tiny budgets. For corporate or commercial shooters, price might not be much of a sticking point, but it is for me and for readers of this site.

So with all of that out of the way, let's get to the good stuff! Here are the top six music licensing sites I recommend in 2019 if your goal is high quality music.

1. Music Vine

Music Vine released a massive update to their site in late 2018. There's a delightful new interface, loads of search options, and even more flexibility in pricing and licensing terms. When it comes to sorting and filtering and finding the perfect song, Music Vine is the best on the market, hands down.

Besides their beautiful, functional site, the thing that really sets Music Vine apart is their highly-curated selection of music from indie artists. The library isn't huge, but it's super high quality. And they make that music available for more affordable prices than you’d find with other licensing services. The founders at Music Vine are on a mission to democratize great music and make it legitimately affordable for everybody, and so far, the site is very much living up to that vision.

A quick heads up: I have a business relationship with Music Vine. They sponsored both seasons of the Filmmaker Freedom podcast, so I might be biased in my assessment here. But it's the service I've used the most, and it's the one I find myself recommending most often to my filmmaking peeps.

The good
  • A clean, simple interface that's a pure delight to use. It's damn beautiful, but it doesn't let that beauty get in the way of functionality.

  • Speaking of functionality, Music Vine has the most robust set of search filters for finding exactly the right song quickly. Everybody offers filters like mood, genre, instrument, etc. But Music Vine adds film genre, era/decade, culture/locale, edit style, and occasion. Never has it been so easy to find upbeat Celtic music, or tunes that are a perfect fit for fast-paced Halloween content. Plus there's some nifty technology under the hood that makes your searches even more seamless. Read more here.

  • Super flexible pricing options. This is another thing Music Vine revamped with their new design. They have a ton of new licensing options, ranging from small personal projects all the way up to massive broadcast spots, and everything in between . And their prices start at just $10.

  • Similar music quality to what the high-end services offer for higher prices. Which is to say, the quality is objectively great. They take great care to source talent and curate the best stuff for their platform.

  • They have a wide, rather eclectic range of music to choose from. As someone who loves more esoteric types of music (gypsy jazz for the win!), there’s a diversity to Music Vine’s library that I find really appealing. While some music libraries cater heavily to what's "popular" or "trending," Music Vine doesn't shy away letting artists upload unique and memorable songs.

The not-so-good
  • Like I mentioned, the music selection is still limited at this point, with about 2500 songs in total. What’s there is great, and more music is being added on a consistent basis, but it's one of the smaller libraries on this list. It might even be the smallest.

  • T̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶i̶t̶e̶ ̶i̶t̶s̶e̶l̶f̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶a̶ ̶b̶i̶t̶ ̶r̶e̶s̶o̶u̶r̶c̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶t̶e̶n̶s̶i̶v̶e̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶m̶y̶ c̶o̶m̶p̶u̶t̶e̶r̶.̶ ̶W̶h̶e̶n̶e̶v̶e̶r̶ ̶I̶ ̶d̶i̶g̶ ̶t̶h̶r̶o̶u̶g̶h̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶M̶u̶s̶i̶c̶ ̶V̶i̶n̶e̶ ̶l̶i̶b̶r̶a̶r̶y̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶m̶o̶r̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶n̶ ̶a̶ ̶f̶e̶w̶ ̶m̶i̶n̶u̶t̶e̶s̶,̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶p̶o̶o̶r̶ ̶l̶i̶t̶t̶l̶e̶ ̶M̶a̶c̶B̶o̶o̶k̶ ̶A̶i̶r̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶r̶t̶s̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶g̶e̶t̶ ̶v̶e̶r̶y̶,̶ ̶v̶e̶r̶y̶ ̶o̶v̶e̶r̶w̶h̶e̶l̶m̶e̶d̶. FIXED!

  • Music Vine does not have a subscription model, so if you're looking for unlimited, all you can eat music, you'll have to look at other options on this list.

2. Artlist

Like Music Vine, Artlist also got a pretty new coat of paint recently. Not much has changed under the hood though.

Luckily, the functionality and value proposition of Artlist are still great. For a flat, yearly fee of $199, you get unlimited access to its entire catalogue of curated music. And because everything in their library is universally, globally licensed, you can use it all in any kind of video project you want. From films to YouTube videos to commercials to corporate videos, it's all fair game. And there aren't any additional fees.

That’s really the main selling point of Artlist. You could download 10 songs during your yearly subscription, or 100 songs. The price would be exactly the same, which makes it a steal for people who work on lots of projects thought the year, or who create for YouTube.

The good
  • Unlimited music for as long as you subscribe. I can’t stress how huge this is, especially for corporate filmmakers, wedding filmmakers, YouTubers, etc. Basically, if you create work in high volume and want to license good music for everything, Artlist is a no-brainer.

  • Ultimate simplicity in licensing. There is only one license, and it covers everything you’d need to do with the music (at least with video work).

  • High-quality music sourced from a growing number of independent artists around the world.

  • Price. No matter what you do, the price of Artlist is $199/year. That doesn’t change even if you use the music in corporate videos for massive companies, or even in broadcasting (both of which are traditionally outrageously expensive).

  • A library that’s growing insanely fast. When I first wrote about Artlist in early 2016, they had about 1000 songs on the platform. Now, in late 2018, they’re well beyond 6000, and adding around 150 new songs a week.

The not-so-good
  • The licenses aren't uniform. Last year, I wanted to use some Artlist songs for my podcast, but after talking with one of the co-founders, I learned that only a handful of songs on the platform were properly licensed for that use case. This won't affect anyone looking for music for their films and videos, but it's something to be aware of if you produce multiple types of media.

  • With the rate they’ve added new music to the platform, not all of it is super high quality. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no bad music here—most of it is damn good. But the larger it gets, the more it feels like I’m searching for gems in a sea of slightly above-average music. Not a big deal, but I hope they keep their curation standards high.

  • Some of the font sizes are ridiculously small across the site. I found myself doing a bit of squinting when using Artlist on my iMac.

  • The site itself is still occasionally slow. The site was great when they came out of their public beta, but after the redesign, some things are noticeably slower, especially the overlay pages with the FAQs and such. The media still loads fast though, so I'm not too upset.

3. Musicbed

Musicbed is the gold standard for modern licensing services. It’s the "OG" in the music for film space—the site against which all of the others are judged.

Musicbed excels because of their highly-curated selection of emotive, cinematic music from independent artists. Plus tts interface is very well-developed and designed, making it easy to find whatever you’re looking for. Basically, everything Musicbed does exudes quality.

That quality has traditionally come at premium prices, but now they offer different tiers of membership that allow unlimited “rights managed” usage of most of their library. So, depending on your usage, you could get access to Musicbed’s legendary catalogue for a very reasonable price.

The good
  • Like I mentioned before, the quality of their music is objectively outstanding. And their library is pretty damn big at this point. It'll be hard not to find something that's a perfect fit for your project.

  • The pricing can be fairly reasonable for single track licensing (depending on how you intend to use the music, obviously).

  • Their new subscription offering is super flexible. If you’re just creating for YouTube, you can get access to Musicbed’s library at a cheaper price than Artlist, which is pretty damn awesome. But once you start getting into commercial territory, those subscription prices climb rather quickly, while still being a reasonable expense for just about any business.

  • The browsing interface is clean, and very minimal. But there's still a ton of power under the hood for searching and sorting and filtering.

  • To my knowledge, they're the only ones that allow you to exclude certain criteria from your searches. So if you know you don't want something with heavy drums or guitar, you could exclude any tracks that match those criteria. Cool stuff.

  • If you have the budget, Musicbed has a custom music service that will pair your project with their musicians.

  • Plus they have the classiest blog ever. Seriously, go check it out once you’re done with this article.

The not-so-good
  • Prices that rise very quickly. If you only intend to use Musicbed for personal or non-commercial projects (or YouTube), you should be able to snag some great music for a reasonable price. However, once you start delving into film and commercial and broadcast territory, Musicbed’s prices start to climb quickly and dramatically.

  • Their licenses are also rather complex, requiring all sorts of information about company structure, ad spend, employee count, etc. I understand why they do this, but I think I've been spoiled by sites like Artlist and Soundstripe, where licensing is dead simple.

  • The subscription isn’t royalty free. This can lead to your videos getting flagged by content ID and copyright systems like the one on YouTube. But Musicbed has apparently built an automated system to clear those copyright claims for members.

  • You have to create an account to listen to full previews of songs. It's not a big deal, but it annoyed me as I was putting this comparison together.

4. Marmoset

Marmoset is another of those companies that just exudes quality and coolness. Rooted in Portland, Marmoset maintains a handpicked roster of independent artists (mostly from the pacific northwest), and makes their music available on a beautifully-crafted licensing platform around.

I can’t stress just how awesome this platform is in terms of its usability, especially when it comes to its search functionality. Their project and emotion-driven search algorithms are truly a fantastic and useful alternative to searching by mood or genre.

The good
  • Marmoset makes it really easy to search based on the emotion you're trying to evoke. They have unique search modifiers that make it easy to match music the emotional tone of your project. And then you can stack a whole bunch of technical modifiers like track length, energy, arc (which is really cool), and instrumentation on top of those results to narrow the search even further.

  • Unique music of the absolute highest quality. Thanks to the handpicked roster of indie artists, Marmoset might be the only service to offer better music than Musicbed, but that’s just a matter of taste and opinion.

  • A "Marmoset Radio" button that plays random tunes from the Marmoset library. It probably won't surface the exact song you're looking for, but I almost always love what I hear when I click that button.

  • Marmoset isn't just a licensing platform, but a full service music agency and studio. If you need custom music for any type of project, they can get you taken care of, either by pairing you with their artists, or by composing something bespoke in-house.

The not-so-good
  • Price. Similar to Musicbed, Marmoset songs get super pricey quickly, especially once you start getting into commercial and broadcast territory. However, the rest of their licensing options tend to be pretty straightforward and reasonably priced. They even offer a dedicated podcasting license for a super affordable price.

  • It looks like Marmoset have removed some of their search filters since the last time I updated this article. They used to have story and character-driven search modifiers that were great at unearthing songs when you weren't quite sure what you were looking for. You can still do that to some extent with project based modifiers, but I found the story and character ones to turn up interesting results.

5. Soundstripe

Soundstripe is another great offering in the realm of unlimited music subscriptions. Their service is similar to Artlist, in that you get unlimited access to the music, and you can use it however you want in your videos, even commercially and in broadcast.

However, Soundstripe is less expensive at $135 a year, so it’s easily the best bargain on this list. If you're on a super tight budget, but needs loads of music, its the best choice. Or, if you really need a ton of music for your content, you might even consider getting both an Artlist and Soundstripe subscription. That oughta cover even the most prolific of creators.

The good
  • An insanely well priced subscription model. For $135 a year, you get unlimited access the library, and you can use any song however you want in any video project, from personal to broadcast. It's easily the best bargain on this list.

  • Dead simple licensing. You never have to worry about paying extra for using these tunes in different types of media. It’s all covered by the subscription fee.

  • A slick, clean, colorful interface that's really easy to use and navigate.

  • Their curated playlists are quite good, and that was my favorite part of browsing through Soundstripe.

The not-so-good
  • Right now, the selection of music is still relatively small, coming in around 3000 tracks. Like all of the others, it's consistently growing, but if you create a lot of content, you will likely run into the "edges" of their library the more you dig through it.

  • There's a lot of great music on Soundstripe, and no bad music. But there's a good deal of "middle of the road" music that feels pretty average. Maybe it's just because I've listened to so much stock music in my day, and I'm really hard to impress. Either way, if quality and uniqueness are your main priorities, you're better off with Musicbed or Marmoset or Music Vine.

  • Also, I feel like every time I work through Soundstripe's library, I hear way too much of what I like to call "cheerful hipster music." You know, overly upbeat folk with lots of whistling and clapping and such. I get that style is popular, but every time I hear it, I roll my eyes. That's not really something wrong with Soundstripe, per se. I'm just cynical.

6. Epidemic Sound

I was introduced to Epidemic Sound recently, and though I haven't licensed anything from them yet, I like what I see. Their library is huge, and the music on their site is damn good.

Like Musicbed, they seem to be primarily aimed at single track licensing, but they do offer a few different tiered subscriptions for YouTubers. The tiers are based on how many video plays your channel gets in a month. And if you’re just starting out on YouTube, it’s a great bargain.

The other cool differentiator I found is that they pay artists up front for their songs, instead of paying based on licensing performance. If you're a musician reading this article, this little tidbit might be enough to push you into the Epidemic camp. Plus they can get your music to Spotify and other streaming platforms.

The good
  • Super affordable music subscriptions for up and coming YouTubers. At $15 a month for their lowest tier, it's a steal for someone who's just getting..

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Sponsor: Well-chosen music is often the missing ingredient that can take a film from good to great. That’s why Music Vine offers a curated selection of exceptional tracks, an unrivaled search interface, and super flexible (and affordable) pricing. Crank-up the volume & enjoy!

 I’m guessing you’ve been told to “build an audience” before.

That phrase is right up there with “tell good stories” for the most ubiquitous filmmaking advice ever.

Don't get me wrong, it's a great piece of advice.

An audience, when built the right way, is one of the few assets that can alleviate the most painful parts of the filmmaking process—funding and distribution.

When you have an audience that's engaged with your work, crowdfunding becomes way easier. So does attracting and persuading traditional investors.

And when it comes to marketing and distribution, an audience gives you leverage and flexibility. It makes you far more attractive to distributors, and dramatically increases the odds that DIY and direct distribution will be profitable for you.

Basically, "build an audience" is great advice for any filmmaker who wants more control over the financial side of their profession.

But there's one big problem.

Usually what people mean when they tell you to “build an audience” is to “get a lot of social media followers.”

And those are not the same thing. Not even close.

“An audience puts you in charge of your own future. Instead of hoping and praying for industry gatekeepers to put you on the map, once you go through this process, you’ll be calling your own shots.”

So my goal with this article is to dispel some harmful myths about audience building, and share how to do it in a way that’s ethical, fulfilling, and profitable.

I want you to have a strong foundational understanding of this concept, because going forward, this site will be the definitive online resource for filmmakers who want more control and leverage in their careers.

And like I mentioned, building an audience is the key that will unlock more doors than anything else you could be doing.

An audience puts you in charge of your own future. Instead of hoping and praying for industry gatekeepers to put you on the map, once you go through this process, you’ll be calling your own shots.

If that sounds good to you, read on amigo.

What building an audience means

Let's start with the basics. What is an "audience?"

As far as I'm concerned, there are actually two types of audiences you should think about.

  • potential audience is a group of people who would dig your work, and who would be interested in hearing from you on an ongoing basis about said work.

  • built audience occurs when you attract these folks into your world, and have a reliable, direct means of communication with them.

But let's back up a little bit and talk about this potential audience some more.

These aren’t just generic people who like watching generic films. Nope, this is a specific niche of people, and your primary job as a creator is to serve those people better than any other content creator anywhere.

As indie filmmakers, we can’t compete with Hollywood. We can’t beat them at the game of saturating the mass market with high-budget, commoditized media. If we try to accomplish the same objectives without their resources, we'll lose every time.

What we can do, however, is niche down.

The trick is to find a niche that's small enough that Hollywood doesn't pay attention to it, but is large enough to earn a living for us and our collaborators. We're looking for online communities and networks who are underserved by traditional media, but hungry for content nonetheless.

Once we find them, we can focus our energy on serving better and mattering more to that chosen audience than Hollywood ever could.

And when our work matters more to people, there’s higher potential for us to earn a great living, all while doing work we’re actually passionate about. That’s the goal, right?

Finding your audience

In order to truly matter to a niche audience, you have to deeply understand these people. And I mean deep—often deeper than they understand themselves.

You have to understand their worldview and psychographic profile so that your content appeals to them on a psychological, foundational level. Getting this one thing right is the key to mattering more to people than Hollywood ever could.

I won’t dig too far into how to do this right now, because just this concept alone could be a course. But for now, start thinking about it like this…

You’re looking for people online who share one or more core aspect of your identity—those few people who jibe with your specific brand of “weird.”

Because let’s be honest. You’re weird. I’m weird. Everyone’s weird.

And part of what we all want as humans is authentic connection to people who accept and value us for the weirdos we are. This pattern shows up again and again in psychological research. It’s one of the core drivers of human behavior.

And we can use this in our audience building efforts.

“Part of what we all want as humans is authentic connection to people who accept and value us for the weirdos we are. This pattern shows up again and again in psychological research. It’s one of the core drivers of human behavior.”

There might be thousands, or tens of thousands of people online who meet these criteria. Thousands of weirdos just like you.

Not just that, but these potential audience members are doing stuff online. They're congregating, consuming content, having conversations, and buying stuff. More than anything, though, they’re searching for their “tribe of weirdos” even if they aren’t consciously aware of it.

So you’ve got this potential audience of weirdos, but you just have no way to reach or communicate directly with them… yet.

The art of attraction

And that’s where the “building” in “audience building” comes in.

Building an audience is the process of discovering who those weirdos are, figuring out how to reach them online, then creating content to attract them into your world.

Notice how I used the word “attract” there. That’s important. We’re not bribing or coercing or bullying people into paying attention to us.

There are certainly people online who act that way, including massive brands, but that’s not what we’re going for here.

Nope. This is all about being an ethical human, and treating our potential audience members with the utmost respect. It's about building relationships and treating others as you would like to be treated.

In other words, when you’re building an audience, you should follow the Golden Rule. Forever and always.

That’s why we seek to attract people into our world.

And the way we do that is with content. Whether it’s video, photo, audio, text, or any other content form, the right kind of content to the right person creates a bond.

By entering the spaces your niche already hangs out online, and creating irresistible content and films based on their psychographic profile, your potential audience actually want to be part of our world.

No bribes necessary.

Storing an audience

This brings us to the next critical piece of the audience building puzzle.

It’s not enough to just attract people into your world, or get them to follow you on social media. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough.

For this to really be worth your time, you must have a place to store your audience—ideally on turf that you own—which means that you must have some way to consistently and reliably communicate with them at scale.

For most people, this is an email list.

I know, I know. I can already hear you grumbling about how you hate email and how nobody uses email anymore and yada yada yada.

To that I would say…. sorry bucko, you’re wrong.

Email, despite being old fashioned and often misused, is one of the best ways to build trust relationships at scale. And when it comes to selling your work, email outperforms social media by 40X.

Not 40%... 40X. Let that sink in.

But perhaps the most important reason email lists are so powerful is that it’s an asset you own. It’s literally just a spreadsheet of names and emails that you can take with you, even if your email marketing company shuts down.

A cautionary tale about relying on big platforms

When your audience is people who’ve liked your page on facebook… that’s bad news. Sorry to inform you, but in that case, it’s facebook who owns that relationship, not you. Same goes for twitter, instagram, YouTube, or any other major platform.

Why’s this such a bad thing, you might be asking? Well, here’s a cautionary tale for you…

About 5 years ago, anyone with a facebook page could easily reach the majority of their audience every time they posted to their page.

But then, facebook realized they could be making money from people with pages. So they changed their algorithms, and virtually overnight, people’s “organic reach” dropped to dismal levels.

Now, if anybody wants to reach all the people who have liked their page, they have to pay facebook to “boost their content.”

That, my friend, is why you must own the means of communication with your audience. Otherwise, your business could be wiped out overnight by some change to the platform you’re using.

Yes, using these big platforms is easier and more convenient. But the price you're paying for that convenience is high.

So even though you may hate it, email is still far and away the best way to own that relationship and means of communication with your fans.

Another option if you really, really hate email

Now, if you’re stubborn and insist that you’ll never use email, there are other options. And there will continue to be other options as tech advances and hits the market. You just gotta keep your eyes out for them.

So right now, in 2019, the other option that really works well for building an audience is to get your audience members into a community platform of some sort.

Since you're only attracting a small niche of likeminded people, there's a ton of value in connecting them with one another.

Like I said before, we're all searching for connection with likeminded folks who share our interests and values. If you can facilitate those connections, your audience will love you.

Practically, speaking, you could do this with a facebook group—although this suffers from the same issues I just talked about—or it could be some kind of other community platform like Mighty Networks or Mobilize.

Hell, you could also use a combination of both email and community (this is what I do).

Getting on the email list is the first step, where the initial relationship is built. But eventually, when I want people to join my inner circle, they get into my private community. It’s part of how I create “super fans” for what I do here at Filmmaker Freedom.

You don’t have to get that complex with your audience building though. Just letting you know how deep the rabbit hole goes.

That’s it. Building an audience is about attracting the right people into your world, and having a sustainable way to communicate with them on an ongoing basis.

Not too crazy, right?

But there’s one more thing I have to tell you about before we wrap this up.

It’s not enough to just “build an audience”

In order for an audience to be a profitable asset in your life, you can’t just have this email list or community or whatever and ignore it.

Nope, in order for it to pay off in any kind of substantial way, you must develop a relationship with your audience, and consistently work to deepen that relationship.

Let’s think about this in a context that every filmmaker should be familiar with… networking.

When you go to a networking event or a festival or whatever, there’s always that one guy who’s eagerly schmoozing and handing out business cards.

If you’re unlucky enough to land in a conversation with him, he’ll talk incessantly about how great he is and what amazing projects he’s working on and how he’s probably going to win an Oscar next year…

Uh huh.

And then, without showing an ounce of interest in you, he’ll ask for something. He’s looking for some kind of big favor.

But he didn’t build a relationship with you. There's no trust there, and you have no reason to do anything for him. So you send him on his merry way, empty-handed, so he can accost another poor stranger.

“That’s the magic of building an audience in an authentic way. When you do it right, the selling takes care of itself because of how deep your relationship is and how much trust there is between you.”

That’s one of the biggest mistakes people make when building audiences. They get people into their world and onto their list, and then they start bombarding them with “asks.” Buy this product, do this, do that.

It’s a huge turn off. Obviously.

And that’s why your goal must be to play the long game and focus on building a relationship.

Like all relationships, that means giving just as much, though ideally more, than you take. And like before, content (preferably sent through your email list or community) is the primary way to do this.

And when you consistently deliver content and experiences that reinforce everyone's shared sense of "weird," you strengthen the bonds between you and cultivate goodwill.

Then, when it comes time to launch a film (or a crowdfunding campaign), your audience will pull out their wallets with glee, because you've already enriched their lives so much. They're just looking for an opportunity to reciprocate the value you've delivered to them.

Just know, when the relationship with your audience dies, so does any chance of earning a living from them. So treat that relationship like one you want to last forever. Put the work in, and you'll be rewarded.

Wrapping up

That’s it, amigo. We just built a strong foundation for how to build an audience in the internet age, and not feel like a total sleazebag while doing it.

In fact, if you work through this process, the people in your audience will not only adore you, but they’ll love hearing from you. And most importantly, when you have something to sell—a film for instance—they will be more than happy to buy from you.

That’s the magic of building an audience in an authentic way. When you do it right, the selling takes care of itself because of how deep your relationship is and how much trust there is between you.

So let’s go over what we covered, because it’s quite a lot.

  1. Building an audience is not the same thing as getting a lot of social media followers.

  2. Instead, it’s about attracting a small niche of likeminded “weirdos” into your world with remarkable content that appeals to them on a deep, psychographic level.

  3. For longevity, you must own the means of communication with your audience, and that means getting them on an email list. A community platform can also work, but be careful relying on platforms that you don’t own.

  4. In order for an audience to be profitable, you must consistently work to build and sustain a relationship with them. Without the relationship aspect, and without trust, the audience isn’t worth much at all.

Alright, my friend. That’s enough for today. But like I mentioned before, this is just the beginning. Over the coming months and years, I’m going to share everything I know about building audiences online. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

So if you’re interested in the freedom that comes from not having to rely on middle men and gatekeepers to make a living, stick around.

   

One of the biggest ways to 'strike a chord' with your audience is through the music you use. This is why it's so important to invest in the right tracks.

Thankfully, Music Vine makes it easier than ever for indie-filmmakers to find and license awesome tracks from world-class composers and artists - so that you can ensure your film's soundtrack leaves a lasting impression.

If you enjoyed this article, you'll love Filmmaker Freedom Weekly. Each week, I share my latest writing, curated stories from around the web, a short film that I love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

Are you ready to take your filmmaking to the next level?

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FILMMAKER: Carl MasonSTORY: The Rocky Journey of a Personal Short Film, & What It Taught Me

Hi, I’m Carl. I’m the Director & Producer of ‘Revival’, a post-apocalyptic short film exploring a life without music.

Here it is.

REVIVAL - Short Film (2018) | Life Without Music - YouTube

This film was deeply personal to me.

As a musician myself, I wanted to explore what life would be without music, and what it would feel like to rediscover music again for the first time.

And, as a big fan of The Last Of Us, I thought it would be interesting to explore this concept in an apocalyptic landscape, and see where the story would take us.

With it being such a personal story, I made the decision to develop the screenplay myself rather than working with a screenwriter like I had done in the past.

However, I always had the issues of how we were going to fund an apocalyptic film in the back of my mind, and ended up rushing the first draft in an attempt to reach the deadline of a screenwriting competition.

After the first rejection, I soon came to the realization that the draft only really touched the surface of the story I set out to tell, with major pacing and character issues which were a direct result of rushing the writing process.

I decided the best course of action was to share the screenplay with a mix of people; friends, fellow filmmakers and even a script doctor to hear a variety of perspectives on the story.

This feedback would prove to be an invaluable resource for me in helping to shape the screenplay into what the film is today. It was vital to iron out these story issues as early as possible, as story is king and financially I would not be prepared to face these sort of issues later on down the line during production, as I couldn’t risk reshoots.





Once I had completed the screenplay I was still faced with the major issue of financing the film.

I tried reaching out to film funds and sponsors, but as it was an independent short film no one was interested. The next step, like many independent filmmakers was to try the crowdfunding route; so I spent weeks researching successful campaigns, developing graphics and concept art, traveling across country to film campaign trailers and yet still, only raised a quarter of our goal.

The fundamental element that was missing? An audience! Campaigning blindly to friends and family can only go so far.

Revival - Short Film Behind The Scenes - YouTube

By this point I felt like I had reached a dead end, but knew I couldn’t let the project lose momentum, otherwise it would be put on the back pile and forgotten. I did, however, finally have a completed script and a range of concept artwork which could help us visualize the story I wanted to tell.

So I decided to take a chance and send over the script and concept art to a few crew members whose work I had been following, to see if they might possible be interested in the project; namely our casting director, costume designer and cinematographer.

To my surprise, even though there wasn’t a budget in place, they all connected with the script and wanted to get involved. This was a breakthrough, and after weighing up the costs with the head of departments I decided to bite the bullet and try and finance the film myself.

This would prove to be quite a turbulent experience, trying to balance my freelance career with free time developing the short; jumping on-board as many projects as I could in order to save up the money in order to get the film financed.

Looking back now I appreciate the risks of funding the film this way and how unpredictable it was, but when I think back to how effective short films can be and the impact my previous films have had on my career in the past, I always feel the positives far outweigh the negatives when it comes to the experience and networks gained.

The biggest hurdle I faced during pre-production was finding the perfect ‘apocalyptic’ location which gave us the flexibility and accessibility to shoot on-location with a crew whilst on our tiny budget.

I spent weeks scouting locations across the country, in talks with location agencies to try and make something work within our budget but had no luck. So I decided to compromise, and adapted the screenplay so it was less ambitious so we could film in just one or two locations, rather than having multiple unit moves.

This worked in our favour, and after updating the script came across a farm in Lancashire, North England which offered acres of woodland, desolate countryside, abandoned cars and derelict buildings all within one location.

Compromising in this way not only meant we could save on costs, but this new location really became its own character in the film. Our patience paid off in the end!

Despite the wet and cold weather conditions production went off without a hitch. We made the decision early on to shoot on two cameras so we could work as efficiently as possible; one camera primarily on steadicam and the other handheld which meant we could get double the amount of coverage per scene allowing us to move faster, which was essential when shooting in winter without much light.







The next challenge for us came during the post production process when we were faced with the edit.

After we had worked on assembling the first few drafts we felt the original ending in practice wasn’t as effective on screen as it was on paper.

I was faced with a big decision, so we edited two versions of the film, restructuring the footage to produce a cut that felt more ambiguous leaving the film more open ended, and a version with the original ending like it was written in the script.

I sent off both versions to a test audience of friends, family and filmmakers to hear their opinions and the consensus agreed the ambiguous ending worked better for the film, despite not being as it was in the screenplay.

This was the biggest lesson for me during the production of Revival, not being afraid to rewrite and rearrange the story during each stage of the production process, being comfortable enough to make compromises in order to get the film made and being confident enough to make myself vulnerable to feedback, taking chances despite what others may say.

The experience you gain from going out there and producing your own film really is a masterclass in filmmaking like no other.

If you enjoyed this article, you'll love Filmmaker Freedom Weekly. Each week, I share my latest writing, curated stories from around the web, a short film that I love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

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FILMMAKER: Ross OzarkaSTORY: Breaking Up With No-Budget Filmmaking & Finding a More Empowering Way to Make Films

Dear No-Budget Filmmaking,

I'm leaving you, and it's all your fault.

For ten years, you've been setting me up for failure with your backwards way of life:

  • Your director is also the caterer.

  • Your lead actor disappears halfway through.

  • Your movies are shot and edited on your cousin's iPhone.

How can I grow as a filmmaker with your bad habits holding me back?

I can almost hear what you'd say about this: “Baby, you need me!”

I can see why you'd think that: I have no money, no network, and I've never even set foot on a real movie set. You might think that I couldn't be a filmmaker if I didn't have you.

Now that we've spent some time apart, I can say this: I'm free.

“I know how we’d talk about the modern classics we were going make together, how our films would screen at Sundance, how their sheer brilliance would shine through the scant production value to catch the eye of a StudioCanal rep. But let’s admit it: that was all a fantasy.”

I've met new people, and they've showed me techniques that satisfy me in ways you never could, like:

Recording dialogue before the shoot.

I never understood why you'd make such a big deal out of location sound. Remember that time we jacked those lavaliers into the actor's cell phones? The quality was awful.

I learned this new technique, and I don't know why it never occurred to me before—get the actors in a dry and low-echo room, and record all their dialogue at once.

Oh. My. God.

It was so nice to have no on-set distractions. To able to concentrate on the actors, and not c-stands. For the first time, I could direct. Really direct. It felt amazing.

No more retakes for passing planes and trucks. No more performances ruined by a fridge. Now I only need a microphone for room tone and foley.

Actually, that's not entirely true. I have a confession to make. I've been...

Filming movies without actors or locations.

The endless casting calls on Craigslist, chasing permits from the local film office, begging cafe owners to film for an afternoon... and scheduling all that together was a nightmare. Why were you into that?!

That's why I prefer to make my movies without actors or locations.

“With the power of editing and shot composition, I can tell any story I want with a toothbrush and a bar of soap.”
— M̶a̶c̶G̶y̶v̶e̶r̶ Ross Ozarka



Sock puppets, Barbie dolls, my own drawings... I can puppeteer anything into an actor; one who's always available for reshoots, one who can do as many takes as necessary. As long as it can move in time with my pre-recorded dialogue, it can act.

And no, the story doesn't suffer at all. With the power of editing and shot composition, I can tell any story I want with a toothbrush and a bar of soap.

With actors so small, I don't need locations. I can draw backdrops on cardboard and light them with colored gels.

It looks pretty good, and for the first time, I have complete control of the mise-en-scene. I never even thought about mise-en-scene when I was with you!

Far from being limited, I have more storytelling tools now than I ever had with you.

No-Budget Filmmaking, I have a confession to make...

I've been doing this for the past three years. In fact, I've already made a feature!

Please don't be jealous.

I know how we'd talk about the modern classics we were going make together, how our films would screen at Sundance, how their sheer brilliance would shine through the scant production value to catch the eye of a StudioCanal rep. But let's admit it: that was all a fantasy.

I need to make films with someone who can solve the problems of filmmaking in new ways. Someone who will let me tell the stories I want to tell. You just weren't cutting it. With you, I could never make a film set in 16th Century Spain. But that's what I've been able to do.

Let me introduce you to my film. It's named “Oops, I Murdered the Person the Person I Like Likes.” You can watch it here, and use the coupon code OOPSBUCK to get $1 USD off the ticket price.



Yes, I'm distributing it online, forgoing festivals entirely.

Will that work? I wish I could tell you the best practices for promoting a film online, but I've never done that before.

All I know is I would love to find a way to distribute my films with no need for a Festival Programmer's approval. Maybe I'll write you again once I've figured it out.

Goodbye, No-Budget Filmmaking. I will think of you when I re-read the chapter of my life called “mistakes.”

-Ross Ozarka

If you enjoyed this article, you'll love Filmmaker Freedom Weekly. Each week, I share my latest writing, curated stories from around the web, a short film that I love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

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Filmmakers: Ivan Malekin & Sarah Jayne
Story: How We Shot Our Improvised Feature In a Single Night

Not only did we shoot a feature in a single night. And not only was it entirely improvised (no script, no shot list, no regrets), but we decided to do it on the craziest and most chaotic night of the year... New Year’s Eve.

The film is called Friends, Foes & Fireworks and it explores relationships, love, friendship, and the truths we try but fail to keep to ourselves.

Friends, Foes & Fireworks Official Trailer - YouTube

We have been asked one question numerous times: “How did you actually manage to shoot this in a single night?”

The second question, often unspoken, but lingering on lips nonetheless is “…and have a story and structure that actually makes sense without a script?”

This won't come as a surprise, but planning is the key.

There might be no script, but there is an outline, a breakdown of each scene, story beats to hit, and detailed character histories and relationships developed first by ourselves as directors, then refined over multiple back and forth discussions with our cast.

Below, we take you through a few key stages in how we managed to make the film with a heavy focus on rehearsing and preparing the cast, as we believe the art of working with actors is often overlooked by new filmmakers, and we even see rehearsals sometimes skipped all together.

We may have filmed in one night. But we took months to prepare for that night.

Casting

Before we even begin discussing the concept, we need to find the right actors for the film.

Not every actor can handle improvisation. It’s understandable, as we come from so much structure in film—hit your mark, say your line like this, don't tilt your head so much, etc. So releasing all shackles and letting actors do their own thing and carry their own conversations is a big ask.

“There might be no script, but there is an outline, a breakdown of each scene, story beats to hit, and detailed character histories and relationships developed first by ourselves as directors, then refined over multiple back and forth discussions with our cast.”

That’s why we needed to actively search for actors comfortable in such a free flowing environment.

We do this by testing actors in auditions, speaking to them in character, seeing how they respond when forced to think on their feet.

We also ask a lot of questions. Hear the actor’s views on the history, the relationships, the opinions and values the character holds.

We stress there are no right or wrong answers—we are as open to learning what the character could be and where they could go as the actor themselves.

Rehearsals

Once we have our cast locked in, we begin with one-on-one discussions, breaking down the entire character background and scene by scene outline.

With the actor we analyze what drives their character, what they are feeling behind each interaction, and where they believe they stand in each relationship. We record everything and make detailed notes.

Then the actors meet. They compare notes, histories, ideas. They role-play in character. For example two characters from the film, Lucinda and Summer, who have a long history of friendship including a sexual affair, meet at a favourite cafe and share a coffee date in character.

Then the actors come back to us, and as a group, we go over notes again, addressing any inconsistencies, answering any lingering questions, making sure everyone, including us, is on the same page.

As a whole group we also play improv games to break the ice and build team camaraderie; sometimes even tailoring the games to play in character or learn more about each others histories.

But what else can you do in a rehearsal apart from play games and hold discussions when there is no script to learn?

The answer is recreate history.

“Your history isn’t just written on a page, but it is experienced as a group, like a vivid collective memory with exact lines, exact reactions, exact same experiences to draw upon for each actor to hone their performance.”

We film scenes from the past that the characters have shared to give each actor common ground. These scenes might refine history or fill in any gaps.

One such rehearsal scene in Friends, Foes & Fireworks was a dinner party that went horribly wrong and instigated tension in the group. Our actors improvised for 45 minutes while we captured it on camera, the party degenerating into tears. It was emotional and it was powerful.

Then, the two characters at the heart of the tension, Fiona and Zoe, were the first to meet as the film begins. The awkwardness in the opening scene is palpable, a direct extension from the rehearsal.

It is powerful, as your history isn’t just written on a page, but it is experienced as a group, like a vivid collective memory with exact lines, exact reactions, exact same experiences to draw upon for each actor to hone their performance.

You can view more info about recreating history, examples of improvised games, and additional exercises with cast in this bonus video from our Udemy course .

Crew

Choosing the right crew is just as important as choosing the right cast.

Our Director of Photography, Stephen Ramplin, came from a news background so he was already familiar with the 'run and gun' style of shooting we wanted to use – a fly on the wall type of look, as if we were eavesdropping on the conversations of real people. So being at the right place at the right time is what Steve does best.

Following this mindset, we hired people who had strong skills in at least two aspects of filming – indie professionals – as we knew we would use a tiny crew to move quickly and be inconspicuous in the anarchy of New Year’s Eve. So our crew taking on dual or even triple roles was a must.

Schedule

Scheduling was also vitally important. Not only did we have an overall schedule, but everyone involved had their own individual schedules with separate breaks, locations, timings all factored in. But how to you schedule without a script?

Well this one comes from a bit of experience. We’ve worked on a lot of sets, seen good and efficient teams in action and seen the opposite – inexperienced teams or egotistical individuals wasting too much time.

You get to know how long things like setting up lights, actors in make-up, getting mic’d up, etc. should take. As a rough guide, give a minimum 45 minutes for any new lighting set-up, more or less double that for the first set-up of the night, and have room in the schedule (for your own peace of mind) to take a little longer because it will generally take a little longer.

So do a schedule, give times that you want everyone to be ready to go, but have a secondary time as a back-up in your own head so you will still be comfortable and feel in control of the schedule without letting it get away from you and panicking.

As the directors (and in our case producers and assistant directors and caterers and editors and B camera operators too) we always wanted to remain calm and confident as our attitude affects the morale of the entire team. We are asking our cast and crew to pull off a mammoth task — shoot a feature in a single night. We needed to be self-assured and lead by example.

Co-directing and using two cameras also made it possible to shoot certain scenes simultaneously which was a very big help.

Even when we were all in one place such as the apartment in the opening scenes, one director would film a scene on the balcony while the other director would film a scene in the bathroom. And we also kept things limited to two or three takes at most—there simply wasn’t enough time for more.

Belief

But despite the best laid plans, there was still trepidation going in. Could we really do this in a single night? Could we make this improvisational approach work without the story falling apart? Would we have enough footage (and would it be usable) to edit a feature film?

It was that intense dinner party rehearsal mentioned earlier that boosted our confidence. The cast nailed it, characters bouncing off each other, listening and reacting. It was emotional and it was powerful. And it was proof of concept for us. This story would work.

In our experience we’ve always found you don’t need to wait for everything to be perfect and the stars to align before you take the plunge. Prepare as best you can, of course, but take that first step, take positive action to make your film happen, and inevitably things will fall into place.

Trust yourself to learn as you go. Back yourself to find a way. Improvise.

We go into much more detail about the entire process, including coming up with story ideas and the hook, specific crew positions and equipment, post production, troubleshooting, distribution and marketing, legalities and more, in an online educational course we have constructed for Udemy called “How to Shoot & Direct an Improvised Feature Film in 24 Hours.

If you enjoyed this article, you'll love Filmmaker Freedom Weekly. Each week, I share my latest writing, curated stories from around the web, a short film that I love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

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Filmmaker Stories are crowdsourced articles from the Filmmaker Freedom community. To learn more about writing and submitting your own Filmmaker Story, click here.

FILMMAKER: Beatriz BrowneSTORY: How a Full-Time Producer Makes Time for Her Own Films

One of the challenges of being a filmmaker is deciding whether you want to play the lottery or remain satisfied with dividend stocks.

And by that I mean, making your own films and hoping one will turn your career into a successful one, or playing it safe and having a regular job while trying to pursue your passion on the side.

In my case, I attempted both.

The first option led me to an extremely anxious year, where I began focusing on the bills I had to pay and losing the energy, passion, and desire to be a filmmaker.

I then opted for an office job, and with that, I learned that you really don’t know what you've got 'til it’s gone.

Thankfully, my office job is working as a full-time producer for a media company. So really, I’m fortunate to be doing what I love everyday.

But of course, nothing in life is butterflies and rainbows, and that job comes with long production hours, lots of energy and multi-tasking between projects, and by the time the clock strikes 6pm I’m ready to go on hiatus in my bed and watch Parks and Rec until I’m asleep.

“The most important thing when having to use all of your extra time... is to truly be passionate about your film.”

Yet I still felt the urge to just go and pursue my own work.

But while the ideas were flowing in my head, I whirled into one desperate question: where am I going to find time to do any of this?

Quite frankly, I don’t have a straight answer, nor a formula that will work for everybody.

But as I am going through the process at the moment, I feel the ultimate need to share my experience, so it can hopefully shine a light onto some of you.

But before we get to that, a little more about me.

I am a producer and filmmaker whose focus is primarily on documentary work.

I have worked on a few docu-series, such as this one, and I’m currently producing my first feature doc, “The Monster of Carmine Street."

The film is about an independent bookstore in New York City which is home to an eccentric community of artists and writers, that is possibly the last bit of cultural heritage of the neighborhood.

I’ve had this film in mind and in pre-production for around one year, and we are finally in production. Yet there is still so much of the story left to unravel and plenty of obstacles to overcome.

I think the most important thing when having to use all of your extra time towards a passion project, is to truly be passionate about your film. Right now, I am in love with the story that is unraveling, and I feel compelled to tell a story about a community that is vanishing. That is essentially our purpose as storytellers, to keep these stories alive for years to come.

With that, here is a breakdown of the times how I’ve been managing my time:

1. Dark Hours

And by dark, I mean post-work hours. During the week I’ll commit myself to either going home and working on my project, or making use of my evening time to attend networking events, workshops, and classes that still revolve around my work.

When I head home, after refueling myself with food, I will normally sit at my desk and devote at least 2 hours to dig deep into research, pre-production, and writing (most of the time with snacks around me).

I also designated a wall in my bedroom that I call the “Doc-wall”, where I like to build storyboards and visual boards for my upcoming work to help it come to life.

However, this isn’t to say this doesn’t require a lot of discipline. In fact, it’s so easy to get home and relax, that I really have to push myself to focus.

A way I am able to do that is by setting personal deadlines (sometimes with rewards). I will do daily deadlines and weekly deadlines that I have to meet within my work, and for each deadline I meet, I get a few minutes of relaxing time.

Currently, on my film, I will also use evenings to shoot a scene or an event with my protagonist, and that will often end in late nights but the reward is often more satisfying.

2. Weekends

Yes this unfortunately means sacrificing a lot of social time, but truthfully, there is always going to be time for that in the future and/or during vacations.

So the weekends are really my time to go out and shoot, and I am very grateful for my crew and literally everyone involved in this documentary, because they truly are also sacrificing their time for a project everyone is passionate about.

Weekends are also a great time to catch up on sleep and health, something that is extremely vital for every filmmaker, which leads me to my next point.

3. Balancing Extra Hours with Health

I’ve definitely noticed that with working overtime and on the weekends comes a great lack of sleep and self-care.

Which is severely dangerous, because without the proper nutrition and sleep, you will never be able to achieve your best work as a filmmaker.

I am guilty. I have pulled all-nighters, I’ve forgotten to eat, and I didn’t take time to breath or just take my mind off of work.

And when you work like that, it becomes draining and detrimental.

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with pulling an all-nighter here and there, or truly working nonstop on your project. Because when you are passionate about something and ideas are flowing, nothing can stop you!

But there has to be a sense of self-control that will allow you to thrive even more, and if that means sleeping a few extra hours the following day, or having a huge meal of pasta, by all means do it.

We are all human and our bodies can only take so much. Production hours are already pretty intense, so it’s important to learn how to handle it.

My advice is to take at least an hour of the day to do some exercise, practice a different hobby, or even meditate. When it’s time to work, it’s time to work.

Final Thoughts

With that, I can safely say it’s been a challenging journey. I have failed and succeeded multiple times.

And you will too.

But that’s part of the learning process, and it will only make you more prepared for your future films.

I always dream of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, which is our final product. But it’s important to also fall in love with the process.

At the end of the day, everyone is different, but I have been learning what works for me and what doesn’t, with the uttermost importance of taking care of my health. When I feel good, I thrive in my workspace, and I am able to give my subjects, my crew, and my film my best energy and devoted time.

Finally, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned working in documentaries is that you have to be prepared to abandon any and all rules. Things change, and being able to adapt is only part of the process.

So be comfortable in the uncomfortable, and truly let the storyteller within you lead the way.

Beatriz Browne is an NYC based Producer and documentary filmmaker specializing in multimedia digital storytelling. Some of her work includes documentary series for Fatherly, “My Kid The”, and “Passing the Torch” in a collaboration with Hearst Media.

She is also currently producing her new documentary film “The Monster of Carmine Street”, which is set to circulate festivals in early 2019. Her work has been recognized by major publications such as Good Morning America, Upworthy, Babble and PopSugar.

www.beatrizbrowne.com
Twitter: @brownebeatriz
Instagram: @biabrowne

If you enjoyed this article, you'll love Filmmaker Freedom Weekly. Each week, I share my latest writing, curated stories from around the web, a short film that I love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

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Music is responsible for much of what an audience feels when they watch a film.

So if you’re serious about telling stories that resonate, the last thing you want is generic, boring stock music.

Luckily, in 2018, there are more licensing companies than you could count on five hands. All of them aim to provide filmmakers with high-quality, royalty-free music at legitimately affordable prices.

And though I haven't used all of them, I have used quite a few. This post explores my favorites.

Notes about the 2018 update

Since I originally wrote this a few years ago, the music licensing space has evolved quite a bit. There's been a massive push towards subscription services in addition to (or completely replacing) single track licensing.

We have sites like Artlist and Soundstripe to thank for that.

Another cool thing I've noticed is that companies are getting more competitive with their pricing, and they're innovating with their design and discovery features.

There's a ton of demand for royalty free music these days, especially with YouTubers and other types of content creators. And with new music licensing companies sprouting up every month or so to meet that demand, the competition is fierce.

And when companies compete for our business, we as creators and consumers win. Some of these companies, such as the ones on this list, are competing hard and innovating better than the others.

Anyhow, before we get into my picks, here are the criteria needed for a company to make the list.

  • The quality of the music has to be excellent. It has to be sourced from musicians who clearly care about their craft just as much as I care about mine.

  • The interface must be clean and intuitive and help me find what I'm looking for. There's nothing more annoying than scrolling endlessly through a bunch of irrelevant songs.

  • The pricing must be flexible and reasonable. I work primarily in the indie film space, which means tiny budgets. For corporate or commercial shooters, price might not be much of a sticking point, but it is for me and for readers of this site.

So with all of that out of the way, let's get to the good stuff! Here are the top six music licensing sites I recommend in 2018 if your goal is high quality music.

1. Music Vine

Music Vine just released a massive update to their site. There's a delightful new interface, loads of search options, and even more flexibility in pricing and licensing terms.

Besides their beautiful site, the thing that really sets Music Vine apart is their highly-curated selection of music from indie artists. The library isn't huge, but it's super high quality. And they make that music available for more affordable prices than you’d find with other licensing services. The founders at Music Vine are on a mission to democratize great music and make it legitimately affordable for everybody, and so far, the site is very much living up to that vision.

A quick heads up: I have a business relationship with Music Vine. They sponsored both seasons of the Filmmaker Freedom podcast, so I might be biased in my assessment here. But it's the service I've used the most, and it's the one I find myself recommending most often to my filmmaking peeps.

The good
  • A clean, simple interface that's a pure delight to use. It's damn beautiful, but it doesn't let that beauty get in the way of functionality.

  • Speaking of functionality, Music Vine has the most robust set of search filters for finding exactly the right song quickly. Everybody offers filters like mood, genre, instrument, etc. But Music Vine adds film genre, era/decade, culture/locale, and occasion. Never has it been so easy to find Celtic music, or tunes that are a perfect fit for Halloween themed content. Plus there's some nifty technology under the hood that makes your searches even more seamless. Read more here.

  • Super flexible pricing options. This is another thing Music Vine revamped with their new design. They have a ton of new licensing options, ranging from small personal projects all the way up to massive broadcast spots, and everything in between . And their prices start at just $13.

  • Similar music quality to what the high-end services offer for higher prices. Which is to say, the quality is objectively great. They take great care to source talent and curate the best stuff for their platform.

  • They have a wide, rather eclectic range of music to choose from. As someone who loves more esoteric types of music (gypsy jazz for the win!), there’s a diversity to Music Vine’s library that I find really appealing. While some music libraries cater heavily to what's "popular" or "trending," Music Vine doesn't shy away letting artists upload unique and memorable songs.

The not-so-good
  • Like I mentioned, the music selection is still limited at this point, with about 2200 songs in total. What’s there is great, and more music is being added on a consistent basis, but it's one of the smaller libraries on this list. It might even be the smallest, but it's hard to tell.

  • Songs load super slowly for me, which is frustrating when you're trying to click through a bunch of songs and waveforms to find something good. I assume this is because their servers are halfway across the world from where I am, so perhaps if you're in the UK or Europe, you'll have better performance.

  • The site itself is still resource intensive on my computer, even after the update. Whenever I dig through the Music Vine library for more than a few minutes, my poor little MacBook Air starts to get very, very overwhelmed. I'm not sure what causes this, but I haven't noticed this on any other music sites.

  • Music Vine does not have a subscription model, so if you're looking for unlimited, all you can eat music, you'll have to look at other options on this list.

2. Artlist

Like Music Vine, Artlist also got a pretty new coat of paint recently. Not much has changed under the hood though.

Luckily, the functionality and value proposition of Artlist are still great. For a flat, yearly fee of $199, you get unlimited access to its entire catalogue of curated music. And because everything in their library is universally, globally licensed, you can use it all in any kind of video project you want. From films to YouTube videos to commercials to corporate videos, it's all fair game. And there aren't any additional fees.

That’s really the main selling point of Artlist. You could download 10 songs during your yearly subscription, or 100 songs. The price would be exactly the same, which makes it a steal for people who work on lots of projects thought the year, or who create for YouTube.

The good
  • Unlimited music for as long as you subscribe. I can’t stress how huge this is, especially for corporate filmmakers, wedding filmmakers, YouTubers, etc. Basically, if you create work in high volume and want to license good music for everything, Artlist is a no-brainer.

  • Ultimate simplicity in licensing. There is only one license, and it covers everything you’d need to do with the music (at least with video work).

  • High-quality music sourced from a growing number of independent artists around the world.

  • Price. No matter what you do, the price of Artlist is $199/year. That doesn’t change even if you use the music in corporate videos for massive companies, or even in broadcasting (both of which are traditionally outrageously expensive).

  • The media loads blazing fast on their site. After using Music Vine for so long and getting used to their load speeds, it was refreshing to jump into Artlist’s library. I felt like superman browsing through their selects at top speed.

The not-so-good
  • The licenses aren't uniform. Last year, I wanted to use some Artlist songs for my podcast, but after talking with one of the co-founders, I learned that only a handful of songs on the platform were properly licensed for that use case. This won't affect anyone looking for music for their films and videos, but it's something to be aware of if you produce multiple types of media.

  • Some of the font sizes are ridiculously small across the site. I found myself doing a bit of squinting when using Artlist on my iMac.

  • Right now, the selection of music is still relatively small. Like all of the others, it's consistently growing, but if you create a lot of content, you will likely run into the "edges" of their library the more you dig through it.

  • The site itself is still occasionally slow. The site was great when they came out of their public beta, but after the redesign, some things are noticeably slower, especially the overlay pages with the FAQs and such. The media still loads fast though, so I'm not too upset.

3. Musicbed

Musicbed is the gold standard for modern licensing services. It’s the "OG" in the music for film space—the site against which all of the others are judged.

Musicbed excels because of their highly-curated selection of emotive, cinematic music from independent artists. Plus tts interface is very well-developed and designed, making it easy to find whatever you’re looking for. Basically, everything Musicbed does exudes quality.

That quality has traditionally come at premium prices, but soon they’ll even have a subscription service, although the details aren’t out yet about what’ll be included and how much it’ll cost.

The good
  • Like I mentioned before, the quality of their music is objectively outstanding. And their library is pretty damn big at this point. It'll be hard not to find something that's a perfect fit for your project.

  • The pricing can be fairly reasonable for single track licensing (depending on how you intend to use the music, obviously). And they've got a subscription service coming, but it hasn't been released yet as of September of 2018. Still no details on how much it'll cost.

  • The browsing interface is clean, and very minimal. But there's still a ton of power under the hood for searching and sorting and filtering.

  • To my knowledge, they're the only ones that allow you to exclude certain criteria from your searches. So if you know you don't want something with heavy drums or guitar, you could exclude any tracks that match those criteria. Cool stuff.

  • If you have the budget, Musicbed has a custom music service that will pair your project with their musicians.

  • Plus they have the classiest blog ever. Seriously, go check it out once you’re done with this article.

The not-so-good
  • Prices that rise very quickly. If you only intend to use Musicbed for personal or non-commercial projects, you should be able to snag some great music for a reasonable price. However, once you start delving into commercial and broadcast territory, Musicbed’s prices start to climb quickly and dramatically.

  • Their licenses are also rather complex, requiring all sorts of information about company structure, ad spend, employee count, etc. I understand why they do this, but I think I've been spoiled by sites like Artlist and Soundstripe, where licensing is dead simple.

  • You have to create an account to listen to full previews of songs. It's not a big deal, but it annoyed me as I was putting this comparison together.

4. Marmoset

Marmoset is another of those companies that just exudes quality and coolness. Rooted in Portland, Marmoset maintains a handpicked roster of independent artists (mostly from the pacific northwest), and makes their music available on a beautifully-crafted licensing platform around.

I can’t stress just how awesome this platform is in terms of its usability, especially when it comes to its search functionality. Their project and emotion-driven search algorithms are truly a fantastic and useful alternative to searching by mood or genre.

The good
  • Marmoset makes it really easy to search based on the emotion you're trying to evoke. They have unique search modifiers that make it easy to match music the emotional tone of your project. And then you can stack a whole bunch of technical modifiers like track length, energy, arc (which is really cool), and instrumentation on top of those results to narrow the search even further.

  • Unique music of the absolute highest quality. Thanks to the handpicked roster of indie artists, Marmoset might be the only service to offer better music than Musicbed, but that’s just a matter of taste and opinion.

  • A "Marmoset Radio" button that plays random tunes from the Marmoset library. It probably won't surface the exact song you're looking for, but I almost always love what I hear when I click that button.

  • Marmoset isn't just a licensing platform, but a full service music agency and studio. If you need custom music for any type of project, they can get you taken care of, either by pairing you with their artists, or by composing something bespoke in-house.

The not-so-good
  • Price. Similar to Musicbed, Marmoset songs get super pricey quickly, especially once you start getting into commercial and broadcast territory. However, the rest of their licensing options tend to be pretty straightforward and reasonably priced. They even offer a dedicated podcasting license for a super affordable price.

  • It looks like Marmoset have removed some of their search filters since the last time I updated this article. They used to have story and character-driven search modifiers that were great at unearthing songs when you weren't quite sure what you were looking for. You can still do that to some extent with project based modifiers, but I found the story and character ones to turn up interesting results.

5. Soundstripe

Soundstripe is another great offering in the realm of unlimited music subscriptions. Their service is similar to Artlist, in that you get unlimited access to the music, and you can use it however you want in your videos, even commercially and in broadcast.

However, Soundstripe is less expensive at $135 a year, so if you're on a super tight budget it might be the better choice. Or, if you really need a ton of music for your content, you might even consider getting both an Artlist and Soundstripe subscription. That oughta cover even the most prolific of creators.

The good
  • An insanely well priced subscription model. For $135 a year, you get unlimited access the library, and you can use any song however you want in any video project, from personal to broadcast. It's easily the best bargain on this list.

  • They've got over 3000 tracks at this point, and they grow very consistently. Over 200 new tracks a month according to their FAQ.

  • A slick, clean, colorful interface that's really easy to use and navigate.

  • Their curated playlists are quite good, and that was my favorite part of browsing through Soundstripe.

The not-so-good
  • There's a lot of great music on Soundstripe, and no bad music. But there's a good deal of "middle of the road" music that feels pretty average. Maybe it's just because I've listened to so much stock music in my day, and I'm really hard to impress. Either way, if quality and uniqueness are your primary selling points, you're better off with Musicbed or Marmoset or Music Vine.

  • Also, I feel like every time I work through Soundstripe's library, I hear way too much of what I like to call "cheerful hipster music." You know, overly upbeat folk with lots of whistling and clapping and such. I get that style is popular, but every time I hear it, I roll my eyes. That's not really something wrong with Soundstripe, per se. I'm just cynical.

6. Epidemic Sound

I was introduced to Epidemic Sound recently, and though I haven't licensed anything from them yet, I like what I see. Their library is huge, and the music on their site is damn good.

Like Musicbed, they seem to be primarily aimed at single track licensing, but they do offer a few different tiered subscriptions for YouTubers. The tiers are based on how many video plays your channel gets in a month. And if you’re just starting out

The other cool differentiator I found is that they pay artists up front for their songs, instead of paying based on licensing performance. If you're a musician reading this article, this little tidbit might be enough to push you into the Epidemic camp. Plus they can get your music to Spotify and other streaming platforms.

The good
  • Super affordable music subscriptions for up and coming YouTubers. At $15 a month for their lowest tier, it's a steal for someone who's just getting started.

  • World class music, including lots of stuff outside the mainstream. They pay up front for each song, so they're incentivized to curate only the best stuff. From my browsing, this model seems to work well, because I couldn't find any mediocre music.

  • A HUGE library. I don't know how many songs are on Epidemic, but they've been around since 2009, and have clearly been prolific about adding new tunes. Even the deepest searches turned up dozens or hundreds of results.

  • They also have a pretty sizable sound effects library. So for some of you, Epidemic could be a "one stop shop" for your post production audio assets.

The not so good
  • Of all the services on this list, Epidemic's user interface is the clunkiest and most dated. The "Browse" page isn't hard to use, but it can accurately be described as an eyesore.

  • The subscriptions are great for YouTubers, unless you run a popular channel. At that point they get expensive, fast. In fact, if you run a channel with more than 500K views a month, you're probably better off with an Artlist or Soundstripe subscription.

That wraps up this exploration of 2018’s best options for licensing music that doesn’t suck. As you can tell, there’s quite a bit of my personal opinion laced throughout this piece. But music is a very subjective thing, as are our preferences for how to sort and find it.

Still, this should give you a great idea of the high-quality services out there that are serving the needs of content creators and helping musicians monetize their work.

Good luck to you, and godspeed.

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This is the seventh guest article in a series by filmmaker Brittany Nisco, where she's documenting the entire process of making and distributing her first feature film, Wandering Off. Here's the synopsis.

Wandering Off deals with family dynamics when faced with a crisis, specifically siblings who are still holding onto decades of tension. Their past continually creeps in while they try to understand not only what has happened to their parents, but who they are now and who they thought they would be. Their parents, on the other hand, are obliviously blissful… and nowhere to be found.

If you want to get caught up on the first six installments in the series, you can find them here:

  1. Starting Down the Road of Making Your First Feature Film

  2. The Super Important Logistics of Pre-Producing Your First Feature

  3. The Keys to Kickstarting Your Indie Film: Preparation, Hustle, & Heart

  4. Running A Kickstarter or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Movie

  5. Getting My First Feature Film from Planning to Production

  6. 13 Thrilling Days: Breaking Down the Production of My First Feature

You can stream the finished film on Amazon Prime.

Indie movie distribution. Seems like a unicorn: you want to believe it’s a real thing, but you’re not sure how to get it. That’s how I felt a couple years ago.

Let me back up first.

You may remember me from a bunch of guest blogs on here in 2016.

I documented everything from trying to find money for my movie, Wandering Off, to getting the crew, scheduling, all the way through to after we wrapped, and what the experience was like.

Now onto the distribution…

I was fortunate enough to talk to a couple filmmakers who had gone through the process of making their first feature and getting it out, and to learn how they did it.

I kept hearing about AFM and decided to look into it. For those who don’t know, AFM is the American Film Market.

According to their website:

“The American Film Market is the world’s largest motion picture business event. Over 7,000 industry leaders converge in Santa Monica for eight days of deal-making, screenings, conferences, networking and parties. Participants come from more than 80 countries and include acquisition and development executives, agents, attorneys, directors, distributors, festival directors, financiers, film commissioners, producers, writers, the world’s press and all those who provide services to the motion picture industry.”

I heard you don’t know how to fully describe it unless you’re there, and never has there been a truer statement.

(Now, I can only speak to the distribution side of the Market, as that’s what we went for. While there are other things to go there for, I didn’t experience that, so I won’t pretend to know if that’s similar or different to what I was there for).

Prepping for AFM

About a month before heading to AFM, I contacted all the distribution companies that fit what our movie was.

Every company that goes to the Market lists what they’re looking for, so although time consuming, it’s an easy process to go through and see who fits.

I sent our trailer, as well as a few scenes from the movie, edited together so they had an idea of what the movie was like. Luckily for us, I was able to schedule a bunch of meetings, even up until we were at the airport heading to Santa Monica for the event.

There were 3 of us that went: myself and two of my producers, Connor and John.

The movie had been complete for some time, we knew what we needed to talk about, and we had prepared some questions we thought might get asked of us.

I will tell you now, that no matter how much preparing you do, there is going to be at least one question asked that you never thought of and you better have an answer on the spot.

“No matter how much preparing you do, there is going to be at least one question asked that you never thought of and you better have an answer on the spot.”

We had a private, password protected online screener ready to share with any distributors that wanted to see it. We were ready for our meetings.

Navigating the event

AFM is 8 days long. And they are long days. We had meetings scheduled for every day except for the last.

Walking into the Loews Hotel, you are immediately overwhelmed by the amount of everything; people everywhere, giant movie posters hanging from the railings, signage about events happening at all hours of everyday.

“The key is to reassess your strategy the entire time, because you immediately see what works and what doesn’t by the way the companies react to you and your movie. ”

I knew there was no way we could experience everything the Market had to offer our first time there.

The only thing I knew was we had to get distribution.

We had meetings by the pool, meetings in some rooms (they convert every hotel room into offices for each company, it’s quite a thing to see), meetings at the bar, meetings on the pier. It’s literally nonstop.

After each meeting, Connor, John, and I would talk about what we think went right and what we think we could tweak for the next one. Sometimes the next one was only an hour away, so we were discussing fast.

The key is to reassess your strategy the entire time, because you immediately see what works and what doesn’t by the way the companies react to you and your movie.

It’s pitching gone wild. And again, knowing your product inside and out is what will make you succeed.

In between all of this, there are also panels, discussions, roundtables, and parties. You are learning nonstop. You are networking nonstop. You are really worn out by the time 9pm rolls around.

But you keep going.

Getting the deal

We figured we weren’t going to hear from anyone until a few weeks after the Market was over, as everyone is in meetings and events the whole time.

So on our last day, I had just gotten back to the AirBnB from a panel that morning, and was trying to grab a quick nap before checkout.

“Getting that email was one of the greatest moments of my life. It meant that I didn’t waste anyone’s time in working on the movie, I didn’t waste anyone’s money, and we made a quality project that resonated with audiences outside of ourselves. I was elated.”

No sooner do I put my phone on the bedside table do I hear the email buzz go off. I check it before closing my eyes and see an email from a distributor saying they watched our movie and want to work with us. I jumped out of the bed and ran into the living room to tell Connor.

All of a sudden I wasn’t tired. We had accomplished what we went there to do: get distribution for the movie.

We knew we had to check everything out and make sure we were going with the best fit for our movie.

But the feeling of getting that email was one of the greatest moments of my life. It meant that I didn’t waste anyone’s time in working on the movie, I didn’t waste anyone’s money, and we made a quality project that resonated with audiences outside of ourselves. I was elated.

We flew back to the east coast that night in a great mood. Unbelievably tired from our red eye flight, but adrenaline is a hell of a thing and it really kept us going while we were on 24 hours of no sleep.

Lessons learned

So here are my takeaways for anyone thinking of starting their first feature or thinking about making a movie someday…

  • Do all of your work upfront in pre-production. Everything else will go (relatively) smoothly.

  • As I had talked about before, get releases from everyone, every place, everything that had anything to do with the movie.

  • Have a hard copy and a digital version of everything. Get another hard drive to put a million files onto for your distributor.

  • Know what is a reasonable place for your movie to be seen. Know the difference between theatre runs, SVOD, TV movies, DVDs, etc. in the way that would relate to your movie.

  • Have conviction in your project and if a deal doesn’t feel right for what you want, then it probably isn’t.

  • Do your homework on every single company you will meet with and who you’ll meet with from there.

And one more thing, if you run into Damian at the Loews Hotel, tip him well. He kept us going for those 8 days with his encouraging “Get those deals! Let’s go!”

Wandering Off is distributed by Turn Key Films and can be streamed on Amazon Prime now.

DVDs are on preorder and come out this fall to multiple outlets.

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About two years ago, I posted something on the site that seemed pretty insightful. These days, I'm pretty sure it was misleading advice. So let's set the record straight.

The article was a take on the old saying, "do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life."

The idea is simple and attractive.

If you genuinely love the process of filmmaking, you'll stick with it and make more films.

And if you make more films, your chances of being successful go way up.

To take it even further, if you love the process enough, you'll be better prepared to deal with the adversity that come with filmmaking.

So not only will you make more films, but you'll be hardened against obstacles you'll undoubtedly face.

Makes sense, right?

So the advice was, learn to love the process. Participate in the process for its own sake, and try to divorce yourself from the results.

Because if you can learn how to do that (which isn't easy), you can reap those benefits, and the results will eventually take care of themselves.

Oh how naive I was.

How this advice sets us up for disappointment

I've since come to realize that there's a bit of truth to "learning to love the process," but the advice is bad in one key way.

It doesn't account for those times when the filmmaking process sucks ass.

It's such a ridiculous, unrealistic expectation to "love the process" at all times. Because no matter what anyone says, there are so many different aspects of making a film, and you won't love all of them.

Which has been a big realization for me, because I honestly felt broken for believing that I didn't love the craft enough.

I wanted to follow my own advice, but I just couldn't force myself to love every little piece of it.

Sure, parts of the filmmaking process can be super fun and rewarding and creative. 

But some parts of the process are downright painful, depending on your disposition.

  • Ask basically any writer ever, and they'll tell you they hate writing, but they love having written.
  • And I don't know about you, but I find most pre-production tasks to be tedious and time-consuming and frustrating.
  • Not to mention, almost every step of production and post is fraught with complications and obstacles and setbacks. (I find those fun, but there are still times where I want to pull my hair out and give up.)
  • And if you happen to finish a film or series, you can bet your ass that marketing and distributing it will be a painful process.

There are plenty more examples too. Maybe you like the idea of production design, but you don't much care for the day-to-day work of building sets and props.

Maybe you want to be a great producer, but you're such a creative introvert that dealing with people and money and logistics nonstop wears you down.

But you know what, we do these things anyway.

Regardless of how much or how little we "love the process."

Why?

Because stories are part of our DNA, and we're driven to tell the ones we care about, no matter the cost.

Because we're driven to create, to make things, to put our own little dent in the universe, no matter how small it is.

Because deep down we know that life isn't about comfort, and it's not about doing what's easy.

Instead, we intuitively understand that life is growth.

And the best, most meaningful growth comes from pushing through discomfort, through pain, and coming out the other side of it with something to show for it.

In that way, the films we finish and put out are like battle scars.

They're a piece of us. They show the world that we have what it takes to push through the pain and get it done.

So no, you don't have to "love the process."

You just have to have a deep desire to create.

There will be discomfort. There will be adversity. There will be pain.

But that's ok.

Because you're going to come out the other side stronger and more capable.

And you'll have some awesome scars to show for it.

If you enjoyed this article, you'll love Filmmaker Freedom Weekly. Each week, I share my latest writing, curated stories from around the web, a short film that I love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

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