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This is a guest article from Vanessa Frank, a veteran producer and the creator of Film Funding from A-Z, an on-demand course which teaches film finance to independent filmmakers.

For many nascent filmmakers, a micro-budget feature is the first step towards forging a career as a feature film director.

This is often a necessary exercise, as the major hurdle to overcome when breaking into directing feature films is the fact that financiers typically don’t want to entrust their investment to a director who has never directed a feature before.

For this reason, funding your own project on a shoestring budget can be a shrewd way of overcoming this barrier to entry.

The theory being that if you can knock it out of the park on a micro-budget feature (hopefully both creatively and commercially), it can act as a major stepping stone.

It can open the doors to getting an agent, and being considered for larger budget productions.

However, it isn’t enough to just make a film.

Since the innovation of digital filmmaking technology, the marketplace has exploded with low budget features from directors who are all looking to achieve the same thing!

In order for this strategy to work, there needs to be enough traction gained for you to have a compelling success story to tell.

What many fail to account for is that competition in this space is largely a war of attrition.

Most micro-budget directors are emotionally, financially, and creatively exhausted by the time they complete the herculean task of what is required to pull off a feature film at an extremely low budget.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to feel that when the film is completed you’ve reached the summit of Mount Everest…when in reality you’ve only reached base camp!

As such, if you are that rare filmmaker who understands the importance of stamina when it comes to the distribution and marketing of your micro-budget feature, then you are already ahead of the crowd.

Obviously, plan A is to win a major festival award, and have major distributors falling over each other to give you a hefty advance. But, statistically speaking, the chances of this happening are minimal.

The competition in this space is intense, and when you’ve had far fewer financial resources than your competitors, that’s a disadvantage which is exceedingly hard to overcome.

Certainly, when it comes to distributors, there is a plethora of bottom feeders who service the micro-budget space.

However, in many cases such “distributors” are little more than a middle man who will take a fat fee, and do little to contribute. They’ll gladly take a piece of the pie, but they’re unlikely to provide anything meaningful in terms of P&A funds.

As such, there’s a strong argument to be made that if this is your only choice, you may well be better off going it alone.

Indeed, this is where many micro-budget filmmakers make a critical mistake.

They successfully complete a film, but when they fail to get into Sundance, and unsurprisingly no major distributor is interested in picking the film up, they throw in the towel and entrust it to one of these low performers. And in most cases, their film then dies a slow and predictable death.

Typically, a large part of this is due to filmmakers only planning to run a sprint, rather than planning to run a marathon.

“There’s nothing wrong in hoping for the big Sundance deal, or shopping your movie around your dream distribution partners. But don’t put all your eggs in one basket! Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”

And part of it is due to problematic optimism and a lack of realistic planning. When a filmmaker has put themselves in such a foolish position, they as a consequence face major burnout, disappointment, and potentially financial ruin.

It’s easy to blindly hope that this bottom feeding distributor is going to be the cavalry come to save the day!

A much smarter play is to anticipate this scenario ahead of time. As a micro-budget film director/producer, you should proactively plan for it from inception.

There’s nothing wrong in hoping for the big Sundance deal, or shopping your movie around your dream distribution partners. But don’t put all your eggs in one basket! Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

The great news is that there are possibilities that exist for self-distribution that would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. Here are a few of the great tools that you have available to you…

Aggregators and custom VOD options

There are some phenomenal options for self-distributing to the major VOD platforms via third party aggregators.

These aggregators have been pre-approved by these platforms, and will ensure that your upload complies with the unique compliance requirements of each platform.

“You should be factoring self-distribution costs into your overall budget, in exactly the same way that you’re having to financially plan for the costs of the production itself.”

They typically only charge a small percentage or flat fee, which provides you with a much greater freedom and power over your own work than you would have with a traditional distributor.

A simple google of “VOD aggregator” will provide you with an excellent understanding of the companies currently offering services in this area. For example, Distribber is one such company.

Additionally, there are some great solutions that now exist for literally creating your own VOD offering, which you can easily integrate into your own website.

For example, Vimeo offers a range of turn-key options for creating your own VOD solution. And a pre-designed template website can easily be set up for just a few dollars a month via a platform such as SquareSpace.

Even with minimal technical skills, a robust sales platform can be set up in a matter of days.

Limited release theatrical solutions

If you strongly feel that the movie warrants a limited theatrical release, you could look into doing a deal with a one-night-only event theatrical distributor such as Fathom Events.

Or you could simply “four wall” a cinema screen, which is when you pay a flat rental fee to the exhibitor, and then promote the release yourself.

Pay as you go targeted advertising platforms

Thanks to the invention of social media, buying highly targeted advertising is available to all.

You can target an audience that is identified through location, age, gender, interests, and even what films they’ve expressed interest in in the past. Even just $10 per day can allow you to reach highly qualified prospects.

And if you combine this with your own VOD platform, and a highly researched cost of customer acquisition, this can be a highly commercially lucrative revenue generator.

Free publicity opportunities

It takes little more than initiative and courage to pick up the phone and call journalists that you might have a story angle for.

Certainly, planning ahead of time for this, and choosing a premise for your film that has an in-built newsworthy topic, can help considerably in this department.

And one final thought…

Evidently, there are expenses associated with all this activity. The costs of poster design, aggregator fees, web hosting fees, and social media advertising all rack up.

Not to mention, as this is very much a full-time endeavor, you need to factor in the cost of your own time!

For this reason, it’s extremely wise to plan for this eventuality early on.

You should be factoring self-distribution costs into your overall budget, in exactly the same way that you’re having to financially plan for the costs of the production itself.

If this seems overwhelming, and not yet financially viable, then it may be that now is simply not the right time to embark on making a micro-budget movie.

Self-distribution is the means to mitigate the worst case scenario on a micro-budget project. And if the costs of that are out of reach, then this creates a huge liability. Wisdom is to only proceed if such a safety net has been accounted for!

Diligence in this area can make the difference between your micro-budget project doing what it’s supposed to do – acting as a stepping stone for your career – or it just being a very expensive and unproductive consumption of time, emotional energy, and money.

If you’re going to run this race, you need to make sure that you’re going to complete it successfully!

This may not mean mass critical acclaim and a distribution deal worth millions of dollars. But it should at the very least mean the recoupment of your investment, and the creation of a powerful case study which you can use to leverage the next big step in your career.

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 story, click here.

FILMMAKERS: Ivan Malekin & Sarah Jayne
STORY: Lessons Learned After Distributing Our Micro-Budget Feature

In 2019—when filmmaking has long since been revolutionized by digital technology, when movies shot on smartphones open at Sundance, when there are festivals dedicated to vertical filmmaking, and when so many people are making features that the ‘mystique’ of it has long since dissipated—the one area that still seems to hide behind a shroud of secrecy is distribution.

We’ve all heard the adage getting your film made is only half the battle; the real work begins when trying to sell it.

Many filmmakers don’t understand the best practices when it comes to distribution, and choose to explore that path only when forced to, and I am prepared to admit that I am one such filmmaker.

Is working with sales agents, producer’s reps, and distributors the most viable method to release a micro-budget feature film? Or is self-distribution the best approach?

One year later, after releasing our first micro-budget feature, myself and my partner Sarah Jayne are asking ourselves that very question.

Looking for Support

Friends, Foes & Fireworks is an improvised drama about a group of friends in the acting scene who reunite on New Year’s Eve. But the good mood is ruined when old tensions and rivalries resurface, and the night devolves into confrontation and chaos.

We filmed it in a single night on New Year’s Eve 2016/17. At the time, we envisioned an iTunes and Amazon release for the film, maybe Netflix if we were lucky, after the obligatory festival run of course.

Friends, Foes & Fireworks Official Trailer - YouTube

By July 2017 the film was ready and in November 2017 we went to the American Film Market searching for a sales agent or distributor.

We met with five or six. All showed interest face to face, and we left the market feeling positive about our options.

We followed up with everyone after the market, but only two ever replied and offered to take the film. This was our first experience pitching at a market so we weren’t sure if this lack of response afterwards was typical or not.

Neither of the two offers we did receive involved any money upfront, but this was to be expected—a micro-budget feature, no star power, no festivals. We just wanted somebody who would release the film as wide as possible and promote it as carefully and passionately as we do ourselves.

We should note, we also met with Distribber, a popular aggregator who send films to various VOD platforms on your behalf, so the self-distribution option was also on the cards. B

ut at the time, we were not in a good financial position and couldn’t afford the upfront fee Distribber charges to pitch the film to Netflix, iTunes, Google Play, etc.

In the end, we choose Turn Key Films to release Friends, Foes & Fireworks.They're an American company that was a mix of traditional sales agent and their own distributor.

Festivals & Cinema

This was early 2018. By this point we had already been rejected by the festivals that matter like Sundance, SXSW, Slamdance.

But it wasn’t just major festivals turning us down. Most of the festivals we had entered were saying no.

We weren’t quite sure why, as the film has been consistently positively reviewed, and at 75 minutes, it was short for a feature (so theoretically easier to program).

And to be honest, we thought the one night, completely improvised aspect would appeal to festival programmers.

So we were feeling a little disillusioned with the festival system. The path we thought we would travel was blocked, and we needed to take matters into our own hands.

We contacted an independent cinema chain in Melbourne ourselves, and did a premiere for the public. It allowed us to keep 50% of the money from ticket sales, which was financially better for us than premiering at a festival, at least in the short term.

We had an encore screening at another cinema that's part of the same chain, but it drew low attendance.

A combination of screening on a Saturday afternoon on the Easter long weekend and Melbourne audiences never being particularly supportive of indie film, so though we were disappointed, we weren't surprised.

Our cinema run was dependent on continually drawing numbers, so after the second screening didn't draw, that was the end of that.

Digital Release & DVD

After that, Turn Key released the film on Amazon Prime on May 1st, 2018. They've pitched to Netflix and Hulu, but it has been rejected from there. We've put it up on Vimeo On Demand and OzFlix, an Australian VOD company. We've wanted iTunes and Google Play too but Turn Key doesn't seem keen on that.

VOD sales have been low.

A producer's rep from Sydney, Ignite Pictures, approached us wanting to see what else he could do with the film. We're non-exclusive with Turn Key, so we had nothing to lose by letting him try.

However, all his American distributors passed, as the film is already on Amazon. For us, it seems distributors are most interested in what is easy, and as the simplest platform to get onto, Amazon, was already taken, they weren't interested.

However, an Australian distributor, Bounty Films, took the film for TV rights in Aus / NZ through our producer's rep, and they have pitched to a television network there. We are yet to hear the result.

Turn Key did manage to secure a DVD release for the film in North America, selling mostly through Barnes & Noble. That was a nice surprise and money up front. And we actually saw the film on the Walmart website the other day. It was a bit of a thrill.

So we ask ourselves have we gone in the right direction by relying on sales agents, producers reps, and distributors to release Friends, Foes & Fireworks? Could we have done this ourselves with aggregators like Distribber, BitMax, or Quiver?

It is difficult to say.

Frustrations

Access to information and lack of communication has been the biggest frustration working with traditional distributors.

With Vimeo On Demand, it is our platform, so any time we want to see sales figures it takes only seconds to log in and check.

But the last time we heard from Turn Key about sales figures on Amazon was in October 2018. The film has also been on DVD for six months now and we have no idea how it is selling.

We emailed Turn Key to find out in April 2019, followed up in May due to receiving no reply, followed up again in June. We are still waiting.

Getting information out of OzFlix is just as bad.

Friends, Foes & Fireworks has been on the Australian streaming platform since April 2018. In all that time we have never received a sales report despite trying since January 2019, sending numerous emails and chatting to the CEO of OzFlix on Facebook when it became obvious the emails would remain unanswered.

I actually know the CEO personally, as Melbourne is a small filmmaking industry. He keeps saying he will get it sorted. He means well. But as I write this, five months later, we are still waiting for it to be sorted.

We are not angry though. We know distributors are busy, they have multiple titles to manage, and we suspect our sales for Friends, Foes & Fireworks are low, hence we are hardly a priority.

We probably come off as pests too, constantly following-up, always in the nicest way possible. Perhaps that’s the problem – are we too nice? But in an industry built upon relationships there seems no sense in burning bridges.

No, the bigger question is what has the distributor invested into your film to care? For them, it is just another title, just another chance to make money, just another product. There is no financial stake involved, not at this micro level, not in the streaming game where we are all splitting transactions of six cents an hour, or whatever Amazon’s new pricing model is.

If you are not selling, the distributor needs to focus on the films that are. It is business after all.

But for us as filmmakers, it is our sweat, our blood and tears, our money invested into the film, years of work to get it made. It is our passion. Our life and career. So how could anybody care as much about the success of our film as we do ourselves?

The answer is nobody can.

And that’s way for our next feature, In Corpore, we have decided to self-distribute.

Self-Distribution & What We Learned

Of course, there is some trepidation going at it alone, some things we wonder if we can do.

We are grateful to Turn Key for getting the film onto DVD, selling in Barnes & Noble, and on numerous online retailers. We never expected that, and don’t know how we could have done it ourselves.

Also, we have expanded our deal with Bounty Films to include streaming rights too in addition to Aus / NZ TV, and they have recently placed it onto SE Asian AVOD platform iFlix. Something we would not have even thought of.

One thing we know is we wouldn’t use a distributor to place In Corpore on Amazon for us. We should have done it ourselves.

We also wouldn’t go Amazon first, rather offer an exclusive window on iTunes (Apple TV now) with a pre-order window before moving onto other streaming platforms.

We also felt we released the film online too soon.

“As micro-budget filmmakers, you need your audience to join you on the journey from the start.”

The fear of missing out is strong when you are new to distribution. You get an offer, you want to say yes. It takes courage to hold back and wait for other offers, wait for other options that may or may not happen.

But distribution is a long game, the rights to a film are valuable, so we need to, and intend to, practice patience with In Corpore.

We also know we need to build our audience, find our niche to market to, right from the very beginning, before any frame of footage is shot.

We did not do it for Friends, Foes & Fireworks: it was an experiment for us, a film made in one night, completely improvised, because we were disillusioned with traditional filmmaking and needed to try something new, something crazy, to revitalize our love of filmmaking.

It worked. But ever since we have been playing catch-up, trying to find an audience for the film after the fact. No. As micro-budget filmmakers, you need your audience to join you on the journey from the start.

Looking Ahead

Good thing is, we have a chance to try again so soon with In Corpore, and now that we have some experience with distribution, we know what to expect going in.

We will aim for festivals again – it is still an experience for filmmakers, still opportunities to build networks, still publicity for you and your work.

Then we’ll try cinema releases in the four countries the film was made in: Melbourne, Malta, Berlin, New York. We have already been making acquaintances with cinema owners in anticipation.

After that, or in conjunction with cinema releases, we’ll likely make the film available on Apple TV, working with aggregators, likely Quiver, as I am not a fan of the ongoing annual fee Distribber charges.

We’ll also sell digital copies directly on the In Corpore website, including DVDs, for those who still want physical media, plus our own production company store, which we are currently building.

And we’ll continue to reach out to additional streaming services ourselves after evaluating there suitability on an individual basis.

For example, we placed Friends, Foes & Fireworks on IndieFlix by contacting them ourselves because we felt our film aligned with the types of themes and films they promote.

And, in the meantime, we are cultivating an audience for In Corpore, communicating and building relationships in the niche we want to market to, which is poly and mono relationships.

So though our experience releasing Friends, Foes & Fireworks has been a mixed bag we are determined to jump back into the world of distribution once again. Each time we hope to unravel more of the mystery.

Ivan and Sarah are the founders of Nexus Production Group, and you can learn more about their films Friends, Foes, and Fireworks and In Corpore at those links. They also have a course on 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.

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

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Heads up, reader. This is a massive article that will probably take 40 minutes to read. But if you care about building a thriving career as an indie filmmaker, I promise it’s worth your time. Good luck, and godspeed.

There’s a psychological trait that will determine whether or not you “make it” as an entrepreneurial filmmaker.

In the coming years, those who have this trait will thrive, while those who don’t will find fewer and fewer opportunities. And the best part is, you get to choose whether you develop it.

I’m sure the suspense is killing you, so I’ll come right out and tell you that the distinction here is between “high agency” filmmakers and “low agency” ones.

We’ll get into exactly what that means soon, but first I want to tell you a story that beautifully encapsulates the concept.

Rob & Frank’s Great Adventure (or Lack Thereof)

Back in my film school days, I was friends with a dude we’ll call Frank.

In those early years, Frank and I got along famously. We were both indie film fanatics. We could talk about Bergman and Tarkovsky and Altman for hours, and when we worked together on set, we strove to create work that meant something.

Frank and I also shared a similar dream. We’d one day make uncompromising films, and find a way to earn a living with those films.

At the time, there were constant stories about how guys like Shane Carruth were cracking the code of DIY distribution, so we figured it was only a matter of time until those tools would be available to everybody.

I’m sure we were naive, but it felt like we were destined for great things in the film world. The desire was there. The work ethic was there. The drive was there. All we needed was time.

After film school, Frank and I lost touch for a number of years. (Probably my fault, as I have the tendency to fall off the map in friendships.)

On my end, I gave up the dream of being an indie filmmaker rather quickly, instead opting for the life of a DP. Then I gave that up after a nasty spat with burnout and depression.

Eventually, I found myself working in the world of marketing, and only making films on occasion with a few of my closest friends.

It wasn’t until years later, when I realized that everything I’d learned about marketing and entrepreneurship could be applied to film, that I came back to that dream we shared so many years earlier.

Frank, on the other hand, now works as a freelance grip down in Georgia. Pretty sure he’s a union guy, and he makes a good living working in film and TV.

I’m not entirely sure when he gave up the dream of indie filmmaking, but it’s safe to say that dream is long gone.

I know this because Frank and I had the chance to catch up about a year ago.

When I told him about my grand plans for Filmmaker Freedom, about how I wanted to help spur a new age of filmmaking entrepreneurship, he laughed and told me it sounded cool, but super naive and doomed to fail. “The economics of filmmaking just don’t work that way,” he told me.

But I’m stubborn, so I kept pushing.

I was convinced that if I could just show him that these ideas were already working in the real world, he’d come around and get excited.

After all, this had been our dream. Making films we cared about and earning a living from it was the holy grail, and here I was with a legit treasure map that could lead us right to it.

So I trotted out a few contemporary examples, shared a handful of ways to shift the economics, explained the business principles and psychology that make it all possible, and confidently thought I had nailed it.

But nope.

He still thought this was nothing more than an impossible dream from a misguided friend. In his mind, he inhabited the real world, while I was stuck in fantasyland.

And that’s where we left things.

Where once we both shared a profound desire to make a living in indie film, that dream now only lives on in one of us.

What The Hell Is Agency, Anyway?

In the world of psychology, the term "agency" simply refers to a feeling that we have control over our lives.

A person with strong sense of agency knows that they can make certain choices, take certain actions, and sway the course of their lives for the better.

In their book, The Power of Agency, Anthony Rao and Paul Napper summarize the concept like this:

Agency is about being active rather than passive, of reacting effectively to immediate situations and planning effectively for your future. In simple words, agency is what humans have always used to feel in command of their lives. With it, people are able to live in ways that reflect their interest, values, and inner motivations.

So that’s agency within the context of psychology.

But there’s another, more nuanced take that I came across in a podcast episode awhile back, and then again in this epic thread of tweets.

Basically, "high agency" is a turbocharged version of the concept.

Whereas a person with traditional agency feels a sense of control over their life, a person with high agency has a sense of control over cultural stories and beliefs.

They have some kind of ambitious hope for the future, and they make decisions and take action based on that hope.

Even when the culture around them tells them not to have hope—that their dreams are impossible, that they're wasting their time—the high agency person pushes forward and creates opportunity. They’re relentless and resourceful and resilient.

Here's one of my favorite historical examples.

In 1954, most everyone in the world, including leading scientists and doctors, believed that it was physically impossible to run a mile in less than 4 minutes.

And that cultural story might as well have been true for the vast majority of people.

But Roger Bannister, an amateur runner, refused to believe it. His sense of high agency pushed him to question that narrative, and keep attempting to break the 4-minute mark despite everyone telling him it was impossible.

And when he crossed the finish line at 3 minutes, 59 seconds, and 4/10 of a second, he busted that story wide open. It was only a couple of weeks before another runner beat that time. These days, thousands of people have done what was once thought impossible.

Anyhow, Roger Bannister is a paragon of high agency, and a glowing example of how many of our limitations are cultural and self-imposed.

But this concept isn't just for historical figures

It's present in anybody who starts a company and perseveres against the odds. It's present in artists who push boundaries. It's everywhere in the world of elite sports and high performance.

It's the defining characteristic of any ambitious person who commits to doing something extremely difficult and unlikely.

For that reason, I’d argue that high agency is a prerequisite for making it as an entrepreneurial filmmaker.

Indie filmmaking business culture is mired in the past, in a world of big festivals and lucrative distribution deals. But for the vast majority of us, that system is deeply ineffectual and frustrating.

If we want to succeed in this new world of media and entrepreneurship, we have to make our own way.

How Frank & I Ended Up Worlds Apart

Ok, so with an understanding of high agency, let's now dissect that story from earlier.

Despite coming from two similar backgrounds, and despite having the same idealistic dream, Frank and I now live in two separate universes in terms of what we view as possible.

I know with every bone in my body that it’s possible to make a living with micro-budget films. Frank knows with every bone that it’s not.

How on earth is this possible?

If you haven't guessed already, the subtext here is that Frank lost his sense of agency—at least as it relates to a career in indie film.

Please don't get me wrong. This isn’t an indictment of Frank. He’s a great guy, who works hard and treats people well, and who’s still idealistic and driven in a lot of ways.

But in this one area, his dream was replaced with a hardened sense of cynicism because he surrounded himself with people who said it was impossible. And soon thereafter, he started believing it.

Frank, by no fault of his own, bought into a cultural story. We're all wired to conform to our tribes and live by shared stories. And it just so happens that this is a story the film industry has been telling itself for years.

The only reason I have a different outlook, and higher agency in this one area, is because my journey led me away from filmmaking for awhile, and into the world of marketing and entrepreneurship.

In that world, there's a culture of high agency built right into it. High agency permeates every form of entrepreneurship media—from books to blogs to podcasts and beyond—and it's a foundational value that underlies many of the relationships entrepreneurial people build between themselves.

In other words, I've been in an environment that's conducive to cultivating high agency, while Frank has not. This resulted in the massive gap between what we believe is possible in the realm of indie film.

(Just goes to show how important it is to surround yourself with the right people and ideas. More on that soon.)

Why High Agency Is Essential for Filmmakers

You might be asking yourself why I'm spending so much time on this seemingly simple concept of agency.

The short answer is... the world is changing at a rapid pace, and the future belongs to high agency individuals and teams. No doubt about it.

The technological landscape is changing. The distribution landscape is changing. Audience tastes and behaviors are changing. Then you've got emergent technologies like blockchain, AI, VR, and others that will eventually shape how we create and consume content.

Hell, all of these things are already disrupting the media industry, and they're already creating new possibilities and opportunities. That trend will only accelerate in the years to come.

Now consider this.

If you've spent the past 10 years believing a cultural story about how it's impossible to make a living from indie films, are you going to be the one to take advantage of these new opportunities?

Of course not.

If you don't feel a sense of agency over your filmmaking journey, then you won't even look for new trends and opportunities. You'll be blind to them, and they'll pass you by.

In your mind, the future is predetermined, so there's no point in keeping your ear to the ground. There's no point in continuing to try and fail.

And that's the sad part of this. I know so many filmmakers who are in that exact spot. They're cynical and jaded and pessimistic because of how things were 5-10 years ago.

Yes, there was a time in 90s and early 2000s where indie filmmakers were thriving and making a good living with uncompromising work. Then the markets changed, foreign pre-sales dried up, and distributors became pickier, stingier, and less transparent as the market was flooded with new content.

And for awhile, there wasn't much reason to hope for a better future. A small handful of folks made it, but most were languishing, going into debt, and never making a dime from their hard work.

From this environment, a whole generation of indie filmmakers lost their hope and their agency. They bought into a cultural story and succumbed to fatalism.

Sadly, most of these folks are going to get left behind as the world changes—and it inevitably will.

But a small handful of filmmakers—the high agency ones—are going to spot these opportunities and run with them. They're going to build thriving careers doing what they love.

The best part of this is that you get to decide which path you'll take.

So if you're interested in developing a sense of high agency, the rest of this (massive) article will be your guide.

Because trust me, it is something that you can develop.

The Nuances of High Agency

After that rousing introduction, I'm sure you're excited to get into the strategies and tactics required to develop high agency.

However, like most things in life, while the concept of high agency is pretty simple, there are some nuances worth understanding first.

So let's get a few points out of the way before we get tactical.

Not everyone needs to develop high agency. In fact, most don't.

One of the prerequisite steps for developing high agency is having a big, bold, contrarian vision for how your future (or even humanity's future) could be.

I'll talk more about how to develop a vision like that later on, but it's worth stopping for a moment and digging into the subtext of that last sentence.

The vast majority of filmmakers (and people in general) are comfortable with the status quo. And while that status quo might be fundamentally shitty—as is the case with the business side of indie film—many folks just don't have the desire or drive to break outside of it.

Their outlook is basically: "This is how the world is, and I’m going to do my best to live a good life within these confines."

And there's nothing wrong with that. All of us bear the responsibility of trying to live a satisfying, contented life, and that philosophy is just as valid a way to achieve that as any other.

Here's the point I'm driving at.

If you don't have an ambitious vision for the future—and you have no intention of developing one—you don't need to develop high agency.

After all, this is a mental tool for people who want to accomplish big, bold, out-of-the-ordinary things in their life.

If you're perfectly happy with the status quo (and again, there's no shame in that) then following the advice later in this article won't lead to a better life. In fact, it'll probably add unnecessary strife and dissonance.

So that's the first thing I'd challenge you with, before you even continue on with this article.

Stop reading, take a deep breath, and then ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Am satisfied with the way things are in the world of indie film (or whatever your culture is)?

  2. If not, am I willing to commit to the arduous, frustrating, often painful journey required to change the status quo?

If your gut tells you something along the lines of: "Fuck that! I'd rather get a day job than open that can of worms," then you've got your answer.

However, if you're like me and you see those questions and say: "Bring it on!" then keep reading, amigo.

High agency isn't a universal skill, at least not at first

The next thing you should know is that high agency is not a universal characteristic. In other words, you might have it in one area of your life, but not in others.

For instance, in that story with Frank earlier, I emphasized his lack of agency in the realm of indie filmmaking.

However, at least back in our film school days, Frank went to great lengths to take incredible care of his health. He didn't buy into the cultural myth that filmmakers are likely to be unhealthy because of their long hours, poor diets, and relative lack of exercise.

He bucked that trend, and constantly did the work, even sacrificing time on set so that he could work out. And he was freakin' ripped because of it. (All the while I put on a bit too much weight during film school.)

In that area of life, health and fitness, Frank had an incredible sense of high agency, while I was the one buying into cultural stories and acting accordingly.

However, years later, Frank doesn't have high agency in every area of his life, least of all indie filmmaking.

Point being, just because you've developed high agency in one area of your life, doesn't mean it automatically transfers to other areas.

Which brings me to the next point.

High agency in one area of your life can inspire others

In that last example, Frank's high agency in fitness didn't translate to the world of film. And until very recently, my high agency in film didn't translate to other parts of my life.

There's a simple reason for this. Lack of awareness.

Neither Frank or I knew about high agency, nor did we understand how valuable it is. And even if we had some sense of it intuitively, neither of us knew agency was a skill that could be developed and applied to multiple areas of life.

“Once you learn to recognize and cultivate it, high agency can become your secret weapon for excelling in just about any area of your life.”

However, since I've started learning about high agency, I've noticed that it's starting to spill over into other parts of my life, particularly fitness.

In the last few months, since I've started questioning long-held beliefs about my health and physical capabilities, I've dropped quite a few pounds and become healthier than I ever have.

Which brings me to the final super important point before we get into the tangible steps.

Once you learn to recognize and cultivate it, high agency can become your secret weapon for excelling in just about any area of your life.

It doesn't have to be contained to a single area like fitness or career. Once you have it in one area, and you're aware that you have it, you can consciously develop it for any part of your life where you want to challenge the status quo and be significantly better than average.

Luckily, just by reading this article, you're already learning to see and evaluate high agency. You already know what it looks like, and what its effects are.

So from here on out, as long as you stay self-aware, you should be able to take the framework I'm about to give you and apply it to just about anything you want.

But there are a few other things to keep in mind before you dive into that journey.

Developing high agency comes with social consequences

We humans are hardwired for connection. Not only is it a survival mechanism built deep into our primitive psychology, but it's also one of a handful of ways we feel deep satisfaction and fulfillment.

In other words, it's very damn important for us to build strong relationships and feel a sense of belonging within one or more communities. You could go so far as to call this a fundamental human need. (It actually is a need on Maslow's hierarchy, by the way.)

I bring this up because the process of developing high agency can complicate those matters in ways you might not like.

My sense of high agency in indie film has put up a wall between me and a lot of my old friends from film school.

Chances are, Frank and I won't have a strong relationship going forward, or maybe we won't have a relationship at all. We just don't share the same set of values around filmmaking anymore, which destroyed one of the primary points of connection between us.

It's also hampered a lot of my networking efforts after moving to Tucson a year and a half ago.

I'm looking to surround myself with other ambitious, entrepreneurial, high agency filmmakers. And while Tucson is generally an arty town with quite a few filmmakers, I can count on one hand the number I've met who exhibit these traits.

Truth be told, this has left me feeling isolated and alone, and it's put a real damper on the pursuit of my filmmaking goals.

Point is, there's still an emotional sting when old friendships fall apart because of a mismatch in values. There can be an even stronger sting if we become distanced from a community that once gave us a sense of belonging. And it’s frustrating when you want to build new communities around your new set of values, but you seemingly can’t.

Developing high agency has the potential to alienate the people close to you and the communities/networks you've cultivated. And it will make it harder for you to connect in the future.

What I'm driving at here is that you have to pick your battles carefully. You have to be..

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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: Charlotte AtkinsonSTORY: Building a Career as an Indie Producer, or How I Learned to Love My Niche

Whenever I tell anyone who doesn’t work in film that I’m a short film and radio producer, I always get asked, ‘so what exactly does a producer do?’

As you likely know, it can be a bit of a difficult question to answer.

Sometimes I’m picking up scripts, and sometimes I’m picking up stories and commissioning scripts.

Sometimes I’m just working on distribution and marketing for a project. Sometimes I’m pulling everything together from start to finish.

And by that point, I’ve usually lost the person who asked the question in the first place.

Photo Credit: Hannah Clayden

Indie producers are often a bit like chameleons. We’re also mothers, we’re multitaskers and we’re tired.

Go to any gig site, Facebook group, or online network, you’ll see ads for producers that usually run along the lines of, ‘this is a great opportunity for a producer to work on a cool project with a strong script. We’re looking for £5k funding which the producer would need to find.'

After seeing these, or being sent them, a few too many times I started to get frustrated. If this was the expectation of me by total strangers then I wasn’t cut out for it.

I’m not cut out for the ‘script goes in this side and money comes out this side’ robot that a lot of indie filmmakers think producers are. Not only do we end up exhausting ourselves going from project to project and only ever working on other people’s projects, we get no enjoyment or fulfillment from it.

What I've also realized is that this approach is also damaging for our careers.

“When producers start their careers and jump from horror to drama to doc back to narrative, they learn a hell of a lot, but they’re not developing a solid career path for themselves. They’re not giving themselves that opportunity to become known for something in the way directors do.”

The other day I was having a session with a young director I’m coaching. He told me he liked Damien Chazelle’s work but he couldn’t see what his ‘thing’ was.

“The thing is, when you see a Tarantino film, you know what you’re gonna get. Same with any of the big directors. They’ve all got that unique touch that brands their films to them.”

And it’s precisely that touch that brings in audiences, financiers, and distributors.

If you can do something well, and then do it again just as well, people know that your future projects are guaranteed an audience. They might not be guaranteed a success, but there’s a solid chance of it, and that’s a key factor for the big decision-makers.

When producers start their careers and jump from horror to drama to doc back to narrative, they learn a hell of a lot, but they’re not developing a solid career path for themselves. They’re not giving themselves that opportunity to become known for something in the way directors do.

Back when I started as a producer I did the same thing. I jumped from female-led drama to female-led horror to all-male thriller.

It meant I had to look for a new audience every single time I made a film. It also meant I had to go to new investors every time and no one knew what I was going to make next. Even I didn’t know what I was going to make next.

Photo Credit: Hannah Clayden

And when I look back at those films now, the majority are so far away from the films that I want to be known for, I regret doing them.

It’s similar to the thought process of a lot of film students.

I’m sure you’ve all heard someone say, ‘I can do a bit of everything.' They work as a runner, a camera assistant, a location scout, a 2nd AD, and constantly jump in and out of roles.

On the one hand, it’s a great thing to do because they get a ton of experience from every angle of filmmaking. But it’s also not going to build them a solid career. And if you know you want to produce (and only produce) then jumping around weakens your CV.

A few months ago, after reading the post on Filmmaker Freedom about leaving no-budget filmmaking for good, I decided that I was finally done with jumping around.

I knew exactly what sort of films I wanted to make, and the audience that was desperate for them. I found a writer whose style I loved and we got to work creating a slate of scripts.

We’re making films for the 18-25 female market which ties in with my key audience on social media. That audience already comprises of 5000+ members thanks to Instagram alone. It means that when I’m pitching my projects, people know exactly what they’re getting from me and that I already have an in-built audience that’s interested in the films I’m making.

You would not believe how much easier it makes life.

Before I read that piece on breaking up with no-budget filmmaking I was convinced that cutting a big part of indie filmmaking out of my life would be a mistake. I thought jumping from creative team to creative team was just how it’s done.

It’s crazy how wrong you can be sometimes. Turns out, niching down and confidently branding yourself can make a world of difference in your career. And it's the first step in making work you're proud of.

If you’re tired of jumping around and letting the market define you, and never having any ownership of your work, feel free to reach out on my website. I'd love to chat.

-Charlotte Atkinson

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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On the outside, Jonathan Bregel was at the top of the industry, directing commercials for some of the biggest brands on the planet. But on the inside, burnout and depression were taking their toll. This is his story getting back up after being knocked down, and learning to love the art of film again.

I first connected with Jon in late 2018, and we immediately hit it off because our dedication to pursuing film in a way that leads to a fulfilling life. Through each of our individual journeys, we’ve learned how important it is to understand your values, and use them to make decisions. That way, this notoriously difficult industry doesn’t lead you astray from a life worth living.

Anyhow, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Jon yet, he's a super accomplished filmmaker and commercial director. He co-founded a rad production company called Variable, and has done loads of freelance directing for some big-ass brands. The dude is the real deal.

Chances are good you’ve seen some of his and Variable’s work, as they’ve had more Vimeo Staff Picks than you could count on your two hands. Some of their videos, the slow motion ones in particular, have racked up millions of views.

In addition to fun projects like these, Jon and the Variable crew worked on commercial and branded content for some of the world’s biggest companies, ranging from Nike to Cadillac to National Geographic.

But these days, after a prolonged period of burnout and depression, Jon has largely stepped back from the commercial life, and is now focusing on his passion projects, and doing work that leaves him fulfilled instead of depleted.

One of those projects is People’s Park, an observational documentary chronicling the activity in the Shanghai park in which he and his wife had their first date. It’s a meditative, contemplative approach to filmmaking, one that helped Jon get back in touch with his creative side.

Here’s the film.

In addition to doing a great live Q&A for the Freedom Fighters community, I shot Jon over a list of written questions so he could share his journey and insights on this site.

Anyhow, that’s enough context for the time being. So without any further ado, here’s my interview with Jon Bregel.

How'd you initially get into filmmaking? What drew you to it, and what kinds of projects were you most passionate about?

I initially got into filmmaking through skateboarding with my friends and making skateboarding/lifestyle videos. It also helped that I broke my arm a few times pretty consecutively at that time which sorta made the transition from “skater” to “filmer” more seamless.

It’s hard to say what exactly drew me to filmmaking at that time… I was like 11 years old. If I had to guess, it’s because it gave me something to do and it was a new and different way to connect with friends.

We just had so much fun making the most ridiculous little videos and skate films. I also recall never liking being bored when I was a kid… so again, it just gave me something to do that looking back, I became passionate about.

Walk us through your journey from skate videos to directing commercials.

There is really no short way for me to answer this so I’m just gonna start writing…

As I mentioned above, starting out, filmmaking was strictly my hobby. There was no pressure, just fun and lots of learning.

Flash forward a handful of years to when I was attending film school in Florida. I was fortunate to create content with close friends and we all just went on a journey together making videos/films/content/etc.

While I was in film school, I got a call while I was in class to produce a $5,000 music video for a local band. From that experience, I realized that together with my friends, we could produce high quality content and do so in a really smart and efficient way.

This for me was really the genesis of how I managed to transition into commercial work; working hard, with friends, and trusting that our best work would always be created when we had our own little team at the core of each project.

Flash forward a couple years and filmmaking was my full-time job while living in NYC. Many of us from my film school in Florida moved to NYC primarily so that we could feed off of one-another’s energy and network as a unit.

“We all wanted to be filmmakers, but we wanted to do it our way. So that’s what we did. We each put our savings into a bank account and started a production company.”

We were doing our own things in the industry, but always came together at least once every few months to create passion projects or music videos. Plus, several of us actually lived together, so we would always be sharing crazy stories from our shoots. It was such an exciting time.

After living in NYC for a couple years and freelancing with a lot of different companies, I reached a point where I wasn’t feeling fulfilled with the standards in which most of the productions ran.

I felt like every shoot I was a part of lacked a lot of respect and communication for its crew members. I was DP’ing at the time, and even I felt like I wasn’t a part of the team on a lot of the shoots. It was a very isolating process that often left me feeling disappointed and yearning for deeper, more meaningful connections.

It was around this time (2+ years after moving to NYC) where I expressed my own feelings to a couple of close collaborators who were also facing their own career & industry frustrations.

The three of us started meeting weekly to discuss how we could build a company of our own, with our own rules, and our own values.

We all wanted to be filmmakers, but we wanted to do it our way. So that’s what we did. We each put our savings into a bank account and started a production company, which was then called “Variable.”

With the money we put aside, we shot a few passion projects, and every one of them got a Staff Pick back in those magical early days of Vimeo. Together, those videos accumulated millions of views.

Things escalated quickly after that. Along with a lot of hard work, the commercial and branded clients just started kinda rolling in, and that really marks the beginning of what was a 7 year roller coaster ride of learning the ropes of how to direct commercials and build a commercial production company with some of my closest friends.

But there were some dark times as well, right?

So basically my whole commercial journey was trial by fire. There was no real mentorship for me… just passion, naivety, hard work, and a lot of idealism. And while that combination can generate some great opportunities and awards, it can come with big personal consequences.

That’s at least what happened to me three years ago. I had no boundaries…I was a slave to my own passion. So I burned out. Bad. Depressed bad.

I was never a depressed kid so I didn't know what to do. I just knew that I didn’t feel like doing anything… and that I was in my bed watching WAY too many Youtube videos for WAY too many months.

“One of the best ways to learn about who you are is by actualizing your own vision and ideas in the form of passion projects. Creating passion projects is also character builder because you are essentially saying; “hey, this is me,” and that takes a lot of courage. In that act alone, you are learning so much about who you are.”

After a lot of soul searching and money spent on therapy and life coaching (and probably driving my parents and close friends nuts), I decided to take a two-month, solo road trip around the USA. I spent every day in nature and created a very dedicated spiritual practice. It was a beautiful time in my life.

Upon returning to NYC, I believed I was recovered so I almost immediately jumped into a big commercial directing job. Snd then... BOOM, depression hit, even worse than before my road trip.

I was suddenly in the midst of a full-blown identity crisis. I started questioning my own motives, and the classic; “who am I” was echoing through my mind on a daily basis.

For the first two years of what I then considered a "crisis", I felt like I was crawling out of a deep hole filled with molasses. Things that once came naturally to me were no longer interesting.

The biggest challenge for me was the painstaking attempt to sound genuine when pitching commercial jobs for products and brands with which I had zero connection. I was checked out in my mind and soul but did not have the clarity or strength to tell my team that I was finished until quite sometime later.

Ultimately, a year ago, I ended up leaving my own company because I just needed to take care of myself more full-time… as well as find my passion and love for filmmaking again.

So how did you rediscover your love for filmmaking after that period of burnout?

There has been a big shift in energy for me this past year, in many great ways... but certainly not without its challenges. I have been working extremely hard at reconnecting with my soul and passion for life, which has meant saying “no” to opportunities that my values don’t align with and as a result, living a much more minimalistic lifestyle.

My love for filmmaking started to show up again once I started to get my priorities organized, although I definitely had to push myself A LOT in the beginning phases of shooting my own films again.

It continues to be a constant battle, but I know that I always feel better when I am engaged in the act of creating, so I continue to do so as if my life depends on it.

Now, I’m focused on sustaining my passion and love for filmmaking so I don’t burn out again. And that means having boundaries, a creative process, clear goals and values, and generally a higher consciousness surrounding my relationship to my passion for filmmaking.

I’d love to hear about the actual process of making People’s Park. You capture so many ordinary, but beautiful human moments, and all of it feels so natural. Did you have to coach people not to pay attention to you? Were you just super stealthy?

My approach to this project was more of a mindfulness practice then anything—one that dealt with surrendering fully to the present moment.

The process of filming was intended to get me back in the rhythm of shooting personal projects again after being burnt out for far too long, so I didn’t want to put any additional pressure on myself. Because of that, there was no expectation with the outcome. I just showed up for six days over the course of a couple weeks and surrendered control.

As far as capturing people in a ‘stealthy’ way, I shot most everything with longer lenses so I could capture an honest look at the people in the park.

For the shots where I am closer to the “action” I would just frame up my shot, push record, and then typically turn the other direction and fake being on my phone or something.

The thought running through my mind was always “how can I get as close as possible to this action without distracting the person/people from what they are doing?”

I will say, as the shooting went on and my energy started synchronizing with the environment and people, I started getting closer and closer, and really started to feel invisible after a while. I continue to learn big lessons about the role my energy plays in capturing honest interactions and moments.

What did you learn about yourself and your creativity through the making of this project?

That making films is a very important part of life for me, on the most personal and fundamental level. It’s a mirror into my self that I receive more clarity from than journaling or any other expressive practice.

What are you most proud of in regards to People’s Park?

That I just went out and shot a film without much of a specific outcome in mind… the same way that I use to when I was a kid. It just feels good to reconnect with that pure level of creativity and self expression for me.

Do you have any fears/anxiety that people might find this film boring or misunderstand it? If so, how do you deal with that element of your psychology?

None. Thankfully. This film was strictly a creative practice for me and a necessary part of my development as a human being.

For me, anxiety in relationship to a film release comes from the desire to be accepted by others. Right now, I’m just trying to be true to myself and my values, and this film my expression of those things at this point in time.

“Not every film needs to be a hit. Go into each passion project with an intention to learn & take-away something specific, so worst case, if the film comes out not to your liking (or anyone else’s liking!), the knowledge you gained during the filmmaking process cannot be taken away from you.”
How can other filmmakers start using the craft of film for personal discovery? What practical advice would you give them?

I think one of the best ways to learn about who you are is by actualizing your own vision and ideas in the form of passion projects. Creating passion projects is also character builder because you are essentially saying; “hey, this is me,” and that takes a lot of courage. In that act alone, you are learning so much about who you are.

As far as practical advice, I suggest simply starting by creating a low-stakes/low-no cost passion project for the pure sake of practicing expressing your own unique voice.

“Practice” is the key. Just like people who play sports practice and become better… it’s a very similar concept with filmmaking.

The best thing about making low-stakes/low-cost passion projects is that if you truly are unhappy with the outcome, then there is zero pressure to release it… and at the very least, you learned big lessons about yourself as a filmmaker and human being.

Anything else you really want to share about People’s Park or the whole idea of using film to explore yourself?

I think the key is to keep experimenting.

Filmmaking is such a part of life for us that it’s important to find a way to enjoy the process and not always put so much pressure on the end results. Life can become so painful if that’s the process for every project you get involved in (at least it did for me!).

Not every film needs to be a hit. Go into each passion project with an intention to learn & take-away something specific, so worst case, if the film comes out not to your liking (or anyone else’s liking!), the knowledge you gained during the filmmaking process cannot be taken away from you.

If you could go back and share some career/life wisdom with “10 years ago Jon” what would you have told him?

It’s hard to say, because looking back I’m so grateful for the lessons I’ve learned by my own “trial by fire” method.

I suppose I’d just whisper something like “slow down” or “be patient. Or maybe, I’d suggest to ‘young Jon’ to go on a meditation retreat once every other month or something.

What’s next for you in your filmmaking journey?

Next for me is continuing to focus on my one-on-one coaching work that I do with other filmmakers. I’ve dedicated this next year to working with small handfuls of filmmakers who are interested in thriving holistically; in life, and their filmmaking careers.

Outside of coaching, I am getting married soon and settling into a new city, so I’m trying my best to be present to this transition and not just let it fly by in blur.

So creating healthy habits and staying true to them is what I’m working hard at, daily. And that includes working on passion projects as frequently as possible!

Where can people stay up to date with your work, coaching, etc?

My Personal Website: www.JonathanBregel.com

My Personal Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/jonathanbregel

Or if you connected with anything in this article, shoot me a note at Jbregel@gmail.com

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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AUTHOR: Robert MontoyaSTORY: The Lessons I Learned From Failing as a Filmmaker

When it comes to filmmaking, I’m a failure. There’s no other way to put it.

Thirteen years ago, I jumped into film, and while I’ve worked on seven different projects, in all this time only one of them was my own. Let's just say it didn't go well.

And since then, I’ve only been involved with two other projects.

I’ve learned a lot since those early days, and if my experience can help any young filmmaker avoid the traps I fell into, then I must share my story.

Let’s begin.

Starting Out

All of us recall that moment when we felt the desire to make films.

Mine was in my teens when I was watching a documentary about the making of my parents’ favorite TV show, Moonlighting.

There were two words the narrator used to identify what he felt was one of the show's greatest strengths: character development.

When I heard those two words, it was like something lit up in my brain and my heart, and a desire was birthed all of us here have felt. A desire to make films.

I buried myself in books on filmmaking and movies, drinking everything in. But I let myself get caught in the trap of thinking that because I didn’t have money or the right equipment, I shouldn’t make anything at all.

I let my excuses and fear of failure keep me from trying, only to become frustrated in my early twenties reading about filmmakers who started when they were nine and I hadn’t made a single film yet.

I hadn’t even written a script out of fear of not “doing it right.”

More time passed, and I stalled myself out thinking I was too old to start.

Had it not been for a friend of mine who had studied graphic design, I probably would have given up altogether. But thanks to his encouragement, I continued studying and found the courage to make the next big decision: move to where the action is.

Moving to Texas

Most of you probably wouldn’t think of Texas when it comes to filmmaking, but back in 2006, the state was still living off the high of Prison Break, so I decided that should be my target of where to leap to for my jump into film.

It didn’t hurt that my parents lived there too, meaning I’d have free room and board. (Yes, I was that guy.)

Thankfully, the doors opened for me no sooner than I arrived. Through my sister, I got connected to someone who was already working in film and he gave me two pieces of advices: look for films to volunteer on, and get your college degree.

I did the former and ignored the latter.

While it is definitely debatable today whether everyone should go to college, as someone who finally did go, I can say that now that Someone upstairs was trying to guide me to the path that would work best for me. Had I listened, life might have gone a lot smoother for me.

Still, even doing half the advice opened doors for me. I got some great experience and met the man who would be a great help and supporter of me following my dream: Derek Presley.

Together, we made three short films, one of which was my own, and a featurette.

Impact, my one and only short film

Making your first film is stressful for anyone. Unless you’re just that great right out of the gate or have supreme self-confidence. For the rest of us, it's a daunting experience.

For days leading up to the shoot, I woke up in the middle of the night with panic attacks.

During the shoot I had something close to a breakdown, but not quite.

The only reason we finished was because of the amazing, hard-working, and patient cast and crew I had surrounding me.

The actors were understanding, the cinematographer (the only paid guy on set) was a jewel, our first-time editor was a class act, and right beside me was Derek. All of them together ensured the completion of my short film, Impact.





When all was finally finished, I was emotionally and financially tapped out with only a short to show for it.

Only a short.

That was my problem: my mindset and perspective.

Instead of being amazed that I had seen this vision become reality, I saw it as a failure because my goal had been to win festivals and jumpstart my career. And at that point, I didn’t have enough money to finance many festival applications.

So I quit.

Mindset and Goals

Because my goals were far too ambitious for where I was, and my mindset destructive, after Impact I stopped trying to make more films. I worked on one more short film with Derek, but then I stopped, except for a short I worked on at my university.

I realized I needed to find a better way to make films than breaking my bank, but continued giving myself excuses while I waited for “the right moment.” And as you probably know, “the right moment” doesn’t just fall into your lap.

You have to be willing to take action, and learn along the way in order to find it. You also need to set small, reasonable, and achievable goals so you don’t fall short and give up.

Part of the problem we beginners have, I think, is that we set these big ambitious goals that we can't possibly achieve with the skills and resources we currently have. It's one thing to believe in yourself and shoot for ambitious targets, but it's another thing to be delusional.

Had I set my goal as simply getting experience or just make a short film, I wouldn’t have been depressed about the outcome of Impact because there wouldn’t have been as big a gap between my expectation and the reality.

Knowing Your Why

When I made Impact, I had dreams of winning festivals and getting money to make more films.

When I was younger, a producer in Britain shared this piece of advice: when you go into filmmaking, you have to do it because you love it and not for money, because in the beginning there is no money.

Sure, I knew it was good advice, but that didn't stop me from doing the exact opposite.

I came down with a case of "red carpet fever" and imagined the wealth I would one day enjoy as a result of my films. This isn’t to say wanting these things in and of themselves is wrong, but as a young, inexperienced filmmaker, it's a destructive mindset.

And sure enough, it destroyed me. I learned the hard way that I was doing film not because I enjoyed it, but because I wanted money and glory. Is it any wonder I stopped making more films?

“Part of the problem we beginners have, I think, is that we set these big ambitious goals that we can’t possibly achieve with the skills and resources we currently have. It’s one thing to believe in yourself and shoot for ambitious targets, but it’s another thing to be delusional.”
Don’t let this happen to you

My whole goal in sharing this rather personal story is so that you, my fellow filmmaker, learn from my mistakes and avoid the traps I fell into.

Film is a beautiful art form, and you can no doubt make a great career out of it. But if money and fame are the sole drivers of why you’re doing it, you will likely crash and burn, as I did.

Don’t misunderstand: there is absolutely nothing wrong with becoming rich and famous as a filmmaker, and I’d have to restrain myself from slapping any “auteur” who says otherwise.

What I am saying is that if those are your only drivers to be in film, then your passion won’t sustain itself.

So, please, learn from my mistakes.

Be humble and start small. Set reasonable goals. Do it because you love it and have a story you want to tell. Figure out how to tell a story where you are with what you have.

Learn from the experience, and keep moving. You’ll adjust your direction, but just keep moving.

And if you find out from the experience that film isn’t for you, don’t feel bad at all or feel any shame.

You learned something, and you’re one step closer to a life you can be proud of.

Finally, I hope you don’t mind but I have another motivation for writing this piece: to fire up my desire again, to get out there and make something else even if no one sees it.

See you out there.

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

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.

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

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