The Reluctant Release: When They Don’t Want to Sign the Release Form

Release forms. No one likes them. But you need them. You need releases for people, places and for materials. A lot has been written about this subject, so I won’t go into it here.

What do you do when someone doesn’t want to sign one? I recently had this happen with a couple locations for my documentary project. Here’s how I tried to work through the problems.

Be Patient.

My first reaction was not patient, or helpful. Didn’t these people know I needed this? What was their problem? I’m nerdy enough that I almost always get a small shot of adrenaline when I get a form returned, or an email about a form. Weird, right? So, inevitably when I’m first reading it, I’m not calm and cool.

And of course the real issue is: what is their problem? Why would they say no? In my case the locations didn’t say no, outright. Both offered ways to get permission, but neither were acceptable. As I reviewed both, it became clear that one location simply didn’t completely understand what was being asked of them. The other was, as I would find out, going to be rigid and over reaching in their requests. Let’s look at the first location.

Try to get to the core issue. Get the facts. Why don’t they want to sign the release?

Be Clear.

I realized that the initial request had not been very clear. It had been handled through a 3rd party, so I was able to get into contact with the location myself and start to work through the issues.

I explained what the project was. I showed them what gear I would be bringing (a single mirrorless camera, not a full crew). I talked about risk, the fact that I would be attending the event anyway. We talked about the fact that the event was the subject of the film, not the location. The camera I would bring is the same as I would bring if I were a parent. There was no additional risk to the location.

Be Persuasive.

Once I convinced them that my presence would not be a major risk, I began to ease their other concerns.

It became clear that the location was concerned about being shown in a negative light. I’m not sure if they had a bad experience before, but I worked to put their mind at ease. I told them about the film, and why it was important. I sold them on what I was doing, on the purpose of the project. I reassured them that the location was just background for the film.

At one point the location said they didn’t have the power to give me permission to shoot because they were just the venue. I explained that while I had permission from the event and the people involved, because it was private property, I needed permission to shoot there. They asked to get written permission from the event organizers, which I provided.

Be Flexible. (Where you can.)

The location asked me to change a few things in the location release. None of them were important. I felt they were overkill, but I could easily put them into the document if it made them feel better.

I specifically limited the number of people in my crew to one. I specifically mentioned I would not hold them liable for physical injury to myself. (This was in addition to existing language already related to liability). They asked to only be shown in a positive light, but I agreed to not show the location in a negative light. I could do that because the location isn’t the focus on the film. I would be surprised if anyone could even identify it by the footage. The location is a neutral part of the film, just a venue.

It’s not always possible to meet every demand or request. Don’t give up more than you should. Don’t agree to things that might compromise your film, your finances, or put you in a legal bind.

Be Persistent.

After I made the changes, the location representative said he would sign the release. And then went silent for 2 weeks. The shoot date was rapidly approaching. I had an email saying they agreed to the release, but no signed release and no plan to obtain one.

I waited a few days and sent a email with a countersigned copy of the release. All they had to do was print and sign it. I suggested I could just get it from the office when I arrived. Whatever I could do to make it easy for them. About a week out from the event I sent another email, asking if they had seen the previous one and including the release again.

2 days before the event I called them. I left a voicemail. I thanked them for agreeing to sign the release, and suggested I could just swing by the office and pick up a signed copy since I would be there already.

1 day before the event I got an email saying the document would be waiting for me at the office. I had started a month and a half before the shoot date trying to get permission. It had taken almost 6 weeks to get this done. But I needed this location.

Be Creative.

While I was in limbo about permission, I started working on Plan B. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

If the worst happened, I could go to the public street and shoot an establishing shot of the location. I could do interviews off site. I could fill in with B Roll from other locations. The only thing needed from that location that I couldn’t get without permission would be some recording from the award ceremony. My plan was to audio record it and then seek permission after the fact to use it. If I was not able to get permission, I would use voiceover to describe the events.

That would not be ideal, but it would be better than nothing.

If you cannot get permission, what can you get? Can you get a different person, different location, use a different audio element? What else can you do to communicate the same thing? We already know you’re creative or you wouldn’t be making a film. So be creative and work it out.

Which brings me to the other location.

This one I did contact directly. But they sent back my release and had altered about 80% of it. Most of the changes were things I was already doing, so it didn’t matter. But 2 parts were not OK. We went back and forth a bit, and it became clear that at least of of the points would not be something we could agree on. They would not bend and neither would I.

So now what?

Same scenario as before. Be creative. I was only looking for a few shots of awards, and to interview a few people who were going to attend. So I began to find other options.

My film isn’t about a particular event at a location. There are multiple events throughout the year. My film is the story of these kids going through the season. So, not being able to shoot at one location was not the end of the film, or necessarily a big deal. I would have liked to shoot there, to use footage I captured there. It would have made things easier. But I went to work on doing what I could while I was in town.

I contacted several other locations near the tournament, looking for a space to shoot interviews. There were some folks I was hoping to talk with who were available at this location, so I needed a place. In the end it was a contact made through someone I knew that opened the doors. Building relationships is important. I would be able to shoot my interviews in a location near the tournament, but out of the elements and in a relatively quiet space.

I also shot interviews with students before and after the tournament. This won’t be the only tournament that wasn’t represented in the film. I only attended 5 others this year. The difference is that I was at this one and could have shot video. Even though this wasn’t ideal, it also wasn’t a deal breaker. I made the most of the situation and pressed on.

Every project will have set backs. Every creative work will have hurdles, roadblocks, detours. The difference between finishing a production and giving up is how you handle the issues as they come up.

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I’ve Been Busy…

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but life has been busy.

I have been hard at work on my feature documentary. We are about to make a trip out to the last tournament. I’ve been working several paths to get the word out about the movie.

2 shirtsI’m selling a couple of shirts to help with funding the rest of the project. So if you want a sticker or shirt, swing on over the the website and see what you can do.

I’ve got a few things to share about the process of making this film, when the time is right.

And, honestly, I am so ready to be done with production, and into Post. I can’t wait to get these stories told.

Amazon Finally Allowed Me to Remove My Series

I started back in February, February 19 to be exact, trying to remove my series, Peculiar, from Prime availability. Finally was removed on April 6. Yes, it took over a month to get the title removed from all marketplaces.

When I first started, I went through the normal process and everything seemed like it was fine. In fact, I just assumed it had worked as it was supposed to. Until I noticed it was still in my Prime queue…

So I logged in and saw there were a bunch of errors. I tried to remove availability again.

You cannot just delete the content because Amazon wants it to be available in case anyone purchased an episode and needed to download it again. I never offered the show for sale, but I still couldn’t just delete it. So I set the availability to no regions. But the error would not go away.

I did somehow get the series out of the UK. I don’t know why that worked, but the rest wouldn’t.

At one point the error changed from a publishing error to a captioning error. The message said I had to re upload captions. To a show I’m trying to remove. Which was currently available. With captions…

I ended up talking to 3 different AVD customer service reps. All had different answers. None really knew what was going on. The 3rd rep finally asked the techs to manually remove the episodes. It took about a week to get that done.

My series page still shows errors, but the episodes are not available any more. It should not be this difficult to remove a series from Amazon Video Direct.

Peculiar Premieres on Christian Cinema Feb 21

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All 10 episodes of Peculiar will be available via TVOD on Christian Cinema starting Feb. 21, 2018. Episodes are available for $0.99 each, or get all 10 for $7.99.

I’ve written about the changing landscape of SVOD and indie film, and gone through some of my reasons for moving Peculiar away from Amazon and Youtube.

The day after Youtube cancels my partnership, just a few days before Amazon lowers their royalty rate, my show will be on TVOD for the first time… and available to a Christian audience. I’m curious how making it available through a portal that caters to a Christian customer will go. Might be good, might be average.

In the past month episodes of Peculiar were started 165 times on Amazon. But the show was only viewed for 932 minutes. Meaning the episodes were watched, on average, under 6 minutes. That makes sense, considering Amazon isn’t a religious platform.

There aren’t a lot of comedies on Christian Cinema. Virtually no TV sitcoms. My show is both low budget and different in content. So it may not fit. or it may be well received. Time will tell.

I won’t be missing the money that Youtube or Amazon paid.

My First Short Doc Film

I found what I think is my first real doc short. I’ve done interview/b roll projects for work and stuff for years. But this was a project I just wanted to do to educate about the importance of reading young. It’s from 2014 and stars my family.

Also, it was a pretty dry creative time for me. I was working corporate AV… too many hours for not enough pay. We were looking for a decent job, planning to move. We had sold our house and were living in my in-law’s home. I just needed to make something.

I had a 1st gen Canon EOS-M, a microphone and Zoom H4n recorder. I didn’t say, “Hey, let’s make a documentary film.” I just interviewed the family, shot some B roll and put it together. It’s too long, pacing is slow, the coloring is heavy handed, and I hate the music. But otherwise, not bad for throwing something together. Things have changed a lot in 4 years.

Creatively, it helped sustain me through a weird period.

Peculiar – Digital Access Soon to be Available on Christian Cinema

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The changes in SVOD platforms have made me take a long look at where the series has been available, and where the people who would most want to see it are consuming content.

I believe that even though the series is aging, the best outlet is Christian Cinema.

Assuming all goes as planned, all 10 episodes of Peculiar will be available on ChristianCinema.com through the Transactional Video On Demand (TVOD) platform. You’ll be able to purchase episodes or the entire series, and view it on your computer, TV or digital device.

At the end of February, Peculiar will no longer be available on Amazon Prime Video. And it’s already been removed from Youtube.

Check out the newly-cut-for-2018 series trailer for Peculiar:

It’s my hope that making this content (which was made for a Christian audiences) available to people who are looking for Christian content, more people will see it. Instead of just throwing it out into the world through any outlet possible, this more targeted release will put the show in front of more people who might actually want to watch it.

Peculiar Behind a Paywall?

I’ve been writing about changes to Youtube and Amazon Video Direct. Two major outlet for indie filmmakers have changed… for the worse. I still have no idea how this will all shake out for these outlets or indie filmmakers.

Amazon’s announcement of royalty cuts really frustrated me. You see, my series, Peculiar, was on both Youtube and Amazon Video. It’s an odd thing to have Christian content on secular outlets. On Amazon, every Christian who reviewed my show gave it 5 stars. Every non Christian reviewer gave it 1 star. It’s written for Christian audiences.

img_2597 Right after the first 6 episodes were completed I landed a traditional distribution deal. I created a DVD, complete with a a set of Bible studies. For a brief time the DVD was available in actual brick and mortar stores. And through Christian Book Distributors and Amazon.com, and a few others. Then my distributor lost his access to the brick and mortars. And he was not interested moving the series to digital. I wrote about the success and lack of success before. I still have a few DVDs… contact me if you’re interested.

We agreed to part ways, and I looked for ways to get the show in front of people. Initially, that was through Youtube. This wasn’t the first time full episodes had been available online. I knew I could get the series up, and make it available.

So the show went from traditional DVD distribution to digital availability via ad-based delivery, and then Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) through Amazon Prime. It’s never been offered through a Transactional VOD service.

And it’s never been offered to specifically Christian audiences digitally.

So, I essentially skipped an entire distribution window. That’s understandable, self distribution was relatively new through TVOD and SVOD, and I just wanted the show out there.

Here I am with an aging, micro-budget series. The show has always been generally well received by its target audience. But the retail offerings have been very limited.

I’m seriously considering moving Peculiar to TVOD through Christian Cinema. It’s obviously the right outlet for the audience. But that means every episode goes behind a paywall. No more free viewing. (Except on the broadcast outlets STILL showing it…)

I do like seeing the series available on Amazon Prime. But I don’t think a lot of people are seeing it. Less than 1000 minutes streamed over the past 12 weeks. There was even less time viewed when it was on Youtube.

An outlet like Christian Cinema offer a niche market, for the right products. Amazon Prime has over 20,000 titles available while Christian Cinema has about 4,000. Sure, Christian Cinema has just 250,000 monthly users, but they are 250,000 users that are looking for Christian content and I’m trying to get noticed in a much smaller pool of content.

Specifically, there are currently only a few hundred comedies available through Christian Cinema. Many of them are stand up shows. The only comedy TV series available is The Statler Brothers TV Show, and that’s a DVD- not a digital offering.

Let’s do a reality check. Peculiar is micro-budget, and has all the issues that you find with that level of production. It’s old, with no new episodes since 2013. And it’s had a chance at Christian retail and failed.

My desire for the show has always been for more people to see it. If offering it through TVOD on a Christian outlet will help that to happen, maybe that’s what I should do. Not a lot of people are seeing it through Amazon.

Amazon Video Direct Lowers Prime Streaming Royalty

I’ve pretty much told everyone who will listen that if you’re a filmmaker doing short films, AVD, not Youtube, is the place to be. Especially since the new YPP policy at Youtube is about to take effect. I have made way, way more off a few short films on Amazon Video than I ever did off of Youtube.

Apparently Amazon woke up to how sweet the deal was, and has just announced that they are drastically reducing the royalty rate for videos watched through Amazon Prime streaming.

Previously videos watched with Prime got $0.15 per hour of video watched (In the US). Titles submitted through AVD had a maximum cap royalty of $75,000 per year per title.

Some people were upset about that cap. But to reach it your video had to be streamed for 500,000 hours. If you’ve got content that popular, it might be time to work with a distributor that can bypass the Amazon Video Direct system and go directly with Amazon.

The new royalty rates eliminate that cap. Which is good, I guess. And the new rates are for all territories. Not just the US. The new rate is what AVD paid for other territories outside the US. And while the rate drops a lot, you can earn higher rates if your videos are watched a lot.

The new rates are tiered based on hours of viewing PER TITLE. Up to 99,999 hours you get $0.06 per hour. That’s right, the rate drops by almost 2/3 in the US. This will put me right about the Youtube payment range. Most short films will never hit this amount of viewing time.

If you have 100,000 hours of viewing, the rate increases to $0.10 per hour. Over 500,000 hours and you’re back to $0.15 per hour. But cross 1,000,000 hours and you drop back to $0.06 again.

In order to reach the $0.15 per hour rate again, you have to have 500,000 hours of viewing. So the cap is gone, but it takes longer to hit $75,000.

($75,000 in royalties? Who are we kidding? How many indie filmmakers hit 500,000 hours of viewing on Amazon?)

A 5 minute long short film would need to be watched in its entirety 1,200,000 times in a year before that title could make $0.10 per viewing hour, which is still 1/3 less than the original royally. A 2 hour movie would need to be watched 50,000 times to hit that same royalty rate.

So, why? Why is Amazon doing this? Here’s what they say:

“The tiered structure allows us to align the Prime Subscription Access rate with the level of customer engagement generated by each individual title or season (more engaging titles earn a higher royalty rate). By doing so, we offer a few advantages for providers, including elimination of the title-level annual earnings cap and expanded earnings potential in territories outside the U.S.”

I get it. I’ve seen some bad videos on Amazon Prime. And even though I have short films on Amazon, I know most people don’t sit down at the TV and look for short films. So Amazon is making it less lucrative for creators who pump out bad or short content, and focusing on content that keeps viewers engaged for longer; because it’s good enough that people watch more of it and because it’s literally longer.

But, man it stinks for short film creators. Up to this point AVD was a good way to make a little extra cash for your efforts. Not major money, but better than the alternatives. Now that Youtube has put the clamp on casual creators, AVD is still the best outlet for short content. But the paycheck is about to get a lot smaller than it already was.

It’s Not Me, It’s You…Tube

Youtube is breaking up with me. But it’s not me, it’s You…tube.

Last week Youtube changed the requirements of partner channels, effectively killing their partner relationships with all casual creators. This is my somewhat tongue-and-cheek commentary on the subject.

Ok, that’s a bit satirically-sappy, but there are a couple of things that are serious.

Youtube was built by smaller channels. The vast majority of the 300 HOURS of content uploaded every minute is uploaded to small channels. Without those channels, Youtube wouldn’t be the 2nd largest search engine in the world.

Any channel, of any size, can upload content that helps or entertains others. Youtube should not ignore that. Partner status isn’t about getting money as much as it’s about Youtube recognizing that your channel contributes in a positive way to the community. We are literally partners. Casual creators can and have helped Youtube as a business and platform. This move signals a lack of appreciation and respect for those channels.

That’s the big deal. I saw a few videos of people talking about how people shouldn’t be upset because the money they are losing is very small. They’ve missed the point entirely.

I always looked being a Youtube Partner as being in an actual partnership. I contributed to that relationship in some small part, and Youtube appreciated that relationship. So they shared a little of what I helped them earn. Not because it was a big payout, but because we were partners.

I felt a certain amount of loyalty to the platform. We were partners. I was a part of making it successful. They appreciated my videos, and I felt like I was helping people. And helping Youtube sell ads. My content was helping make Youtube a place where people could search for answers, or entertainment.

Turns out, Youtube just doesn’t care about channels like mine. I didn’t change, Youtube did. Youtube doesn’t care about the very channels that help make up the massive amount of content that is searched and served billions of times.

YouTube Drops the Hammer on Casual Creators

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Got an email from Youtube today saying they are raising the bar on monetized channels. New minimum levels are 1000 subscribers and 4000 hours watched in a 12 month period. Pretty low overall… but it’s a hurdle for new/casual creators.

I have (had) 2 channels that are (were) monetized. One was for my show from a few years ago. It saw decent traffic when it was active, but no new content has been posted in years. I was just leaving the episodes online so people could find them. Most people see them on Amazon Prime, not Youtube. That channel is losing monetization. it will never reach the new bar for views or subscribers.

My other channel is more active, but I’m not sure I’m seeing 4000 hours of viewing annually. I’ve got several thousand views on some videos. I do not have 1000 subscribers. So, that channel will be de monetized soon, I’m sure.

This move really hits casual creators. I’m never doing a daily Vlog. I’m busy, and only post occasionally. I have chosen YT as the outlet for that because it is the 2nd largest search engine in the world and every month my stupid, little videos give me a very small amount of money. (Think fast food lunch, or afternoon Coke.) But hey, free money. And maybe someone can use the content, or is entertained.

So I put up with the overzealous content ID system, and the trolls and the ugly interface and the compression.

Youtube says that 99% of the channels affected by the new changes made less than $100 last year. They make it clear that their priority is for channels making a living off Youtube. Casual creators like myself are not considered.

I get why, to some extent. Youtube wants good, new, and consistent content to keep people coming back. more people means more advertisers. And after some advertisers to mad about being sown on some weird/bad videos, they have been working to protect that ad revenue. I can see why they would want more growing channels with larger audiences, and less small channels.

I don’t have consistent content I post every week, but a few videos on my channel have been really helpful to viewers. A few simple tech tips about how to use old lenses on modern cameras, and testing video gear, etc., have really helped some viewers. Or so they say in my comments. Youtube is removing the incentive to make any more of these. Or at least, the incentive to post them on Youtube… (Vimeo anyone?)

I wonder how this move will affect the ecosystem. Less casual creators, more intentional channels. Could be good, but will it, overall, lower the volume of video uploaded? Will that make it easier to have content noticed? What will be the fallout, if any?

Personally, what stops me from switching to Vimeo? Is the search function on YT worth it? I’m not sure. Let’s see how things progress.