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.

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Captioning for Amazon Video Direct (using Adobe Premiere)

I have previously written about Amazon Video Direct (AVD). It’s an awesome opportunity for indie filmmakers to get your content in front of a large potential audience, and it pays better than Youtube. For stand alone or episodic content, it’s a great outlet.

One thing might slow you down as you start to publish your videos on Amazon: Captioning.

Amazon Video requires that all content be captioned before they will publish it. Period. That can be a bit scary. A few years ago I paid about $2500 to a captioning/delivery house to caption and deliver 10 episodes (22:30 each) to a TV network. Now, they captioned the shows in both 708 and 608 captions, and delivered the files in HD to the network and gave me copies of the .scc 608 files so I could use them later. But still, $250 per episode. I’m making indie films with budgets less than that.

Luckily, Amazon suggests a few online captioning services which are much less expensive. One, Rev.com, offers captioning for $1 per minute and delivers in various formats. They can provide captions that are AVD compliant. They even have a free caption converter, should you need one. That means my 22:30 shows would cost about $23 for captioning for AVD.

Still, $23 is money you may not want to spend. What if you want to make your own? You can, but Amazon is very finicky about their files. I will share what I have learned. I have 1 season (10 episodes) of a show and 2 short films available right now, with 1 more short film in review. (Now published)

Adobe Premiere has the ability to create and export closed caption files. But getting a caption file that AVD likes is not simple. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Create a 608 Caption file. Premiere will do 708 files, but Amazon does not seem to like these 708 files. I have only had success with 608 files exported from Adobe for Amazon. Premiere can even import existing .scc files, allowing you to edit them.

Export .scc or .srt. When exporting your video file for upload, export a sidecar caption file as either an .scc or .srt. If you have content that is 29.97 use the .scc format, otherwise use the .srt. AVD says they will take an .stl file, which Premiere will export. But I’ve not had any luck using that format.

If you’re lucky, that’s all you need to do. Just upload and publish.

For my last short film I was not lucky. I was exporting a 23.976 fps file using .srt, and I could not get AVD to accept it. It was exactly like a previously accepted caption file for a previous short film. What was the problem? After trying multiple files over multiple days, I was frustrated. I turned up this post in the Adobe Community Forums. Scrolling through I found 2 solid things to try.

1. The timecode of your captions cannot overlap the same frame.

In Premiere you can see where one caption ends and another begins. Here’s a screen shot from premiere of my latest short film:

If the 1st caption you see ends at 00:00:20:08 and the next captions starts at 00:00:20:08, AVD has a problem with that file. So you need to go through all your captions and make sure none of them overlap.

2. Remove extra content.

During the exchange in the post in the Adobe Forum “Joshb88988268” says, “open the .SRT file with notepad and do a search for this: or the word font color. Delete any that pop up.”

As a mac user I found a free program called Brackets and was able to open the .srt file. Sure enough there were 2 lines with the tag and some extra info about “font color”. I deleted those lines and hit save. My captions in the code editor looked like this:

No extra tags or words. Just number of caption, timecode, and caption content. Brackets should also be able to open a .scc file.

So far that seems to have worked. At this point I have to ask myself, if I’m uploading a 4 minute short film, is it worth spending $4 to bypass all this effort? It might be. But since I have the captions done, I would like to be able to use them.

[Update: while I was typing this post, Amazon has begun approving my video. Looks like the latest captions with these changes worked.]

What to Do When a Copyright Claim is Initated on Your Youtube Video For Music You Have the Right to Use

If you use music from royalty free libraries or websites on videos for your Youtube channel, there is a high likelihood that you will eventually get an email with the subject “[Youtube] A copyright claim was submitted for content in…”

Don’t panic. It’s not personal. No one is targeting you. And while it’s annoying to be accused of stealing music, the Content ID system is automated.

Here are the steps to fixing this.

Read the email. In most cases you are in no danger of having your channel shut down, or even seeing the video take down. Most of the time the claimant just places ads on your video and has the money sent to their account. That’s an annoyance, but any money that is collected while the claim is in place will revert back to your account once it’s removed. Still, I normally take the video out of public view, setting it to “unlisted” so only people with a link can see it.

Note the content that has been claimed. Who is making the claim, etc… Is it AdRev? If so, then your dispute process is very easy.

Check your content. Do you in fact have the rights to use it? I’m sure you do. But dig out the library you took the music from, find the name of the track. If you can find the receipt, even better.

Research the claimant and the company making the claim. Every single time I have been flagged for copyright on my monetized videos it has been an individual making a fraudulent claim through a 3rd party. There is a guy in Denmark or somewhere that has claimed dozens of tracks from Digital Juice‘s library, and he uses AdRev to make copyright claims online. He does not own the content.

The last claim I had was from a Canadian using a French Canadian company, so much of the communication was in French. (Thank goodness for Google Translate.) This gentlemen had exported a Digital Juice audio track and added ambient waterfall and bird noise. Then he put that track on an album that is available through iTunes and Spotify. His record company was policing the content they think he owns. So a video using the same track (which I purchased from Digital Juice just like he did.) was claimed.

Contact the company making the claim. You’re first instance will be to start a dispute through the YouTube process. That process can take 30 days. And YouTube is just acting as the intermediary between you and the company. I normally go to the company first, and then start a dispute in a few days. I find that the claims are released wishing a few days.

If the claim was made by AdRev, just go to their website, and scroll to the bottom and click “contact us.” They get so many emails about this they have their contact page set up to hear your dispute. They have now added a place to upload a copy of the license for the music in question. in the past, regarding the Digital Juice tracks, I have just explained the origin of the music and reminded them that the person making the claim does not in fact own the copyright. They know this, they have heard it many times. But they still keep him as a customer and make fraudulent claims against legally used music. In every case so far (so far) the claim has been released within 24 hours. I have had to dispute music like this over a dozen times with AdRev. (One caveat, if you are using a MusicBed track, the account rep from MusicBed must contact them, otherwise they won’t release the claim.)

In other cases, with different companies, I have simply emailed and explained the mistake. I outlined where the music in question was taken from, what library and what track title. I explained the rights to use the music as it was in the video had been purchased from the company owning the library. And pointed out that the person making the claim did not in fact own the rights or have the legal right to claim the music as his own work. And asked for the claim to be released.

In the case of the Canadian, I also pointed out the differences in the audio. I had not used all of the stems from the Digital Juice tracks, and had not added the ambient noise. It was literally impossible for me to have stolen his recording and used it in my idea. the audio in my video did not actually match his. The claim was released the same day.

File a dispute through Youtube. I almost always file a dispute through the Youtube process if the claim is not released after the initial contact. Once you file a dispute, the company making the claim has 30 days to respond. If they don’t respond, the claim is removed. If they do respond and do not release the claim… well, I’ve never had that happen.

Every single time I have ever contacted a company and explained where I got the music and why I legally have the right to use it, the claim has been released. According to Youtube, if the claim is not released, you can appeal. There is another 30 day period. If the appeal is rejected a 2nd time, and the claimant requests a takedown of the video your account will get a copyright strike.

Most of the time you won’t get to this level. I never have. You can find horror stories online, but normally companies are not that difficult to deal with.

For whatever reason, some people think that buying Royalty Free music and using it in some sort of creative work means they have the exclusive right to use the track. They don’t, but their misunderstanding means you may have annoying claims on your videos. Stay calm, and politely state your case. Most of the time you can get them released without too much trouble.

6 things I Learned Shooting My First Short Documentary Film

I’ve been working on a short documentary about my son’s last speech and debate tournament, specifically focused on the Team Policy debates in which he competed. It was a guerrilla style shoot. I had permission to shoot his teammate, but no one else. I could not disrupt the competition any more than any parent with a camera might. No extra lights. No extra people. Just capturing the event in real time with my Sony a6000, 3 prime lenses, and a Rode Smartlav+ microphone recorded into my phone. It was a true Run & Gun situation. Here are a few things I learned…

Story. Doing an actual documentary is different than most of the work I’ve done. I know how to shoot and edit a testimony video, but that’s not a documentary. Before the tournament, I spent time mapping out the structure of the short film. While I didn’t know what would happen, I did know the sequence of events, so I laid out the possible plan and tried to capture the actual events as they happened. As the tournament progressed, I could see how things would fit into my traditional story structure.

Pack Light. Because I was a one man crew, everything I needed was with me, all the time. I had gone through my gear, and left much of it at home. But I was still carrying around a medium sized camera backpack. And I still had gear I didn’t need. In order to grab my camera for a quick shot, I had to take off the backpack lay it down somewhere, open it up and pull out the camera. To downsize a bit more, and make access to gear a bit faster, I just ordered a camera sling bag. It’s large enough to carry a camera and a couple of lenses, etc… But smaller than a back pack and you can sling the bag around to the front, and access the gear on the run.

Invest in a zoom. Lens swapping is a pain. And real life doesn’t wait.

When shooting on a set, there is always time to swap out a lens. In between takes, you can switch over to a different focal length of the super fast prime you have. But in a documentary shoot, people aren’t waiting. Life is happening, the event is going on. Not only do you have a chance to miss the shot, but you might also disrupt the very event you’re trying to capture. During one debate round I was using my 19mm lens, and wanted a tighter shot. I was so nervous that opening my camera bag would be noticed by the competitors. I hope that didn’t happen, I tried to be so quiet. With a zoom, this wouldn’t be an issue.

Which zoom? On the Sony E Mount system, the reach and quality of the 18-105 F4 G series (SELP18105G) would seem to be a good fit. The longest lens I had with me was a 50mm, and I was wishing for longer options. It’s a constant aperture. I wish it was a bit faster, but it would only be a problem in the most dim rooms. I found that most of the time I was shooting f3.5 to 5.6. Of course the ISO was almost always at 1600 in the classrooms. Assuming I can continue to push the ISO that high, losing a couple of stops of light might be a decent trade off for the extra length. But at $500+, it’s out of reach for now.

Another option would be to adapt an older zoom of similar reach. You can often find vintage 35-105mm zooms for cheap. Just read the reviews on each one and make sure you have the proper adapter. Of course, you give up all automatic functions with these. I just ordered a Vivitar (Made by Koburi) 35-105mm f3.2-4 Macro lens for $26, shipped. I already own the right camera mount adapter. It won’t be as sharp or easy to use as the Sony 18-105mm. And I wish it was a constant aperture, but I’m hopeful it can fill the gap until I can swing the money. I’m sure I will still carry the 19mm and 35mm primes I have, but the 35-105mm could be my go to glass for future shoots.

A shotgun mic would help. Prior to the event I though I had worked out how to use a small shotgun (Rode VideoMicro) and record it into my phone. My goal was small footprint. I did not want to call attention to myself. I didn’t want to set up a full size shotgun with an external recorder. I tested the small shotgun, and would have sworn that I had the cabling worked out. But the day before the event I was charging batteries, and set up the mic to test it once more, and discovered that it was not passing signal. I needed a special cable to convert the TRS connection to a TRRS for the phone input. (Rode sells one: the SC7). I didn’t have time to get the proper adapter, so I punted. I ended up using the omni directional Smartlav+ to record audio. And, while it’s not as good as… pretty much any directional microphone at a distance, it was a lot better than the on camera mic. With some post work, some of the audio will be usable. But a shotgun mic would have been a huge help.

A camera with an audio input would help. My a6000 is a solid mirrorless camera. But it isn’t perfect, and one of the flaws is that it lacks an external audio input jack. While I would probably still use the Smartlav+ with my phone, having an on camera shotgun, recording directly into the camera would be good. Even if the small shotgun had worked, mounting the mic to my camera and then extending the cable to my phone would have been awkward at best. A much simpler solution would be to shoot on a camera that actually has the ability to record external audio. Of course the simple solution costs hundreds of dollars.

Get permission. I mentioned that this was a guerrilla style shoot. I got verbal permission from the judges in the room, and competitors. But the competitors are minors. So in order to actually use the footage I shot I cannot show any faces of minors since I don’t have permission from parents. They cannot be recognizable. I won’t identify the location, or even the organization. I knew that going in, so I shot accordingly. It would have been infinitely better to have the written permission from the event organizers, the location, and every parent of every student in each round. That wasn’t feasible for this project. In the future, I want to do more to get permissions, so I won’t be as constrained on the shoot.

As I’m closing in on the final edits of the project, I’m fairly well satisfied with it. Assuming I do similar projects later what I’ve learned with help make them even better.

[Image courtesy of Greenleaf Designs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

Will the Karma be the Death of GoPro?

Last week GoPro recalled all 2500 of its Karma drones because they might randomly lose power and fall to the ground. There’s no doubt that a recall of this magnitude on it’s first attempt at a new market is bad.

Is GoPro doomed because of this? Massive recall. Major embarrassment. Major hit to the brand.

GoPro makes small HD sport cameras and tons of accessories. That’s what they are known for. They are like Kleenex or the defunct Flip camera. Their product name defines the device class. People buy cheap “GoPros” from China. No matter who makes the sport camera, people call it a “GoPro”.

GoPro owns the small sport camera market.

Unfortunately the recall comes shortly after other bad news:

“It was the second negative announcement coming out of wearable camera maker: a few days before GoPro reported declining sales and immense underperformance. Sales were down 40% compared to the same time in 2015.”

Flip died because they saturated the market and never really improved on their product. Other cameras/phones ate up what little market they had. My iPhone 5 was a better Flip camera than Flip ever made.

You can see GoPro trying to break into this new market as well as trying to improve the main thing they sell. That’s great for cameras and maybe even stabilizers, but the drone market is really full right now. it’s very competitive.

When the Karma was announced many people thought it would be “the” $1000-ish drone to buy. It had some cool features and you could take the stabilizer off and use it hand held.

Then DJI dropped the Mavic Pro announcement. And reports  Karmas were having issues started to surface. The reviews of the drone were not great. Drifting, gimbal tilt and other complaints began to circulate.

Turns out, people who buy a drone want it to work as advertised. The stabilizer and ability to use the camera on other things is great, but if the drone doesn’t work right… and now is recalled… It’s bad.

What’s next for GoPro?

According to their website they still plan to sell the Karma after they fix things:

“GoPro is committed to providing our customers with great product experiences. To honor this commitment, we have recalled Karma until we resolve a performance issue related to a loss of power during operation. We plan to resume shipment of Karma once the issue is addressed.”

It’s important to note, this isn’t a “send it in and get it repaired” recall. This is a “return for full refund” kind of recall. This is also a “We will give you a free Hero5 Black for your trouble” kind of recall.

They are serious about getting these back and giving everyone a Hero 5 Black. A free GoPro camera will go a long way to soothe hurt feelings. But it won’t fix the trust issues with the drone. And if the financials indicate the market for GoPro’s main product are slowing, they need a new market fast.

They can’t just fix the Karma, they need a new Karma that’s a “Mavic-killer” out within a year. Or they need some other new product. Otherwise, GoPro might become the next Flip.

Getting Paid via Amazon Video Direct

IMG_7243I got my first very small payment from Amazon Video Direct. It’s small because of my content, not because of anything Amazon did. I see people complain about the $75k limit Amazon imposes on their payments. I would love to have the problem of hitting that limit. If you have a film that is generating that much revenue, you don’t need to be on Amazon Video Direct, you need a different (larger) distribution option. But for most of us, this is just fine.

But I got paid. And I got paid more than I did on Youtube. On Amazon I have a total of 13 videos, all dramatic content. No DIY or how to videos. I have over 100 videos on 2 accounts over at Youtube. Those 13 videos in the month of June earned more than the 100 on Youtube. The next month was even better, so I will see a “larger” small payment. The July payment will be larger than any month ever in Youtube payments. Part of that is because this content is new to a new audience.

The evidence from these past few months is that the Amazon outlet has the potential to bring in more even than Youtube, in general. If you can generate short content on a consistent basis, you could see a steady stream of small payments. The video that has been watched more than any other in my library is a 2 minute comedy short. I have no idea how people are finding it. I have promoted the others to my network more than this one. But it is, organically, doing better.

It’s a bit of a hassle to jump through the hoops to get content on AVD, but it looks to be a real outlet to get your content in front of another audience, and to get paid something for it.

“Click, Click…” Casting Call

Short Film Casting Call
Paid (Very Low Pay)
Time Commitment: One Saturday morning. (Approx 3 hours)
Title: “Click, Click…”
Premise: Cindy discovers her boyfriend, Brad, has found a new way to read social media clickbait articles. She takes matters into her own hands after it’s clear that Brad has become addicted to social media.
Cast– Young couple. (The couple can be in their 20s, 30s or 40s. Age may vary depending on who auditions, I will match the best pair up)
Brad– Intense, smart, loves his girlfriend, but is addicted to social media “news”, expressive face a plus.
Cindy– Spunky, smart and willing to fight for her man, but not willing to be a runner up in his life.
Script– It’s very short, just 3 pages. End product will be about 3 minutes.
The shoot is one scene in one location, will be shot in a few hours on a Saturday morning. Shot in a home in east Longview, TX.
Pay– A stipend of $25 will be given to cover gas and expenses. (It’s low, basically minimum wage.) Film credit given. Clips can be provided for your reel.
Wardrobe– You will need to provide your own wardrobe. Just one outfit.
Water and snacks provided.
Auditions will be via video. Contact scott@scottlinkmedia.com with headshot, film/acting experience. You can submit a video of a piece you choose or tape yourself performing a side I provide.
Outlet- The finished video will be made available online on Amazon Video and Youtube, possibly some festivals.
About me- I’ve done several personal short films, and short films for my real job making video for Mobberly Baptist in Longview. You can see examples of my work at www.scottlinkmedia.com.

The Quality Ramp

rampHave you ever watched something you did several years ago and cringed at how bad it was?

I had this experience recently. When the pilot episode of my show became available on Amazon Prime, I watched it with my family. Ug. That was hard to do.

It wasn’t the worst video I’d ever seen. I mean, the story was basically solid. The core structure worked OK. But the lines, it’s obvious this was one of my first scripts. I kept having the actors tell the plot instead of show the plot. (Really, this is a problem in many of the episodes of the series…)

We didn’t know what we were doing. Production quality was subpar. I mean, I knew how to run a camera, but I’d never shot a dramatic scene. I’d read a book, so I knew to get coverage with a master, some over the shoulders and close ups. We had some decent (for the time) equipment, but not nearly enough lighting tools. I think we had about 3 lights, with varying color temps. We had a Sennheiser 816 shotgun, a really long microphone, and a couple of lav mics. Many times the shotgun was just too far away from the source, capturing quiet dialogue and loud room noise. I spent way too much time in post trying to fix it. And of course, it didn’t get fixed. And many of our actors were first timers. Or they had stage experience with no film experience. In post, I was in love with every line. I don’t think I cut any of them.

There were so many ways it could have been better. But the end result was still a decent story that set up a 10 episode series. A series that won awards, not because it was amazing, but because there weren’t many people even trying to do anything like it back then. A series that dealt with real issues facing Christians today. Something, that even now-3 years later- is still being seen.

I knew even back then that the quality wasn’t very good. I almost didn’t release it. I actually went and watched the first attempts of other filmmakers, and compared my work to theirs. I realized two things:

1, Everyone has room for improvement, and some successful filmmakers started out as bad as I was.

2, If you wait until you’re an expert to do anything, you’ll never do anything. You have to start where you are, and work to improve.

It’s the 2nd point that’s the most important.

How did a volunteer cast and crew spend under $9000 to produce an award winning 10 episode series that was shown on 4 different networks (JCTV, NRB, Parables, The Walk), tons of different local channels, satellite around the world, translated into another language in Romania, is still available on the internet and now a VOD streaming platform? We didn’t know we couldn’t.

I know people who are smart, talented and have an amazing idea just waiting to be produced. And that idea just keeps waiting. But part of the point of independent film is the freedom to try to make your idea. You don’t have to wait for a big studio to come by. And if you are a filmmaker who has never made a film, then you’re caught in a Catch 22- You won’t make your film because you want it to be good, but no studio will help you make your film because you’ve never made a good one.

For Christian TV producers, there is no hope (at this point) of ever getting the funding to make your episodic, dramatic show from one of the religious networks. Thats not how the model works. They exist because content creators (namely preaching/teaching/talk shows) buy time from them. They do not pay to have programs produced, and they normally do not pay for existing programs. There are exceptions, but generally this is the rule. So the chance of getting your grand episodic idea funded through a big Christians network is just about zero. You can get your show on the air for free, but even if they give you any money, it won’t be enough to cover the cost of production.
If you want to see your idea become reality, you are going to have to do it. You’re at the bottom, and you have to start moving forward to move up in quality.

That means starting with your script idea and writing it, even if it is horrible. And then keep writing and writing, and creating and creating. Read, learn, study. Get better. improve. Shoot short films. Do projects. Create, and try and keep trying. and keep improving. One day you’ll look back and go, wow, those first things I did were awful. But if you never did your terrible projects, you wouldn’t be able to do your better ones now.

Everyone starts at the bottom of the quality ramp, and if you want to get better you have to keep moving forward.

Releasing Your Episodic Content on Amazon Video/ Amazon Prime

IMG_7243My low budget Christian sitcom Peculiar is now available on Amazon Video! (also my short film BRKN, if you’re interested.)

Since the first episodes started broadcasting in late 2012, I have wanted to see the show available on a major streaming service. Until recently the best (only?) route was to hire an aggregator to try to place your content in iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and anywhere else with a VOD distribution pipeline. Most of those were several hundred dollars up front, no promises. A few would try to place your content for a percentage of what you might make off views/sales.

I’ve never tried to cash in on Peculiar. It wasn’t a huge financial success. Not only did I not have several hundred dollars to spend on this, I didn’t expect to make back any investment that large.  But I do want this series to be available to as many people as possible. After my amicable split with my traditional distributor, I contacted one of the percentage based aggregators. He replied honestly, and not surprisingly, that he felt he could place my show on Amazon, but nowhere else. But I would need to rework the closed caption files. At that time, costs of captioning was a huge hurdle.  I did find a way to get the content onto Amazon Video myself. But, the files would be Standard Definition, not HD. and I could not submit episodic content. I actually questioned an Amazon Create Space representative pretty hard about why this was the case. I never received a satisfactory answer. Any episode I uploaded to Amazon would be low resolution and would stand alone. The only way to get Amazon to group all of the episodes from your series together was to use an aggregator. So I tabled the idea.

Enter Amazon Video Direct. (AVD)

In May of 2016 Amazon announced it’s new service.  Open “to any video creator, the e-commerce giant will compete head-to-head with Google’s YouTube for video-ad dollars and views as well as other big Internet video distributors like Facebook and Vimeo.”  What that boils down to is a way for independent content creators to upload their video creations to Amazon and make them available through the streaming site. You can upload any short, feature, series, documentary… anything, and make it available to Amazon’s streaming audience. The company shares revenue for purchases and pays similar to Youtube for free Prime streaming. You could even set up a subscription service through AVD, but I don’t know much about that.

So, how do you use it?

  1. Got Content? First, of course you need content that you have permission to, or own the rights to distribute in this manner. I don’t yet know how content ID is going to work, but you can bet that like Youtube, computers will be scanning this library to find copyright violations.

  2. Set up your account. You will need to add your bank and tax information before you can publish your content.

  3. Prep your content. AVD supports Pro Res 422, MPEG-2, and h.264 (in certain wrappers. h.264 in a QT .mov wrapper is not supported.). I uploaded my files in a Quicktime Pro Res 422 file. These files are huge. But they are also pretty much lossless, when compared to the MPEG2 or h.264 formats. Plus I had my series stored in this format. But upload speed is critical. Try to find a commercial connection you can use. It would take me days to upload just one file if I tried to do this at home. If you have 5.1 surround audio, then you will need to use either the MPEG 2 or h.264 file format.

  4. Prep Your captions. You must have closed captioning. Period. The end. Luckily, there are quite a few ways to get captions for your content. You can pay, but if you use Adobe Premiere CC, you can create them inside the editor. I already had .scc files from when my show was broadcast. But they were 608, roll up captions, and timed for a 28:30 show with 2:00 breaks. Adobe CC imported them like a champ, and allowed me to make edits as needed. I exported the 608 captions to a “sidecar” .scc file and we were good to go. AVD can take 608 or the much nicer 708 captions. Both can be created in Adobe CC. This is the single biggest hurdle for publishing videos on AVD. I gave up on a 708 caption file I created myself for a standalone short film, and I am still having issues with their process. I have only been able to get an .scc 608 caption file to work for content with a 29.97 fps, so far. Even 608 captions for 24p content with an .xml caption file have been rejected. [Update: In the end a 608.srt file worked with 24p content. In my experience 2 file types that Premiere can create that work with AVD: 30fps can use .scc 608, 24fps can use .srt 608.]

  5. Prep Your Graphics. Before you can publish your videos, you need a graphics package. This is what Amazon shows people when they look for your content. There are key graphics and a background graphic. Follow the image size requirements, and choose something that will catch the eye of your audience. I had a set of promotional images I’ve used for the show for years, so I adjusted them to fit these sizes. Episodic content requires both a 16×9 key image and a 4:3 Key image. (Standalone content requires 16×9 and a 3:4 image.)

  6. Upload. If you have a series, you don’t have to upload every file at the same time. You will need to have all the metadata filled in, cast and crew, graphics, etc… and then select the video files and captions, select the availability of the content. If you want to sell a season pass, you need at least 3 episodes uploaded. You can select when you want the content to be available, but I just chose as soon as possible.

  7. Publish. Once you think you have everything ready, hit Publish. If you forgot anything, you will have the chance to correct it. Then be prepared to wait. It takes Amazon a few days to look at your content and publish it. You will see small green circles for the areas the content will eventually be available. They should be half full and green. Once everything is approved and live, they will be all green. I published episodes over a period of time. My “circles” would still be half full, but episodes would already be available for viewing. Once every video file has been approved, then it will show completed. What if you want to change something? Then just go back into the dashboard of AVD, re upload the file, change the txt, etc… and hit save. Then wait several days again for the changes to take effect.

  8. Promote. Amazon has instructions on how to link to the streaming page for your content, and some “Watch on Amazon” graphics. And of course, you will want to let your existing audience know about this new outlet.

So far over 350 minutes of content have been watched. That will pay me… less than $1.00. But that’s OK, I’m not trying to get rich on Amazon, I want people to see the projects I’ve been a part of. If you can navigate the tricky caption requirement, making your content available on Amazon Video open it up to a whole new, pretty large, audience.

[Update: 8 months later, I consistently make 4-5 times more for views of the 12 videos I have on AVD vs the 60+ videos I have on Youtube. I’ve done nothing but make it available, no advertising, very little promotion.]

“No Excuses” Sermon Series: Quick Comedy

In late 2015 our creative team met with pastoral leadership to discuss upcoming sermon series for 2016. One of the ones that got me most excited was called “No Excuses.” In our creative time we planned to shoot 6 comedic videos that show cased excuses that Christians give when talking about why they don’t share their faith. They had to be short, and they had to be funny.

2016 turned into a very busy year for video production at the church. Including the weekly video announcements, 2 video creators were tasked with completing 36 video projects in just under 3 months. A difficult task no matter what sort of videos are required. A short film project is a whole extra level of complication. after meeting about the workload, and planning an aggressive production schedule, we decided to go ahead with the series as planned.

Here’s the series broken down by the numbers:

-6 two-minute short films used as sermon bumpers.

-2 couples with limited acting experience playing the characters.

-4 days of shooting on a very small budget: We bought a few props.

-2 weeks after the first day of shooting the first film was shown.

-9 weeks total for production and post for all six short films.

-12 other video projects completed during the same 9 weeks.

Obviously,  that’s an insane schedule, but I wanted very much to keep it. I felt that sing humor to broach the subject of reasons why people don’t share their faith was the right approach. And I just like filmmaking. It’s incredible that I can sometimes do it as a part of my job. The fact that we were able to complete these projects is largely due to a lot of pre production and planning. Nothing ever goes according to plan, but that work paid off, as it always does.

Watch the entire series below:

Excuses #1: The only people I know are Christians.

Excuses #2: I’m not qualified.

Excuse #3: I don’t want to push my faith on other people.

Excuse #4: People might make fun of me.

Excuses #5: I’m too busy.

Excuse #6: I’ve tried it before and it didn’t work.