The Foundations Podcast

I just launched my brand new podcast. You can listen now at anchor.fm/foundations. Soon it should be available on your favorite podcast platforms. I’m kind of stoked about it. I have 7 episodes written so far, with plans for 9 episodes this season. I could add a few more.

Topics include:

Episode 1- Who, Why, and What?
Episode 2: Why we can trust the Bible as the foundation of our worldview
Episode 3- A lot about Lot.
Episode 4- How to develop a biblical worldview
Episode 5- How to study the Bible
Episode 6- Slavery, Polygamy, and Other Bad Things in the Bible 
Episode 7- LGBTQ and The Church

I’m not exactly sure how often episodes will post. Probably once a week. But subscribe and don’t miss an episode.

Advertising in Australia

While Amazon Prime in the US and UK pay royalties about like Youtube (which is minimal), for some reason in Australia they pay $.25 per hour of streaming. That means one viewing of my film pays almost the same a someone renting it for $1.

But I live in the US, so how can I get people to watch Down Under? There is a thriving homeschool community in Australia. So, I gave advertising a shot.

I reset my geo location for Facebook ads to Australia. I targeted people who like homeschooling and speech. And I floated a $5 experimental brand awareness ad.

In 2 days I saw 2,279 impressions with a reach of 1,616. FB says 80 people had ad recall lift. 5 clicks.

Of course, this isn’t a true funnel, and it just the tip of any excursion into that market. I’ve asked Filmhub if I can get a direct link tot he film on Amazon, so I can use it in future ads.

And, since Filmhub reports monthly, I have to wait to see if any of those clicks actually watched the movie. But, if they did it could be an interesting venue.

The Scary World of SVOD

Prime Video

So, I flipped the switch and my feature length documentary is now available on SVOD. Right now that’s Amazon Prime, but hopefully some other platforms will pick it up.


I worked a year an a half on this movie, and now people can see it for basically free. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever produced. It’s not perfect. But it ain’t bad either. In the target audience, it has been well received.
But entering SVOD is scary…


Why is it scary?


Money.
Most people don’t think much about his much the indie films they watch cost to make. They don’t care if a studio make their investment back. They don’t think about whether an indie film might make it back. It just doesn’t enter their mind.


But as a filmmaker who both raised and invested his own money, I think about it. A lot. 


In an ideal world, my film would make back enough to fund the next one. in a realistic world, I’d like to break even. That means it as to earn enough revenues to recoup everything it cost of get it out there. That’s where windowing comes in. 


Big movies launch in theaters, then go to digital TVOD for a while, then physical media, then later it hits SVOD. Self distributed movies may have physical copies, but some, like mine, are only available via digital. So there’s a TVOD window and then an SVOD window.


it’s a balancing act to decide when to switch windows. It’s hard to get people spend money to see an indie film. It’s easier to get them to try one on a subscription service. But the royalty difference between TVOD and SVOD shows just how much easier it is.


I thought long and hard about this issue. I don’t know if it will ever make the money it cost to create back. (That stinks) I do know that I found a really good audience to advertise too. But none of them were tipped into spending cash when I ran the “funnel.” And industry people say that SVOD is where the views are, not TVOD. My own unscientific survey also showed that people my spend money on indie film, but would prefer to watch on a subscription service.


So it makes sense to move it here.


But based on the Amazon royalty for my film right now means that it takes 12 Prime views to equal one $1.99 rental. So to make more money, I have to find 12 people interested enough to watch the film for every person I would have found who would have rented it. This audience better be a good one. Preliminary results are good, but I’m also running ads to drive viewers to the site.


It’s easier to make more movies if you have a track record of success and funds from that success to launch you. SVOD has a long tail, but it’s also the last window… (lumping Advertiser supported VOD in)

Comments and odd reviews
SVOD attracts weird reviews and comments.


When a film is in TVOD a viewer has to really want to see it. Unless it’s just terrible, they probably won’t leave an odd review. They were really interested in it, so much so that they paid money to watch it as a rental or purchase.


However, SVOD users don’t have to be interested to try out a film. I have often clicked and tried films i would never pay money for. Just to see. That also means people who are not your target audience, or who are just trolls who have wandered out from under their bridge might watch and comment or review your film.


i know it’s hard to believe the internet could engender such behavior. I actually stopped making tutorial videos on Youtube partially because the comments were so toxic. There were other reasons, but that environment played into it.


Places like Amazon aren’t quite that bad, but you do get your fair share of weirdness. The comedy short “Carjacked” that I wrote and directed got a 1-star review simply because it was a short comedy. I mean, it’s not a secret. What did the viewer expect? Long drama?


Luckily, a few people have reviewed the film on Amazon (3 as of now) and it’s still at 5 stars. I expect that to change. And frankly, even bad reviews help drive the algorithm. 


It’s scary to be in SVOD. I don’t know what will happen. its like releasing the movie all over again. What if people hate it? What if they don’t?
Well, I like it. I’m proud of it, even with its flaws.


If you want to watch on Amazon, check it out here: amzn.to/2mu5msO


If you like it, leave a review. If you don’t, send me a message telling me how much you hate it. 

Facebook Advertising for Filmmakers: Finding the right audience setting

I’ve been trying to crack the code on how to advertise my niche documentary via social media. Specifically, how to earn more money than expended on the ads. I am in the TVOD window, and am trying to generate rentals and purchases to recoup the cost of making the movie.

I recently tried the FB conversion funnel using my small social media following, and it didn’t work well. I used the same funnel with a larger audience for my work, and generated a 20% increase in attendance for an event. So the funnel works, but my audience was too small.

So I decided to run some experimental ads. Not full funnels, but trying audiences groupings to see what worked. My plan was to run a few days of brand awareness and then a few days of video interactions, and see what happens.

I tried 2 sets of audiences. I spent just $10 per ad set, so total buy was $40. Small, experiment.

My content was a specifically targeted video ad for the brand awareness, followed by a generic trailer for the video interaction week.

The first set was a super tiny, very targeted audience. About 1000 or so potential members.

Brand awareness ad had a reach of 429 with a frequency of 1.89, resulting in 809 impressions, and estimated ad recall of 40. 5 people clicked the link to my website.

Facebook can also track how much attention viewers pay during brand awareness campaigns. I saw 21.88% Attention Impressions, meaning 1 out of 5 people paused when scrolling by my ad. So, I’m hitting the right group. But is it big enough?

The next ad set for video interactions with the same, tiny audience saw a reach of 384, with 123 video view, and a frequency of 2.99, which means I had 1147 impressions. 15 people clicked the link to my website. I again had an estimated ad recall of 40 people, or 10.42%.

Seems like a good target, but the frequency of 2.99 for just a $10 buy is worrisome. A larger buy would see a higher frequency. Audience felt a bit small.

For the 2nd ad experiment, I used detailed targeting to select people who liked or interacted with 10 popular homeschooling websites. This provided an audience of about 370,000.

The percentages were about the same. Very similar in ad recall. Frequency was lower because it’s a larger audience pool. But the number of people factored into a much better reach.

For brand awareness as the goal, cost per impressions was half for the larger audience. For video views the cost was 25% of the smaller audience. Same trailer, the small audience played through 123 times, but for the larger audience, it played through 624 times.

Video view reach for the small audience was 384. Reach for the larger one was 1983. Both had the same budget. Both had same ad recall lift of about 10%. But because the audience was larger, the ad recall lift of 10% means 200 people recalled my trailer instead of just 40.

So, what does this mean?

I’ve been struggling to find the right sized audience to target. FB’s funnel is set up thinking you have a good sized audience to funnel people from brand awareness to interaction to sale. But my established FB/IG pages do not have that reach.

So I have been looking for an additional targeting measure. The first audience was too small. But this second one with 370,000 members seems like it is the right size. And every interaction was positive, with organic shares and recommendations to other people.

My next move is to run a special via Vimeo On Demand and shoot for traffic to the Vimeo page. (Since Vimeo isn’t my page cannot track actual conversions so it confuses the ad algorithms to try that).

So I’m spending $10 again but trying for conversions. In this case, leads generated by people clicking through my website to places they can buy or rent the film.

I am trying to find an audience pool large enough and reachable enough to generate sales greater than cost of advertising. I want to reach that awareness tipping point where enough people know about the film that it can organically see sales. We did not achieve that at launch. Frustrating when you know a film is well received by its target audience, but a big part of the target audience isn’t aware of it.

The Documentary Is Out!

cover 1new fontIt’s been a crazy week. I forgot to post that the documentary is out! It’s currently available at Vimeo on Demand and Christian Cinema. It’s been submitted to Amazon, through Amazon Video Direct, an I thought it would have already been out by now, but… still waiting. UPDATE: It’s live on Amazon Video now!

In the mean time, on this path of self distribution, I have partnered with FilmHub. FilmHub is an aggregator without upfront fees. They take 20% of any sales to or through any outlet they set up. There’s no contract, and its not exclusive.

So, I have excluded SVOD and AVOD rights for North America. I’m only allowing TVOD (Transactional Video On Demand)for now. In North America you can only buy a copy.

But FilmHub has already started the placement with Amazon Prime in other, non-North-American countries. These are countries I cannot reach through Amazon Video Direct. So that’s great.

I would really like to get placed on iTunes…

On Being a Part-Time Filmmaker

I’m a part-time filmmaker.

What does that mean? Well, first I have a day job. There was a point in time when I quit my day job to try to produce episodic Christian TV content. It was well received, but didn’t pay. So I went back to a real job. So filmmaking isn’t where I make living.

Obviously, I’m also an independent filmmaker. I don’t work for a studio, or in the studio system. I don’t even work within the Christian studio system, such as it is. Instead, I make movies in my spare time. I make movies I want, but I have limited resources.

I work on movies in my spare time. I am currently 3 months behind in releasing my movie. Normally my projects are small, so I can do them quickly, in the time I have. But my current film is a feature project. It’s my first full-length feature, ever. And it’s been interesting.

My original goal was to release it by Christmas. Now, I’m working hard to release it before April. I’m close. Because I do this in my spare time, it’s hard to stay on a schedule. And the larger the project, the more that can delay you. Life is full of surprises. And no project will ever be more important than my family, so if I have to choose between them, the film loses out.

I cannot wait to release this movie. It’s the best work I’ve ever done. It’s a micro budget documentary, but the stories are good. If you have any interest in speech & debate, homeschooling or competition in general you will enjoy it. I want people to see it.

I can’t believe I’m almost done. I’ve been working on this so long I can barely imagine not spending every weekend possible editing or shooting for this project. It’s been over a year and a half of my life. As of today, it’s been 613 days since I got permission to shoot the documentary. Add another couple of months of work before that, getting ready, pitching the project, etc… That’s a long time.

Part-time filmmakers have to do most things themselves. I’m hiring out the closed captioning, but everything else in post production I’ve done myself. People say you shouldn’t edit your own films. I’d love to have that option. But because I’m part-time, independent and micro-budget, I do whatever I can. I would even do the captions, but it takes forever and I can get it done professionally for $1 a minute- or for $105 total for my film.

So the weight of the film rests completely on my shoulders. Because I value these stories, I’m doing whatever I can to tell them well. In the studio system, people specialize. They get very good at a small number of things, and work with a large group to make movies. But part-time filmmakers have to be decent at all aspects of filmmaking. We will have some things we are better at, but we have to do everything pretty well.

On the one hand, this is great because we retain complete creative control. On the other, it’s terrible because the parts of the process you are not good at are not done well. The reality is that no matter how hard we try, a one-man-band, part-time filmmaker probably won’t make an Oscar worthy film. That doesn’t mean it won’t be good, but there will be deficiencies. That stinks when you work as hard as we do.

The only thing we can do is tell our stories to the best of our ability. Stories that entertain, that inform, that inspire. They won’t be perfect, but they are important.

Which brings me to the last thing about being a part-time filmmaker, we tell stories we are passionate about. Whether through narrative or documentary, we have the freedom to pick and choose was we want to do. we don’t have to do a film to make a living. We can look for the right story, the one we want to spend our free time doing. When we take on a project it’s because we are passionate about it. If we aren’t, we will not finish it.

When I started my doc film, I was looking for a story I could tell with the resources I had available. I wanted to make a movie. And suddenly this idea popped into my head. I tried a proof of concept film, and then began work on the feature length idea. It is the largest film endeavor I have ever been involved in. But I love the stories of kids overcoming their hurdles and standing up to be judged. I loved the story about how experiences in speech & debate will inevitably impact students, and the world as the students go out- armed with the ability to think, research and communicate. And the kids are great. They are entertaining. I hope my work shows how compelling their lives were during this time.

I made “If My Judges Are ready?” because I loved the idea of it. And I wanted to share it. And when it’s done, I will be looking for the next story to tell… part-time.

The 1-Man-Band Documentary Film: 6 Things To Think About Before You Begin

As I’m putting the finishing touches on my documentary film, I thought I would write a bit about the process of producing, directing, shooting, editing, promoting a 1-man documentary- primarily things you should think about before you begin.

1. Evaluate your resources and limitations before choosing a story to tell.

There are many reasons someone might choose to produce a doc film by themselves, but one of the main reasons is money. A niche-market film iike mine most likely won’t generate revenue to justify additional crew. It was shot on the smallest budget possible, in the most efficient way possible. That means some sacrifices were made. But it also means I could go places a full crew could ever go.

Much of my film happens during speech and debate competitions. I would not have had the access I did if I was not just one guy with a camera. So, while there are disadvantages and compromises to shooting alone, there can be advantages.

Consider your limitations when choosing a story. If you’re doing a micro budget film, with just you as the whole crew, there are some stories you cannot tell. You cannot fly across the world to shoot B roll. And you cannot shoot elaborate re enactments of events. But you can do a lot. Find a story you can tell within your limitations.

What do you have access to? Who do you know? What stores are local to you? What gear do you have? What technology can you employ to allow you to tell the story that interested you? Are you really interested enough in this story to do everything in order to tell it?

What do you know? Or what do you want to know more about? They say you should write what you know, and I think you should shoot what you either know well or really want to know well. You will be the driving force behind this story. If you are not passionate about the subject, if you don’t like the subject, you will not finish.

2. You’re alone.

The very first thing you have to understand is that you’re doing this, and no one is helping you. All preproduction tasks fall to you; location scouting, getting permissions and release forms, gear prep, shooting, editing, building an audience… it all lands squarely on your shoulders. Luckily, if you work at being organized, you can make it happen.

To be successful on the shoot you need to adopt a guerrilla style of filmmaking. Your rig should be small, and easy to manage. Lights will be limited, if you can use them at all. For many days of shooting I just had my Sony a6500 with a Rode Videomic Pro+ and Zoom H1 mounted on it. I carried a spare battery in my pocket. And a monopod with feet attached. That was it. Other times I knew I would be in the same general area doing a lot of impromptu interviews and I added a small 500 LED light panel on a stand.

There are some benefits to this. A large crew or set up can make people nervous which makes them less natural on camera. And, for many locations, getting permission to carry a single, mirrorless camera around was much easier than getting permission to have a full crew on site.

Plus, since you’re the producer and the editor, you know what shots you need. you will naturally shoot with the edit in mind. The shots you take will naturally fit into how you see the film.

3. You’re not alone.

As much as you have to do all the tasks, there will be people along the way who will help. They will donate money, they will offer resources, suggest interviews, and generally help out in some way. You can get so used to operating in 1-man-mode that you miss opportunities to let people who have caught the vision for your film into the process.

4. You’re limited.

You just are. You cannot have two camera ops at different places because it’s just you. You have to plan for and around the fact that you can only capture what you can capture. You only have the man-hours of one person. And if you’re doing a 1-man project then you likely have a day job to work around. You cannot go everywhere and shoot everything. You have limited gear and limited resources. So when planning and executing your film, you have to plan for that.

One way I did this was to purchase and use a short zoom lens. I knew that during debate and speech rounds i could not move to get another angle. And I could not have a second shooter in the room. I needed different shots, framed differently to use as B Roll and main footage. Since I didn’t have another camera operator in the room, I used a short zoom to vary the framing during the round. It’s not perfect but it worked.

5. There’s no excuse for quality.

The viewer doesn’t care how limited you are. If the film is bad, it’s bad. They won’t watch it, they won’t recommend it to others, and generally it will flop. You cannot put a disclaimer at the front of your movie explaining how little money and time you had and expect that to have any impact on their expectations.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to shoot on a Red something or other, and look like a $100 million movie. But you need a good story, decent audio and decent video.

Most consumer cameras, even phones, can deliver decent video if used correctly. So use what you have, and learn how to use it well.

One thing people will not ignore is bad audio. Poor audio quality will make your video appear amateurish, no matter how good it looks. There are 3 scenes in my film that are critical to the story that have challenging audio. They were recorded before I had a good microphone. I have struggled in post production to make these usable. I cut them as short as possible. Used noise reduction, and generally tried to walk the line between too processed and usable.

But more important than audio or video is the story. The story has to be good. It has to be interesting, and succinct. The first time i showed my film to anyone outside my family, it was 2 hours and 5 minutes long. The bones of the story were good, but there were some long and boring parts. In the end i cut another 20 minutes. That’s almost the length of a sitcom. But the story needed to be shorter, needed to move the viewer along.

Not every documentary can follow the beats of a feature film. The hero’s journey, the Blake Snyder beats, the 5 major plot points- many movies have a generally established plot progression, something viewers are familiar with. My film actually follows them to some extent, but not every doc film can do that. But every story needs a beginning, middle and end. That’s non negotiable.

6. Since you’re the one making the movie, then you’re the only one holding yourself back.

This is key. You’re making you’re film. it will get started when you begin it. it will be as good as you can make it. It will get done when you finish it. It will be seen when you promote it.

You have the green light! You don’t have to ask a studio for permission. You can start pre production today.

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More Adventures in Doc Filmmaking

It’s been a year and a half of making my feature length Documentary called “If My Judges Are Ready?” It has been an experience. I’ve written about some of the process before.

Post Production has taken longer than expected. I’ve been working on this mainly on the weekends. And life always gets in the way, it seems. But I am closing in on the end. I want to release the film in the next few weeks/couple-of-months.

So I have been looking at distribution channels more. There are a couple I have relationships with that should be fairly easy. But the rest, I will need an aggregator or some help. I found FilmHub through a friend, and am looking at it pretty closely. No up front cost, just sharing revenue on the back end. Compared to other aggregators, that is way cheaper to get into. And this a niche market film, I hate to think about paying a lot to get placed on an outlet and never making the money back.

I have been looking at all of my licenses. I have been using Filmstro for music, which is awesome. I bought an annual license from them almost a year ago. I think it gave me enough clearances to use the three tracks in the film, but when I went back to check… the licenses had changed. Where I bought a “Personal/Freelance” license before, now they offer a “Pro” and “Pro Plus” licenses. The Pro level is where I was, but the terms don’t include things I need. So, if I can ever get them to send over the old document of licenses I can see if I need to spring for a one-month Pro Plus license. I may do that anyway and get the complete gamut of possible use, even theatrical and broadcast.

I really need a trailer now. I’ve started gathering clips I think would be good in one, but have not settled on the tone of that video yet. This is the full length trailer, not a teaser. I’m hoping to have it done this next week or so.

In the meantime here’s a teaser trailer I made several months ago:

Subtext vs Text in Video

Sub * text:
    The underlying or implicit meaning. A message which is not stated directly but can be inferred.
Subtext is the meaning beyond what is said or shown.
Take this snippet of Dialogue:
Man: Whats wrong?
Woman: Nothing, why do you ask?
On the surface the words mean one thing, but how the lines are delivered may change the meaning completely. If the woman is sarcastic, then we know there is a lot wrong. If the man in threatening and the woman fearful, then we see into their relationship beyond the words.

But subtext can be much more subtle. A candid moment may give a peek into a documentary subject’s state of mind. A beautiful setting juxtaposed with an account of a terrible tragedy provides contrasts to the horror of the story.

As a part of my job I have been involved in a lot of promotional videos. They have taken a lot of forms, but one thing is almost universally true: there was no subtext in them.

In a promotional video, everything is spelled out. You don’t want to leave anything to chance. You want to drive home the point, hit the call to action and get out.

But art is different. Movies and films are art, and art has subtext.

One of the major flaws in many Christian movies is that we eliminate the subtext, converting it to text. We tie it all up in a bow. Everything is fully explained, as though we are afraid someone will interpret the subtext incorrectly and fall into heresy. Non religious films or TV also can fall into this trap, although it’s normally accompanied by a heavy handed messages- like the ones in the CW DC Universe shows. The writers/directors/creators of this content are most concerned with people finishing the show with clear messages than allowing their work to speak for itself.

But that’s not art, it’s promotion or worse, propaganda. And audiences are smart. They see through it, see it for what it is. Audiences will put up with this, to some extent if they 1. agree with the messages, or 2. really like the characters or premise of the story. Audiences who do his will likely remember the message more than the art of the video.

So that’s the question: Are we promoting a message using story and video? Or are we telling a story about a subject and letting that story speak into the lives of those who experience it?

Are you making a promotional piece or art?