Another Missed Opportunity

Today, the Obama Administration recommended making “illegal” streaming of content a felony in the US.

I’m sure that many of my colleagues in the Producers Guild of America applaud this step.

I see it as a huge missed opportunity, and one that will only hasten our demise as a creative industry.

To my fellow producers; don’t you fight with your studio and network execs every single day about costs? Don’t they ask why you can’t do it for less? After all, there’s this kid on YouTube who did this *amazing* thing for no money…

Every day, our distributors ask us to do more, for less money. And it’s not because piracy is destroying our business; it’s because there’s MORE COMPETITION in the content marketplace. Vastly more.

And the more audience we drive away from our product via these campaigns of criminalizing our underserved audience; the more we drive distributors and networks to either acquire content that was produced by that YouTube kid, for a lot less money than funding your project; or they go out of business. Or sell off a channel to someone else (OWN, anyone?).

Instead of finding new ways to band together, and create new business models; ones that include production financing, we’re shooting ourselves in the other foot. We’re going to go from a hobble, to sitting in a wheelchair.

Instead of finding ways to support those young producers coming up who CAN do a lot of things better, faster and cheaper than we can; we shut them out by saying “here’s what we believe about our Intellectual Property, it’s WORTH MORE than yours is,” and you know what? When a Charlie Sheen auto-tune music video gets 10m views in a week and half; we’re wrong.

The Five Rules of Media Creation

As I work to create more videos in my spare time (ha!), I wanted to post my current thesis on new media creation; and what Producers need to do in order to compete with television. I’m assuming those reading this actually would like to make money off their video products one day. If you’ve no intention of ever showing your videos to a wider audience, then really, none of this applies;)

But for the rest of you, make no mistake, if you are making new media, television (and quite possibly theaters too) are your competition.  So are games, and the web at large.

The question is, how do you grab the attention of your intended audience and keep it?  Let’s get the obvious point out of the way, that is:

Tell a Great Story.

But beyond that, there are five things that we must learn from our competition as we attempt to wrest audience and maybe even dollars away from them and to our own media and/or sites.

  • Plan ahead

Far ahead.

Networks and Studios both engage their “investors” (in the case of television, it’s ad buyers, who attend each year’s upfronts, in the case of Studios – it’s their investment bankers) far in advance in order to gain their investments.

Brands plan their ad buys for Fall, based on what they see from the networks in Spring; a 6 month lead time.New Media producers looking for brands to help fund their already-in-progress shoots are way behind the curve.

Figure out how to create your up digital upfront package and get brands or companies behind you, with a coordinated plan as to how they will benefit from the final media release; OR make a plan to self-finance your content until you have enough traction to attract either ad dollars or a fanbase loyal enough to patronize your content production (via subscriptions, donations, Kickstarter, etc.)

  • Become Technically Proficient

New media, and low cost programming in general, means that you yourself are going to be wearing a lot of hats.

It means you can’t be the person in the corner office *just* coming up with ideas.  The things you should be minimally proficient at:
– Creative formatting, writing outlines/beat sheets or scripts to follow
– Operating a camera
– Editing, Compressing & Uploading video

Bonus points for learning motion graphics software, and website building platforms.

  • Be Brand-Safe Aware

You serve two masters.

One is whoever is helping your media stay afloat financially, and the other is your audience/traffic.

Like love and marriage,  you can’t have one without the other (go ahead, sing it to yourself); so Brand “safety” answers the question;  Is your content creatively safe for the brand?

A lot of major brands shy away from content that contains swearing/nudity or violence.  So make an assessment or ask your brand what their comfort levels are.  If you don’t know, assume that their tolerance for those elements is pretty low, and move up in conversations if your creative demands it.

  • Be Covered Legally

Networks spend a lot of money on lawyers.You don’t have to.

They do this primarily because litigious individuals out there will always sue those with the deepest pockets, and you as the producer need to help legally protect the distributors and the sponsors.  However, there are basic things you can do to lower your liabilities and protect third parties you do business with in creating content, including:

– Clear your music, and/or do not use music you don’t have clearances for
– Get signed deal memos from people working with you, and appearance releases for those on camera, at minimum

Just those two things will put you on the road towards being somewhat covered for E&O insurance; or meeting your sponsors and distribs minimum protection requirements. There’s a few others to learn about; my advice, hire someone who knows if you can.

  • Be Prepared to Advertise

I found out something I kind of knew, but didn’t really think about last week from an Ad Agency.

Their brands (and they have some huge ones) care more about how many eyeballs you’re going to get to see the content, and how you’re going to do that, than the content itself.

Just putting up a piece and hoping it goes viral or gets seen because it’s out there is not enough.You’ll need a strategy that pushes your content in the right places to reach your audience and get the viewership up to make your sponsors happy and be able to make more content.  It may involve Facebook, or Twitter, or a website, or an ad-buying campaign or all of the above.

Have a plan, and be sure to factor it into your time and budget.

So, there you have it; my five rules of media creation in the Brave New World.

No go forth, and make stuff!

You want to create professional media? You’re going to need some help.

I’ll be the first to admit it; there was a time not too long ago that I thought I could create professionally deliverable, full-length video episodes pretty much by myself.  (By “professionally deliverable” – I’m talking about media that you can deliver and/or monetize to third party distributors and be able to get E&O insurance on.  If you just want to distrib on your own site, or someplace that won’t take down your video, and don’t care about takedown notices or lawsuits, then you can just ignore the rest of the post!).

You’d think that after 13 years in the business, I would know better; but apparently it was a lesson I needed to relearn.

Making professional media is a team sport. Sometimes your team might be small, but it’s a very difficult and time-consuming proposition to do it all on your own.

There’s some exceptions to this rule, for sure. Especially if you are young, have very low personal overhead, and no spouse or children. And even better, if you don’t need much sleep.

Making professional grade media is all about focus, and time. The tools are pretty much all accessible, but how much time do you personally have to learn about deliverable formats? Or legal clearances. Or deal memos with the people who help you. Or learn a motion graphics program so you can create your own good-looking titles.

The list of things to handle on your own grows pretty fast when you want to produce quality content in a time and cost-efficient way.

Which is why you need a team.

You can be smart about who and when you have help, and totally crush it (as Gary Vaynerchuk likes to say); but if you’re dead set on doing it all on your own, have a ready supply of coffee, and be willing to wait a long time for a finished product.

I think there’s a few mission critical places in the development, production, and post processes where focused help will get you along much faster, and much further; in particular:

  • Development – have a pro review your script or beat sheet (docu/reality document outlining what it is you’re actually going to be shooting) and schedule and compare it to your budget – making sure you’re not setting yourself up for failure.  Also, the pro should ask you how you plan to distribute, and help you make a list of deliverables accordingly so that you account for the time and/or cost of each deliverable.
  • Production – Either hire a pro to handle, or to teach you/your team how to properly clear your media.  This is hugely important.  Also have them review your equipment lists and that you’ve answered all the questions you needed to, and tested things you don’t know about (for instance, if you need to cover a scene with more than one camera, how are you synchronizing them in post?  Are you slating each time you roll? Or are you getting cameras that can jam sync timecode? Or are you planning on spending lots of time in Final Cut trying to sync things up manually?)
  • Post Production – Start checking off deliverables.  Marketing elements, still images, the video. Metadata. A binder of your clearance items.

It’s doable that you can have a pro just kind of “check in” and give you guidance along the way, rather than hire a producer full time to do this stuff for you.  Point of reference, hiring a Line Producer, who usually brings in 2-4 more production staff to help with this process on a regular tv show, runs between $2000-3000 per week in reality, and anywhere from $3k-12k per week in scripted tv.  Some feature film Line Producers/UPM’s at studios are between $15k-25k per week.

At any rate, you CAN find folks (I’m one of them) who know the waters of media production in a wide variety of formats, and their knowledge and experience will more than make up for whatever it costs to have them on board.

It can mean the difference between being able to distribute your content at all, or not.