The Tribeca Talks panel “The Future is Short: Storytelling in the Digital Age” offers simple and telling information about how to get your content out there and maybe make some money back. The landscape is still fairly disjointed, with a few too many special sauces brewing in the pot.
The financial future may not be as bleak as it looks.
For documentary director-producer Morgan Spurlock, the most exciting part of creating online content is the fact that as the filmmaker, he owns half of his intellectual property.
“Having a greater stake in what you’re making is huge as a filmmaker,” he says. “The most valuable thing you have is your IP. Through our deals with Yahoo and Hulu, I own 50 percent. Maybe there’s less budget upfront, but a greater ownership in the long run is a much better investment in yourself.”
At The New York Times' newly launched Op-Docs program – a video Op-Ed of sorts – its series producer and curator Jason Spingarn-Koff says that they either share the copyright with the filmmaker or the filmmaker owns it outright, but either way they can release across multiple platforms and are not beholden to the NYT.
YouTube’s foray into original programming is still trying to find it’s footing, but they don’t claim to be a licenser in the traditional sense.
“We’re not going out and paying on a per film basis,” says YouTube’s head of East Coast and Canadian TV Laura Lee. “We won’t be taking a bundle. We really want to get into originals because we thought that there were so many captivating stories that weren’t being told to a wider audience. We figured we could essentially piggy-back on our local base and go at it that way – expanding on something that’s already there.”
To celebritize your video or not.
Although no one will deny that having a big name draws a big crowd, it’s not necessarily the answer to your YouTube video’s problem.
“We’re finding people very interested in hearing about real people that have real stories,” says Spingarn-Koff. “Rather than just having a celebrity because they’re a celebrity.”
Spurlock’s show the Failure Club on Yahoo is getting a million hits per episode and it’s about completely unknown individuals in the Tri-State area.
Of course, that’s Spurlock and The New York Times. In order for regular Jane Shmane to get her work seen on YouTube, etc. she’ll need to do more than just upload her video. All the unsexy stuff about online content, like metadata and keywords and SEO tags, even just knowing to click on ‘monetize’ is necessary to begin the process of gathering the audience you want and the numbers you’re looking for.
Change your approach when creating short-form.
Michele Ohayon of Magnet Media – an accomplished feature documentary filmmaker – admits she thought it was crazy when Focus Forward approached her to make a 3-minute film.
“Once I wiped the slate clean and stopped editing the way I’ve edited my feature footage,” she says, “I realized it gives you a certain freedom to go with the most important part of your story. I’m not talking about sound bites, I’m talking about something my 14-year-old son will actually watch and pay attention to.”
Spurlock was looking to create a venue for documentary films that didn’t seem daunting to audiences. He realized that mainstream consumers often see docs as like a medicine that is a bit hard to go down, but with 3-minute shorts it becomes a lot easier to advocate change for a certain cause or at the very least be a touchstone to a larger audience.
“The reality is that no one really wants to watch a documentary about poverty and education,” explains documentary director-producer Annie Sundberg, talking about her commissioned project by The Sundance Institute’s Skoll Foundation on anti-poverty education program called Youth Build. “I hate to admit it, but it’s true. So we made it into 3-minute shorts to be released every month to highlight the key aspects of their work. We took a vision of a long-form documentary and went short with it to reach the audience we needed and to work within the budget constraints we had.”