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3.22.2016

PRODUCTION TIPS: Get Hollywood To Notice By Becoming A YouTube Star

So there is a benefit to becoming famous on Youtube.

Feature-length films starring YouTube stars are getting Hollywood's attention. In their quest to de-risk a film and make a film with a built-in audience and marketing potential at little cost, they have decided to invest in films starring people popular in the digital world. According to THR:
There were about a dozen such "film" projects in 2015 alone, and that number could double this year as major entertainment players look to cash in. These digital-focused films follow a similar, and more inexpensive, formula on their way from concept to completed project. According to numerous industry sources, studios will pay between $500,000 and $1.5 million to produce the movie, and the marketing spend is a fraction of the minimum $20 million that a studio normally would shell out. 
Instead of going to theaters, studios typically distribute the films through iTunes and Vimeo, where viewers can download them for about $10. The studio can then strike deals with subscription streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu; YouTube also has been scooping up rights to projects for its paid service. 
Promoting the films is simple: Bank on the millions of loyal fans the YouTube stars already have on social media. Take Tyler Oakley, who has racked up 8 million YouTube subscribers, 5 million Twitter followers, 6 million Instagram followers and 3 million Facebook fans. He used those channels to promote last year's Snervous, an hour-and-20-minute film about his recent world tour that reached the No. 1 documentary spot on iTunes. 
That devoted fan base makes turning a profit practically a given, according to insiders. Although there are no box-office sales to track, several of these films have topped the iTunes charts, and the most successful can return as much as 10 times the initial investment.
It really comes down to getting the audience's attention:
"In an industry awash with a lot of product, one of the challenges is to cut through the noise to address an audience directly," explains Sam Toles, who heads global content and distribution at Vimeo, which distributed Bad Night, The Chosen and five other titles in 2015. "These films come with a built-in audience. They are ready, hungry and willing to support their favorite creators." 
The moneymaking potential (admittedly only a percentage of what a studio could make on big-budget fare) has digital companies such as AwesomenessTV, owned by DreamWorks Animation and Hearst Corp., and traditional studios including Legendary and Lionsgate investing in the space. 
The digital-star-driven genre began three years ago with Camp Takota, an hour-and-35-minute comedy launched by WME to show off comedians Grace Helbig, Hannah Hart and Mamrie Hart. The agency designed a budget based on projections of how many fans would preorder the film or spend more for bundles that included merchandise. There was no mar­keting spend, but WME partner and head of digital Chris Jacquemin boasts that the movie made a significant profit. "The revenue potential is pretty significant," he says of this model. "Even though we're not talking about hundreds of millions in revenue, that's not the point. For a very small investment, you get a respectable return. And if you can scale a slate of those pro­jects, the odds of repeating that success and having a breakout hit increase significantly." 
There's money to be made for the social media stars, too. Conversations with reps for several top stars reveal that talent regularly take fees below $100,000 in exchange for as much as 15 percent of the backend on a film. In some cases, the talent pool can command as much as half of the movie's profits. 
However, if this is something that you want to do, you better hurry up and get your presence felt online ASAP:
[T]he economics are changing as traditional players expand in the space and deep-pocketed producers step up their budgets and marketing spend. Awesomeness Films, for example, has started scooping up scripts such as the R-rated Shovel Buddies and the rights to popular novels including YA hit Before I Fall. 
And traditional stars are starting to join the casts. Legendary Digital Media's dystopian drama The Thinning teams up Vine star Logan Paul and former Disney Channel star Peyton List (Diary of a Wimpy Kid films). "This script and story were not written for influencers; it was written for great actors," says Greg Siegel, senior vp development and production at Legendary Digital. "We want to make these films as broadly accessible as possible and not make them feel like we're just plugging in YouTube stars." The unspoken reason for the evolution of these projects is the stigma that the movies are lower quality because they feature online talent. Matt Kaplan, a former Lionsgate executive who was tapped to run Awesomeness Films last year, has been acquiring buzzier source material and casting traditional stars as he looks to elevate his slate. And he says he won't rule out theatrical distribution in the future.
Becoming a digital star is not for everyone or every project but starting out on YouTube does not mean you compromise your future dreams and goals at the expense of low-quality stuff. This should be a stepping stone move. And there is an aesthetic provided by DIY low-budget short videos that is its own reward. Still, for most people the whole point of starting out on YouTube is to get noticed so that they can move on to bigger things.

That being said, becoming a YouTube star might not be part of your artistic vision since your work might not fall in the type of work that has been most successful on YouTube (like, comedy and life-skills advice). But if you scratch beneath the surface of this article, you will see that the most important point is that you need to develop and grow an audience for your film even BEFORE you make your film. Doesn't matter what type of film it is. Even if your film is a low-budget indie art film, if you get enough subscribers on YouTube, followers on Twitter / Instagram and fans on Facebook, you best believe your film can recoup its initial investment, make money and get the distributors calling your phone.

If you want more tips on strategies to market yourself or your film on YouTube and how to grow and develop your audience, contact me at danny(AT)djimlaw(DOT)com.

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