It all started at an Event Cinema Workshop I was co-hosting with Kevin Shahinian and Joe Simon. It was the end of the second day, we’d just finished a section on business and had one last round of questions.
There in the back left of the room sat a middle-aged male filmmaker with far more passion than experience. His hand shot up like a rocket. No really…I‘ve taught a few hundred workshops around the world and you could tell this was the kind of question that he wouldn’t leave the workshop without getting answered.
“I think you all are some of the best event cinema filmmakers out there,” he said, “you can create world class content...but…”
And then there was a big giant pause as we waited for the question.
“You spend all of your time working for clients. Why don’t any of you take your skills and use them to create your own content?”
I think Kevin and Joe pretty quickly dismissed him. I mean, really, it’s just not how the industry works. You develop a brand, develop a collection of clients who will pay you fair rates that hopefully you connect with. That was the game. Nowhere did it say you were supposed to veer off and try to create your own thing.
However, I was intrigued.
In the moment, I honestly don’t think I had thought about it before, and I didn’t have a solid answer. I mean, why didn’t we use our talents to create the content that we’d always dreamed about?
And it was this one conversation that slowly evolved into an awareness, and then a passion for, original content. But, let me tell you, that path has been way harder than I’d ever imagined.
Seven or so years after that fateful workshop, we’ve now created our own feature-length documentary, shot three episodic pilots, and developed and pitched what must be a hundred different ideas.
Here are a few ideas we've tried
#standwithme, the story of a 9-year-old girl and her quest to change the world with lemonade.
After a 67-day road trip of screenings and workshops, a film which cost roughly $250,000 to make ended up losing over $100,000.
Real Deal Filmmakers was a reality-style piece that challenged filmmakers to use their ingenuity.
They would compete in filmmaking challenges with the chance of having their dream film green lit. This one died on the cutting room floor. We saw the pilot, felt like it had merit, but just didn’t have the passion for focusing on it, even if we could find a backer.
Rainmakers was a pretty incredible day at the flea market.
Based on the idea that we're all in charge of our own personal wealth, we gave two contestants a day at the flea market and $50 with the challenge to turn it into as much profit at the end of the day as possible.
And then there was Share, the piece we developed the longest and probably had the most hope for.
The concept was pretty simple, though it never really landed. Filmmakers (us) would donate a weekend to try and tell a story that mattered and could help somebody. Taking our background in same-day edits, we felt we could use the timeline as a way to bring some drama to the filmmaking process and connect people to some stories that needed to be told.
Here’s the BIG problem. Not a single idea has worked.
That, right there folks, was the answer I was searching for way back when in the workshop. “We work for clients because, at the end of the shoot, they write a cheque. And if we make our own content then we’ll find ourselves, at the end of the shoot, working to try and get people to watch.”
Getting views is tough enough. But getting people to pay to view is a whole other ball game.
Perhaps it’s naivety, maybe you could call it unbridled passion, or it could even be a deep-seated belief that this has too much meaning and value not to be possible someway, somehow.
And so, despite countless failures, I continue to march forward.
Because I believe that those stories that need to be told are worth fighting for.
And, quite candidly, I’d much prefer to go down swinging for the big dream than spend my life on the sidelines, too worried about striking out.
With that and much anxiety, today is the day that I share the plans for our next foray into original content. It’s called The Remarkable Ones, and it’s a series of shorts on the most inspiring people out there.
These stories are the type of content you’d create even if you weren’t getting paid. Trust me…cause thus far we are paying heaps to make them :)
Dave Jacka, The Quadriplegic That Reached for The Sky, was a pilot for this series (yes, pun intended). As was Lek, The Elephant Whisperer of Chiang Mai.
Will this be the one that works? I sure hope so.
How exactly could it work? Well, that’s something we still need to sort out.
If we get enough views, we might be able to attract sponsors. If we get enough filmmaker interest in the series, we may be able to provide a powerful enough experience that filmmakers will join as a hybrid workshop/once-in-a-lifetime-experience kinda deal.
The content is likely too short (5-12 min an episode) and not standardized enough to get picked up by any larger distribution platform (say Netflix or Hulu).
As a thank-you for sharing this story, and our journey, here is a sneak peak of one of our biggest failures. The Share Pilot that was pitched to Discovery, the Travel Network, and much more–yet never made it past a private link on our Vimeo channel.
Ps–if you’re wondering…that workshop attendee was Grant Peelle. He ended up being the co-director of #standwithme and you’ll see him as talent in the episode below. He’s still helping as we try to sort through this jungle that is original content.
We launch June 13th with the episode of Jason Zook, a man who has made over a million dollars wearing other people's shirts. It’s a story that will show you the power in simply asking for what you want.
We’re then back June 20th with the very personal story of Shane Hurlbut, Hollywood DP, yet also quite the ladies man (as you’ll soon see). His quest for excellence shows us all what's possible when we dedicate ourselves to our craft.
Want to help?
Watch the episode. Every view counts in helping us attract sponsors (and to rationalize all we’ve invested thus far).
Share the episode. The whole idea with the series is to empower people to spread the content to those who could use it. Share it at work, with a friend–whoever you feel the story will resonate with.
And last but not least, reach out right here in the comments and let us know what we can surround the content with to make each episode worth your while to view and share. Let us know what you want to hear about in both the episode development, production, and post.
It can often seem like you’re a faceless visitor as you read posts like this, but hopefully, you can tell from this story, that this dream is real, and your thoughts are appreciated.