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Friday, February 20, 2009

Small Money Eventually Gets Big

CinemaTech reader Michael DiBiasio sent me an e-mail yesterday pointing me to this blog post from, a site that hosts video and sells ads and sponsorships for video-makers. It mentions a couple folks who do shows on Blip and have started getting paid decent coin... like $40,000 (for two years' worth of programming) or $25,000 (for a few months worth of shows.)

I'm out in LA this week, and I've been having lots of conversations on the topic of content creation for the Web.

Imagine you are successful in TV or film. You're making six figures a year (if not seven figures), and they let you play with the big cameras, on the big soundstages. You have big budgets and big crews.

Why on earth would the prospect of making $25,000 for a Web series sound appealing?

It wouldn't.

That's why the opportunity exists, for the young and hungry, to define how storytelling will work on the Web... to establish the ground rules of how you build a big audience and interact with them... and to figure out the business models that will turn small money into big money.

I was on the campus of USC tonight, talking with a number of students, and it seems to me that if you're entering the entertainment industry right now, you have this choice: do you want to follow the path that successful people have walked, where you start by working as a gofer or production assistant and over a decade or two work yourself up to the point where they let you make shows for TV or feature films?

Or do you want to pioneer something entirely new?

At the panel I moderated tonight, Evan Spiridellis from JibJab Media had a great line. As he was beginning to make animated films in the 1990s, and starting to enter them in film festivals, he and his brother Gregg started to notice that the Internet seemed to be gaining momentum, and seemed to have some creative potential. Gregg asked Evan, "After you've seen the Model T, do you really want to keep making horse shoes?" Meaning, if you can see where things are headed... why keep doing the old stuff?

One answer is, because you're making a good living at it.

But I'm not sure there are a lot of other good answers...

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  • $25,000. Maybe somebody is still living with their parents, raiding their dad's beer fridge and having mom do their laundry....maybe that would be a good web series. Life of the King of the Internet.

    By Blogger GBH, at 1:45 PM  

  • Hey Scott,

    I heard about your talk down there at USC (on Twitter, of course) too late to make it over there. Looked like a great panel!

    Between the two extremes you mention in this post sits the digital production company I work with that produces web series and featurettes for several of the big network shows.

    As it all boils down to economics, the big studios aren't dumping lots of money into individual webseries or web projects just yet even with big brands sponsoring.

    It's just enough to infuse some high-end production value and just enough to see a little profit, but nowhere near the six or seven figures that you mention and that one associates with working for the big boys.

    The web is still working out its various monetization models, methinks.

    By Blogger Todd Havens, at 7:24 PM  

  • Guys -

    $25,000 only represents a few months worth of's not TV money, but that's nothing to sneeze at either. Especially when the median income in the US is around $50K.

    But also add into that the opportunity to sell other things related to that property - possibly books, posters, t-shirts, etc, dvd collections, speaking engagements, and you have a cottage industry based on making entertainment for people.

    Re: Big people getting into the web game - they will do what Joss Whedon has done and form partnerships with large corporations to finance projects.

    By Blogger Cunningham, at 3:55 PM  

  • CAN'T WAIT TILL I MAKE 7 FIGURES!--digital film school student

    By Blogger what the crust, at 5:29 PM  

  • Good Luck with that Tami...

    Bear in mind $25,000 is a lot mmore than most people trying to get into the film/TV biz will make. Plenty of people trying to produce mainstream stuff need to live in their parent's basement.

    As Scott said, this is for the young and hungry. Think about this: spend three years making short films getting them into festivals, trying to win awards, how much will that cost you? How much time will you spend writing grant application forms or trying to get private finance? Quadruple the time and expendature if you're trying a low budget feature, in an incredibly crowded market. On the other hand, you can make a web series pretty cheap (the production values can be fairly low and it can still look web-good)) and automatically it has the potential for a bigger audiences. And there's the potential (if not the guarantee) of making money! In fact if you're smart you can do it at weekends in addition to a day job.

    A three minute webisode would be, a weekend of shooting, a couple of evenings editing. The writing would be the hardest part but a small, really committed crew could probably release one episode every 2 or three weeks. That is enough to catch an audience if it is any good.

    By Blogger Dylan Pank, at 5:55 AM  

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