This is so critical.
Right now if you are reading this, I don't want you to read for 13 seconds and then disappear. If you are a budding filmmaker or video producer then you are a microbudget filmmaker, and today you're going to pick one area - just ONE NICHE - that you can take your filmmaking gifts and go serve others with and get paid to do it. It's quick and it's absolutely necessary for you to grow to the point you’re directing Hollywood-level movies and signing deals with Netflix. Why? These are both platforms you can leverage to share the good news with!
See, we don’t need another “Pureflix” or “Lifeway.” We need to get off our butts, pick up the camera, cast vision, enable and empower our people, and go share the good news through this little ole medium known as film (and do it without being cheesy). We don't need a "Christians" club, we don't need to pander to the 10 am crowd on Sunday mornings - we need to throw our stories out there where people are at so that they can know there is a God who is crazy about them and is actively pursuing them. And people hang out on Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and other places. You dig?
To illustrate this idea of picking a niche, I will share my goal from one year ago and what it is now.
Then: get a quality visual Gospel into the hands of every single person.
Results: few got behind it - it's such a big vision, and it's hard to know where to start! Church Films ended up in the red in 2015 because I did not know a thing about a vision, mission, or a niche! No one was really helped and every initiative failed.
Now: my goal is to teach 100,000 of you’s how to manage 5-figure budgets so that you can take the same principles and direct larger budgets and crews to tell stories of hope that will reach millions of people. Even that's kind of a lofty goal, but it’s concrete. I have it written up on my board that my goal is to live to see 100,000 of our shared community of microbudget filmmakers land tv/movie deals.
Church Films does one service in the meantime - small business video ads in Las Vegas. The store is for you, my fellow microbudget filmmaker.
Results: the newsletter is at a healthy 555, the company is in the green, and more importantly, one of our microbudgeters landed a 5-figure deal (more on that below)! I had nothing to do with it, but I (and you) get to celebrate it with him!
Once I get to that sweet spot of 100,000, I'll bump the number of people up. It's as simple as that. But that is my job right now. That's what this whole site is dedicated to.
I can't reach enough people with the hope we have in Jesus and do it in a way that's not cheesy or superficial. I need your help. The world needs you too. And the biggest area that we all struggle with as microbudget filmmakers is financing. Even Orson Welles famously said filmmaking is 98% hustle - or in other words, securing finances for your film.
There's a story of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett sitting down with Bill Gates’ mom for dinner and the question was posed to them, what do you attribute to your success? They both thought for a second and then answered, focus on only one thing.
John Lee Dumas of entrepreneuronfire.com (or eofire.com as he’s going by these days) was a huge inspiration for me in starting the Go Boldly podcast. He too also says to focus on just one thing. He even made an acronym out of it. He says focus on, no that's not right, he says follow one course until successful.
That's his acronym: FOCUS.
Note: Season 2 of the Go Boldly podcast is not going to start this fall; it's on an indefinite hiatus. I apologize to everyone who was looking forward to it.
I've talked about this before, and I will talk about it until I'm 6’ under: you have to pick a niche. If you won't, you will not succeed, you will not get funding, you will plateau and eventually burn out and retire your lenses.
Pick a niche. Learn how to fund it. Tell stories of hope.
Don’t know where to start?
Here are several areas that you can pick from and be the go-to-girl or guy in your town without competing on price.
If you stick around ‘til the end, I have a bonus where I’ll walk you through the “formula” you need for figuring out if the investment in one of these areas is worth it for your growth, that of your company’s, your family’s, your crew, etc.
Now, if you live in a town where there is a post office, two gas stations, 3 churches, and Save-A-Lot, then you are probably going to be out of luck. If you live in a metro area, then you definitely need to niche down and be the girl. Or be the guy. Be that person for _______________________ videos.
1. small business videos
With so much technology at our disposal these days, there's no reason why you cannot partner with a business and tell a story that creates an emotional connection between their branding and their target audience like Zappos did here:
If you have no clue where to start with this, then I highly recommend you brush up on how to cold pitch businesses.
You can even hire a virtual assistant through Upwork to help you with finding some of these businesses. And then once you have found these businesses, you can find their emails using some free tools for the most part. If you want to find 500 emails, you probably have to pay to do that kind of volume. But if you're looking for just 50 emails, which is plenty, because you shouldn't be going for quantity but quality in your pitching, then you can use all of these tools for free!
This is what is driving revenue for Microbudgeter right now: small business video ads. And I do believe it is the best place to practice your filmmaking. This forces you to work in the same relationship that you would with a studio or a producer in securing financing for your film. Especially if you're brought on as a director and not so much a storyteller slash director.
Does that make sense?
There are directors that do not write their films but jump into the films and take the written words and turn 'em into a visual experience (example: most Spielberg movies).
This is your opportunity to do the same thing, with the clients and businesses in your backyard acting as your producers. Do it! There is no other place to practice this but in the real world. Not YouTube videos, not Google University, not film school, but the people downtown desperately in need of getting their company “out there” because the market is crowded and they need a Zappos video and a sharp filmmaker to tell people they exist.
Even The Duffer Brothers, the directors behind the new hit Netflix series Stranger Things, had to pitch their vision to some producers from Netflix.
This skill, being able to cast a vision and have people buy into it, or in sales terms, the ability to sell and close a deal, is what separates us from the Christopher Nolans and Alfred Hitchcocks of the world.
2. church videos
Somebody asked me on reddit what the heck a church video is all about, and that's fair.
And yes, reddit is lower-case.
For anybody that has ever been on staff or even served as a volunteer video producer for their church, you understand what this means: announcements, highlight videos from an Easter service or a VBS, or perhaps a testimony video.
Unfortunately, churches are either really big and have enough funds in their budget to hire this work as a part-time if not full-time staff role (which is how my family and I got started in Vegas), or they are too small to even think about affording your services to come in and do a video for them.
Nonetheless, this is an area that is ripe with opportunity.
I did it as a volunteer at the church that I met my wife at in Salt Lake City; it was a small Vineyard church, and because a Vineyard motto ever since the early 80's has been a place for everyone to play, I did just that.
It didn't matter if it was a men's breakfast, I tried to figure out a creative way to tell folks about the breakfast in a minute. This helped me fine-tune my storytelling skills, and I did it with regularity, and the pastor was totally fine with it.
Yes, most of them were cheesy videos, but I learned a heck of a lot, way more than I ever did in film school.
And I've always said it, if there are truly over 300,000++ christian churches in America, then I promise you, they need your gifts. Whether you get paid or volunteer your time for these churches (or just your church) as a side thing, it's a great place to learn and grow and practice all of the intangible skills we truly need as filmmakers.
3. wedding videos
Darren Wilson said it really well: for some people (like me), this is like the 7th ring of Hell.
I know that's harsh. Clearly I'm unable to be objective about wedding videos!
Some people do this really well, and they make a living at it.
Here's a guy that uses his wedding videography as an opportunity to practice his cinematography, which is a great attitude.
As with any of these niches, if you are going to be a wedding video guy or girl, then your Vimeo should reflect only wedding videos. Or whatever portfolio you use, it should only reflect wedding videos.
And be the best in your town. Don't compete on price (in any of these niches, not just wedding videos), charge what your skills are worth, and go do your work unto the Lord and not unto men.
I'll stick with small business video ads.
4. celebration of life videos
Also known as funeral videos.
I started looking just to see what the landscape looks like in Vegas. So I used Google AdWords or rather their keyword tool to see what the competition looks like.
And then I started thinking about more generally what does the competition for this kind of video work look like.
The front page for this has only one guy. ONE GUY. The rest is fodder.
This is a niche that is ripe for opportunity. If you were to niche down and say I'm going to offer my video services as a celebration-of-life video girl or guy, then I promise you, you will find there is ample room to be at the top of this stack.
Because this is something that people either value or they don't. So you already have a curated group of people that need this - you just have to shout really loudly “Hey! I’m here!” so they know that you can help.
When value exceeds price, people pay for a good or a service. And when most people (including funeral homes) only do simple slideshows, then you have an opportunity here to practice your cinematic documentary filmmaking unlike any other time, not to mention bless a family with a quality story.
5. birthday videos
This is kind of like the last two items. Be exceptional and don't compete on price.
6. other special events
Surprise proposals, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, special anniversaries, you name it. Show up, remember who you are an ambassador for, and over-deliver.
I met a guy in Vegas who started dabbling in quinceañera videos; I told him to be the guy for quinceañera videos. Double down; it’s a niche no one is serving in Vegas, and with his talent, he can provide a quality service and be paid well for his creativity.
7. music videos
This one would is hard to break into initially, but like any other niche, if you’re exceptionally talented and better yet, a true servant to your clients, then you’ll be alright. Everybody with a camera thinks they can go and make a music video for their friends that are in a band (that was me too).
That's fine. But if you want to dedicate your side hustle to music videos exclusively, then you need to be working on making videos that look and feel like a legit music video, and they too need to be a sub-niche:
Two seconds in, and you can tell this is a quality video (headsup - this is a screaming metal band, but these guys love Jesus, and their music is all about that love - though I will say the video has some aberrant and downright weird elements... metal):
And not like this. Yes, we all start somewhere thinking we can do it all. Don't be like the younger me. Pick a niche.
8. Live Events
I'm not one for live events usually. It's a different kind of video production all together, and the bigger the platform, the more technology you need to keep everything in sync (literally). This is a super niche field unto itself with its own sub-niches, and it's not my schtick.
But if you're cruising for pre-recorded live events, here's the essential guide for covering all the bases with a live event.
You might be thinking that a lot of these other categories are live events, but they are not. Anytime that you go back to an editing suite to edit your footage, you have not been working a live event.
I'm talking live events are those that you are working with a team that consists of a switcher, shader, a director, camera operators, etc. A live video goes into a broadcast medium such as a streaming service (especially now that YouTube streaming is free) or tv. That's live video production, and it is fiercely expensive.
If this is your cup of tea, go for it.
Be the best at it.
You need to be able to price your services so that you are being paid for your time, your knowledge, and that of the people that you bring onboard with you (your crew). Not to mention you have to have enough leftovers to pay for any subscriptions, insurance, licenses, fees, etc.
I came up with a Calculator that I use all the time when it comes to knowing what to charge for my company’s services.
It can crunch any video job, and while that is a bold claim, I stand by it, and I know you need it and you need to stop guessing what to charge and wind up getting underpaid.
If after two weeks you don't like it, just email us back and say hey I'd like a refund.
No other explanation is needed. And we will not twist your arm about it - promise. Companies will have you jump through hoops to get you to give up on the refund process.
That's shady and yet another reason why marketing and sales can have bad names.
We won't do that to you.
Bonus: Okay to get you started I'm going to walk you through a simple formula so you can calculate what you can expect to earn with your niche.
It's not a super dense mathematical formula, but it's going to lead you down the trail that you need to go down and figure out is the return on investment (time and money) worth it for you?
After all, you have to pay the people that help you out when you do video production. Sometimes you have to pay for other supplies in the course of the video production (gaff tape, bulbs, DVD masters). And then you have your operating costs, like any utilities, subscriptions, insurance, etcetera that you're paying. Also, you should be working towards making a livable wage from what you are doing - you absolutely can and must if you have a family > 1.
To get the walkthrough and Excel workbook (it's hideous - you don't want it), sign up here.
Julian just landed a six-month editing job for a feature documentary to the tune of five figures, and he credits it to his renewed relationship with the King. It's a good deal for his family, it's a good deal for the filmmaker who is looking to get his feature into the Cannes Film Festival, and it’s a great deal for Julian.
Hey! Don’t be a slacker! Leave a comment or word of encouragement for Julian below! You can do it. It takes 12 more seconds out of your day. Be the church and not just a third-stringer on Sunday mornings.
Pick one niche.
For example, I am going to do cinema-quality home birth videos in San Jose.
Super niche? Yep.
Start tagging your site, your stuff, and even an ad or two with
San Jose Home Birth Videos
San Jose Home Birth Videography
San Jose Home Birth Video Production
San Jose Baby Video Production
Few are searching for that. That’s okay. NICHE DOWN!
Anybody else competing on those words? Probably not.
Don’t be a generic “we do it all” video company. Been there and I even caught myself telling a client this recently (oops) - you’ll end up closing your doors (I surely did as “Prior Service Productions”) because you will not survive as Google/YouTube looks to commoditize video production.
David F. Sandberg is a shining example of this, even with his film films. He consistently did short horror films on his Vimeo/YouTube, and his first feature just came out this summer (Lights Out) with another one in the works right now (Annabelle 2).
Think of it like character actors - Morgan Freeman essentially plays the same role in every movie, and he’s not slowing down. Do you want to direct a few flicks in your 80 years, or do you want to tell stories of grace and redemption (a la the ‘98 Les Mis) ‘til you’re 6’ under? Clint’s not slowing down anytime soon!
Go create with the King, and don’t quit.
Original: Sept 3, 2016; updated July 17, 2017 and Oct 15, 2018