Why Filmmaker’s Process Will Never Have Ads

Why Filmmaker’s Process Will Never Have Ads

Today, Filmmaker’s Process officially became a website that is financially supported by its readers. I just launched the Patreon page a little while ago, and I’m really, really excited by this shift.

I (Robert Hardy) want to share with you the thinking behind this decision, because there's quite a bit that went into it. And being open and honest and transparent with these types of things is one of the core values of mine, so I want you to have the inside scoop on where I’m coming from.

This article is pretty long, so here’s the TLDR version in case you’re pressed for time.

Filmmaker’s Process isn’t anything like other filmmaking sites, and hopefully it never will be. It’s dedicated to helping truly independent filmmakers navigate their own path through the world and make films they’re genuinely proud of.

Filmmaker’s Process isn’t anything like other filmmaking sites, and hopefully it never will be. It’s dedicated to helping truly independent filmmakers navigate their own path through the world and make films they’re genuinely proud of.

Instead of relying on advertising, sponsorships, or affiliate marketing (all of which make the experience of reading articles worse), I’d love for that support to come directly from the people who benefit most from what I do here.

The main benefit of doing it this way, however, isn’t that the site will be a much nicer place. It’s that it will free me up to spend more of my time creating useful content for you guys rather than tracking down advertisers and sponsors and making sure they’re happy. So not only does the site become more pleasant, but the content becomes better and more frequent when we take this route.

So if you enjoy Filmmaker’s Process and find value in it, please consider chipping in a few bucks a month. Every little bit helps, and you’d be supporting a site with immense ambition to help indie filmmakers for many years to come. Plus there are some seriously kickass rewards.

Anyhow, here’s a video I made for Patreon explaining a bit more about this shift. I apologize in advance for being super awkward on camera. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So what makes Filmmaker’s Process any different from other film blogs?

In case you’re new here, or need a refresher, here’s what sets this site apart from every other filmmaking blog on the internet these days.

  1. I don’t talk about gear. Ever. Having the right tools and knowing how to use them is an essential part of making films, but there are plenty of sites covering every new camera, lens, shoulder rig, light, or microphone that hits the market. Instead, Filmmaker’s Process is all about a different approach…
  2. I focus on teaching people how to make films they genuinely care about. There’s a lot to be said for making projects with broad appeal in the marketplace, but I believe the strongest films (and the ones that ultimately find their home with a particular audience) are the ones made by people who have something unique to say and the courage to actually say it.
  3. I have an intense focus on mindset and philosophy. Whereas many other sites are deeply technical and craft-driven (again, this kind of stuff is very useful), Filmmaker’s Process is about getting your mindset right so that you can tackle your projects confidently and overcome obstacles creatively. And as far as I know, I’m the only person who’s consistently talking about not just making films, but how to live a good, fulfilled life as a filmmaker.
  4. The micro-budget/no-budget approach is the one that appeals to me the most. Based on all of those previous points, this probably doesn’t come as a shocker. The more money that’s spent on a film, the more it has to be crafted to appeal to a generic mass audience. Yet with inexpensive digital production and distribution technology, people from all walks of life now have the ability to make and share films on their own terms. And this enables some much-needed diversity in the types of stories being told, helping to reach under-served audiences. So this site is about the new wave of completely democratized low-budget filmmaking, done by the people, for the people. For that reason…
  5. I don’t cover massive Hollywood filmmakers. Sure, Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers are great, but they’re playing a different game entirely. I believe the best way for truly independent filmmakers to learn the craft is to hear it directly from other indies. I even have an open submissions process so that any filmmaker, regardless of experience, age, or nationality, can share their filmmaking experience with our audience and promote their work.
  6. I don’t have any ads on the site. I don’t know a single person who likes web ads. Across the board, they make the experience of consuming content worse. So I don’t have them and never will.
  7. I don’t peddle clickbait, cheap listicles, or articles that just summarize a YouTube video. I’ve been guilty of writing like this in the past (especially during my No Film School days), and a few early articles on this site walked that line a little too closely, but no longer. Instead, all of the articles published on Filmmaker’s Process are substantive and well thought out. And they’ll never be given a hyperbolic or misleading headline. I pinky promise.

I operate Filmmaker’s Process on this set of principles for many reasons, some personal, some ethical, and some idealistic. But the main overarching reason is that it’s the site I wish I’d had when I was first getting into filmmaking.

Like many young filmmakers, I got caught up in the whirlwind of camera and gear obsession in the years following the DSLR revolution. I spent more time than I care to admit poring over tech specs and watching demo footage from cameras I thought I wanted.

However, what I really wanted was to be making impactful films with people I enjoyed spending time with. That was my goal then and it’s still my goal today. But there was a major mismatch between that goal and the things I was reading online. The film blogs I was reading just weren’t aligned with my priorities, and that led me in a direction I didn’t like.

And though there are maybe 100 high-quality websites out there for filmmakers, none of them adopt the worldview I outlined above. So I decided to make one.

How websites like this typically make money

Alright, now let’s get into the nuts and bolts of why this decision to fund through Patreon is the right one for Filmmaker’s Process.

For reference, I spend roughly 25–30 hours per week operating this site, its social media channels, and creating new content. And minus a brief stint where I launched a product that didn’t do particularly well, I’ve personally been eating the costs of keeping it running since day one, all because I believe in this place.

Luckily, a lot of you have told me that you believe in it as well (which means the world to me, by the way). And the site’s growth this year bears that out. Traffic has gone from 0 to 20,000 pageviews per month. And the Filmmaker’s Process Newsletter has gone from 26 readers to 5600.

So I believe there’s something worthwhile and valuable about the approach to independent filmmaking that I’m taking here. Now the real question is, how does this become something I not only use to partly or fully support myself, but something that will grow and spread and help more filmmakers around the world?

The truth is that when you build an audience like I have, you’ve got a couple of options when it comes to monetization.

  • You can make products of your own and sell them to the audience
  • You can sell your audience on products that are not your own (affiliate marketing)
  • You can sell access to your audience to advertisers and sponsors

At this point in time, I’ve dabbled in all three of these with Filmmaker’s Process. They all have pros and cons, but none are ideal for right here and right now.

Creating useful products that actually solve people’s problems is a fantastic model, and one that I’m pursuing in addition to being reader-supported. But it’s something that takes a considerable amount of time to get right. And believe me, once I start releasing books and courses on this site, they’re going to be phenomenally useful for low-budget filmmakers. That’s a promise.

Affiliate marketing takes all of work out of creating a product of your own. Just promote other people’s stuff and hey, you’re making money! But unfortunately, affiliate marketing has a reputation for being seedy, and for good reason. Too many bloggers will aggressively promote anything and everything that has a commission attached, regardless of whether it’s a good product that serves the audience’s needs.

Even though I’ve only ever tried to promote things that I believe in wholeheartedly (which really restricts what I promote), I really don’t feel comfortable pushing affiliate links, even when I’m honest and upfront about it. If there’s even the slightest chance that any of my audience will think it’s spammy and non-kosher, then I’m not willing to risk it. This site’s reputation and my reputation are far more important than earning a commission on any product.

And finally, there’s the advertising and sponsorship option. While this is likely the most immediately profitable option of the bunch, it’s also the one I like the least.

Like I mentioned before, taking this route means that advertisers become my customers and the readers of this site become the thing I sell to them. My obligation wouldn’t be to make this place as valuable as possible for you, but as valuable as possible for companies who want to reach you. That’s problematic, and it goes against much of why I started this site in the first place.

And beyond that, ads of any type just make the experience of reading worse. They’re ugly. They slow webpages down. They’re hardly ever relevant. And most people block them anyway. I know I certainly do.

So, based on all of that experience, I’m trying out Patreon as an experiment to see if we can forge a better way forward.

Is it really possible for a blog to be supported by its readers?

This question is my single biggest source of anxiety right now.

There's a voice in the back of my head telling me that I'm dumb for trying this, that maybe every blog opts for ads and info products and affiliate marketing because those are the only ways for people to make a living through writing content. Maybe shooting for community support is a foolish decision that will come back and bite me in the ass.

However, I do have some reason to be optimistic. A few of my favorite sites these days — places like Brain Pickings and Wait But Why and Motionagrapher — are all successfully generating support directly from their readers. And I think I know why they’re able to do it.

These are all sites that have a very clear mission. They’re the absolute best at what they do, and they serve up content with deep integrity and a love for the topic and the audience. Their first priorities are to be helpful and insightful and to stick to their values. And they’re all sustaining themselves with community support.

In other words, they’re all models for how I want to operate Filmmaker’s Process. I want this to be a place that’s filled with quality content that genuinely helps people reach their filmmaking goals, so turning it into another clickbaity blog with lots of affiliate links and google ads just won’t fly.

The best part of going through Patreon is that it helps build a community of people who place value in the ideas on this site, people who think that filmmaking should be personal and ubiquitous art form that’s open to not just people who can raise millions of dollars for a film, but for each and every one of us.

So the hypothesis here is that by sticking to my values and producing content that’s thoughtful and engaging and useful, I too might be able to make community support work for Filmmaker’s Process. It’s just a hypothesis, and it may very well fail, but I’m way too idealistic to not at least give it a shot.

So, why do this through Patreon?

The main reason that I’m choosing Patreon is that it’s the best platform for actually giving back to the wonderful people (hopefully that’s you) who decide to chip a few bucks towards Filmmaker’s Process.

While I could totally set up a system to accept recurring donations directly on this site, it’d be much harder for me to manage those relationships and give valuable stuff back to supporters, and that kind of defeats the point.

Ultimately, the best part of going through Patreon is that it helps build a community of people who place value in the ideas on this site, people who think that filmmaking should be personal and ubiquitous art form that’s open to not just people who can raise millions of dollars for a film, but for each and every one of us.

Plus, you know, I’ve got a lot of cool rewards for Patrons that should help you get more out of this site and be part of a tighter-knit community.

So for as little as two dollars per month, here’s what kind of cool stuff is in store for you:

  • Access to the Filmmaker’s Process Patreon community. Right on the Patreon page, I’ll be posting exclusive excerpts from articles I’m working on, fun thought-provoking quotes about film and creativity, and curated lists of helpful stories from other film websites. I’ll also occasionally post entire Filmmaker’s Process articles and newsletters there before they’re officially published.
  • Access to the Rob’s Inner Circle email list. I like to reach out to newsletter subscribers and ask for direct feedback on what I’m doing with Filmmaker’s Process. From now on, this is the list that gets to help determine the future of the site, its products, and anything else.
  • Get your name (or production company name) and city listed on the Filmmaker’s Process website with a link to your site or reel. This is actually a placeholder solution for something much, much cooler I’m working on, but in the meantime, it’ll help you find talented indie filmmakers in your area (or all over the world) that you might want to collaborate with.
  • Access to our super cool Slack Community, where you can chat directly with me and with a wide range of filmmakers from all over the world. Seriously, there are some world class filmmakers in here, all of whom are super cool people willing to help out.
  • Deep discounts on all Filmmaker’s Process books and courses in the future. Like I mentioned before, I’m working on some truly useful and unique products, and I want Patrons to get ‘em cheaper than anybody else.
  • And if you donate at the highest level. I will write and record a song about how awesome you are and send it to you. I'm not much of a singer, but it'll definitely be good for a laugh.
  • Community Directory Web App (think of this like your rolodex for independent filmmakers who share your values). This isn’t quite ready yet, but it will be a Patreon reward at all levels once it’s released, and it will help us build this community and keep it connected and accessible and searchable.

Honestly, I think these are some pretty cool rewards that will enhance the experience of the site for Patrons and provide lots of extra value.

That said, I want to make the patronage experience even more valuable if I can, so if you can think of any rewards that might do that, please feel free to shoot me an email and let me know.

Wrapping up

There’s one last thing I’ve gotta say before wrapping up this entirely-too-long article.

No matter how long you’ve been reading this site or subscribing to the newsletter, I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. There are a gajillion places you could be focusing your attention when browsing the internet, so the fact that you’re here means the world to me.

Seriously, even if this whole Patreon effort doesn’t go as well as I’d like it to or it fails completely, I’m genuinely thankful for your support and I hope you find value in the site.

So I guess to wrap this all up, if your philosophy of filmmaking lines up with what I’ve shared here and you want to see more articles more frequently, it would be incredible if you could check out our Patreon page.

Thanks again,

-Robert Hardy