Making Money With Short Films

About two years ago I wrote a post entitled Why Make Short Films? which has become one of the more popular posts on my blog. A lot has changed in those two years, and I want to write some more about what the average young filmmaker can expect when setting out to make films.

First off, unless you live in Europe, don’t expect anyone to give you money to make a short film. You and your friends will have to do this on your own. And yes, you need friends. You need talented people who will work for less than they’re worth, because you can’t afford to pay strangers the amount of money they deserve.

Keep the costs down as low as you can. Learn all you can about the camera options available. These days you can do amazing stuff with some cheap HD camcorders. Definitely shoot HD. DV is not acceptable. 720p is fine. It’s the default resolution of HD on the web. I used to be able to recommend cameras, but I just can’t keep up with it anymore. A very good Hollywood DP is planning to shoot a portion of a film I’m editing on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II; a DSLR still camera that also shoots HD. You probably can’t afford to pay your crew, but you must buy them meals. Having bagels and coffee on the set in the morning really raises morale, and lunch is essential. If you’re shooting late, order some pizza.

Edit the film yourself. It sounds strange coming from a professional editor, but anyone can edit a movie these days. The only cost should be your time. Again, do your research. If you shot 24p, learn everything about what that means for your workflow before you start shooting, and for God’s sake at least before you start editing. Cut it with whatever you feel comfortable using. I hear iMovie is incredibly full-featured these days, although I can barely make the thing work.

Once you’ve finished the movie, put it out every way you can. Don’t be a dope and hold back your premiere for fancy film festivals. Film festivals are 20th Century relics. Sundance isn’t going to show your short, and even if it is, nobody watches the shorts there unless a famous person is in one of them or was seen near the venue at the time of the screening. Apply to some local festivals, and some bigger names, but applying to every festival you can will cost you way too much money. I spent about $1000 sending Kalesius and Clotho to film festivals. It got me a few awards to put on the DVD box, but never any money.

Put it on YouTube. Get yourself enrolled in their Partner Program. I’m pulling in a few bucks a day with that. Put it on Vuze. It was a strange and unique set of events, but I made over $2000 from Vuze’s pre-roll ads in a single quarter last year. Since then I’ve made about a dollar a day. Try Revver. I made a few bucks from them a year ago, but haven’t seen any since then. supposedly has revenue sharing, but I haven’t seen any hits or cash from them at all. Make a DVD and sell it on your website. You can burn them yourself and print full-color discs with an awesome Epson R280. Or if you want to make less money but spend less time, use Createspace to get them on Amazon. I’ve sold one DVD of my collected short films. Try merchandising. T-shirts are the true heart of our economy. I have sold exactly no t-shirts of my own logo, but other films might lend themselves to catchphrases or funny graphics that fans would like to own.

At this point I have made back the cost of producing Two Night Stand, which I shot 4.5 years ago. Most of the cast and crew didn’t get any money, and I haven’t been paid for all the time I spent writing, directing, and editing the movie. That doesn’t exactly qualify as a raging success, but it’s more than I ever hoped for. The problem I’m having is that there is an insatiable desire out there for more and more content. I could make a lot more money if I continued to put out videos. Unfortunately I just can’t keep up the pace. If you can be prolific you are much more likely to build a steady fanbase who talk about and anticiapte your new films.

YouTube Goes Wide!

I remember when all my YouTube videos were encoded 4 frames out of sync. Times sure have changed. The YouTube video player is now widescreen, which is great because it really lets you get the full resolution of your widescreen videos, but it’s not so kind to older videos that haven’t been encoded in “high quality”, like the copy of Two Night Stand I uploaded in 2006. Embed codes still default to 4:3, but you can customize the size to whatever you want. Unfortunately the thumbnail seems to be letterboxed, so in a 16:9 player it ends up window-boxed.

Update Dec 6: Things have changed even more. Embed codes are now widescreen, and thumbnails are no longer windowboxed. Even better: 720p!!!!! If you’ve uploaded a 720p or higher video, add &ap=%2526fmt%3D22 to the end of the param value and embed src urls in the embed code and you can actually embed 720p YouTube videos on your website. To view 720p videos on YouTube, add &fmt=22 to the end of the url.

YouTube Partner Update

Three weeks in to my tenure as a YouTube “partner” displaying ads on my YouTube videos, I’m getting some reporting on Adsense. I’m averaging 1200 views, 10 clicks, and $2 per day. That’s significantly more than I’m earning with my website-based ads. I did finally add the Bad Webcam Sex video to the mix, so I’m sure that’s helping, although I think Two Night Stand is pulling in the most traffic right now.

Unfortunately, the ads that show up for Two Night Stand tend to be for bedroom night stands, which isn’t exactly relevant, but someone’s clicking on some of these ads.

Monetized HD Video Online

I just finished Time Travellin’ Episode One: “Robot Overlords”, my first new movie in a very long time. It’s also my first HD movie. I’ve edited a lot of stuff in HD over the past year or two, but nothing of my own. For the past few days I’ve been spreading the movie around the multitude of online video sites. My favorite is still Vimeo, because they have the best picture quality. But thanks to the limited amount of movement in each frame, this photo animation technique lends itself extremely well to video compression, so it looks pretty good even on YouTube (in “high quality” mode). But Vimeo doesn’t have any revenue sharing options. Call me crazy, but I’d like to make some money on my films. Vuze worked very well for me with Two Night Stand, but that was a kind of lucky fluke that I don’t plan on repeating. Of course I still uploaded it there, but the problem with Vuze is that it’s not something you can just embed in your website. You can embed a teaser clip, but in order to see the whole thing you have to download it in the Vuze client.

To download the full version visit

Obviously the reason they can afford to host HD video is that they’re using the Bittorrent network to share the bandwidth load. If Vuze switched to a web-based video distribution system they’d lose a lot of money on bandwidth costs and might not be so eager to share revenue with content creators.

I made a stand-alone website for this photoanimation technique and I had to choose one site to embed the videos with. I started with Revver, because I’ve earned about $120 from them in the past, and they have pretty good video quality. But all of that money came in a long time ago, and I’m not sure the drop-off has anything to do with the amount of traffic I’m getting. I feel like the quality of the advertising has changed, and fewer people are interested in clicking on the ads they’re showing.

I had a little experience with before, but I hadn’t paid much attention to it. I uploaded the new movie there, and I was really impressed. There are a lot of advertising options, the video quality is very good, and there are many, many customization options. I still don’t quite understand everything I can do, but I’m learning. There seems to be an option to upload your own encoded flash video, which I tried, but it wouldn’t load. I’m going to look into that more. But it also seems that they’re not resizing videos when they do the encode. I uploaded a 1280×720 H.264 QuickTime file and the flash file is still 1280×720. The bitrate is variable and hovers around 700 kb/s which seems good enough. I haven’t had enough traffic on blip to get any money yet, so I’ll report back on how that goes.

In other money-making news, I finally applied to be a YouTube “partner” so I could get ads shown next to my YouTube videos. I’m still getting 1,000 daily views on Two Night Stand there, so I’m hoping that brings in a little cash. I won’t get any reports from them for 60 days though, so it’s a mystery what kind of money that will bring in. I hadn’t applied before because they ask you how many videos you plan to post in the next month and I figured I wouldn’t qualify because I didn’t upload frequently enough. But I went for it, and they very quickly appoved the application. I’d say anyone holding off on applying should do it ASAP. What I love so far is the ability they give to brand your channel and video. I added logos for my main channel, and the 15framespersecond channel The scariest thing so far: you have to individually submit each video to turn on revenue sharing, and if it isn’t approved it will be removed from YouTube. I’ve enabled ads on all my videos except the 2.5-million-view Bad Webcam Sex video. I’m afraid they’ll think it’s dirty, even though it is very, very not dirty. The “high quality” YouTube videos are actually pretty good now, and it’s a long way from the old days when everything was blurry and four frames out of sync. And you can’t beat those traffic numbers. A few million views is nothing on YouTube, which is crazy.

Who Says You Can’t Make Money On The Internet?

I complained a while ago about the lack of reporting for advertising impressions on Vuze, but they have come through big time. It seems they switched their advertising network right around the time I uploaded Two Night Stand on June 30, but the reporting system was still looking for data from the old network. I’m kind of surprised it took so long to figure that out, but I guess the producers of VIP Topless Hotties Clip 3 are getting most of their revenue elsewhere and aren’t paying as close attention as I am. After a month or so of pushing, I got a report last night letting me know that in 6 weeks I’ve earned over $1000 from my various videos on Vuze, the vast majority of it coming from Two Night Stand. This is by far the most I’ve earned from my own films, and I’m very happy about it. I haven’t made back my out of pocket expenses on Two Night Stand, but it makes a significant dent. Approximately half of the Two Night Stand downloads recorded by Vuze generated qualified advertising impressions.

Sadly, the glory days of Two Night Stand on Vuze are over. It will probably overtake “Dcmdp: The Package,” a badly recorded, slightly dirty joke, to make it the #4 most downloaded video ever on Vuze, but it doesn’t seem likely to make it any higher.

Archiving to Gmail

Way back in 1998 when I started college, I had two options for email. I could either use PINE via telnet on the university’s servers, or I could use a mail program like Outlook or Eudora. I chose Outlook for home use, and PINE when I was away from my computer. And I never deleted anything. Luckily I had an astronomically large hard drive that I think was 80 GB, but that seems really big for 1998. So after 6 years at my college email address (No, not 6 years of college. I worked there for 2 years after I graduated) I had accumulated about 512MB of email in the proprietary PST format. Then I switched to Gmail, which everyone knows is much, much better than anything else ever.

When Gmail went down for about an hour yesterday, I started thinking about how much I value my Gmail account and how nice it would be to have access to all my old emails. And even though it wasn’t proving especially reliable yesterday, I think Gmail is just about the safest place to keep them. It’s way more accessible than a PST file, which we’ll see in a moment.

I was on my Mac at the time, so I tried to open the PST file on a Mac program. I figured Mail could do it. Wrong. Then I thought Entourage was a natural choice since it’s made by the same company. But astonishingly enough, Entourage has no ability to open Windows PST files. Microsoft has a utility that can convert PST files from Outlook 2001 for Mac only. Then of course I thought of Thunderbird. It’s a great program and I used it for my work emails while I was in Germany. No dice there either. It was obviously time to switch to Windows.

I opened the PST file in Outlook 2003 for Windows. Then I tried to connect to Gmail via IMAP. No luck. It wouldn’t connect to the server. So I opened Thunderbird for Windows and had it import all my Outlook mail. First I had to make Outlook my default mail program. Then I connected to and created a new folder to put all my old messages in. I dragged a huge folder I had informatively called “unsorted archives” into the Gmail folder and Thunderbird immediately started uploading all the messages to Gmail. This took a large part of the night. When I woke up they were done, and since then I’ve been uploading the other, smaller folders. It works most of the time, but sometimes I’ll get an error from the server saying that a particular message can’t be “appended.” Then I go in and figure out where the upload stopped and copy everything into the folder again.

I don’t know how useful my emails from 2nd semester freshman year will be, but you never know when you might need to know something. All of my email only takes up 30% of my quota on Gmail, so it doesn’t hurt to have it available. I don’t have my old high school emails, but I suspect some things are better lost to the ages.

Why It’s Not OK to Repost Videos

Last week Two Night Stand was posted on Dailymotion without my permission and I had it taken down. Now this afternoon one of the founders of posted three of my videos on without my permission, then sent me a YouTube message to ask if it was OK. Of course it was not OK, but I checked out the site just to see if I wanted to post it there myself. It turned out they were showing overlay ads during the movies. Ads that would generate revenue for this guy, but not for me. Why would anyone think that was acceptable? I requested that the videos be taken down, although as of now they are still up.

Wow. I just created a user account to check out Ragtube some more, and it appears that rather than requiring you to go through the trouble of uploading a video yourself, you can just hit a button and Ragtube will steal it directly from YouTube. That’s a clear violation of YouTube’s terms of use. Videos on YouTube are “not intended to be copied, stored, permanently downloaded, or redistributed by the user. Accessing User Videos for any purpose or in any manner other than Streaming is expressly prohibited.” I can’t imagine this will last long.

It might seem like because I’ve posted a video for free in one place that I wouldn’t mind posting it in another place, but that is really not the case. Here, in no particular order are my reasons why it’s not OK to repost videos from one hosting site to another.

  1. It is illegal. This is a no-brainer, but it bears repeating. Posting a video for free on one site does not automatically grant other people the legal rights to redistribute your film. Not only are they violating the copyright of the author of the video, but they are also almost certainly violating the terms of use of the site they’re taking the video from. I might not have lawyers, but YouTube sure does.
  2. Credit is taken away. Sure, there are probably credits in the video itself, but if it’s posted by someone else then it dilutes the authorship. It’s hard enough to get people to pay attention to my films, I don’t want anyone else taking credit without doing any work.
  3. Loss of control. When someone else uploads your video, you can’t do Quality Control on the video and audio, moderate comments, modify metadata, or choose a thumbnail. These are important aspects of the presentation of the film, and make a real difference.
  4. No income. If there is any revenue generated by the video, it should go to the author, not to some random person who happened to like the movie.
  5. There are better options. I understand that usually the motivation behind the reposter is simply to share the video with others. But guess what, that’s what web video is all about. There are better ways to share the video that don’t break any of these rules. The obvious one is to embed the video rather than repost it. You can also write about it and link to the video. There is no shortage of video sharing options.

So anyway, even if your intentions are pure, please don’t repost my videos. Feel free to share them though.


I’ve been exploring the various video websites over the past few weeks, uploading a few videos at each one. I figured it was worth my time to upload at least to the ones who offer the potential to make some money like, imeem, Metacafe, and Atom. Yesterday I got around to Atom Films. I uploaded Two Night Stand, but for some mysterious reason I got a message informing me that my content had been “banned” for violating the user agreement. After that I tried uploading Getting Laid Tonight, which promptly disappeared with no explanation. I’m not going to waste any time trying to figure out what the story is. It seems buggy. Atom Films has been around practically since the dawn of the Internet, but they relaunched in June as a Comedy Central-branded video site. So I suspect they’re working out some kinks. I’ll check in on them in a few months.