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Diversifying Your Revenue Streams as a Modern Filmmaker

Tanner Shinnick

With jobs disappearing and the future of filmmaking on hold, here are some ways to pivot and adapt your skill set for more earning opportunities.

Starting on March 10, 2020, I had five jobs cancel within forty-eight hours. It all started with one phone call, then over the next two days, the calls, texts, and email cancellations came rolling in. The alarm bells immediately went off. It was a lot of work gone in a short amount of time — one of the jobs being a month-long travel documentary. As I determined what my next steps would be, I reached out to backup gigs, old clients, etc. They cancelled all that work, too. Everything was gone. My schedule was completely empty.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t alone in this. I reached out to some of my closest friends in the industry to see if the same thing was happening to them. It was. We all lost our work. I browsed through my Instagram feed, and it was the hot topic for everyone in the industry — even those outside my immediate circle. Everyone working in film and production was hit hard. All of the work, gigs, and projects were getting cancelled on a massive scale. COVID-19 shut down our entire industry. Literally every aspect of it, from narrative to documentary to corporate to commercial, was offline.

With all of this unfolding, it’s nerve-racking to consider what the future looks like for content creators. While all of us are continuing to stay connected via Instagram and social media, we can’t help but wonder when we’ll work again. It feels like the timeline is consistently being pushed back.

So, here’s the detailed approach of how I plan to use my time.

Diversify Revenue Streams

One of my first jobs out of college was at a tech company in Salt Lake City as part of their in-house production team. Quickly after I started, the company changed CEOs. The new CEO’s first mission was to diversify the company’s revenue streams. To explain, 85 percent of the company’s revenue came from one product. He argued this wasn’t a healthy way to maintain a business. If something were to ever happen, or a competitor introduced a better product than ours, the business (as a whole) would be in trouble.

Over the next three years, he led the revenue stream adjustment, with video being a major component of pushing this objective. By the time I’d left the company, that main product line had adjusted to 55 percent of the company’s revenue — a much healthier and far more sustainable business model.

Since that experience, I’ve always thought about how freelance creators need to maintain a diversified revenue stream. The current crisis aside, there have always been slow periods without work. Having alternative revenue streams can really help during those times. Currently, I’m taking this time to do an in-depth analysis of all my revenue streams and adjust where needed.

In simple terms, I never wanted 100 percent of my revenue to come from one or two clients — or only working on set and on shoots. This allotted time has allowed me the opportunity to reevaluate my revenue streams. There are a variety of ways a creator can make money within production and film. Here are a few.

Rental Equipment

Rent Your Equipment

Open up a variety of possibilities by renting out your equipment. Image via sdecoret.

One of my streams is renting my equipment through services like ShareGrid or KitSplit. While I’m sure there’s little-to-no action on those sites right now, I’m updating all my listings and putting up new gear that I haven’t listed yet. I’ve made great friends and continue to work with excellent clients I met through a ShareGrid rental. While it may not be very fruitful at the moment, planting that seed now could open up a variety of possibilities once things get rolling again.

Blogging and Vlogging

Set up a Vlog or YouTube Channel

Start your own vlog or YouTube channel. Image via Sutipond Somnam.

Let’s be honest, we’ve all thought about starting a vlog or a YouTube channel at some point. What better time than now?

We all have knowledge to share about our production experiences. Vlogging or curating a YouTube channel can provide an additional revenue stream. On YouTube, once you hit that 1,000 subscriber mark, you can hit that monetize button. I’ve decided to catch up on my own personal blog — and even create a few videos for my own channel.

Stock Footage

While on-set and on-location production has halted, post-production has not. Plenty of post people are busy creating content addressing COVID-19 in safe ways, like through stock footage. In a forum I recently read, people were discussing how they’re busier now than ever. With that in mind, if you have stock footage that could be relevant to a project, upload it. I plan on diving into my drives and seeing what may fit these needs.

Finish Projects

Catch up on Old Projects

Catch up on unfinished projects. Image via DC Studio

Admittedly, and embarrassingly, I have a hard drive full of unfinished documentary projects — completely filmed and just waiting for an edit. Those projects have been there for years; I just haven’t taken the time to actually edit them down. Well, now I have all the time.

One interesting thing that I’m beginning to see is that brands and digital platforms are thirsty for original content that’s already completed. These platforms want fresh content, but they can’t produce it, given the current circumstances. One of the projects I’m finishing now is because of this exact scenario. I’m sure we’ll start to see more calls for completed content that these platforms will want. If you’ve got it cut and ready, all the better.

Invest in Yourself

Read and Learn

Read to Learn

Pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read. Image via Vaclav Mach.

I’m a victim of not taking enough time to invest in myself and my knowledge base — both as a filmmaker and businessperson. While I enjoy reading, and the insight and professional improvement it can provide, it’s usually one of the first things to slip when I’m busy. I’ve had a list of books accumulating that I’m excited to finally dig into, to continue developing myself as a professional.

For reference, the one I’m reading right now is called Finish by Jon Acuff. It’s exactly about the last piece we talked about — finishing.

Also, there are so many great filmmaking classes on heavy discount right now. I’ve been taking advantage of these and expanding my knowledge.


Reconnect with Business Associates

Take the time to stay in contact with business associates, as well as friends. Image via G-Stock Studio.

In a business built around who you know, right now is the most opportune time for us to connect — not only as professionals but also as humans. Stay in contact with those you work with — and even those whose work you simply admire. We need each other more than ever right now, so let’s all be there for each other as much as we can.

While these are some of the strangest times that we may have encountered collectively — as individuals and professionals — I’m trying my best to keep an optimistic attitude about what I can do to make the most of this situation. Honestly, we can’t predict what the future holds. It changes day-by-day. However, what we can do is continue to provide and build a strong foundation for when everything finally begins to pick back up.

Cover image via Kjetil Kolbjornsrud.

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