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Friday, October 10, 2008

What's the Best Way to Make Money with Online Video? SERIES: "Work For Hire"

What's the Best Way to Make Money with Online Video? is a new blog series that I'm launching that investigates the different ways to make money with online video. This post is about: "Work for hire."

Since the 1990's frustrated filmmakers have been trying to figure out a way to monetize online video. Very few have been successful.

I first got started in online video back in 1999/2000. Back then everyone was all the rage about short films on the Internet. "Get your short film on ATOM Films!" From a distribution stand point that was really cool but from a viewing standpoint it was a pain in the ass. Most of the short films were pretty bad and trying to watch them was even worst. Watching VHS was way better than trying to watch a short film on the web.

Knowing that I decided to create a website that was it's own storytelling device and it would use video along with text, photos and links to other sites to tell an emotionally engaging story that took visitors some place they were not supposed to be visiting and let them see someone else doing something they weren't supposed to be doing.

This storytelling website appeared to be set up by a guy who had fallen madly in love with a girl named Julie. He built an online shrine to her that was password protected. No one could see what he was up to until some cyber sleuths from a website called creepysites hacked in and at that point the whole world could see how this creepy guy had hidden video camera's in Julie's apartment and was keeping an online journal of how he was stalking her every move.

Well a whole bunch of people came to the site including the LAPD, the Santa Monica PD and the LA County Sheriffs' Department and instead of winding up in jail I wound up on the TV show Extra, had a big Hollywood agent representing me, meetings all over town and a deal in the works with Viacom. Then the DOT COM crash happened and no one was interested in online content. I did however get a few phone calls along the way and they turned into "Work for Hire" projects for some movie studios and TV networks.

I never made any direct money off of "For the Love of Julie" but I did make hundreds of thousands of dollars creating creepy websites for studios and networks, the biggest of which was an online journal as written by Tyler Durden. - You guessed it, I'm not really allowed to talk about it.

These "Work for Hire" projects were creatively rewarding and allowed me to play in this online video space very early on. I did projects for Fox, Paramount, ABC, UPN, Sony and even Game Show Network.

At that time GSN had a show called Inquizition where the host of the game show was in silhouette and you never got to see his face. So I came up with an idea where a disgruntled game show contestant who was kicked off Inquizition would hack Game Show Network's signal and threaten to Expose the Inquizitor face online at her website where she had proof that she had got the question he asked her right and should not have been kicked off the show. After her network signal take over Michael Flemming the Founder and President of Game Show Network at that time came on the Network and apologized for the illegal interruption telling people not to go to her website. We laughed about how we shot her breaking the signal with a home video camera and shot the Game Show Network President with a studio camera and it all turned out great.

It was such a big hit with the GSN On-Air promo team that I ended getting a large monthly contract to produce other programing stunts for Game Show Network with celebrities like Betty White, Elvira Mistress of the Dark, Jamie Farr, Gary Burghoff, Monty Hall, Jeffery Ross and others.

Creating the online video stalker site didn't make me any money directly but creating online content that cut through the clutter and was emotionally engaging led me to "Work for Hire" projects that literally brought millions of dollars into my bank account.

You can make money with "Work for Hire" projects but one word of caution: If your goal is to make your own original content that you create and own be careful about "Work for Hire" projects as they will creatively satisfy you to where you don't create anything of your own. TV Host and producer Marc Summers once told me, "If you want to make movies you are better off working as an assistant manager at McDonald's than working on TV promos or Movie Trailers because working at McDonald's will keep you creatively hungry." He was right. I should have listened to him.


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