This is gonna hurt so let me say I mean no harm and in fact I’m telling you this because if you create with this in mind it could truly change the trajectory of your career.
The thing the film industry is telling you is that “if you make something good enough, we’ll find you”. Bullshit. It also comes in the form of statements like, “Just do good work and your career will eventually take off”. Simply not true. The internet is filled with AMAZING work that has 600 views. In fact, there are more great pieces of work that aren’t seen than are. Way more.
Distributors are in the eyeball (audience engagement) business, not in the content business. They always have been. Content is simply a way to deliver consumers to advertisers. The way a content distributor makes money is by selling ad units (ad impressions and click-throughs). The more times someone sees or clicks on an ad, the more the distributor makes.
Or in the case of Full Screen or Netflix, they want to know, “will this piece of content bring in more subscribers”. Hulu gets you coming and going. They charge you a subscription fee and advertise to you unless you pay more.
In order for them to buy content from you, they simply don’t care how much time or effort you spent on it, they want to know how big your audience is or how big the audience you have access to is (meaning does the lead in your web series have 200k twitter followers). A new, and much creepier tactic that distribs pull now is, “build a Kickstarter campaign and if you can draw 100k people to it, we’ll buy your show”. Not because they want the money, but because they want to see that you have an audience.
That’s the game. That’s what you’re up against. So where does this leave you. You’re passionate, you’re talented and you know if you got a shot you could create one hell of a series. Well there is a way to work with this system and it starts by being an expert in a very niche subject (any subject that you feel matters to you) and make little bits of content about it EVERY DAY. Then publish everywhere. I mean everywhere. Every social network, offer them up as guest blog posts, put them in the school newspaper, etc.
The best subjects to consider are the subjects that you want to make films/series’ about, because your expertise will directly translate to the kind of films you will make.
Why do this? Well, it’s simple: being an expert builds influence, influence builds audience and audience is the currency of distribution. If a distributor has the choice between your awesome work that has no audience and a lesser piece of work that has an audience, they will pick the lesser piece of work. Do shows get picked up simply because they’re awesome, yes, but it’s like hitting the lotto and it’s too unpredictable to build a business on.
The more content that you create around a subject you love, the more people will gather around you, the more people gather around you, whether it’s on a social network or a big mailing list the more distributors see you as a sure thing.
In the end, once you’ve built that influence and audience, you can start making films/series for them. Now your content has somewhere to go rather than making it and hoping an audience finds you. The old adage holds true: build a product for an existing audience, not an audience for an existing product.