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From 0 to 2 Million Pageviews* a Month: The History of No Film School

08.31.13 @ 12:51PM Tags : , , , ,

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If you’re at all curious as to how this site came about, why it exists, and what the early days were like, here’s an interview our friends at Film Courage did with me about the origins of No Film School. I suppose this post could be construed as self-serving, but hey — as the guy who started this site and ran it single-handedly for the first two years, I’m proud of what we’ve managed to build. We also talk about how I lied my way into MTV, as well as some strategies for growing a website that will hopefully be of interest to anyone launching a web presence.

I launched NFS while living out of a suitcase, and the place in Queens, NY where I was crashing at the time had no internet. So I tethered my laptop to my cell phone in order to launch — but then I could not FTP using the tethered connection. Thus, in order to push this site live in January 2010, I had to individually upload every WordPress theme file via a web control panel. Murphy’s Law applies to websites as well as film shoots!

* – I used an asterisk in the title because we are always growing, and the “2 million pageviews a month” figure is already slightly outdated. It’s a nice time for me personally to look back at thousands of hours of work that went into building this community, given we are hard at work on the redesign and on the verge of taking the site to exciting new places. I’m looking forward to making this a better, more useful place for all of us, so thanks for watching and stay tuned!

A transcript follows for reading-not-watching types.



Film Courage:  We want to talk about No Film School in terms of how many page views does it get each month? What were the page views starting out? How did you get this tremendous growth that we’ve seen?

Ryan Koo: I actually had launched NFS as a personal blog in 2005. That’s what actually got me a job in New York City and I moved out there. But really, the website as we think of it today, I launched in January of 2010. At that point, just because it was a personal blog, it was averaging 39 views a month or something — no one was reading it. For all intents and purposes, it started at zero. Now, we’re doing two million page views a month. We’ve been growing fairly consistently since I launched it. It’s been great.

When I launched the site, I had no idea whether anyone was going to read it. I only spent a week designing it. I didn’t want to front load all the work and find out that I built it, but no one came. It’s been great to have the community there and we’re currently completely redesigning it and we’ll be re‑launching it soon, I hope.

FC:  When you started out, I just want to go back to starting out that personal blog back in 2005, what was your desire behind it? I think that’s great that you had a passion for it and you went for it, probably never thinking that it would never ever turn into this. You just wanted something in your spare time  about your passion about cameras and filming?

RK:  From 2003 to 2005, I was a video producer in North Carolina which is where I’m from. I went and shot a documentary in the Amazon Jungle in Ecuador. I could only shoot it during my vacation that I had accrued. So I went for two weeks. That was really the breaking point of realizing: I can’t be a film maker and have a full‑time day job at the same time. I knew that I didn’t want to go to film school, thus purchasing the URL.

Me launching the personal blog was a way of putting myself out there, knowing that I was recently unemployed (of my own volition). I was going to try to get myself to New York City. I didn’t know anyone in New York. How can I reach across geographic boundaries? Well, the Internet — that’s the great thing about the World Wide Web.

[At the beginning] it was just me talking about movies a lot. I ended up interviewing with an indie film company in New York who didn’t hire me and sort of fell off the face of the earth. But somebody else read what I was writing about these experiences and I saw that his signature said “Senior producer at MTV”. That contact initially was because of my website. That’s really when I learned about the power of the Internet and that’s what motivated me to keep doing what I’ve been doing.

Unfortunately, they were hiring graphic designers at the time, and I wasn’t a graphic designer, but that didn’t stop me from saying I was a graphic designer. I was able to lie my way into a job in New York based on creating a fake portfolio and putting on a suit and driving myself there and taking this interview. And then doing Photoshop training on the train every day to and from work.

But that was kind of the impetus behind the power of the Internet and knowing how it hit home personally, was being able to get myself from an unemployed kid living in North Carolina with my parents, to working as a senior designer at MTV in the middle of Times Square — because of my website.

FC:  When you first launched that blog, how many hours a day were you putting into it? I’m sure now it’s probably every waking minute, but in terms of back then, what were you putting into it?

RK:  When I first launched it in 2010, as the current site, it was a full‑time job, essentially. Not a full‑time job posting content, but I wasn’t somebody who knew how to run a website. I didn’t know things about search engines, inbound traffic, marketing, advertisements, and monetization — all the sort of things that you would see on if you went to a website and looked at the masthead: editor, managing editor, biz dev, outreach, publicity. All of those things I had to learn about.

When I launched the site, I told myself I’m going to post one thing a day. That way people will know there’s something new here every day, so they can come back. It’s not going to be something where I post one thing and then there’s nothing for three months.

During that first year of growing the website from nothing, it was just research. Most of my time was spent learning about these things. They’re great things to know about now, but I essentially had to put my film career on hold for a year while I learned about all these other aspects of running a website.

Then, once I had been running it for a year and we reached a certain traffic level, that’s when I was able to sort of cut down on the research, just run the website, and work on my screenplay at the same time.

FC:  What do you think has been the most important thing in getting that traffic? Or it’s probably a combination of many things. Can you share some tips for other people that want to start their own site? Whatever it is, whether it’s about food trucks or whatever it is.

RK:  I think with websites, there are so many websites out there that the challenge of launching a website is if someone comes and they read something at your site, or they watch a video at your site, they never come back because there’s just so many out there. The challenge is how do you keep people coming back to your site.

Of course, there are the usual approaches of just having better content, trying to do a better job, making sure that your content is better written than other people’s. But to me, the thing that we ended up being successful with was when I wrote the DSLR Cinematography Guide which was — or still is, because we’re a little out of date now and we need to update it and we’re going to do that when we have some time — [The DSLR Guide] is a hundred-and-something pages and we gave it away for free in exchange for an email address. Anyone can sign up for it, and unsubscribe if they don’t want to get new updates. That was the thing that kept us on people’s minds: you came and you got this guide, then you started getting emails and coming back to our site.

That way we were able to grow our community from week to week and month to month as opposed to just having this revolving door of people coming and forgetting about the site.

FC:  If someone does want to start their own site from scratch and just dip their toe in the water, what’s the quick and dirty? What are some of the tips? Get the domain name… would you advise WordPress, a Wix site? What are the quick things you can advise us on?

RK:  That’s a good question. For example, WordPress is great. I’ve built a lot of sites on it, and you can’t beat the price, it’s free. You can customize it every which way. But [websites] are  like cameras — a different camera is best for different kinds of film projects. Websites are the same. We’re actually going to be migrating off of WordPress for our next version. Not because WordPress is bad, but because what you’re trying to do has a different tool. Behance has a lot of portfolio sites, and they’re now part of Adobe Creative Cloud, so if you’re using their software, you have this portfolio website software included.

Vimeo Pro is also something where you can host your own business, host your video, and all sorts of things. I think it depends on whether you’re primarily trafficking in video or whether you’re a news site, whether you’re a community. A lot of people use vBulletin for forums. It’s just knowing, what you’re doing right now and where you want to take it — and then thinking about which tools are going to get you there.

COMMENT POLICY

We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 61 COMMENTS

  • this is one of the few website I frequent hourly, and when there are great info, I get to share it onto my facebook pages and my own page, my small army of friends helped share it onward. :)

    Please keep it going!

  • Raphael Wood on 08.31.13 @ 1:19PM

    Here’s an idea for Nofilmschool that you probably heard before, create a forum.
    That and disable comments on news, instead having a forum thread for the news, that way maybe we will have less childish comments and focus entirely on constructive criticism.

    Maybe it would be a good alternative for Nofilmschool to evolve?

    • Right there with you! Thus the “we are hard at work on the redesign and on the verge of taking the site to exciting new places.”

      • Raphael Wood on 08.31.13 @ 1:59PM

        Great to hear!

      • thadon calico on 08.31.13 @ 11:55PM

        Ryan Koo…that advice will drive away user participation and also do not be overly zealous and totally re design the interface of the site, it could work or it could flop!

        thadon calico
        a ryan koo fan

      • If you want to setup a forum, please look at Discourse instead of the standard PHP forums. It is league ahead of the other solutions and allows a much better conversation flow.

        If you need help with the setup, just contact me.

  • VinceGortho on 08.31.13 @ 1:27PM

    It’s a cool sight and no doubt it’s doing good business.
    I wish it were more focused on lessons to substitute for film school. Maybe broken down in to sections like: Tech, Articles from other directors, and then tutorials.
    90 percent of the articles are interviews about advice from old Filmmaker interviews.
    Lightsfilmschool has a really nice site that categorizes the interest between: directors. actors. cinematographers with more didactic how to information.
    The writers here at Nofilmschool are really good. Without a doubt there is plenty I enjoy. My opinion is it could be better with more focus with intent to teach lessons in filmmaking.

  • One suggestion… make it mandatory that all commenters have a web site or online portfolio/reel linked to their user name.

    • Already in the works… we are deep in the redesign and I can’t wait to share what we’ve come up with. Going to be a while though… iteration, development, testing, etc.!

    • Not everyone is going to have an online portfolio or web site. I have neither. I help churches set up for live streaming and/or recording conferences, concerts, and weddings. I’m certain there’s others commenting here that won’t have online portfolios and web sites either.

      I DO UNDERSTAND wanting to stop the negativity, unproductivity, and thoughtlessness in comments. I’M ALL FOR IT! :-)

      But not all people without web sites are being negative and thoughtless here. There might be some good people lost if the threshold for commenting includes having to have online work. But if that happens I’ll still probably check in for the headlines. :-)

      just my 2 cents…….

      • I don’t have neither a website nor a digital portfolio….maybe lots of people who are here are just people who can not have a living from filming and they want to lear and share their experiences so I don’t think this could be a good idea….it can be an aditional information for the people to share but not an especific requeriment to be able to give your opinion. Most of the people I know here and in person who have a portfolio are pretty rude and trully a**holes and most of them totally unprofessional people so I don’t think a portfolio would make better comments…even if a I had one, I would quit NFS just because putting requeriments on the “free” internet just to be able to share your vision it’s not as democratic as the WWW seems to be. I hope it never happens.

        • I do get the point dixter is trying to make. It seems there’s commenters that only want to be negative about cameras like Red, GH3, and some others–and toward people who like those cameras. But, there is also some negativity toward 5Diii. The negative commenters say things that really aren’t true, like Red is a ‘snake oil’ camera, or that a 5Diii looks better than everything and all else is basically crap or a waste of money. Or they go on about dynamic range in this or that camera being better than this or that other camera, and I don’t think their naked eye can really see that much difference in some cases. They sometimes also give personal insults. I think dixter just wants more productive comment threads, and to cut out the rabble comments that can dominate things. I do too.

          But I am thinking, like you, that having to have an online portfolio before commenting here is a high standard. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen. But there has to be a standard. I am learning about audio/video. I want to continue to learn. In posts here, and in some comment exchanges, I have learned some things that have, clearly, no doubt, made me better. I have also learned a few things that I wouldn’t have been aware of without this blog. I am really thankful for that.

          I do see your point too, jesaun, that it can feel like a loss of freedom, and a bit intimidating, to think I couldn’t comment here anymore if a high standard was put in place. But it’s not my blog. And it really is geared toward those who are shooting professionally and have online work posted. If those that are running this blog want to make it for a particular segment of people that’s theirs to do.

          Maybe one solution could be a little moderating by the people running the blog, i.e., snipping out words like ‘fanboy’, and other terms meant to be demeaning. Or, they could leave negative, unproductive comments as is and add a moderators comment after them saying to keep comments on topic, productive, and polite. After a few interventions from moderators everyone would get the idea and change the content of their comments.

          I’ve been on web sites that are moderated and have moderator comments inserted after questionable comments—it works for stopping the mosh pits and food fights. Mosh pits and food fights are distasteful and turn people who are really trying to learn something off.

          • Hey guys, sorry for the confusion (my fault). Those weren’t my words, I was just confirming that we’ll want SOME sort of link that confirms identity — could be a portfolio or website, but could also be a Vimeo, twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Kickstarter, etc. profile. Just SOMETHING that confirms you are who you claim to be, that’s all. We don’t want to be exclusionary but we do need to move away from anonymous commenters with fake names starting unproductive flame wars. Thanks for your input!

  • I doubt you will, but if you ever need to upload via the web control panel again, ZIP the files up up before you upload, and then extract the files once they’re on the server. Much faster!

    A note on forum/comment stuff: whether you have a forum in the works or not, an easy way to improve comment quality is by using something like Disqus, which lets the community vote comments up/down and flag inappropriate ones. Nothing can stop the trolls, but you can better arm the community to deal with them.

    Congrats on the success! I appreciate what you’ve contributed to the world, so far.

    • Good to know about zipping and then unpacking! Good idea.

      We considered Disqus, Lyvefyre, etc. long ago but once we knew we were redesigning and migrating, felt it easier to just migrate from one past system. Long overdue for a change but looking forward!

      • Ryan, not sure how far you are along with any forum implementation but check out http://microco.sm/

        They’re not fully launched but are pretty close and allowing some groups early access.

        Email david@microcosm.cc for info.

        If you’ve already built using another platform then it’s an easy port :)

        I don’t work for them but got dev access a while back and was so impressed with their story and progress. Thinking they’re going to turn the idea of forums on its head.

  • Great interview. As someone who’s at the infant stage of their own site, it was an excellent read.

    Very much anticipating the redesign and Manchild!

  • Dude, the “Knight Club” is one of my favorite movies of all time! You worked on that?

    • WHAT YOU’VE SEEN IT?! My first on-set job, as a lowly PA. You can even see me in the film, I have a cameo coming out of the club… which was funny as I was 19 at the time.

      • Uhm … I … was … you know … screwing with you … (oh, Koo’s gonna hate me now) … but aren’t you impressed I bothered to click through the links? … mo’ page views = mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money.

  • earnestreply on 08.31.13 @ 2:46PM

    Nofilmschool.com is the very first blog I check in my RSS reeder. I’m a very loyal fan. I trust wherever you take the site.

    I also totally look forward to the update to the DSLR Cinematography Guide and would pay a few bucks for it.

    Finally, I would love to see a most current and insanely in-depth round-up of DIY Online Distribution. It seems like such an important topic yet no one has written a good and definitive birds-eye view of it. I would pay money for that too.

  • Howard L Hughes on 08.31.13 @ 3:05PM

    I like how you lied to get a job. and then trained yourself for that job. shows true passion in my opinion.

  • why won’t you tell us when the mklll raw hack stable version is coming out ? why are you keeping that from us ?

  • Thank you Ryan, Joe and the rest of the NFS crew for playing a huge part in changing my life :) Horray for Nofilmschool and thanks a million x

  • I wish I had the balls to quit my job and pursue film making. I’m glad you did it ! :)

    • How about spending more time on making the film some of us Pledged for ? I suppose you consider that question Negative ? So be it. We are still all waiting.
      Here is a comment from a previous Poster: ” I wish I had the balls to quit my job and pursue film making. I’m glad you did it !” – Why do I post this again ? Because this person is under the impression you are making Films. As was I at one time.

  • My personal take is that I likely won’t participate in a “real name” forum. (I know. I won’t be missed)
    .
    FWIW, some things I don’t want to be searched for by friends, lovers, business contacts, rivals, etc. My Facebook is on a different browser and the legacy screen name from the 1990′s because I don’t want to be followed on every site that I visit. I could tolerate, I suppose, giving out some information to the site’s proprietors as long as it’s kept private but I don’t want to post under my real name. I think it’s my 18th year on the various forums – from history to politics to sport – and I prefer to stay anonymous. Naturally, to each is own, but IMO, this site will see a lot fewer posts and a lot less traffic if that new policy is implemented.

    • You don’t have any link at all that shows you are DLD?

      And hey, I linked you link to the 8K NHK camera, and other links too.

      • liked you link

        • My old writing site went kaput (long story) a while back and I keep Facebook/AOL on IE (which I am not fond of but that’s a legacy related stuff, as I had said before and I don’t spend much time there) while I surf on Firefox and use G-mail for the majority of newer contacts, including this site. I despise being followed by Facebook, especially seeing my own mug – “Make a comment as DLD. Not DLD? Sign in with a different user account” – though I know people with fake Facebook profiles that can be easily created with two different browsers and/or operating systems.
          .
          As a side point, DLD may be the initials of my show biz nom de plume but it’s not my full legal name. Beside that, my real birth name is in Cyrillic anyway.
          .
          Signed, ДЛД.

          • We won’t be requiring people to post using facebook profiles, etc. But we do expect to lose some users who don’t want to provide their real names. And we’re okay with that.

  • Congratulations, Ryan! Your site is an inspiration in more ways than one. Thank you for the hard work and great content.

  • Thanks for all the hard work. I’ve followed this site for most of its time online. A great resource and a vibrant community. Cheers.

  • Andreas Lange on 09.1.13 @ 5:07PM

    Started following this site 2 1/2 years ago when I was 17 years old, learned about 80% of mye DSLR and film knowledge in general from this site. Could never have been so effective, creative and experimental with filming without you Ryan! Now I’m 19 and starting up a small film company with some friends. Most of the succefull jobs I’ve been involved with are direct results of what I have learned here. Thank you so much!

  • Anthony Marino on 09.1.13 @ 10:55PM

    NFS, my morning paper. Great community, nothing like it, congratulations

  • Pizzaisayeastinfection on 09.1.13 @ 11:34PM

    Ryan Koo, Are you shooting manchild? when is the projected release?

    • Not sure about that screen name…

      Yes we are making it, no I am not shooting it myself (meaning, there will be a DP), and “not for a while” is the projected release unfortunately.

  • What a huge traffic milestone, Ryan. Congratulations. And thank you for taking the time to share your insights with us.

    We’re just about to hit our first anniversary at The Black List and we’re in your debt: our original core members came from Go Into The Story, and many of them discovered GITS through NoFilmSchool.

    It was inspirational to hear how you survived that first year. I’ve been in the same boat for the past year: spoonfeeding the site, curating content, trusting that it would grow. We’ve found our legs now but, as you know, it’s a ton of work, and the work is mostly invisible to the outside world, too.

    Please accept a big handshake from someone who has a small idea of what you’ve put in to accomplish this, and best wishes on for the future of No Film School–and your own writing and filmmaking, too.

  • Love the NoFilmschool site…keep it going!

    Erwin

  • July_No_October on 09.4.13 @ 12:42AM

    Enri, I’m not here to suggest that you couldn’t do the same (download a wordpress and achieve all of the above), but that you haven’t. Of course, as with all things that inexplicably stir up the ire of the masses, it is incredibly easy to avoid coming to NFS. Feel free to correct me if this isn’t the case. Blink twice if there’s a gun to your head, forcing you to be here, etc. Post links if you’ve devoted your time providing resources for countless folks who discovered filmmaking before, after, or outside of the optional, expensive, and time-consuming world of formal education. Whilst doing that, produce a feature film. Shoot and direct it if possible. It is my understanding that this is not beneath you so I’d encourage you to go ahead and do so.

    Also, *fewer* comments. Bitch, please

  • You must have missed the short film he put out not too long ago:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBRRS5_NrJQ&feature=c4-overview&list=UUM2FoYtC-2PQzMr_gDfQnHg

    And you probably forgot that feature-length films don’t just pop up overnight.

  • Sometimes the negative comments are worth it for the great responses! Thanks JNO!

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