July 25, 2010

Is Howcast a Good Opportunity for Filmmakers?

How-to sites like eHow, 5min, and Instructables are crowdsourcing their video content and then making money off the submissions. It follows, then, that these sites should offer the content creators some form of remuneration. While it's difficult to discern what revenue sharing agreement some of these sites have in place, NYC-based Howcast has an Emerging Filmmakers program that lays out its terms very clearly. If you ever make tutorials or how-to videos -- for any topic, not ust filmmaking -- their program is worth a look:

  • Level 1 – Start here with a stipend of $50 for every accepted video you create.
  • Level 2 – Get the hang of Howcast spots. Shoot SD (DV/NTSC) or HD. Commit to five videos a month and earn $75 for every accepted video.
  • Level 3 – Impress us with your creative and technical chops. Shoot HD. Commit to 10 videos a month and earn $100 for every accepted video.
  • Level 4 – Knock our socks off. Shoot HD and be able to meet deadlines. Earn special assignments with rates from $150 to $300 for every accepted video.

No one's going to make a full-time living doing this, but if you're looking to build a reel and get paid a little bit along the way, Howcast could be one such opportunity. However, the "commit to X videos a month" seems a bit stringent to me, given this kind of video creation is best done opportunistically -- between jobs, during a lull, or when you've got a new technique you want to share. Getting paid a flat fee for a video is nice in that you know you'll be getting some form of payment for your work, but if your video explodes and receives hundreds of thousands (or millions) of views, it'd be nice to see a scalable form of revenue-sharing beyond the initial payment.

For reference, here is an example Howcast video about creating a DIY camcorder stabilizer along the same lines as a Manfrotto Fig Rig:

By crowdscourcing its library of how-to videos, Howcast is able to crank out 1,000 videos a month (which, as of January, were collectively garnering 25 million views/month). The NYC-based company is expected to achieve profitability by the end of the year. There are a couple of different ways of looking at such a feat: one, they're making a lot of money off the hard work of others, or two, at least they're paying content-creators from the get-go. What do you think -- is this a good opportunity for aspiring filmmakers who have a how-to itch to scratch, or is it a drastic underpayment for quality content?

Link: Make Video, Launch Your Career with the Howcast Emerging Filmmakers Program

Your Comment

7 Comments

"[I]s this a good opportunity for aspiring filmmakers who have a how-to itch to scratch, or is it a drastic underpayment for quality content?"

I think it's definitely the second (if the content *is* well done), but it's quite possibly the first, as well. I looked at their site awhile back and still consider working on some projects for them.
Their response to our complaint would probably be that it's not their fault that there's a glut of gifted filmmakers. If they're making good money (which it seems they are!), then perhaps there's a niche there for an enterprising and idealistic filmmaker (I'm the latter, I'm not sure I'm the former, however!) to create something similar using a model that *does* scale.
In defense of HowCast's model, I'm sure they've paid for videos to be made that simply don't get watched. Personally, however, I'd rather work within a scalable model...and wouldn't mind not getting paid if it turns out the video I made is simply not getting watched. (That said, I'm quite sure that eventually all their videos will get watched and that they will see a return on investment from every one.)

July 25, 2010 at 5:52PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Hi, I'm Heather Menicucci and I run the Howcast Emerging Filmmakers Program. Thank you for giving us a mention -- we appreciate both your interest and your questions and concerns. We're definitely focused on scaling quality video production and currently we produce 300-400 videos each month, and approximately 10% of those are produced in-house. The rest are created by our network of up-and-coming filmmakers who are looking to gain experience working with a client, hone their craft, gain exposure to audiences both on and off-line, and earn some extra money at the same time. As you say, this isn't a way for filmmakers to earn a living full-time, but we feel that there are very few opportunities that pay you as you learn and challenge young filmmakers to bring their creativity to a practical client experience -- I believe Howcast is unique in that regard.

On a personal note, right after film school, I largely worked as a PA. I didn’t have a chance to shoot or edit much, but my friends and I teamed up to work on projects in our spare time. I think our program is valuable in the same way those projects were to me, but with added benefits, including detailed feedback from a team of producers.

Another point you mention is revenue-sharing, which we initially offered in our program. We revamped the program in February to offer clearer incentives and guaranteed payments for quality work. While many of our videos do extremely well, it's often hard to measure the number of views they receive across our distribution network. While YouTube and some other video destinations have great analytics, that's not the case across the board and our licensing and advertising agreements similarly differ across every destination, making it extremely difficult for us in some cases to even quantify a revenue share. We hope to revisit this again in the future when we're have a better sense if what filmmakers would be earning. For now we've gotten some very positive feedback on the switch to a tiered model program with defined pay levels and more creative challenges for filmmakers who produce stellar work, regardless of how many views their work gets.

I hope that answers some of your questions and concerns. If not, you can always reach out to me directly via email: emergingfilmmakers@howcast.com.

Thank you!

- Heather

July 26, 2010 at 2:43PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Reliable online video analytics are definitely a problem and I can see how that would affect your ability to implement a revenue sharing program. Thanks for the clarifications, Heather.

July 26, 2010 at 6:27PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Howcast is such a good opportunity for aspiring filmmakers. Film-making talents can be developed through joining web-based documentation platforms such as this one.

August 10, 2010 at 10:31PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Before I start ranting on Howcast... let me introduce myself. I work for an entertainment marketing agency that edits theatrical trailers & TV spots for Fox, Sony, Disney, and other large client accounts in LA. Disclaimer: this is my personal opinion and I by no means intend on turning people away from making Howcast videos. I believe people are afraid to "call a spade a spade" on this topic, so I will.

I've personally made four videos for Howcast. When I originally discovered their program I was excited and grateful for a company endorsing and cheering on new filmmakers. However, I will say that their payment level program is definitely exploiting talented filmmakers. Most of the time you'll barely break even or even lose money with their reimbursement of a measly $50 @ Level 1. Keep in mind that Levels 2, 3 & 4 have longer scripts and require more complicated production abilities (i.e. you're still not coming out ahead when you break down the numbers for you & cast/crew).

Your actors will have to work for free, you'll need buy your own props, your own lighting equipment, and subcontract or enlist a talented friend as your DP. Also consider what locations are free to shoot at. If you live in a big city like NYC or LA, people expect $$ for a location fee. The program requires that you have at least your own camcorder and means of editing. I was able to make some money off these videos, because I've got some great actor friends willing to help me out, but getting a DP to work for free or even $20 for 4 hours of work is hard to come by. I'm in LA and people out here expect $$ for their time. I freelance edit at $35/hr and end up making $300-500 on acting reels. One Howcast video will require roughly 8-10 hrs of production & post = $5/hr for you.

Howcast is great for people that don't live in NYC or LA and don't have opportunities to work on professional production sets. Their great for people that maybe still live in their hometowns after film school and need to keep busy making films. If I lived back home in Naples, FL I could easily crank out more Howcast videos, because people in FL aren't as "film savvy" and don't ask to get paid or ask for a "location fee"-- just tell them "you'll be in a movie" and they'll quickly enlist their help.

Additionally, Howcast videos are not "reel material." I don't understand how they get off claiming their videos can be used on a reel. Cut a reel from films YOU have created from scratch. Standardized graphics & VO will not look professional on a reel.

A reel that will get you a job in the film biz or attract clients should look something like this: http://www.vimeo.com/15273951

Reel Tips;
-Use your own original video
-Keep it short! 1-2 mins! Remember, a great 2 minute reel can be a great 1 minute reel.
-Montage your clips and remember to include talk-backs
-Use graphics to indicate what your role was on each film shown

I hope this info helps aspiring filmmakers and those considering cranking out videos for Howcast. I wish you all the best.

April 20, 2011 at 12:50PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Ok, so I know this is an old article and Howcast's requirements for filmmakers has changed and has made it much harder to work for them now. I was a filmmaker for them for quite some time and did a good lot of videos for them. I admit some of my videos could have used some work, but I still made it to level three in almost no time. I already had a DSLR and you can build a decent lighting kit for very little money. They say you can't make a full time living off of them, but I was cranking out 2-4 videos a DAY. And at $75-$100 per video, I was doing ok.

I really wish they hadn't changed their format. I like the creative original videos they used to make. Now everything they produce looks like Demand Studios. Too bad.

March 10, 2012 at 4:34AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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AlexWilliams

Alex,
Do you know were one can find out more about the requirements for filmakers that wish to participate with Howcast?

June 5, 2012 at 6:57PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Funkens