There are many ways for filmmakers to use their skills to generate income. You can move to a major filmmaking hub like New York, Los Angles, or Atlanta and cut your teeth in the world of features and television. You can shoot commercials and web videos for local businesses. You can shoot and edit weddings. You can even use your own short films and features and generate income through various online distribution outlets. And last but not least, you can sell stock footage. The only problem with the latter option is that most stock footage houses these days aren't built with filmmakers in mind. Today marks the launch of Story & Heart, a new story-driven stock footage licensing hub and filmmaking community that tackles many of the issues with modern footage licensing head on. The result is a stock footage service that is unlike any other to come before it.
I recently talked with Justin DeMers, one of the co-founders of Story & Heart, about what sets the service apart from the myriad stock footage hubs that are operating today, why storytelling is more important than ever, and how Story & Heart is taking the concept of a global filmmaking community to the next level. But before we get to the interview, let's take a look at the Story & Heart launch video.
NFS: Justin, who are you, and what’s your background in filmmaking and storytelling? Fill us in on the journey that led you to starting Story & Heart.
JD: I’m Justin DeMers, a partner at Stillmotion and one of the co-founders at Story & Heart.
If memory serves me right, I’ve been an artist all my life. In high school I became fascinated by photography and the dark room, which led me to the University of Toronto to pursue a degree in photography and art history. And it was while I was in University that I met Patrick and Amina Moreau, who operated Stillmotion out of an old farmhouse in a vineyard. That was 8 years ago.
Long story short, they needed help for weddings, and like any University student, I needed money for tuition. So in between my own gigs, I would help them out. We built a really great relationship of trust and collaboration, knowing if we ever needed help we could count on each other.
It was only natural then, after graduating, that Patrick, Amina and I all huddled around an idea of a larger collaboration. Of creating a company that would bring each of our strengths and weaknesses into the fold to tell meaningful stories. A combination of my constant need for a “why” in all I do, with their background in psychology. Two years after meeting them the first time, we officially joined forces to create the modern day Stillmotion -- a production company with a desire to tell meaningful stories.
Over the 6+ years I’ve been a partner at Stillmotion, I’ve gone on to become a DP, cinematographer, and educator. I’ve also been extremely fortunate to travel the world for various projects and workshops, and as a result, have met filmmakers from all different walks of life. It was in those conversations that the idea for Story & Heart flourished.
NFS: What is Story & Heart?
JD: Before we get to what Story & Heart is, let me share something it is not; just another generic footage licensing platform. What we are building has incredible value to filmmakers who want to be engaged in their industry, even those who haven't had a keen interest in licensing their footage for one reason or another in the past.
"We all want to tell amazing stories. We want to move people. We want people to cry. To laugh. To think. To do. But we also share another common goal: we don’t want to do it alone."
Story & Heart is an ecosystem -- one part filmmaking community and one part stock footage licensing platform -- built to help storytellers tell amazing stories. And like any good ecosystem, there are many different facets that build together to create Story & Heart. On one hand, very broadly, Story & Heart is a global community of like-minded filmmakers who’ve recognized the power that can come from working together to build filmmaking and storytelling into a greater version of itself. Whether it’s by making the stories we’re passionate about available for licensing, coming together to share knowledge and education, or just reaching out beyond our islands to refresh and reinvigorate our passion.
And this community, in turn, is supported by a licensing platform. By sharing these stories, our filmmakers are giving hours, days, or years, all their hopes and fears, and risks and successes, to share with the world. The authentic stories of the real world we all live in. Licensing helps to support these very real filmmakers, and support free access to this community we’re building.
NFS: Stock footage houses today are a dime a dozen, with new ones springing up all the time. How does Story & Heart differentiate itself from the pack? What does Story & Heart provide for the filmmaking and storytelling communities that can’t be found through other stock footage services?
JD: Right off the bat, we definitely didn’t spring up overnight. We’ve been in the filmmaking industry for almost a decade at Stillmotion. And on our journey we’ve had the opportunity to meet thousands of filmmakers who felt the same way we did of the existing stock footage platforms: distrustful and unenthused. Their purposes never aligned with ours, and it always seemed to come down to their bottom line, and only that.
So a thought became a vision. And right from the beginning those in our community stood together with us, and helped draw our vision into a clear roadmap. No one needs another stock footage platform. But like-minded and passionate filmmaker and storytellers definitely needed something. Beyond a licensing platform, we’re an ecosystem that supports our fellow storytellers. Because of this focus on helping storytellers, we are able to re-imagine the licensing perspective: everything from what stock footage is, to how it’s presented and found, to how it’s used.
Instead of looking at stock footage as one offs, or remnants from an old story, we look at it as an opportunity for filmmakers to tell a story they care about, one that they would put the same effort, if not more, into telling as they would a client gig.
Instead of looking at a licensing platform as just an opportunity for find footage, we look at it as an opportunity for one storyteller to help another storyteller—to collaborate with and lend your perspective to another’s story, while helping the filmmaker follow their passion for telling stories.
Instead of looking at search as being entirely focused on keywords, we look at it as an opportunity for storytellers to find purpose -- to use our understanding of everything from camera stabilizers to how focal length combined with distance to your subject affects the feeling of your shot and provide story based filters.
Instead of looking at stock footage as being a last-ditch effort, or a sacrifice, we look at it as an opportunity for storytellers to find inspiration and to tell an amazing story -- to feel proud that they have served their story the best way possible, and supported their own creative community in the process.
All of these combined makes for an experience that is drastically different from existing licensing platforms. When you land on Story & Heart’s licensing side of things, the first thing you’ll notice is we’re story-driven. While you can find individual clips, we serve them up inside chapters, which are part of larger stories. Amazing stories generally aren’t made up of disparate individual shots, they’re made up of sequences -- blocks of story -- each with beginnings, middles, and ends. We’ve taken the basic story structure and applied it to how we present footage on Story & Heart.
The next thing you’ll notice is how visually different our footage is compared to other platforms. Curation is a big part of what we do at S&H, with each clip going through at least 3 sets of eyes, including an individual pass to clean up any black frames, unnecessary shake, etc.
Bigger than that though, the footage you’re seeing on Story & Heart is crafted with heart -- these are authentic stories our filmmakers care about. These aren’t one offs, with the best stuff only being used in the final project -- these are the full stories.
And lastly, you’ll notice a very clean UX and simple licensing process. Stock footage licensing platforms don't have to be so complicated or frustrating. We have streamlined everything about the process of finding footage, downloading HD sample files, to selecting which license is perfect for your project, with one goal in mind: to get you back doing what you love, which is telling stories.
NFS: How does Story & Heart compare to other stock footage sites in terms of how the business operates? What kind of commissions does the service take? Can filmmakers set prices for their own footage? Do you require that all footage be exclusive to Story & Heart, or can filmmakers sell to other stock footage services? Is there any other fine print that filmmakers should know about before applying to be a Story & Heart filmmaker?
JD: As filmmakers ourselves (this is a common theme at S&H), it was incredibly important for us to ensure we’re doing right by our community, first and foremost. Filmmakers aren’t contributors, and we will never call them as such. They are real people who are offering to share their vision of the world to raise the tide of stories together. And those who might license these stories are an integral part of the community as well.
It’s just a matter of respect then, when it comes down to it. Operate S&H with great respect to everyone who comes together to be a part of this.
Every license sold pays the filmmaker a 50% royalty, which as it stands currently, is much higher than many of the existing platforms. It just made sense though, we’re all in this together in equal measure. Additionally, for filmmakers who are active in the S&H Community -- those who go above and beyond to help others out, answer questions when they can, are active in sharing stories on the platform -- receive a higher royalty split. It’s just one of the ways we recognize those who truly help build the community.
And our platform is exclusive, which means filmmakers (not just the stories they share) who are part of S&H are not part of any other licensing platform. And we get it, exclusivity can sometimes be a heavy word. Really though, it just means that each filmmaker who licenses their footage on S&H is supporting the ecosystem, while helping storytellers tell amazing stories. It makes for a safe environment where everyone shares a common bond and desire to help each other out.
"Every license sold pays the filmmaker a 50% royalty, which as it stands currently, is much higher than many of the existing platforms. It just made sense though, we’re all in this together in equal measure."
Another big note is the actual backend systems for the filmmakers. Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, we really took into consideration the common denominator all filmmakers share: they’re busy. When it comes to licensing, there are quite a few aspects that are important and necessary, but knowing how little “free” time filmmakers have, it was vital for us to build a framework that was fast and effortless. From uploading stories, to tagging, to organization, to communication with our team -- our platform is custom-built from the ground up with the focus on getting filmmakers back to doing what they love: telling stories.
NFS: There seem to be a lot of people and companies marketing themselves as “storytellers” these days, regardless of whether or not they actually tell stories. We all saw the "You Are Not a Storyteller" Video that made its way around the internet last week. First of all, is there some kind of storytelling fad going on? Or could it be that people are collectively starting to realize the cultural and societal importance of story and narrative? Or maybe some combination thereof? Do you think there's a reason that the notion of being a “storyteller” is such a popular one these days? Is the popularity of storytelling -- even if that storytelling is shallow or disingenuous -- necessarily a good or bad thing?
JD: We fly the flag of being the world’s first story-driven licensing platform proudly. Not because story is a buzzword, but because we believe in the power of story -- from winning multiple Emmy Awards, to producing our own feature length documentary #standwithme, to telling moving wedding films -- we have seen first hand the ability for a well-told story to move mountains, inspire change, and generally make the world a better place.
Ultimately, I feel everyone is a storyteller, and every conversation and interaction is a chance to tell a story. Once you understand this, and more importantly, the rules for what makes a great story (even at the basic 3 act structure level), you realize just how much power that has over people innately -- we all want to tell and be a part of great stories. I think this realization is why we’re seeing a shift in everyone from content marketers to roller coaster designers calling themselves storytellers.
For a content marketer, you’re seeing a shift in blog post format to follow more of a story structure. Hook the viewer (which starts right at the headline in most cases), provide a middle that creates enough forward movement to get to readers the end, and then offer a resolution that delivers on the promise of the hook.
For a roller coaster designer, you see this all the time with the biggest and baddest drop being the first thing on the ride. You could argue it’s there for physics and for speed (and I’m the first to admit I’m not a science guy), but I also think if you look at most great roller coasters, they all follow a basic story structure: 1 big drop at the start, a middle that carries you through to the climax, and then another big drop near the end. After you’ve gotten off the ride, you remember the big drops at the beginning and end, but not so much of the middle—the same for most great films.
Where the frustration in the word “storyteller” or “story” may reside is when it's used for bad or ill-intent, or even no intent at all. The timely example right now are link bait headlines. I don’t think people would be so frustrated with those types of headlines if they didn’t fall short in the rest of the article/video -- if they actually followed the structure of what makes a great story they would deliver on their promise and people would be more open to them. I would guess it’s partly why Upworthy has been so successful -- the combination of a strong hook paired with content that delivers on the promise -- it begs to be shared with others.
At Story & Heart, we choose to use our love of story for good, which carries through everything we do. Telling amazing stories that inspire in some way, at least a little, the positive in us all. One way we’re doing this right now, for example, is Storytelling Parade, a filmmaking contest we’re running with an objective to bring as many inspiring stories to light as we can by sharing with filmmakers the ins and outs of telling such a story. Stories of people making the world a better place. The education is entirely free and there is up to $100k in filmmaking prizes available -- all with a goal to show the world how our fellow filmmakers, when we come together, can create incredible movements through the inspiring stories we can share.
Back to your original question though. I think the word “storyteller” itself may come and go from websites and business cards, but at the core, and since the beginning of time, humans are storytellers. It’s how we make sense of our existence, and equally as important, how we pass on legacy to those who follow us. So in that regard, I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon.
NFS: Talk about the community aspects of Story & Heart. What are you ultimately trying to build, and what is the roadmap for getting to that place?
JD: The Story & Heart Community is a home for filmmakers to collaborate with, learn from, and be encouraged by other filmmakers from around the globe. Being a filmmaker is tough, and it’s often isolating. Apart from a couple of conferences a year, and if you’re fortunate to have projects that have budgets for teams, you’re often alone or around the same few creatives day after day. It’s a difficult career to sustain and be happy long term. Our goal is to make that easier by bringing like-minded filmmakers together to collaborate on ideas and projects, share in each others experiences and knowledge, and to have a support system that genuinely cares about you. Both online and offline, and all of the various ways we can come together.
Tangibly, some examples are the collaborative initiatives like what we did this past March for CBS and March Madness where we brought together teams from all over the US to tell the stories of March Madness and The Final Four, both of which aired on CBS. It meant filmmakers who had never been a part of creating content for broadcast TV had the opportunity to join other filmmakers who had. We had filmmakers collaborating with each other, learning new gear, understanding the dynamics of a broadcast production, all the while working alongside Emmy-Award winning producers, directors, and DPs. And to top it off, each filmmaker can now say their work was featured on broadcast TV.
It’s also educational initiatives like Tell Amazing Stories, our 4 week course that just wrapped. Brought to you by Stillmotion, Gnarly Bay, Joe Simon, Ryan Booth, and Matt Brue, one studio a week shared what goes into creating amazing stories from start to finish, both in the form of an eBook and a live 2 hour webinar. After each week, we’d all go out and tell a story together, including the educators, and put together a collaborative film.
"I think the word “storyteller” itself may come and go from websites and business cards, but at the core, and since the beginning of time, humans are storytellers. It’s how we make sense of our existence, and equally as important, how we pass on legacy to those who follow us."
And lastly, it’s our platform initiatives where you can engage meaningfully with other filmmakers the world over in a safe and protected environment. This is just the start for what we have planned in our pursuit to make being a filmmaker easier and more fun. For filmmakers who want to get a sense of what this all means, check out Storytelling Parade, our filmmaking contest with heart. During these 7 weeks you’ll have the opportunity to collaborate with other filmmakers, take part in free education from Stillmotion, and do good with your craft.
NFS: Does Story & Heart provide benefits for filmmakers beyond just being able to sell stock footage?
It is our goal that by becoming a Story & Heart filmmaker you not only open yourself up to a passive income stream by licensing your footage, but far bigger than that, you become a stronger filmmaker while having a ton of fun in the process.
You will leap years in your career in a short amount of time by engaging with other filmmakers who were in your shoes at one point. You will be able to shift away from being just work-for-hire. You will meet other passionate filmmakers from your city and around the globe. You’ll take part in collaborative projects. You’ll tell only the stories you care about. You’ll find a renewed sense of purpose day after day. And again, you will have a blast in the process.
NFS: You share a common thread with Stillmotion in terms of the core principles and guiding values of the businesses, and it seems like Stillmotion has been instrumental in helping Story & Heart get off the ground. Where does Stillmotion come into all of this? What role did they play in the creation and evolution of Story & Heart, and what role will they play going forward?
JD: Story & Heart is born out of a common goal that we at Stillmotion, and all of the thousands of filmmakers from around the world that we’ve met over the last decade, share: we all want to tell amazing stories. We want to move people. We want people to cry. To laugh. To Think. To do. But we also share another common goal: we don’t want to do it alone.
It took us about a year to go from idea to fully realized plan, and then another year to go from plan to where we are now. And while Stillmotion played a huge part, we were constantly working together with other filmmakers in the industry. Everyone is so uniquely different -- from their strengths and weaknesses to the stories that drive them. Having our community come together right at the beginning built us to where we are now. And now that our community keeps growing larger, we’re excited about the impact we’ll have moving forward.
NFS: What are the various ways that people can get involved and become part of the Story & Heart community? What is the process for becoming a Story & Heart filmmaker? Can anybody do it, or are there restrictions on who can sell footage?
JD: Because of the multi-faceted nature of Story & Heart, becoming a filmmaker and community member isn’t a matter of a few clicks of the button. In fact, becoming a Story & Heart filmmaker happens well before any application process. We’d encourage filmmakers to become an active part of their own community and tell the stories they are passionate about in the first place. For those that are driven by this idea of being a part of and sharing something beyond their own islands, the processing of becoming a Story & Heart filmmaker then is second nature. For those just learning to takes steps off their own islands, it might take a little extra.
So, in order to create that safe environment for filmmakers of all levels, it is very important to us that those that come together have a very balanced give and take relationship with the community. The official Story & Heart process then begins with an in-depth application. Beyond just a portfolio of work, we’re most interested in the story behind the filmmaker, making sure we’re the right fit to help each other and Story & Heart thrive.
For filmmakers who are accepted, we work really closely with them on an ongoing basis both in terms of community involvement and licensing. There are no restrictions for filmmakers, other than being actively involved in both helping others in the community and sharing stories for licensing to sustain the platform.
NFS: Is there anything else that you would like to share with the NFS community?
JD: We are completely excited to take what we’ve built and finally start sharing this with the world. We’ve put a ton of heart into this, and would love to ask for your help. If the licensing side of things is something that might help ignite your own stories, please check it out and help support our filmmakers. Share it with a friend. Or many friends. And likewise, if you’re a filmmaker and our vision resonates in harmony with yours, reach out. Reach out to chat. Reach out to apply. Reach out to become a part of this great community. We’re taking our first steps into the world and are totally excited to meet you!
And lastly, join us in the Storytelling Parade. Shine a light on an inspiring story. Let’s show the world the magic that happens when we all work together.
Story & Heart went live this morning, so make sure you head on over to their site to check out all of the exciting things happening there. If you've got any questions about Story & Heart, be sure to leave them down in the comments!