February 21, 2020

A Filmmaker's Guide to Using Patreon

How can Patreon help filmmakers make enough money to work on their dream projects? 

The internet and social media have changed the game for independent filmmakers. Now, more than ever, it’s easier to get your name out there. You can promote your projects, skills, and even your equipment. 

But monetizing these platforms to help you work on your dream projects has never been easy. There are rules, regulations, and you usually need millions of followers to get a decent ad spend. 

Enter Patreon, a website that has slowly risen to the top of the list for filmmakers looking to turn a side profit or even support themselves while running their own business. 

Today I want to take a deeper look at the service and see how it’s helping some filmmakers achieve their dreams. Plus, we look at a few strategies to help you maximize your efforts. 

Let’s get started. 

What is Patreon?

Patreon is a website where you can upload videos, writings, and other materials for members online. You set the price to view these things and patrons pay that price weekly, monthly, or yearly to subscribe to your content. 

In their words, they want you to, “Start a membership business to develop a direct relationship with your biggest fans and generate predictable, recurring revenue from your creative work.”

How Does the Money Work? 

Instead of advertisers paying to run commercials before your videos as they do on YouTube, Patreon uses a one-to-one cashflow, sort of like a recurring Kickstarter. 

You set the prices and people pay for it. 

You get paid out via Stripe, your Bank Account, or PayPal. 

Membership Tiers 

Like any crowdfunding idea, you can adjust pricing so people get exactly what they pay for. That means adjusting tiers for each patron of your site. You can charge people as little as $1 for certain things, or teach classes and individual courses for thousands of dollars. 

You're totally in charge of what you charge.

This might take some trial and error. 

To make the most amount of money and get the most subscribers, you have to check out the competition and set your prices accordingly. Are you giving away templates? Guides? Or exclusive videos? Does more money buy your audience one-on-one time or any interaction? 

Make sure you have a set plan before you embark on these things. 

Tiers are adjustable, so it might be advantageous to start offering things for a lower price, and the more subscribers you get, the more you can offer at higher prices. 

Are You Bringing an Audience or Looking For One? 

Perhaps the most important question you can ask yourself is what kind of audience you're bringing to Patreon. If you're starting out, you're going to be spending a lot of money and time creating content that people may never find. 

When you create an account, you’re asked to self-classify your work into one of the following categories:

  • Video & Film
  • Writing
  • Drawing & Painting
  • Podcasts
  • Photography
  • Science
  • Crafts & DIY
  • Music
  • Comics
  • Animation
  • Games
  • Comedy
  • Education
  • Dance & Theater

If you already have a lot of fans on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter, you may get some subscribers right away.

Without subscribers, you're making a backlog of content for zero money. 

And it could take months or years for people to find you. 

So, we suggest you build a following elsewhere and try to transfer them over when you think you're ready to monetize. 

What Do Filmmakers Use Patreon For?

Filmmakers have channels on Patreon where they give screenwriting tips, do camera reviews, outline cinematography tips, give behind the scenes looks at their work, and even debut short films and web series. (But you should know, Patreon does not allow pornography on their site. So tell your Mom she needs to go elsewhere for that.) They do allow avant-guard art and experimental films that have nudity as long as they are labeled “For Mature Audiences.”

How Do People Make Money on Patreon 

You need subscribers to make money on Patreon. It's that simple. But the nice thing is, that makes income more consistent. When you have people subscribing, you know the minimum you can make monthly. 

And guess what? 

The more you promote and advertise, the more money you can make. 

When you build longterm relationships with subscribers, it also gets your name and work out there. That can help when you release a movie or short that you need views on, or if you go up for a gig where they ask about your track record. 

These numbers are from an article in 2018, but TechCrunch says, " Patreon tells TechCrunch that in a year, it’s doubled the number of monthly active paying patrons to 1 million, and the number of active creators to 50,000. It’s now on track to pay out $150 million to creators in 2017, which would make its 5 percent cut equal $7.5 million in revenue. That’s after paying out $100 million total since 2014."

How Much Does Patreon Take 

Look, we know you can make money, but how does Patreon make money? Well, they take some of yours. That's what these platforms do. So how much do they take?  Well, just like you can charge in tiers, they also charge in tiers. They range from 5% to 12% off the top, but the more you pay, the more advantages you get to your channel. 

Lite

  • Patreon platform fee: 5% + payment processing fees
  • Hosted creator page
  • Patreon communication tools
  • Patreon workshops

Pro

  • Patreon platform fee: 8% + payment processing fees
  • All the features in Lite, plus:
  • Membership tiers
  • Analytics and insights
  • Special Offers promo tool
  • Creator-led workshops
  • Unlimited app integrations
  • Priority customer support

Premium

  • Patreon platform fee: 12% + payment processing fees
  • All the features in Lite and Pro, plus:
  • Dedicated Partner Manager
  • Merch for Membership
  • Team Accounts

Their middle branch is the most popular with people because it includes a lot of insight on who's browsing what, read or watch times, and also workshops that can teach you how to maximize your efforts. 

If you want to go Pro, you have a dedicated person at your disposal. 

The people who do that usually have a team running their channel. They're bigger names with bigger budgets and releases.

We'd recommend you start small and upgrade as your needs grow. 

Fine, but is this a good deal? 

Here are some things for you to consider, again, according to TechCrunch, "Instagram doesn’t offer ad revenue splits with creators. Facebook has begun to give some video makers 55 percent of the revenue from ad breaks they insert in their clips, but the program has yet to scale. Ad-supported platforms often pay merely $0.10 to $0.0005 per view, so creators have to be broadly popular to earn a living."

So, Patreon sets itself apart by letting the creators earn the lion's share of the money. 

Still, you should know that with Direct Deposit, US creators are charged a $0.25 fee for every deposit and on PayPal US and international creators get $0.25 or 1% of the amount transferred, capped at $20 per deposit. 

Why is Patreon Good for Filmmakers 

I think you would agree that making a living as a filmmaker is the dream. While many of us have side hustles to pay the bills, Patreon offers a way to use your knowledge of film, television, and production jobs to make cash. 

You're in control of the content you post and what you offer. This is pure capitalism at work. If there's a demand, you can be the supplier and charge what you see fit. 

This is also flexible, you can sustain yourself using it as a side gig or go for broke and try to make it your full-time hustle. 

You can be your own boss. 

Patreon’s Maura Church says, “By connecting directly with their fans, creators on Patreon are establishing a stable, ongoing source of revenue and gaining the peace of mind—and creative freedom—to build their careers as creators."

Why is Patreon Better Than YouTube? 

As we mentioned earlier, YouTube's monetization process is based off getting advertisers to buy into your ideas. To do that, you need a huge audience. But what if instead of having 5,000 subscribers, you make content that only gets 500 subscribers? 

Well, on Patreon, those subscribers are paying you, not watching ads, so if you get 500 people to pay you $5 a month, that's an extra $2500 you're making. You don't have to wait to grow that audience to make a fraction of that from YouTube. 

So, Will I Make Millions? 

The short answer is "probably not."

We spent a lot of time hyping up Patreon for readers, but there are lots of drawbacks. The website, The Outline, did a study where they found only 2% of Patreon creators earn more than the federal minimum wage. 

Yikes. 

From the same Outline article written by Brent Knepper, "Patreon lets creators hide the amount of money they are actually making, although the number of patrons is still public. Boruta’s numbers are based on the roughly 80 percent of creators who publicly share what they earn. Of those creators, only 1,393—2 percent—make the equivalent of federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $1,160 a month, in October 2017. Worse, if we change it to $15 per hour, a minimum wage slowly being adopted by states, that’s only .8 percent of all creators. In this small network designed to save struggling creatives, the money has still concentrated at the top." 

From Graphetron

Those are not great outlooks for most filmmakers. 

Sure, there are success stories, but you cannot rely on the site to supplant work, only support it. 

What’s next? Learn YouTube Monetization

Some people are making millions on YouTube, but is YouTube monetization right for you? And what are the monetization rules? Keep reading...     

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