The New Producers - Part 3: 8 things you need to know to create free content that people pay you to make!

Video equipment is cheap, and access to eyeballs has never been easier. But getting a sustainable return on the effort and cost of creating content is one big problem that has been killing traditional publishers. So, who is making free content that people will pay for, how do you actually monetise that content, and how do you create free content that people will pay you to make? This three part article looks at these questions.

Part 1 - Who is making paying content for free?
Part 2 - How do you monetise free content?
Part 3 - 8 things you need to know to create free content that people pay you to make!

Without a story, a film is just a collection of disparate shots. And no matter how pretty, they are just some shots. But to attract a following, a channel's films must make some sort of point. So it’s worth understanding something about the nature of story itself.

Here we are then, at the third and final article in this series. There is a lot of advice around to do with making video, and usually it is to tell a story. This is quite right and, unsurprisingly, great stories happen mainly to people who can tell them. 

Very few articles get around to exploring what a story actually is beyond: stories have a beginning, middle and end. My car has a beginning, middle and an end, therefore my car is a story. So that's dealt with that then! 

1 Know what a story is

So let’s be different. Let’s explore a definition of story that is actually useful. It’s the audience that controls meaning but, no matter how hard you try, you cannot have absolute control of what goes on in the audiences’ heads. Stories are composed of messages, and these are what the author does control. It is these that get turned into meaning. 

A complete story is a collection of messages that the author hopes will impact an audience in such a way that they think and possibly do a particular something afterwards. Therefore, you could say that a story makes an argument. Since the point of an enduring story is that it works without requiring the author's presence, you could say that it makes a mind’s argument for the solution to a problem. There it is then, a definition of story that covers just about everything from a novel, through plays to films, poems and successful raconteurism. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice makes her argument for how to marry well. Bowling for Columbine is Michael Moore’s argument for better gun control in the US.

2 A problem?

I'm strong on definitions. So what is a problem in the context of story? I can't eat fish? No, that's not a problem. Not eating fish is only a problem in a story where there is no other food. Stories without problems are not terrifically interesting. They are like those interminable anecdotes that tail off into something completely forgettable. So at the heart of a great story there lurks some sort of inequity. Only fish to eat - can't eat fish. The problem in Pride & Prejudice was the inheritance system that would have impoverished unmarried Bennet females on their father's death. Michael Moore generally looks at what he sees as big problems to do with Conservatives running things in the USA.
Everybody faces them, so exploring life's inevitable problems, the people involved, and how they go about resolving them will always capture audience interest - it's personal. Stories often involve a conflict between two people and the best way to solve the problem. This is all about different perspectives. Problems put people in one place while they need to be in another, and this is the source of emotion.

This film makes the point well. At the end Elayna explains her solution for a good and successful resolution.

3 Good Subjects for films

Interesting travel films are about the places and people encountered an journey. People are usually nice to sailors, they spend money and don’t stay too long. It’s really interesting to see a location dramatised. The activities and interactions of people in their familiar daily lives can all be explored visually. 

Like the crews of many YouTube yachts, Riley and Elayna make films about the places they visit, their sailing life, the friends they make and the low times as well as the fun. This is important if they are to honestly present their adventure. Authenticity is important.

Films can also be how-tos. Boats require maintenance, repair and modification from time to time. Explaining different rules about visas, entry and clearance requirements can be very useful. These are all good candidate subjects for a film.

Food is an almost inexhaustible subject. New veg, fruit and recipes will be wherever you go - alcoholic and other drinks too. And while on passage there will be the fresh bread and fish. Maintaining a healthy diet on long passages is always a potential issue so there is loads to explore.

4 Shoot sequences, not shots 

Film is a show, not a tell medium, so it’s no good doing a piece to camera about the scary storm last night. Actual footage of the storm and you being scared is so much better. Some of the yachts fall into this trap and don’t show, they sit in the cockpit and tell the camera about the things that happened, things that should really be on film. 

When shooting we tend to think in shots. And we put a lot of effort into ensuring they are well framed and exposed. But when we come to edit we have to make sequences that do the heavy lift of storytelling. So it’s worth thinking about sequences when shooting. To do that you need to know what messages you are trying to convey - so you need to know what the story is about.

So when planning a sequence, it's worth thinking about the supporting footage that says: 'we went ashore in our dinghy'. This might include launching the inflatable, getting in, starting the motor, speeding through the other anchored boats, finding a place to tie up, getting out of the boat and making fast before walking off. How many shots do you need? That depends on how much voiceover or dialogue you need to cover. If it's a short sequence then quick fire shots of getting in, motor start, speeding along, and bumping into a pontoon might be enough before cutting to the shopping trip sequence. 

Incidentally, if you are making a podcast then, in a similar way, you would record sound effects to augment the dialogue and narration. 

5 Equipment

There is an old saying amongst TV cameramen: the best camera is the one you have on you when you need one. You need a camera that can shoot HD video and it’s hard to find one that doesn’t today. You also need to shoot stills. It’s worth finding one that shoots video in a format that is easy to edit. There is a wide range of mirrorless cameras, DSLRs and camcorders that will do just fine. Pick one that has a connection for an external mic. With a good zoom lens and a decent microphone you are set up for pieces to camera, interviews and general shots.

For sailing films GoPros and drones have become essential. The DJI Phantom 3 Pro has been the mainstay, but there are plenty, some even waterproof, to choose from. I like the Lumix GH range of mirrorless cameras and you can get underwater housings for them that really make snorkelling and diving expeditions. I'll be compiling an equipment  list in my research document.

Sound is massively important. Probably 80% of the value of a film is in a well crafted soundtrack. Well recorded sound is all about signal versus noise. You need to record plenty of signal and the minimum of noise, you can't easily remove unwanted noise in the edit. In fact, try to avoid the whole notion of fixing things in the edit, it's lazy. Recording clean sound will mean placing a mic as close to the speaker as is possible. It might mean having a mic on an extension cable or even on a separate sound recorder. You might also need a muffler or dead cat to reduce wind noise on the mic. Audio recording is a craft skill that makes all the difference. I cannot overstate the importance of managing sound consistently and well throughout your films.

6 Editing

To engage an audience, videos must be well edited. There should always be a front title sequence that identifies the channel. Editing is the last writing process that is done to a film, it’s all about grammar and vocabulary. This means that the structure and pace are all the editor's responsibility. 

There are so many options for editing. At the simplest I like the iPhone app LumaFusion. But there is so many free and paid edit software for PC, Mac and Linux that something is bound to suit. I like Final Cut Pro X on the Mac as it makes editing really fast and works conceptually more like film than videotape. But the choice is yours. And again, there is plenty of training to be had.

There are masses of online tutorials on the subject. Look at some, find the app you prefer and then look at some more tutorials. You might also sign up for a training course. Again there are many sources, I have used and can recommend, and for all the major software.

I mentioned before that channels must be consistent. You need to establish a look and feel for your videos. If the channel is about sailing around the world, meeting new people and visiting new places then it should stick to that - in the main. That is to say, the films should not be too different, but certainly not formulaic repetitions.

Editing is a huge subject, and a skill that is more about intuition than a set process. The best advice is to look at films you like and work out how they were put together. Then emulate them.

7 Music

Videos are not complete without music. It embodies the feelings in a film. But it can be extremely expensive to buy a license for well known songs. So SoundCloud has a useful advanced search capability that allows you to filter results by Creative Commons licenses that can even allow commercial use, with attribution. In addition to that, Soundcloud musicians often allow their music to be used for free on popular YouTube channels. It never hurts to ask.

You can do a search on for all sorts of free to use media. Some requires attribution and others don't. But it's well worth getting to know the various resources. In addition, some composers on YouTube and SoundCloud will let you use their music for free if you ask nicely. If you make good films then some will appreciate the exposure in a different marketplace.

8 Part of a publishing portfolio

Just making and uploading videos to YouTube or Vimeo is not enough to get found. Linking together a blog, a Patreon site, a Facebook page and a YouTube channel is a fundamental requirement. Additional sites like Twitter, Instagram and Flickr are useful too. Podcasts are a really good idea for delivering content to people when reading or viewing is impractical. Good audio pieces expand your audience dramatically. Podcasts can be hosted on many sites, some are free and others are paid. There are many of these and you can put the podcasts onto iTunes and Google Play for free. They should, like videos, be embedded in blogs to maximise exposure.

An important requirement is that the films be easy to find. For this they should be in appropriate playlists, have useful tags and keywords as well as catchy titles. A good thumbnail works well as does putting lots of links in the description. Also put links in the films themselves and the YouTube channel banner, it's all important.

A regularly updated blog is probably the best place to make central to your publishing efforts. It's also a good starting point for acquiring subscriber details so that you can build a good list - the size of your list is critical to much commercial activity on the web. Social Marketing through Instagram and Twitter etc can also lead people to your blog. The Patreon site will allow you to restrict early releases of films, photos and podcasts etc to paying supporters.


Amongst the deluge of cats, music, and expressions of teenage angst on YouTube there are plenty of very high quality films too. I find it fascinating how so much stuff is given away for free and how audiences will be happy to contribute to fund the creators' continuing efforts. This is a big disruption of the traditional entertainment model where the gifted few are granted the privilege of communicating with the rest of us.

You might level a criticism that I have only used examples from a very narrow niche. But that is the point. You never get to see this stuff on TV because the audience is deemed too small. The limited space on a broadcast channel means that better (commercial) use can be made by serving a wider demographic. But here is a way for niche interests to be served with some hope of support. You just have to look for them; there, Google is your friend.

If you'd like to know more about the theory of story that I find most useful then explore the Dramatica website. The theory is quite academic so be prepared for some work. But I have found it the only theory that is from the author's perspective - and this makes it very useful. It is supported by a very clever piece of software and a host of free training material. Also look around Melanie Anne Phillips' site, Story Mind, and Jim Hull's Narrative First site.

As more people discover that the skills required  for making engaging films aren't so hard to learn, I reckon that the broadcast model will have to change.  I propose keeping these articles up to date and will add relevant links from time to time.


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