Director Dan Dobi Talks About Making Money On YouTube In Please Subscribe

While many filmmakers focus on producing features and distributing through iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, and other outlets – YouTube is providing a way for short content producers to earn a full time living.

Director Dan Dobi’s documentary Please Subscribe portrays the popularity of full time YouTubers. These are creators who’ve abandoned the typical 9-5 work week in favor of making money on YouTube (through advertisement revenue). But is this a viable platform for short filmmakers?

Dan Dobi stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to discusses the advantages of utilizing YouTube as a way to promote your work, build an audience, and potentially turn a profit.


Filmmaking Stuff:  Audiences are more accepting toward entertainment that isn’t viewed on cable television and in movie theaters.  Some of the most popular award-winning programming is found on Hulu, Netflix, and lately Amazon. How would filmmakers best leverage YouTube?

Dan Dobi: Just start using it!  Upload behind the scenes footage, respond to questions, talk with your audience.  YouTube is an engagement platform, take advantage of it.

Filmmaking Stuff: But there’s so much out there on YouTube, how can you compete?

Dan Dobi:  If you have a good product, there’s really no excuse.  The playing field is pretty level now, so instead of people worrying about distribution, I would focus more on making the best product possible.  When I did Please Subscribe, I went in with the intention of, “If this doesn’t get picked up, I’ll just put it up on YouTube.”  Filmmakers forget that you can do LOTS to recoup your money with having your product on YouTube.

Filmmaking Stuff:  Please Subscribe features some pretty unique individuals.  Would you agree that originality is the key to YouTube success?

Dan Dobi: Don’t try and fit in and do what other people are doing, that’s how you get lost in the shuffle of the over-saturated sea that is YouTube.  Do something different. Do something you’re passionate about.  If it’s forced, it won’t get your audience connected.  Be on time, have a schedule so your audience knows when to expect you.  Lastly, just be nice!

Filmmaking Stuff: You stress the importance of connecting with the audience.  It’s mentioned in the film that YouTube grew in popularity because it allowed the audience to connect with the subject.

Dan Dobi: It just allows a conversation to start and get in touch with the creator, which if you think about it, how cool would that be to openly ask a question to Tarantino?  Sure there are AMA’s and whatnot, but its open to asynchronous communication and allows creators to respond.

Filmmaking Stuff: Is responding to the critique by FilmbuFF80 about framing composition in the comments section the new press junket?

Dan Dobi: It sure helps.  It’s not so much the new “press junket” but smells like the future to me!

Filmmaking Stuff: The personalities featured in your documentary have little to no formal education in creating and developing videos.  However, they all share an amazing work ethic and fast turn around time to generate more content and gain and maintain viewership.  Most upload at least one video per week.  For an independent filmmaker, where a final product takes much longer, is there still the potential to develop a base of subscribers on YouTube?


Dan Dobi: Absolutely. Look at Mystery Guitar Man, who is featured in the film. He spends days on one video and has a cult following. He pays attention to details and found a formula that works for him. He’s a perfect example of quality content. Doing videos consistently on YouTube will eventually train you to get in the habit of making content quicker and allow you to think on your toes.

Filmmaking Stuff:  Can quality be compromised in order to get the job done?

Dan Dobi: I’m a perfectionist, but sometimes when making videos for the web, I allow myself to move on quicker than I normally would.  It’s not being lazy, but it’s one of those things I ask myself, “Will anyone really notice or care if we do a jump cut or break the 180?”  In short, I allow myself to be forgiven in order to keep the day going.

Filmmaking Stuff:  The more successful YouTubers earn six figures annually from advertisers!  YouTube has a defined market and audience in its videos and channels.  It’s demonstrated a proven platform.  Is this the same audience for independent films?  Will advertisers want space for films?

Dan Dobi: My crystal ball says this is totally the next stage of the game, especially for episodic stuff where you can slap ads in the middle of the episode.  Hulu does this already and YouTube has the ability.  I just haven’t seen too many people use this function frequently yet.  A lot of people are just focusing on the 3-5 minutes stuff with YouTube but I think the future will welcome long form content.

Filmmaking Stuff:  Some feature films are available on YouTube for a small download fee. Will this cause advertisers to become less important?

Dan Dobi: I really think people are over going to theaters, unless you’re going to see Gravity or Intersteller.  Regarding the whole download fee situation, yes, I think people would much rather sell a unit rather than have ads run throughout the film.  In my opinion, it’s just not how films are intended to be shown—ads will just remove you from the experience.

Filmmaking Stuff:  The idea that YouTube offers the freedom to create what you want, when you want seems like its biggest perk.  Would you agree?

Dan Dobi: I’ve created music videos, films, commercials, you name it, I’ve done and it the WORST part about all of this is the deliverables.  People still want digicam masters sometimes and it’s just a pain.  I once did a video that had someone having a drug trip and used funky colors.  The video was rejected because it didn’t pass quality control.  You’re telling me you’re allowing a robot to tell ME that I can’t use certain colors?  That’s like telling an illustrator, “No, I’m sorry, you can’t use that color.”

Filmmaking Stuff: Is that because the traditional outlets have higher broadcast standards?

Dan Dobi: I’ll level with you, I’m aware that TV’s have broadcast safe colors and need to be spec-safe but with YouTube, there’s none of that!  You don’t need to worry about colors or going to a third party to get your project closed captioned cause guess what?  YouTube does that for you… Automatically!  How?  I don’t know!  But that’s awesome!  Okay, I’m getting off track a tad.

Filmmaking Stuff: Are there other benefits to YouTube?

Dan Dobi:  Some other perks would be analytics, being able to post when you want, no ridiculous QCing, in short there are far less “rules”.

Filmmaking Stuff: You seem pretty excited about the advantages of YouTube.  Is this what inspired you to make Please Subscribe?

Dan Dobi: I had a few YouTube shows going for some time in 2009.  I loved it and loved the community and the meet ups.  I was always asked, “What’s this YouTube thing about?  How’s it work?  How did this happen?”  I figure with the people I’ve met in the space and my knowledge as both a content creator and filmmaker, making a film just felt like the right move.

Are you making money on YouTube?

How to Break Into The Film Industry

If you’re wondering how to break into the film industry, you’re not alone. Nearly every successful filmmaker has started from nowhere. The problem is, there is a big catch 22 in the industry.

Unless you’re known, nobody will take your calls or read your screenplays or produce your ideas. And unless you get your work produced, it is really tough to become “know.”

When I first started, I did what you’re doing. I sent out countless query letters. I gave my screenplay to friends of friends of friends who knew (or at least claimed to) know someone in the film industry. I checked my email and mail frequently… And guess what happened?

Nothing happened.

Sure, I got the occasional rejection letter which sometimes included feedback. But most times, I sent work into the Hollywood abyss. That was pretty much the end of it. And as I type these words, I cringe at the experience. I sincerely dislike asking permission.

The turning point for me came when I realized the secret on how to break into the film industry. And I guarantee you will probably not like what I’m about to share… Because this secret is only for the most serious filmmakers. Are you ready?

How To Break Into The Film Industry

Photo © Tarikh Jumeer / Dollar Photo Club

How to Break Into The Film Industry

If you are wondering how to break into the film industry, the secret is simply:

>> You need to stop asking permission.

Seriously. You need to stop sending query letters. You need to stop hoping that someone will notice your brilliance and your talent. And above all, you need to quit relying on someone else to do the heavy lifting for your career.

Instead, you need to become your own production company. And you need to focus first on the movie you can make this year.

“Given the resources that you have right now, what is the movie you can make this year?”

For some of you, that means you’ll only be able to make a two minute movie for YouTube. That is okay. Make that movie.

For other filmmakers, answering this question means that you’ll have to put your twenty-million dollar blockbuster script in a drawer and make that low budget horror movie you’ve been thinking about.

By doing this, something amazing will happen.

You will stop waiting around for everything to be perfect. You will take action. And  as a result, you will gain the confidence that comes from doing. And ironically (and I don’t fully understand why the universe works this way) – As soon as you stop focusing on how to break into the film industry, and you start doing the work, you will start breaking into the film industry.

If you need more inspiration, I suggest you check out these filmmaking resources.

Making A Short Film: 5 Tips For New Filmmakers

Making a short film is the rite of passage for many new filmmakers. If you have never made a short film, now is the time.


Not only are there a gazillion film festivals that offer a short movie program, but with websites like YouTube, you have the ability to reach a global audience.

Making A Short Film

This is better than the old days. Back then, making a short film meant that your work would get projected in theaters before the feature presentation.

But that trend ended. The short film was replaced by trailers and advertisements.

In the decades that followed, there wasn’t much of a market for short films. It was almost impossible to make money with a short film. As a result, finding investors to back a short was super challenging.

While I can’t say that the economics of short movie making has improved dramatically, the emergence of crowdfunding, festivals and internet based video platforms offers hope.

But regardless, you’re a filmmaker. And making a short film is a great training ground for getting your feature made, seen and sold.

Making A Short Film

Here is a quick video outlining my tips for making a short film:

Many people in Hollywood bounce around for years pretending to do work, when all they are really doing is pretending. Many of these people call themselves producers, yet they have no screen credits and have frankly failed to do anything!

Don’t do that.

If you haven’t yet made a short, my suggestion is to get started!

For your first few movies, don’t spent time worrying about lighting or special effects. Just learn how to utilize your limited resources and make something cool out of nothing.

Making A Short Film: Gear

For around two-thousand dollars, you can buy a camera that produces cinematic results. And if you can’t afford to grab a professional camera, then just utilize any camera you can get your hands on.

(Yes, this includes camera phones.)

Again, making something is better than making nothing.

In the event you cannot yet afford your own equipment, then find someone who already has gear and make friends.

Short Film Ideas

You next step is to get an idea for a short.

I suggest you focus on a story you can tell in three minutes or less.

When I was managing a film program, I noticed a lot of first-time filmmakers created dramatic stories that focused on suicide or some guy staring into a mirror and talking, or some chick shaving her head while reminiscing about apples and spiders.

These movies sucked, but they were good practice.

Your initial movies will probably suck too.

Don’t worry about it.

Give yourself permission to suck. Here is an example of a bad short film:

Yeah. It is MY second short film and I don’t know what I was thinking.

But it was good practice. I learned a lot.

Keep in mind, I included this short film example this to provide encouragement. Odds are good you can do better than this poo. I challenge you to get started and do something better!

Just remember, the more you practice, the better you get.

And if you’re making a short film, but find yourself really low on short film ideas, then the next best thing is to create a music video… Which is essentially a short movie too.

The other things you can do is watch other short films. A while back, I stopped by the Haig Manoogian Screenings of the best short films.

The films represented the best of the best of the NYU film school and were presented by former NYU alumni Eli Roth.

101shortfilm125x125Shot in film (not HDSLR video), all of the movies looked expensive and awesome. But at the same time, guess what?

…Every film was serious and dramatic.

By now, I think this is the reality of making a short film – It seems like most student filmmakers create serious and dramatic movies.

I don’t know why this happens.

So in response to a short film festival market saturated with drama, my ongoing to suggestion for making a short film is this:

“When making a short film, DO NOT do drama!”

Okay… If you think you have something dramatic you just HAVE to share, by all means, make your movie!

Case in point, I thought the best movie of the night was Little Horses.

Skillfully directed by Levi Abrino, this movie has a ton of heart. Here is an excerpt:

While my review of Levi’s short film is slightly biased (I have been a fan of Levi’s work for years), the laughter of the audience was evidence that Levi’s movie offered a nice break from all the drama.

So anyway… Go Levi!

Keep in mind that your short film will probably end up on YouTube.

So if you can be funny and get Internet viewers to share your movie with other people who will then share your movie with other people, you will have achieved a great thing.

In addition to all the points mentioned thus far – Your audience is your business. Growing your own audience is up to you. And the process starts with making a short film, getting your movie online and exposing your work to the world.

Making A Short Film: 5 Tips For New Filmmakers

After making a few short films, you may find yourself getting bored. This is actually a good sign, because it shows you’re growing. When this happens, begin to come up with more complex short film ideas and then write a well crafted screenplay.

  1. In the event you have not yet made a short movie, write one or two page scripts and then produce your story on a borrowed camcorder.
  2. Edit the footage on a friend’s computer.
  3. Upload the footage to video sites like YouTube. Test audience reaction. Is it good or bad? Learn from it. Then make another video… Then another… Then another.
  4. Once you feel confident with short storytelling, move on to bigger and bigger projects.
  5. Keep pushing yourself. Keep refining and learning!

The short movie marathon exercise described above will provide you with a fundamental understanding of how to shoot scenes for minimal cost and still make them interesting.

Making a short film will help you save time and money when you create your feature, while providing you with endurance, experience and the confidence to make movies with greater efficiency.

When you upload your work for the world to watch, audience feedback will reveal areas needing improvement. Even though you’re working with non-professional equipment and talent, if you can learn to make great movies with a small camera, you can make them with a big camera.

Theoretically, if you make one or two three-minute movies like this every weekend for six months, you will have the equivalent experience of making a feature.

Then later, when the feature filmmaker in you is ready, the feature will reveal itself.

101 Short Film Ideas To Get You In The Action

Sometimes making a short film and coming up with short film ideas can be a pain in the butt. So I put together an action guide specifically designed to help you find short film ideas.

101 short film ideasTitled 101 Short Film Ideas. In addition to providing short movie ideas, this action guide also contains some extra bonuses!

The system is designed to help you overcome any creative blocks.

In addition to having an action guide that contains 101 short film ideas, As part of this system, you will also get my ten step audio program for making a short film

This is mp3 audio that you can put on your iPod or mp3 player and listen to it anywhere. If you are looking for short film ideas, check it out here.

Who Needs Traditional Distribution?

As a filmmaker, selling your movie usually involves traditional distribution – film festivals, schmoozing, phone calls, follow up and a whole bunch of NOs and crappy distribution offers. And even when you get your movie into the market, there are still no guarantees that your movie will be a success. This can be discouraging.

Earlier today I spoke with to David Branin and Karen Worden of the popular filmmaking resource, Film Courage. After completing their feature film, Goodbye Promise, they decided to forgo film festivals and avoid the typical filmmaker distribution path. Instead they decided on a simple distribution strategy that involved YouTube and the popular crowdfunding site called IndieGoGo.

In the following interview (which was unplanned and unscripted), we talk about our filmmaking backgrounds, the projects we are working on and case studies – Pay special attention when we start talking about case studies related to crowdfunding. We highlight the good and maybe more important, the not-so-good realities of trying to raise money

You can check out the interview here:

After watching the interview, you can contribute to the Goodbye Promise Indiegogo campaign.

Was this video useful? Comments are welcome.


Building Your Filmmaking Team

If you look at my movie credits, you’ll see that I’ve been working with the same crew on almost every project. This is not by accident. The truth is, making movies is challenging. And from my perspective, bringing unknown people into the process makes everything even more challenging and (often) complicated.

But you have to start somewhere. So for those of you planning to crank out some movies, I recommend you start small. Find a few collaborators and assign jobs based on interest. Then grab a camera and complete some micro projects such as music videos, short films and funny sketches for YouTube.

Here is a project my buddy Jared did in a few afternoons to test his new HDSLR camera. As you’ll see in the following video, he created a very simple sketch – a music video that employs minimal locations, a few actors and a lot of exteriors – which means he didn’t have to worry about lighting interiors. The project was a lot of fun too. (My horrible acting is featured too. I’m the guy who spits gum.)

If you can do a dozen of these small projects without ripping each other’s heads off, you’re on your way to creating your core crew. Then later, as your projects increase in scope and scale, you’ll have a good starting point.

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