• Search Keywords

  • Year

  • Production Status

  • Genre

  • Co-production

  • SA Supported

  • Indigenous creative

  • Length

  • Technique

  • SHARE THIS ARTICLE

Part 1: How much does it cost?

The myth of the ‘overnight success’ story can make it seem like this is an easy, and inexpensive route to becoming a filmmaker.

Quick read

The success of Australian video content online has seen local writers, directors and producers rocket from emerging filmmakers to viral video creators.

While it certainly has provided a different avenue to gaining a foothold within the industry, it’s not as simple as filming something on your smartphone, uploading to YouTube and waiting for fame and fortune to come knocking.

Through two case studies – Starting From Now and SketchShe – we find:

  • The budgets for Starting From Now ranged from $4,000 for Season 2 (whose six episodes ran between six and a half minutes and nine minutes long) to $322,000 combined across Seasons 4 and 5 (whose 12 episodes over the two seasons were around eight minutes to 13 minutes long)
  • For Starting From Now, Screen Australia came on — with $210,000 for Seasons 4 and 5 — after three self-financed seasons had been completed and garnered millions of views
  • SketchShe self-financed viral hits, whose budgets ranged from $0 to $1400, before their Skip Ahead-funded web series Traffic Jam The Musical. Its $140,000 budget was spread across four episodes ranging from approx. five and a half minutes to seven minutes long
  • With government assistance, crew sizes for both more than doubled
  • After establishing an audience, both used crowd-funding sites to raise additional finance
  • Key lessons from SketchShe were to avoid signing onto anything long-term if you do have a viral hit, and to have a consistent content calendar.

Big thanks to Starting From Now writer/director/producer Julie Kalceff and actor/producer Rosie Lourde, as well as SketchShe writer/director/producer/co-star Shae-Lee Shackleford for sharing with us their experiences and lessons learned – and the difference it’s made for them as they progress to their next projects.

Starting From Now seasons 4 and 5

STARTING FROM NOW

<h6>Julie Kalceff</h6><p>Writer / director / producer</p>
Julie Kalceff

Writer / director / producer

Starting From Now is a lesbian web series that ran for five seasons, from 2014 to 2016, and followed four inner-Sydney women “as they struggle to work out who they are, find a place where they belong, and maybe even find someone to love along the way”.

STARTING OUT

Writer/director/producer Julie Kalceff graduated from AFTRS in 2002 with a MA in Scriptwriting, but struggled to find her feet in the industry.

“I was trying to figure out how I would fit into the Australian screen industry and I was also a bit frustrated by the lack of representation of women on screen and the lack of diversity in terms of sexuality and ethnicity,” she says.

But her work writing and directing episodes on 2012 webseries The Newtown Girls made her realise “the way to cut through and find an audience was to make a series and put it online”.

Kalceff self-funded the first season of Starting From Now, at a personal cost of $6,000.

The last day of the shoot for Season 1 was in September 2013. Kalceff was going to lose their two main locations in December and knew there was more story to tell. So she wrote Season 2 and shot it in December, at acost of $4,000.

Season 3 came soon after and was the result of a small crowd-funding campaign through the now-defunct platform Dana. Its budget was $10,000.

<h6>Rosie Lourde</h6><p>Actor / Producer</p>
Rosie Lourde

Actor / Producer

Before Kalceff and Lourde (who came on as a producer for Season 3) applied for Screen Australia and Screen NSW funding for Seasons 4 and 5 in 2015, they launched another crowd-funding campaign with co-producer/actor Lauren Orrell (who helped produce Seasons 2 and 3). This time it was through Indiegogo and they raised a similar amount to the Season 3 campaign, which they held onto until they did go into production for Seasons 4 and 5 in October, 2015.

Screen Australia supported Seasons 4 and 5 of Starting From Now off the back of the first three seasons’ success. The agency provided $210,000. The total budget for the two six-episode series (with episodes of 8-13 mins) was $322,000. It was bolstered by Screen NSW funding and the Indiegogo crowd-funding as well as in-kind support and sponsorships from companies such as IVF Australia and LGBTI health promotion organisation ACON.

It also saw the total number of crew working on it more than double, from 14-15 in the first three seasons, to 42 in Seasons 4 and 5.

“Because we essentially shot a feature film on $300,000 that money doesn’t go very far,” producer Rosie Lourde says.

“So there was still quite a lot of negotiating in there. The main negotiating was around locations and deals with equipment.

“But we paid every individual that worked on Seasons 4 and 5.”

Post-production house Spectrum Films is credited as an investor on the series, alongside producer Marcus Gillezeau’s (Storm Surfers 3D, Scorched) production company Pavillion Entertainment and Finance. And locations such as Sydney’s The Beresford Hotel and bookshop Better Read Than Dead are listed alongside companies such as Sydney Ute-Van Hire as supporters.

The Star Observer came on board as a media partner, providing marketing support through their online presence. And popular website and online video channel One More Lesbian hosted the episodes on their YouTube channel in parallel to Starting From Now’s own channel, to ensure their audience were exposed to the show.

Season 4 and 5 were pitched as TV half hours, which led to a licensing deal with SBS2 (now SBS Viceland). The two seasons aired in March 2016 following the world premiere of Season 4 as part of Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival, where it won the audience award for Best Narrative Feature.

BUILDING AN AUDIENCE

The goal was to prove there was an audience. Initially, Kalceff aimed for 100,000 views on each episode. But before releasing the first episode, Kalceff worked to create buzz around the series to make sure the target audience was waiting for the release.

“I contacted as many lesbian websites, press and bloggers I could find. I built relationships with them, sent them exclusive behind-the-scenes photos and set-up interviews with the cast of Starting From Now (Bianca Bradey, Sarah de Possesse, Rosie Lourde and Lauren Orrell). I knew they were speaking to the audience we wanted to reach. I thought if I could get them excited, then they would get their readers excited and there would be a ready-made audience waiting for the arrival of the series. It meant we had solid numbers on release and then word of mouth meant our audience spread beyond our targeted niche. Our audience is now 22% male.

“When it came time to releasing a season, I uploaded an episode a week. I made sure it was the same day and time each week and we created an event around it, building momentum and excitement towards the release of each episode.”

It would appear the approach worked.

Lourde says: “We actually went back through the stats and we achieved over 100,000 views per episode in just over two months on the first season.”

“We broke 10 million views in the first year. It’s a mind-boggling number, especially when we’re talking about 2014, when web series weren’t really established – especially not web dramas and especially not female-driven ones.

“To have that amount of traction with a global audience was something really tangible we could take to Screen Australia and to Screen NSW at the time.”

For Seasons 3-5, Kalceff says they experimented with their online release strategy.

“We released the first episode online and then made the season available for PPV (Pay-per-view) download on Vimeo, where it cost $2USD to rent and $5USD to download and keep. There was a window of time (two weeks for Season 3, and four weeks for Seasons 4 and 5) where you could pay this small fee on Vimeo rather than wait. After this period of time lapsed, we then released an episode a week, freely available on YouTube.

“It has always been important to me to make the episodes freely available for all. One of the reasons for making Starting From Now was to make a series with lesbian protagonists for those viewers who don’t see themselves, or people like them, reflected on screen. I know I needed this when I was growing up.”

Now she says Starting From Now is on a few different platforms.

Starting From Now has its own channel on YouTube and also features on One More Lesbian’s YouTube channel (160,000 subscribers). It’s on Vimeo, where it’s available as pay-per-view (PPV), “as some people like to download a whole season and watch it all at once.” Starting From Now is also on Mamamia (“we developed a partnership with them and they host all 5 seasons on their site”) and IndieFlix.

“Our biggest audience is in the US, followed by France, Germany and the UK. We’ve got a global audience. There are a number of platforms trying to find their feet at the moment and they’re looking for content. There is a real demand for content so platforms can serve their audience.”

In the past the series has featured on SBS On Demand and the streaming platform REVRY. “And we have popped up on other platforms without our permission. Viewers rip the series off YouTube and repost it. It’s a lot of work and very frustrating to try and get them taken down. I’m sure there are some we don’t even know about, but as long as people are watching the show, I guess that’s what matters,” Kalceff says.

FINDING GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

Starting From Now’s creators initially approached Screen Australia for Seasons 4 and 5 funding, but after taking on feedback, withdrew the proposal in order to further develop the scripts. Screen Australia instead funded some consultation sessions with producer/writer Amanda Higgs (The Secret Life of Us), who Lourde had initially met through the 2015 SPA Ones to Watch program. The scripts were improved and Kalceff and Lourde got professional development too.

The proposal subsequently put forward by the team combined with their sizeable online audience, led to the $210,000 in Screen Australia funding.

Lourde says it’s support that has a huge payoff.

“(Online) is a space where you’re allowed to take risks because there’s less ramifications. You’re dealing with smaller budgets, you’re dealing with less of a brand association… and it’s flexible enough to respond to what the audience is wanting. So you’ve got that real space of experimentation so you can play around and see what works. The lessons we’ve learnt through Starting From Now are guiding us through the development of Torn in a huge way.”

Torn is a television series funded through Gender Matters Brilliant Stories.

Lourde says Starting From Now is also changing industry attitudes.

“(We’ve seen) the local and the international industry responding and seeing that there’s not only a need for diverse content but also a place for it, and that the success of the show is leading to future opportunities. Like with Gender Matters support coming through for our next project, but also we’ve got conversations starting with other platforms and broadcasters internationally as well.”

Watch all five seasons of Starting From Now here

TIMELINE

Video/Series Title Date Published Approx. Budget Govt. Supported/Corporate Sponsor Number of Crew
Starting From Now Season 1 March 2014 $6,000 N 15
Starting From Now Season 2 June 2014 $4,000 N 14
Starting From Now Season 3 Nov 2014 $10,000 N 15
Starting From Now Season 4 March 2016 $322,000
(S4&5 combined)
Y 42
Starting From Now Season 5 July 2016 $322,000
(S4&5 combined)
Y 42

SketchShe

SKETCHSHE

<h6>Shae-Lee Shackleford</h6><p>Writer / director / producer / co-star</p>
Shae-Lee Shackleford

Writer / director / producer / co-star

Together Shae-Lee Shackleford, Lana Kington and Madison Lloyd are SketchShe – an all-female sketch comedy group who rocketed to fame making videos where they lip sync to popular songs from inside their car.

STARTING OUT

“Initially Lana, Madison and I really wanted to create a television show because we felt like there was a real void in female driven comedy,” says Shae-Lee Shackleford of SketchShe.

“We started filming sketches and put together this very rough pilot. I actually went over to America and tried to get meetings and it was really hard – next to impossible – without any runs on the board, so I went back to Australia a little bit disheartened,”

A mutual friend suggested they try YouTube and build a fanbase there so they could use it as leverage for a TV show.

In December 2014, the SketchShe channel was launched. In March they uploaded their fifth video Bohemian Carsody – which three years later is sitting on a staggering 29.3 million views.

“We just had that idea one day and it was the thing that struck a chord and went viral.”

That first car video had next to no budget. They used their own phone and choreographed the routine themselves. Mime Through Time, which has nearly 39 million views on YouTube and 300 million total views across YouTube and Facebook, was self-funded and cost $1,400. Mime Through Time has also been recorded by Tubular Labs as one of the most viral videos of all time on Facebook. Even US talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is a fan, inviting the troupe onto her show in April 2015.

“The funny thing is when we do car ones, it’s still the same. That’s never really changed. It’s an iPhone on the dashboard of the car,” she says.

But all of those early sketches were all pieced together on very little.

“It was the kind of thing where I put in a certain amount of money to set us up,” Shackleford says.
“What we managed to put together for the amount of money we spent was quite miraculous with those first few sketches. It was very much a one-man-band kind of thing. It was either us shooting stuff on our phone, or a friend of mine, who had his own lights and sound gear would just do everything for us on his own.

“We just invested in it. It definitely was out of pocket with the hope that we’d be able to make something of it and it took a long time to get repaid back.”

It didn’t help that they signed deals without reading the fine print.

“That’s something that I would say to be cautious of when you’re starting and you have this huge success. The whole world is suddenly reaching out to you and it can be a bit overwhelming.

“The hardest thing is when you’re at the start and you don’t have money and lawyers are expensive, and you’re a bit trusting, but it is definitely worthwhile to make sure you’re dotting your ‘i’s and crossing your ‘t’s. My best advice would be if you can avoid getting yourself signed into anything long term then do until you’ve found your feet. Do the research. Don’t be too shy to ask for current clients, or past clients. Get testimonials.

“It was an interesting time though and it was good because it really did kind of make us assess what we really wanted SketchShe to be and the kind of content we wanted to make.”

BUILDING AN AUDIENCE

The financial setbacks and legal issues meant SketchShe went quiet online for a period of time, which taught them another valuable lesson about building their audience: consistency.

“We learnt that no matter what, you’ve got to try and always be engaging with your fanbase,” she says.

“The initial success that we had was really amazing because the audience that you can reach and the fans that you can amass in a short period of time if you hit the right chords is incredible.

“Then after that it’s about being true to who you are and what you want to say and your brand. Online is so different to anything else in that the authenticity is so important. It took us a long time to get back on track. But I think once we finally were, we were better than ever because we had gone through that and realised that no one was going to take us down. Once we were able to break through from that and had consistent content calendar where we were always releasing and engaging with our fans, we were really able to put it behind us and go onwards and upwards.”

That fanbase even contributed to their first longer-form narrative project Traffic Jam the Musical.

Through Kickstarter, they raised $41,442 from 469 backers, who contributed an average of $88 each to see the four-part web musical brought to life. The offers ranged from $5 for a production diary, to $100 for a personalised video message, to $4,000 for the trio to come to your next Christmas party “dressed as Disney princesses and cause havoc with some seriously impressive dance routines. Not kidding.” (It attracted one backer)

The Kickstarter funding made up a proportion of the $140,000 budget for Traffic Jam the Musical, which also received $100,000 from the Google/Screen Australia Skip Ahead funding in 2015.

“We never had taken on a proper budget before and created something more long form. We learnt a lot from that.”

FINDING GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

After receiving Screen Australia and Google support for Traffic Jam the Musical and building their audience through consistent videos, Shackleford returned to the US and this time, the doors were opening.

“For us the difference between now and when I came over here (the US) to get meetings before we went online – and it was just radio silence – is huge. Now we have some incredible contacts. Before, we just simply wouldn’t have had anything like that. The online side of things has just opened so many doors for us because we were trying to do the traditional TV route before and it was really difficult.”

Last year SketchShe signed with MCN (multi channel network) AwesomenessTV, which represent different YouTube channels, providing production support to help them grow their content and fanbase, and connecting them with other YouTubers and influencers.

“They’ve just been really onto it and supportive. So for us between Screen Australia and AwesomenessTV and ICM who’s our agency over here and Emma Barnes in Australia, who’s kind of our global manager, we’ve been lucky that through trial and error we’ve managed to surround ourselves with the best people for us to continue to grow.”

Watch SketchShe’s videos here

Find out more about how the comedy sketch trio and other online groups have become more like a production companies in the upcoming #2 of Australians Go Viral. Stay tuned.

Timeline

Video/Series Title Date Published Approx. Budget Govt. Support/Corporate Sponsor Number of Crew
 Bohemian Cardosy March 2015 $0 N 0
Mime Through Time March 2015 $1,400 N 1
Traffic Jam the Musical June 2016 $140,000 Y 30