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How do you make money with your original VR work?

It’s episode 9 of my 31 Day Challenge, where I'm answering your questions about creating a career or a business that you love and in today's episode, I'm going to tackle the big one. The question on every creatives lips, especially in the VR industry, how on earth do you make money with original work?


This is a full transcript of the podcast episode. Instead, you can listen and subscribe here:


So the big one, how do you make money with original work? Now, this episode is obviously going to be very much based on personal experience and it by no means

covers every aspect of how you can make money with original work. But I'm definitely going to be drawing from my own experience. Specifically, I'm going to be drawing from my own experience of making money from a 360 original piece. So you know, obviously, if you are more of a game based VR creator, and you have very different potential revenue streams with, you know, putting it on the Oculus, or the Steam Store, or licensing it to VR arcades, that kind of thing. So this episode is really going to be focused, on my personal experience and it's drawing from the more original work point of view of storytelling.


So basically, original work. I guess, is anything that's not being dictated by a client, you know, when you have the power to decide everything about that project, you're creating your own intellectual property and that's what this comes down to. That's, really what any original work is, right? is it's like it's your own IP. So how do you make money from original VR work? So for me, there's been a few different kind of realisations that I've had and the landscape today in 2020, looks very, very different to when I kind of first started to push my original work through different distribution channels, which was in late 2017, early 2018, when I first released my first VR drama. So for me, and Keyed Alike, which was my first kind of VR original, which was a 360 drama. I kind of gave it its festival run and then as soon as it got some kind of press, some kind of momentum behind it, that's when I started to put feelers out about selling it. I don't mean that I wanted someone to just come in and bid for it, I mean trying to push it out to different distribution channels. So the first distribution channel that I wanted to go down was online distribution. Now naturally, we're living in a world where, you know, if you want to get the most exposure possible, then absolutely, you're going to try and, and get your piece on as many headsets worldwide as possible. For me that came in the form of getting my project on some of the most popular apps for 360 videos. So back then, that was Jaunt and that was Inception and iconic engine, before they kind of turned into… I think it was called digital domain before they turned into more of a licensing agent. Anyway, so those were the kind of the main platforms and projects were sent to those platforms on a licensing agreement. So what that meant is, some of them would pay an upfront fee, a small fee, you know, never more than kind of $500 and then you would supposedly get a revenue split, if they were to ever kind of sell it on to be used at a VR cinema, for example, or licence it into a telecoms original app or something like that. So that was the idea of those agreements. Now, for me that never really came to anything, like it was a very, very menial amount of money that came through those channels, which is a shame, because obviously, you'd think that an online distributor would be the way to go. But obviously, people who have headsets at home, and unless it’s game based content, they're very unlikely to pay to watch 360 content. I mean, you look at the moment, I'd say probably the best distributor for brilliant, high end 360 originals is probably Within and I'm not sure how their agreement works, because I've never licensed anything to Within, but I'm sure it's either a small upfront fee, or some kind of licensing deal. But the thing is, you don't pay to watch anything on with it, and so, it's hard to think that there's ever going to be a massive amount of money you can make through that model. So that's a real shame, obviously, because, you know, if you think about the film, like the traditional film world, you would create a film, and then if you could get it into the hands of the right distributor, or if you could put it on Amazon, not Prime, but the the service where someone can pay to watch your film, you could put it on YouTube's premium camera, whatever it’s called, or Vimeo. So there's options for film traditional filmmakers to start generating some revenue, by putting it up on online platforms. But for 360 creators, that's not necessarily the best thing to do and you can obviously put it out and generate kind of interest and I've never put Keyed Alike, or any of my original 360 pieces, really on YouTube or Facebook and that's because I want to make sure that when people are watching my work, they're watching it in a headset. And the vast, vast majority of people that are watching 360 content on YouTube and Facebook are not watching it in a headset, so that's my personal preference for you. You might, you know, you might choose put it on YouTube and obviously, you can monetise a little bit through that with AdSense, although obviously you'd need a lot of views, to be able to kind of make anywhere near the kind of money that would sustain you as an original creator. So when I realised quite quickly that the kind of licensing deal online wasn't necessarily going to be the way to make money as a 360, kind of original piece. The next option that I explored was pop up VR cinemas. Now, obviously, right now in this climate, that's going to be really, really hard to do and it's going to be really difficult to reach out to anyone because no one's really doing them. I don't know anyone that's got plans to do them because everything is on hold whilst we're in this COVID situation but if you were to put on your own VR cinema when we can, when social distancing isn’t a thing and you know, we're living in a world where people won't be scared to interact with each other or wear a headset in some kind of space, potentially a location based screening, just like the early days of cinema is a really good way to go. Now, again, if you reach out to someone who puts on VR cinemas, you might make a little bit of money. I think the most that we got paid for a screening for Keyed Alike was 150 pounds, which they showed the film for two or three days for that price. So you know, if you manage to get loads of them lined up, then all of a sudden that starts to look quite good. But realistically, the best way would probably be to put on your own. Now that sound quite scary and if you don't want to be in the business of distributing your own content, if you don't want to be in the business of having to put on your own VR cinemas, then it absolutely makes total sense, I'm not going to go into this in too much detail, but you would think that it would be not very financially viable. But actually, if you managed to negotiate a good rate on hiring a space, and it doesn't have to be anywhere particularly fancy, say for example, if you could do a deal with your local independent cinema to use their spare room, or something, or the local art gallery, anywhere ideally that is an artsy type, or kind of recreational type space, just because then you're more likely to kind of pull in people that would be going to that space anyway. But you could put on your own cinemas and charge, you know, 5 to 10 pounds per ticket to experience some VR content and that all of a sudden becomes quite a viable way to make your money back. Funnily enough, with that, the reason I like doing that, I mean, I don't personally put on my own, but I curate and facilitate a pop up VR cinema, in collaboration with a space and the BFI, so that is, like my version of that. But the reason I quite like that is not only because, you're gonna make a lot more money than distributing online, but also, and you're getting that direct feedback from your audience, you're actually there with them when they experience your film and that's really exciting. I can't tell you how much I learned about 360 directing, and editing and what audiences do and don't like. I can't tell you how much I learned from doing those kind of cinemas because you're there with the audience, you can see them react, you can see them spinning around, or you can see some of them reacting to something and some of them not. So you start to get a really good idea of creatively as well, what people think of your work and so you're like going straight to the source and understanding whether you're doing it not right or wrong, because there is no right or wrong, but you can get a good idea about what audiences think. So that's really, really handy. So that is potentially something to explore.


The next way that you can kind of make money from your original work and this is by far the most lucrative, by packaging it with a workshop. So this is where you start to get in to the significant amount of money and this is where I started to realise that I wasn't probably ever gonna make, you know, loads of money. Not that Keyed Alike was ever intended as a piece to make lots of money, but you know, it became obvious quite clearly no one was just going to reach out with a Netflix licensing deal and be like - we want to buy this for, however many £1000. When I started to actually see some really kind of interesting amounts of money off the back of the original work was when I started packaging it as a masterclass or a workshop. So I would go to an event, sr I would be asked by a university or a film group or a research body or maybe a production company, like various kind of different people that might be interested in getting into VR, or might be just interested in experiencing it but they would also want to understand the process behind it, they'd want access to you, to ask you questions about why you did certain things. So what I started to do was, was to package the film so people could experience keyed alike, but then what they were really paying for was to hear me talk about the process of writing it, the process that we went through to make it and you know, my experience with producing it and the money involved with it and getting into festivals and the state of VR storytelling and my predictions for the future and all of those kinds of good stuff. So really what they were paying for wasn't necessarily to see the film, but because of the film, it it positioned me as an expert in the field of VR storytelling, which allowed me to then start to make some pretty good money, as I guess you would say, like a kind of a speaker or workshop leader, that kind of thing. It wasn't hands on workshops, It wasn’t a full day thing where I was teaching them how to use 360 cameras or, you know, setting them tasks on writing VR scripts. It wasn't anything like that.,It was just me talking for usually an hour or two and having that interaction, that q&a with audiences. So that by far, was for me was the the best way to make money.


The last way is probably the most obvious way and it's not an answer that people are gonna like, but this is how I started to really, really make money with that original work. And yes, technically, it's not the original work that I'm making money with, but it's the original work on making money because of and that is to use your original work to a scratch that passionate scratch, you know, scratch that kind of itch of what you actually want to be doing. Because often as a creator, you can be sucked into client work or that's been dictated kind of to you. So, you know, you're going to scratch that itch, got to make sure that you are happy doing what you're doing and then using that piece as a profile booster. So for me, I think I talked about one of the other episodes, I spent 1000s of my own and when I say my own, I mean, the bank's money on Keyed Alike. I sunk 1000s into making it, even though it's funny, that it costs 1000s, because literally everyone pretty much, you know, gave their time for free and it was it more like the cost of things like insurance and equipment and catering and taxes and like, you know, all the bits and bobs that go into a production. It still cost 1000s even though everyone was kind enough give their time but because of the profile that piece got me, because of the fact that this was something different, this was something new, this was something exciting, It positioned me as an expert, it positioned me as someone that knew what they were doing with VR storytelling, which is pretty hilarious considering that was literally the first piece I'd ever done. Off the back of that, that has arguably gone on to make me hundreds of 1000s because that is the thing that basically catapulted me into some kind of commercial success. So because all of a sudden, I had this piece under my belt and I'd kind of like proven that, you know, I was confident enough in this technology and in this medium for storytelling, that I was willing to put my own money, I would put my own ass on the line, basically, all of a sudden, I was given a lot more opportunities that I absolutely wouldn't have got if I hadn't done that piece. And because of the fact that I was speaking, because of the fact I was getting asked to come and talk on panels and come and give keynotes and come and do workshops, because all of a sudden, my name was being kind squished around everywhere, that made me so much more appealing to brands to work with. So all of a sudden, these big name brands were not only open to working with me, but when they want to do something in VR, they're like - well, let's look for the person who's kind of leading the charge, let's look for someone that has the social proof that they know what they're doing and that happens to be me. And so the biggest way that I've made money with my original work isn't actually from the original work itself. Now that I know that that's a cop out answer, but that is the truth and for anyone that knows the other creative industries, you will know that 99.9% of people do not make their sole income from their original work. I remember having dinner with a friend last year, and she was telling me that a friend of hers is quite a prolific English film director. He does some big, independent feature films. You know, he's a household name in England. So you would expect that he just makes feature films, and BAFTA are just throwing money. I am like, you know, he's not applying for any grants, he's getting film investors coming to him signing checks, without thinking but no! In fact, the opposite. In fact, you know, he has just as much of a hard time getting things signed off and having to push through original work and actually, he would do one commercial job one year and then whilst they were getting the funding through for this feature film, and then the next year, he would do the feature film and then the following year, he would do big commercial jobs. And then the next year he would do a feature and it's kind of like that… seesaw. That's purely because there is just more money in commercial work like full stop. That's going to be no surprise to anyone.


So I would say that if you're someone that really wants to make money money with your original work, I would really think about, how much you want to make and obviously, again, this comes back to episode one, if you can live on a very small amount of money, if you can live on like… I don't know, a grand or two month and that becomes very, very feasible with an original project. Because if you combine your original work with some pop up cinemas, some workshops, and then maybe got a couple of licensing deals, you would probably make that amount per month, if that was all you were doing and you put your time and effort into marketing it that way by organising pop ups etc. I feel like when people want to make money with their original work, what they really want to do is they want to make original work, and then they want to hand it off to someone, and then they never have to do anything again and this is what I see, across all creative industries, it doesn't really matter whether you're in film or music or VR, or illustration, it doesn't matter. People have this idea in their head that, you know, they're just gonna, just gonna be able to get paid to do whatever the hell they want and, you know, if you are that person, then please do your own podcast and I will be your first subscriber.


There’s famous anecdotes of people, huge people, like Scorsese that recently had a film on Netflix and I’m fairly certain it was it was the one with all of the famous old dudes in it. I never actually watched it, I think Robert De Niro is in it. I never watched it but I did watch a roundtable with a load of commissioning executives, because I'm cool like that but was really good. It was with The Hollywood Reporter today, I think and it It was just like a bunch of commissioning executives from Netflix, Amazon and traditional broadcasters, I think like Disney was there and ABC but anyway, on that, I think Netflix was saying how Scorsese had been shopping that film around for 10 years or something and it was like a real risk for Netflix to fund it. Because every other major film funder or distribution channel had said no but they weren't like - well, it's worth the risk, because it's Scorsese, but, you know, it was not a cheap film to make and they were almost, they themselves, were doing it as a loss leader, to kind of get Scorsese on board. I think it was Scorsese. Don't hold me to that, though, but I'm fairly certain I feel like I probably should have fact checked that before I started talking about this anecdote, but that in itself tells you right? It's like, this is one of the most famous film directors of all time and even he can't get his projects greenlit and do whatever he wants a you know, all the time.


So I feel like, absolutely, there is scope to make money with your original work, just have to be a little bit clever about it. The big overarching thing, and this is something that I've not done personally, but this is what I would do if I had some kind of IP that lent itself to, I don't know, let's say it's like an IP that's like a superhero IP or is some kind of drama or maybe it's a specific format that you're pioneering, the beauty of creating something, like that is you can branch out the IP into lots of different things. So I always tell my friend, my friend who's a musician, like the money's in the merge, like that's so obvious to me and that's the way that all kinds of creative industries are going and who do you think funds films other than you know, distributors that can get money from cinemas and things like that? It's advertising money. It's essentially, why branded content exists, right? It's like the whole point of it, is to sell something at the end of the day.


So maybe if you're creating an original IP as well, maybe think of it that way because I mean, one day, I really want to do that but right now, that's not really, I don't really have an idea for IP that would branch out like that. But, you know, the idea of being able to build some kind of IP that you could then sell in t shirts, merchandise and to be fair, the next original project I'm doing, I'm toying with the idea of doing an original graphic novel that goes with it and because it is that kind of vibe, it's that kind of style and so then we would sell the graphic novel, or the comic, whatever it ends up being at the screenings, and then that could potentially be a revenue source. So I guess it's thinking about, it's also thinking outside the box.


So either you're selling your time, and either you're making money from your time, and with things like packaging it as a workshop or packaging it as a, you know, as a profile builder for your services. Or you can sell kind of stuff off the back of it and that's the way I would think about it really. I hope that was insightful, that's really at the moment where we're at with VR, there isn't really a massive amount of scope with selling your original work and making money from it. Those are really the key things. Like I say, for game based stuff, obviously, then you've got the options of VR arcades, which are quite profitable from, from what I gather, and you could sell it, you know, you can sell it directly on the Oculus and Steam Store. But the thing is, if you've got a 360 video, and the way that the ecosystem has been built for the past a few years, people at the moment, don't pay for that kind of content. So until someone like Amazon or Netflix actually has a VR kind of original strand, where they might be commissioning work or buying up, you know, content, buying outright, for example, for 10s of 1000s, if not hundreds of 1000s of pounds…then until we're there, you're probably not likely to be able to sell it on something like an Oculus store. I could be wrong, I could be wrong and I'm very happy to be proven wrong and that's just my kind of gut and from speaking to a lot of 360 creators and from being plugged into all those networks. I've not heard of a single person that's made a substantial amount of money from doing that.


I hope you enjoyed this episode and if you did, or if you have a question for a future episode, send me a message. My handle is @alexmakesvr on Instagram and Twitter or you can send me a longer question at alexmakesvr@gmail.com. If you want to sign up for daily reminders when this episode goes live, but also get a bit of a rundown of what I talked about in that episode, you can sign up to the newsletter below.

Okay, thanks so much for listening and I'll speak to you tomorrow.



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