7 Filmmaking Tools to Be a More Efficient & Profitable Storyteller

Filmmaking is not a cheap line of business to undertake. Adding the word "film" to a product description seems to increase its price by at least fivefold. I can remember starting out in university and using my student loans to finance the purchase of camera gear. It was a Canon GL2 right out of the gate but very quickly that was far from enough. We needed multiple angles, so we bought another camera. Then the tripod couldn’t keep up with the better camera, and it was a coin flip as to whether you could understand the audio.

As anybody who’s been in filmmaking for more than a nanosecond will tell you, the cost of being in this business adds up really quickly. But thankfully, there is a new breed of online tools, platforms, and services that can lessen that pain. These are filmmaking tools that help you be both more efficient and more profitable with your filmmaking.

Now, let me make one thing clear before we start: we built this list thinking not about software and tools that make you a stronger storyteller (though many do that). Our focus here is on sharing tools that will help you be more efficient and profitable in your business.

Okay, let’s roll. Here are 7 platforms for being a more efficient and profitable storyteller.

7 tools to be a more profitable & efficient storyteller.

Video feedback, reinvented—with Wipster.

What it is:

Wipster is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) that allows you to upload a video, invite others, and leave feedback right on that video. You can leave feedback in a few different ways, including leaving comments on the exact frame that caught your eye. You can also leave feedback about elements within that frame by attaching your comment to the particular element that needs to be addressed. You can "like" and reply to others' comments, and your editors can resolve items as they address them in the edit.


Why it makes you more efficient/profitable:

I can remember cutting #standwithme in our studio and having nights that regularly ended at 4 or 5 a.m. When we wanted to review a cut, we would all come in the room and view it together. Each of us would take out our notepad and make notes as we viewed. After we watched it together, we'd go through the cut point by point, discuss the ideas, and hopefully it was communicated well enough to be translated onto the editor's notepad to be looked at later.

Flash forward to just over a year later, and we were going through a similar post-process with our latest feature-length documentary Our Journey Home. This time, however, we had Wipster. When a scene was ready for feedback we didn't have to wait to be in the same room. No longer did we have to try to scribble down a bunch of notes with the hopes that those notes would eventually have the opportunity to influence the story.

Formerly hour-long review meetings were now a matter of 10 minutes, whenever and wherever we wanted. And, more than that, it was a powerful way for everybody on our team to have a voice (not just the loudest or the quickest to respond). It let us consider, reply, and align our comments with incredible efficiency.

In short, Wipster makes our post process much more efficient by reducing the time required for a feedback loop. An edit receives comments more quickly, each idea is actionable (it can be checked off when resolved), and we can get a revised cut back to the client in less time. Plus, we get to skip the addition of another meeting to our calendars.

For most of us, big backlogs, and wanting to get more out in less time in post-production, is a real issue. Wipster helps us do more in less time without hurting the story, or reducing the contributions from our team.

How much it is:

Head over to Wipster.io to try a two-week free trial. Regular plans are $15/user per month.

Go beyond seeing just video plays and loads with some of the best tools we've seen for managing videos online–Wistia.

What it is:

Wistia is a video hosting platform on steroids (the legal, all-natural kind you can tell your mom about). It’s an alternative to sites like YouTube or Vimeo and is geared towards those who use video for their business.


Why we love it:

Last June we launched Muse along with a cool (yet story-relevant) animation of Mark Tesky’s experience using Muse. We found a guy in Michigan who works on old school light boards, makes physical characters, and then photographs them with his DSLR and animates it in After Effects. It was a simpler and more time-intensive approach to animation but it felt very fitting for this piece.

Making our own film of a case study was quite the investment (and therefore a risk). We were super stoked with how it came out, but more than that, we were hoping that all of you would connect with the story as well.

Our old approach was to pop it up on Vimeo, check out the view counts over time, and use that as a metric to understand how much people were liking a film. But now, with Wistia, we can get engagement graphs. We can see far more than just plays and completions, we see how long people are watching our films. When this data is visualized it's super powerful. It brings to our attention different issues with our pieces, including when we're losing people's attention.

Then we go back, work on the piece, and see if the analytics improve. It’s a powerful way to create hypotheses about a story and then actually test them.

But here’s the other thing, we’ve had some films over the years that have gotten an amazing number of views. Spelling Father, as one example, is over 2 million. Now, if we wanted to reach out to those viewers and follow-up with another story that we thought they’d enjoy, we'd have absolutely no way of doing that.

A high view count may be cool to look at, and it may affirm that you’ve told a story worth sharing, but you’ve also got a business to run. It's therefore important to be able to develop a relationship with those who see your work.

With Wistia, you can have social information pop up in the video so viewers can connect with your Twitter account, for example. Even more than that, you can offer a call to action at the end, whether that be a simple link or the option to leave their email addresses so you can follow-up with them later.

Plus, it’s very customizable in look and feel. It also has some powerful embed options, including the ability to have your video pop up in a window when you click a link.


Why it makes you more efficient/profitable:

First and foremost, you’ll get actionable data well beyond a view count. This allows you to know what is—and isn’t—working in your films. You can see where your viewers are located, how much of the video they watch, and if there are patterns in where viewers are falling off.

This means you can get better feedback on your films, allowing you to make better decisions moving forward. And this, hopefully, helps you arrive at stronger results with fewer revisions.

In terms of being profitable, Wistia is a powerful tool for building a list of contacts who are interested in what you do. At the end of your film, simply ask if viewers would like to be notified of your next film by collecting their email addresses. Then plug that right into a variety of email programs, such as the ever-popular MailChimp.

Keeping in touch with those interested in your work is a great way for your business to stay top of mind, while also giving you the ability to reach out to your contacts if you have promotions or other news you’d like to share.

And hey, it’s important to note that all of this happens in a really smooth, not-obnoxious way. So if the viewer isn't interested, no biggie. But ultimately, this type of call to action connects you with more folks who could be helped by what you do.

How much it is:

Wistia offers a free account that comes with 25 hosted videos using its branded player. If you give them a try and it's working for you, you can upgrade from there.

Start building an email list with the easy and intuitive MailChimp.

What it is:

We just mentioned MailChimp up above, but it certainly deserves its own section. MailChimp is a platform for building an email list, and sending emails to that list. It’s not an alternative to mail services like Google or Apple Mail, but rather a tool for building a list of people you can communicate with regularly, like what we do here on Learnstory in emailing folks every Tuesday morning.


Why we love it:

It was only a couple years ago when we had no idea what an email list was. We didn’t ask for emails, we didn’t know what they were for, and it was absolutely not on our radar. We’d make a film or write a blog post, publish it, and hope that people would come. And sometimes they did.

But we had no way to help the process. And when we rolled out something new, we had no way of getting in touch with those who might be helped by it.

Then came along Adam Baker, founder of Man Vs. Debt. He taught us a heck of a lot about how to build an online business. The first thing he did—before he even setup his desk—was get an email list going.

It was a simple white box on the side of our blog that allowed people to sign up to our list if they wanted to be notified when something new on our blog came out. It was simple, but that one change became so incredibly important. It meant that we could grow a group of people that enjoyed the stories we were telling, people who would welcome a new one when we shared it.

Most of you work in filmmaking in one role or another, and a huge thing that we creatives often forget is the business side. When you put out a new piece of content, whether it be a film or a blog post, it's a great time to ask viewers if they’d like to hear from you again.

So now, rather than just hitting publish and hoping readers will come to your blog, you’ll have a ready-to-go audience that enjoys what you do.

YouTube has many folks who put out regular content and get millions of views. A huge part of being able to do that consistently is having millions of people who get notified every time you post something new (in this example, that’s through YouTube’s subscribe-to-channel option).

Why it makes you more efficient/profitable:

Well, it may not make you more efficient. In some ways it will, in others, it won’t. It adds a little bit more to your plate, as you'll now need to write an email to accompany the release of new content.

That said, it can make you more efficient by giving you just one place to go to reach out to all of your contacts interested in hearing your updates. You can also create automations, such as an auto-responder email that goes out when someone signs up. This email could share more about who your business is and what you do.

And in terms of being more profitable, it’s one of the least expensive ways to grow your business and develop new leads. Seth Godin calls it "permission marketing" because you’re asking if people want to hear from you, rather than the more common approach of putting ads in places, attempting to interrupt somebody’s experience to get noticed.

And remember, MailChimp connects directly to Wistia. This allows for those email addresses you ask for to go directly to your email list.

How much it is:

Head over to MailChimp and sign up for a free account. It’s totally free to use, and continue to use, until you reach up to 2,000 subscribers or over 12,000 emails sent per month. This is a great way to test it out and see if it’s for you without having to pay anything.

Allow the footage you worked so hard for to work for you–Story & Heart.

What it is:

Story & Heart is a platform built by storytellers for storytellers that includes footage licensing and an educational community. Full disclosure: Muse Storytelling helped form Story & Heart so our passion for what they do is certainly biased. Today Story & Heart is its own thriving company and we're proud to be a part of its community. The focus here, for this post, is the opportunity to license your footage and, in that, have it generate revenue for you.


Why it makes you more efficient/profitable:

I can remember spending nearly 100 days shooting #standwithme, our documentary that told the story of a 9-year-old girl trying to change the world with lemonade. We travelled to Namibia, Ghana, the Dominican Republic, Nepal, and countless trips across North America. We acquired nearly a thousand hours of footage throughout the process, yet our film only ended up being just over 60 minutes. What happens to that 95% of footage that didn't make the final cut? Well, for most of us–nothing. We wrap a project, back it all up, and the rest of it never sees the light of day.

But now, with Story & Heart, there is an opportunity to do more with everything you shoot. You can take your footage, upload it to their platform, and license it to other storytellers. And you get a little bit of extra revenue at the end of the quarter with every clip sold. It's now become a regular part of our workflow. We do our rough cuts in such a way that we can export and upload all the licensable footage to the Story & Hart platform. The additional time is minimal and we've already seen some solid returns.

And of course their platform is also a viable option to source footage for your next project. Need an aerial over the desert? A young child playing with a sparkler? Because the footage is supplied by real filmmakers, just like you and me, it doesn't have that "stock" feel. And it's a much more cost-effective way to fill the holes in your edit. It's rare these days that the Muse team completes a film without licensing a clip for at least every one of two projects. In fact, we're doing some Super Bowl work right now and they were one of the first calls we made.

How to join:

Head over to Story & Heart to apply to be one of their filmmakers. The application takes a few minutes but it's pretty awesome how much they care about actually getting to know you and your goals.

Manage your projects and team with as much care as you produce your shoots–Trello.

Because it's her most oft-used word, as well her lifeline, I'm inviting Jessica (our GM at Muse) to share her thoughts on Trello.

What it is:

Trello is a project management tool most easily linked to a style of project management called "Agile" (capital "A" because there is an official school of project management theory, turns out). Aglie—which is sort of an umbrella term for methods like "Scrum" and "Kanban"—is “iterative, incremental, highly-flexible, and interactive” (or as we call it, "Tuesday"). This is the basis for Trello.

The interface is card and list based, but you can create, move, organize, and work out of your boards in an infinite number of combinations.


Why it makes you more efficient/profitable:

A while ago @dcrowephoto aptly observed that we had a lot of projects spread across a bunch of different teams.


To folks outside of our organization, it looked like we were project management savants. Internally, this tweet was emailed to me with a subject line of “HAHA.” This was before Trello.

We’d used a couple of different tools before—affairs with Basecamp, a series of color-coded spreadsheets that resembled a Piet Mondrian painting, but nothing ever really stuck with our team. With the launch of Muse and the overwhelming response, we knew we had to get serious about how we organized our team and our work. So serious that we hired a project manager. Me. I brought the Trello hammer down, swiftly.

What’s great about Trello, and why it’s on this list instead of “Hire a Project Manager” is that it’s infinitely flexible. We’re able to use boards to layout checklists for production from start to finish, assign team members to those tasks, and add due dates to ensure everything gets done. Not only does this keep us on track timeline wise, but it allows everyone to see everything that’s going on and how they fit into the big picture. The commenting system keeps all of our discussions contextualized around the work, and the list of integrations grows every day, from Twitter to Google Drive to Salesforce.

No more missed deadlines, no more last minute tasks we forgot to account for. With Trello we build and manage our task lists for every facet of our business in one central place.

How much is it:

This is the best part of Trello: it’s free! You and your team can get on the road to 100% efficiency for $0. Once you’ve nailed Trello 101, upgrade to Business Class to get access to some of their more robust integrations for $8 per user per month.

Quench that gear lust without the long-term commitment–LensProToGo.

What it is:

LensProToGo is a gear rental site that's staffed by real filmmakers and photographers. These are real people who understand what you do and are therefore offer super-qualified help. They also offer affordable rentals in everything from cameras to lenses to support with shipping across the U.S., with delivery as soon as the next day.


Why it makes you more efficient/profitable:

One season early in my wedding days I actually bought, and sold, nearly 15 cameras. Ya...I had a problem. I would read the forums late at night and see a new film that caught my eye. If it was shot with a new camera that I hadn't tried, I'd be off reading reviews and checking out more samples.

Then it was off to try to convince Amina that we really needed this certain camera if we wanted to make films of any value. I'd buy a used camera with the intention of giving it a test run and then turn around and sell it weeks later when something else caught my eye. I got rather good at the exchange and could almost be profitable at the whole game until the day a dude on eBay sold me a camera but shipped an empty brown box in its place.

As much as I stand on my apple box and preach story, I still love the gear and love to add new toys. But nowadays it is so much easier to just call up our friends at LensProToGo and rent things when and where we need them. Since we rarely shoot at home, we can have the gear show up at our hotel in whatever state we find ourselves in and we're ready to go. And if we find ourselves renting something often enough, well then we know that it's wise to consider purchasing.

As a filmmaker, LPTG can help you be more profitable by reducing the amount of gear you purchase (or owe money on) and you can instead attach gear rentals to your project budgets as you develop them. The cool part about that is that within the commercial and doc world it's common practice to bill your client for the use of your gear. The key here is to carefully look at what you truly need to own (say, your core camera and lenses) and look to supplement with rentals to keep your debt down while still not holding you back by limiting gear.

How much it is:

Something like a C100 camera rental will run you $266 for 4 days, including shipping. A common lens like the 24-70mm f2.8 is only $85 for 4 days. And something a little more aspirational such as the Canon Cinema Prime 50mm T1.3 is $213 for 4 days.

Stay in touch with your team and ditch that email labeling system that makes your eyes bleed—Slack.

What it is:

Slack is a messaging app for teams that aims to make your work communication pleasant, effective, and fun. There are private #channels for ongoing threads on big projects, public #channels for office chatter, and direct messages that let you check in with team members and collaborate back and forth without having to compose bulleted emails 10 to 15 times a day.


Why it makes you more efficient/profitable:

When we launched Muse I was preparing for a month-long workshop tour across Australia. We’d just hired three new team members, were in the middle of production on Our Journey Home, and I was about to be spending 12 to 14 hour a day in workshops (all of which took place in warehouses ill-prepared for a deceptively cold Australian winter, I might add).

Working with people remotely wasn’t new to me, but we’d just doubled the size of our studio and welcomed a thousand new learners into Muse. This was a different kind of challenge.

Slack offered the chance for me to chat with the team in real time. I used our #museteaching channel to go deep with our Story Guides on Muse theory and research, sent timelines and priorities to our project manager via direct message, and shared set photos from all of our workshops with the whole team.

Now, I can’t imagine life before Slack. No more wasting hours a day writing carefully bulleted emails, instead I can talk with the team about projects without interrupting my workflow, sync it with my calendar to make sure I’m in the right meetings at the right time, and we can even use a service like Zapier to connect new Muse registrations, Trello updates, or blog comments to specific Slack channels. Pretty rad.

How much it is:

Just like Trello, small teams can use Slack for totally free (the desktop and mobile apps are both free as well) or opt for a monthly user fee for access to more integrations.

And while you're here, we'll share some honorable mentions that made our list:

XERO: It's the 21st century. Keeping all of your financial data in a spreadsheet like a cobbler with a leather-bound register makes paying your bills (and getting paid) a real pain. Xero hooks into your bank account, credit card, online store—pretty much anywhere—and spits out real-time reports that let you make better financial decisions.

Gusto: Payroll is the kind of administrative task that is very little fun, but stupidly important. The good folks at Gusto have found ways to inject a bit of joy into running payroll by empowering team members to be able to edit, modify, and store all their individual payroll data electronically (no more watching everyone recycle their paper pay stubs minutes after you pass them out), making it super easy for employers to remember that paying people is fun.

CorrelloYou've got analytics for your company's website, projections for your financials, and you've taken 7,624 steps so far today. You're tracking your progress in all the areas that matter...except how fast you're getting projects done. Things like your team's velocity (how fast work gets done) and burn down (how much work remains on the project as a whole) are crucial to the growth of your business in every area. Once you've got Trello fired up, installing Corrello gets you a dashboard that let's you track your performance by members and boards, historically and comparatively.

There you have it. Seven platforms for being a more efficient and profitable storyteller. Some free to join, others with free trials, and all of them well worth you checking out.

Here's the truth–I simply cannot imagine running our studio without these 7 services. We use them day in and day out and they make a big impact on the Muse team.

What's your number-one favorite platform that helps you be more efficient or profitable as a filmmaker?