Just got back from a whirlwind trip to Santa Monica for the Tastemade launch party. We were in town for just over 48 hours. Even though the trip was short, we had a great time. We shot some goofy videos in the Tastemade studios and got to meet a bunch of internet friends in real life for the first time, and drank some fantastic wine. The Tastemade studio is made up of several sets. This is a pic of the bar.
Just a few years ago I would have never predicted I would be spending almost all my time creating â€œlifestyleâ€ content. Back then I was totally focused on making bloody low-budget horror movies. But I was feeling really burned out after my last feature and decided to give myself a year to just explore and experiment with what interested me. I spent a lot of time getting my internet skills up to speed and learning about the world of internet marketing and online video.
Before I knew it, Hilah and I had launched Hilah Cooking. Learning how to make a web series was a lot of fun and I found myself completely obsessed with internet video. I felt like I had found the perfect combination of filmmaking, publishing, marketing and the geeky search engine stuff I had spent so much time studying.
Perhaps the most gratifying part of it, was that there were a LOT of people who actually wanted to watch this stuff we were making.
This aspect of was refreshingly different than making a weird movie and then trying to figure out a way to market it. Itâ€™s actually way more fun to make something there is already a demand for, as opposed to making something nobody might want and trying to build an audience from scratch.
There was already a big demand for online cooking content so we just put our own spin on it and kept making more episodes. In two years itâ€™s gone from being a satisfying hobby to a growing business. Itâ€™s still small-scale, but Hilah works on it full-time and we are on-track to building it into something much bigger.
And to MY surprise, I found that I really liked making creative, tightly focused, educational content.
Now it’s time to launch a second web series and use everything I’ve learned from the slow-burn growth of Hilah Cooking.
It will be a micro-budget personality driven show that focuses on a viable market.
When we first started up Hilah Cooking, I really hated YouTube and the last thing on my mind was how to increase YouTube views.
There were many reasons for my hatred. The quality was terrible. The commenters were idiots. The interface was ugly. And particularly insulting to me: we didn’t get very many views.Â For all of these reasons, I spent very little time optimizing our YouTube videos and at the end of the first season we decided to ignore it altogether and just use it as one of our many upload destinations.
But during our summer break between season 1 and 2, I started to look at YouTube a little differently. Slowly but surely our videos had started to gain some traction and the comments were actually improving. Instead of just dropping by and writing “NICE TITZ” we started to get some very helpful feedback and questions from people genuinely interested in how to make the recipes in the videos. Even better, we started getting a lot of traffic from YouTube to our main site. Starting with Season 2, we decided to rethink our YouTube approach, ignore my initial prejudices and invest some time into it.
One of the highlights of 2011 was being selected as one of the winners of the YouTube Next Chef program.
The Next Chef program evolved out of YouTube’s NextUp Program. Basically, the idea is to cultivate the next wave of up and coming talent on YouTube. The original program was not focused on a specific content niche. The second wave focused on cooking and fitness. The goal of the program is to help content creators take things to the “next” level and ultimately make a full-time living via YouTube.
As part of the program, winners received $5,000 worth of gear, training sessions conducted via Google Hangout and $10,000 in YouTube advertising.
Since I am a geek, I was most excited about the new gear. We shot for a year and a half on very low-end gear. It was an intentional decision to work with what we had and it worked for us for almost 100 episodes.
But, I was starting to get a little restless. After hanging out with some shooters for the Food Network (and ogling their gear), I really wanted to make the transition to shooting with DSLRs. When we heard that we would be getting $5,000 of gear from YouTube, I decided to just wait and see. The gear was selected by YouTube and we didn’t know what we would be getting until the boxes from B&H Photo arrived. My fingers were crossed that a DLSR would be in the mix.
Here’s an overview of what was in the first box to give you an idea of what YouTube apparently thinks is a good starter kit.
Some of their choices were kind of interesting.
We recently hit two important milestones with Hilah Cooking.
#1. We released Learn to Cook – our first digital book.
#2. We released our 100th episode. We’ve produced a new episode pretty much every Tuesday (except during our summer vacation).
With these two milestones, we’ve completed Phase one of our initial plan.
Yes, there has actually been a plan all along.
We spent the New Years holiday on the beach at Port Aransas.
This was my first visit to the “Texas Riviera” and even though the weather was cool and mostly overcast, it did not disappoint. It may sound like a strange choice for a vacation destination, but we needed to get the hell out of town. We found a great condo with a kitchen right on the beach. And it was dog-friendly so we didn’t have to leave Daisy at home.
It was a very low-key few days – a rarity for us. We spent most of the time like total nerds – writing screenplays on the deck while drinking margaritas. We ate a lot of seafood and made a wicked beach fire, but spent New Years Eve itself watching TV with the dog. In fact, this is the first New Years Day I can remember that I wasn’t totally hung over. It was actually pretty awesome.
For me the trip was a complete mental “re-boot.”
We launched Hilah Cooking about a year and a half ago and we’re still going strong. In fact, we’re going stronger than ever. I thought this seemed like as good a time as any to update everybody on our progress and share a few more audience building tips that we’ve learned along the way.
This post is about 2 months late, but the launch of Season 2 of Hilah Cooking has completely overwhelmed my world. Things are going really well with the show and as we approach our one-year anniversary we have managed to hit all the milestones I put into the original crazy “business plan.” From the very beginning, I wanted to do some kind of “live” event.
There were a few reasons for this:
- We wanted to thank our viewers. We have a seriously awesome audience and we thought a cool party with free food and drink would be a great way to say thanks for supporting what we’re doing. But even more than that, we wanted to meet some of the people we’ve been corresponding with via email and blog comments.
- Real world event = added legitimacy. When everything is on a computer screen, it’s easy to forget that a web project is something real. We saw the event as a way of publicly telling everybody that we are serious about what we do and we’re only getting started.
- An opportunity to give back to the community. This was a not-for-profit event designed to raise money for the Sustainable Food Center. The SFC is a great organization with a mission to strengthen the local food system and provide access to nutritious affordable food.