Build, Borrow, Buy: 3 Ways to Start Your First Video Series

Jenny Coppola


When most marketers think about creating binge-worthy content, the first thought that pops in their minds is building their own production team. For some teams, this may make the most sense. For others, it could seem like a daunting task that may not be worth the effort.

However, spinning up your own production team is only one of the ways you can create binge-worthy content. Here at Wistia, we like to think of it this way — you can build a team from scratch, borrow resources from freelance talent, or buy the rights to content that already exists. You can leverage any of these options to create an engaging video series for your business. Read on to learn the pros and cons behind each strategy!

Build: Wistia’s in-house production team

When we decided to go all-in on Brand Affinity Marketing, we made the choice to craft our content from the ground up by “building” an in-house production team called Wistia Studios. From coming up with a great idea and nailing down the show’s concept, to shooting the content itself and giving the whole thing one final edit, the Wistia Studios team oversees every single step of the process. Structuring our team after a production company has also helped us streamline the whole operation, making it easier for us to run more efficiently and effectively.

For example, our production team right now consists of the following roles:

  • Head of Wistia Studios
  • Head of Production
  • Senior Video Producer
  • Development Producer

As you can tell, these roles are really geared towards the type of content we’re making under the Wistia Studios arm. You may not have even heard of a Development Producer before (which is totally fine!). That’s because that particular role is specifically about turning ideas into entertainment, from start to finish — something that may only happen when your business is invested in creating shows.

Another benefit of launching an in-house production team is being able to determine whether a show concept aligns with your brand. At Wistia, our Head of Wistia Studios, Dan Mills, and Head of Production, Chris Lavigne, have worked here at Wistia for eight years, so they can confidently pinpoint the concepts that fit our brand. On your production team, your leaders don’t have to be company veterans like ours, but the very fact that they work for your company can make a huge difference in the quality of your concepts and pitches.

Having an in-house production team that understands your brand and company direction also expedites your workflow. While our production team goes through a standard green-lighting process, they’re fully aware of everything going on at the company so they can pitch best-fit concepts and quickly start working on them. Suffering through eight rounds of pitching with an external production company that doesn’t understand our brand is, thankfully, not a reality.

“Having an in-house production team that understands your brand and company direction also expedites your workflow.”

However, launching an in-house production team is a big investment. Renting or building a studio and the proper equipment requires full support from key stakeholders. You also have to make sure you hire the right people who are totally bought into your mission.

If you’re set on building an in-house production team, the most important thing to do actually comes before the creative process: understanding your team’s bandwidth and limitations. For instance, if you only have one producer, you can only create so many shows. You must also know which types of shows you can realistically create within the constraints of your budget and talent.

Building your team from scratch:

Pros: Complete creative control; best chance that pitched concepts are aligned with your brand; can get to work quickly.

Cons: Large investment; must be super confident about who you hire.

How to do it: Understand your team’s current bandwidth and the constraints that are in place before you start creating content.

Borrow: InVision’s collaborations with independent filmmakers

To craft both of their feature-length documentaries, Design Disruptors and Squads, InVision decided to follow the “borrow” path by collaborating with independent filmmakers.

Ben Goldman, InVision’s Director of Films, went this route to bring real filmmaking passion to the table and lean on a variety of voices to drive each production’s narrative. In their eyes, relying solely on in-house talent could mean you run the risk of making the same type of film and hitting the same note every time.

However, before Goldman and his team could collaborate with these independent filmmakers, he needed to connect with them first. This was arguably the most challenging part of the “borrow” method for Goldman. And if you decide to build a bridge to Hollywood too, similar hurdles could spring up.

Fortunately, Goldman taught us how he spun a massive web of filmmaking talent in a blog post about InVision’s venture into filmmaking. His process consisted of three main steps:

  1. Scour the internet for short films and documentaries that played at festivals and won awards.
  2. Reach out to their directors, editors, producers, and directors of photography. Also consider reaching out to production companies, freelancers, recent film school graduates, and current film school students.
  3. If any of them live in your area, take them out for coffee or lunch.

After networking for a few months, you can create a digital Rolodex of film professionals who you can call on when your team is ready to green light their first project. All you have to do is thumb through your network and match the right professionals to the right projects.

Borrowing your resources from contractors and freelancers:

Pros: High-quality filmmaking; creative variety; ability to find just the right person for the job at hand.

Cons: It’s difficult to connect with independent filmmakers if you don’t already have an existing relationship with them; networking can be tricky and time consuming.

How to do it: Find short films and documentaries that played at festivals and won awards and reach out to their directors, editors, producers, and directors of photography.

Buy: Mailchimp’s licensing of existing content

There are actually two different routes you can take when “buying” binge-worthy content: licensing pre-made content and contracting with an external production company. Mailchimp, a marketing automation and email platform, bought the rights to some of the content that currently sits under Mailchimp Presents umbrella (Hamburger Eyes being a noteworthy example of this). This enabled them to release higher-quality productions than they could on their own, especially at the beginning of their venture into the world of binge-worthy content.

With this approach, they also knew exactly what they were getting because they could watch the whole thing before making an offer. If you’re new to binge-worthy content and strapped for time but might have a decent budget, this could be your most effective path forward.

However, buying a finished product can make it hard to tell your own story and inject your brand into the content. After all, it was created without any direction from you.

If you choose to license pre-made content, the first step to take is reaching out to creators you admire, similar to Goldman’s approach that we mentioned above. Then, after you tell them you admire their work and ask them if they’d be willing to license it to your company, they’ll most likely direct you to their manager or agent. You can negotiate with them from there!

When you pursue the other path of “buy” — contracting with an external production company — you’re essentially gaining access to the knowledge and resources that already exist to create binge-worthy content for your brand. Going this route doesn’t mean you have to relinquish all of your creative control to a production company, however. Your level of involvement is ultimately up to you, ranging from being another member of their team to telling the company, “I want a show focused on X theme in Y format — please go make it!” Either way, you can infuse much more of your brand into the content than you can licensing pre-made content.

“Going this route doesn’t mean you have to relinquish all of your creative control to a production company, however. Your level of involvement is ultimately up to you.”

For a brand that wants to make a great show but doesn’t know how, contracting with an external production company is a great way to learn some invaluable lessons about producing a show or film and hit the ground running if you decide to start your own production team. However, at the beginning of your relationship with an external production company, they might not understand your values that well. This can lead to pitches that are off-brand, which may slow down your creative process.

To pick the right production company for your business, find out which ones produced your favorite shows and films and request meetings with them. From there, you’ll get a sense of whether you want to work with them and if you can afford their services.

Buying a production company’s time or licensing pre-made content:

Licensing pros: High-quality content; you know exactly what you’re getting.

Licensing cons: Can be hard to inject your brand into the content.

How to do it: Reach out to favorite creatives, ask them if they license their work, and negotiate with their agent or manager.

Contracting pros: Can get as involved as you want; infuse your brand into content; learn invaluable lessons about producing a show or film.

Contracting cons: External production companies might not know your brand that well, which can lead to off-brand pitches and a slower creative process.

How to contract: Find out which production companies produced your favorite shows and films and request meetings with them.

All roads lead to your next video series

At the end of the day, there’s no one formula for creating binge-worthy content, and like with most creative projects, there’s more than one way to accomplish your goal. The path you choose ultimately depends on your resources and how involved you want to be throughout the entire content creation process. So, before you start pitching more concepts than Netflix, take a step back and reflect on which approach makes the most sense for your team. Happy creating!

Jenny Coppola


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