How I Created $35K/Month Digital Products For Filmmakers

BIGFILMS
About The Company
Coming Up With The Idea
Building The Product
Launching The Business
Growing The Business
Revenue + Financials
Lessons Learned
Recommended Tools
Books & Resources
Advice For Founders
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$35,000
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BIGFILMS
from Houston, Texas, USA
started January 2015
$35,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
2.52M
alexa rank
352
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Listen to the audio version of this story!

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi there! My name is Steven Liszka, I’m a French filmmaker from Paris and the founder of BIGFILMS.

I started BIGFILMS 4 years ago with a simple idea in mind: give filmmakers access to digital tools that would make their films look bigger and bolder. The ambition was to turn everyone’s computer into a true Hollywood studio.

My very first digital product was called the Blockbuster Starter Pack. On this day, it is still one of my bestsellers. This digital pack regroups all the major special effects that you can find in a Hollywood blockbuster movie. You have explosions, meteors falling, destruction effects, laser assets, etc. Basically, there’s everything you need to create your own Avengers short film!

how-i-created-35k-month-digital-products-for-filmmakers

Aside from this pack, I also focused on creating more specific products for filmmakers working on music videos and commercials. For each new pack that I release, I try to create a unique Facebook and Instagram marketing campaign with huge attention put on video ads.

These video ads have been a total game-changer for my business. It took me 3 years to start focusing on paid advertising.

From 2016 to 2019, I only relied on affiliate marketing (mostly with Youtube filmmakers). BIGFILMS was a side-project that was making around $2K per month in sales, which was perfectly fine for me at that time.

I started to focus on Facebook ads out of curiosity about a year ago. I wasn’t expecting too much of it as I‘ve read a lot about how difficult it can be to maintain a good ROI with paid advertising. But for me, it changed everything.

In less than a year, my revenues jumped from $2K to $35K+ per month.

What initially started as a side-project quickly became my main focus. Being a filmmaker myself and knowing the struggle filmmakers go through when trying to achieve a great looking film project really helped me to come up with useful and exciting products for this market.

Plus, having the ability to create impressive action-packed video ads was definitely a major key to BIGFILMS’ success.

embed:instagram

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

OK, this story is really interesting! It involves traveling to Hollywood and flying to space. Or kind of.

I always wanted to be a filmmaker since my young age. I was fascinated by Star Wars when I was a kid, and when my father bought our first camcorder in the middle of the ’90s, I knew that wouldn’t do anything else but filmmaking.

As a teenager, I discovered Photoshop. Big life-changer. Suddenly, wood sticks turned into lightsabers in my short films. I became good at special effects.

Fast forward a couple of years later, I was 27, and I was writing the big blockbuster short film I always dreamt about. It was about Space. With the money I had in my pocket, I hired an engineer, and together we created a gear capable of taking our cameras up to the stratosphere to get our own real shots from space.

The space launch was a great success.

The project quickly caught the attention of film producers, which was exactly what I expected. I flew from Paris to Hollywood, met some very inspiring people from the film industry, but at the end of the day, no one wanted to take the risk of investing in a short film.

And no one willing to put money in my project was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

Back in Paris, and I decided to put all my time and effort to create a business that could fund my short film. Working as a filmmaker didn’t leave me enough time to work on my personal projects. I had to find a clever way to earn money without having to work day after day for other clients. Selling a digital product came to me as the best option.

The hardest part about creating this kind of business is finding what to sell. If you ever struggle with finding an idea, here’s a quick tip for you: think about what you’re already good at. Something that sets you apart from others. For me, it was special effects. Then see if there’s a gap in this market and find a way to turn your knowledge into a service or a product.

That’s how BIGFILMS was born, somewhere between Earth and space!

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Creating my first product was a whole new adventure for me. As special effects artists, we always rely on digital assets in our work. But as a filmmaker, you have no choice but to hire a special effects artist to help you bring your ideas to life. I felt that I could create some sort of shortcut here.

I used the world-famous brand GoPro as my main inspiration. They’ve built this small and indestructible plastic-made camera that fits into your pocket with only one button to press. Suddenly, everyone became a filmmaker. What GoPro did right, is that they took a technology that already existed and made it accessible and easy-to-use for everyone.

I quickly learned that selling a product is way harder than building it.

The idea for my Blockbuster Starter Pack came from watching Marvel movies. I remember saying to myself: what if I was able to take all the special effects out of these films and put them on separate video files with a transparent background?

how-i-created-35k-month-digital-products-for-filmmakers

I started by making a list of all the effects I wanted to put inside the pack. I watched tons of movies and screenshotted every scene featuring an interesting effect that would speak to my targeted customers.

What was really important to me was that my effects remind people of known scenes from blockbusters they’ve already seen. When there’s an emotional connection existing between your customers and a cultural phenomenon, it’s always smart to ask yourself how you can use it to shed some light on you. In my case, it’s better if people refer to us as “those who make explosion like in the Avengers” rather than just “those who sell explosion effects”.

how-i-created-35k-month-digital-products-for-filmmakers

In this video ad, we recreated a scene from Watchmen using one of our explosion effects.

The original shot from Watchmen is on top, our ad shot is below.

Once I was happy with my list, I hired a couple of special effects artists that I used to work with to help me create all the effects.

Working on this single product cost me all my savings. At a certain point, I even had to borrow some money from my family to pay everyone’s salaries. It was a big risk at that time, but I really believed in the project’s potential.

It took me 4 months, hundreds of hours of computer calculations, and $10K of personal investment to finally bring the Blockbuster Starter Pack out on the market.

I had literally no money left, but I was finally ready to put my first product in front of everyone’s eyes.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Chapter 1: how I failed.

The hard lesson that I quickly learned when launching my business was that creating a product is only the very beginning of the process. It has to be good, really good, it takes you 200% of your energy, and yet, you’ve only reached level one in the business game. You just found the magic sword in the cave but you’re not yet a warrior. Not even close.

My first online store (made with Shopify) had everything wrong.

The Blockbuster Starter Pack was designed for beginners, for filmmakers who had no prior experience with special effects. It was my target audience. And yet, nothing in the product’s description reflected its ease of use. Instead of showing how my tool can make filmmakers’ life easier and cooler, I was insisting on the product’s technical specs.

Even the website design was super pretentious. You know when you try to act as if you’re running a business like Apple or Marvel Studios, but everyone knows that you’re nobody? Well, that was me.

I didn’t know anything about marketing a product or building a brand’s identity. And as you can expect, the first two months were hard with almost no sales.

Chapter 2: how I succeeded.

I was at a point where I wanted to quit. When something fails, you always convince yourself that there’s no way to make it work. That there is no room for your business, no audience for your product.

Times were hard, but deep inside of me, I desperately knew that this product had potential. I had to entirely rethink my approach. I closed my website and started all the work from scratch.

Everything had to be redesigned. The website, the product’s images, the video ads. I had only one single guideline, one idea in mind: what would I want to see on the website if I was the customer? What sales funnel would I expect to go through if I had to invest $89 in this product?

I quickly learned that selling a product is way harder than building it.

I started to see it as writing a movie. There needed to be a story behind the product. People know that you’re here to sell them something. So be honest about it, stay true to who you are, and tell them your story in your own way.

How is it that we buy Apple’s products even if we know they are overpriced? Because we don’t only buy the product, we buy a story.

It took me about a month to eventually launch a brand new website.

Now the main challenge was to bring traffic to my store. I didn’t have an audience yet. No Youtube channel, no Instagram page. At that point, my only option was to reach out to those who already had a community. And this is how I discovered affiliate marketing.

As the product was great, it was quite easy to get to filmmakers with big Youtube communities. In exchange for reviews and tutorials, I was offering them 20% to 30% of every sale made thanks to their affiliate link. A fair deal.

Suddenly, sales started to take off. I was relieved!

Chapter 3: how my revenues skyrocketed.

BIGFILMS was providing me a steady stream of income for 3 years. It was a monthly $2K complementary source of revenue that I was fully injecting into the budget of my short film project ASTRONAUT.

I had no idea how to scale the business. Actually, I wasn’t even thinking about it. Affiliate marketing only allows you for so little room to grow.

At the beginning of 2019, revenues slowly started to decrease. I had to try something new.

Paid advertising has always been a struggle for me. During these 3 years, I tried a couple of times to put my feet into Facebook ads, but none of my targeted campaigns turned out to be profitable. At the end of the day, I was constantly losing money, so I decided to turn it off.

Time had come to roll up my sleeves and dig into the data. I launched a new campaign with a $10 daily budget and broad audience, and I decided to let it run until I gather enough data to understand who my real buyers are. It took me 10 days to realize my greatest mistake: I was targetting the wrong age range.

As my product was made for beginners, I was mainly targeting a young audience. My intuition was right: young filmmakers are those who click the most on my ads. But at the same time, they are those who convert the less. All my budget was going into putting my product in front of the wrong eyes.

Instead of targetting the 15-25 age range, I started to focus on the 24-44. And suddenly, my ads started to be profitable. Really profitable.

The more precise my targeting was (I was refining the demographics and the interests every week), the higher the return on investment. My ads quickly jumped from a 2x ROI to a 3x ROI.

At this point, I knew that all my effort had to go into paid advertising. I started to refine all my video ads.

I quickly saw one formula that performs extremely well:

  • 45 seconds of video (most of the people will watch only 10 seconds, so put all the impressive stuff at the beginning)
  • the 5 first seconds have to be super exciting
  • focus on the result, not the product

It’s been a year since I started my adventure with Facebook Ads, and there is one big lesson that I’ve learned from all this: your ads are not here to sell your product. Your ads are here to make people click on your link. To bring people in front of your door.

Once I had a constant source of traffic, I started to focus on creating new products and new video ads.

This entire process made my revenues grow every month. Today, I spend about $200 per day on advertising ($6K per month), which results in a monthly $35K income.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

BIGILMS’ main traffic source comes from paid advertising. I noticed a huge boost in sales when I started to refine my video ads.

People react extremely positively to videos. We live in a world where video media is everywhere. Our generation was born with television and our kids are communicating through social media video stories and video posts.

If there is one piece of advice that I would give every business owner it would be this one: learn how to make exciting videos. They don’t have to look professional (videos shot with an iPhone sometimes outperform big-budget video ads), but they have to entertain your audience.

I try to come up with new video ads every month or so. What’s great about video on social media is that people tend to share it if they like it. And each time someone shares your video content it’s free advertising for your product.

Also, don’t be afraid to target new countries. At first, I was focusing on English speaking countries only. My targeted audience was primarily based in the US, in Canada, in the UK, and in Australia.

After 6 months of paid advertising on Facebook and Instagram, I was confident enough to try targeting non-English speaking countries. The best response came from Asian countries. My monthly income jumped by 1.5 over a month. And the most curious thing was that my worst-converting products in the US became my best-converting products in Asia.

Stressing about not having done enough of your to-do list’s objectives is a complete waste of time. You’re not meant to ever get to the end of that list.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

BIGFILMS is slowly growing with new products and increasing traffic. The great thing about selling digital products is that you earn 100% of the revenue. There are no shipping costs, no margins, no heavy logistics. Dealing with unhappy customers is also easier as you can refund them at no cost.

This kind of business is probably the easiest to scale.

How many products I sell is deeply correlated with how well my video ads perform.

My goal is now to focus on creating always more entertaining videos to avoid the so-called audience ad fatigue (when your targeted audience sees the same ad too many times). To this day, each new video translated into a noticeable boost in the revenues.

I’m usually running 10 to 15 Facebook video ads at the same time, with budgets going from $5 to $35 per ad. Keeping budgets low and increasing the number of new ads is what proved to be working best for me. The ROI stays really high thus keeping a low CPA.

Growing on social media is the next big step for me. Instagram and Youtube are the main platforms I’d like to focus on as the audience highly engages with video content. To this day, BIGFILMS’ Youtube channel only serves as a platform to host my website’s videos. The idea would be to turn it into a real Youtube channel with tutorials and short films for our audience.

I was able to organically grow my Instagram following to almost 10K subscribers, but it is still missing content posted on a regular basis.

Boosting the brand’s presence on these two platforms could really be a good way to increase our interaction with our audience, to better know our customers, and eventually, to turn them into repeat buyers.

Email marketing is also a big topic. It’s hard to believe, especially after having proven to be one of the main marketing pillars these days, but I’m still not using emails as a part of my selling arsenal.

There are still so many great things to learn and to implement. This is why this adventure is so exciting. Even if the business is already on the right track, there is still so much I can do to take it to the next level.

how-i-created-35k-month-digital-products-for-filmmakers

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

BIGFILMS is my very first step in the entrepreneurial world. I had to learn everything myself through trial and error, and lessons learned this way are usually the ones that stay forever.

Don't stress yourself with the to-do list.

I always used to (and still do) make long to-do lists with all the major project’s objectives. As time is passing, the list of objectives isn’t doing anything but growing. This took me a lot of time to realize, but stressing about not having done enough of your to-do list’s objectives is a complete waste of time. You’re not meant to ever get to the end of that list.

See it as something positive: it means that every day you wake up in your life there is something new and exciting to do. Actually, the worst thing that could happen is that there is nothing more left on that list.

Reach out to entrepreneurs that are just a step ahead from you. Listening to Elon Musk is for sure more entertaining than talking to your local business owner, but you have so much more to learn from someone dealing with similar issues.

Know the value of your product.

Having launched several products taught me how to determine their value before putting them on the market.

It’s always a difficult task to estimate a product’s price. Sure, you can easily guess a price range. But how to know if you should price it at $39.99 or $49.99?

Looking at similar competitor’s products is a good start. But remember that what you’re seeing is not the product’s real value. It’s the product’s price with the brand’s identity and story behind it.

Know the value of your brand. If you’re just starting, don’t aim for the same price point as bigger competitors. Position yourself as a cheaper alternative. Not because your product is worse (actually, it has to be better). But because your brand is new. Because you’re not a big entity, you’re a bunch of passionate people putting all their hearts and efforts to make the best possible product. Sell it this way.

Always try targeting new regions

I talked about it above, but one big mistake that I was making (and that I believe many businesses are making too) is to think that if a product doesn’t sell domestically, it won’t sell at all. I couldn’t be more wrong.

There is a specific product in my store called LUMEN for which 70% of the customers are filmmakers based in Asia. It’s a product that I would have stopped selling if I didn’t try to target the Asia based audience.

If a product doesn’t perform as well as expected despite the fact that it’s a good product, ask yourself if it wouldn’t be a good match for another region.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

  • Shopify. No need to introduce this one, it’s the best platform for building an e-commerce online store.
  • GemPages. A drag & drop webpage builder for Shopify. Extremely easy to use, it allows you to design beautiful pages from scratch.
  • SendOwl. Automatically sends your download links to your customers when they make a purchase.
  • Omnisend. For email.
  • Artgrid. High-quality stock footage platform for an affordable price. I use it for our video ads.
  • Artlist. Music licensing platform. This is where the music from my ads comes from.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I’ve never been a big fan of books dealing with entrepreneurship. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that we all have a lot to learn from entrepreneurs like Robert Kiyosaki or Timothy Ferriss. But selling courses or books on how to be successful only proves that you know how to sell a book.

When I need to learn specific skills on a certain subject, I usually try to learn a general approach from Google or Youtube searches, and I quickly start digging into it by myself. I like the idea of learning by trying rather than following a step by step guide. What works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you.

  • Alex Becker: his Youtube Channel helped me on some specific topics: how to get traffic from other sources than Facebook, how to use Google’s interface for ads.
  • Two Minute Papers: a lot of my inspiration comes from learning about technologies that are currently under development. Two Minute Papers’ Youtube channel is probably one of the best places to learn about it.
  • 1000-true-fans: a great article that explains how 1000 true followers are enough for you to start a successful business.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Create your product with a video ad in mind

This one is probably one of the best advice that I can give you: before even creating your product, think about its video ad.

Everything starts from here: your ad will lead customers to your website, your website will put them in front of your product, and, hopefully, your product will make them buy.

The more appealing your ad will be, the more sales you will get. Try to picture yourself as a customer watching the most exciting video ad ever made, then design your product according to what got you excited in your imagination.

Don't be easy to ignore

When you work on a product, you always make some bold statements about how your business is going to be different and unique. But somehow in the process, you lose that energy. At the end of the day, your product page looks the same as your competitors.

If that happens, remember what got you excited in the first place. Don’t play it safe. Say it loud and clear: your product is different. It’s better, smarter, greater.

You’re here to disrupt the market.

Don't try to copy millionaire entrepreneurs.

Their stories are great, but their struggles are not yours. They won’t teach you anything useful for your business at that stage.

Reach out to entrepreneurs that are just a step ahead from you. Listening to Elon Musk is for sure more entertaining than talking to your local business owner, but you have so much more to learn from someone dealing with similar issues.

This is why a platform like Starter Story is a fantastic place to start. See how others solved the issues that you’re currently facing, learn from their strategies, use their tools.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

  • Email copywriter (paid). Someone who understands filmmaking and editing.
  • Blog writer (paid). Writing about the latest trends in filmmaking.
  • Youtuber (paid). Weekly filmmaking tips videos and tutorials for our products.

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Steven Liszka,   Founder of BIGFILMS

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