Geniuslink News

An interview with Blake Calhoun

This week, we got to hear from Blake Calhoun from iPhoneographers, a channel focused on DIY and Mobile filmmaking.

Tell us about yourself and your channel.

I make my living as a filmmaker primarily doing commercials and corporate work, but have also had some success in the indie film and web series world. My YouTube channel is all about mobile & DIY filmmaking. How to use affordable & accessible mobile video gear to create great looking films & videos.

How did you get started on YouTube?

I started pretty early back in 2007 with a with a popular web series called “Pink”. It was a dark comedy about a female assassin looking for love. From there I had a variety of other channels primarily for narrative style work, and then decided to launch The iPhoneographers in 2012 as I saw how smartphone video could be a future player in producing indie film content, and they were (and still are) a passion of mine.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to a newbie creator? And what is one piece of advice they should ignore?

As a newbie don’t worry about view counts and subscribers. Just focus on the content and that will come if it’s good. It’s an easy trap to fall into and I’ve done it myself. Those numbers don’t mean a lot, especially in the beginning.

I ignore the YouTube algorithm and keywords. I’ve never gone that route for producing my videos, although I know lots of people do, but that feels inauthentic to me. I make the videos I want to make, and that’s probably the best thing about YouTube is the freedom to produce whatever you want. Now I do follow trends like when a new iPhone is released, but that is what I’m interested in so it works. This approach does change a bit once you reach a level to where you’re making money through brand deals and sponsorships, but even then be very picky with who you work with and make sure it fits your audience.

What is your favorite video you have ever made?

Probably “How To Make 20 Short Films In 20 Days”…

I like to say “don’t wait to create”, meaning just get out there and make your films and videos with what you have, like a smartphone. People often sit around and talk about making films, but don’t do it because they don’t have this camera or that lens, etc. It’s all excuses and often because they’re afraid to start. I say don’t be afraid and get out there and make your movies now.

What are some tools that allow you to be more effective at your craft?

My entire career is really based off using one app or another, but the main ones I use are Adobe Premiere Pro for editing and then on the mobile filmmaking side it would be FiLMiC Pro (video camera app) and LumaFusion (video editing app).

How do you continue to educate yourself in your craft? What are some of your favorite resources for learning?

Watching YouTube videos. 🙂 There are SO many amazing filmmakers out there now to watch and learn from. Many with large followings and many without that are hidden gems. Some personal favorite filmmaking channels that I routinely watch are Make Art Now, Peter McKinnon, Brandon Li, Wolfcrow, Film Riot, Patrick Tomasso, Rob Ellis, Jesse Driftwood, Becki & Chris, Ponysmasher, D4Darious to name just a few.

What has been your biggest tool for subscriber growth?

Consistent content geared towards my audience demo. I’ve done at least one video a week (sometimes two) since 2018. My channel has been around since 2012, but for the first six years I just uploaded periodically and my audience growth was ok, but not great. Once I started uploading on a regular basis everything took off.

Do you put much time into making your videos SEO friendly?

No. I primarily try to create a catchy title and very importantly a good thumbnail. These two things are the most important driver of views I think on YouTube.

Is there a trend that you are seeing emerge in 2021? What excites you about it?

I think with the pandemic last year and still going on now people are watching a lot of online video, so it’s a good time to be a creator. That’s not really a trend per se, but I have seen my numbers steadily increase and it’ll be interesting to see once we go back to “normal” if people will still be glued to their phones and computer screens. I think the answer is yes as it was that way before the pandemic too, but even more so now.

When did your channel start to ‘pay off?’ In other words, when did your channel start to make you money?

It depends on your definition of “making money”. 🙂 My channels have made money since the early days of YouTube. I was an original participant in the YouTube Partner Program. But back then we did not no how to make money on YouTube like we do today (with a combo of ad revenue, affiliate marketing, brand deals, etc.). So back then you’d get some ad revenue that might be considered “lunch money”, however, don’t get me wrong – it was very cool to have that revenue stream.

Today though it’s much different and much better. The thing is it’s still a “side hustle” for me. I was just talking about this on Twitter recently. I don’t make enough to support my family and business on YouTube, so I still work as a filmmaker doing commercials, etc., however the last year or so I have been able to make more as my channel has grown. The key is to diversify your revenue streams and one day I hope to make enough to only do YouTube (although I’ll still always make indie films, but those come along every few years and aren’t a reliable way to make a living).

The main way I earn money now is YouTube ad revenue, affiliate marketing, sporadic brand deals (not many of these as I’m very picky) and then selling digital products and training courses on my website. In a lot of ways my YouTube videos work as a marketing arm for my other offerings. So it’s a win-win as I’m helping others learn mobile filmmaking and then making money doing something I love.