My name is James Hancock, and I am based in New York. For the last four years, I’ve run a YouTube channel called Geekin’ with James Hancock to discuss film and television. I’m a full-time content creator but not exclusively with that channel. I also have a podcast devoted to film history called Wrong Reel, and I’ve worked as a producer alongside Adam Rackoff on some animated films like Bill Plympton’s Cheatin’ here in New York. I handle the recording and editing my YouTube content. Still, I always welcome the opportunity to collaborate with other creators on a livestream. Recently I’ve started collaborating with director Bill Teck on creating short films for my channel as well. We’re currently in production on our second short film together, and looking into the future, I plan to devote a lot more time and energy to those kinds of premium projects for my channel.
I was already working as a producer of independent movies when I decided to become a content creator. I started by getting together with some like-minded film fanatics to create the podcast, Wrong Reel. At the time, I struggled to find podcasts that were tackling the specific subjects that interested me, in a style that I enjoyed. But I’ve always been a big believer in the idea that filmmakers should make the movies they want to see as an audience member, so I applied the same theory to my podcast. My experience with Wrong Reel eventually gave me the confidence to start a channel on YouTube as well.
While I have no strict rules governing which topics I cover on which platforms, in general, I use my YouTube channel to cover new releases, trailers, and entertainment news. At the same time, my podcast tends to focus on the history of film. For my overall philosophy on content creation, I’ve always found this advice from filmmaker Frank Capra to be particularly useful, “There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.”
What keeps me going are the positive interactions I have daily with the people I work with, and who consume the content we create. Through platforms like Twitter, I’ve become part of an incredible community of individuals who devote their lives to making movies or providing entertaining commentary on the subject. Each day feels a bit like attending a giant online cocktail party where everybody is talking about something I find interesting. And because of this incredibly supportive network of friends and contacts, I get a massive rush of adrenaline whenever I post some new content.
The double-edged sword of being blessed/cursed with an obsession with film & television is that I never have enough time to explore all the topics that grab my attention. Rather than brainstorming about what I can talk about, I have to make a massive effort to prioritize my time and energy on the stories and filmmakers that interest me the most. The only times I ever encounter anything resembling a block are when I start to feel overwhelmed with the number of videos and podcasts I would like to make. There’s also the additional anxiety of a ticking clock scenario where you have to react to a new show or piece of news while still trending. Doing this will have a massive impact on how much traffic your content might enjoy.
The key for me is to calm down and be realistic about how much time and energy it takes to cover a topic with the expertise and enthusiasm that I demand myself. If I don’t get to share my take on every cool show or movie that I would like to rant and rave about, it’s okay, the world will continue to rotate on its axis.
I wish I had a silver bullet to offer on this front, but I rely upon a lot of the usual suspects, none of which demand a high level of technical expertise if you’re willing to invest a little time. To edit my videos, I use iMovie on my Mac, but I keep telling myself that I will learn Adobe Premiere, a lot of my peers use and recommend. Once my videos are up on YouTube, I use Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to promote the content. Still, Twitter is where I have my most active presence in the relationships I’ve cultivated. For my podcast (which I edit on Hindenburg), I use Libsyn as my 3rd party host site, and from there, I can distribute the episodes to Spotify and all the other major platforms where people look for podcasts. Long term, I recognize that the dynamic platforms are always changing and that innovations could quickly come along to make today’s major players feel obsolete. Still, for now, I’m comfortable with my overall strategy.
My biggest fear has always been that I would be incapable of creating content that I would be interested in watching or listening to just as a typical consumer. I always try to be my own harshest critic, the goal being to improve my delivery style and to up my game when it comes to production value. I have a long way to go before I am satisfied. As far as how other people respond to the content, that is totally beyond my control, but it’s always a thrill when I receive feedback that someone has discovered a new movie or show that they love after listening to one of my rants. But for every positive response or constructive piece of feedback I might receive, it’s normal to receive some equal and opposite reactions. It’s almost impossible to post something online and not receive some colorfully phrased responses designed to undermine your confidence.
Early on, I realized that getting angry over online battles is a complete waste of time because it just drains all the energy and enthusiasm that I could use to create more content. I use the phrase “Onwards and upwards” at the end of every recording, and I’ve found that it’s a valuable piece of advice for maintaining my sanity in today’s online culture.
Unless a creator is extraordinarily talented or incredibly lucky, there’s no substitute for consistency and hard work. In ‘Glengarry Glen Ross,’ Alec Baldwin’s ruthless character famously advised a roomful of salesmen, “Always be closing.” Well, in today’s fiercely competitive online landscape, my advice is, “Always be uploading.” After investing several years into my channel and my podcast, I have yet to discover any shortcuts or substitutes for putting in the insane hours required to build a brand or reputation gradually over time.
I studied marketing in business school, and we always talked about building brands and brand management. Still, even the experts will acknowledge that most of the tactics are the equivalent of hammering jello to a wall and hoping that some of it sticks. Posting your first videos to YouTube can be a bruising experience when no one is watching the videos, but I just kept at it, and slowly but surely, I started developing an audience. If you’re tackling topics with as much passion and expertise as you can, people will eventually sit up and listen. Honestly, the most helpful approach I’ve learned for exposing my content to a wider audience has been to build relationships with other content creators through social media. I do my best to share their videos, blog posts, podcasts, etc. and they’ve been incredibly kind in returning the favor. In many cases, these online alliances have led to some of the closest friendships that I enjoy today.
Before they get started to think long and hard about what subjects they feel are currently being neglected online, I would tell anyone where they might have something original to contribute. Suppose a topic is already being well and thoroughly mined to exhaustion by thousands of other creators. In that case, it’s tough to get noticed at first unless a creator has a wildly original perspective. Anytime I make a video that enjoys traffic above and beyond what is relatively normal for me, it’s because I’m doing the deep dive on a cool show or movie that has been ignored by the more prominent channels devoted to film and television commentary. But the beautiful thing about today’s technology is no one has to wait for permission to get started. Most of us carry a tiny recording studio in our pockets already, which is all one needs to get up and running on any platform out there like YouTube. Over time, a creator can make incremental improvements on software, microphones, cameras, etc.
The key is to develop the discipline of cranking out content consistently as early as possible.
For me, it was never an either/or proposition. I already had produced two low budget feature films and built a podcast devoted to movies before launching my YouTube channel. I’ve always looked at this ongoing project as an extension of what I was already working on, practically yet another opportunity to connect with audiences and provide entertainment they might enjoy. Anytime I create a video for my channel, I use my podcast to promote it, and the same holds in reverse. My goal moving forward is to invest more time and energy, producing short films that can have a home on my YouTube channel while continuing to crank out my usual film and television reviews and commentary.
Getting some decent traffic is always exciting, but for me, a significant early milestone was when some of my content started getting noticed on Twitter by filmmakers I admire. I tend to hero-worship great directors, and anytime one of them is kind enough to retweet one of my videos or podcasts. It provides a ton of fuel for the fire and makes me want to redouble my efforts. But the funny thing about online milestones is how short-lived the excitement can be if all you care about is numbers. I’m the first to admit that online traffic can be exhilarating and incredibly addictive, almost like a drug experience.
A perfect example is how, when I first hit 1000 subscribers on my channel. I was doing cartwheels around my apartment, but I quickly adjusted to the news and realized that I wanted 10,000 subscribers. Once I hit that, I wanted 100,000 (which is still a long way off). My point is that chasing numbers isn’t that satisfying in the long run. But if you’re creating content that you love that’s finding an audience, that’s the most important milestone of all, irrespective of the total traffic being generated.
As I mentioned earlier, I have yet to discover any shortcuts, but I strongly recommend that creators collaborate with as many other people as possible. If you’re lucky, you’ll both pick up some of the other person’s audience, but more importantly, you’ll develop a network of contacts with whom you can share ideas and strategies. I think audiences respond best to marketing strategies that feel authentic and organic to whatever the content creator is trying to accomplish. From time to time, I might use a promoted post on a platform like Facebook, but I always try to put myself in the listener’s shoes or viewer and picture what I would respond to best as a consumer.
When I look at some of the successful YouTube channels and podcasts out there, nearly all of them employ a strategy where they carve out a corner of the internet consisting of friends and contacts where they support each other’s endeavors, appearing on each other’s shows. Even if that strategy ultimately ends up failing for a new creator, at a bare minimum, they will have a blast with the process and likely develop some lifelong friendships along the way.
When it comes to monetizing my content, I sell some merchandise related to my YouTube channel and podcast. Still, on the whole, I tend to defer to whatever ads YouTube cooks up in their internal machinery. I’m not opposed to sponsorships, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been consuming someone else’s content and outright skipped whatever portions of their videos and podcasts are devoted to thanking their sponsors. I’m much more concerned with giving folks a focused, bite-size chunk of entertainment that will hopefully convince them to subscribe to my channel, which translates to ad dollars in the long run. That said, if a sponsor comes along that’s a perfect fit for my brand, I’m more than happy to give them a vigorous full-throated shout out on my channel.