Creator Stories

Everything I Learned Growing a YouTube Channel to 800k Subscribers & $3,200/mo in 2 years

How The Creator Behind 'Lessons from the Screenplay' Launched His YouTube Channel and Patreon Simultaneously (and Succeeded)

Creator Profiles is a new avenue for creators to highlight learnings and accomplishments in the Patreon creator community. Here, you’ll read stories and business insights in the words of the creators themselves.

Today’s article features Michael Tucker, the creator behind Lessons from the Screenplay. Here, he shares how he used Patreon to support the launch of his YouTube channel and transition into a full-time video essay creator.

Creator Stats at a Glance
CategoryVideo EssayistCommitmentFull time
Project Start DateJune 2016Patreon Start DateJune 2016
Revenue on Patreon$2200/moOther Revenue$1000+
# Patrons at Launch0# Patrons Now1014
Audience at Launch0 subscribersAudience Now800,000 subscribers
Major MilestoneHitting 1,000 patrons in under two years.

Who I Am & What I Do

My name is Michael Tucker. Through Lessons from the Screenplay, I make video essays examining the scripts of great films to extract the techniques used to tell their stories. Video topics range from dissecting character arcs, to looking at entire act structures, to zooming in and focusing on a single scene.

Before “LFTS,” I was a freelance video editor working on documentary projects (paid the bills), and before that I was a writer/director making short films and web series (did not pay the bills). At a certain point, I realized I missed creating narratives and wanted to focus on improving my writing skills. I began reading a bunch of screenplays, and then started writing blog posts detailing what I had learned from each one I finished. After that, I realized that these posts might work even better in video form.

As far as making the actual videos go, LFTS has been a one-person-show since the beginning. I research, write, record, and edit each video myself… with the helpful feedback of some good friends. On the business side of things, there is one friend in particular who has been a trusted advisor since the get-go.

Marketing & Revenue Strategies

On My Target Audience

My audience tends to be young adults interested in filmmaking, or people just curious to learn more about whatever movie the video happens to be discussing. When creating the videos, I try to picture ‘film-school-me’ as the audience. Back in school, I was easily excited by the technical aspects of filmmaking, but often overlooked the storytelling fundamentals that make for a good story. With my channel, I try to highlight the importance of these fundamentals.

How I Built My Audience & Launched My Patreon at the Same Time

I had my Patreon page already set up when I launched my YouTube channel, so I began with 0 viewers and 0 patrons. I knew that my goal was to make this project sustainable, so I wanted to try to build up my patrons as soon as possible.

From my days making short films, I had a very inactive shared YouTube channel with about 8,000 subscribers, and I posted a video there announcing my new channel on the launch day of LFTS. That helped me get a couple hundred views over a couple days, but otherwise, I had no audience to tap in to except friends and family. The thing that really made the channel take off was Reddit.

On the day I released my first video, I created a post on Reddit, and it happened to get a lot of traction. I had tried to design the video with the /r/movies subreddit in mind—but it’s Reddit so you can never really predict what will resonate. Luckily, within 24 hours I had over 1,000 subscribers, and by the time I released my second video I had 19 patrons. Things grew pretty steadily from there until I released what became my most popular video, “The Dark Knight — Creating the Ultimate Antagonist.” After that video went viral, the number of my patrons quadrupled. So a combination of luck, focusing on releasing quality content, and trying to build a relationship with my patrons really helped the channel out in the first few months.

Total subscribers and video views over time for the Lessons of the Screenplay channel. Credit: SocialBlade

Looking back, I think it was also helpful that my first video did a good job of establishing the identity of the channel. It pretty explicitly states what I believe a story should provide, and demonstrates how I want to explore these ideas. So I think clearly conveying who you are to the audience is one of the best ways to motivate them to support you.

As far as ongoing ways of encouraging people to support the channel, it’s mostly done in my actual videos. At the end of each I briefly appear on camera, thank everyone for watching, thank my patrons for supporting the channel, and encourage viewers to head to my Patreon. Occasionally someone on Twitter will tweet announcing they’ve just begun supporting the channel, so I’ll retweet that as a way of thanking them and reminding followers of my Patreon.

An example of how Michael promotes his Patreon page at the end of his videos (skip to 10:02 if timestamp does not work).

Patreon Revenue & Reward Strategy

Lessons from the Screenplay is funded in three ways. Patreon is what I consider the primary method because it comes directly from my audience, and I make videos for them first and foremost. I also make some money from Google Ads, and in my second year of doing the channel, I began doing sponsored videos as well.

I had been leery of making the leap to sponsored videos, but when I received emails from marketing companies that seemed legitimate, I would usually get on the phone to feel them out a bit. One seemed like a good fit, so I gave it a try, and it was a decent experience. Eventually, through happenstance and randomly meeting some fellow YouTubers at VidCon, I was introduced to a company co-founded by creators that fosters a great communal experience. Finding the right partner to handle sponsors was important—because I wanted to make sure our goals were aligned and they weren’t simply out to just squeeze my channel and viewers for money.

The funding from Patreon is what made the channel viable in the first year—it was essentially a race between my Patreon increasing and my savings account decreasing, and luckily it was enough to allow LFTS to be my full-time job. But it was the combination of beginning sponsored videos in addition to my Patreon that allowed the channel to become sustainable in the long run. If I had tried to change my content to reach a wider audience on YouTube, I might have been able to attract a new group of followers and increase the number of pledges, but I would always prefer keeping the patrons that helped build the channel happy.

When designing my rewards, I looked at other channels doing similar things to see what seemed feasible and what resonated with me. I’ve had to tweak some rewards over time, mostly because I underestimated the amount of extra work it would take to deliver them. For example, at one point I was planning on releasing a podcast to accompany each video. I tried it once, and while fun, it added a ton of time to the whole process. When I started having to delay my main videos in order to create the rewards, I knew something was wrong. Eventually, I landed on a set of rewards that hopefully gives something valuable to everyone.

While my most popular reward is the $1 tier, my most valuable one is the $3 tier. I tried to make that the sweet spot because it seemed like not too much of an ask from people, but also enough to really boost the channel. So for the $3 tier, I include what I think is the most appealing stand-alone reward: extra content created specifically for patrons.

Recently, I created a Discord server for the channel and added that to all my reward tiers. It was simple to set up, allows me to have even more interaction with the people that support the channel, and boosted pledges a bit—particularly the $1 tier.

Personal Development

My Work Routine

A normal day for me looks different depending on what stage of the process I’m in. I have a morning routine where I respond to emails, check-in on budget things, and just generally boot up into work mode. If it’s a writing day, then I will spend a lot of time walking around the block, going to coffee shops, working in the library, or researching on my iPad. If it’s an editing day, it’s easier for me to power through hours and hours at the computer, and I can usually get a rough cut of each video done in about three days.

Inspiration

Part of my motivation for creating the channel was my love for educational YouTube content. There were some film video essay channels that of course helped inspired my own (Every Frame a Painting, Kaptain Kristian, etc.), but most of what I watched on YouTube was not film related. Channels like Vsauce, MinutePhysics, and SciShow are some of my very favorites. In particular, following CGP Grey’s channel, as well as his podcast with Brady Haran, Hello Internet, was very helpful when I began. There weren’t a lot of other resources discussing what it was like to create educational content on YouTube, so finding Hello Internet proved to be an informative and entertaining gold mine.

Advice for Overcoming Obstacles

I think my biggest challenge has been creative exhaustion. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and as soon as I had people actually pledging money to support the channel I became terrified of disappointing them. This provided a lot of great motivation, but also has led to a few times where I really needed to take a break but couldn’t.

If I had to start over, I don’t think I would do anything differently, as I consider myself very lucky to be where I am. Moving forward, however, one of the lessons I’ve learned is to plan ahead for mental wellbeing, because you can’t keep creating useful content if you’re completely burnt out. For a smaller channel, I think this means budgeting your income to allow for vacation periods. Be careful not to over-commit to a schedule. Keep in mind that when you begin a project you’re excited, energetic and motivated...when you’re doing it for the 15th time without having taken a break, you will be really exhausted. So try to keep future-you in mind when making promises. For me, now that the channel is a bit bigger, I’m able to start bringing on some people to help on the videos so the responsibility doesn’t fall entirely on me every second of every day—which is a nice relief!

Want to Learn More About Lessons from the Screenplay?

If you want to know more about Lessons from the Screenplay, you can visit the YouTube Channel, and if you want to follow me on social media you can do so on Twitter @michaeltuckerla.

If you have any follow up questions, feel free to reach out on Twitter.