On Indiegogo right now, there’s a campaign for a sci fi comedy film called Laser Team that’s smashed the site’s crowdfunding records.

The production company, Rooster Teeth Productions, initially asked for $650,000. By day two, they were already at $1 million.

At the time of writing, with four days to go, they’re at over 300% funded. If they break $2,250,000, they’ll be the most successful film campaign on Indiegogo to date.

Laser Teeth doesn’t have big name stars. It’s not like the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign, offering fans to the chance to bring a beloved TV show to the big screen, or Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here, with a celebrity as a hook.

Who are Rooster Teeth? How did they make this happen?

Rooster Teeth are an Austin based production company who’ve been making content for over 11 years. They have a content empire centred around gaming, comedy and their community, with animated and live action YouTube channels, podcasts, video podcasts, fan events, merchandise, a fan convention RTX that draws over 30,000 people to Austin, and now film.

Rooster Teeth might just be the biggest production company you’ve never heard of.

Their main YouTube channel has over 7.5 million subscribers and 3 billion video views and is the 8th most viewed channel in the world. They have over 14 brands under the Rooster Teeth umbrella. They employ 85 people, are privately run and are completely financially self-sustaining.

Their popular content includes:

Red vs Blue is an animated series set inside a video game, telling the stories of two opposing teams of soldiers fighting a civil war.

Let’s Play aka Achievement Hunters where the Rooster Teeth team play video games and try to unlock various achievements in the games, official or otherwise, with funny and foul mouthed commentary.

The Slo Mo Guys, two silly and endearing Brits who have fun shooting things with a high speed camera, from exploding water balloons, the fizzy combination of Mentos and Coke, severing a watermelon in half with rubber bands and other absurd joys they and their fans can come up with.

RT Shorts, comedy shorts from the Rooster Teeth team.

They’re a fantastic model of how a production company can thrive in digital times and a fascinating case study for anyone who wants to make content and tell stories for a living. The lines are blurring between content whether you’re making a web series, TV, film, game or a transmedia project. We all need to pay attention to what’s happening.

Here are some key lessons I think are relevant from Rooster Teeth.

Find Your Niche

Rooster Teeth are gamers. The company started as five friends messing around playing video games drunk, doing live commentary and making each other laugh. They did something with spoke to them and soon built a passionate audience who liked what they did. Their content evolved from there – gameplay videos, Red vs Blue, game podcasts, comedy and so on. They are a stunning example of the 1000 true fans theory, except their fans snowballed to the size of a small nation.

Here’s something you might not realise. Dismiss gamers at your peril. Video games are the biggest entertainment industry in the world, bringing $76 billion in revenue in 2013, with game sales outpacing movie box office sales. Rooster Teeth are far from a one off. Look up the highest earning YouTube stars and most viewed channels and you’ll find game related content dominating the field.

There may not be niches to parallel the size of the gaming audience, but they are out there. How about the fantastic Misadventures Of An Awkward Black Girl for one? Find yours and start engaging with your audience.

Build Your Audience

From the beginning Rooster Teeth have been all about fan engagement. They have a vibrant active dialogue with their community. They’ve always collaborated and engaged with their fans from playing games with them, chatting directly on the site, visiting them around the world and going to fan organised conventions. Fans in turn suggest topics for videos and podcasts, post on their forums, make fan art and videos, enter competitions and contests, go to the RTX convention.

This kind of direct communication with your audience is amazing. Support and engage with your community and they support you back. You can get feedback on what they like and want and ultimately enhance the creative process. It makes your fans feel involved and valued. They get invested in you and the work.

That’s one of the reasons the Rooster Teeth Indiegogo campaign was so successful. They’d built their audience first. When they decided to make a film, they had an army of people willing to support them.

With film, it’s more challenging to do that, given the timescales involved to make a single film versus short videos, but I think there’s scope to do this, particularly with niche content and underrepresented groups in traditional media.

A production company making films for the gay audience or alternatively, black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups could really reach out and build a community around their content. As genres, sci-fi and horror have passionate fan bases who could rally around a brand and production company who take the time to engage with them and make content that speaks to them.

Diversify Your Revenue Streams

Re/code have an article about Rooster Teeth with an intriguing nugget of information.

Austin, Texas-based video studio Rooster Teeth, though, has a deceptively simple strategy: Try everything. CEO Matt Hullum said in a recent interview with Re/code that rather than banking only on ad revenue, the company plans at least two potential revenue streams, ranging from ads to shirts to product placement, for each piece of content it produces.

Rooster Teeth have long been ahead of the curve. When they started Red vs Blue, YouTube wasn’t on the scene. There were no browser video players. There was no video advert model to finance them. The cost of bandwidth for hosting the Red vs Blue videos on their site was crippling.

To combat this, they sold T-shirts and offered subscriptions and sponsorships that offered perks like early access and additional content. They still do this. There’s also posters and product placement. They sell DVDs and BluRays of their video series. They also made video game adverts and content for EA Sports. The more streams of revenue you have, the better.

Piracy is a huge problem for film. There’s a culture and expectation from younger audiences in particular that content should be free, despite the costs involved in making it.

Traditional distribution may be eroding, but the upshot is, there’s a new model developing that brings you closer to your audience and cuts out the middlemen. Crowdfunding is fantastic, but consider what extras can you offer to encourage your audience to pay for content when it comes to distribution.

Behind the scenes videos, DVD commentary, interviews with cast and crew, bloopers, the making of, production stills. Where can you give added value that incentivises people to buy your content? Ideally, you do this on your site, with a buy/rent button for your film front and centre.

Be Platform Agnostic

Again, Rooster Teeth were ahead of the curve here. They realised just being on YouTube wasn’t going the best choice. By limiting yourself to one platform, you’re putting control of your content in their hands, which can impact your income, as seen by YouTube’s change in policy on ad revenue.

Instead, Rooster Teeth are across multiple platforms, from on their own site, YouTube, Blip, Twitch, iTunes, Facebook and Twitter. Their merchandise is online but also on sale in Best Buy, HMV, Future Shop and BJ’s Wholesale Club and from retailers in Australia and New Zealand.

The same can apply for film. Look at the options available to you. Film distribution is changing fast. Can you sell your film on your website? Keep track of alternative VOD models like Distrify, Vimeo on Demand, VHX,Reelhouse or Indie Reign and cinema on demand platforms like Tugg and Gathr, where audiences can generate a screening of a film in their hometown if they reach a critical audience mass. Would that work for your film?

Be conscious of how these platforms might intersect with traditional distribution, especially all rights and TV deals that ask for exclusive VOD rights. Crowdfunding can also run into some issues here if you’re pre-selling copies of your film.

If you can control your distribution, you have control over the income from your film.  Ultimately, that might be able to make you self sustaining as a film maker. No outside finance needed, able to make the films you want, with an audience who supports you. Which is something I think we all aspire to.

Agree, disagree, questions, thoughts? Hit me up in the comments.

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