TL;DR: The very definition of a publishing brand built on raw passion and drive, Film Stories grew from Kickstarter to become a highly respected, niche entertainment brand. The strategy? A heady cocktail of honesty, dedication, unpublished freelance talent, podcasts and live events.
In July 2018, the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Den of Geek, Simon Brew, announced he was stepping down after eleven (very) successful years at the helm of one of Britain’s most popular entertainment sites. Then owned by Dennis Publishing, the site covered ‘Geek Culture’ across movies, television, comic books and video games.
Just four months later and Brew had re-appeared with a new venture, Film Stories, freshly minted by a kickstarter campaign that saw his first print issue appear that very same month backed by over 500 movie buffs. The magazine was simultaneously made available digitally and underpinned by a popular podcast series that ‘shone a light on the cinema shown in the smaller rooms of the multiplex and bigger screens of the independent’.
Talking to Media Voices podcast at the time, Brew said, “I came up with a package that was career and commercial suicide all wrapped up into one package doing something (print) that was apparently dying” adding, “but I was at a point in my career that I might never be able to roll that dice again, so I just went for it – I wanted to prove I could do it.”
The Kickstarter approach I took was this: I told the truth, using social media to promote it. I just said, ‘here’s what I’m going to do, this is how I’m going to do it, and I poured my heart out on the Kickstarter page’.Simon Brew, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Film Stories
Success with a lean team and giving writers their first break
A key challenge for many small publishers is how to create a consistent flow of high-quality, premium content with just a handful of staff. Film Stories is no different – the publisher only has three full-time staff with staff writer Lauren Miles and production manager/designer John Moore joining Brew as the core team.
To tackle the challenge, Brew focused on hiring passionate, unpublished writers with a lot to prove, “There’s little secret that budgets are squeezed, it’s tougher and tougher, as well as SEO dominated – there’s much less wiggle room. I made a decision to hire at least two unpublished writers for every issue, and crucially to ensure they were paid – zero budget is morally wrong.”
We have 20 paid freelancers each issue, a number of them unpublished, and it makes for a broad, fresh range of writing talent, with more familiar voices sprinkled in for good measure.Simon Brew, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Film Stories
Following a steady first year, and a burgeoning young audience, Brew subsequently decided to launch Film Junior in 2019 with the same ethos as Film Stories but aimed at children up to the age of 15. Unusually, he decided to use contributors from the same age range, paying them with vouchers rather than cash.
Expanding into events and podcasts
Whilst Covid nixed many of the publisher’s subsequent plans, the publisher has continued to grow with latest figures (July 2022) showing traffic of 117k monthly uniques. Brew also made the decision to branch out into events with the Movie Geek Live Show starting in his hometown of Birmingham as well as the Vue in London’s Leicester Square.
It’s an area of focus for Brew: cinema inherently brings people together for shared experiences, so live events go hand in hand with this. “It’s 90 minutes of talking about film, celebrating film, pulling the leg of film, and bringing in filmmaking guests”, he explained. With over a dozen events already under his belt, more are now planned over the next twelve months.
The podcast has also continued, complementing the existing channels and winning the AOP Awards for Best Podcast Strategy in 2020, as well as the Best Entertainment & Culture Podcast this year at the Publisher Podcast Awards. It’s also become the UK iTunes’ chart’s number one film history podcast, and is now able to attract high-profile names from the film industry further enhancing its reputation.
The podcast was the starting point, and it’s been surreal to see it soar. It is, at heart, one person in a room with a microphone that was on offer at the time. But it’s me, talking about what I love. And I’m very appreciative that it’s taken off in the way it has.Simon Brew, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Film Stories
The success has also attracted additional investment from whynow, a digital publisher, producer and production studio fuelled by a passion for British arts, that was founded by Gabriel Jagger in 2019. The two brands now share the editorial oversight of Brew, along with the costs of production and staff.
The two companies share the same passion in wanting to get the stories of the creative industries into the world, particularly those of the lesser known or independent artists. It’s a good fit.Simon Brew, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Film Stories
As part of the new collaboration, Film Stories has launched a new, second podcast entitled, ‘The Film Quiz’ – hosted by comedian Nick Helm – which crucially has a live event component with the first five shows recorded in front of a live studio audience.
Readers, readers, readers — Advice for fellow publishers
We finished by asking Brew what advice he’d give to other publishing entrepreneurs treading the same path, “You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing, because there will be dark and difficult days, when it’s just you, a late night and some cheap wine from the Spar shop.” Brew doubles down on the importance of belief, adding, “Never, ever tell me the odds”.
His final words are a familiar refrain for all publishers, “Readers, readers, readers. It’s not about clickbait, or numbers on a spreadsheet. It’s about human beings. Never forget that.”