The Patreon Plot

June 20, 2017
A thought by James Berardinelli


In response to the piece I wrote a week ago about the future of ReelViews, I received a number of helpful suggestions. The most frequent one related to exploring Patreon as a means of helping to fund ReelViews going forward. After spending some time researching this option, I discovered that not only does it make a lot of sense but it allows me to do something I considered implementing as far back as 2008: a paid membership section operating in parallel with the free site.

When I first investigated this, I had a few ideas how it might work but logistics kept me from moving forward. The first difficulty would have been building a paywall. Then it would have been necessary to hire a billing company to handle the financial transactions. In the end, I decided it wouldn’t be worth the necessary time and expense for a sub-site that might attract 50 (or so) subscribers.  Patreon, however, simplifies those things and makes the number “50” attractive.

First and foremost, this effort will not cannibalize ReelViews. In the long term, it should result in the growth of the site (even for those who don’t pay a cent). Once I have achieved certain financial goals, I will be free to spend my working hours writing and reviewing. 40 extra hours per week is a lot of time and, if I shave about 10 hours off for novel writing, it leaves 30 hours for additional ReelViews content. Here’s how I see the breakdown:

  • There will be an increase in the number of reviews of new movies. All new movie reviews will be uploaded directly to ReelViews as is currently the case. New movie reviews will not be “funneled” through Patreon.
  • There will be new ReelThoughts, divided into two “streams.”  The first will be smaller, blog/diary-type entries  (a couple hundred words) added to the main site at the rate of 1-3 per week. The second will be longer, more in-depth pieces that will come out twice per month. These will initially be available only to Patreon subscribers. After a two-month waiting period, they will be moved to the main site where they will become available to everyone.
  • Finally, there’s Video Views. This will also be coming back with a couple of flavors. At least once per month, there will be a new review of an older movie. To start with, I’m probably going to pick from titles available at either Amazon Prime or Netflix (or both). I may then return to reviewing the Oscar winners, picking up from wherever I left off.  Also, once per month, I will re-review a film I previously reviewed but that I believe, for one reason or another, deserves a fresh look. (I pioneered this with the first six Star Wars films in 2015.) I have two in mind to start with: Little Shop of Horrors and The Avengers. The new reviews will not replace the old ones but will stand side-by-side with them.  All Video Views reviews will initially be available exclusively to Patreon subscribers. Like ReelThoughts, after two months they will be added to the main site.

Finally, I am adding the concept of Commissioned reviews. Put simply, this allows readers to pay me to write a review of a movie of their choice. There are two reasons why someone might do this. If you’re a film lover and are dying to know what I think of your favorite film, this is your chance. Or, if you’re a film maker and want a review for personal or publicity purposes, this makes it possible (note: a positive review is not guaranteed). Commissioned reviews can remain private for up to two months (after which they will be added to the site) or they can be added immediately – that’s up to the person commissioning them. Commissioned reviews will be available via Patreon at a fairly high subscription level. One such review is also available to the winner of the Beat Berardinelli Oscar contest.

What follows are specifics about the Patreon options. There are four delineated subscription levels, although amounts are not constrained by these numbers.  

  • At $5 per month (called the “Supporter” level), members receive new/exclusive ReelThoughts access. Minimum two major ReelThoughts columns per month will be available exclusively to Patreon Supporters for a period of two months from their release date. At that point, they will be added to ReelViews. These columns are intended to be at least 1000 words in length.
  • $10 per month puts you at the “Director” level and gives you immediate access to all new ReelThoughts and new Video Views. This access is exclusive to Patreon Directors for two months and includes at least two full-length ReelThoughts columns (the same as available to Supporters) and at least two Video View reviews per month (ideally one new review of an older movie and one re-review).
  • $20 per month opens the “Producer” level. In addition to all of the “Director” benefits, it adds two additional perks. The first is a “ticket” to enter the annual Beat Berardinelli contest. Only active “Producer” members will be permitted to enter this contest (yes, you can join this level only during February – there’s no requirement other than that you be an active Producer at the time of the contest). Also, Producers will receive exclusive updates to my “living” Top 10 list for the year. This will be revised monthly and will only be available to Producers. Producers will also see the final list before it is formally revealed.
  • Finally, for the very generous, there’s the $100 “Executive Producer.” In addition to receiving all the benefits of the “Producer” level and my undying thanks, Executive Producers are allowed to commission one review per month. To commission a single review, all you have to do is be at this level for one month. If you’re interested, I suggest contacting me by e-mail beforehand so we can work through the fine print.

Patreon asks me to define my goals. At this point, I have three. If I can generate $1000 per month of income, that should be sufficient to keep me from having to search for another “day job.” Add $500 per month to that ($1500 total) and I can jettison the pop-up ads, which I know are a source of pain for many readers.  Finally, if I can get to $2000 per month, I can eliminate all ads from ReelViews, which would make it a cleaner, friendlier place to visit. From time-to-time, I have talked about doing this. Now there’s a plan. Of course, it remains to be seen whether I reach the necessary level of support. (I’m starting to sound like PBS.)

ReelViews Patreon memberships will be available starting on or around July 1. Every page on the site will have a link when they’re ready. Heartfelt thanks to those who suggested this route and those who participate once it’s launched.