Entrepreneurs: Lydia Hurlbut 

Biz: Filmmakers Academy (formerly Hurlbut Academy)

Tilt:  Filmmaking education and mentorship

Primary Channel: Website

Other Channels: Facebook (16.1K), Instagram (40.6K), YouTube (102K), Twitter (1K)

Time to First Dollar: 5 years

Rev Streams: Memberships ($396 a year for unlimited course access)

Our Favorite Actionable Advice:

  • Listen to your audience: Lydia added one-on-one mentoring to her offerings after students kept requesting it.
  • Be ready to pivot: Filmmakers Academy has evolved its business model over 12 years in part to expand its target audience.
  • Make it easy: Too many options can overwhelm site visitors. Create a clear path for them to follow based on their interest or need.

The Story

Though shooting video is possible for anyone with a phone or camera, filmmaking takes dedication and specialized knowledge to succeed and stand out. Since 2009, Lydia and Shane Hurlbut have been helping aspiring professionals gain the skills to set themselves apart.   

For years Lydia has worked on delivering quality and useful content. Initially, they started with a website and newsletter. Eventually, that grew into an online membership community. In November 2021, Filmmakers Academy was born. “We hope to be the place for all things filmmaking. We want to be every filmmakers’ go-to and must-have resource,” Lydia says.

As their website explains: “The lessons contain field-tested knowledge and innovation from feature films that catapult the career of a filmmaker by focusing them on what they need to know to succeed. The courses save professionals both time and money by directly delivering the experience of industry professionals.”

Expand offerings

Most of the coursework has been created by Lydia and her in-house team. With the 2021 rebranding to Filmmakers Academy, they expanded their offerings to add something their students had been asking for.

When Lydia Hurlbut rebranded to @FilmmakersAcad, they added an offering that her audience craved: one-on-one #mentoring. #ContentEntrepreneur #CreatorEconomy Click To Tweet

“We are now offering one-on-one mentoring with the instructors and the educators. That is something very unusual and very valuable,” Lydia says. “That mentorship is something that filmmakers are craving. 

“A lot of the mentoring that used to happen over the years is gone. There used to be opportunities like coming up the ladder (i.e., camera, grip, or electric work),” Lydia says. “For example, David Cole is an incredibly talented colorist with a wealth of years of experience and information. He could take you through the specific coloring on your project, help you where you were stuck, or (help) if you all of a sudden got a huge opportunity in coloring and had questions on something.” 

Lydia knows how valuable this one-on-one help can be. “It’s very hard to find good mentors, and I am just so committed to this because I’ve had it my whole career. I’m a big proponent of it,” she says.

She works hard to find instructors/mentors who have passion in their discipline. “They have to have a clear vision on how to deliver information, but passion is number one,” Lydia says.

But the instructors aren’t left to their own devices. Lydia coaches them along the way, too. “We’re right there, as somebody is doing their teaching saying, ‘Oh, what about this? Did you think about that?’ or ‘Let’s explore that a little bit more.’ So it’s a really collaborative process where the educator can relax and just be themselves.”

Teaching the path first

A hurdle Filmmakers Academy has tackled successfully is helping students know what they need to learn.  

“There’s so much content that a lot of people don’t know where to start. So what we did was we devised a pathway to make it easier for them,” Lydia says. “So, if you want to be a director, grip, or camera operator, we have a pathway.  We have a grip and electric path, too. We have cinematography, post-production, editing, and coloring. We’ve tried to break it down to make it as easy as possible.”

A lot of content and choices can overwhelm the audience. @FilmmakersAcad redesigned their site to create easy-to-navigate distinct pathways for directors, camera operators, post-production, etc. #OnlineCourses #ContentBusiness Click To Tweet

However, it hasn’t come easily. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons on the functionality of websites. And I’m very honest about mistakes that we have made in the past. What we had before was people were very lost; they weren’t sure where to start. There was too much choice. Our new platform has very simple navigation. It’s easy to use, and it makes sense to somebody that has just stumbled on it for the first time.”

Be willing to change

The primary constant at the business during the last 13 years has been change. Filmmakers Academy is the third and expected final iteration of her business model. “Initially, we niched down to just cinematography … It worked well, but then we get to a point where we could see other trends happening and realized we need to expand beyond cinematography and get newer and different audiences.”

So, they pivoted. “Being fearless and pivoting is so important in business. We were just going to make a new platform and not change the name. But at the 11th hour, we all realized that we had built something, and all of a sudden, the name (Hurlbut Academy) didn’t fit anymore.

The rebrand for @FilmmakersAcad happened in the 11th hour when they listened to their intuition. The new name felt right. #Branding #CreatorEconomy Click To Tweet

“It was scary because doing a rebrand and a name could be very confusing to everybody. It was a moment of listening to our intuition and asking, `Does this feel right?’”

It did. So in November 2021, the Filmmakers Academy was born.

Join your fellow serious content creators at the Creator Economy Expo May 5-7, 2024. Registration opening soon.

About the author

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with a passion for sharing stories of bravery. Her love for world traveling began when her family moved to Spain when she was 6 and since then, she has lived overseas extensively, visited six continents, and traveled to over 26 countries. She is fluent in Spanish and conversational in French. Currently, she is based on Maui and, when not writing or parenting, she can be found kiteboarding, hiking, or cooking.