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I Can Make You Hot!: The Supermodel Diet (by Kelly Killoren Bensimon) -- Part One

NOTE: Although I was originally planning on posting this whole review at once, I was about a third of the way through the book when I realized that I was already quickly approaching the full length of my previous posts. So, in the interest of making this a pleasant experience for us all, I'm sharing the first half now, and will follow up with the second half in a few days. And honestly, KKB's writing reminds me of Inception in that it's almost certainly hazardous to spend too much time immersed in any single sitting. So fasten your seatbelts, and enjoy the ride!
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So, a lot of you guys have been asking about Kelly Killoren Bensimon's I Can Make You Hot! (wow, is this what it feels like to be an influencer?), and I am thrilled to report that my adventure through this book's 264 pages was even more confounding than I could have possibly anticipated. I have a feeling that I'll need every ounce of my strength if I want to have any shot at conveying to you all exactly how bonkers this purported self-help book is, so -- without further ado -- let's begin.
I Can Make You Hot!, subtitled The Supermodel Diet, has a fairly straightforward premise. Kelly, who "has done it all when it comes to nutrition and her body," will share her hard-earned wisdom with us, her humble readers. Or, as she says in her own words on the back cover:
In I Can Make You Hot! I'm going to clue you in to all the tricks I've learned from a variety of experts and that I now use to live my own life. I want you to be the best you -- happy, attractive, shapely, interested, interesting, and most of all, smokin' HOT!
The blurb promises that the experience of reading this book will be "like rooming with a supermodel and going on a diet together." Truly, only someone with Kelly Bensimon's tenuous grasp on reality would say this as if it were something exciting, rather than a scenario taken directly out of the third circle of hell.
But before we can truly learn what it means to be HOT!, we're treated to a foreword by none other than Russell Simmons. As he shares with us:
Kelly is a great mother and is constantly instilling strong principals [sic] in her daughters. In my opinion, that's the essence of being HOT. Kelly is smokin'.
And just like that, I Can Make You Hot! is knocked out of the running for First-Book-I've-Read-By-A-Bravolebrity-That-Is-Also-Free-From-Glaring-Typographical-Errors. Better luck next time, champ!
In case you were at all hesitant about Kelly's suitability for the job of helping the less fortunate among us reach their maximum potential, Russell clarifies:
Her beauty truly comes from within, and her clear internal compass and well-balanced lifestyle is what makes her an arbiter for what's hot. She has always had her own individual road map and is one of those people who beats to their own drum. Many are amazed by her leaps of faith and courage, which are products of her sustainable soul. And back to that energy! I used to think: If we could only package it. And now Kelly has!
I would kill to be a fly on the wall during a conversation between Russell Simmons and Kelly Bensimon. But all of these endorsements are making me impatient to dig into Kelly's advice, so I skim over the next few pages and arrive at the introduction: "What's HOT and What's Not." Almost immediately, Kelly reassures us that she was not always the gorgeous, talented socialite she is today -- "No. Let's just say that I was never one of those tiny, cute blonde girls who guys named their hamsters after." Excuse you what? I literally just walked away from my laptop to go talk to my boyfriend and make sure I'm not just ignorant of some otherwise well-known traditional male courtship ritual in which young men adopt rodents and christen them after the women they love. That doesn't seem to be the case, although please reach out if you can shed any additional light on this situation.
Reasonably enough, before we can learn how to be hot, we have to know what hot is. Fortunately, Kelly wastes no time in getting us up to speed:
When I was trying to come up with a title for this book, I kept asking myself how I would define what I love. "HOT" is the word that best describes what I love, and it's not a word I throw around lightly. "HOT" is attractive, unique, and first-rate -- never mediocre. Avril Lavigne made a video called "HOT." There are "HOT" issues of all my favorite magazines. Hotmail.com was given that name to indicate that it was the best e-mail service, and www.urbandictionary.com, whose definitions are created by their readers, defines "hot" as (among other things) attractive, the best, and someone who makes you wish you had a pause button when they walk by because you don't want that moment to end. (I want you to feel like that "someone.") Health, wellness, and fitness are always hot topics. "HOT" may be a buzzword but it's also how I describe the best there is and the best you can be. I've used the words "smokin' hot" for everything from a killer chicken wing red sauce to a coveted couture gown.
There is…a lot to unpack here. My leading hypothesis is that Kelly must have accidentally exposed her internal circuitry to water and started shorting out while writing this passage, causing her to string together a rambling parade of incoherent sentences with no relationship to one another, save a tangential association with the amorphous concept of hotness. Also, it's factually inaccurate. A cursory Google search reveals that Hotmail.com was not "given that name to indicate that it was the best e-mail service." Rather, the service's name was selected as a reference to the use of HTML to create webpages, as is more apparent from the original stylization, HoTMaiL. I know from her savvy allusion to "www.urbandictionary.com" that Kelly is capable of navigating the Internet, so I'm disappointed that she's made such a careless oversight within the first three pages of the book proper.
Kelly next takes us through a few scenes from her past to illustrate how she has come to understand the true meaning of "HOT." Here are just a few of the assorted pearls of wisdom that Kelly is gracious enough to share with us:
Is skinny hot? Naturally skinny is hot. Starving yourself in order to change your natural body type in order to get skinny is not hot.

For me, the ultimate HOT girl is the nineteenth-century Gibson girl.

…Bethany Hamilton, the young surfer who lost an arm in a shark attack and didn’t let it stop her from pursuing a sport she loves. She's smokin' HOT.

pregnancy is smokin' HOT
I'm distracted from my diligent note-taking by a line that truly makes me laugh out loud.
I don't want to pretend that I'm "just like you." To do that would be disingenuous, and you wouldn't believe me anyway. But I may be more like you than you think. My hair may be ready for Victoria's Secret, but my values are still Midwestern.
I appreciate the honesty! As I continue reading, I am pleased to learn that I am, in fact, already consuming this piece of literature in the appropriate way. As Kelly says:
I urge you to make notes as you go along, either in the book itself or, if writing in a book is anathema to you, in a little notebook to use as your own personal guide. Jotting down ideas as they pop into your head is the best way to process them and be sure that they don't leave again before you've had a chance to commit them to long-term memory. Then, if you've made a mistake, when you go back and see it there on paper, you'll remind yourself not to do it again. Or, as I like to say, you'll avoid getting bitten by the same food dog twice!
Bitten…by the same….food...dog? Never change, KKB. (As an aside, what's the oveunder on Kelly having even the slightest idea what the word 'anathema' means?) If I'm being totally honest, this book is making me feel a little superfluous. What more can I add when the source material is so impenetrable to begin with? How does one parse the unparseable? Newly humbled, I suppose I'll have to be content with just gaping in confusion alongside the rest of you. And now that I think about it, what better book to build me up from these insecurities and encourage me to be my best? In the words of Kelly herself:
After all, why wouldn't you want to be HOT? What's the alternative? Being "not so hot"?
The book is organized into seven chapters, one for each day of the week, focusing on seven distinct facets of hotness. We start our journey on "Monday: Make a List -- Plan and Prepare!" and are immediately blessed with another one of Kelly's philosophical ramblings:
To me, living well is the only option. What, after all, is the only alternative? Living badly? Who aspires to live badly? I want you to live well, and that's going to take some planning.
Eager to improve myself, I read on:
What are your goals for yourself? If you're going to make changes in your life, you need to have a plan, you need to prepare, and you need to take the time to get it right -- so that you don't wind up wasting your time. This is my plan, and from now on it's going to be yours. Monday is going to be the day you make a HOT plan and prepare for the rest of your week. Let's get started together!
I can't help but feel like this is one of those answers that beauty pageant contestants give when they don't actually know how to respond to a question. Or like a motivational speech written by a rudimentary AI. I can't quite articulate exactly what it is that makes Kelly's writing seem so utterly devoid of logical coherence, but it truly falls into the literary equivalent of the Uncanny Valley.
Reminding us that "this isn't just about budgeting your food; it's about budgeting your life," Kelly peppers us with even more helpful tips -- "You don't want to be that person who is snacking while you're shopping. That's not hot -- period." and shares a stream-of-consciousness-style list of "Staples I keep in my house." Which may possibly be some kind of freeform postmodern poetry. Judge for yourself.
Kelly advises the reader to "get out your calendar or PDA" to get a sense of your schedule. "Then use your PDA to find the closest well-stocked market and go there. Making life easy for yourself is what it's all about." Now is as good a time as any to clarify that this book was published in 2012. I'd be lying if I said reading so many consecutive Housewives memoirs hasn't made my grasp on sanity a bit shaky, but I am fairly positive that 2012 was not a banner year for the Personal Digital Assistant.
Kelly has taken the time to pluck out a few particularly incisive pearls of wisdom throughout the book to highlight as "Kelly's Cardinal Rules." I would love to help clarify exactly what this one means, but I'm afraid I'm utterly clueless. One thing I do know for certain, however, as the chapter comes to a close, is that "human contact is HOT; texting is not!"
The week continues with "Tuesday: A Little Ohm and a Little Oh Yeah! -- It's All About Balance." It is imperative that you work out, says Kelly, adding, "I've never met a smokin' hot couch potato and I bet you haven't either." Her personal exercise routine, as she shares, combines aerobics and yoga "because life is all about balance." As she quips, "I'm sure even Gandhi cracked a smile from time to time." A panel titled "HOT Tip" admonishes the reader: "Don't call it working out because exercise shouldn't be work!"
If you'd like to spend a morning in the style of Kelly Bensimon, it's as easy as eating "a couple of oranges" and drinking coffee -- "I love coffee; I would probably marry coffee if it proposed." She also lets us in on some of her secret, highly advanced workout routines designed to maximize your time in the gym and propel you towards your full potential. Such as the "Happy Twenty," in which you run for 18 minutes and then do 2 minutes of squats.
We get further instruction on the hottest ways to run on the following page, where a two-page spread advertises "a few of my HOT tips for having a fun run." To ensure that you're able to start your journey to HOT as quickly as possible, I've taken the liberty of transcribing one of her most valuable nuggets below:
Run in the street instead of on the sidewalk. I took a lot of flack for this when they filmed me on Season 2 of the Real Housewives of New York City. The thing is, I think that people walking down the street while texting are a lot more dangerous than a car. Drivers will go out of their way to avoid you (accidents are too much paperwork, and they really mess up a day), but strolling texters will walk right into you without even seeing you. You could also get smacked by a shopping bag, a stroller, or even an oversized purse. Sidewalks are really obstacle courses. Beware!
Kelly shares some standout tracks from her workout playlist ("It's much more fun exercising to music!"), including the perennial pump-up-the-jam classic, "Skinny Love" by Bon Iver. With no regard for thematic continuity or overarching structure, the next page is dominated by the header "Get Leggier Legs."
An April 10, 2009, article about me in Harper's Bazaar captioned one of the photos "She's got legs." I was born blessed with long lean legs, but I work very hard to keep them looking the way they do. I'm tall, but I could just as easily have long, large legs. And long and large is not hot. Unfortunately I can't give you my legs. But I can help you to be the best you can be.
Truly inspirational. I think.
We continue on with Kelly's advice for "how to avoid the 'freshman fifteen," accompanied by a list of what she refers to as "Kelly rules." These run the gamut from near-sinister
Get rid of any negative thoughts. Negative-town isn't Fun-town.
to nonsensical
For every cheeseburger and fries, you owe me 12 cartwheels on the quad with your friends.
to bizarrely specific and also racially insensitive.
If you starve yourself for a day because you want to lose weight for Homecoming, you owe me 5 minutes of sitting Indian style in a corner and meditating on why you thought that was a good option.
Upon further reflection, I think I would actually be extremely motivated to stick to a diet if the alternative was being reprimanded by Kelly and forced to think about my poor life choices.
As a scientist myself, I was ecstatic to see that Kelly has drawn from a diverse array of scientific disciplines to develop her HOT tips and tricks. Physics, for example:
From Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion
A body in motion stays in motion. The velocity of a body remains constant unless the body is acted upon by an external force. So if you want to step up your exercise routine, try running in sand instead of on the pavement, or bike through gravel. That way your body will have to work harder in order to stay in motion.
Even biology has something to teach us about how to be HOT:
You are a living organism; life is an organic process. You need to be up and active, ready to enjoy the process. Be open and available and ready to do fun stuff. Participating in what you love is HOT.
I'm truly impressed by Kelly Bensimon's unparalleled ability to reframe the most basic common sense as divinely inspired wisdom. We see this in lines like
If you're feeling a bit frazzled and you need to calm down, you might want to take a yoga class.
or, as we read in another "HOT Tip" panel
Don't be afraid to drink water while working out.
I refuse to believe that this is a problem any person has ever faced. Even Aviva Drescher is not afraid of drinking water while working out (although, for the record, she is afraid of aluminum foil). Kelly closes out this chapter by encouraging the reader to "do one thing every day that takes you out of your comfort zone." If you find yourself lacking inspiration, she provides helpful suggestions, such as "try a fruit you've never eaten" and "try tap dancing." As she asserts, "there's nothing more foolish than sitting on your butt when you could be moving your body and having fun."
I turn the page, and the clock rolls over to Wednesday -- "Diet = 'DIE with a T.'" Cute. I bet Kelly would find that Tumblr post that's like "she believed" to be unbearably clever. She wastes no time in letting us know:
I don't believe in diets; diets are for people who want to get skinny. I want you to be happy. If you feel good about yourself, you'll make good choices. If you starve yourself to be skinny, you'll be undermining your sense of self-worth and you'll be unhappy every day. Eating well -- a variety of high-quality, fresh, unprocessed foods -- is for people who want to be happy -- and if you're not happy you won't be hot! Happy is always better than skinny.
This is starting to feel like some sort of word problem from Algebra II. If happy is better than skinny, but hot is equal to happy, diet = die + t??? Kelly tells us that all women fall into two categories: overachievers and underachievers. Being an overachiever is good, and being an underachiever is bad. Here are some things you can do to become an overachiever:
Make good choices.

When in doubt, have fun.

Keep smiling.
Kelly's motivational-phrasebook app apparently starts to glitch out right about here, but she continues on:
Stay positive and move forward. This is your last try at today. Yesterday may not have been great, but, today is better -- you just need to see it that way. The choice is up to you.
The idea of someone being in such a dark psychological place that they are able to find inspiration in those words is so deeply sad to me that I can hardly bear to consider it. Thankfully, Kelly has already taken a hard left turn into what I think is some sort of extended metaphor:
I've already said that you need to treat your body like a Ferrari, but maybe you prefer a Maserati, an Aston Martin, a Corvette, or even a Bentley. Whatever your luxury car of choice, if you treat it well, it will increase in value; if you treat it like a bargain rental car, it's just going to wear out -- and being worn out is not hot!
Ah, yes, I'd momentarily forgotten that cars almost always increase in value after they're purchased, and don't have a culturally ubiquitous reputation for losing most of their resale value immediately. Solid analogy. Apropos of nothing, we get a "HOT Tip" list of "model diet secrets that DON'T work." I'm extremely glad that Kelly encouraged us to take notes while reading -- I'd be devastated if any of these pointers had escaped my attention.
Eating Kleenex to make yourself feel full does not work.

The Graham cracker diet does not work.

Drugs do not work.
Well, I suppose this clears up some Scary Island confusion. Had Kelly indeed been doing meth (as the reported cat-pee smell might suggest), she would be fully aware that many drugs are, in fact, extremely effective ways to lose weight. But lest you start to lose faith in the expertise of our fearless leader, read on: "when it comes to food choices, I've probably made every mistake in the book." By which she means that she ate Chinese chicken soup before giving birth to her first daughter and it made her sick, so she ate a turkey sandwich before giving birth to her second daughter and she didn’t get sick. To be perfectly honest, I'm struggling to find a way to apply this wisdom to my own life, but I'm sure it will become clear in no time!
Kelly is relatable for the first time so far in the following passage:
When I was accused of being a "bitch" on national television, I was really upset. My response was to find comfort in Mexican food and margaritas for lunch and dinner three days straight.
But we promptly return to form on the next page as she recounts her daily diet of "2 green juices," "a KKBfit lunch," and "a KKBfit dinner." I'd like to take a moment to appreciate how generous it is of Kelly to share her wisdom -- earned through a lifetime of catastrophic missteps -- so freely. It certainly didn’t come without a cost, as the following anecdote illustrates:
On the last day of my juice fast, I took my older daughter to a Yankees game where we gorged on sushi. (Yes, they have sushi at Yankee Stadium) As a result, I was stuffed and blinded by carbs when A-Rod came up to bat and hit a home run. Was I able to savor that A-Rod moment with my daughter? Absolutely not. I was in a food coma. Will I ever let myself be thrown into a food frenzy again? No! Lesson learned: I made another stupid food choice, and because of that choice I missed that home run moment with my daughter. From now on, when I go to a Yankees game I'll have a small hot dog instead….I want you to do the same.
Verily! Heed her words of wisdom, lest ye not also lose the precious chance for thine own A-Rod moment.
But don’t think this caution means that you have to get caught up in the minutia of your day-to-day. On the contrary, appropriate planning means "you can stop obsessing about your carrot intake and concentrate on what it is that's going to make you a great person in life." To help illustrate this point, Kelly introduces us to the "Kelly pie." Otherwise known as a pie chart. This is a helpful way to really visualize how much time you'll have now that you can cut that pesky carrot-pondering out of your day! Kelly even offers some thoughtful "hints" to divide your pie:
  1. Celebrate your own health. We take health for granted.
  2. Get up in the morning and say, "I'm so grateful to be where I am and look the way I do," no matter what your size is.
  3. Tell yourself you look HOT, because you do.
  4. Believe in your ability to make good choices today and every day.
  5. Be mindful of what you eat. If I have to be mindful of what I eat, so do you. We're in this together.
Ooh, sorry Brad, I won't be able to make it to this afternoon's meeting -- it actually conflicts with my daily session of believing in my ability to make good choices today and every day. No, I understand how that could seem like an abstract sentiment rather than something that actually takes up time within your daily schedule, but if Kelly has to do it, so do I! And to be honest, my day is packed enough as it is -- it takes at least a second or two for me to tell myself I look HOT (because I do!), and I'm just worried that if I try to squeeze anything else in, it will cut into my mid-morning health celebration. Wish I could help!
In a strangely threatening aside, Kelly commands: "Write down what you ate for the last two days. Don't lie. We can start fresh tomorrow, one bite at a time."
In a section titled, "What I Eat Every Day," Kelly enumerates her "three go-to breakfasts": "two oranges or a plate of mixed berries if I'm not going to be very active, all-bran cereal or some other high-fiber cereal with almond milk or unsweetened coconut milk if I'm going on a long run, riding, or doing something else that requires extra energy, and on weekends, I love making pancakes to eat with my girls." As should be apparent, this is far more than three breakfasts. I am irrationally angry, in the same way I was when a Bachelor contestant said their favorite food was a charcuterie platter. That's cheating. (And yes, I do strongly identify with my Virgo moon, thanks for asking.)
Kelly inexplicably (apologies if I've used that word for the zillionth time already) tells us that "a plastic cup that says 'Forced Family Fun' from www.themonogramshops.com makes the smoothie go down with a giggle." Also, "sitting alone in front of the TV eating ice cream is not hot!" We are then introduced to one of Kelly's more advanced strategies, which she calls "Energy Economics." This means that you might need to eat more on days when you are busy and/or exercising, and less on days when you're relaxing. So many innovative ideas, this book has really packed a punch for its < $5 price tag!
Another ingenious idea? "Stuff cabbage, sweet peppers, tomatoes, or even onions with ground meat, chicken or turkey seasoned with salt and pepper. Bake until the meat is cooked through and the vegetable is softened." Granted, I have been a pescatarian for almost a decade at this point. But disemboweling an onion, jamming it full of hamburger meat, and cooking it for some indeterminate amount of time at an unspecified temperature seems…wrong.
Circling back to her theory of Energy Economics, Kelly explains,
If I don't eat [well], I'm violating my own laws of energy economics and my body goes either into inflation mode (too much energy when I don't need it) or recession mode (not enough energy in the bank for me to draw from). The key is to create economic equilibrium: eating well so that I feel good, which allows me to be happy.
I am begging someone to start a GoFundMe where we raise money to pay Kelly to explain how the economy works. The next page introduces us to "The KKB 3-Day Supermodel Diet," which is less of a diet and more a random assortment of miscellaneous health-related sentiments that reek of the 2009 pro-ana tumblrsphere:
Chew your food 8 times instead of 3 or 4.

Brush your teeth and chew mint gum as soon as you finished eating. When your mouth is fresh and minty, you'll be less tempted to eat again.
The final tip ("nurture yourself") includes a reminder to "blush your checks [sic]." Which may be a typo, but could also very well just be some strange Kelly saying that no one else has ever used in the history of the English language. On the next page, we're introduced to "Kelly's Food Plate." Which other, less sophisticated people typically refer to as the food pyramid. Kelly also takes a brief aside (in a feature box labeled "hot button issue") to expound upon her favorite delicacy, the humble jelly bean:
If you're a fan of the Real Housewives of New York City you probably remember that on Season 3 I took a lot of flack for eating jelly beans and talking about processed and unprocessed foods. I was actually making light of that food snob moment. Who stops at a gas station and asks for carrots? Did you bring your organic food cooler with you on this road trip? The important part is not to be a food snob; but when in doubt choose the best option. Sometimes it's better to be happy than it is to be right. Was I able to make my point? Clearly it wasn’t in the cards at that moment.
This is a truly stunning synthesis of her experience. Underestimate Kelly at your own peril -- this girl has been playing 4D chess for longer than we know.
The chapter continues with some tips from Kelly on how to make the most of your meal planning and shopping experience. And no -- you have no excuses:
There's absolutely no reason why you, wherever you live, can't eat "colorful" foods. All over the country there are "gi-normous" supermarkets where fruit and vegetable aisles are bursting with every color of the rainbow.
I am starting to get a "gi-normous" headache trying to make sense of this chaos. Kelly's advice that we can "mix and match what's there to make a FrenAsian or an ItaloGreek meal" is not helping. We also get some tips for how to grocery shop responsibly:
  1. Always go with a list and never buy more than two items you planned on taking home.
This is incoherent, right? I know I need to wrap up Part 1 of this write-up pretty soon, because I've read this sentence at least two dozen times trying to make some sense of it, and am still at an utter loss. I assume she's left out a negative somewhere, but at this point, I realize I've already thought about this tip for approximately ten times longer than Kelly ever has, so I'll move on.
For the third or fourth time so far this book, Kelly segues into a literal grocery list. To be fair, this is a very effective strategy to take up several pages with minimal text. And what could be more compelling than
Shitake/oyster mushroom combination packs

Dog treats

Lavender pepper
Truly the voice of a generation! Decades from now, English teachers will be teaching their students about a fabled wordsmith who once uttered those eternal words, "shitake/oyster mushroom combination packs." Because this book has absolutely no respect for logical cohesion, we are hurled immediately into a diatribe about how expensive it can be to buy organic -- "I recently walked out of an organic market having paid $400 for just three bags of groceries." As I read on, however, it becomes quickly apparent that Kelly has no idea what the concept of 'organic' even means:
"Organic," in any case, seems like something of a misnomer to me. I know the Food and Drug Administration has regulations for certifying foods organic, but to me, for foods to be truly and totally organic, they would have to be grown in a test tube or a greenhouse with no exposure to the natural elements.
Well, sure Kelly. If that's what you would like to use the word "organic" to mean, be my guest. She tosses us another crumb of helpful guidance, but it only serves to make me feel exceptionally sorry for Kelly's daughters and everything they have to endure:
Plate your food as if it were being served to you in a fine restaurant. Use a fancy foreign accent as you invite everyone to come to the table. Or try saying it in French. My girls love it when I announce, "Le dîner est servi!"
We learn in yet another "HOT tip" that "fast food doesn't have to be fat food," and Kelly tells us for the eighth time that she eats two oranges every morning. In what has already become a recurring theme for me in this book, the following passage makes me desperately curious to know how Kelly thinks science works:
One question people frequently ask me is whether I believe in taking vitamins or supplements, and the answer is "yes, I do," because, even though I know my diet is healthy, I can't be sure that I'm getting all the nutrients I need. All the vitamins and minerals we need can be found naturally in foods, but how do we know, even if we're eating a healthy diet, that we're getting everything we need?
I flip back two pages to confirm that Kelly told us quite recently how important it is to read nutrition labels to know what is in the food we eat (to make sure we avoid foods "whose labels are full of words you can't pronounce"). Exactly how she is reading these nutrition labels yet still manages to have no inkling how anyone could possibly begin to assess their vitamin and mineral intake eludes me. She continues:
I don't want to take that chance. I think of the food I eat as fuel and vitamins as my oil -- my body's engine needs both. Vitamins and supplements are not food replacements, but we're exposed to so many environmental toxins on a daily basis that I believe we need to supplement our diets to counteract all the harm those substances can cause.
I can certainly think of something that is causing harm to my psychological stability at this particular moment, which I should probably take as a sign to wrap things up for today and go read some incredibly dense Victorian prose or something to remind myself what a properly constructed sentence looks like. Promise I won't leave you waiting for long!!
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DKNG - Fundamental DD Inside - DKNG

This is an example of fundamental DD that takes place at ‘smart’ money institutions based on my professional experience in IBD, Private Equity & most recently at a HF (mods can message me for proof). Not thoroughly fleshed out b/c you autists have limited attention spans, but a summary. Figured I’d take the time to give back to this community that has provided many lolz, & should be a good measuring stick when evaluating other forms of fundamental DD posted here.
NFA.
DKNG - DraftKings, Inc.: vertically integrated US mobile betting operator that also provides retail sports betting & back-end betting solutions through SBTech. Think of SBTech as the tech ‘market-maker’ for traditional sports betting, they do all the funny math to set the betting odds & seem to be working on back-end solutions for DKNG Casino
The Big Picture
Only ~2% of the ~$90Bn gambling revenues were placed online which is the lowest in the world where betting online is legal. For example, in other countries online gaming activity represents ~6% - ~52% of total gambling revenues, with ~12% being the average.
Wall Street expects online gaming revenue to be $20Bn-$40Bn within the next 10 years. For this to be achieved, the online gambling market will have to achieve a ~30% penetration rate on total country gaming revenues. There is an expectation that this is could be easily achievable given penetration trends overseas - see page 11 of this: https://s1.rationalcdn.com/vendors/stars-group/documents/presentations/TSG-Investor-Day_March-27-2019.pdf
Other catalysts include increasing adaptation of sports betting in more states. States that have both legal sports betting + online sports betting permitted: NV, NJ, WV, PA, IA. Sports betting permitted but no online: DE, MS, RI, MO, AR. Prior to COVID there was ongoing discussions across many States, especially ones with growing deficits to explore how permitting sports betting could create a fresh avenue of tax dollars. Post COVID there is an expectation that these discussions will be given extra focus as many States will be hungry for incremental tax dollars. Important to note that currently 43/50 States allow DFS, but given the small share DFS has on total Gaming Revenues, it increasingly looks like DKNG is banking on traditional sports betting for a variety of reasons, more later. There are entire articles on Google arguing this catalyst so I’ll end this here.
Digging Deeper
DKNG’s main offerings are Daily Fantasy Sports (“DFS”) products & traditional sports book products to its clients. Long story short, a metric to look for in my opinion (that is curiously not reported by management or remarked on) is the hold % in traditional gaming sector parlance or the ‘rake’ & compare it to the ‘traditional’ gaming products like sports betting & Blackjack.
For DFS: DKNG takes ~15% of the prize pool (note: used to be ~6-11% [2]). Curiously, their main competitor FanDuel also has moved up to a ~15% rake recently. Google searches show the smaller competitors have a rake in the ~13% range.
This ‘rake’ has grown ~2x in 6 years, but it has been a delicate move on behalf of management. Why? B/c the more ‘sophisticated’ DFS players (equal to autistic day traders on Robinhood) have noted this increase & based on some Googling, some have moved down market to the smaller players. As a side note, many live casino games have their rules altered to grow the Hold %. For example, Blackjack games with 6:5 payouts on 21 have materially higher Hold % than the traditional BJ rules that pay out 3:2. Given the findings so far, DKNG may not have much room to materially increase its hold % in DFS games in the near-term from current of 15%. More on this later.
Now why the fuck is this important? This is important b/c the typical sports book (ex-Parlays) have a ~5% hold %/rake. Parlays have up to a ~30% hold (which is why it’s commonly known as the sucker’s bet), & just for reference, the average Blackjack table clocks in 14.5%. What this means: Every dollar put into these games, the “House” or DKNG, will take 15% of your money for DFS games, for sports bets they will be pocketing ~5%, up to ~30% if you’re into parlays, & we’ll just use the standard 14.5% BJ hold for the DraftKings Casino platform.
So why the acquisition of SBTech & a foray into the traditional sports gambling market? As you can see previously, the illegal sports betting market is >30x the size of the current daily fantasy sports market. So it’s clear that the DFS providers including DKNG are foraying into the space to capture this user base & hopefully convert them into games that have a higher hold %, such as DFS/DKNG Casino.
As of May 2020, DKNG has achieved a 30% penetration rate on its ~4mm ‘monetized’ DFS clientele to its Online Sports Book (OSB), from the OSB+DFS clientele, DKNG has converted 50% into its DraftKings Casino platform.
Including non-monetized users, user base totals at 12mm. Based on these unit economics: every 1mm of additional users -> 333k monetized users for DFS -> 100k users for OSB -> 50k users for DraftKings Casino.
Some Numbers – Italicized/Bolded the important
Numbers that represent Risks to Long Thesis
Things to look for when going Long
- Progress of additional States legalizing sports betting – specifically, States with DFS already legalized
- Cost structure evolving to a more fixed mix vs. the mostly variable mix currently as this will be the forward figure that determines profitability
- Increasing User Base (Curr.: 12mm) -> Monetized Base (Curr.: 4mm) -> MUP (1Q’20: 0.7mm)
Share Price Target
Given the cost structure of the company, I’m going to base the price targets around Enterprise Value / Revenues (driven by MUPs & ARPUs).
Bear Case MUP: 5mm -> $20.32 - $45.73
Base Case MUP: 5.5mm -> $22.27 - $50.10
Bull Case MUP: 6mm -> $24.21 - $54.47
These MUPs imply a monetized customer base of 28mm – 33mm. At the high-end, this implies that DKNG monetized customer base will equal MGM’s current total user base.
At yesterday’s close of $43.70, DKNG is trading at 3.5x – 4.5x forward Revenues on an expected >5,000 MUPs.
Share Price drivers / considerations:
- Continued multiple expansion
- MUP Growth exceeding beyond targets
Management Team
Jason Robins, 39 – Co-Founder & CEO. Duke BA, started DraftKings from day 1 in 2011. The 2 other buddies he started the Company with are still at DKNG. Dude navigated the Company through the scandal that rocked them in ’15 & ’16, and was the trailblazer in getting DFS labeled as a non-gambling product that enabled it to open in States without a gaming designation. This shit is the stuff that gets people in history books. His accomplishments make him seem like a very competent guy. Has 3 kids now, and only ~3% economic ownership in DKNG but has 90% of the voting power through his Class B share ownership. Also he actively participates in venture investments, sitting on 10 boards.
His comp plan performance bonus target is pretty murky, but main drivers are EPS growth, revenue growth, then a bunch of margin & return metrics, along with share price returns. Overall, very open-ended & it’s safe to say as long as shit doesn’t hit the fan, he will be eligible for his max payouts year over year. I’m assuming the lawyers tried to encompass everything possible for maximum flexibility to justify him earning his max comp as long as DKNG is still around.
Since he’s got voting control of 90%, I’ll end the specific-person overview here, but want to note that they have a very bloated C-suite. 12 folks at DKNG, 8 folks at SBTech, all with C-suite designations. Whereas their main competitor FanDuel, has 3 guys with a C-suite designations & 1 EVP, but is a sub under a larger ParentCo that has its own management team of ~5 guys.
Looking through glassdoor you can see the biggest complaint among employees giving bad reviews is based on management, all of the specific issues they point out IMO are a result of a top-heavy company. Seems like a good starting point to optimize their cost structure, but given Robins' history of sticking this entire thing through with his co-founders since '11 stuff like this doesn't seem to be a part of his playbook. They’re a public company now though, so it’s going to be interesting to see going forward.
TL;DR:
If I were to initiate a position in DKNG, the stock would have to fall to the $35-$37 range for me to be a buyer of the stock, and based on this rough intro analysis I'll be considering Put options if it breaches $50. I would not touch Calls at this level.

[1] Wall Street Research - 6/27/19
[2] https://rotogrinders.com/articles/bang-for-your-buck-a-look-at-dfs-industry-rake-153302
[3] https://draftkings.gcs-web.com/static-files/8f3a5c5a-7228-45bf-aab2-63604111c48d
[4] Wall Street Research - 5/19/20
[5]https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/223071/Dont_monetize_like_League_of_Legends_consultant_says.php
[6] https://rotogrinders.com/threads/how-many-people-actually-play-dfs-regularly-252044
submitted by IAMB4TMAN to wallstreetbets [link] [comments]

The HEL Jumper [Chapter 3.11]

Book 1 of The HEL Jumper
Book 2 of The HEL Jumper
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‘Good morning, Admiral Kaczynski. To what do I owe the pleasure?’ Io greeted him, clad in an emerald silk bathrobe. Her hair hung loosely around her head, the rest partially tied up behind her in an approximation of a ponytail while a toothbrush hung from her mouth. It was all Natori could do to not leap from his seat on the bridge and proclaim her magnificence to the gods. He nodded politely at her instead while taking a sip of his morning coffee.
“I apologize for waking you.”
‘Oh that’s not a concern for me, but unless you are only here to speak with me I shall have to rouse the Lieutenant and Veera,’ she explained, finishing her dental hygiene and tossing the toothbrush behind her as it evaporated into digital nothingness.
“If you would?” Kaczynski requested, taking another swig of his beverage. The manufactured variety was passable, but it was nothing compared to the fruits of his homeland. He missed it dearly.
‘Of course. A moment please,’ Io requested, her screen immediately changing to a relic from long before Natori’s time. An old television ‘please stand by’ advisement. He took a bite of a ration bar and chuckled as he accepted a report from one of his watchstanders. Engineer Prakash had begun an analysis of various Maran soil samples sent up by Alice with one of the prior evening’s shuttles. Even preliminary results showed an absolute bevy of microorganisms and it was becoming clear that they would need to adapt their genetics laboratories to handle organisms with x-nucleotides. Natori made a note to speak with Gerard Dupuis as well as the science teams at the Forge about the issue while he waited for Io to re-establish connection. On the other side of the line the AI decided to have a bit of fun, activating the B-MASS to project herself dressed as a classical butler. She held a silver tray with an old rotary phone that began ringing softly, rousing her roommates from sleep.
“Hmm?” Veera groaned, shifting groggily under their furs and pulling her knees closer to her chest. “You’re damp, darling,” she whispered, faintly aware of a slightly sweaty human beneath her.
“That’s because I have a living blanket and it’s not winter,” Russell replied quietly, kissing her on the forehead and slowly working his way out from under her. “Io? What’s the deal with the Jeeves getup?”
‘You have a call from the Event Horizon, sir. One Natori Kaczynski.’
At Io’s word Russell quickly hopped out of bed and dressed himself. Her brain still muddled by sleep, Veera reached out for him and waved her hand about, as if swiping at a ball of yarn or waving him off. He caught her hand and brushed his lips over her knuckles before tucking her back in. “It’s the Admiral,” he explained. “You go back to sleep, Veera. We’ll make breakfast when I’m done.”
“Alright. It’s mmm…my chesko,” she muttered before closing her eyes again as Io stifled a giggle.
‘Or perhaps a lay in is called for?’ Io suggested. ‘I wonder if Cauthan get dream zoomies…’
“I blame Alice,” Russell replied offhandedly, collecting his gauntlet and slipping it over his left arm as he walked out into the street and left his wife to sleep. He took a second to compose himself and rub the sleep from his eyes before accepting the call. “Admiral?”
“Lieutenant Winters, good morning! I do apologize if I’ve interrupted anything?” Kaczynski began. Russell demurred politely.
“Not a problem, sir. Veera’s quite good at sleeping.”
“I see. A good skill to possess if you ask me. Our excitable xenobiologist kept you up last night?”
“I’m used to it, sir. That and I’m still just happy to see her,” the Jumper explained.
“Yes, I suppose we are still within that two week window she mentioned. I’m not sure this will come as any sort of surprise to you, but I was hoping to speak with you about your sister and her plans for the Cauthan. Is this where you’ve lived for the last year?” Natori made a bit of small talk as his avatar looked around, taking in the wooden houses and dirt streets of Winters’ neighborhood. “It is quaint.”
“It’s seen some improvement, for sure,” Russell acknowledged his own impact, nodding and waving to the Cauthan who shared his district as they headed off to begin another day of labor. After a year he knew most of them by name, and none seemed particularly surprised that he was talking to a disembodied human head made of light. One greeting in particular had Natori scrutinizing Winters. Between Io’s shenanigans in his manufactories, the nascent research station at Kel’s Forge, and the baseline duties of running an HEL dreadnaught, he’d had little time to review the introductory materials that Io had loaded into the Event Horizon’s databases about Cauthan life.
“Ursae slayer? Is that the name of the tribe that attacked this village last year?” He asked tactfully. There was no need for either man to bring up the fact that Winters had killed them to the last man. Russell shook his head.
“No, sir. That’s a different story,” he said simply. When the dead air between them had lasted for a good ten seconds, Io interjected.
‘Since my operator is apparently not in a sharing mood this morning, it will suffice to say that from the Cauthan perspective…oh what’s a good one?’ Io wondered, shouldering in to share the limited projection space of the B-MASS. ‘Cerberus! Yes, Cerberus was also big, fluffy, and likely voracious. Admiral, imagine that this mythical beast was real and we killed it. There was food in every pot, a cloak of the finest fur on every Cauthan! I’m more than willing to admit that in the moment I was terrified to the point I couldn’t think straight; but Ursae Slayer has a wonderful ring to it, don’t you think?’
Natori raised his brows, nodding silently as he processed Io’s fantastical analogy. Winters waited patiently, leaning against the doorframe of his home and looking up at a cloudy sky. It looked as though Felen would be gracing them with nurturing rains that day. He tried not to remember the grating scrape of those claws against his chest. “Well, let’s talk about your sister then, shall we? Happier subject?”
Winters grunted in agreement. “Yes, let’s. She didn’t do anything dangerous yet, did she?”
“I will admit I don’t enjoy the fact that you included the word ‘yet’ in that sentence but no, Lieutenant. I do not believe she has done anything dangerous. Oh, on the subject of danger, please inform your wife that we have completed the metallurgical analysis of her cookware. I’m not sure it would hold up to modern safety standards by nature of whatever crude process was used to refine the alloys, but there should be no risk acute to your or her health. And please extend my thanks to her for her cooperation in this matter.”
“I will, sir.” Winters nodded, leaving the issue of cookware aside. “Now what exactly did Alice do?”
Natori chuckled briefly, more than capable of picking up the skepticism in his tone. It was not unwarranted. “Nothing yet, I assure you. However she has made some curious inquiries around town from the sound of things. I received a written report from her last night, requesting authorization for Mrs. Yvonne Dupuis to travel to the village, pending the approval of Antoth.”
Russell remained silent for a moment, recalling the woman he’d been introduced to briefly a couple days prior at Alice’s behest. She and her husband had been polite and were clearly good friends with his sister. He didn’t remember much else. “Why does she want her to come down?” He asked. At his question, Natori launched into a brief explanation of Alice’s proposal, which boiled down to an establishment of the medical field of Cauthan obstetrics. Io whistled quietly.
‘This could end…rather poorly depending on a variety of factors,’ the AI declared.
“And she said Asha consented to this?” Russell demanded. Natori took a moment to reference his notes.
“Asha is one of your acquaintances in the village, yes? Light gray fur and green eyes, married to an apprentice smith?”
“He’s no longer an apprentice,” Russell clarified with some measure of pride. Natori gave him another nod of acknowledgement and updated his personal records accordingly.
“I see. Yes, it appears that Alice secured conditional medical consent from Asha for at least a meeting with Madame Dupuis as well as the recording of certain elements of Cauthan prenatal care. A Gentia is also involved?”
‘Oh, well then in that case everything should be fine!’ Io declared happily. ‘Gentia is a delightful old woman, but she has no patience for shenanigans when it comes to her duties around pregnancy and childbirth.’
“I’ll talk with Alice,” Russell cut them both off. “If I may ask, sir, why come to me with this? She was here last evening and said little to nothing of this plan.”
“Is that right? Well the cat is out of the bag now, or perhaps the Cauthan?” Natori proposed, taking a moment to chuckle at his own joke and stroke his chin in thought. “I cannot say why she would have glossed over this with you and I will not put words in her mouth. However, I came to you because you are the foremost Cauthan expert in the entirety of the HEL, a title your sister no doubt covets. I wanted your opinion on this proposal. The will and resources are absolutely there from my side and my crew, but this is a great deal beyond something like giving them the knowledge to build an aqueduct or water wheel. I thank you for your discretion on that matter as well.”
“Told you,” Russell jabbed at Io with a smile. She rolled her eyes.
‘How was I supposed to know they were bringing a Ghaelen along? I will win this bet yet, sir,’ Io insisted, referring to her own opinions regarding the potential for rapid Cauthan uplift. Russell glanced skyward as a drop of rain or two landed on his recently trimmed hair.
“I hope you do too, Io. Admiral, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to get in Alice’s way on this but I think you’re right. This is a risky move by her. If it works…and by work I suppose I mean we save the life of a Cauthan cub or mother, it will likely solidify a bond between them and us. If the alternative happens, even after what I assume will eventually be invasive medical examinations, blood draws, and genetic sequencing…it might be the end of this entire relationship for good.”
Russell’s evaluation took Natori aback momentarily. “I am only left to wonder if humans felt the same way many millennia ago about their children. Might I ask what you intend to do with your sister?”
“I’m going to talk with my wife first,” Russell replied easily. As if summoned, a golden furred paw reached from the doorway to rest on his shoulder, soon joined by the rest of Veera. The Admiral inclined his head politely her way.
“Veera, good morning. I apologize for borrowing your husband so early.”
“Come inside, dear,” Veera commanded softly before glancing at Natori. “Is anything the matter, Admiral?”
“No, not at all, Veera,” he reassured her. “I believe your husband will be filling you in quite shortly. Lieutenant?”
“Yes sir?” Winters replied formally.
“You should know that my Jumper team made contact with the Forge and is establishing a research camp there as we speak. As of yet nothing has emerged from the facility other than local wildlife. I will be ordering your psychological evaluation within the next couple of days so that we may discuss fully the things you have seen and done on Mara. I will not make any promises, but given what I understand of the circumstances I do not think you have much to worry about.”
Winters pulled one side of his mouth into a grimace but remained composed, setting about the business of a cooking fire. He missed Natori’s surprised look. “Understood, sir. Any advanced notice you can give us would be appreciated.” Kaczynski did not miss his meaning.
“Of course. I would also like an informal report on your discussion with Alice, including your personal thoughts on how we as a group should proceed on this sensitive matter. That is all, Lieutenant.”
“Understood, sir. We’ll have that for you by the end of the day at latest,” Russell agreed, putting flint to tinder before any significant amount of moisture snuck through the opening in the roof to ruin their prospects for a hot breakfast.
“Thank you. Kaczynski out.”
When the B-MASS went silent and Io regained full use of the projector, Veera knelt by his side and helped fan the tiny flames. “Are there many humans like him that you need to behave that way around?” She wondered, understanding that Natori was something like Antoth for him. “It’s just…not natural.”
To her surprise and then relief, Io and Russell began laughing long and loudly as the sprinkling of rain turned to a light, drumming melody on the roofs and streets outside, heralding a day of rest for many of the farmers in the village. “Don’t worry. Unless there’s a Marine commander aboard it’s probably just Natori. Io looked it up and I already outrank all the Jumpers on board. So a handful at most. Now if we get back to Earth, that number goes up quite a bit and includes my father. Hey, what’s up?” Winters asked as Veera draped herself over his back and started purring into his ear.
“That’s good. I prefer you when you’re a little wild and only obey me,” Veera whispered. Russell’s response was to kiss her soundly on the lips as Io shook her head.
‘I knew I should have increased the coolant factor of my processors,’ she lamented as her partners parted and began the task of preparing breakfast, with Russell explaining to Veera what he’d heard from Kaczynski. He asked her opinion on the matter as he began cooking some chesko for the two of them as well as Alice. Veera turned the question over in her head for a few moments as dry logs popped and snapped in the flames.
“I am not sure Alice should be the one to do this,” she eventually replied. “We trust you, Russell, not anyone else.”
“Alright. Just wanted to run it by you first. Let’s eat together and I’ll bring her something after. If I know her she’s probably enjoying a bit of a lay in given how late we were up last night.”
“She is very excited about us,” Veera said approvingly, moving her feathers subtly as she tried to lay out her honest opinions without insulting her sister-in-law. “I think that one day she will hold the same level of trust you do, but she must be patient.”
“Then we’re on the same page. Here, first bite!” Winters offered, slicing a rare piece of chesko from the steak and tossing it Veera’s way. She caught it easily in her mouth and chewed, savoring the succulent juices from the fresh cut.
“Mmm, delicious! I think I’ll come with you today,” she offered. Russell saw no reason she shouldn’t.
“Fine by me. Let’s finish up here then and fish out our leather cloaks. Looks like Felen woke up on the wrong side of the bed today.”
“You only say that because you aren’t a farmer, my love,” Veera opined, throwing him a winning smile. She couldn’t help but do so when he made mention of her gods and culture as though they were his own. After finishing their meal and leaving a low fire to burn through the rain, they headed out in search of Alice.
-----
“Oh hey, Rusty! Great timing. I was just about to head out and speak with Antoth if I can. Oh, breakfast? You two are the best! Hello there, Veera! Come in, please,” Alice offered as her brother and sister-in-law stepped into her sparsely furnished home which, to her credit, was now lit by a portable lamp that she’d requested from the Event Horizon. Its LED’s mimicked the properties of an outdoor halogen lamp one might find zapping insects on a warm summer’s night. Veera was immediately drawn to it as a moth to a flame, captivated by the eerie blue light that reminded her of Auril.
“You’re not going to speak to Antoth, Alice,” Russell informed her in no uncertain terms, handing her a breakfast of charred chesko and kina slices. Like him, she’d taken to the spicy vegetables quickly. “And before you get all steamed at me, this is straight from Natori.”
“I…what?” Alice stammered, looking dumbfounded and crestfallen at the same time. She accepted his hug nevertheless as her brother tried to comfort her with the arm that wasn’t holding her food.
“I’m just trying to protect you,” he promised. “And if things go well when I speak to Antoth, Asha and your friend can still meet and we’ll see where things go from there.”
“Wait, wait! Why…why are you suddenly getting to do this?” She demanded as Veera kept quiet in the background. Russell remained patient, understanding his sister’s frustrations.
“Because they trust me, Alice. They do not trust you. I know they’ve been kind to you, and they’re giving you a chance on account of me. It’s a great beginning but you need to earn it, hopefully a lot less violently than I did.”
“That’s not...that’s not fair, Rusty,” Alice replied sadly. “How should I do that if not like this?”
“No, it’s not fair. But you were the one who went straight for the heart, so to speak,” Russell said, sitting down on the floor and encouraging Alice to eat. “Alice, I’ll be honest with you here. If I didn’t know Asha and Ratha so well I would tell you to abandon this whole idea and stick with something mundane like growing crops on the Event Horizon or showing them how pulleys work. But if something happened to Zolta’s cub, or to Asha…”
“Rusty, we want the same thing here. I’m sure I can explain it to Antoth and-”
“It’s not about that, Alice,” Russell cut her off, earning himself a harsh glance as she popped a piece of meat into her mouth. “If anything goes wrong with this and you’re associated with it I don’t know what would happen to you. I’ve seen it happen. If Ratha were to lose her cub, let’s say, she would blame you or kill you. Maybe both. This is about protecting you long enough for them all to understand that you aren’t here to exploit them or take advantage of them.”
“But how do you expect me to earn that trust if you don’t let me!” Alice protested.
“Did you become an ob-gyn when I wasn’t looking?” Russell quipped. “Are you going to be giving Asha ultrasounds or taking her blood samples or doing whatever it is that lady doctors do?”
“Lady doctors?” Alice snickered at her brother’s tiptoeing around vaginal health.
“You know what I mean,” he groaned. “And the fact that you’re joking with me means the answer is no. You won’t be. You trust this Yvonne woman, right?”
“Of course I do!” Alice insisted. Her brother nodded.
“Good. Then let me speak to Antoth and if he gives the ok I want you to make the introductions, and then step back. Let her and Gentia and the pregnant females in this village sort things out for themselves. Trust her to do the work she was trained to do.”
“And what am I supposed to do then?” Alice wondered dejectedly as Io appeared at his brother’s wrist just to say hi and attempt to bring a smile to her face. It worked for a moment. “Hello there, Io.”
‘Good morning, Alice. How is your arm feeling.’
“Much better, thanks to you!” She affirmed before throwing Russell an annoyed glare. “But it looks like I’ll have plenty of time to rest now?”
“Oh come off it, what can’t you do?” Russell demanded. “There is a whole village of Cauthan that could use your help and your guidance in matters that don’t involve the life, or Kel forbid the death, of the next generation. Xan needs your help, Alice.”
“I think if you asked him, Xan would say he doesn’t need anyone,” Alice pouted, still a bit annoyed at how that particular Cauthan had dismissed the Event Horizon to Thantis the prior afternoon, referring to it as a ‘floating metal cave in the sky’.
“That’s because Xan is an idiot boy!” Russell snapped, looking over Alice’s shoulder at Veera. Her eyes were already waiting for his as she cocked her head at him. “Just like I was.” Russell heaved a sigh and shook his head as if to clear it. “Look Alice, I’m not asking for a miracle or anything. But he is their apprentice death priest. I think you should be spending the majority of your time with him instead of wandering around offering your services to whomever strikes your fancy.”
“I can only do so much, Rusty,” Alice protested softly.
“I know, I know. Just…look, I want Xan to realize that he isn’t destined to live a shell of his former life. Everyone around him who cares for him has told him that, but he’s a young man and I’m sure you remember what teenage boys are like back on Earth. He doesn’t care for comforting words or pity. You’re one of the few people who can show him that there is a full life waiting for those who follow the path of knowledge instead of fighting.”
Alice wiped her hands gently on the rough leather that Russell had delivered her meal in, contemplating the things he’d said. She hated to admit it, but he was right on both counts. “I suppose I wouldn’t be too happy in his position either,” she agreed. “Thantis is a charming and wonderful individual, but that doesn’t change the fact that I wouldn’t want to be him at my age, certainly not if I were even younger. Just…tell me how it goes with Antoth, alright?”
“You know I will. Come here,” Russell offered, standing and helping his sister up and into another hug, one that Veera joined in, adding an extra element of fluff and compassion to the embrace. “I’m on your side here, Alice. I want Asha delivering her cub in safety on that ship just as much as you do.”
“Thanks Rusty. I’ll do what I can with Xan, alright?”
“Can you explain to me how you’ve trapped cold, blue fire in this marvelous contraption first? And how is it so clear?! Did you sneak off to Auril when we weren’t looking?” Veera demanded of Alice’s lamp. The three of them broke apart and Alice winked her brother’s way.
“Looks like I’ve got something to do, Rusty. Get going then.”
“Already acting like this was your idea? Never change, sis. I’m going. Veera?” He called after his wife as he stood by the doorway, rain splattering lightly against his boots.
“Yes dear, I’ll find my way back home or to the barracks. Alice, this is so light and powerful! How does it work? Is it portable? Does it work at night? Could I carry one?”
‘It would appear a new era of the town watch may be upon us, sir. Let us be off. By my calculations the shuttle window is already open if Madame Dupuis is to arrive this morning.’
“Understood. See you later, girls!”
“Bye Rusty!” Alice waved as he departed, content with a full stomach and a curious Cauthan who wanted to understand the finer points of LED’s.
-----
“Winters, each time I speak with you and your sister the demands become more and more steep,” Antoth complained, his voice deep and contemplative as the two of them walked through the sodden streets. Hoods and a good downpour made for excellent auditory concealment.
“That’s why I came to you and left her with Veera. Her heart is in the right place, but I know you’d only consider this if it came from me directly.”
“You are not wrong about that,” Antoth agreed as they wandered through the narrow avenues that made up the southeast quadrant of the village.
“You know I helped Zolta and Asha get together. That cub isn’t mine but it’s special to me, Antoth. Same with yours. We fought together. I want Ratha and your cub to be healthy.”
“Now that I am less inclined to believe,” Antoth chuckled as they walked past the Temple of the Twin Moons.
“Like I said, Antoth, it’s your cub too,” Winters repeated, coming to a halt as Antoth paused his pace and sought shelter under the eaves of the side of the temple. “Antoth, what is it?” The human demanded. The Cauthan’s scars were pulled taut across his face as he grimaced.
“I have already lost one cub and mate to Kel. I cannot lose another…I cannot trust your people.”
Io had appeared in Winters’ visor, which he sported in lieu of the Aegis on that day. Her hands were clasped over her mouth and she was trying to hold back tears. They had never known. How could they have? Winters felt much the same, a leaden weight filling the pit of his stomach as they learned something new about the former Guardian even after a year of kinship. “I’m sorry, Antoth.”
“And were you that Admiral I would tell you that I do not need your pity, human. But you are my brother in arms, and to you alone I will say that my heart still aches for them; even as I know the love of another female and feel the cub grow within her belly. I assume you are listening, Spirit Io? Do not worry, I count you among that order to which I, perhaps unwisely, am choosing to show weakness.”
‘Oh you big, furry, idiot! Du flauschiger barbar!’ Io gasped tearfully. ‘Anytime you need to talk we are here for you! Right, sir?!’
“Yeah, what she said,'' Winters agreed, resting a hand on Antoth’s shoulder. “And you should know that the only reason I’m speaking with you of this is because I truly believe that if the worst happens we together have a better chance of saving Asha, Ratha, or any of your cubs and mothers than Gentia and her acolytes do alone.”
Antoth exhaled heavily, resting a hand on the pommel of his sword and looking up past the overhang of the wooden roof at the turbulent gray skies above. He found it an apt analogy. “Your people are as Felen,” he eventually spoke. “When does rain and the promise of a bountiful harvest turn to flood? When does a gentle breeze turn to the gale that fells the trees of the forest and rips our crops from the ground? Where is the line between savior and oppressor?”
“I don’t know, Antoth,” Russell admitted freely. “But my people have been asking questions like that for centuries. You and your people will fit right in. That and it’s not an exaggeration to say that Alice’s literal job is to protect your culture. It’s a fine line where to help and where to step back,” the soldier admitted. “But that doesn’t change the fact that she’ll do everything she can. And it doesn’t change my answer either.”
“And you have met this female? I find her name difficult to pronounce,” Antoth said, pressing off the wall and continuing their walk around the village. Russell fell in quickly at his side.
“I have, though only briefly. It was when Xan and the rest of us went up to the ship,” he explained.
“Mmm, I see. And your impression of her?”
“Let’s just say if she can handle my sister she’s got a fighting chance with Gentia.”
“Ha!” Antoth’s laughter boomed through the drenched and sparsely populated streets. “Your words are wise, human. I should have faith in my own people as well.”
‘Do not be so hard on yourself, Antoth,’ Io encouraged him. ‘I don’t think it’s an understatement to say your reign will be the most important in the entire history of this little village. And while we are not unbiased, the Lieutenant and I are always around to lend an ear.’
“Biased as in we are on your side,” Russell added as the two men recalled the words exchanged on the night he was married to Veera.
“Spirit Io?”
‘Yes, Antoth? How may I help?’
“Tell your Admiral that we will permit this human entry to our village, and that her continued presence will be subject to the discretion of Gentia and her acolytes. As for your sister…”
“Let me stop you there for a second,” Russell offered as Io pinged the communication satellites and passed a written message to Natori that Yvonne should prepare her affairs for an introductory visit to Mara. “I’ve already spoken with Alice about this. She agreed that for now things should be kept between Gentia, her acolytes, Asha, and Yvonne, as well as any other expectant mothers who might wish to participate,” he added.
“I do not sense that she came to this conclusion of her own accord,” Antoth proposed keenly.
“No, she didn’t. But she saw reason. She’s excited, Antoth, but she is not a healer by training. As such she’s agreed to remain on the sidelines and receive information indirectly from Yvonne. What I do know is that this woman is a doctor. It’s her trade and that means she’s held to a set of various moral codes including the secrecy of patient information. Alice will not learn anything that Asha or Gentia don’t want her to.”
‘This duty of patient care is referred to as the Hippocratic Oath,’ Io clarified. ‘On the subject of, well, subjects...where is Ratha, Antoth?’
“She is hunting,” the sun priest replied shortly, sudden agitation in his voice. “She says the rain makes stalking easier. Perhaps she simply enjoys the sound of rain in the trees.”
“She’s not going after hyrven still, is she?” Russell wondered nervously. Antoth shook his head.
“No, just chesko. But that does not mean the hyrven have stopped hunting her. I am hesitant to keep her here, from what she loves. But I worry for my mate and my cub endlessly,” he admitted freely. Io and Russell shared a glance via his visor. Such matters were certainly outside of their wheelhouse. Eventually Russell hit upon an idea, smiling as he grabbed Antoth by the shoulder.
“What was the last time you sparred, Antoth?”
“Too long ago. Serving Seil is more burdensome than I imagined,” Antoth replied sadly. “Besides, it is Staroth’s purpose to train our guards now, Veera included. I would only be infringing on his responsibilities.”
“Well I don’t ever recall signing up to be a guard,” Winters observed casually, turning around and heading back towards the roads that would lead to the barracks. He continued to playfully goad Antoth. “And I think your troops could use a lesson or two in human combat styles, a show match maybe? I’m sure they’re slacking and sitting inside on their asses during this rain.”
Behind them Antoth calmly shook his head, chuckling and baring his teeth. “You are a good friend, Winters. Do not blame me when your ass is in the mud.”
“Now that is what I like to hear! You’ll be the one drinking dirt by the way,” the Jumper cried happily. “Io, status?”
‘The Admiral acknowledged our message, sir. Yvonne Dupuis will be arriving with the next shuttle.’
-----
“Ma chatounette, are you sure that this is wise?” Gerard worried, stroking his moustache more forcefully than usual as Yvonne packed an overnight bag as well as a larger duffel full of what portable medical equipment she had been able to put together over the course of an hour. It included an ultrasound machine the size of a vintage typewriter as well as standard PPE and the tools of a general practitioner. “No matter our intentions they will not understand what you are doing, and there is no greater threat than to their young. They have claws and talons, Yvonne!”
“And I will have a pistol as well as a Marine, mon loup. Shouldn’t you be figuring out how to produce a viable method to map xDNA genomes?” Yvonne suggested, zipping up her medical bag and sashaying over to her husband, dressed in clothing much more reasonable for a trip to the surface than a one piece jumpsuit. His nervous face softened as she pressed her body against his. “You have been given the chance of a lifetime, Gerard. We even have a field camp set up next to a thermal hot spot. I am sure your heat-resistant x-polymerase is just waiting for you!”
“And until I have the means of extracting an appropriate polymerase from our new furry allies or the microbes of the planet I will continue to worry for you, Yvonne. You know as well as I do that x-nucleotides fluoresce. A simple recalibration of our sequencing hardware should suffice, which leaves me even more time to worry. Though I suppose new anchor sequences will be needed as well. Perhaps there is a way to shorten the length given the increased information density of xDNA itself…”
“And this is why I love you,” Yvonne laughed delightfully, leaving a feathery kiss just below his facial hair. “But you know how difficult this journey has been for me, Gerard.”
“And that is precisely why I intend to burden you with the guilt born of my worry before stepping aside and allowing you to depart for the shuttle bay,” he assured her with a sly smile. “Do you know who your first patient will be?”
“Her name is Asha. All Natori would say is that she is a friend of Alice’s brother. And you know better than to ask!” She insisted, swatting him lightly on the chest and collecting her bags. Gerard moved swiftly to cut her off.
“Ah ah ah, ma chatounette. I will be taking those,” he insisted, taking up her things and making to escort her to the shuttle bay. “Should I expect you for dinner?”
“In all likelihood, oh husband of mine,” she cooed, taking satisfaction in the sight of him lifting heavy things for her. “While I will not miss those jumpsuits, I do not expect I will simply be welcomed with open arms. I may not even conduct an examination today. I am to meet with the village’s midwife, or perhaps chief midwife. I am unsure. That tale, at least, you will hear upon my return.”
“I look forward to it with rapturous anticipation,” Gerard declared as they reached the tube station nearest to their berth. He set her effects down gently and embraced her once more. “I love you, Yvonne. Go make history, my dear. It is what we came here for.”
“I will go and care for my new patients,” the French matron corrected him, a glint of excitement in her eyes. “The papers will take care of themselves.”
“I suppose this is why our children ended up so well adjusted,” Gerard laughed. Yvonne ran a finger over the wrinkles that marked the creases of his face. There were far more in the places he laughed than frowned.
“And you are the reason they are humble.”
“Tell Alice I wish her well when you see her,” he requested.
“Of course Gerard. Do not get too lonely now.”
“Perish the thought my dear. I have one blood sample left from the young Cauthan lad. Perhaps I will take a gander at his red blood cells, assuming he has any!” With a final peck on the lips, Gerard assisted his wife into the waiting transportation pod, handing her the bags next. When she was ready the door closed shut and the two waved goodbye as Cassia’s voice announced the departure of the pod. The interaction had Gerard scratching his head as he turned and headed for the mess hall, a light lunch on his mind before returning to the laboratories. “I really must get to the bottom of that rumor. She does sound a bit more…Germanic of late.”
-----
“Yvonne Dupuis, I assume?” Pilot Cromwell asked politely as a buxom, black-haired woman floated gracefully from the entrance of the hangar to just beside her shuttle.
“I am indeed. This is the shuttle to the village?” Yvonne requested, the distinction made necessary thanks to the handful of sorties that now headed to the nascent research facility at Kel’s Forge.
“The one and only Mara Express,” Cromwell affirmed proudly. “I think the locals have started to recognize me now, so I’m the one to keep going down there. That's all you’re bringing?”
“I anticipate returning this evening,” Yvonne clarified. Cromwell nodded, gesturing to the open hatch.
“Understood. Hop on in and feel free to set your things with the rest of the supplies. Alice always seems to need something or other.”
“Brilliant and eccentric,” Yvonne confirmed, stepping into the shuttle and securing her baggage before strapping herself into her seat. Cromwell walked past her and took her position in the cockpit, closing the exterior doors and spinning up the engines.
“This is Pilot Cromwell to the bridge. Passenger secured. Requesting clearance for take off.”
“Granted,” came the voice of a watch-stander. “Loading your entry telemetry now.”
“Thanks. Cromwell out,” the pilot replied, cutting the feed and pushing brick off the floor of the hangar. As she eased the shuttle out past the force field, she struck up conversation with her solitary passenger. “So what’s your story, madam?”
“I was brought aboard to offer care to children and infants. With none left following the change in mission, I find myself in the position of possibly tending to the Cauthan. A great deal remains to be seen.”
Cromwell whistled long and loud as the main thrusters engaged and began pushing them towards the surface. “You’re going to have your hands full. Those feathered teddy bears are full of energy, and their parents watch you like a hawk the moment they get close to you. But MacGregor has one hanging off him almost every time I see him now, couldn’t be that bad. Best of luck to you.”
“Thank you very much, Pilot. What else can you tell me about this village?” Yvonne inquired, her tablet open and active in her lap.
“You’re asking the wrong person. I’ve never been on the inside. I’m sure Alice and Lachlan will be there when we touch down; they can fill you in. I’m just the chauffeur,” Cromwell said, making light of her own role in the exploration of Mara.
“We all play our part,” Yvonne agreed.
“Who knows, maybe I’ll chat up one of those guards before the window closes later today?” Cromwell suggested. “Hang on to your things, it looks like clouds and rain below. Turbulence might last a bit longer than normal.”
Yvonne did as instructed, clasping her tablet tightly and shutting her eyes. She breathed deeply as the jostling of re-entry gave way to the turbulence of the clouds that were blanketing the forests and plains below with a summer rainstorm. “Is it always like this?”
“Nope, first day of rain I’ve flown through down here. You sure picked it.”
“I did not pick it,” Yvonne insisted. “But it will be good to get the bad luck out of the way before touching down.”
If Cromwell had any thoughts on luck when it came to the Cauthan, she kept them to herself. After only a couple more minutes they had a visual on the village, and soon after Yvonne was embraced by a rather soggy Alice Winters, who had come to greet her under the protection of the open shuttle door. Behind her stood Lachlan MacGregor the Marine escort, and a female Cauthan unknown. It was clear enough that the young Cauthan in the Marine’s hands belonged to her. The ‘feathered teddy bear’ in question was sheltering under a leather cloak far too large for him, but he paid it no mind as he gazed at the shuttle, his curiosity not dampened by the weather.
“Uttle!” Ursol clamored as Cromwell emerged from the cockpit and waved playfully at him. He pawed back at the vehicle, excited by the sounds and moving parts.
“That’s ‘shuttle’, young fluffy lad. Just because yer mum is off work doesn’t mean you get to slack around on yer words. Aren’t ye gonna be five soon?”
Alice watched Yvonne with a smile a mile wide. “Aren’t they precious?” The matronly Frenchwoman did her best to remain reserved and composed as a handful of Cauthan assembled at the gates, looking on with curiosity and skepticism.
“He is the most delightful bundle of fluff I have ever seen.”
-----
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How can I earn $100 per day from a blog?

If you’re starting from scratch with no traffic or influential friends, it’s easy to wonder…
Is it reasonable for you to believe you can make money blogging?
For that matter, how do blogs even make money? Ads? Or something else?
Well, let’s take a look at exactly how I did it at Smart Blogger. Here’s my complete step-by-step process for how to make money blogging:

1. Choose a Profitable Blogging Niche


Let’s start with a little brutal truth, shall we?
Passion does not equal profit.
Neither does expertise.
Hard work doesn’t guarantee anything either.
For example:
You can be the world’s foremost expert on square-shaped tomatoes, wake up every morning with a burning passion to educate the public on their vast superiority to normal-shaped tomatoes, and work until your fingers bleed and your eyes fall out of your head, following all the right tactics for growing a popular blog, and…
You’ll never have a chance in hell at making any money.
Here’s why:
Nobody but you gives a damn about square tomatoes
Even if they did care, they wouldn’t spend any money
In other words, you need a large audience who buys things. Without that, nothing else matters. It’s a prerequisite for everything else.
In the case of Smart Blogger, I noticed early on that bloggers buy lots of different things:

In fact, there are companies with $10 million+ per year of revenue in most of those categories. It’s also a growing space with millions of people:

The only pVery to to Sherryroblem?
Loads of competition. Whether it be my previous employers Brian Clark or Neil Patel, my good friends over at Problogger, or the gazillion other “blogging about blogging” peeps infesting the social media space, everyone was intent on snagging a piece of the pie. They also had a several year head start on me.
So, how did I compete? The honest answer:

2. Level up Your Content Skills


Embed This Infographic On Your Site
You’ve probably heard that “Content is king,” and it’s true… to an extent. A more accurate statement would be…
The Best Content Is King
If that’s hard to understand, think about it this way:
Lots of bloggers sit down and think, “What will I write today?” They jot down some thoughts, doing their best to be helpful, original, and entertaining. If they’re disciplined, they might even stick with it for a few months.
But it almost never works. Here are a few reasons why:
What you want to say isn’t what other people want to read
You weren’t using a proven content framework
It’s not the best post ever published on the topic
Granted, it’s not your fault. Until today, chances are no one ever told you about any of those requirements. You thought you just had to write interesting stuff and publish it.
No, grasshopper. No.
The truth is, having good ideas and powerful words isn’t enough. you have to create the best content ever published on topics lots of people are interested in learning more about. And that brings us to the three levels of content creation:
You know what content is popular in your niche, and you write exclusively about those topics
You’ve mastered frameworks proven to make your content more popular (list post, how to post, etc.)
Your content delivers more value to the reader than any other post published on that topic
You’re probably thinking, “Geez. That sounds hard.” And you’re right, it is.
I personally spent about three years honing my skills by writing for other sites before I started my own blog. It doesn’t have to take that long — I’m just a perfectionist, so I wanted to learn from the best people in my space.

It worked, though. Nowadays, my posts get millions and millions of visitors, not because I know some special “secret,” but because I’m really good at what I do. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say it…
Blogging is really no different than anything else. The more of a bad ass you are, the easier it is for you to make money.
So you want to know how to make some money blogging?
Become a badass writer.
Then the next step is to…

3. Figure out Which Traffic Sport to Play


When you’re a beginner, getting traffic is confusing.
Should you focus on optimizing your keywords? Growing your Facebook page? Leaving comments on blogs? Answering questions on Quora? Creating videos for YouTube?
And so on.
There are a gazillion traffic tactics out there. Everybody says theirs is the best.
But here’s the data:

Source: Facebook and Google dominate web traffic, but not the same kind
Pretty much all the traffic for written content comes from either Google or Facebook. The rest of traffic sources combined don’t even come close to competing with those two Goliaths.
So, how do you get them to send you a bunch of traffic?
One option is you can pay for it. They like that.
But chances are, you’re reading about how to make money blogging because you don’t want to pay for traffic. You want it for free, right?
Well, imagine this:
There’s an arena where all the bloggers in your space go to compete for traffic. The number of other challengers you defeat determines the amount of traffic you receive.
In other words, getting traffic is a sport.
There are winners, and there are losers
To be good, you have to train
You need to study your opponents
There are actually two sports, and I’d bet you’ve heard of both of them: search engine optimization (SEO) and going viral on Facebook. Both take years (yes, I said years) of study to master, but you can start getting pretty decent traffic after just a few months of study and practice.
Which one should you focus on?
Well, here are two questions to guide you:
Is your topic something your friends and family regularly talk about on Facebook? Examples: pets, parenting, self-improvement, and health. If so, focus on playing the viral traffic sport.
Is your topic something people actively search for information about on Google? Examples: product reviews, specific questions they would ask an expert, how-to information. If so, focus on SEO.
For most topics, you can do both, but one or the other will be dominant. In that case, focus on whichever one is dominant.
In the blogging space, for example, stuff about writing and grammar occasionally goes viral on Facebook, because we love criticizing our relatives about their terrible English. On the other hand, you rarely talk with your family about blogging platforms, WordPress plugins, affiliate marketing, or any other blogging topics.
You will, however, search for them on Google. Just as you would guess then, the blogging niche is heavily dominated by search. Here’s a breakdown of Smart Blogger’s traffic by source:

The truth is, we pretty much ignore Facebook. The volume of traffic available there comes nowhere close to the volume of traffic available from Google. So, we focus on Google.
I also spend WAY more time keeping up to date on SEO stuff than I do on social stuff. I’m a geek about it. Throw me in a room full of Google engineers, and I’d probably know more than half of them.
Not to imply I’m the best, though. I’m also competing against people like Darren Rowse, Amy Lynn Andrews, and Neil Patel. They’re pretty freaking good too.
In time, I think I can be better, but who knows? That’s why sports are fun. You never know who is going to win.
If you’re good though, you’ll always be in the “playoffs,” for your space, and you’ll get lots of traffic. Maybe not the most, but still plenty.
And then you can focus on how to…

4. Grow Your Email List with Pop Ups


Chances are, you see pop ups as an annoyance.
They get in the way when you’re trying to read. They ask you to hand over sensitive information like your name, email address, and phone number. Sometimes you have to deal with multiple pop ups on the same site, and it makes you feel hassled and uncared for.
And all that sucks. In my opinion, you have every right to be annoyed.
But here’s the thing…
That’s where the money comes from. The best predictor of the revenue for a blog is the size of their email list. Here’s a breakdown of our revenue at Smart Blogger comparing revenue device from email to other sources.
The rule of thumb is you can expect to make $1 per subscriber per month. So, if you have 10,000 email subscribers, you should be able to make about $10,000 per month.
So obviously, growing your email list is a top priority. You might, however, feel conflicted about using pop ups. What are you supposed to do?
Here’s a different way of looking at it:
If a visitor comes to your site and doesn’t give you their email address, the chances of them returning are nearly zero. You’ll never have another opportunity to help them.
If you believe your content is the best, and you believe you can help them over time, I believe you owe it to them to be as pushy as possible about staying in contact. In other words, not using a pop up is unethical. A little annoyance is a small price to pay for change.
And remember, that doesn’t mean you have to be extremely pushy or spammy. You can absolutely use pop ups in authentic ways.
But you absolutely must use them. Assuming you want to make money, anyway.

5. Begin Monetizing with Affiliate Offers


So, you’re operating in a profitable niche, and you have traffic and an email list. What next?
Lots of bloggers jump into creating a course or book or community of some sort, but that’s a mistake, in my opinion. Before you start selling things, you need concrete evidence those things are what people want to buy. Otherwise, you’re risking wasting months or even years of your life trying to push a product no one wants.
The simplest way to obtain that evidence:
Affiliate offers.
By seeing what your audience buys from other people, you can get a much better sense of what they might want to buy from you. If you promote a product and it converts well, you should think about creating a similar product. If it doesn’t convert well, you should probably move on.
In other words, affiliate offers are a form of market research. As a bonus, you just so happen to get paid commissions on the products your customers buy in the process. So not only are you learning what your audience wants to buy, but you’re making money from your blog at the same time. Pretty sweet deal.
At Smart Blogger, I’ve tried lots of different offers. WordPress hosting, landing page tools, email marketing software, WordPress themes, and half a dozen different types of courses. Since we sell courses, I pay the most attention to the results from those programs, and here are a couple of lessons:
End to end solutions sell best. Courses promising to take someone from knowing nothing to making money far outperformed the others. For instance, here’s a screenshot showing us as the #1 affiliate for Danny Iny’s Course Builder’s Laboratory:
Tools with a clear connection to making money also sell better than the others. For instance, landing page builders. As proof, here’s a screenshot of our earnings from promoting LeadPages:
By themselves, neither of those promotions really moved the needle on our revenue, but they did teach us useful lessons that went into creating Freedom Machine, which brings us to…

6. Develop a Unique Mechanism


Before you think about launching your own products or services, there’s one essential point about human nature you need to understand:
Whenever anyone purchases anything, they expect to transition from where they are now (Point A) to where they want to be (Point B). For example…
When you buy pizza, you want to transition from being hungry and craving pizza (Point A) to tasting delicious pizza and feeling full (Point B).
When you hire a plumber, you want to transition from having a clogged, overflowing toilet (Point A) to having a normally functioning toilet (Point B).
When you buy a course on SEO, you want to transition from feeling bewildered and getting ignored by Google (Point A) to ranking for competitive terms and getting traffic.
The success of a product ultimately depends on helping customers make those transitions. If the customer doesn’t get to Point B, they typically view the experience as a failure.
So, here’s the magic question:
What makes you better equipped to deliver that transition than your competitors?
The answer to that question is what marketing expert Todd Brown calls your “unique mechanism.” It’s a little different from a “unique selling proposition,” because it’s not just something about you that’s different. It’s something about you or your method that makes you better able to help customers than anyone else.
For Freedom Machine, we have multiple unique mechanisms:
Get published on Medium — a platform with more than 60 million active readers looking for content
You don’t have to struggle with setting up your blog. We do it for you.
A research concierge who will do your research for you instead of having to pay for expensive tools
Content frameworks developed behind the scenes at Smart Blogger to produce popular content
A monetization methodology proven by our success with Smart Blogger
Advice on how to automate everything, so you eventually get more freedom
Weekly calls with me where I will help you set up your Freedom Machine
Combined, those unique mechanisms are EXTREMELY convincing at setting us up as the superior solution. Therefore, the product sells like hot cakes.
To be clear… it’s not necessary to have 7 different unique mechanisms. Sometimes just one is all you need (i.e. fresh, hot pizza in 30 minutes or less). The core idea though is to make sure you are obviously far more capable than your competitors at delivering results.
Then all you have to do is…

7. Launch the Minimum Viable Funnel


Look around at successful entrepreneurs of any type, and you’ll find a surprising trend:
They tend to sell their products before the product is created.
To most people, this sounds like insanity at best or a disturbing lack of ethics at worst. How could you possibly ask people to buy something that doesn’t exist?
The answer:
It’s the same principle as Kickstarter.

You create a fancy minimal sales funnel of some sort (in this case, just a simple sales page), tell people the product is coming soon, and then wait to see if enough people sign up to justify making the product. If they don’t, you refund everyone’s money and start over.
In other words, it’s the final step in validating you have a viable product. The steps go like this:
Identify demand by promoting affiliate products
Find a unique mechanism that makes you clearly superior
Test the demand for that unique mechanism with a quick and dirty launch before you create the product
In my case, the minimum viable funnel was a 90 minute webinar. The first time I did it, there was no product, no follow-up sequence, nothing. It was just a bare-bones test.
And it resulted in $126,000 in sales live on the webinar.
Seeing that $30,000 sales was my minimum for success, we went ahead and created the first version of the product live with students. About a year later, it’s now approaching $1 million in sales.
That’s also just one product. We have others, and we have still more in the research pipeline.
And guess what I would do if I had to start over again?
The exact same thing. It’s not easy, it’s not fast, it’s not even that sexy, but it works.
Go to top
7 Ways to Make Money Blogging (with Examples!)
Now that you have a general framework to use, let’s jump into the specifics of how to make money blogging, including real-world examples you can study and learn from.
Here are the top 7 ways to make money blogging:

1. Online Courses and Workshops

Here at Smart Blogger, we make most of our income from online courses and workshops — over $1 million per year — but we are far from the only ones. Most of the people making serious money from their blogs are doing it through courses
Ramit Sethi reportedly crossed $10 million dollars in annual revenue with his suite of premium courses:

And it’s not only business or wealth focused topics that are doing well. You can find blogs on just about any topic monetizing with online courses. For instance, the popular interior designer Maria Killam has quite a few courses and workshops in her catalog:

2. Books and Ebooks

Quite a few writers have parlayed their blogging success into a major publishing deal. Mark Manson, for instance, published a post called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck in 2015. Millions of readers later, he got a book deal with Harper Collins and went on to sell over 3,000,000 copies in the US alone.

Self-published books have also been successful. The most notable success story among bloggers is probably James Altucher’s Choose Yourself, which is now sold over 500,000 copies:

3. Affiliate Marketing

If you’d like to earn some passive income from your blog, one of the best choices is affiliate marketing — recommending the products and services of other companies in exchange for a commission.
Here at Smart Blogger, we make more than $100,000 per year promoting affiliate products, most of that coming from casually recommending products we love like Siteground (affiliate link) and Ahrefs (affiliate link).
But there are lots of other examples too. For instance, Digital Photography School has reportedly made over $500,000 in Amazon commissions from promoting photography equipment:

4. Advertising

Normally, we’re not big fans of selling ads on your site. You need roughly a million visitors per year for the large advertising networks to take you seriously, and affiliate marketing is almost always more profitable and just as passive.
That being said, some niches like recipes, fashion, and news are hard to monetize through many of the other methods mentioned here, and they get LOTS of traffic. In that case, putting a few ads on your site can make sense as a supplementary income source.
For example, here’s a screenshot of a 2016 income report from Share the Yummy:

Normally, you make money by joining a network. Nearly anyone can join Google AdSense, for example, and you can later grow into more selective networks like Mediavine and AdThrive.

5. Speaking Gigs

If your blog takes off, and you start being recognized as an authority in your space, you might be surprised by how many invitations you get to speak at conferences. And it’s amazingly profitable. I typically make a minimum of $10,000 per speech and it can go as high as $100,000 when you count product sales resulting from the speech.
Not bad for a 60-90 minute talk.

6. Consulting/Coaching

While this certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, doing a bit of coaching or consulting over the phone can earn you a surprisingly nice living, even when your audience is small. I don’t do consulting anymore, but the last time I did, I charged $1,000 an hour with a six-month waiting list.
But I’m not the only one. Going back to Maria, again, she’s been quite innovative coming up with ways to do design consultations by photo and email, currently charging $1,275 per room:

You can make this work in almost any space. You just need to know what you’re doing and be confident in the value you are providing to clients.

7. Selling Freelance Services

The next step up from consulting is to actually do it for them.
Typically, you’ll make more money with this than anything else, but it’s also the most draining and time intensive. That being said, I’ve seen bloggers make six-figure incomes with no more than a few thousand readers on their blog, essentially using their blog as a lead mechanism to get clients.
It’s so profitable, even if successful bloggers continue to do it. For example, Elna Cain continues to sell her freelance writing services:

If you’re a writer, designer, photographer, programmer, or other service provider where your skills can be sold digitally instead of you having to be there in person, you might want to consider it from day one. All you really need to get started is a contact form for clients to reach out to you.
Let’s close with some questions and answers, shall we?
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FAQ about How to Make Money Blogging
So, we’ve covered the basic process. Now let’s step back for a moment and answer some of the questions I hear the most often:
Do bloggers make money?
I certainly do, but I don’t think that’s what you’re asking. I think you’re asking…
“Is it reasonable for me to learn how to make money blogging?”
The no BS answer:
It depends on how patient and persistent you are.
Starting a blog from scratch is just as difficult as starting any business. For example, it requires the same time and effort as starting your own restaurant, software company, or accounting service. Yes, those businesses are wildly different, but the first few years are usually the same story: low income, lots of stress, big learning curve.
If you want a more concrete answer than that, we’ve found it takes even our smartest, most dedicated students 3-6 years to make enough money from blogging to quit their jobs. And that sounds like a long time, but so what? 3-6 years to be able to work from anywhere in the world, take a vacation whenever you want, and probably have passive income until the day you die?
Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
How much money can you make from blogging?
The fact is, most bloggers make as much money as any other type of entrepreneur:
Nothing.
And it’s not because there’s no money in it. This blog makes more than $1 million per year, for God sakes, and it’s nowhere close to the most profitable blog out there. Blogs like The Penny Hoarder, Moz, and Lifehacker power businesses worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

So why aren’t more bloggers rich?
The truth is, most people quit. They start a blog, realize it’s hard work, and walk away.
But if you’re patient and persistent?
You can make millions. I have. So have lots of other smart, dedicated entrepreneurs.
You just have to do the work. Consistently. For years.
Can you do that?
Then yeah, I think you can make six figures at least. Maybe more.
How do you make money blogging? (Or, How do bloggers make money?)
As I mentioned earlier, there 7 popular ways to make money blogging:
Offering online course and workshops
Writing books and eBooks
Affiliate marketing (recommending products and services in exchange for a commission)
Blog ads
Speaking at conferences
Offering your expertise as a consultant or coach
Selling freelance services such as writing, designing, and programming
Which is best for you will depend your blog, your expertise, and your situation.
How do you start your own blog for free?
Lots of people say you can’t. They tell you to buy a domain name and a hosting account and a premium WordPress theme.
But I think that’s nonsense.
You can get started for free within five minutes on Medium. They also have over 60 million monthly readers, so you can get a lot of exposure there if you get featured.

This article walks you through that strategy, step-by-step.
Alternatively, you can write on WordPress.com, Linkedin, or any of the other platforms out there. It doesn’t really matter. The point is, start writing and learning as soon as possible.
Once people start sharing your articles, and you begin to understand how everything works, then you can go through the trouble of setting up your own site, installing WordPress, and all that jazz. Until then though, it’s just a headache you don’t need.
What are the most popular blogging platforms?
WordPress is by far the most popular. No one else is even close.
But that doesn’t mean it’s the best for everyone. There are several — and most of them are free.
As I mentioned earlier, I think Medium is a good place to start. You can also create your own blog with tools like Blogger, Squarespace, Wix, Joomla, and countless others.
What are the top blogs about how to make money blogging?
I’d like to think Smart Blogger is the best (and most comprehensive) site on the topic, but it’s by no means the only one. Not all of these talk about how to make money blogging, but together, they give you a solid foundation:— Brian Dean doesn’t talk much about how to make money blogging, but he’s one of the top experts and educators in the world on SEO. What I love about his content is how easy to understand it is, despite covering some incredibly complex topics. If you’re a beginner, prepare for a treat.
— In my opinion, my friends over at Digital Marketer are the best in the world at monetizing traffic. If you’d like to learn about marketing, list building, customer research, automation, or funnels, there’s no better source. If you’re interested in using your blog to build passive income, Pat Flynn is a master at showing you how to build a tiny little business that can support you and the lifestyle you want. Both his blog and podcast are excellent.
Want me to walk you through all of the steps?

Here's a free workshop where I'll walk you through the steps, so you can understand EXACTLY what you have to do to be successful.
The Bottom Line about How to Make Money Blogging
Is it possible?
Absolutely, but only if you treat it as a business.
Yes, you can start your blog as a side project. Yes, you can slowly grow it in the background. Yes, you can turn your blog into a source of passive income that eventually lets you quit your job, travel, spend more time with your family, whatever you want to do.
But like anything worthwhile, it’s hard work getting there.
You have to study. Practice. Master your craft.
If you love writing, I can’t imagine a better business, though. Not only is blogging a great way to get your writing noticed, but it’s a great way to connect with people around the world who need you, teach them what you know, and get paid pretty damn well in exchange.
There’s never a day I regret dedicating myself to blogging. Never.
It’s not just because of the money, either. It’s because I also get to do what I love and help people at the same time.
What could be better than that?
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Oscars 2021: An inside look (like, really inside) to 50 possible contenders in the next awards race

Another Oscar ceremony happened, and we got our fair share of joy and disappointment. After Parasite surprised the world and took Best Picture, it seems like the game has changed for the awards race, now that non-English speaking films can actually fight and be recognized as well as classics as… Green Book. The Oscar race is still full of pain and glory, and even though the year has barely started, we have a bunch of movies that are fighting for air. And here’s 50 of them. Yes, I had some free time in my hands and this is a cool hobby, so I took the liberty to introduce most of the movies that will have Film Twitter entertained for the following 12 months. I say most, because there are always contenders who come out of nowhere later in the year, so this is the starter set. Here we go.
-Annette: Since Parasite’s road to the Oscars started at Cannes, it seems fair to talk about a movie that is circling a premiere in the world stage that is set in France. After delivering weird, indie classics like Mauvais Sang and Holy Motors (yes, the kind of movies that make you seem like a snob when you recommend them to people), Leos Carax is making his first movie spoken in the English language… and it has a musical screenplay written by the cult rock duo of Sparks. Recently robbed Adam Driver and previous Oscar winner Marion Cotillard sing in this tale of a stand-up comedian and a famous soprano singer who rise and fall in Los Angeles while their daughter is born with a special gift. It seems like a wild bet, but we already know that Carax is a master with musical moments, so this is one of the most intriguing question marks of the year.
-Ammonite: It’s time to talk narratives. On the one hand, we have Kate Winslet, a known name who hasn’t been very successful in the Oscar race since her Oscar win for The Reader over a decade ago (with the exception being her supporting performance in Steve Jobs, where she had a weird accent). On the other, we have Saoirse Ronan, a star on the rise who keeps collecting Oscar nominations, with 4 nods at the age of 25, including her fresh Best Actress loss for Little Women. What happens if we put them together in a drama set in the coasts of England during the 19th century where both of them fall for each other? That’s gonna be a winning formula if writedirector Francis Lee (who tackled queer romance in his acclaimed debut God’s Own Country) nails the Mary Anning story, and Neon (the distribution company founded three years ago that took Parasite to victory) is betting on it.
-Benedetta: We know the Paul Verhoeven story. After isolating himself from Hollywood for over a decade, he took Isabelle Huppert to an Oscar nominated performance with the controversial, sexy, dark and funny thriller Elle. Now, he’s back with another story that perks up the ears, because now he’s covering the life of Benedetta Carlini, a 17th-century lesbian nun who had religious and erotic visions. If you know Paul, you already can tell that this fits into his brand of horniness, and a possible Cannes premiere could tell us if this has something to carry itself to Oscar night.
-Blonde: With a short but impactful directorial credits list that takes us from Chopper, to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to Killing Them Softly, Andrew Dominik is back with a film about Marilyn Monroe, a woman who has transcended the ideas of fame and stardom, in ways that are glamorous and nightmarish at the same time. After failing to launch with Naomi Watts or Jessica Chastain,the rising Ana de Armas takes the lead in the retelling of Monroe’s troubled life based on Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, which is said to be covered in the screenplay as somewhat of a horror movie. We don’t know what that means yet, but Netflix is gonna push hard for this one, especially considering how the Academy loves throwing awards to stars playing previous stars, and that also can possibly include co-stars Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody.
-Breaking News in Yuba County: While he hasn’t gone back to the heights of his success achieved by the box office and award success of The Help (a movie that did not age well), Tate Taylor is still enjoying himself economically due to recent thrillers like The Girl on the Train and Ma. For his next movie, he’s made a dramedy that once again reunites him with Oscar winner Allison Janney, where she plays a woman who has to keep appearances and a hidden body when she catches her husband cheating on her, and then he dies of a heart attack. With a cast that also includes Mila Kunis, Regina Hall, Awkwafina, Samira Wiley, Wanda Sykes, Jimmi Simpson and Ellen Barkin, this could be a buzzy title later this year.
-C’mon C’mon: You may love or hate whatever Joaquin Phoenix did in Joker, but you can’t deny the benefit of playing the Crown Prince of Crime in an Oscar-winning performance. The blank check that you share with indie directors afterwards. Now that Joaquin’s cultural cachet is on the rise, Mike Mills gets to benefit with this drama that stars Phoenix and Gaby Hoffmann, with him playing an artist left to take care of his precocious young nephew as they forge an unexpected bond over a cross country trip. We only have to wonder if A24 will do better with this movie’s Oscar chances compared to 20th Century Women.
-Cherry: After killing half the universe and bringing them back with the highest grossing movie of all time, where do you go? For Joe and Anthony Russo, the answer is “away from the Marvel Cinematic Universe”. The Russo brothers are trying to distance themselves and prove that they have a voice without Kevin Feige behind them, with a crime drama that’s also different than their days when they directed You, Me and Dupree or episodes of Arrested Development and Community. To help them in the journey, they took Tom Holland (who also needs to distance himself from Spider-Man, lest he ends up stuck to the character in the audience’s eyes) to star in a crime drama based on former Army medic Nico Walker’s memoir about his days after Iraq, where the PTSD and an opioid addiction led him to start robbing banks.
-Da 5 Bloods: After bouncing back from a slump with the critical and commercial success of BlackKklansman, Spike Lee is cashing a Netflix check to tell the tale of four African American veterans who return to Vietnam to search for their fallen leader and some treasure. With a cast that includes Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Paul Walter Hauser and Chadwick Boseman, this sounds like an interesting combo, although we still should remember the last time that Spike tried his hand at a war movie, with the dull Miracle at St. Anna.
-Dune: If you are on Reddit, you probably know about the new film by movies’ new Messiah, Denis Villeneuve. While the epic sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert is getting a new chance in the multiplexes after that David Lynch movie that was forgotten by many, some are hoping that this will be the beginning of a new franchise (as seen by the release date of December 18, taking the spot of the usual Star Wars opening), and a return to the whole “remember when stuff like Return of the King or Fury Road were nominated for Best Picture?” question. Timothee Chalamet will be riding a lot of hope, and sandworm.
-Everybody’s Talking About Jamie: As you start to see, there are several musicals that are gonna be fighting for attention over the next year, and Annette was the first one. Now, we also have this adaptation of the hit West End production, that centers around a gay British teenager who dreams of becoming a drag queen and get his family and schoolmates to accept his sexuality. With a cast that mixes young unknowns, familiar Brits (Sharon Horgan, Sarah Lancashire and my boy Ralph Ineson) and the previously nominated legend that is Richard E. Grant (who is playing a former drag queen named Loco Chanelle), the creative team of the stage musical will jump to the big screen with the help of Fox Searchlight (sorry, just Searchlight), who has clear Oscar hopes with a release date right in the middle of awards heat, on October 23.
-Hillbilly Elegy: Even though the Parasite victory gave many people hope for a new Academy that stops recognizing stuff like previous winner Green Book… let’s be honest, the Academy will still look for movies like Green Book. This year, many people are turning their eyes towards Ron Howard’ adaptation of J.D. Vance’s memoir about his low income life in a poor rural community in Ohio, filled with drugs, violence and verbal abuse. If this sounds like white trash porn, it doesn’t help to know that Glenn Close, who has become the biggest living Oscar bridesmaid with seven nominations, will play a character called Mamaw. And if that sounds trashy, then you have to know that Amy Adams, who follows Glenn with six nominations, is playing her drug-addicted, careless daughter. I don’t want to call this “Oscar bait”, but it sure is tempting.
-I’m Thinking of Ending Things: After his stopmotion existential dramedy Anomalisa got him a Best Animated Feature nomination at the Oscars but at the same time bombed at the box office, Charlie Kaufman is getting the Netflix check. This time, he’s adapting the dark novel by Iain Reid, about a woman (Jessie Buckley, who is on the rise and took over the role after Brie Larson had to pass) who is taken by her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis), in a trip that takes a turn for the worse. If Kaufman can deliver with this one, it will be a big contender.
-In the Heights: Yes, more musicals! This time, it’s time to talk about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Tony-winning musical, that was overshadowed because of his other small play about some treasury secretary. Now, his Broadway ensemble tale about life in a neighborhood in Washington Heights is jumping to the movie screen with Jon Chu at the helm, following the success of Crazy Rich Asians. This Latino tale mixes up-and-comers like Anthony Ramos (who comes straight from Hamilton and playing Lady Gaga’s friend in A Star is Born), names like Corey Hawkins and Jimmy Smits (who is pro bits), and Olga Merediz, who starred in the Broadway show as Abuela Claudia and who could be the early frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress, if Chu allows her to shine like she did onstage.
-Jesus Was My Homeboy: When looking at up-and-coming Black actors right now in Hollywood, two of the top names are Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, who already appeared in the same movie in Get Out, which earned Kaluuya a Best Actor nomination. This time, they share the screen in Shaka King’s retelling of the story of Fred Hampton (Kaluuya), an activist and Black Panther leader… as well as the story of William O’Neal (Stanfield), the FBI agent sent by J. Edgar Hoover to infiltrate the party and arrest him. With the backing of Warner Bros, this will attempt to make an impact with a clash of actors that will have to fight with an August release date, not the ideal time to release an awards movie.
-King Richard: Starting with Suicide Squad, Will Smith has been trying to prove that he’s back and better than ever. Some attempts to get back to the top of the A-list (Aladdin, Bad Boys For Life) have worked, while others (Gemini Man, Spies in Disguise)... have not. But Will is still going, and now he’s going for his next prestige play as he plays Richard Williams, the coach and father of the tennis legends Venus and Serena, who pushed them to their full potential. While it’s weird that the father of the Williams sisters is getting a movie before them, it does sound like a meaty role for Smith, who has experience with Oscar notices with sports biopics because of what he did with Michael Mann in Ali. Let’s hope director Reinaldo Marcus Green can take him there too.
-Last Night in Soho: Every year, one or two directors who have a cool reputation end up in the Dolby Theatre, and 2020 could be the year of Edgar Wright. After delivering his first big box office hit with Baby Driver, the Brit is going back to London to tell a story in the realm of psychological horror, which has been supposedly inspired by classics like Don’t Look Now and Repulsion. With a premise that supposedly involves time travel and a cast that includes Anya-Taylor Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, Matt Smith and Diana Rigg, Wright (who also co-wrote this with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who was just nominated for Best Original Screenplay for her work in 1917) is making a big swing.
-Let Them All Talk: Every year there’s more new streaming services, and that also means that there’s new players in the Oscar game. To secure subscribers to the new service, HBO Max has secured the rights to the next Steven Soderbergh movie, a comedy that stars Meryl Streep as a celebrated author that takes her friends (Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest) and her nephew (Lucas Hedges, again) in a journey to find fun and come to terms with the past. The last time that Soderbergh and Streep worked together, the end result was the very disappointing The Laundromat. Let’s hope that this time everything works out.
-Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: Now that Netflix got the deal to adapt August Wilson’s acclaimed plays with Denzel Washington’s production company, the next jump from the stage to the screen is a meaty one. Viola Davis is playing blues singer Ma Rainey in this tale of a heated recording session with her bandmates, her agent and her producer in 1927, with a cast that also includes Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman and Colman Domingo. The Tony nominated play talked about race, art and the intersection of the two, and it’s gonna be explosive to see that unfold on screen, even if director George C. Wolfe’s previous filmography isn’t very encouraging.
-Macbeth: In a shocking development, the Coen brothers are no more. Well, just this time. For the first time in his career, Joel Coen is making a movie without Ethan, and it’s a Shakespeare adaptation. Denzel Washington is playing the man who wants to be king of Scotland, and Frances McDormand is playing his Lady Macbeth. While this just started filming and it will be a race to finish it in time for competition in the awards race, the potential is there, and this project has everybody’s attention.
-Mank: After scoring 24 Oscar nominations and only winning 2 awards last Sunday, Netflix has to wonder what else must they do to get in the club that awards them. They tried with Cuarón, they tried with Scorsese, they tried with Baumbach, they tried with two Popes, and they still feel a barrier. Now, the big gamble for awards by the streamer in 2020 comes to us in the hands of David Fincher, who is basically their friend after the rest of Hollywood denied him (Disney dropped his 20,000 Leagues adaptation, HBO denied the US remake of Utopia, and Paramount drove World War Z 2 away from him). In his first movie since 2014’s Gone Girl, David will go black and white to tackle a script by his late father about the making of the classic of classics, Citizen Kane, with previous Oscar winner Gary Oldman playing the lead role of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. Will the Academy fall for the ultimate “power of da moviesshhh” story?
-Minari: Sundance can be hit or miss with the breakout films that try to make it to the Oscars. However, you can’t deny the waves made by A24 when they premiered Lee Isaac Chung’s new drama there, ending up winning the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the US Dramatic Competition. If Parasite endeared Academy voters to Korean families, Steven Yeun hopes that the same thing happens with this story, where he plays a father in the ‘80s who suddenly decides to move his family to Arkansas to start a farm. Even though the reviews have been great, we must also remember that last year, A24 had in their hands The Farewell, another Sundance hit about an Asian family that ended up with no Oscar nominations. Let’s hope that this time, the Plan B influence (remember, that’s Brad Pitt’s production company, of Moonlight and 12 Years a Slave fame) makes a difference.
-Next Goal Wins: It’s a good time to be Taika Waititi. Why? Taika Waititi can do what he wants. He can direct a Thor movie, he can win an Oscar for writing a comedy set in WW2 about a Third Reich boy who has an Imaginary Hitler friend, or he can pop up in The Mandalorian as a droid. Taika keeps winning, and he wants more. Between his press tour for Jojo Rabbit and his return to the MCU, he quickly shot an adaptation of a great documentary about the disgraced national team of American Samoa, one of the worst football teams known to man, as they try to make the cut for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Everybody loves a good sports comedy, and Searchlight bets that we’ll enjoy this story led by Michael Fassbender as the new (and Dutch-American) coach in town who tries to shape the team for victory.
-News of the World: Seven years after their solid collaboration in Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks reunite for more awards love in what seems to be Universal’s main attraction for the Oscars. This time, Hanks stars in a Western drama based on Paulette Jiles’ novel where he plays a traveling newsreader in the aftermath of the American Civil War who is tasked with reuniting an orphaned girl with her living relatives. With a Christmas release date, Universal is betting big in getting the same nomination boost that 1917 is enjoying right now, and the formula is promising.
-Nightmare Alley: Following his Best Picture and Best Director wins for The Shape of Water, everybody in Hollywood wondered what would Guillermo del Toro do next. Well, as Del Toro often does, a little bit of everything and nothing. Some projects moved (as his produced Pinocchio movie on Netflix, or his Death Stranding likeness cameo), others stalled and die (like his proposed Fantastic Voyage remake). But now he’s rolling on his next project, a new adaptation of the William Lindsay Gresham novel that already was a Tyrone Power film in 1947. This noir tale tells the story of a con man (Bradley Cooper) who teams up with a psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) to trick people and win money, and how things get out of control. With a cast that also includes Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara and more, this could play well if it hits the right tone.
-Nomadland: There’s breakout years, and then there’s the amazing potential of Chloe Zhao’s 2020. On the one hand, after making Hollywood notice her skill with the gripping story of The Rider, she got the keys to the MCU kingdom to direct the next potential franchise of Kevin Feige, The Eternals. And just in case, she also has in her sleeve this indie drama that she wrote and directed beforehand, with two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand playing a woman who, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad. If Chloe nails these two films, it could be the one-two punch of the decade.
-One Night in Miami: Regina King is living her best life. Following her Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress in If Beale Street Could Talk and the success that came with her lead role in the Watchmen show on HBO, the actress is jumping to a new challenge: directing movies. For her big screen debut, she’s adapting Kemp Powers’ play that dramatizes a real meeting on February 25, 1964, between Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown.
-Over the Moon: After earning praise and Oscar nominations with I Lost My Body and Klaus, Netflix will keep its bet on animated movies with a film directed by the legendary Glen Keane. Who? A classic Disney animator responsible for the design of characters like Ariel, the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan and more](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jRkx2PNVr8), and who recently won an Oscar for Best Animated Short for Dear Basketball, which he co-directed with the late Kobe Bryant. Now, he brings us a musical adventure centered around a Chinese girl who builds a rocket ship and blasts off to the Moon in hopes of meeting a legendary Moon Goddess.
-Passing: It’s always interesting when an actor jumps behind the camera, and Rebecca Hall’s case is no exception. For her directorial debut, Hall chose to adapt Nella Larsen’s acclaimed novel set in Harlem in the 1920s, about two mixed race childhood friends (Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson) who reunite in adulthood and become obsessed with one another's lives. With a premise that explores tough questions about race and sexuality, it looks like a tricky challenge for a first timer, but it would be more impressive if Hall manages to rise over the challenge.
-Prisoner 760: An interesting part of following the awards circuit is looking at when it's appropriate to talk about touchy subjects in recent history. I’m saying that because this next movie tells the real life tale of Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim), a man who, despite not being charged or having a set trial, is held in custody at Guantanamo Bay, and turns towards a pair of lawyers (Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley) to aid him. Based on the famous journal that the man wrote while he was being detained, the movie (that also counts with Benedict Cumberbatch) is directed by Kevin Macdonald who, a long time ago, helped Forest Whitaker win Best Actor for The Last King of Scotland. Could he get back in the race after almost 15 years of movies like State of Play?
-Raya and the Last Dragon: This year, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ bet for the Oscars is a fantasy tale set in a mysterious realm called Kumandra, where a warrior named Raya searches for the last dragon in the world. And that dragon has the voice of Awkwafina. Even though they missed out last Oscars when Frozen II got the cold shoulder by the Academy in Best Animated Feature, this premise looks interesting enough to merit a chance. One more thing: between last year’s Abominable, Over the Moon and this movie, there’s a clear connection of animated movies trying to appeal to Chinese sensibilities (and that sweet box office).
-Rebecca: It’s wild to think that the only time that Alfred Hitchcock made a film that won the Oscar for Best Picture was with 1940’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s psychological thriller novel, more muted and conventional than his more known classics. Now, Ben Wheatley and Netflix are giving the Gothic story a new spin, with Lily James playing the newly married young woman who finds herself battling the shadow of her husband's (Armie Hammer) dead first wife, the mysterious Rebecca. The story is a classic, and we have to see how much weird Wheatley stuff is in the mix.
-Red, White and Water: Between 2011 and 2014, Jennifer Lawrence was everywhere and people loved it. She was America’s sweetheart, the Oscar winner, Katniss Everdeen. But then, everything kinda fell. Those X-Men movies got worse and she looked tired of being in them, her anecdotes got less charming and more pandering to some, she took respectable risks that didn’t pay off with Red Sparrow and Mother!, and some people didn’t like that she said that it wasn’t nice to share private photos of her online. Now, she looks to get back to the Oscar race with a small project funded by A24 and directed by Lila Neugebauer in her film debut, about a soldier who comes back to the US after suffering a traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan. Also, Brian Tyree Henry is in this, and it would be amazing if he got nominated for something.
-Respect: You know what’s a surefire way to get Academy voters’ attention? Play a real singer! Rami Malek took a win last year for playing Freddie Mercury, Renee Zellweger just won the gold after portraying Judy Garland, and now Jennifer Hudson wants more Oscar love. Almost 15 years after taking Best Supporting Actress for her role in Dreamgirls, Hudson will try to get more by playing soul legend Aretha Franklin, in a biopic directed by first timer Liesl Tommy that practically screams “give me the gold”. How am I so sure? Well, see the teaser that they released in December (for a movie that opens in October), and tell me. It will work out better for Hudson than Cats, that’s for sure.
-Soul: Unless they really disappoint (I’m looking at you, The Good Dinosaur, Cars 2 and Cars 3), you can’t have the Oscars without inviting Pixar to the party. This year, they have two projects in the hopes of success. While in a few weeks we’ll see what happens with the fantasy family road trip of Onward, the studio’s biggest bet of the year clearly is the next existential animation written and directed by Pete Docter, who brought Oscar gold to his home with Up and Inside Out. The movie, which centers on a teacher (voice of Jamie Foxx) who dreams of becoming a jazz musician and, just as he’s about to get his big break, ends up getting into an accident that separates his soul from his body, had a promising first trailer, and it also promises a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as well as new songs by Jon Batiste. The only downside so far for the marketing was the fact that the trailer reveal led people to notice a suspicious trend involving black characters when they lead an animated movie.
-Tenet: When Leonardo DiCaprio finally touched his Academy Award, an alarm went off in the mind of a portion of Internet users, who have made their next crusade to give themselves to the cause of getting Christopher Nolan some Oscar love. And his next blank check, an action thriller involving espionage and time travel, could pull off the same intersection of popcorn and prestige that made Inception both a box office hit and a critically acclaimed Oscar nominee. It helps to have a cast of impressive names like John David Washington, Elizabeth Debicki and Robert Pattinson, as well as a crew that includes Ludwig Goransson and Hoyte van Hoytema. In other words, if this becomes a hit, this could go for a huge number of nominations.
-The Devil All the Time: As you may have noticed by now, Netflix is leading the charge in possible Oscar projects. Another buzzy movie that comes from them is the new psychological thriller by Antonio Campos, a filmmaker known for delivering small and intimate but yet intense and terrifying dramas like Simon Killer and Christine. Using the novel by Donald Ray Pollock, Campos will follow non-linearly a cast of characters in Ohio between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Vietnam War, with the help of an interesting cast that includes Tom Holland, Sebastian Stan, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Eliza Scanlen, Bill Skarsgard, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough.
-The Eyes of Tammy Faye: After being known as a sketch comedy goofball because of The State, Wet Hot American Summer and Stella, Michael Showalter reinvented himself as a director of small and human dramedies like Hello, My Name is Doris and The Big Sick. For his next project, he’s gonna mix a little bit of both worlds, because he has before him the story of the televangelists Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain, who has been really trying to recapture her early ‘10 awards run to no avail) and Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield, who was previously nominated for Hacksaw Ridge, instead of Silence, because why). With a real life tale that involves Christian theme parks, fraud and conspiracies, this is the kind of loud small movie that Searchlight loves to parade around, especially as an actors showcase (Jojo Rabbit being the most recent example). The first image looks terrifying, by the way.
-The Father: It’s weird to be in the middle of February and say that there’s already a frontrunner for the Best Actor race at the next Oscars. After its premiere in Sundance a couple of weeks ago, every prognosticator pointed in the direction of Anthony Hopkins (recently nominated for Best Supporting Actor in The Two Popes), who delivers a harrowing portrayal of an old man grappling with his age as he develops dementia, causing pain to his beleaguered daughter (recent winner Olivia Colman, who also got praised). With reviews calling it a British answer to Amour (in other words: it’s a hard watch), Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his acclaimed play not only benefits from having Hopkins and Colman together as a selling point, because it was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics, a distributor with experience in getting Academy voters to watch adult movies with heavy themes. If you don’t believe me, watch how they got Julianne Moore a win for Still Alice, as well as recent nominations for Isabelle Huppert for Elle, Glenn Close for The Wife, and Antonio Banderas for Pain and Glory. They know the game, and they are going to hit hard for Hopkins and Colman.
-The French Dispatch: If you saw the trailer, we don’t need to dwell too much on the reasons. On the one hand, we have the style of Wes Anderson, a filmmaker who has become a name in both the critics circle and the casual viewer, with his last two movies (The Grand Budapest Hotel and Isle of Dogs) earning several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture for the one with Gustave H. Then, we have a long cast that goes from the director’s regulars like Bill Murray to new stars like Timothee Chalamet, and also includes people like Benicio del Toro. The only thing that could endanger the Oscar chances for this is that the story, an anthology set around a period comedy with an European riff on The New Yorker, will alienate the average Academy member.
-The Humans: There’s the prestige of a play, and then there’s the prestige of a Tony-winning play. Playwright Stephen Karam now gets to jump to the director’s chair to take his acclaimed 2016 one-act story to the big screen, and A24 is cutting the check. Telling the story of a family that gets together on Thanksgiving to commiserate about life, this adaptation will be led by original performer Jayne Houdyshell (who also won a Tony for her stage performance), who’ll be surrounded by Richard Jenkins, Beanie Feldstein, Amy Schumer, Steven Yeun and June Squibb. If it avoids getting too claustrophobic or stagey for the cinema, it will be a good contender.
-The Last Duel: Always speedy, Ridley Scott is working on his next possible trip to the Oscars. This time, it’s the telling of a true story in 14th-century France, where a knight (Matt Damon) accuses his former friend (Adam Driver) of raping his wife (Jodie Comer), with the verdict being determined by the titular duel. It’s a juicy story, but there was some concern when it seemed that the script was only being written by Damon and Ben Affleck (who’ll also appear in the film). A rape story written by them after the Weinstein revelations… not the best look. But then, it was revealed that they were writing the screenplay with indie figure Nicole Holofcener, who last year was nominated for an Oscar for her script for Can You Ever Forgive Me? Let’s hope that the story is told in a gripping but not exploitative way, and that it doesn’t reduce the role of Comer (who deserves more than some of the movie roles that she’s getting after Killing Eve) to a Hollywood stereotype.
-The Power of the Dog: We have to talk about the queen of the indie world, we have to talk about Jane Campion. More than a decade after her last movie, Bright Star, the Oscar and Palme d’Or winner for The Piano returns with a non-TV project (see Top of the Lake, people) thanks to Netflix, with a period drama centered around a family dispute between a pair of wealthy brothers in Montana, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons), after the latter one marries a local widow (Kirsten Dunst). According to the synopsis, “a shocked and angry Phil wages a sadistic, relentless war to destroy her entirely using her effeminate son Peter as a pawn”. Can’t wait to see what that means.
-The Prom: Remember the Ryan Murphy blank check deal with Netflix that I mentioned earlier? Well, another of the projects in the first batch of announcements for the deal is a musical that he’ll direct, adapting the Tony-nominated show about a group of Broadway losers (now played by the one and only Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells and, uh, James Corden, for some reason) who try to find a viral story to get back in the spotlight, and end up going to a town in Indiana to help a lesbian high school student who has been banned from bringing her girlfriend to the prom. The show has been considered a fun and heartwarming tale of acceptance, so the movie could be an easy pick for an average Academy voter who doesn’t look too hard (and you know that the Golden Globes will nominate the shirt out of this). It’s funny how this comes out the same year than Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and then it’s not funny realizing that Film Twitter will pit the two movies against each other.
-The Trial of the Chicago 7: After getting a taste of the director’s taste with Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin wants more. For his second movie, he’s tackling one of his specialties: a courtroom drama. And this one is a period movie centered around the trial on countercultural activists in the late ‘60s, which immediately attracts a campaign of how “important” this movie is today’s culture. To add the final blow, we have a cast that includes Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jeremy Strong, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, William Hurt, Michael Keaton and Mark Rylance. If Sorkin can contain himself from going over the top (and with that cast, it would be so easy to surrender to bouts of screaming and winding speeches), this could be one of the top contenders.
-Those Who Wish Me Dead: Having made a good splash in the directorial waters with Wind River, Taylor Sheridan (also known for writing the Sicario movies, the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water or that Yellowstone show that your uncle raves about on Facebook) returns with yet another modern Western. For this thriller based on the Michael Koryta novel, Angelina Jolie stars as a survival expert in the Montana wilderness who is tasked with protecting a teenager who witnessed a murder, while assassins are pursuing him and a wildfire grows closer.
-Untitled David O. Russell Project: Following the mop epic Joy, that came and went in theaters but still netted a Best Actress nomination for Jennifer Lawrence, the angriest director in Hollywood took a bit of a break (it didn’t help that he tried to do a really expensive show with Amazon starring Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore that fell apart when the Weinstein exposes sank everything). Now, he’s quickly putting together his return to the days of Oscar love that came with stuff like The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, with a new movie that is set to star Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and Michael B. Jordan. Even though we don’t know many details (some people are saying the movie is called Amsterdam) except for the fact the movie hasn’t started shooting yet, David is a quick guy, so he’ll get it ready for the fall festival circuit. If there’s one thing that David O. Russell knows (apart from avoid getting cancelled for abusing people like Lily Tomlin, Amy Adams and his niece), it’s to make loud actor showcases.
-Untitled Nora Fingscheidt Project: When Bird Box became one of the biggest hits on Netflix history, the streamer decided to keep itself in the Sandra Bullock business. Sandy’s next project for Ted Sarandos is a drama where she plays a woman who is released from prison after serving time for a violent crime, and re-enters a society that refuses to forgive her past. To get redemption, she searches her younger sister she was forced to leave behind. With the direction of Fingscheidt, who comes from an acclaimed directorial debut with Systemsprenger (Germany’s submission to the last Academy Awards), and a cast that also includes Viola Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio and Jon Bernthal, this will also hopefully try its luck later this year.
-Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Project: We don’t know if this movie will be ready for the end of the year (although last time, he managed to sneak Phantom Thread under the buzzer and earn several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture), but PTA is apparently gonna start to shoot it soon, with the backing of Focus Features. After several movies with prestige locations and intricate production design, Film Twitter’s Holy Spirit will go back to the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s, to tell the story of a high school student who is also a successful child actor.
-Stillwater: Tom McCarthy’s recent career is certainly puzzling. After delivering the weird lows of The Cobbler, he bounced back with the Best Picture winner that was Spotlight. And following that, he… helped produce the 13 Reasons Why series. And following that… he made Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, a Disney+ original movie. Now, he’s back to the award race with a drama starring Matt Damon, who plays a father who rushes from Oklahoma to France to help his daughter (Abigail Breslin), who is in prison after being suspected for a murder she claims she didn’t commit.
-West Side Story: To close things, we have to see one of the possible big contenders of the season, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the iconic musical that translates Romeo and Juliet to the context of a street gang war in 1950s New York. While the decision to adapt again something that has been a classic both in Broadway and in movie theaters almost 60 years ago is a challenge, the idea of Spielberg doing a musical closer to the stage version with Tony Kushner as the writer is too tempting for the average Academy voter, who is already saving a spot in major categories in case Steven nails it in December. However, there’s two question marks. First, how well will Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Zegler stand out in the roles of Tony and Maria? And second, will In the Heights steal some of the thunder of this movie by being, you know, more modern?
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