How To Make Money In The Film Business

Hopefully the subject line of this email grabbed your attention, because lately it feels like I’ve been having the same discussion with many of my clients and FS members of – how do you make any money in this business anyway? Believe me, I’m the first one to promote and rally behind all the new distribution and even financing possibilities that exist for filmmakers right now but the main problem seems to be that many of you are still sitting around scratching your heads saying

“I didn’t decide to go into this line of work to aim low and make ultra low budget films for the tiniest of budgets and have to defer everyone’s salaries including my own and not be able to even sustain myself.


So here’s the way I see it. Right now there are two ways to go about making a decent living in the film business:

1. Make films for the ‘studio’ pipeline (whether financed independently or by the studios themselves). And by ‘studio’ I mean both the Studios (Sony, Universal, etc.) and the mini-majors (Lions Gate, Summit, etc.). In this model you may not have full ownership or control of your material, but you will get paid a producers and/or writers fee and hopefully some back-end profits down the line. Obviously back-end when you’re first starting out is elusive at best, but at least you’ll get paid a fee up front. (obviously I’m not referring to selling your finished films to this pipeline, rather making them within this system). Note: this is not by any means the easy route when you are just starting out in your career and is more applicable if you have a couple projects under your belt and/or have relationships with established producers/executives that you can leverage.

2. Make films for the DIY/Hybrid route. By this I mean make films at a low enough budget (under $250K seems to be a sweet spot) and for a big enough target audience, that you can sell to directly and sustain yourself on the high margins of direct to consumer sales and possibly a few traditional distribution sales both domestic & foreign. I know this route doesn’t sound very exciting but if you do it well for a couple of films, it could catapult you to making bigger films and into scenario #1.

Obviously the long term goal is to get to a point where you’re doing either or both of these successfully (ie: making profits) so that you earn the right to make whatever films you want and can sustain yourself either by working for the ‘system’ or scaling up the hybrid approach.

So what do you think?? I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this because I know it’s really bugging a lot of folks as we head into the new year and question why we are in this business anyway! We have to be able to make a living and shooting for the lowest common denominator and just scraping by year after year doesn’t seem like any way to live…does it? Let me know what you think by commenting below.

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Comments

  1. says

    Yeah, it’s a very good point raised here :) the idea of going out and making films instead of getting a “real Job” would probably seem reckless to a lot of people, but then those dedicated to following their passion and living life on their own terms probably aren’t overly concerned with the thoughts of other people :-p But generally doing what you love to do should lead somewhere, should be profitable, that’s certainly the draw of the entrepreneur lifestyle: do what you love and get rewarded for what you do.

    Making films is a business opportunity too I guess, but we have to get clear about the quality of our products and what market they fit. If they don’t fit, make them fit…if they still don’t fit…. consider doing something else.

    In the end if you’re passionate about filmmaking, you may well commit to making sure that you find a way to make it a sustainable pursuit, where there’s a will and all that :) Whatever model you pick, I guess it comes down to understanding your audience and telling great stories that engage people and have them saying “I wanna see that film” …in theory, you then have something that will sell…

    and lead to your next project…

    I’m looking forward to seeing what people think though :)

  2. says

    Here in Bandera we decided to go our own route by taking on local sponsors to help fund our projects. We in turn will bring them business by bringing on-location filming into the area.
    One project, a documentary series “Intriguing Mysteries Of The Old West” has a completed pilot titled “Who Killed Pat Garrett?” see Youtube clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DQXmU7eSpk
    The other project “Silent Stranger” is a movie that is hopefully entertaining and also shows our locale and re-enactors that are available for movies and commercials. See Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eo5hg7bH88I
    The Mysteries was financed by investors and Silent Stranger was partially financed by sponsorships of local businesses.
    Here again we are looking to make profits on selling the programs to cable as well as DVDs.
    It’s a tough business but fun and can be profitable.

  3. says

    I agree with the analysis, but I’d also say there is a middle ground, an option 1.5, if you like, which is to self-distribute, but not solely on a direct-to-consumer basis.

    I think the key thing from your post is “a low enough budget….for a big enough audience” – you’ve got to know your audience and how to reach them. But I think a $250k movie really ought to be good enough for you to be able to sell at least a few solid overseas TV deals off the back of, which would see you recoup a lot quicker.

    For what it’s worth, I’d also say that I think $250k is too high a budget for a direct-to-consumer sales business model. I think it would take way too much work to shift enough to make your money back, unless you’ve got a) a great track record and/or b) a large and dedicated following already. In which case, model 1 may be more applicable anyway!

  4. says

    Aw, crap, I replied too quickly – you did, in fact, mention the “traditional” distribution avenues as well!

    But everything else in the comment stands!

  5. says

    @Oli – with all due respect — there’s no $250K to be found anywhere from a few foreign TV sales anymore. That is long gone for most films! Try NO TV sales for indies for $10K or less per license. International broadcast fills it’s pipelines mostly with studio output deals these days. On the other hand, I agree with you – $250K is high for direct to consumer – that’s why i mentioned the hybrid approach where it would be direct to consumer AND a few traditional deals, hopefully piecing your way up to a couple hundred grand in revenue.

    • says

      HI Stacy,
      I know it’s a real long shot getting a response from you, but I have a question. I am an indie film producer and now director. Through networking, I was introduced to a woman who ended up putting a good word in for me to a TV network. They watched my first film and liked it enough to say they wanted it. They asked me to do such things as add CC, add commercial breaks and add the warning for strong language and violence. I did all those things and am ready to send them a final screener. The lady who put me in touch with the network now says the network intends to “Test market” my film first. I was under the impression they were going to air it on their network right away. Since I am so new to the business, I know nothing. I am curious, can I expect to make anything from this? She said they would send me over some info about prices for test marketing.I am so curious it is hard to think of anything else. Any thoughts, Stacy? Or any of you others who have commented for that matter. Thank you for your time.

  6. Jacquie Schmall says

    The unpredictable income from Indie film efforts is likely the result of being viewed as “less than” the major studio projects. There’s no door prize for finishing an Indie feature, after the initial splash, just parking privileges on a shelf. I’ve worked with Indie films in San Francisco, Houston, and Portland, where there are vigorous, and creative, attempts at being successful in the film business. Hope carries us on high. It’s only when you get to play in the majors that there is good money to be made. However, even though one gets to establish one big success, getting big budget features made remains complex, and frustrating. Being a long term, reliable source of income, is not in the nature of this business. But then, maybe things are changing. :)

  7. says

    Sorry, Stacey, I wasn’t trying to say that you could get $250k back straight away from one or two TV deals – I think we all know that’s a fallacy now! I meant to say (and clearly didn’t!) that within the $250k budget range you should be able to make a film of enough quality that you can use the hybrid model to make your money back quicker than you would using DIY alone.

    I think we’re making the same point in slightly different ways, which is my bad for being confusing…

  8. says

    So ironic, I just stated your statement to friends of mine, of course coming from my experience of the last 2 years. It’s divided into huge films, or DIY. The buyers are seeing it that way. And I’ve heard that the lower budget, (250 on down)…are looking for ‘Arthouse’ type films, or totally niche. And the sales for these are slow and low. I have a new model for the DIY…a friend is diving into ‘E Books’…so I thought ‘why not E Movies’.
    One would make films (videos using 7D/5D)…done very inexpensively, while setting up a name/brand for the filmmaker. And using all the E Books marketing techniques.
    The bad news…DVD is shrinking, and going to more than likely disappear. It’s all digital files now, or BluRay, which is actually going up in demand. BluRay with extras, lots of extras. For this to work, you movie must be made cheaply, but still look great. And that takes good storytelling, acting and production value. Hard work.
    And the end product must be downloadable and watchable on Ipads and of the sort.

  9. says

    @Oli – no worries – looks like we’re on the same page then!

    @Jaquie – I think that’s a misconception that getting big(ger) budgeted films made is complex – it’s not really, there’s just a formula to it and you have to work up to it and create and do GOOD WORK to show for yourself so you can use LEVERAGE to work your way up the ladder. The problem is, what is ‘good work’ is debatable and very subjective but if you can make things go well for you on the smaller level, well then like I said – it’s all about leveraging that for bigger projects, bigger budgets, bigger pay days.

  10. says

    Good stuff guys. For our selfs we are going at this both ways. Our own team has drunk the Transmedia model and we are working both sides of the fence. We are working the traditional model (what is left of it – We did the AFM etc) and DIY on pre-production so far. Our narrative while center around our film will expand into mobile devices, games, books & ebooks (and yes e-movies) etc. We picked a 3D animations because it is hard and we need to get notice and not lost in the live action world (plus 3D is hot and its my roots). At the end of the day the part that is really is hard is the selling of your IP and stories and I believe we will succeed if we can grow our fans base over the next two years.

  11. says

    Alas, Stacey, the fact that “good work” is debatable and subjective puts everything into flux, makes a career based on quality a very uncertain kind of career. But I think it is possible to stick to the basics of good storytelling and good filmmaking, and almost always create a movie that people will enjoy.

    But in terms of career, there are different approaches to making a career as a filmmaker, especially now when making beautiful images is within reach of almost anyone; it is possible to do microbudget movies, distribute them largely on your own, if necessary, and by that I mean trying to exploit VOD, DVD, and foreign. I look at filmmakers like Cassavetes, Henry Jaglom, even Hal Hartley or Ed Burns ($25k to make “Nice Guy Johnny”), heck, the list goes on and on — it seems to me that the most interesting films are low budget affairs, and since that’s the kind of movies I want to make, at the ripe old age of 56, that’s where I am focused.

    But that entails a very modest lifestyle. The good news in my world is that by working on budgets of $100k to $400k, investors have popped up and in the past year I’ve produced/directed or co-produced three features and one massive web drama (catchthebuzz.tv) of 22 episodes, all funded by private investors and shot with the Canon 5D, made by tiny crews, many excellent unknown actors (except for Ed Asner, John Cariani and Jack Kehler in “Elephant Sighs”), and I am still putting beans on the table and diesel in my ancient Benz, and loving every minute of the digital filmmaking revolution. The price to me personally (other than the stress and hard work)–living an inconspicuous, inexpensive life.

  12. says

    Very cool Les – sounds like you found your path. As a fellow 56 year old dude, I am a bit more trap in life style. I am a SVA film animation major who needed to do IT work to pay the bills and now I have the mortgage and family I need to maintain (but I love them anyway). So I need to figure out a way to also make my movies without taking the family to the poor house. I still think your points are valid to my needs to tell stores. I do need to be creative in how I apply the solutions to my animations or VFX work but they are are still there.

  13. antonio says

    A famous filmmaker about 80 years ago
    commented on the plight of filmmakers by comparing
    their prospects to an architect,who spends
    years studying the masters and then only gets
    Commissioned to design an outside loo.

    I do think however that our prospects have improved.
    But I think we need people outside the industry
    to sell the movies,people with different skills,
    Which aren’t applicable to filmaking but are
    applicable to distribution and plain selling
    movies.Every business works that way.Farmers
    aren’t grocery store operators,car manufacturers
    aren’t dealers etc.Distributors shouldn’t be
    Staffed by filmmakers(in my oopinion),even though
    we do so cos we don’t have options.I can’t think
    of musicians who distribute records?Ditto to
    Platforms,whether they be tv,web or book.
    A sobering thought which shows just how undeveloped
    the distribution network is,is this.How easy
    (It isn’t)is it to find titles outside the
    main pipelines.There are filmakers everywhere
    Who want to sell and viewers who want to buy
    But its difficult for the two to connect

  14. says

    @Antonio you make a good point. Filmmakers should team up with people who are equally passionate about selling and marketing and growing audiences.

  15. says

    Lots of great comments, but I still believe the key to success is having a great script and attaching name talent and a name producer, and have a low-budget film ($200,000.)

  16. Charles Mariotti says

    I took on an indie horror movie “Seance” as its PMD in May of this year. It wrapped in 2001 and was lost in distribution hell. It had 2 marketable names, and now 5 since three other actors have done well. Nevertheless, the $850,000 dollars to produce the movie is not likely to bring an ROI of any significance soon without a theatrical release, which I don’t see happening even overseas.

    I can get potential distributors with multiple media platforms to talk to me or take the screener because of the cast, and did negotiate a Satellite, TV, and Cable deal… However, it looks like years before we see a profit. That will be determined on the movie’s numbers in the first year. Hopefully it does well enough to come back every halloween and run numerous times on multiple platforms in between.

    One thing I am hearing from one of my distributors is that in order to make big chunks of money he must attach large advertisers to the project when it airs on TV and Cable. Problem is, much of the advertisers budget is going to online sites, thus reducing the pot for TV and Cable.

    So what I see is a shift to online digital media, one we expected to happen, which will totally change the climate of the market.

    But don’t loose hope just yet, one of my distributors is begging me to find him more completed films that are marketable. Mainly, horror, action, and childrens film, are what are selling according to him. One thing I am confident of is Stacy will keep her finger on the pulse of the entertainment and keep us up to date.

    As for me, I have independent investors for my film we are about to produce that has marketable names, and the climate, although uncertain, is providing more and more platforms that can be exploited to make a profit. Just remember, good product, marketable names, and disribution, distribution, distribution…

  17. Charles Mariotti says

    Oh, I didn’t mention that a good, no great soundtrack, will not only help your movie sell tickets and DVDs, but it is another ancilary market that if done right can bring in a nice revenue stream. I made sure I signed on some great musical talent and am incorparating the music, all original, in the narrative as well that I beieve will give the entire project marathon runner’s legs. How did I find this talent? I also have my hands in the music industry.

  18. says

    Goodday dear all,
    How to make money? It’s hard a LA top producer ones told me. When starting out with nothing make sure you have a job that combines your creative entrepreneurship. You’ll make little money, forget about buying a house, driving a car and starting a family. Focus on making your debut film that will bring you into the loop the way you want. Create some IP, set up a company and find investors. This might take a while – keep developing IP and businessplan. When you have sufficient money matching the script and director’s interpertation the rest is easy with proper filmschool education or hands on experience in commercials or corporate film. There’s a chance you’ll never succeed, so make sure you’ll lead a happy life. Do no-budget projects for fun in the weekends, try to expand your network with enthousiasts, some of them become friends and work with a deferred fee on your IP. Finally my experience is that live can still be beautifull and worth living. Love, Willem

  19. says

    try producing Theatre– or children’s theatre or puppet theatre for adults… all monatary complaints about producing film vanish when stacked against those pursuits… (done it for 20+ years). Survival as an Artist is the montra. Clear vision is the only real sustaining nourishment through the disappointments.
    Almost everyone in the world sees films — through cinemas or broadcast media or via direct internet, or other. People will continue to see films– hopefully they can choose to see our films, if they are good. We just have to find the connections between the audiences and our product– the same task all businesses must do. In our new producing paradigm of today, low prod. costs allow us make great images as never before. I do complain, but I am also thankful for the new opportunities that exist that allow us to connect so easily to others. We are living at a great moment within the history of film.

  20. Reginald Leigh Humphrey says

    They say that there is X amount of money to make films, and the money spent is making the commeercial films from the best scrips available. If that is so, then Hollywood is in a real world of hurt. When I look at movies like AVATAR with its gimmicky computer special effects, and the Hurt Locker which was nothing more than a 60 Minutes Leslie Stahl segment with dialogue, I yearn for the movies of the 1970’s.

  21. says

    WOW!!! great comments. Lots of logical smart and “cool” talented thinkers, lots of how-to publications, lots of script ideas, lots of unfinished and completed projects, lots of proposals, treatments and scripts, lots of local, on demand, domestic and international distributors, lots of film schools, advice and seminars and lots of film script coaches and doctors and film festivals. So where is the problem? ooh MONEY !!! . In the so called “movie” business if you have a property and an experienced team and you can structure a ROI with a “REAL” group/producer and named actors, and proper distribution, most probably you will succeed or at best you might learn a very valuable lesson. The question is… are you ready and able to plunge in and really work 12 hour days to realize your dream, are you educated, experienced and trustworthy? are you talented enough? are you ready for numerous re-writes and insulting comments, are you ready to present yourself and your script in countless meetings, is your product a formulaic film ? or is it something that has been done by a committee ! Look. stop and Just make the “damn” film. a film from “your Heart” make it “yours” make it with “passion” with lots of details about your experiences, things that made YOU cry and laugh and made you who you are today. be critical not only when you conceive it but when you shoot it, make it global, hire an experienced film director and film editor and “shadow” them. Be right there on location make sure that your sequences reveal your emotions and drama, make them film another take, make it strong , give the sequence a beginning and an end. Hire professionals in your team, get a great casting director to help find your talented actors, do not worry about success YET, if it is genuine, true and entertaining and above all be proud of the results, you made it. Listen , it has to be ENTERTAINING not “real life” boring, and do not hire your friends or lovers and/or relatives as actors. BE SERIOUS ALWAYS and learn from your mistakes. In terms of money, do your daily…. DAILY…. money research. Find out how much money is out there for films similar to yours, who had distribute them, where is the film market going . the money markets have changed. Be informed, never give up, do not compromise and remember the most important word that’s ENTERTAINMENT. Time is on your side NOW it is not going to be like that forever. Do not waste it. It is your most valuable commodity. Be REAL, get inspired. Go for it. JUST DO IT

  22. says

    Hi Stacey
    Your article was concise and useful – a reminder to me, as someone who’s building a feature film project (with no previous track record etc.) – to keep positive and keep the approach real. Recently, I’ve been caught up in the Screenwriting process ie. development of First Screenplay and working on a second. Feel like I’ve just pulled my head out of the sand again – back on track with the primary and secondary research ie. Marketing & Distribution – and building partnerships!
    Thanx for the reminder – a much needed boost.
    Angus :o)

  23. Matt Lofgren says

    Very insightful comments!

    I have a bit of a different take on today’s plight of financial success or lack thereof in the independent film business. As someone who is also in his 50’s (am I seeing a trend here?!) and as someone who spent most of his professional career as a mechanical engineer, I see some significant similarities in both professions.

    The digital revolution for filmmaking is here. But it’s about 20 years or so behind a similar revolution that took place in my former profession back in the mid 80s, which also produced its own set of unique challenges.

    From my perspective, digital filmmaking is analogous to AutoCAD/Computer Aided Design. Back in “the day,” engineers typically designed on a drafting board, or on a pad of paper and pencil, pushing his/her creations over to a draftsman who brought these designs to life in a very time-consuming, slow and expensive fashion. In a short few years after introduction of the IBM PC, CAD programs were introduced and if adapted by the engineer, became a true paradigm shift in the industry. One could now design on a computer and produce a digital image that could be plotted out, effectively eliminating the “middle man” or in this case, the draftsman, and do so much faster and efficient.

    Those first few years after the introduction of the PC and the CAD software running on them, a huge shift took place in the contract engineering and architecture field. A number of young, entrepreneurial minded engineers took advantage: Computers, while expensive, were still within the budgets of many and the software, mainly AutoCAD back then, was unfortunately one of the most pirated business applications of its day. A young engineer or architect could now hang a shingle outside the house and put an ad in the yellow pages hawking his/her new-found company as “open for business – lowest prices around!”

    This new “flavor” of contract engineering did some interesting things. It played havoc with many of the larger engineering/architect firms as clients were now demanding rates comparable to those of the newly established one-person “indie-engineering” firms, or in many cased did move their business to these firms. Billings plummeted, competition for new business became cutthroat, many were predicting the demise of the industry.

    Fortunately that didn’t happen (well, at least until outsourcing came along, but that’s an entirely different post). What occurred is what I see similarly occurring today in the film industry. By purchasing a PC and buying(?) the software to run it, did not make someone a great engineer/designer. While these “indie-engineers” were able to undercut the rest of the main-stream industry, the product produced often was equally undercut in results. It took a few years of turmoil to shake things out and of course some of these independent engineers went on to become great engineers/architects in their own right, but the industry as a whole started to see these new tools for what they really were/are: Tools.

    In the film world, it has taken until these last few years to really see a near complete take-over of the emulsion film business. Independent filmmakers can now purchase equipment that can produce images and sound that mimic heretofore tremendously expensive motion picture equipment. I see it as we are now in that “glut period” where the engineering world was back in the late 80s. Everyone who thinks they are/can be a filmmaker runs out and purchases the latest inexpensive tools and produces, well, to be frank, mostly just garbage.

    A great engineer/architect (as too the great filmmaker) does not become so just by the introduction of new technology. If an engineer or architect does not have the necessary skills or background to come up with that great concept or design before committing it to paper, it really makes no difference if that poor design is committed to paper via a pencil or electronically via a plotter. Both will be equally bad and there will be no buyers.

    Filmmaking, as in engineering is self-correcting. Stacey, I believe, has mentioned it before and I concur: Soon many of those who ran out to buy the first RED cameras or DSLRs will realize that there is simply no market for poorly made films, regardless of that initial “price of entry” into the filmmaking business. As an engineer, I not only had to learn how to draw – first on paper, then on CAD, but I also had to learn about tolerance stack-ups, material selection, vibration and load analysis, etc, etc. As a relatively new filmmaker, I understand that making a great film is not (just) about the camera, sound and lights, but also that I have to have a great story to tell, have a defined audience who would want to pay to see it, and just as important – to learn the… Craft!

    Just my two cents. Matt

  24. says

    Fantastic discussion and comments everyone! Thank you for taking the time to post these. Definitely gives us all something to chew on for a bit –and I’d like to explore this topic further. So there will probably be some follow up posts to this because I really feel it’s a big dilemma right now for filmmakers. Countless producers come to me for consulting and want to know how to make money with the film they’ve just completed and sadly it’s often too late – when they hear they can only make *at best* $20K back on a multiple six figure budget they want to know why…. and the reasons are too long to list! So the moral of the story (at least one of them) is to start early in the process crunching those numbers and making sense of your financial prospects. Thanks again and more to come!

  25. says

    Wow. This is a great discussion on the most important issue filmmakers are facing. The person who stumbles on the perfect answer should get an award because I’m not sure if there is one.

    My two cents I’ll toss in on the discussion is something I’ve brought up a lot on blogs in the last year. The film business is the one business that makes no business sense. Every other business is driven simply on the concept of supply and demand. What do filmmakers do? Make films on assumptions. Attach this name actor, this script (on a sell-able genre) with this director, etc. -That’s the studio formula. Indies have it worse. Create a great concept (purely opinion on what “great” is) and get the best cast/crew you can get and make it. Then when it is made, cross your fingers that a demand will build for it. The backup plan is to make genre films that are the “easy sell” for a cheap as possible like children films and horror flicks. Harder things get, cheaper you go.

    My opinion is to study how to create the demand for your film before even going into pre-production. Make your content the in-demand. For instance, Star Wars was original put out as a series of comic books before the first one came out in the theaters. This is how Lucas built the demand for the product within that niche, which then drew the main stream audience when it was released. Think of the power in his corner if the demand was built prior to even going into pre-production.

    I’ve been spending the last year working on what I think it the key, at least for my own material. Everyone needs to find out what works for them, but they need to find a way to build the demand before making the supply. And you need to find a way to test and see what works with your audience. I’d go into more specifics on what I am working on, but I have to wait till around Feb.

  26. says

    I agree John. That is also the path we are taking. The only thing we need to be careful is that we don’t start making films based on some study or poll, but create stories and share as much as we can to get people and fans involve. You will very quickly see if this is something others may also want to see get made. Having said all that, some folks may just not get it or you did not make your story clear. So go ahead and make it. You will at least have a better idea of what lays ahead.

  27. says

    @ John – totally agree with the fact that you should test the demand for an idea before going into full fledged production with it – unless of course, you yourself are already a ‘brand’ and have a target audience already built in that will go see your films no matter what! (ex: Soderbergh, Lynch, etc.)

  28. says

    I’m not sure a successful film depends on an idea or premise or niche concept for which there is a market that can be identified in advance. For one thing, how can you test it accurately? I think a good film depends more on the creation of a special chemistry that starts with a great script but also depends on many other factors. Unless of course you want to make movies that fit a mold, and isn’t that what Hollywood is doing? I believe that every time you pick up a camera an opportunity presents itself, the opportunity to create a story that is fresh, exciting, real, and meaningful. Those qualities will automatically be woven through the film if the filmmaker thinks and sees and communicates in a fresh, exciting, real and meaningful way. And that is what filmmaking is, compared to the manufacture of marketable products, which requires an altogether different, rather uninspired, process.

  29. says

    I love what Matt Lofgren said. Great observations. I’ve been saying what Stacy said for years now, and have taken some heat on the FS postings. Yup, its (1) get a job in the biz, or (2) make movies at a budget where you have at least a chance at becoming profitable. That’s what I’m doing (#2,that is)…and I think I’m older than most of you ( LOL )… But I have lots of business experience, besides movie making experience (40 years). Read this posts again and again…there is wisdom here.

  30. says

    Stacey you are the anchor and with your dedication and meticululous organization you have preserved and catalogued the indie film community ethics and wisdom. Thanks. A much needed service in our digital fimmaking age. Just for your information here are some important statistics . There are approx 10.000 film uploads per day on youtube.( some of them are feature length and some 10 minutes or less) That translates to 35 HOURS of motion picture material per MINUTE. Avg time spend on a site/ channel on youtube is around 5min. ( google stats). And now for some hard questions. Please post your stats in terms of avg motion pictures picked up by distributors in festivals over the last 5 years ( ratio of accepted films) the % of all films ( hollywood and indie ) dropped after a screening ( openning ) in a major city theater after one/two weeks. In terms of A list actors and B list actors How much screen time ( % ) translates to how days acting on the movie set and of course their %$$$ vs the budget associated with the project. The more stats we are aware of, the better !!! A film reality check while we are making other film plans

  31. says

    Stacey Parks says:

    @ John – totally agree with the fact that you should test the demand for an idea before going into full fledged production with it – unless of course, you yourself are already a ‘brand’ and have a target audience already built in that will go see your films no matter what! (ex: Soderbergh, Lynch, etc.)

    Orlando Rivera says:

    I agree John. That is also the path we are taking. The only thing we need to be careful is that we don’t start making films based on some study or poll, but create stories and share as much as we can to get people and fans involved.

    Interesting points in those comments:

    Think of the Movie Inception -(Christopher Nolan)
    that was breaking the mould in a big way in both the concept and the way it was delivered. There are no polls or rules as such to what people will watch. Sure there are people with access to the bank-accounts that “vote” and green light the gamble that movie production is, but it’s talented visionaries and storytellers with passion and clarity that create the next thing that inspires and engages people.
    There is nobody with a checklist who can second guess human kind’s capacity to respond to an emotionally and intellectually engaging original story delivered and presented in a way that completes the package and does it justice.

    Christopher Nolan is an established director, but certainly wasn’t his own brand for this style of film. This film is not the sort of film that anyone would have predicted would be the type of film people would respond to. It tested people, some walked out the cinema in the first five minutes with fried brains, but the overall response was a positive one, good Job Mr Nolan.

    Inception was also seen by many appreciators of film as a chance to “vote” for decent filmmaking as opposed to the formulaic hollywood approach of: “that made money” lets do that again. Likewise, film-watchers who who had been indoctrinated into the formulaic machine and were hypnotised into thinking that they did want to go and giggle at an old lady swearing yet again, in yet another seen it all before….comedy, actually had the desire for more depth to filmmaking reignited through exposure to something that ordinarily wouldn’t have slipped through the net.

    An example highlighting the difficulties of distribution regardless of budget:

    It’s my understanding that multi-Oscar winning Slum Dog Millionaire had some real problems after completion and almost went straight to DVD in the US, which suggests a lot can hang in the balance, even when there is a consensus that your movie is indeed good, does engage people, and is made by someone with a decent history of good filmmaking.

    You can find out more about Warner Bros selling the distribution rights to the movie
    and insight into complications that can be faced at any stage of a filmmaking career here:

    http://bit.ly/141h1k

    The maker of Slum Dog Millionaire (Danny Boyle) has another film being released soon. Danny Boyle’s new film, “127 hours”, tells the true story of mountaineer who cut off his own arm with a penknife to survive….considering a lot of the film takes place by a rock, I would imagine it may have been a difficult pitch, but the trailer looks pretty good :)

    I guess you should be careful when “testing” your ideas with producers and market experts who don’t understand what you understand, your vision as it were… your potential audience doesn’t necessarily understand what you understand either until you show them something great that only your unique understanding could have created and that they can respond to and enjoy.

    Just some thoughts :)

    G

  32. says

    he current deal may include rights for more than 700 films, the paper said.

    Google may have to compete with streaming and mail-in rental company Netflix, which has also shown interest in Miramax’s film library, the Post said.

    In July, Walt Disney Co sold Miramax, the studio behind such films as “Trainspotting” and “No Country for Old Men,” to Filmyard Holdings for more than $660 million.

    Google’s official blog showed that 35 hours of video were uploaded to YouTube every minute as of last week, up from 24 hours in March.
    http://www.dizinizle.com
    A Google spokesman told the Post: “We’re always talking to the studios about different things and Disney remains a valuable YouTube partner. Outside of that, we don’t comment on rumor or speculation.”

  33. shalini says

    Great post and excellent discussion!

    Could you please list a few good independent films who made a decent amount of money at the box office?

  34. Ivy says

    Great points. I am all for low budget films but I also hate the stigma of low budget films being terrible because they always seem so “alternative.” Just because your budget is less than what I carry around in my wallet doesn’t mean that it’s not destined for greatness. Having a support system and great people around your film circle really helps. I live in the bay area here in California and have heard about the co-op called Scary Cow Productions. It’s basically a large group of people making films together! I don’t know what each groups budget is but I can’t imagine it’s very big. I like the idea of being surrounded people with the same interest because not only will they support you in your ventures but they will also be honest(hopefully) and suggest bigger and better ideas!

  35. says

    Getting together with others is a great way to make you films. Low budget should mean the amount of money you have not the quality of your film. For 250k I can make a 3D animation that looks like millions. For 1.5 million plus I can get eat better and stay warmer.

  36. says

    Right On Orlando! We’ve all seen movies, then checked the budgets, and exclaimed…What? Where was all that money? It wasn’t on the screen. I’ll bet if we had the chance to go over the books we’d find huge amounts of money are spent on the cast & crew…not on the actual movie. I agree…With 250K, I can make most middle of the road movies we see coming out of Hollywood today…even with some explosions!!

  37. says

    You see here is a perfect example of what I am talking about. if you are going to question how the money is spend in a commercial or an independed project then you must not think like amateurs because if you do you will make films like amateurs and do not expect distributors and studios to take you seriously. There is only one way to make a film and that is with a crew, a professional crew, with professional or nor professional actors, i will take that, But the most important think in making that movie, your creation, is by following some standards and some guidelines for example, you must have an experience AD , UPM etc etc YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND making a film and being on the set is a militaristic operation the director speaks to the DP and the DP sets up everything until the AD calls for action and director says CUT . that is all BE prepared to accept that simple rule if you want your films to be shown in theaters.of course you need that great story that is in you for years…! Leave your revolutionary ideas at home and come to the set prepared and let the experienced crew lead you and show you how things are done….Respect the rules of filmmaking onthe set its going to save you money and time and you will see results . professional results . I f the actors or the dialogue did not move you on that first take do it again and again here is where you are going to appreciate A-list actors and learn from your mistakes and your failures. Just go Just WRITE SOMETHING.
    Get it out of your soul….You’ll feel lighter… happier.

  38. says

    This blog really does contain a lot of wisdom. I posted something back in December of 2010 and today got an “admin” email leading me back to this page, so I re-read a lot of what has been posted here.

    I thought I would follow up on a post Michael Simmons made back in December regarding e-books and “e-movies.” Now that embedding video and audio and other media in “enhanced ebooks” is starting to happen, and, of course, all the transmedia hubbub, too; we’ve started experimenting with book/movie hybrid storytelling.

    But, driving our interest in new forms/markets for films is the tantalizing question of how to reach an audience effectively as an indie producer and leveraging this connection between book reading and movie watching; because it seems to us that, if an audience can be attracted to a book that just maybe “independent storytellers” can begin to win back a larger audience for indie films, or at least for specific films for which there is an underlying story universe that includes a novel, music and perhaps other media.

    I know that sounds a little complicated perhaps, but it is actually a process of evolving a story into a book and a book into a movie and allowing fans to experience the process. So, everything becomes dependent on the artist’s devotion to the story, which is exactly where good movies come from anyway.

    I believe that ultimately access to and consumption of entertainment will all be web-centered. This might include having your arthouse or genre picture downloaded and screened by a theater in Mumbai or Moscow or Manhattan, or someone catching a two minute interview with your lead actor on their iPhone, or streaming your feature over Netflix or Hulu or YouTube. How revenues will flow to the filmmaker is a good question, but, piracy aside, it seems more than feasible that an all-digital marketplace is more than possible, it is actually evolving in front of our eyes.

    Perhaps the digital gods are conspiring to make us all focus on the universal quality of a good, entertaining story and what it means to culture. All things being equal, it is the story that has the power to capture the popular imagination and, in so doing, earn a few bucks.

  39. says

    You’re totally correct Les. An on-line Film Guru, that I don’t much agree with, made a point the other day that I did agree with. The only movie people making any money today are at the far ends of the spectrum: The Mega Block Buster Big Guys…and the ultra-low-budget little guys. Everybody else in the middle is loosing their shirts. Along that line, a new event is taking place in Northern California in September…The Content Creation & Distribution Expo ( ccdexpo.com ) which is all about how the little guys can make a dollar doing exactly what you’ve said.

  40. says

    Frank, do you really think there will be significant sales opportunities for existing content at CDEXPO? We are currently weighing the possibility of having a presence at AFM. CDEXPO might be a great learning/networking/sales experience for us as well. All feedback welcome!

  41. says

    Well Les, AFM is certainly one of the Grand Daddies of all film markets and well established. The CCD Expo is just getting started with this the first year. The Exec.Director, Peter Oakes, is trying to convince as many in the distribution business to establish a presence there. Naturally it’s difficult for them to want to jump in when an event hasn’t yet proved itself. The same could have been said for the first year of Sundance too. So I would say to stay tuned with an eye on the website ( ccdexpo.com ) and judge for yourself if it would be worth your effort this year. Of course, as you said, it might be a great opportunity to hone your presentation skills before you jump in at an AFM, etc.

  42. Phil says

    Wow! It’s nice to dream.
    When was the last time anybody who posted here had the opportunity to watch a truly independent film in a theater? I’m talking distributed in a theater, not in a art festival, etc…
    NEVER
    I never happens.
    If you have no connection to the Studios, no money, you can certainly make a movie. You will never be distributed. All the hard work will be wasted. Your friends and family and a “few” people who will buy your DVD on CreateSpace and Amazon will view your stuff, then what?
    Dreaming is great, but if you dream too long, you’re going to endanger yourself.
    Get a life, a real one in the real world.
    Phil

  43. says

    Totally agree with you Phil. However, I think it’s more a questions of managing one’s expectations. As I see it, there may be two basic reasons you want to make a movie… 1.For the Art of it, the experience, etc. 2. As a monetary business enterprise. It’s when these two are blurrily blended that trouble ensues. It’s like saying I want to make a car in my backyard…which could be a wonderful endeavor. But then to say, “it will compete with General Motors”. As you said…Not gonna happen. However, somewhere in there may be a new path… admittedly on a very low level. I call it the Digital Download Revolution. And for a gleaming moment, one might be able to do something significant. Ah, Hope springs eternal.

  44. says

    Hey Phil, thanks for the motivational talk. I’ve heard it from my wife, family and friends for years now, and it never worked. Some of us simply love working with the medium and will put stories on film to watch on our own iPhones, if it comes to that. Fortunately, it won’t come to that, because change is afoot. If your goal is to distribute your film theatrically, yes, that’s a long shot, and I’m sure the dreamers reading this blog already know that. But there’s a lot of room in the marketplace for original entertainment of all sorts, including indie films. You don’t have to aspire to get rich from it to be enriched by it when, where, and in whatever venue you experience it. You just have to enjoy the process, and decide if its what you want to spend your precious life doing. If not, there are plenty of far less exciting jobs to apply for.

    Les Butchart
    “Only the dreamer can change the dream.” – John Logan

  45. Phil says

    Frank, I understand the art endeavor. I’ve done it myself.

    Online distribution? Watch it on the huge screen of an Iphone?
    Very funny, yes, you should definitively be in the entertainment business.
    Sorry, when I watch my work of art, I’m not in the metro watching my iphone. I’m in a theater, at least in times of war watching a laptop screen. An iphone, uh? I see!
    So you’re writing story for the same population Hollywood targets? The 13-26 year old uneducated male population?
    Good for you.
    What if you want to make movies for Educated female Jewish lawyers making half a million and living in DC and NYC? Even if you don’t want then to pay and you don’t want to make money, how do you get her to see your work of art in a local theater?
    Les, I appreciate the sarcasm of your last sentence ” if it’s what you want to spend your precious life doing. If not, there are plenty of far less exciting jobs to apply for” Just try to remember it in 30 years from today when you realize you need somebody else to pay rent or you’re with a partner you hate but can pay the bill, and yes, I do know a few “artists” in that late category. Their precious life went for very interesting to hell!

  46. says

    Hi Phil, I’m one lucky stiff, I guess, at age 56 making original features, three since 2009, all unique, wonderful stories made on tiny budgets, beautiful-looking 5D projects, working with a great team of self-employed, indie film entrepreneurs here in Greensboro, a city where filmmaking is a fresh, exciting enterprise.

    Our site: http://www.highway29motionpictures.com – check it out.

    I think you missed my point about big screen/small screen; actually, not sure I had a point except that if you enjoy the process of making movies, the challenge of it, and enjoy working with that kind of canvas for your creativity, then you have the first and best reason to be a filmmaker. If you can’t sustain it, or make good money at it, then at least you tried, gave it your best shot, and can go to the grave saying to yourself, “I tried, I didn’t weenee out.” Every artist risks failure at various levels, in various ways, but you keep expressing yourself because it’s who you are and what you enjoy. You know, with any digital film, at any time, it can be put on a big screen, whether or not that happens upon release. I watch films on a big screen in my home theater, it’s a blast, and I can enjoy a single malt and my own popcorn. I’m just saying that times are a changin’ and its a great time to be a film entrepreneur. But if you’re going to jump in and make a feature, do it as cheaply and as good as you can. Keep the budget to 100k or less, and I think you’ll see breakeven, especially if you’re doing a genre film or inspirational film. Emphasis on that word “GOOD.”

    PS: My wife/co-producer still loves me after 35 years, and I can honestly say that filmmaking has helped keep our life and marriage exciting as heck.

  47. Laraib Uppal says

    Nice article!

    I am just a 21 year old who just got into the film industry just recently. I don’t know who to talk to and where to talk to these people and I need a helping hand. Heck, I don’t even know where to get started and how to earn money in the business. Obviously income is a huge issue, meaning low budget to me consists of everything under 100K. Any reccomendations for me? (Please don’t say “quit” cuz I refuse to). Big dreams come true if you dream them to begin with

    • ZigZag says

      You need to focus on your goal every second of every day. Essentially what i mean is, you cant expect your dreams to come true if you just dream all day long. I suggest the best plan for you is to buy a camera, learn some nifty tricks online, and stay FOCUSED!… i say this because film school is a drab and doesn’t teach anything the internet cant. I’m also not trying to give you some keyboard warrior lecture on line, but i was once in the same boat at one stage, and would have liked someone to point me in the right direction

    • says

      Hi Laraib, I am a 21 year old film maker too. And I’ve started to freelance in the film industry. I can help you with my advice and my own experiences. get in contact amy.x

  48. says

    I am in the business of making films in Spanish. The market is getting better and better. I need to connect to “Lions Gate” to talk to some one there to see if they can take an interest in my concept. Does any one have a friend there or can refer me to any one? I have produced four feature films and participated in many as an actor.

    Any advice would be much appreciated.

    Thank you

    Pablo Esparza
    Email: Pablo.esparza@aol.com

    • Evers Arroyo says

      I would like to see a film you have created if its possible send me a message wear i could see your film

  49. castro M says

    Hello…

    For goodness sake, get a camera and START…you don’t need to be so dreamy about that, making films isn’t about getting hundredes of advices, what you need at this early stage is a SCRIPT, CAMERA, and DECISSION.

    good luck

  50. says

    Hi!
    Enjoyed the blog, makes sense. I am the creative director for the AWF (atlantic whale foundation). But no-one has heard of it as our PR in pants. I have made films in ghana, sierra leone, tenerife, amsterdamn, england (im english) and honestly (especially working with an NGO) you can get away with making budget films, on a LOW budget if it’s in the documentary area. However, its what to do with the films when you have made them, ideally I would have been working to a brief in which to fit a distributer but we have not, we have made the films we wanted to make as we enjoy telling these stories.

    As for making money, we run film courses out of the NGO’s base to cover us and our projects, as I have no idea how to generate an income of the films themselves. I am very experienced for a 22 year old, but have SSSOOOO much to learn, and have no industry experience. If you have any idea’s in how we could make money from our films . . . because we are fairly desperate for it . . I am all ears!!

    http://www.awf-volunteeringabroad.org/creative_productions/index.html

    Cheers,

    Chris Light

  51. says

    I have some equipment to make film. Such as HD camcorder that can shoot in 1920 X1080, Lenses, Jib, Lights, computers Imac i7, Final Cut Pro, Motion, Adobe, and i wrote over 5 scripts, one which i believe its idea was stolen through a writing software I used.
    My problem is how to find people that are dedicated to join with me and make an INDEPENDENT film. How can i get money.
    I plan to promote by shooting a good preview as production commences on one film. I cant find people with the Passion, Dedication and commitment. I can’t do this alone, and right now i just completed my second degree with 2 minors, where can i find help or people of similar passion and commitment?

    • Pankaj raina says

      Hi bro, im pankaj raina from india, 4m the last 2 years im also keen intrested to make a documentary movie,,,i usualy explore on a net to get more new ideas about documentary movies, luckly i found u….by go through ur statement, ur also keen intrested for the same.,, but dear ur looking for a dedicated guys and we r 4 guys who totaly dedicated for this, and we are also looking for same one dedicated and passionated guys….so if we join and work for the same vision, it wil be great…ur also welcomed to india….my mobile no. +918968158821,,, my e-mail id:- raina.pankaj07@yahoo.co.in ,,,, we can meet on facebook….im waiting for ur reply,,

    • Peter says

      I’d love to help in any way I can! I’m an aspiring animator, who’s just getting started building a portfolio. (Literally – on my first film.) I’ll work for free.

      The downside is, I work Monday-Friday, so I’d have to either take time off, or do out-of-hours stuff (like logos, visual effects, etc).

      Drop me an email: pjnicholson1993@gmail.com if you’d like. I’d love to start an Indie company.

  52. says

    Hi i think if you have experience in the film industry you can try and do tutorials on youtube about how to make films and stufff and hope you get loads of views and get paid for them , or post your films ,gather a internet audience , people make quite a decent amount of money on youtube these days well thats my advice good luck .

  53. says

    Do you have data on what investors can make if they own an average feature film they make for under 500k? are there examples of the kinds of money others have made? Where can I find stats like these that can attract investors?

  54. Glenn Hawkins says

    I have been treading water forever. I can make a film of major quality at my risk. I am ready. So what to do with it? Where is the representatives of the industry to say, “Hay, you make a film, I will look at it. Make a bad film and you lose, but if I think it is a great and sell-able film don’t worry, we will buy it for a quoter to five mil.

    All I need to know is where is this damn guy? Until I can get his phone number and his assurance nothing else said is of use to me.

  55. walter kibande says

    hey there,am a24yr clinician based in uganda.i have written quite anumber of scripts still doing so.i have been saving for the camera,lighting sys,audio apps n the monitor but still have amileage to walk.i intend to make films that are real but the problem is that i havent arrived at people with hearts of stone.if thus u have idea how we could push it smwhere then find me on fb@kibande walter or email:luckykibandewalter@yahoo.com or acall on +256775337997

  56. says

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