How To Make A Living Filmmaking

Logistic Center Amazon in Bad Hersfeld industr...

Filmmakers can sell their movies on Amazon. Image via Wikipedia

Recently a question posed by filmmaker Ben Rock over at Neptune Salad gave me a good reason to think about (and share) my filmmaking business philosophy in detail.

Here is the question: “Is there a way to make enough money on any kind of self-distribution that a filmmaker can repay investors and eek out a middle-class existence?”

I felt like this question required a detailed response. So for Ben and other folks with similar questions, I broke it into 2 parts. Here we go…

1. Can any form of Self Distribution make you enough money to repay investors?

This depends on two factors. How much investor money did you spend? And how much of your investor money do you have left to reach your targeted audience?

Getting money to fund independent movies has always been a challenge regardless of what technological innovations have taken shape. But the big difference now is more emotional than factual. These days, whenever filmmakers go out to shake the money tree, their confidence is considerably lower. I mean, in the past, you could at least present speculative opportunities to to prospective investors with a measure of excitement: “Look what happened with The Blair Witch Project! Paranormal Activity! My Big Fat Greek!..”

But what do you say now?

“We are going to sell DVDs on Amazon!”

Yippy.

And even funnier is this. Let’s say you get the money, make your movie and get a (more traditional) 3rd party distribution deal – your deal probably won’t involve theatrical distribution. Add the demise of video sales outlets and video stores, and it is a good bet that your movie will end up on iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon.

Given these outlets, I now wonder why any filmmaker would even approach a 3rd party distributor. I mean, if filmmakers can simply set up shop and reach those outlets on their own, why pay a middle man? Do filmmakers really need 3rd party validation?

So my suggestion is this: If you’re trying to make a living as a filmmaker, you need to care less about traditional validation and more about your bank account. If the numbers don’t work, you nave NO DEAL!

“Ah… Filmmakers should be MORE excited to approach prospective movie investors!”

Unlike years past, you can finally eliminate much of the speculation from your business plan – and you can finally present a deal built on a measurable framework that YOU control. In other words, as a filmmaker you can now pick and choose your sales outlets and come up with an entire step-by-step system for reaching your target audience and then getting your movie seen and sold. Investors like that. It’s less risky!

From this perspective, you can create a reasonable plan and work backwards.

What? You can’t figure out how to repay 1,000,000 dollars in 5 years? Then you have two choices. Change your plan or change your budget (which may involve changing your screenplay and schedule).

And onto the second part of the question…

2. Can a filmmaker eek out a middle-class existence (with digital self distribution)?

Yeah. But like I was saying, you can not think about distribution in the traditional sense. In the past, filmmakers made a movie, got lucky and ended up with a BIG paycheck with incremental increases on the back end. These days filmmakers need to think about their movies in ways akin to how traditional investors think about dividends from bonds – once you make the investment, it’s a long term game!

In other words, you create your movie product this year, get it selling and then you repeat the process. Conceivably in 10 years, you’ll have a library of 10 movies. And with luck each movie will passively pay you thousands of dollars per month.

Moving forward,  if you want to make movies and make money making movies, your strategy has to include oodles and oodles of cash for marketing. I heard one colleague talk in terms of  applying 3/5ths of the budget for the marketing, 1/5th for “name” talent and 1/5th for your below the line costs. I’m sure there is room for variation – but we can all agree that your marketing (more than movie making) is going to provide you the difference between pocket change and profit.

What are your thoughts?

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This is a huge topic. So I will break it into a series. My next article will pick up where I left off. And we can get into a systematic approach to how to make a living through your filmmaking.

In the meantime, get my filmmaking book FOR FREE. Just follow this link: www.FreeFilmmakingBook.com

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve been working in the industry for 7 months now full time. I tried to make a Video blog about it here -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTkoC_8dsyg. I find having just one job role helps. Don’t be a jack of all trades but a professional of one.x

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