No-Budget Filmmaking: Rise of The Backyard Indie

Like it or lump it, there are a lot of backyard indies being made each year. Thanks to inexpensive production technology, no-budget filmmaking is not only possible, but has become the norm for many first time feature filmmakers, web series producers, YouTube artists and short filmmakers.

These days any filmmaker with passion and a story can make a movie. And unlike years past, backyard indie filmmakers are not prohibited by cash or creativity.

Yet despite the no-budget filmmaking movement, many of my high profile “professional” friends in Los Angeles, have made a conscious effort to ignore the rise of backyard indies. Why?

Because no-budget filmmaking isn’t real! (At least, that’s what some of the old school pros would tell you.) When it comes to no-budget filmmaking, some common questions asked by these Hollywood hot-shots are:

  1. Who signed the SAG agreements?
  2. Who contacted the Unions?
  3. Who notified the MPAA?
  4. Where is your theatrical distribution deal?
  5. Who do you think you are?

Good questions. Why don’t you go back in time and ask Roger Corman!

But the thing is, if you create a good movie – Your audience doesn’t care if the movie was an official union indie or a backyard indie made for pocket change.

no budget filmmaking

Photo © Jacek Krol / Dollar Photo Club

No Budget Filmmaking: Rise of The Backyard Indie

The demise of traditional DVD distribution coupled with the growing market domination of iTunes, Amazon and Netflix had leveled the playing field. The big difference between a $10,000 backyard indie and a $2,000,000 dollar indie isn’t the budget – The difference revolves around the film that gets the most eyeballs (and sales).

Think about it. Hitting breakeven on a 2M feature is going to require a lot of sales.

As a rough example, to recoup 2M dollars, the filmmaker will need to to sell (roughly) 200,000 video on demand downloads at $10 a pop. These first sales will cover the 40% cost allocated to VOD providers (the real winners here), after which, the filmmaker will still need to sell an additional 200,000 downloads to repay the investors.

400,000 VOD downloads x $10 = $4,000,000 minus $2,000,000 in VOD fees = the initial $2,000,000

Meanwhile, through no-budget filmmaking, a backyard indie only has to sell 2000 VOD downloads to recover the initial 10K costs.

While nobody wants to make movies for pocket change, many filmmakers still believe we can somehow continually produce unprofitable (movie) products and expect the money and the subsequent jobs to keep rolling in.

And unlike years past, filmmakers can no longer approach investors with the cliche pitch: “Filmmaking is a risky investment – if we are lucky, we might win Sundance and get a deal.”

Now, with transparent distribution options available to all filmmakers, that line of give-me-money reasoning is reckless, no longer applicable, and in my opinion, unethical. And for these reasons, no-budget filmmaking makes a lot of sense.

Aside from the initial challenge of sales and marketing, the ripple effect reveals an even greater conundrum:

How will you raise enough money to pay your cast and crew AND still pay back your investors?

I mean, what’s the new sweet spot?

How can we once again make independent filmmaking profitable?


Here is the modern moviemaking model on how to save the movie industry.

(And you thought this was going to be your typical no-budget filmmaking article.)

To survive in this ever changing world of indie filmmaking, we have to change our strategy.

Instead of focusing on making that one big awesome indie, we now need to focus on building a genre specific movie library and spend all of our downtime building a ginormously targeted email list.

Step 1: Find your top-ten closest filmmaking collaborators. Form a company.

Step 2: Write a business plan, but instead of putting all of your focus on making one movie, concentrate on making 3-5 feature films.

Step 3: Make sure that you include a sales and marketing plan for each movie. To do this, take your proposed budget for all movies and work backwards. Start asking yourself, “How many units do we need to sell to recoup our investment?”

Step 4: In this model, instead of paying freelance day rates, you’ll have to hire long term employees and provide each with a salary and back end points (sort of like stock options) on each title.

Step 5: When the title wins, you all win. Over the years, your titles will add up. And the real compensation will come back in the form of residual movie income.

While this is not a fully refined model, it’s a start.

In my opinion, creating a sustainable business model is better than ignoring no-budget filmmaking and pretending backyard indies are not real movies.

We are experiencing a time of change.

This is the indie movie distribution equivalent of the automobile replacing the horse drawn wagon.

You can choose to ignore this movement, and you can probably succeed for a few more years. But there will come a day when all entertainment will be on-demand and cheap to produce and cheap to consume.

The question is, will you ignore the no-budget filmmaking movement and continue to play your distribution lottery ticket in hopes of winning the dream deal, or will you  join the movement and help us filmmakers figure out a way to make indie movies profitable?

If you liked this article, you’d probably benefit from these professional filmmaking tools.

Rae Dawn Chong and The Celebrant

Rae Dawn Chong is an actor, writer and producer. As the eldest daughter of comedian Tommy Chong, she started acting at age 12 appearing in Disney’s “Whiz Kids of Riverton.” Years later she is still making movies appearing in the Duplass brothers film “Jeff who lives at home” which also starred Susan Sarandon and Jason Segal.

She is currently awaiting an edit on a teaser for a pilot she wrote called”The Celebrant” which she is crowd funding on Indiegogo.

She stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share some of the filmmaking tips she is learning with her current project, The Celebrant.

Jason Brubaker
Who are you?

Rae Dawn Chong
Rae Dawn Chong last I checked.

Jason Brubaker
How did you get started in filmmaking?

Rae Dawn Chong
I directed and wrote a film in 2000 called “Cursed pt 3″ it wasn’t very good but I was hooked. a year later I directed a short film soon after called “Mary’s stigmata “which won a contest for crazy 8’s. I have been writing since first script that was produced was called “Boulevard” it was a love story. I just wrote it and suffered the fate of all writers we are as a rule treated so badly it was like a polish joke. Meanwhile I have kept at writing and finally have quite a nice collection of good pilot scripts so the first to be produced is “The Celebrant” I will star in this…the other will not have me in them but I will be all over them in other ways…

Jason Brubaker
You’ve done some acting in the past…

Rae Dawn Chong
I started acting at 11 background in a Robert Downey sr film and then my first speaking role the role where I was made to be in SAG was a Disney film for TV. From there it has been a glorious journey. behind the camera officially started in 93. The motivation was to help my then boyfriend become a bonafide DP and we were successful. Funnily enough the DP and Director benefited more doing my first film than I did. I am getting a little bit better about that.

Jason Brubaker
What did you do before making The Celebrant?

Rae Dawn Chong
I sat and waited for a call to auditions far and few between and sad…really sad.

Jason Brubaker
What inspired you to make The Celebrant?

Rae Dawn Chong
I wanted to work on a series that was deep and complicated and fresh…different real yet not reality tv.

Jason Brubaker
What is your story about?

Rae Dawn Chong
A woman who is escaping a bad marriage who settles in the Seacoast. Xila is her name it is a fish out of water story showing the human condition Xila (Sheelah) whose job in New England is as a Celebrant in essence as a witness. Someone who helps people create ceremony and maybe together get closer to the Divine.

Jason Brubaker
Why did you choose crowdfunding to raise the money?

Rae Dawn Chong
I wanted to shoot the pilot it was my only alternative.

Jason Brubaker
What have you learned about crowdfunding?

Rae Dawn Chong
A lot…it is onerous and complex and satisfying and wonderful and you do lose sleep during the campaign and I have met great new friends. Also I have fulfilled some of my perks already and that was a hoot. I am very very happy with this opportunity and am looking forward to launching more. I also think weirdly it makes me want to work very hard to make a fabulous pilot. Money is energy and people have given me their love and energy and I feel touched by that in a way that is new and motivating. Crowdfunding is a lot harder than it looks.

Jason Brubaker
What are your next steps after your crowdfunding campaign?

Rae Dawn Chong
Crewing up and deciding our production schedule…in some ways the hardest part is making sure we get the very best for no money up front. But my intention is to defer payment and make a staggeringly successful show so that I can cycle back and pay my peeps all of them their rate or at least close to their rate. I will have transparency because i want to keep making shows and will need the love and support and LOYALTY of my cast and crew.;

Jason Brubaker
Outside of money, what is your biggest challenge?

Rae Dawn Chong
Crewing up both below and above the line…attracting the very best. So far we have been blessed but it is delicate the politics and I am now in the midst ask me when I have made my first distribution deal for the show to go on a network. I am certain if by some miracle I get that far I will have a longer list of what is hard. Oh and finally I wish I were cuter! LOL sometimes it is hard to look at myself…tough.

Jason Brubaker
What advice do you have for filmmakers who want to do what you’re doing?

Rae Dawn Chong
Get a great script surround yourself with smart people who are motivated and talented and who may be difficult but they have the goods and never give up…Yes it sucks but everything sucks until it doesn’t…just head down, sleeves rolled up and get to work!

– – – –
Rae Dawn Chong is excited about the prospect of filming and living in her adopted home state of New Hampshire. She has lived in the granite state for 7 years and calls it home. She is currently on the board of the New Hampshire Film Festival which begins Oct. 16 thru 20th The film festival is held in downtown Portsmouth. She has acted in numerous feature films and starred in two television series “Mysterious Ways” on NBC/PAX and Wild Card on Lifetime television. She has also guest starred in numerous TV shows.

She hopes to continue her success with writing and producing she has 4 more pilot scripts waiting in the wings to produce and she is excited to see how successful her crowdfunding will be…the future looks bright!

Screenwriting MAD Event

If you’re currently working on your next movie script, this might be of interest to you. My screenwriting friend Jurgen Wolff is hosting another MAD (Massive Action Day) on April 9. It’s all online and it’s free.

According to Jurgen, here’s how it works:

You commit to working on some writing (or other) project that is important to you for up to 8 hours, with short breaks every hour. You plan it so you know what you’ll be doing (for instance, nobody will actually write for 8 hours, but it could be a combination: some research, some writing, some getting organized, etc.) You don’t have to participate for the full 8 hours–even four or six hours of focused effort will give you a big boost.

Everybody checks in online very briefly every hour (during the breaks) to say what they achieved in the past hour and what their goal is for the next one. These messages will be posted in our chat window and we can support each other.

Every hour Jurgen will create a five-minute live video feed to give you a little tip or motivational quote to help keep everybody motivated. During your time together, Jurgen will also randomly award some prizes, like a book or another useful item.

The MAD event starts at 9am London time on Saturday, perfect for the UK and Europe, and he will stay on the air until 2am Sunday morning so people in the US and Canada can get their full eight hours in as well. In the last event, Jurgen had participants from Russia, Bali, India and New Zealand as well!

Here are some more comments from our first MAD:

“This feels good—have been wanting to get this story sorted out for ages”…
“Amazing how much work we all do together!” …
“This is such a great way to work!” …
“I am so focused it’s as if my mind has had a kick up the backside.”

Join Jurgen and other writers from all over the globe and give your project a great shot of energy and momentum.

To reserve your spot, go here:

Let me know how it goes!

Refine Your Trailer


Image via Wikipedia

Think back to a time in filmmaking history when your greatest challenge was actually making a movie. At least the idea seemed easier.

For those of you new to independent movie making, let’s review. In the past, many first time feature filmmakers were driven by something I call “The Sundance Model.”

This is the idea where filmmakers went out, acquired or wrote a screenplay, got money, made the movie and then hoped like heck they would get into a major festival and garner a significant (and profitable deal.)

From a pure business perspective, this was a crazy way to make movies. I mean, can you name one other industry in the world that produces a product without having a solid distribution channel in place?

Can you name another industry that, once the product is made, relies on other outside people for ALL of the marketing, sales and distribution of the product?

These days things are a bit different. These days DVD distribution is dying. And with this death, the days of relying on some outside distributor to validate your work and sell it are numbered.

The upside to this modern moviemaking movement is, you can finally put all those years of creative accounting and bad deals behind you. The bad news is, as an independent filmmaker, you are going to have to add yet another hat to your overflowing rack. This time, the hat you wear will be sales and marketing.

Now before you leave a gazillion comments telling me that foreign DVD territory sales and (even) pre-sales are alive and well – I provide this disclaimer. Consider any deal that makes sense. But in the event the deal only pays you validation and a copy of your DVD, hopefully this helps you create a more profitable plan.

I also want to caution both new as well as veteran filmmakers of the following: The day is fast approaching when DVD retail will eventually join VHS, CDs, Cassette Tapes, 8-Tracks and the silly stores that used to sell them  in the great abyss of a bygone era. And rightfully so!

So all of this said, if you’re just reading filmmaking stuff for the first time,welcome!

In this community we don’t over complicate the filmmaking process. We make movies and we work to sell our movies without asking permission. And in this respect, you are reading article 5 of my 7 step process for selling your your movie on iTunes, Amazon and Netflix for Maximum profit.

So to recap, once you have sharpened your hook (pt. 1)targeted your target audience (pt. 2)set up shop (pt. 3) and created a movie sales funnel (pt. 4) you are ready to begin the process of driving traffic to your movie sales site.

Refine Your Trailer (And Promote It)

Take a look at your trailer. Is your trailer congruent with your hook and the marketing elements we covered earlier? If not, I suggest you re-cut and refine your trailer to make sure your marketing message is consistent.

In doing this you will have to find the balance between showing enough to sell your movie and giving away so much that you spoil the story. And since your movie trailer will be posted on various websites, you should also add a title card with a link to your movie website.

The internet is full of places where you can upload and post your trailer. But out of all of them, YouTube is top-notch. Aside from being the second largest search engine on earth, the service also incorporates a built-in social networking component that allows people to comment and discuss your movie and create community around your title.

This is important because word-of-mouth indicates what people like and dislike about your movie. And as you will soon learn, more discussion (good or bad) equals more sales.

Since YouTube records the number of views, this is also a great indication of how well your trailer is being received. If viewership is low, refine your title, tags and description to complement your niche subject matter. Martial Arts Movie? One tag might be “Karate” or “Kung Fu.”

After tweaking and re-tweaking your description, if viewership is still stagnant, consider cutting, tweaking and testing multiple versions of your trailer. For more information on how to market and sell your movie, visit

Movie Sales Funnel | Sell Your Movie PT 4

Layers of a typical sales funnel.

Image via Wikipedia

Filmmaking is changing. Like it or not, if you want to make a living making movies, you need to learn about the business side of independent movie making. And if this is your first time on filmmaking stuff, you are reading step 4 of a 7 part series on How To Sell Your Movie On iTunes, Amazon and Netflix For Maximum Profit.

So picking up where we left off, once you have sharpened your hook and targeted your target audience, and set up shop in the popular VOD marketplaces, your next step is to create a movie sales funnel.

Step 4 of 7 – Create Your Movie Sales Funnel

To set up an internet movie sales funnel, you will have to modify your website to funnel all traffic towards a sale. This can be achieved easily by removing all the potentially distracting content from your site including production photos, press kits and actor bios. Once removed, further emphasis should be placed on your trailer, your about page, and most importantly, your “buy now” buttons.

Most of your visitors will exit your website and never return. So to increase your odds of converting these visitors into paying customers, you will want to create ways to capture visitor contact information. One easy way is by creating a Facebook page for your movie and then placing a Facebook link on your site. This way, once your visitor joins your movie’s Facebook community, the added social proof of like-minded fans touting the joys of your movie may increase your sales. This goes for Twitter and other social networking communities too.

But because many social networking sites run the risk of going out of vogue, you will want to migrate your fans off the social networks and get them into your own mailing list. For this, I recommend using a third-party email marketing service such as Aweber.  Aweber provides ease of service. As soon as you sign up for one of their inexpensive accounts, you can easily create a way for your fans to connect with you. For example, if you would like over $47 dollars in FREE filmmaking tools simply enter your info into my Awber opt in box below.

If you just signed up, you will get an email. You will need to first, confirm your subscription. After you confirmed, you probably noticed how you were redirected to a “Thank You Page.” And on that page you were able to download all sorts of premium filmmaking tools, for free.

This is called permission based marketing. Because I have built some trust with you, you decided to give me permission to send you useful filmmaking information. While I am obviously utilizing list-building to create a more meaningful relationship with filmmakers (and YOU), this model can be (and should be) applied to your own movie business. But instead of giving away filmmaking books and audio courses, you might consider allowing your prospective movie audience to download a free movie soundtrack.

The reason why I stress Audience List Building so much in my Filmmaking model is because no matter what happens in distribution, the size of your targeted audience list  (a community of people who know you and your work) – this will determine your rate of success over your long-term career. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Three Tips for building your Audience List:

  1. From now on, as soon as you have a website, start buiding your list.
  2. Put your website on your business card.
  3. Collect names and email addresses at film festivals.

Companies like Aweber allow you to manage your email communication with thousands of fans. And since reputable email companies have good relationships with internet service providers, the odds of your movie newsletter ending up in spam folders is decreased.

[box style=”notice”] For more information on how to market and sell your movie, visit[/box]