In case you haven’t noticed, filmmaking is changing. With the emergence of awesomely great DSLR technology, making a movie is getting cheaper.
In years past, the cash threshold necessary to propel a project into production was cost prohibitive. This alone served as a major obstacle to most every aspiring independent filmmaker. Add the need for complex technology and the skilled professionals necessary for the equipment, it’s it’s easy to understand why most would-be feature filmmakers never took action.
For example, in years past, if you wanted to create an awesome picture (on a budget), you shot Super 16mm – And later, if the film was picked up, you could easily blow up Super 16mm picture to 35mm. And, I repeat – these steps were once considered an affordable option.
And let’s say you decided to follow this “economic” filmmaking route – if so, you had to raise enough money to not only cover the film and equipment, but you paid for your DP, your camera operator, someone to pull focus, someone to load the film, someone to lay dolly track and someone else to push your dolly – and once the film was in the can, you paid to get the film processed, create dailies, get it color corrected, transferred to video, edited and blown up to 35mm.
Then you crossed your fingers. . .
“UGH! Can you imagine trying to make movies like that? It makes very little sense. Especially now.”
Everything has changed. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve heard anybody in the filmmaking community seriously consider shooting their first feature on film. And why would they? These days, if you want to make a great looking movie, you grab your $2,000 DSLR camera and you start shooting.
That’s it. No film stock. No silly processing costs. No silly blow up costs. You simply take your camera out of the bag, point and shoot.
Then you edit on your computer and upload to several of the video on demand websites and that’s it. You’ve created a product (your movie) and you have taken your product to market (via digital self distribution).
AMAZING! (Or is it?)
Seriously. For producers, the evolution of DSLR is totally awesome. For all below the line crew working to make a living – this isn’t so good.
Using my previous example, let’s compare shooting Super 16mm to shooting on a DSLR. Take out an eraser and eliminate 80% of everything I just mentioned. No more need for heavy dolly track and a dolly. No more need for the person pushing the heavy-duty dolly. Eliminate your focus puller and your film loader. Eliminate a few production assistants. And totally eliminate film processing. Not necessary.
This shift in filmmaking technology is going to create more and more projects. And unlike years past when making a movie required a gazillion dollars, the modern filmmaker can now produce viable projects “out of pocket.”
And yes, while many of the screenplays will continue to suck, rest assured that the picture will look good.
“OK. What’s the downside to modern film production?”
Producers no longer need a million dollars to make a good looking picture. Simply put, this is bad for the freelancer community.
Let’s say you’re a filmmaker looking to hire a sound guy. Normally you would have to pay him $500 dollars or more per day (which is a low figure for some, I know). Well if you’re a filmmaker shooting your first feature on a budget, are you really going to pay that day rate?
You’ll probably find a sound guy and get him to bring his own equipment, and you’ll offer to pay him peanuts. And if he doesn’t take the job, you’ll find someone else to replace him.
And this is the problem with modern filmmaking. There is an overwhelming supply of product in the marketplace, a glut of manufacturing – and revisiting economics 101 – your production (AKA, your indie film) can now be produced cheaply. (Sure, your product might be junk? But I’m not debating that here.)
Think of it this way, in years past, producing goods in an assembly line required hundreds of man hours. But as technology evolved, many of these jobs were replaced by robots. Well, the same can be said for many freelance production professionals. More movies, minus less budget money and something’s gotta give.
“So why don’t indie film producers just raise more money?”
Couple an ever growing glut of movie products coming into the marketplace with a measurable erosion in traditional distribution deals, and you can understand that the indie movie industry is saturated with an over supply of movies and less outlets.
So given these unfavorable odds of a big payday, why would any filmmaker risk a few million on a budget with increasingly less opportunities for a traditional deal?
In this regard, the only option is for producers to keep their budgets low. That way, in the event these filmmakers do not garner a traditional distribution deal, they can at least recoup some of the budget through digital self distribution.
So how can freelancers make a living making movies?
First of all, I’ve been talking about low budget indie feature films. Freelancers can still find work in the corporate, industrial, BIG budget and commercial world. And if you’re going to make a living working solely on low budget, independent pictures, I suggest you consider tweaking your strategy.
1. Get a job to pay the bills and then start producing your own movies. Seriously. I’m sure you’ve probably worked with a few morons and thought “I should be making my own movies.” So DO IT! (I’ll now plug one of Jason Brubaker’s products.)
2. If you don’t want to produce your own movies, then do this. In addition to your day rate – or whatever deal those producers try to throw at you. . . Ask for back end points and at least an associate producer credit.
For clarification, what I’m suggesting is different than deferred pay. I’m suggesting you get your hands on a piece of the action. You’ll want to get a lawyer to draw up the paperwork – but imagine owning one percent and a producer credit on 100 movies. Some of those movies will hit. And when they do, you could potentially get a nice stream of cash.
Think about this – what if you got $50 dollars a month from 25 movies (25×50=$1250per month) – for life? In this regard, you would have an extra 12K per year in addition to your other work. Not great, but better than nothing, right?
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I don’t know if this sounds impossible or not to you. But with all these changes, including DSLR technology as well as digital self distribution, we can only expect things to change even more. The future of filmmaking is a broad topic and I welcome your thoughts and comments.