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
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.