by Stacey Parks
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 filmmakers 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 and 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 (i.e., 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.
Stacey Parks is a film distribution expert with over 16 years experience working with independent filmmakers. As a Foreign Sales Agent for several years she secured distribution for hundreds of independent features and programs worldwide. Stacey is the author of ‘The Insider’s Guide to Independent Film Distribution’ (Focal Press). Her website is www.FilmSpecific.com.