6 Dirty Secrets: How to Make Money as a Filmmaker
A new video series from Zacuto spills the secrets to making a living as an emerging filmmaker.
"The single least talked-about thing in our industry is making money," says producer/editor Steve Weiss in a new video series from Zacuto. He's not wrong; industry-wide, we are struggling to finance our movies, let alone make ends meet in a market that is constantly in flux. (Alejandro Jodorowsky, on the other hand, proclaims to make movies to lose money.)
So, what is a filmmaker to do? Zacuto's five-part series has some answers. DPs Jens Bogehegn and Kevin Otterness and Executive Producer Phil Wnuk join Weiss in a roundtable discussion. Watch all five videos and see below for the most important takeaways.
1. Be a 'predator'
The key to being marketable as a filmmaker, says Weiss, is to become a jack of all trades. The most in-demand position on the market right now? The producer-director-editor, otherwise known as the "predator."
"People are asking for producers who can shoot and edit," Weiss says.
"Graduates coming out of school can make money right away if they have a knowledge in each [filmmaking] category," Bogehegn added. "That way, if a job opens up, you can take it. And you can start your own production company, then move to the bigger stuff."
2. Go corporate
"Films schools are a business," Weiss cautions. "They're selling a dream. It's American Idol. I always ask students coming out of film school, 'Would you rather do weddings and corporate jobs and make one short film a year, or work at Starbucks and make one short film a year? They say Starbucks."
That's the wrong answer, according to Weiss. "There's no way in hell you're going to make a movie and see it play in a major-run movie theater," he added. Film students can't expect to come right out of the gate and be offered their directorial debut. Instead, young filmmakers are better served to get their feet wet in corporate videos. "Treat them like features," says Weiss.
Wnuk agrees. "What it all comes down to is relationship development, and you get that from corporate videos and small productions."
3. BYO audience
"Build your audience yourself and get three million viewers, and the feature money will come," Weiss says. "The web is the way."
Some ways to build your audience: shoot educational content, behind-the-scenes footage, shootouts, or inspirational material that is easily shareable. Weiss also recommends you take to YouTube with some heavy-hitting imagery. "Your video thumbnail is your marketing tool," he says.
And remember: "When you gather a lot of people in an audience, you need to sell them shit," says Weiss.
4. Keep the budgets low
"Netflix will pay you up to $100,000 to license your movie," claims Weiss. "That's great—if you made it for $30,000."
5. Always be hustling
"In terms of running a production company, getting the work is the hardest part," advises Wnuk. "The creatives are expendable, so have someone on [new business] full-time."
6. Knock on the doors of the future
"When cable dies, companies will have their own shows—Ford, Target, etc.," says Weiss. "The future of the indie film community is in companies making shows. I mean, look at Amazon!"