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Can you actually make money making indie movies? And do people actually watch indie movies??

Let me start off very quickly by giving you a bit of back story about my situation and I would be very interested to hear what others have to say.

I've made a number of movies (shorts and 3 features) as well as various promo videos, etc.
I have had distribution for my features, I basically gave them away hoping to see some kind of a return but understanding I will probably never see a penny, so I decided to stop investing my own money into features, move away from film making for a while and start up my own businesses in other industries - to make money!!
But I have recently got the bug to make another feature and this is where I have these questions...

The problem is, I don't know anyone who watches b-movies or indie movies, they don't even know where to look even if they wanted to watch them, and this makes me nervous as to how I could gain from this!
I am guessing you guys on here do watch indie films, as I sometimes do, it is after all our common interest, but I am talking about the general public who mainly go to the multiplex's or watch box-sets on Netflix, etc.

Can a person like Roger Corman survive nowadays the way he made movies back in the day and made money doing it? The b-movie scene has disappeared over there, hasn't it? They used to have 'drive ins' screening two movies back to back, showing a b-movie first then the Main Attraction, as we did apparently in the UK, from what my parents tell me anyway.
Now, I know we have the internet now, but I kind of see this as a double sided coin, yes it means we can have our films shown, but because we have so much content to sieve through, we barely watch a minute of footage before we are bored and switch over.
We are giving our movies away for free so at least people will see them, probably. The guys at TROMA have put all there films on YouTube for free!

Also, do the general public PAY to watch an indie movie to download or stream? I'm guessing not many do as I know many film makers who have never seen a penny from distributors?? I'm not saying distributors aren't paying out as from what I can see the public just ain't watching!

I want to stress to you that I am not wanting to make films to further my career to work on other people films, I want to make films like Roger Corman did who was making films for his own company and selling through his own channels. Realistically can this be done in the UK or abroad?
I want to make movies and make a bit of money on the side, no one wants to be a starving artist :)

I am really intrigued to hear what others have to say on these issues and have any pointers. Thanks for reading and all the best in your ventures.

  • Corman has a following of his own, Troma make very b-movie stuff but have a following again. It's not mainstream but their budgets are also not mainstream.

    Indie films are not necessarily generic b-movies though, it's also a more experimental sector and sometimes the artistry shines through and makes a modest hit. Sold internationally, TV residuals etc., indie films can make modest income for some people. Recent project I was on has sold in India and South America. Just watching 'A Way With Murder' on TV in the middle East, someone somewhere well get paid for the exhibition, even though it has approaching zero interest on imdb. A film once made lasts forever, so i guess a few hundred bucks now and again can make a large volume of films viable.

    4 years ago
  • If I was selling a movie I'd never sell it as an indie movie, I'd sell it as a movie.

    If I was making a movie that I wanted to sell, I'd make sure that I was making something people might want to buy. And that I had the resources required to cover the cost of sale.

    If I wanted it to make money, I'd speak to a lot of buyers before I started in order to maximize the odds of getting it right.

    Once of the reasons why I like to focus on the writing side - having been in business for many years I am all too aware of how much time, effort and MONEY a business minded approach to film making requires:-)

    And if I didn't care about sales, I'd make what I damned well liked, and not whinge. Which was my community media hat :-)

    4 years ago
  • Thanks Paddy and Marlom for your responses.

    You're right Paddy, both Corman and Troma have a following which has carried them through the decades. But if Corman and Troma set up today, brand new in the last few years or so, would they now have the same success they had when they first started out?

    Thanks Marlom, I don't think I would tag my movie as an indie movie, but neither would I tag it as a mainstream movie - I can't compete with superheroes saving the world from exploding in 3D. :)

    Absolutely Marlom, you made a valid point, "I'd make sure I was making something people want to buy". After all this is a movie business and a film is a product. In business you pick a niche and you buy or make a product you think will make money in that sector. So I have chosen a genre which is popular and fits our resources.

    I also think you hit the nail on the head with speaking to buyers first. I would absolutely go down this road.

    WHAT DO YOU GUYS THINK OF THIS IDEA?
    Also in business/marketing there is a term called "split-testing". I have 3 films I would like to make and think have potential to make a little return (if it's actually possible). I was thinking of making trailers for each of the 3 films first and "split-testing" them to see which ones were the most popular and, as Marlon mentioned, talk to buyers about your findings from doing this, which just might help your chances???

    4 years ago
  • I have reservations about making trailers before the films - a trailer should be the best bits of a movie, which are likley to be some of the more 'money' scenes. If you shoot those scenes without the story bits in between, then you're shooting the story effectively as pickups with potentially a different crew/cast half a year later in the snow instead of sunshine ... well you may as well reshoot the money shots so it's coherent. In which case it wasn't a trailer.

    If you're shooting the best bits of 3 projects, you may as well finish one properly to my mind, but as ever I will be very happy to be proved wrong :-)

    4 years ago
  • There's a missing link about Corman here. I worked for a film company back in the 80s called "Canon Films". Man, did they pump out the product. But they used the Corman Model: fund the film with pre-sales. Like Corman, they'd make posters, sometimes trailers and the like, and head for the world film markets like Cannes, MiFed, and AFM. They'd sell to territories for a film that wasn't made yet and use that money to make the film. That's why they never lost a dime. Any additional sales after the film was completed was just icing on the cake. But piracy has killed that outlet. Absolutely killed it. The last time I heard of a small film being made with pre-sales was probably 15 years ago. Larger budgets can still get funded that way (20 to 30 million), but if you don't have a couple of huge names, that's never going to happen.

    Here's where your problem probably is: you're expecting some kind of theatrical release, or direct to DVD. Where B movies thrive nowadays is on cable networks. "Sharknado" anyone? If you can make it cheap enough, you can make a profit. But that means under 100,000 dollars.

    Probably the most prolific country for direct to DVD is Japan. They have strong anti-piracy laws, and B movies thrive there. Perhaps you should think of a film that would appeal to Japanese teens.

    Market testing your trailers is fine as long as you get a large enough sample. And how in the world do you do that? The shorts that get people directing gigs all seem to be special efx driven projects that go viral on youtube. A buddy of mine edited the latest re-boot of "The Evil Dead." The director was a first timer that did a short of alien ships attacking a city. And it was no more than that.

    I'm not sure if Corman could survive today. While the web has many paid outlets like Netflix and Amazon, they don't pay well, and that's an overstatement. On Demand pays better, but if your audience has a choice of paying $5 bucks, or stealing it, they'll probably steal it.

    Unless you have a solid "indie film" that hits like Juno or Little Miss Sunshine, I think your best bet is a one time sale to a cable network or distributor. But that also means gearing a film toward a specific network. Syfy is bad efx driven films. Lifetime is schmaltzy "women" driven stories. Hallmark is schmaltzy "family" stories. So I'd take one of your ideas and really gear it toward what the networks buy. Which means watching a lot of crap on a lot of different networks to see what was a successful sale.

    4 years ago
    • Dan, I wish I was in the US and we could meet up for a coffee, I would love to hear stories of your time working at Canon Films!
      Thanks very much for your reply it has really helped and I completely agree with you on what you've just said.

      It is such a shame it has come to this. I would love to produce low budget action movies, horror movies etc, if there were better outlets to make a return on.
      I don't mind gearing a film toward a specific network if this venture is worth while? I didn't think about marketing more towards the Japanese, I will look into this.

      I think the general audience's diet of films have changed. Forgive me for sounding 'old school' but we had places to go to where we could physically see the choice of films (mainstream & b-movie), those places have now gone, rental shops, drive in's, independent cinemas, a double feature showing a b-movie before the main... We had a physical product, cool artwork on a sleeve or a poster on the shop wall to tempt us to watch an indie movie we haven't heard of before.

      Don't get me wrong the internet is still good but I also think it has killed off any chance of seeing any return of investment. As you rightly said "if your audience had a choice of paying $5, or stealing it, they'll probably steal it.
      Now the public's diet mainly consists of an expensive trip to the Odeon to watch ONLY a mainstream movie loaded with effects. The public won't go to the cinema to watch a thriller genre because the ticket price is so high they don't feel they're getting their money's-worth as there are no big effects.
      If this is what an audience expects every time they see a movie, in all honesty, what hope do we have to compete?

      This is a quote from William Friedkin (director of The Exorcist, The French Connection)

      "…The kind of films I once loved and still do are rarely made now. The action sequences for which my colleagues and I were celebrated now seem relics of another age. Computer wizards have rendered them old-fashioned. The heroes of today's films are super-heroes. The villains are super-bad. The world explodes every day on a movie screen. After total destruction and annihilation, whats left?…" William Friedkin (director of The Exorcist, The French Connection)

      Thanks very much for your input.

      4 years ago
    • @PHILIP WEST I agree with Friedkin. But the studios also self perpetuate the idea of who spends money at the movies. Teen boys was the market. Then Twilight was an unexpected hit, so they realized teen girls went to the movies too. Shocking! If they just made films for adults, they might realize we go to the movies too. "The Kings Speech" comes to mind.

      4 years ago
  • I think the great modern model is what is being done by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij - check out their interviews in itunes - The Q&A WITH JEFF GOLDSMITH, firstly they spend ages talking through the story until they know it by heart and could tell it to a stranger. Then they write it. They shot SOUND OF MY VOICE over a couple of weeks with limited locations. The strong point is the story and the performances they got from their actors. Although this film is very very low-budget they play to their strengths. In the same year Brit also co-wrote and starred in ANOTHER EARTH... shot over two weeks during Christmas, using family homes and cars. They have an amazing car crash scene, and when you hear how they achieved it you have to admire their ingenuity. And that's what it is; ingenuity. Both films were accepted into Sundance the same year and they sold, but the better result was that those films got them $5 million to make The East which is terrific. As to who watches indie movies? People like me do. Rent them from Lovefilm or stream them from Lovefilm or Netflix. Their value is that they exist at all. Rupert Wyatt made The Escapist - I heard Brian Cox interviewed, saying he did it for free because he loved the script. It's a low budget indie for sure, but where did it lead? Rupert's very next assignment was $100 + million 'Rise of the planet of the apes' which is excellent. So it all starts with story, then the ingenuity to make the most of what you have. Think I'm going to make one myself.....

    4 years ago
    • I don't disagree with you, Spencer, but you're talking about the rare examples. I think what Philip is talking about is how to make indies a business. Netflix, for example, pays very little to stream an indie for 1 or 2 years (as low as 1200 bucks). So that model isn't viable, no matter how many people watch. Nowadays it seems those indie filmmakers are making a no budget film for a ticket into Hollywood, because they know the odds of making money on indie work, no matter how good, is nearly impossible. Where I think many of you have it over me, is that I'm just too old to ask people to work for free. I just can't do it.

      One idea that's been floating around here in Hollywood, is to connect ticket prices to the actual cost of the film. So a million dollar film might cost $5, and the big budget studio film would be more in line with current ticket prices (here in L.A., around $15). Personally, I think that's a brilliant idea. But theater owners are fighting that scheme to their last breath--as they are VOD release on the same day as theatrical.

      Not too long ago, studios would tell a theater chain that if you want our summer blockbusters, you have to show this indie film we're distributing. But studios aren't making or supporting those small films in longer. And if they do, no longer blackmail the theatre chains. But if the theatre chains want to stay viable in this ever changing landscape, they'll have to adopt something like variable ticket prices sooner or later.

      4 years ago
  • This is a most apposite discussion. I recently posted in another discussion about business models.

    “The biggest emerging opportunities in my opinion are to be found within the Internet itself, firstly as a means of networking for collaborators, and you will need to find some excellent ones, raising budgets through various forms of crowd funding, of which things like Kick Starter are very far from being definitive and secondly because of new types of free to view distribution models sponsored by all manner of groups, various forms of commercial advertising and fully front loaded production schemes. The days of gargantuan budgets must surely be numbered too, due to them being increasingly unnecessary? Remember when corporate websites cost tens of millions and a decent ‘non linear’ edit system cost half a million and more? Those cost have not just been decimated, they’ve evaporated.

    The real issue with the above is that the traditional hegemony and monopolies of opportunity are not what they were. We’ll be seeing a lot more high impact Internet based projects. What remains unchanged however is that both quality and content are king!”

    Just to clarify further.

    Crowd funding beyond Kick Starter and the like includes; making films that strike a resonance with large identifiable and particularly campaigning groups accessed through central organising administrations.

    Front Loaded Budgets include. Making films that will be distributed freely, making them much more likely to be distributed widely. Front loading means the entire budget, including perfectly reasonable profit/fee margins, are raised before production. Again those large groups can provide this but also commercial sponsorship and product placement. The free and wide distribution element is central to this model.

    Clearly these models have the limitation of needing to be attractive to big enough audiences to satisfy the funder’s aspirations; however the international long tail model provided by digital age platforms makes even relatively niche interest content viable.

    Another intriguing idea is that for a mere £2m up to five million DVDs can be pressed in Asia including posting them to over four million addresses with an estimated audience of up to 12m people! that's better than any UK TV audience. Other platforms include attaching DVDs to newspapers and magazines at no cost to the publications and giving DVDs away at the checkout at supermarkets. Producers and funders can use any or all combinations of distribution to ensure cost effectiveness that exceeds the traditional methods. Clearly thoughtfully tailoring a productions ability to dovetail into other folks projects is key without necessarily affecting the integrity of a production.

    Some folk charge £199 plus VAT for not much more, in effect, than the above!

    4 years ago
    • Sorry, John, but that model is a pipe dream. Advertisers are not going to pay an indie for product placement. Sure, they may supply the product as they do now, but unless Tom Cruise is holding your box of cornflakes, or get James Bond to change the car he drives, they aren't going to pay squat. What advertisers in features need is big names and guaranteed distribution. None of which an indie can supply.

      4 years ago
    • Whether or not a particular project can benefit from product placement the other models I mention are certainly not pipe dreams. But even with regard to product placement the issue is about audience demographics which as you point out is currently more about features with big names etc. That however is not a law of physics written on a tablet of stone. The Air Marshals of the first world war refused to believe that the monoplane would take air superiority from biplanes right up until just five years before the second world war kicked off, because they based their thinking on out dated presumptions. The dinosaurs ruled the earth right up until one second before the asteroid that wiped them out changed reality.

      New models for commercial sponsorship and product placement will viably emerge because the ability to reach large audiences is no longer the sole domain of big media corporations. By allowing audiences to receive product freely at home and through a whole host of vectors those large audiences can be achieved with much smaller budgets, which in turn means that the level of sponsorship as a ratio of cost to demographics will also be cheaper whilst being no less effective for both sponsor and producers.

      We old hands and those of us fixed in the ivory towers of passing reality constructions should not take our own cases to be a generality.

      4 years ago
    • @John Lubran
      Your ideas are pretty much the model the techies have told us will 'work' for music- and as a composer and still occasional 'record'- maker I can tell you they certainly haven't happened yet. Have you seen the Popcorn Time website yet? Just about every single major film and TV show, easily viewable and absolutely free. If 'illegal'. People will always get something for free if they can, and the same basic collapse in musicians' income from indie work is now kicking in hard in film as well. These proposed new 'models' just don't work for indies. No one is going to fund you when there's no obvious income stream. No one is going to buy a DVD when it's all on torrent, and I've never seen any indie film given away on a magazine cover. The best hope for filmmakers isn't 'film' - it's TV. That's where 'indie' film has gone, now that Hollywood only makes blockbusters. Forget cinema release, go looking for TV budgets instead. Kickstarter ... Forget it, the public is bored of it already unless it's an interesting physical product.

      4 years ago
    • @Tom Green - I'm not sure you've fully considered what I've been saying? I'm not up to speed with how the models I've suggested would work with purely music products. If you revisit what I've been saying you'll notice that I'm talking about front loading projects with funding that covers budgets including paying wages, reasonable business profits and every cost required to be met. This model welcomes pirates, free screeners and any and every distribution platform. The more the merrier because it's all about reaching as big an audience as possible for the benefit of the funders. It's a model that has no need of earning a single penny from distribution. Clearly there are a lot of genres that won't be attractive for such funders, who may not necessarily be commercial funders, they may be campaigners with aspirations other than a merely seeking a profit on capital.

      As ever though content that has empathy for audiences rather than for the creative artists own self expression and esteem is essential. I can well imagine that the public may well be tired of such egocentrically inspired arts on kickstarter and the like. Nevertheless crowd funding for altruistically aspirational projects remains stronger than ever.

      4 years ago
  • I've just seen the trailer for the Roger Corman documentary "Corman's World" and he made a point in saying that making films now is easier but the distribution on the other hand is a lot more difficult, the mainstream studios dominate more than they ever did and to the large extent the independents are being frozen out...
    I've noticed he now primarily makes movies for the Sy-Fi channel, which is an area Dan mentioned to possible try tapping into.

    Thanks Peter for your response, the only difference from my point of view is I would be punching above my weight. I don't care to make a film in the mainstream because I know that will never happen. I also don't care for the films the studios are making, it's all aimed towards teenagers and I don't want to make the films that are coming out.

    I can make a movie for next to nothing.
    I made my first horror feature film for just over £1,000 (about $2,000).
    I made my 2nd feature, the one filmed in one uncut 80 minute take I mentioned earlier, for under £10,000 (approx $16,000).
    I purposely kept them small to increase the chances of seeing a return on investment. I doubt I will see any money from the distributor.

    Thanks also John for your input, but all this seems to be 'punching above my weight' again, I'd rather keep it all low-fi. Having said that, loosely regarding your point about product placement, I had another brain-wave to try and make it worth my while busting a gut making a product (this time a web-series people can watch for free).
    I was going to shoot it locally, have the story unfold around our large area (roughly the size of London) and I would fund this by encouraging locals to pay us to advertise them within the story. We would write some scenes around the product placement. And yes, it would be a bit tongue-in-cheek, which would be it's charm...
    I haven't pursued this any further as I'm not convinced there would be much interest from businesses for this or even an audience - friends of businesses may watch it and share it, maybe, but who knows. What do you think?

    It's obvious you can NOT make a full-time living making indie movies, those days are long gone, so maybe a part-time business making movies?
    I have my own successful business and I would like to make a movie on the side without losing money, I am done funding my own movies.

    I am searching for a way to make exploitation movies with loads of action, gore, fun & excitement that people can watch over a beer (the way that the Sy-Fi channel make countless "Shark" exploitation movies).
    And I'd make them cheap, for £5,000 ($8,000). I have all the equipment so no need to rent lights, cameras, etc.

    I was thinking of following the huge crowd using Kickstarter. Make a trailer, like I said before, and get some art work made up, a striking poster and a campaign video. I run a business making merchandise so it's cheap for me to make goodies like t-shirts, etc to give to potential investors, if that's the kind of thing they go for. I'll spend some time making a campaign, get written about and pledge for the £5,000.
    I suppose I could test the idea of product placement from local businesses too, but again, I'm not holding my breath.
    The only downside is we will probably not reach our £5,000 goal, which doesn't matter because at least I didn't bust a gut making the film with my own cash, which I did every time.

    4 years ago
    • £5000 is reachable on kickstarter but you need to structure a good campaign and account for the cost of the promises which is far higher than people usually imagine (remember postage, packaging and time).

      4 years ago
  • Phillip, I don't think that anything is 'punching above your weight' You clearly have the energy, enterprise, film making know how and organisational skills. You also have imagination and creativity. What empowers all that is access to knowledge and essentially, excellent and symbiotic collaborators, technical, creative and producorial. Your local business concept is no less challenging than going for a larger model.

    4 years ago
  • Has making indies every been a business? Arguably Corman was a rare example as well. I will concede because of the Internet and piracy perhaps making indie money is even rarer--though more because the Internet killed television, which was able to make big bucks in ad money, than freeloaders.

    On the other hand, look at all of the VC money flying at the flimsiest tech start up concepts. Maybe not for traditional Big Screen, feature-length cinema, but I feel there's potentially *some money to be had from pioneering new ways to milk added value out of video product.

    4 years ago
    • Yes, indie films were viable through the 60s, 70s, 80s, and most of the 90s. They did make money. They created a shit load of jobs. Here in the U.S., films were a great tax shelter until about '79, when the government closed that loop-hole. Name just about any film that came out in the 70s, and the odds are that it was independently financed and produced. In the 80s, you couldn't throw a stick in this town (L.A.) without hitting a distributor. The early to mid 90s were awash in indie product, and a lot of filmmakers built their careers then.

      Peter, if you find a way to milk some dollars out of product, let me know! Seriously!

      4 years ago
  • In the US the JOBS Act is being described as a potential game changer for independent filmmakers and producers, allowing them to find equity investors by selling shares of their films through portals such as earlyshares.com or slated.com, as opposed to taking donations via Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Does anybody know whether such a model is applicable in Europe?

    4 years ago
    • It's a great idea, but unfortunately, the Jobs Act is stuck in congress. Why? Because anything that Obama wants to do, they are against. I'm not kidding. Anything. While it has made some progress, Title III is yet to be finalized. It's an amazing idea and opportunity. Let's hope these things get passed into law soon!

      4 years ago
    • Yes, a friend has just got the *first ever* equity funded film through seedrs here in the UK

      4 years ago
    • @Paddy Robinson-Griffin Holy crap, Paddy, that's great. It's an amazing model. Any links to doing this sort of thing in the U.K.?

      4 years ago
    • @Dan Selakovich Well they used it for a part of the overall budget (the site isn't as big as kickstarter), but it's potentially the start of a new model. I can see it would be great for gap/completion finance - once you actually have something to show people that you're credible (but can't convince a bank...)

      4 years ago
    • As far as I understand, the potential of this model lies in the fact that instead of having to convince a bank one can try and convince a number of smaller accredited investors to back their project. Unlike with Kickstarter, though, it relies on the investors being able to make a profit.

      4 years ago
    • @Adriano Cirulli I don't know about the U.K. version, but the U.S. version is trying to break the idea of who an investor is. It used to be that the SEC would only allow you to approach 32 (if I remember correctly) potential investors (this law was broken on a consistent basis). The rules the current administration is trying to change is basically this: the money anyone invests in say, a kickstarter campaign is exactly that; an investment. Not a donation. So you can have pretty much as many investors as you need to reach your goal. What they are currently trying to figure out is how to limit fraud on these types of campaigns. As far as profit goes, that's not a necessary requirement. Most film investments lose money, and that has to be spelled out in the prospectus. But I would prefer that to current kickstarter campaigns. I gave 10 bucks to a filmmaker who reached her 80,000 dollar goal. That was 3 months ago and she hasn't even started shooting yet. George Takei gave her thousands. I wonder what he's thinking right now. I don't think she'll ever shoot this movie.

      Adriano, what Paddy is talking about from a bank is Gap funding: you're 8 million dollars shy of your 30 million dollar budget, so an entertainment bank loan fills that gap. It's not an investment, but a loan. Gap funding is pretty common, but comes with its own set of problems. There are quite a few banks here in L.A. that have entertainment divisions for just this type of funding.

      4 years ago
    • @Dan Selakovich. Thanks for the clarifications. I'm not sure how all that translates here in the UK as we have no equivalent to the JOBS Act as far as I know.
      At the moment in the UK I don't think pledges on Kickstarter or Indiegogo can be considered investments from a tax point of view, but I might be wrong. I haven't been able to find clear and reliable sources of information on these matters yet.
      So far I have not heard of people who have taken money raised through a crowfunding campaign and disappeared, but delays are very common, not only on film campaigns.

      4 years ago
    • @Adriano Cirulli - Crowdfunding "investments" are only investments if they stand to gain from any profits. But even if they are (UK law), you're in Capital Gains territory and so such losses would only be used to offset a gain if you made a gain over your annual exemption. Most people never do.

      4 years ago
  • Whilst it's probably true that most investors using Seedrs are looking for a profit there will be some who want to get involved with projects, for a whole range of reasons, where profit per se is not everything. Just as with other schemes, high net tax payers can divert a good part of their funds that would otherwise be due to the taxman to tax deductible investments, not only does this class of investor have less to lose, they can have some aspirational satisfaction, or in some cases gain a foothold in something exponential and may even make a profit! The metaphor about thinking out of the box may be a cliche but nevertheless remains increasingly pertinent in these unprecedented times of new and emerging opportunities.

    4 years ago
  • There must be a way to at least make your money back on a solid £10,000 indie genre film. I know you can't make anything on shorts but thought features were different. :/ I'm currently writing my first feature which is why I haven't liked reading this.

    4 years ago
    • As long as it's not stolen, you can make money on a 10 grand picture if it truly is solid.

      But I question these micro budgets I keep hearing about. Everybody's example is Robert Rodriguez $7,000 movie. First, that's a 25,000 dollar mix, easy. To blow up from 16 to 35mm at that time ran about 32,000 dollars. When all is said and done, I'm sure that film topped $100,000, not including P and A.

      So you can mix in your living room. OK. But that eliminates a theatrical release for most of the distributors. Do you know how to edit dialogue so there are no holes in your tracks? Are you doing your own Sound FX editing as well? That's an art in itself too. What about color timing? Are your colors even legal for broadcast? Do you know how to do that? Are you shooting 4k? Another necessity for a theatrical nowadays. Do you have E and O insurance? Any distributor or network is going to require that. Do you know what an M and E mix is and how to do it? Another requirement for distribution to foreign territories. There's a laundry list of deliverables that I won't go into, but they all cost money. People think that they're going to make the next great indie film and the distributor is going to pick up these costs. And sometimes they do. But it's a huge negotiating point, and they'll use it to screw you. There's a section of the Sundance Festival of films looking for finishing funds. Distributors know these filmmakers are broke, and pick over the rotting flesh of these poor guys, because they know the filmmakers are broke and just trying to pay rent. If you want to make a profit, never ever show an unfinished film to a distributor, kids. They will eat you alive.

      I don't mean to be a Debby Downer, here. But it's best to go in with your eyes wide open to the reality of the industry.

      4 years ago
    • @Dan Selakovich Actually and unsurprisingly I'm inclined to agree with your budget level comments. I suspect the problem comes from Hollywood liking to promote either how expensive or cheap a film was, and including or excluding costs according to needs. £10k won't cover legal fees, insurance, promotion, indirect costs etc., it is even unlikely to cover raw production costs, but makes for a good headline!

      Even a team of 5 department heads at £200/day excluding catering, location, hires, legals, etc., will only get 10 days shooting for £10k. Films at that level can make a profit but specifically because they're subsidised by the rest of the cast and crew through rates and payment schedules.

      4 years ago
    • @Paddy Robinson-Griffin I hadn't actually thought of it that way Paddy: The under or non paid crew is subsidizing your picture. So true.

      4 years ago
  • I'm glad I opened up this discussion, it's really helped me in making my decisions. I will look into some of the comments further.

    You picked on a very good point Dan, I suppose I'm pretty lucky in the fact that I was a full time video editor in London for over 4 years and the Head of that department, which means I would be able to handle those tasks regarding legal colour balance and grading, etc... Unfortunately for others this would be a sore point which does involve a LOT of time and some cash!
    Regarding the sound design and FX, over the years I have built up a team and we work together on the films we would like to make - but would never get the opportunity too otherwise. So we help each other out for expenses or a very small fee, fitted around our other work commitments.

    If I were to give any advice that would be it, start off by building a team you can trust, who work well together and who are competent at their jobs. These guys will help me out a lot if I decide to make my next £5,000 movie.

    You aren't being a Debbie Downer, if anything, we need more people telling it like it actually is, which is why I asked the question for a direct response and no bullshit. I was actually expecting someone to say 'you should do it for the love' which I have been told in other discussions and it makes me cringe and angry.

    There is a bit of delusion in some indie film makers, I was delusional when I was younger trying to make my films, but the moment you discard the fact business has a major part in it all, you are making your film in vain. You need to hear the hard truth.

    4 years ago
    • HA! I'm with you. When I was bitching about my book being pirated and losing a huge amount of income, somebody said I should write for the love of it. Love don't pay the rent.

      4 years ago
    • Oh, P.S. Philip: The Starz channel put that Corman Doc up on youtube (All nice and legal). I watched it yesterday, and loved it. Thanks for telling us of its existence!

      4 years ago
  • "I am searching for a way to make exploitation movies with loads of action, gore, fun & excitement that people can watch over a beer (the way that the Sy-Fi channel make countless "Shark" exploitation movies).
    And I'd make them cheap, for £5,000 ($8,000). I have all the equipment so no need to rent lights, cameras, etc."

    Get to the back of the huge line? Because what the world really needs right now is more shit films!

    Several friends of mine work for The Asylum (if you have no idea who they are...google them). I've also had the misfortune to work on a couple of their films, mostly because one of those aforementioned friends talked me into it. The Asylum does follow a Roger Corman type of model in the sense that they pre-sell everything. They have been around for long enough that they have strong relationships established with distros all over the world. What they literally do is custom-create their films to fit whatever markets they're trying to pre-sell...hence the shit that they turn out because Germany wants a tornado/disaster film, and shark films are really huge in Japan right now. Their films are typically budgeted in the $250K range, even so; most of the budget goes for them to get the have-been F-list actors that (once again) the distributors require to close the pre-sale. The Asylum generates good earnings as it's been reported in a number of industry trade rags. On a movie where they invest $250k, they typically have made $750k without breaking a sweat.

    But they have a system, and they have an established distributor network. They have enough muscle to be able to negotiate lucrative deals. They also can pickup the phone and speak directly with SyFy Channel's program director and work out inside deals for exclusives etc. Did I mention that they also have an in-house CGI dept, sound design/foley/mixer, green screen and shooting stage, and a music composer who does great work because he knows that he will make money through cable airings and so he's willing to work for peanuts up-front. They pay their crew about $100-200/day on their shoots which are typically in the 7-10day range for a feature.

    The point that I'm trying to make is that The Asylum is not making films for $10k, they are very business savvy and have the type of workflow and connections that you don't have. To look at them as an "example" of how to make movies that make money, without looking at the rest of their picture is to set yourself up for failure.

    4 years ago
  • I would like to submit that there is another way- What the world needs is not more distraction- think about it, if someone wants to be distracted your film is now competing with virtually every other film ever made! It used to be there were just a few films playing in your town any given week- That is real competition!

    So I made a doc that I cared about because I wanted to change the world. I knew there was an audience, I knew I could help a million people. I never expected to get accepted to Sundance, as a matter of fact I almost did not apply.

    I won the Audience Award. www.aliveinside.us

    I am opening in 20-45 cities in July hopefully. Cinderella story right?

    Why not change the world rather than try to recreate what has been done? I think everyone is always following dead dreams- after Picasso there was a huge generation of want to be painters. After Lucas there was a huge generation of want to be Spielbergs. If you want to make money make a low budget VR movie! Look to the future not the past for inspiration!

    Here is my truth- Emotion is everything- Make a film that makes people feel deeply and it will find an audience. People need to feel. Distracting entertainment is so overdone I would not want to compete there.

    4 years ago
  • Thank you Michael. I couldn't agree more.

    4 years ago
  • True, good films with a fresh take on their subject matter should find there audience.

    4 years ago
  • Yeah Dan, I bought the "Corman's World" dvd a day before finding it for free on youtube, damn! It's great.

    Michael, that is true and I certainly agree with you.

    I'd like to clarify that I don't intend to re-work or make a 'Corman' type film, but make a film in the same 'business' style as him. Making it dirt cheap, shoot for a few days (Little Shop Of Horrors was shot in just two days), mainly one or two takes max and move on.

    I know those days of getting a film funded with pre-sales are long gone but say for example: I made a £5,000 movie and, miraculously, the distributor made money, could I go back to them and say I have another movie I want to make which would tap into the same market and I could make it again for £5,000, would it be likely they would part fund the next one if the first movie was profitable?

    I know this is HIGHLY unlikely and is a pipe dream, but it would seem like a good plan to make allies with a distributor by working together in making a saleable model, especially the way the industry currently is? I don't know any indie film maker who does this and was wondering if this is because something like this doesn't exist.

    Regardless of how I get my film made on the said budget, I have no intentions of marketing my films on it's low budgets, I've never done this in the past, frankly for the reason of, who gives a sh*t? I don't think the general public care about a films budget and if my films were marketed saying it was made for £5,000, I would think this could hurt the film. Audiences today watch mainstream movies made with hundreds of millions of dollars, so why would they even bother.
    Years ago I saw the marketing tag for the zombie movie COLIN which said something like 'made for £50'. I can't believe that for a second, as my ticket to Cannes cost double that!! Ha!

    4 years ago
  • Yes, indie movies can make money. The thing is, don't give stuff away to the big distributors. If they are used to getting your stuff for free, why pay?

    Let's take other examples. Think of all the government services that are free, like education. When they started charging tuition fees, students protested. No one likes paying for what someone else got for free.

    It's one thing to do an internship to gain a little inside knowledge, mentoring and free training, it's another to give away an entire movie.

    Which indie movies made money? Try Blair Witch, Monsters, Man Bites Dog, Once, Tetis, Napoleon Dynamite... And ever heard of the Coen Brothers? There are also movies like The Home Teachers which have a specialist audience.

    But, most successful indie filmmakers decide to go mainstream. Not because they sell out to mainstream, but because they can get the money more easily that way and need money to live on (and so does the talent they like working with.)

    The Blair Witch Project was not given away, it was sold for about a million. It was a good investment for the studio too. But, if the studio pays nothing, it doesn't feel obligated to do anything with it.

    That said, it is a risky business, but all businesses are risky. I've heard that 98 percent of businesses fail within the first year. Restaurants are especially risky. Like I tell people, "anyone who claims to have a risk free investment is either a fool or a con artist."

    So, if you're used to losing money in movies, you might lose even more money elsewhere.

    4 years ago
  • "I'd like to clarify that I don't intend to re-work or make a 'Corman' type film, but make a film in the same 'business' style as him. Making it dirt cheap, shoot for a few days (Little Shop Of Horrors was shot in just two days), mainly one or two takes max and move on."


    Nothing good can come out of that type of filmmaking. Good films take time, talent, resources, and a great screenplay. If that's what you're setting out as your goal, I think you're doomed from the start.

    4 years ago
  • Vascoe, you make a good point, all business investments are risky.
    Unfortunately, reading your list of indie films that made money: Blair Witch, Monsters, Man Bites Dog, Once, Tetis, Napoleon Dynamite... The problem I've noticed with these movies is, none of these movies were made in the last 10 years! And I can't think of any other indie movies that have hit it big since.

    I on the other hand don't care for my film to hit big like the list above. Just so long as I don't lose money making it and at the very least breaks even, I will be happy. Again, a pipe dream.

    Yes Kays, on face value, I get your argument and I would normally agree with you. But making it cheap and making it quick doesn't make a crappy movie, you can meticulously plan for streamlining the process. I of course agree that by having a good screenplay, talent, etc, makes a good movie it goes without saying.

    Does anyone know how TV deals are made? How does the transaction process work? Do they pay you each time it airs??

    I worked out that for a £5,000 movie, it would take to get it's money back:
    1,428 downloads at £3.50 each
    or
    1000 DVD sales at £5.00 each.

    Ouch!

    4 years ago
    • 1000 DVDs at a fiver... Don't forget your production and distribution and promotional costs!! ;)

      4 years ago
    • @Paddy Robinson-Griffin
      Yeah exactly, but unfortunately you can buy DVD's from places like CEX for £1 !!!

      There's no hope. Ha!

      4 years ago
  • "But making it cheap and making it quick doesn't make a crappy movie, you can meticulously plan for streamlining the process."

    Show me an example. I don't know of any micro-budget feature film shot in a week or less that is not a total POS. It really doesn't matter how cheaply you make a movie, or how quickly you shoot it in order to minimize the expenditures; if it's not a good, compelling film, a distro won't even give you $.01 for it. Also, I don't subscribe to the whole Dogme '95 philosophy as being anything more than an interesting experiment that even its own creators have long abandoned. The best Dogme movie is arguably The Celebration which, despite its minimalistic production, still cost north of $1M to make and was not filmed in a week (and is brilliant).

    If you want to be successful at this, write (or find and option) a great screenplay. Good, solid, well thought-out stories are in short supplies. The money will come if the project is worth getting behind it. Movies like Beasts of the Southern Wild find success despite their against-all-odds nature...but they're not made for next to nothing or shot over a few days. Filmmaking doesn't work that way and the public is not demanding more crappy films.

    4 years ago
  • "It really doesn't matter how cheaply you make a movie, or how quickly you shoot it in order to minimize the expenditures; if it's not a good, compelling film, a distro won't even give you $.01 for it."

    You've kind of reiterated my point.

    I don't think anyone intently goes out to make a crappy movie. Whether or not you like Troma movies, which fit a niche and has an audience, made for next to nothing - what one person thinks is a total POS, another person finds a joy.
    I have found a script which has sparked my interest again and, in my opinion, isn't a POS.

    One example local to me is a film called ZWOS which they're now finishing a sequel to.

    The point I was trying to find out, away from how I shoot the film, and perceived opinions on it's crappiness... if we made a good film and a distro liked it and picked it up, would they give us money for it or would they expect us to give it away to them? I also wanted to find out all distribution angles which could be profitable and how TV deals work??

    Thanks to everyone who's responded it's been an interesting eye opener.
    We're all doomed! Ha!!

    4 years ago
  • Good day Gentlemen, (no ladies have joined in yet?) thought it was about time I joined this discussion as many interesting and informative points have been made. I have made eight indie features, all low budget with varying degrees of success. I competed in some of the worlds most prestigious festivals and sold my films all over the world including the USA. I once had a production company employing ten full time staff and now work from home after risking all on a and loosing my business, home and marriage, so I've been around the block you could say. I made my last indie feature "Egression" about four years ago and though I am very proud of it failed to get it accepted into competition at any major film festivals (if it's not in one of the top ten, it doesn't mean anything to buyers or viewers) and failed to get any sales or distribution at all. I'm presently planning to go again, indie filmmaking is a form of insanity with only filmmaking forums to provide any help and counseling. So much to say and share of my experiences, so if you care to listen I'll impart what I can but please remember, my words are only my experiences and my luck has run both good and bad over the years and it's only when you are lucky that great and exciting things can happen, like gamblers who only ever talk about their big wins with their selective memories forgetting the hundreds of times that they lost everything including their shirts, it's painful to dwell again on the bad things but I'll have a go. We all know that a few years back the whole film business tightened its belt, dropped all their indie specialty labels and culled the distribution of hundreds of high risk smaller art house films that subsequently didn't go into production or see the light of day (ref Egression above) and the indie filmmaking business has got a lot harder, many people manage to get all their family and friends behind then to get their first feature made, by the time they make their second they find it gets harder, there is less help and enthusiasm, if they make their third if it's not professionally with some kind of budget, then they rarely get made, OK here goes...Part 1...when your young and surrounded by the young you feel you can do anything, your ego allows you to believe adamantly that when you see a crappy film on TV or in a cinema, that you can do better than that. Your naivety doesn't see or understand all the angles, the complexity of getting a film out to an audience and the risks of making a film and so you just go out and gather a bunch of like minded friends together and just do it. Distribution, promotion, deliverables, legal representation & contracts, P&A, theatrical bookers, marketing, E&O etc you then discover and deal with along the way. But depending on who you then meet and deal with can open many doors, bring you some form or revenue from your film or at least the promise of a budget for your next project or, alternatively leave you feeling so badly burned that you never make another film again. The more you learn the more you understand the immensity of opposition that is out there and begin to understand what you are truly up against, after finding the money and support to make a brilliant film you are well short of half way through the battle, even if your film is exceptional in the ensuing melee all could still be lost. I met the guys that made Man bites Dog, we met drinking on the street outside the Petite Charlton in Cannes and over several nights became friends, they went on to win the festival and sell their film all over the world. When I met them a year later again in Cannes I discovered that they had delegated a friend to represent them in sales, he had fluffed it and somewhere along the way a contract was put in place that had killed the revenue streams before money made it back to them, it had gotten so bad them they had stopped going out in their home town as every body thought that since they were so successful that they were misers and too tight to buy drinks, the reality was that they had never seen a penny from the sales of their film and were still crippled from the debts of making the film and supplying the deliverables. when I last saw Remy he told me that he was working making pop promos and had no interest in making another movie...the very public and well documented case of Tony Kaye's first film "American History X" was a different story, acknowledged by one and all including myself a modern masterpiece, but couldn't control the cut and distribution of his film and therefore fell out big time with the financing studio curtailing one of the most promising film careers since Orsen Wells debute Citizen Kane...my fist point is this...even when against the odds you get it right and make a great film well received film it still can all go horribly wrong and you still can get burned, repeat the following mantra "indie filmmaking is a form of insanity"...I am though still a filmmaker with eternal optimism that some day I'll crack my way into the film industry, sorry got to go now but more from tales from a mad man anon...PS sorry about the long winded intro...

    4 years ago
  • Part 2 When you make your first feature expect never to make a penny from it, consider yourself very lucky if you ever get your budget back, importantly remember to retain ownership of your film in case your second or third film is a hit, when then you will be able to negotiate a profitable release your first film and have the means to ensure that you can monitor and control all revenue streams. Since you might never make the money to cover the budget, only spend what you can afford to lose when making a film. You can spend and risk losing other people’s money to make a film, but if you do you may lose friends, cause family rifts and leave a trail of upset that will mean that you are very unlikely to get the chance to do it a second time. So if you do risk others people’s money do your very best to get it them back and not rest until you get them their investment back and at least some kind of return, it’s the morally right thing to do and there is nothing I hate than people being cavalier with other peoples money. A great indie feature film doesn’t need to cost a lot of money and can be made by peanuts (10-20K for consumables, food and expenses not wages), but only by natural lucky geniuses or a very talented and highly skilled elite multi-skilled crew all working for only for the love of the project, if you not comfortable knowing that your likely to lose all your savings then you’re in the wrong business and go to Thailand, leave cheap and do some travelling and write a book, you’ll have more fun and have a greater chance of success. It is a business, no matter what your own personal ideals are, films need distribution at some time and all of the companies that do that (even on the net and YouTube) are businesses in business to make money, so the sooner you understand the reality of distribution the more likely you are to start planning, book keeping and spending sensibly like a proper viable going concern. After making your first feature, look back in hindsight at where things could have been done better, more economically, learn from your mistakes and promise yourself and your loved ones that you will never make the same mistakes again. When you make a film you are not the only one in it, your partner whether girl or boy friend, husband or wife and both your families and all your friends and most of their friends (usually roped into attending a set to be extras for a couple of hours), all of them are supporting you and your dragging all of them along with you on into your mad venture, so play nice and try to understand that no matter how much they love and trust you, when you take a long rope and then them all onto you and then run of the edge of a cliff that is making an indie feature, don’t expect them all to smile whilst that take the strain of your load and everyone one else that you also pull over the edge to oblivion with you. When you have exhausted your all savings and available credit to make your first feature and get a viewable cutting copy, that is the time to present it to friends and family to try and raise completion funding, when you have something tangible to show them. If you can’t get to a cutting copy without leaning on friends and family you’re shouldn’t have gone into production in the first place and you put all at risk. Agreed...never shown a rough cutting copy to a professional (any capacity) to try and raise completion funding, I’ve tried and failed to do this three times and each time burnt bridges as they never offer much and ask too much in return and it will put you off ever going back to them in the future, for me it was different people, same result and I hadn’t learnt from previous my mistakes. I agree with John, the new developing lines of internet distribution and diverse new potential revenue streams are wide open which is very exciting. Old lines of distribution were sewn up with vicious bulldogs as gate keepers, like many indie feature filmmakers I accepted distribution offers on the hope of the long term pay off, authored then paid for and then gave thousands of DVD copies to rental and sales companies (and this after paying to produce and master my features in the first instance) only to be screwed by them down the accounting line, have my stock forcibly taken and sold off in bargain basements or received no money from rentals by the biggest on-line rental company and former biggest high street rental store (RIP rot in pain), my UK wholesaler went bankrupt , the stock of several feature of my films simply disappeared from there warehouse only to resurface from then till now on Ebay at discount prices etc. Try take anyone to court and your be strung along for years till you go bankrupt trying to keep up payment s on your legal representation, QC’s cost thousands of pounds per hour and when it gets that far you simply have to stop and do a reality check. I’ve tried every new internet distribution company that has come to the market (both here and in the USA) and have yet still to make money in returns that would encourage investment in future projects. I am of the belief that if you’re not now prepared to give your work away for nothing on the internet then you shouldn’t be making indie feature films. When you I think about it I save money this way and have a lot less heartache and stress, I genuinely mean this, so the advent of the internet and on-line viewing is a great step forward for indie director/producers. Controlling your chosen windows of viewing so that you can prove how many viewers you have had has become paramount, also growing a personal brand and finding and affiliating with unobtrusive advertisers and sponsors is, I believe, the way forward. There are hundreds of sharks, bottom-feeders and plain old greedy untrustworthy unscrupulous people out there in the film business, once you have finished your feature and you take it to the markets, that is the next gauntlet you have to run...before I made my first feature I went to experience the markets of both Cannes and Berlin, looked around, asked questions, tried to find out what buyers were looking for, what was selling and hot, what they might pay for, tried to find and make personal contact with potential people that I could bring my film to when ready, also to find out what they needed from me so that I could prepare the full list of deliverables and not just my finished film...the list was very long...all standard well budgeted stuff for a studio produced feature but for an indie feature film maker, daunting and very expensive....

    4 years ago
    • Absolutely correct on everything you said, Ray. For those of us who've been around awhile, people just don't believe the realities we tell them. Delusion is probably necessary to do the work in the first place. Young filmmakers that have asked me advice on taking a direct by out by a distributor, or a percentage, I always say take the buyout. They'll screw you otherwise. Back in the 80s I did a lot of work for a distributor that had an excellent reputation for honoring contracts. Now think about that for a second: he honored the contract. What that tells you is that most distributors won't. And it's much worse today. On future stuff Ray, it sounds like a good producer's rep could do wonders for you. Well worth the big bite they take.

      Philip, TV deals can be really simple, or vastly complicated. For what you're talking about: a feature to be aired on a network, it can be a complete by-out, and they own it now. If they can get it cheap enough, that's what they'll do, especially if they think they can exploit foreign territories and after market sales. OR they'll have a by-out for a certain length of time, say a year. They can show it as much as they want. After that, the rights revert back to you or after that year they pay (very little) for each airing. It really depends. Keep in mind that I'm not talking about a TV series, but a one off like a feature. Now if they like what you do, and your early films get the ratings, you might be able to secure a production deal with them. They'll give you say, 300,000 to make a movie for them. If you make it for 100,000, that's 200,000 profit for you.

      Each network will have its boilerplate contract, so it shouldn't be too hard to find a syfy channel contract floating around.

      4 years ago