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IFH 088: Why Filmmakers are Always So Damn Broke & What They Can Do to Change It

filmmaker, indie filmmaker, filmmakers, indie film hustle, alex ferrari, filmmaking podcast

Why Filmmakers are Always So Damn Broke

I hope I got your attention with that title. I’m truly PISSED OFF guys and am tired of seeing my fellow indie filmmakers and artist struggle to make a living doing what they love. I decided to put together a list of steps that every indie filmmaker needs to do in order to thrive in the film business.

Since this website is called INDIE FILM HUSTLE the terminology I’ll be using will be aimed at filmmaking or screenwriting but all of these concepts can be applied to any art form.

PLEASE NOTE: If you were to ever listen to a podcast of mine, this is the one. I’ll be laying out the steps in the article but I go MUCH DEEPER into each one on the podcast. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN.

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Steps to Make a Living as an Artist and a Filmmaker

Step #1 – Have a Plan

How are you going to support yourself while your building the skill set needed to make a living as a filmmaker? Not having this plan is by far the biggest mistakes I see filmmakers make. Without a plan your dead in the water. and MAKING A FILM AND WINNING SUNDANCE IS NOT A F*CKING PLAN!! Yes there are the lottery ticket winners but they are the exception not the rule. 

I choose editing, post-production and directing commercials and music videos as a way I put food on the table. That path was not an easy one but I learned so many skills along the way that I can put into my creative work. The more I know, the more dangerous of a filmmaker I become.

Find something you can do for a long time that will support your creative aspirations and if all possible find work within the film business. Work for free at first if you need to, hustle, learn, and grow. It ain’t easy but if it was everyone would do it.

Step #2 – Learn as Much about Every Aspect of Making a Film as You Can

Don’t learn just the sexy creative stuff. Cameras, film gear, post-production, working with actors, directing techniques, writing, and visual effects are all sexy areas of the film business.

You need to understand all of the above topics but what I’m saying is that you need to also learn the un-sexy stuff like:

  • Starting an LLC,
  • Psychology of human behavior (for writing and dealing with people on set/in general),
  • Basic entertainment law
  • Marketing
  • Distribution
  • Audience building
  • Crowdfunding
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Taxes
  • Tax Incentives
  • Working with agents and mangers
  • Budget breakdowns
  • Scheduling
  • Production insurance
  • Contracts
  • Web Design
  • Internet Marketing
  • Email List Building

…and many other things. You have to understand the whole picture, not just the fun stuff. You don’t have to be an expert in every topic but you do have to have a basic knowledge of everything.

The filmmakers who succeed in the long term educated themselves on ALL the aspects of the creative and business sides of filmmaking. James Cameron, Chris Nolan, and David Fincher didn’t just wake up and start making amazing and game-changing films, they studied everyday and added new tools in the tool box.

The skills that put food on my table today weren’t learned in a film school, I learned them by constantly reading books, taking online courses or listening to audiobooks/podcasts.

Directing Actors, Directing Course, Per Holmes, Hollywood Camera Work, Hollywood Camera Work Coupon, Nina Foch

Step #3 – Show Up Every day

“90% of success is just showing up.” – Woody Allen

Woody was correct. I’ll rather work with some one who shows up every day and busts his/her ass than a “talented” lazy ass. Consistency builds a career and more importantly builds a life. If you show up every day and read a book, learn something new, or try a new thing, this is what builds you up into an unstoppable creative force.

The more tools you can put in your toolbox the more dangerous and successful a filmmaker you will become. Doing something small every day will lead to great things. The Rock didn’t become the highest paid actor in the world over night. It took decades of work and hustle. Little by little. Be Consistent!

Step #4 – Learn Branding, Audience Building, and Marketing

If you do not learn these three things Branding, Audience Building and Marketing you will not make a living as an indie filmmaker selling your films or products online. Marketing is not a horrible thing, without it you would not know about some of your favorite products or services.

As a filmmaker living in the world today these three subjects have to be in your toolbox. I’ll be going into much deeper depth on each of these subjects in the future. They are large and vast topics but understand you need to know and use them in your filmmaking.

Step #5 – Become an Entrepreneur

A filmmaker today that is trying to self-distribute or sell their films or products online and that doesn’t consider him or herself an entrepreneur is not going to make it.

Whether you like it or not, when you make a film and your goal is to make money with it then you are an entrepreneur. How skilled you are as an entrepreneur is entirely different. You are making a product to sell to a customer. If you don’t frame your ideas of the film as it is a product to be sold then I hate to tell you but that might be the last time you make a product like that. Think Shark Tank.

Here are examples of filmmakers who took their films and made businesses out of them.

These filmmakers are a blueprint of what can be done when you think like not only as an artist but as an entrepreneur.

Step #6 – Don’t Give Up

a8a9cfc15cef0e465f316fc9ac8506ebbc4a4d5b_ORIGINALLook I’m not perfect, I’ve lost my way over the years many times. I owned an online comic book business, an eBay and business selling DVDs and I even own a olive oil and balsamic gourmet company (it’s a long story).

These were my confusing times, where I veered off the path I was born to walk. The path of the filmmaker.

These “dark times” were when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. That the struggle got too tough but I never abandoned the filmmaking ship completely.

No matter how much I wanted to leave the film biz I couldn’t. Like a mythological siren in “Homer’s Odyssey,” it called to me with its seductive song. I didn’t feel whole unless I was practicing my craft, my calling is as a storyteller. I alway kept working in the film industry in some capacity during these “dark times”.

You have to find the strength and energy to keep that dream alive, to keep that hustle going. You owe it to the world to keep going. You have no idea what your little film or story might do for another human being. It’s might bring them a smile, a moment of joy, educated them or God helps us inspire them. You owe it to them to tell your stories and make your films.

Step #7 – Work and Hustle

The film business is f*cking brutal but it doesn’t have to be. It’s the best time ever to be a filmmaker. You have access to things that us “more mature” filmmakers would have killed for coming up the ranks. Affordable cinema quality cameras, post-production in your house, direct distribution and more access to filmmaking knowledge than ever before.

If you’re smart, have a plan…a realistic plan, (making a film and winning Sundance is not a f*cking plan) educate yourself on every aspect of filmmaking, audience building, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, branding, and marketing, show up every day and put in 100% and oh by the way HUSTLE LIKE YOU NEVER HUSTLED BEFORE, then you have a recipe for success.

This isn’t a 6-month plan, this isn’t a 1-year plan, this is a lifetime plan. Making a living as an artist or filmmaker is F*CKING HARD but you can change that in your own life.

I hope these steps bring value and inspiration to your lives, I also hope it lights a large fire in your ass to follow through and be the filmmaker you were born to be.

Good luck with all your future projects. Keep that hustle going and keep your dreams alive!

Right-click here to download the MP3  (Transcription of the episode below)

BONUS: TOP TEN Online Filmmaking Courses



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Action Items:

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Transcription – Indie Film Hustle Podcast Episode #98.
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  1. […]  If you like Beginners Guide to Using Social Media in Crowdfunding Indie Films, then click below: Why Filmmakers are Always So Damn Broke & What They Can Do to Change It […]

  2. […] IFH 088: Why Filmmakers are Always So Damn Broke & What They Can Do to Change It […]

  3. David Peterson on July 26, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    You certainly do step #4 hardcore, you market yourself! I see you everywhere all over the internet 🙂

    • IndieFilmHustle on July 26, 2016 at 12:18 pm

      Thx u! Got get yourself out there! =)

      • Alex on August 4, 2016 at 6:32 pm

        Many people do the marketing but don’t know how to sell a script or themselves to a prospective studio.

  4. […] Bonus: Why Screenwriters & Filmmakers are Always So F*ckin’ Broke […]

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  6. Gwamaka Mwabuka on August 25, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    Alex…. Ma man! Just thank you for spending time to make out lives better. I am on a spot, going up bro.

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  12. […] IFH 088: Why Filmmakers are Always So Damn Broke & What They Can Do to Change It […]

  13. cj Lamont on October 14, 2016 at 2:24 am

    Very sensible advice! I particularly resonate with topics no. 6 and 7. Like you, I’ve tried to quit this brutal business many times, before my faith in human nature was completely destroyed, but couldn’t. Always (without a word of a lie) the very next morning, there is something that drags me back, kicking and screaming, into the fray. It seems to me that the prospect of success and $$$ brings out the worst in people. But, still I carry on, but now with a thicker skin than before. I have accomplished magic many times, but still never scored a goal — yet it feels so close. I think it’s time for that step 7 you talk about – to hustle like I’ve never hustled before… no Ms. Nice Guy, just a pushy broad who’s not quitting until she gets what she wants. I’ll let you know how that works out. 😀
    cj Lamont — ?What If Film Development

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  16. Sergei Romanoff on October 21, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    What if you were living your REALITY MOVIE, fell into a Petrofkan Worm Hole to Mars with only a NASA Rover for communication?

  17. Thom Belford on October 22, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    Hi Guys,
    As a father of a third generation film maker I appreciate your share here.
    For my son, and for many of you in the learning phase, especially if going through university, college, etc. is much more than anyone can expect.
    As an old man, when I went to school, the equipment we used was supplied by the school or a sponsor. Plus EVERYONE got work as interns with broadcasters and studios. Not so now.
    I just don’t get it. If a person is in medical school, they don’t have to purchase or rent the equipment required to complete your studies why do you?

    Now that I have been a manufacturer of everything from cameras, to editing equipment, and now very high end monitors, I wish we had budgets to loan equipment to anyone that needed it.
    But….. Maybe we can help with a temporary loan of product. I have a few loan units so I can’t make a universal offer. But if you are working on an indie or such I’ll gladly loan out stuff short term in trade for BTS and forum comments. Plus suggestions to us on making it better.

    One last note, and don’t take this wrong, but many of you have not had the opportunity to learn a lot of technical nuances, like tuning your graphics card to work with a grading monitor. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if we can help.

  18. […] If you like Top 10 Indie Film Distribution Rules for Success, then click below: Why Filmmakers are Always So Damn Broke & What They Can Do to Change It […]

  19. ritz_simonsays on June 17, 2017 at 7:31 am

    This article is so helpful to filmmakers like us. As much as we can, we want to spend less. Awesome article!