IFH 243: How to Make SERIOUS Money as a Filmmaker

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I always get asked,

“How to make money as a filmmaker or can you make money as a filmmaker?”

The short answer is yes, of course, you can but will it be easy, HELL NO! What’s a filmmaker to do? I’ve been able to develop an over 20-year career making money as a filmmaker. So if I can do it you can too. In this podcast episode, I go into details on all the moneymaking ideas filmmakers can do to make money. I give examples, tell stories and show you how I and other filmmakers make money today. Here are a few things I go over in the episode.

Film Crew Work

  • Production Assistant
  • Department PA
  • Production Office PA
  • General Crew

Film Office Work

  • I go over the details of my film office job and what amazing things happen because of it
  • You meet and network with industry people

Film Production Company

  • I discuss my first job at a production company and how it launched my career
  • The value of interning
  • How you can leverage this job into a profitable freelance career

Skilled Freelancer

  • Learn a skill (Editing, Camera, Props, Grip. etc)
  • Find a skill and brand yourself

Building Your own production Company

  • Become a “Predator: Producer – Director – Editor
  • You and a camera, some lights and editing gear and you are now a production company

Clients:

  • Corporate Jobs (Not fun but they pay)
  • Duplass Brothers Story
  • Music Videos (creative but little cash)
  • Create a web commercial for a local company for FREE at first, if you are just starting out
  • Build your showreel and gain experience
  • Weddings or Event Filming

Stock Footage Creation

  • Amazing Side Hustle
  • Passive Revenue Streams
  • Borrow a camera or buy a camera and shoot on your downtime
  • Find unique locations around where you live
  • B-Roll and RAW footage from old project sitting on a hard drive
  • BlackBox – Make Passive Income From Your Footage

Online Content Creator

  • Very creative
  • Find an audience and serve the audience
  • It’s a long game
  • Do it on the side hustle at first
  • You WILL NOT GET RICH but it’ll help build your brand and show your skills

Don’t write off doing FREE Projects

  • I’ll tell you my Snoop Dogg Story

Enjoy and I hope it helps you make some cheddar!

Alex Ferrari 1:57
Now guys, today I'm going to talk about something that I've been asked at least a million times, which is how do I make money as a filmmaker? Or better yet, can I make money as a film maker? And the short answer is yes. Is it easy? Absolutely not, it is very difficult. But can it be done? Yes, because I am sitting right here in front of you as you're listening to my voice as an example of someone who's not only made money as a filmmaker, but has made a career out of it. So it is doable, because if I can do it, anyone could do it. So I'm going to go over a bunch of different ways that filmmakers can start right when they're starting, you know, getting out of film school or just starting out how to start building that career and then a few different ways. If you've already established yourself in the business and want to make a couple side hustles I'm gonna throw you a couple ideas as well. So the very first thing that you can do is either you can work for somebody else, or work for yourself. Now, let's go into working for somebody else first. You know, when you when you starting out, you don't know anything you got to learn. So the best way to do that is by working for other people who have been there before you who are doing what you want to do, and you'll learn just by literally standing there watching them do what they do. So film crew work is an amazing way to get the ball rolling to get in there as a PA or a department pa or production office pa or an assistant camera, or or a bunch of different other avenues that you can go through on a film crew. But let's start off with the bare the entry point which is pa or production assistant. var, the blood that runs through a production set without phg can't get things done films crews cannot work without having pa is running around and really is helpful to have them so pa or production assistants are going to basically be anything and everything you need on a set to be done. So runs for coffee, picking people up driving people jumping on a crew helping other departments, you're basically doing everything and that's a great way to get started. It is ballbusting work. If you're working on big productions, you're going to be waking up at three o'clock in the morning and work at 18 hours for little money, but you're going to learn a lot. That's one way of going about it just being a straight up crew pa or you can try to specialize and get into a department like the production design department or camera department stunts all these different departments that you can jump into and try to be pa for them. So being a level up like a production design pa which means that you're there, you're there pa so everything that you're going to do on set is going to be around helping them in their department. Again, if that's a great way if you want to try to go down a certain road in in production if you want to learn about cinematography Wouldn't it be great to be a PA and watching professional cinematographers first day c second, a C's, di T's and so on just you get such a close personal and intimate relationship with that department, you'll learn so much more. Another great area in the in the film crew of working for other people is working in the production office. When I was in film school, I had an end, I was lucky enough to get an internship working for free at Universal Studios in Florida. And I was able to jump from production to production working in the office. And working in the office, you're there with the producers, you're there with the show runners, you're there with directors and all the higher ups. So you watch what's going on, you're sitting there all day listening, learning, it was awesome. I would love to anytime they needed help, I'd go out to set and then learn there it was in mansley important in my development as a filmmaker. So when you're starting out, that is a great way to learn as much as you can, as well as networking. With big people, I mean, you're going to get access to people in the office in the production office, that you will not get to onset you will not be able to have a conversation with a producer on set, you will not be able to build a relationship with a producer as a PA on set. But as an office PA, if you're there every day, and you like you're getting coffees, you're getting bagels, people know who you are, you're running around, you're making copies your face, they start recognizing you. And then all of a sudden the producers are starting to take notice of you. And that's a real quick way to jump up the ladder very, very quickly in if you want to go down that road, but you're still going to learn a lot, even if you want to go off and make your own films and do your own thing. This is still an immense opportunity for networking, and for education. Now another thing you could do is work for a actual production company. When I first got out of school, my first job was interning and then work at a job at a huge commercial production company in Florida. And I learned so much from working there and I got a job and I was getting paid. And I was learning and networking with people in my area and my community, my film community. So I was able to if I wanted to go shoot something, I could borrow their gear on the weekends and use their editing systems, after hours for free. All these resources by working in a production company was amazing. I learned the skill that helped me build my career at that first job. And right afterwards, I mean, literally, I was a tape dubber. So I was making dubs of directors reels, I was editing custom editing directors reels for tape to tape this old school, three quarter inch stuff. But, uh, next door to me was an avid and in that, and that was the first time I ever saw really like a full blown avid editing system. So I actually went out and, and got certified. And then I practiced every day at in the morning before work and after, after hours. and on weekends, I would go and just build my craft, learn my craft, started editing demo reels, putting things together because I decided that that was the route I was going to go I was going to learn that skills and learn editing. Now you could have easily gone down the camera route, you could have easily gone down the production design route, the wardrobe route, the stunts route, or any other any other areas in the film industry. But for me, I felt that that was what was going to help me become a better filmmaker, because I was going to be able to edit. And I think the best filmmakers are always they always come from being editors or understand the craft of editing so so well, that it helps them become better directors. So that's what I decided to do. And then soon after that, I ventured out and became a skilled freelancer, which is the next thing you could become to make money as a filmmaker, become a skilled freelancer. So I went out, and I started, I already built up a demo reel, a fake demo reel. It's called spec, have a bunch of commercials that I that weren't real, but they showed my skills off. And I happened to slap a couple of big, big brand logos at the end of it. So people thought that they were bigger than than they were, you know, I was bigger than I was. But if they asked me, I always told them it was a spec reel. But if they didn't ask me, they assumed and that was fine with me. And that helped me get going so well that first demo reel worked for me that I did not change it for two and a half years. That demo reel continued to get me work for over two and a half years till I finally updated it. So I went out and I started freelancing. And I sent my demo reel out and I became a skilled Freelancer where I was starting to make real money. I was 2223 years old. I had been busting my ass for about a year, year and a half and then I started making serious money I was making 50 bucks an hour Sometimes over time, depending if I was working on a network or not, and it was great. And I was making money hand over fist back in the days because it was the 90s. And money was flowing like crazy, but it was a great time. So what I decided to do then is like, I'm going to become an editor, and I'm going to be a freelance editor. And that's the route I'm going to go in, I'm going to make money. So then I could start going off and either making a commercial demo reel to become a director, or shooting some music videos, or actually trying to go out and shoot a feature. And back then the the options of shooting a feature were much less than they are now the technology was very expensive, and so on. So I decided to go out and make my commercial reels. But I was at my point is I was making money editing as a skill freelancer. And what I did is once I taught myself that skill, I branded myself that way, I had my business cards made up websites, and so on to brand myself as a skilled Freelancer or as a freelance editor. Again, you could do this in multiple areas in the business, but I'm just trying to show you that as a skilled freelancer, you can go out and make money as a filmmaker while you're building yourself up your skill set up those tools and those toolbox up and the war chest the money that you're able to save, hopefully, to go out and make your own projects. So that's one way I went down the post route, you could have easily gone down the camera route, where you buy a camera and you start just making stuff and you just open up a production company. So building your own production company is a another way of making money as a as a filmmaker. Now, I know that sounds really big and grandiose. But look, in today's world, do you have a camera? Do you have some lights? Do you have some basic editing gear, you're a production company, even if you're working outside the back of your house, or in a spare bedroom, in your house or out of your kitchen, you are a production company, you can brand yourself as a production company, if you can bring the goods, if you can do what you say you're going to do, the best thing you could do when you open up a production company is become a predator, a producer, director editor, because if you can't do all three of those parts, you're gonna have to hire someone to do those parts, those jobs. So if you can do them all, guess what you get to keep all the money, that's one of the reasons why I am always working are always have something going on because I do hundreds of different jobs. And I have multiple different ways of making money as a filmmaker, because I've been able to build those skill sets up over time. So become a predator, producer, director, editor, it really helps you out a lot when you're building out your production company. Now, the clients, what are the kinds of clients you're going to go after, as a production company, you can go after corporate jobs. Now corporate jobs are not always fun, they're generally kind of boring, you know, you're going to be doing Talking Heads, you're going to do all that kind of stuff. It's not really fun, but they do pay, and there's money to be made. So I know a lot of times, you might not want to do a job because it's not creatively fulfilling. Well, welcome to the real world. Because I've done multiple jobs, I can't even tell you how many jobs I've done in my career that I did not want to do. But I did it because of the money. Because it was a good experience. For me, I was able to, I would be able to build up my clientele, build up my client list, and make that money to be able to survive and keep fighting for another day. So sometimes you're gonna have to take those corporate jobs. And I'll give you a perfect example, great story, which is the duplass brothers, Mark and mark and Jay duplass. They their first job out of film school was built up there, they built their own production company, they got some editing gear, and they went out and did a corporate job. And that corporate job paid them I think like 65 to 70 though it's like 80 or $90,000 for this, this little documentary on like the making of this company. And that's a lot of money, they actually took a portion of that lived off of it, and then took the rest of it, it took $65,000 and they made their first feature film with that money, mind you, the first feature film was was burned because they said it was absolutely horrendous. But that's irrelevant. The point is that they were able to go out and make their first big movie, or their first feature film because of a corporate job. So don't look so down on those things. You know, money is money and if you can make it doing even remotely something close to what you want to do as a filmmaker, my God take it because it's better than going to Starbucks. And you know, and working there or flipping burgers. You know, would you like fries with that there's nothing wrong with any of that. But if your goal is to be a filmmaker, wouldn't you rather be doing something in that world, then doing something that's not in that world. Another great thing that you could do is music videos. Now music videos are going to be extremely creative. You're gonna have so much fun doing them but there's gonna be very little cash, if any cash at all special the way the world works today. Music videos are a great, great way for you to show off you create tivity to show off what you can do on a production standpoint, but you're not going to get a lot of money for it, but you're going to be able to be free and creative. So music videos are a wonderful way of going about that. Another idea is, why don't I'm sure you know somebody that owns a business, or a friend of a friend that owns a business somewhere in town in your town, why don't you offer to make them a commercial for the website, a free commercial free, don't charge free, do two or three of them, and how and then all of a sudden, you'll have a demo reel of commercials you've done locally. Now you can start charging for what you're what you were giving away for free originally, just so you can prove that you can do it. And you will have to do that. So you'll have your camera gear, you have your editing gear and go out there and do it. So if you're if you're able to create one, two or three of these commercials, then you can start pitching other companies, like Look what I've done with these other companies, my my rate to make your commercials gonna be five grand, if you want this package, if you want this package was a little bit more bells and whistles, it's going to be 10 grand. And if you want the big, big, bad boy package, it's 15 grand. And all of a sudden, you, my friend, are a full blown production company where you're doing commercials for the web online, let's say they're not the things you want to be doing. But you're able to make money. So then you can go off and make the movies you want and have that freedom, understand money equals freedom. So if you could, if you're able to make that money by doing what you love to do, even if it's not exactly what you want to do, you will be ahead of the game. Because if you could have that money, so you can go off and make your $10,000 feature film, or short films, or a series or whatever you want to do. That's the goal. So these are just options on how to get there. And another way of making money with a production company is of course weddings and event filming, where you can event you can film conferences, you can film, obviously doing wedding videos, which I have no experience doing wedding videos as one thing I've never done in all of my career, I've never done anything with weddings at all. So it's a whole other world. There's plenty of videos and tutorials about wedding videos on YouTube and many, many courses I'm sure online, but it's an option, it is an option to go into to make money and it is money and they do pay well. So again, another option to make money as a filmmaker. And believe me some of these wedding videos. It's not like it wasn't the olden days, some of these wedding videos are beautiful, like gorgeous documentaries, about the journey of these two people and all this kind of stuff. I've seen some stuff I was blown away by I know wedding videos are being shot on a Lexus and reds and have, you know, 40 $50,000 budgets if not more, depending on how big it is. So it's not like it used to be where it's just, you know, a 15 year old with a camera, shooting a wedding video. So it's definitely something you might want to take a look at. Again, in in getting to where you need to be. That's another way of making money. Now another way to make money as a filmmaker that I've just recently discovered, because of a company that I'll talk about in a minute, is stock footage creation. Now stock footage gets a bad rap. But in today's world with so much need for video content, stock footage is blowing up. And you can easily honestly as an amazing side hustle. Even if you're interning somewhere, even if you're going to sell if you're if you're working nine to five somewhere, you can go off on the weekends and do a side hustle by shooting stock footage. And trust me, I actually put some stock footage up for for a little while ago and I make money with it every month. It's insane. I know guys who are making 60 $70,000 a year off their stock footage library. And again, this is like someone who's been doing it for years, and he's built up like four or 5000 clips. But it is doable. And it's a great way to make side money. Or you can actually turn your business into stock footage creation with drone footage and 4k footage and raw footage and all sorts of different routes you can go down. But it is remarkable. It's a great way to make passive revenue streams, which is what I love. I love passive revenue streams. I love waking up in the morning and going Oh, something I did a year or two ago is giving me $1 now, you know I still sell my short films that I did from 10 years ago, and I'm still making money with them. It's a wonderful way to create passive revenue streams. So either borrow a camera or buy a camera and shoot your shoot your stock footage on downtime, find unique locations around where you live, because there's so much stock footage out there. Now if you're going to shoot the same thing everybody else is shooting. It's not going to work. So if I go out and shoot Hollywood Boulevard because I live in Los Angeles, guess what? La is pretty, you know stock footage world I mean a lot of people have shot Hollywood Boulevard unless you shoot it into you unique way, you shoot a time lapse, you shoot it, you know with a fisheye, you do something else to make it stand out. That's another way to make money. Now another way is I'm sure if you've shot a bunch of stuff, you've got hard drives full of raw footage, of either B roll of stuff that you didn't ever use in those projects, whether they be documentary, corporate, whatever, or their scenes or action sequences are something that you have the rights to, and you have the permission of the actors to do. And you can just use that as stock footage uploaded to the different stock footage houses, and start getting that money, guys, now a great service. And I know you guys have heard this name a bunch, because they are a major sponsor of the podcast is black box. Now black box allows you and this is what I've never did stock footage before, because I always found it to be so difficult. And it's such a pain in the ass and you got to upload it to like six or seven different companies and have to deal with all that and submitted it's just too much time where blackbox, you're literally allowed to upload one clip, and they submit it to all the all the major stock footage houses for you, they collect the money, they take a little bit of a percentage, but honestly, for the amount of time that you save is so well worth it. And on top of that, if you want to, let's say you have a friend who's an actor, you go out there and shoot something with that actor, you guys can split it, you guys can split it, and it's all done within black box. So you'd like you, okay, look, I'm gonna have you, john, I'm gonna have you go out there and shoot a bunch of running shots on the beach. Great, we'll split it 5050. Fantastic. So now every single time a clip is sold, john gets a percentage of it gets 50% goes right to his PayPal, and 50% goes into your PayPal, you don't even have to worry about it. It's amazing. So you just go to black box, dot global, and check it out. And I'm not again, this is not a big advertisement for it. I just love what these guys are doing. They are really helping filmmakers out a lot to be able to make money. And again, that is a passive stream of income, it is wonderful. So definitely check them out. Now another way to make money if you're not already rolling around in the cash after all these tips I've given you know, but another way to actually make money is become an online content creator. Now, being an online content creator or YouTuber, let's say is very creative, you have complete and utter freedom to do whatever the hell you want. You have to find an audience and then serve that audience, whatever that audience is. So if you are going to be the person who opens up Disney Toys, and and that's it. And those are the videos you make, that's the audience you're going to have to go after, believe me that is a thing. And they're making lots and lots of money doing it. But look, when when it comes to being an online content creator, it's a long game, if you expect to put videos up on YouTube and just collect that ad money, you are really badly mistaken. It's not that easy. It takes millions and millions and millions of you for you to be able to actually be able to make a decent amount or serve you know, something that you can survive on from just YouTube ads. Now you can get sponsorships as well, once you build up the audience big enough, but that you have the creative freedom to do what you want. That's what I was able to do with this podcast. I do whatever I want, whenever I want with this podcast, and I have, I have sponsors, and have other ways that I monetize these podcasts. So I can give this information to you guys for free and not charge you for all the information or all the time and energy that I do by putting these things out there for you guys. And another way to monetize videos on YouTube. And things like that is Patreon where you actually are asking your audience to pay you a small amount of money to have exclusive access to certain content and support you making these videos. And I know some guys on YouTube that are making three, four or $5,000 per video and they put out two, three videos a week, a month. So they're making a lot of money. And then on top of sponsorships on top of other things. But again, that's about building that audience and really taking a long time to do and it's taken me I'm going on three years now guys, in the beginning of July, indie film hustle is going to be having its third birthday. So it's taking me a long time to build up the audience that I've been able to build up. But it's doable, but you have to understand you will take time to do and it's not gonna happen overnight. Now you got to do this on the side. At first, you know, start doing little videos every once in a while. Do them on the weekends. And then just make sure that you're consistent. Whatever you're going to do, make sure you're consistent show up every week. At that time that you tell your audience you're going to upload something and post it and slowly but surely you'll be able to build something up. A won't get rich off this but it will help you build your brand. And it will help you show off your skills in production depending on what kind of videos you're making. So if you're making like The rocketjump guys, these guys were making a short film a week and showing you how they made it every week. And they did that for years. And they were able to build up a seven or 8 million follower audience by doing that. And they, they were able to do other things with that. And I'll leave it in the show notes, the interview I did with the one of the founders does have the rocket jump boys, you can hear their stories and how they were able to do it. But it is doable. And you can do that. And finally, doing free jobs. Don't write them off. Guys don't write off doing just free work. Because you never know what can happen with it depends on the kind of free work you're gonna do. I'll tell you a perfect story. When I moved to Los Angeles, I was just starting out as a here. I mean, I had already been directing. But I was really doing a lot of post work at the time, trying to get my you know, just trying to build up a business. I knew a couple people when I came out to LA. So I didn't know a lot of people. So I was slowly slowly starting to do commercials, music, videos, features. And then all of a sudden, I had someone come in a director come in and offer me like, Look, dude, I don't have any money to pay you. But I have a music video with Snoop Dogg in it. And I'm like, really, he's like, Can you do this for me, I need you to color grades for me. I'm like, absolutely, I'll do it for free. And because I did that for free, I knew exactly what I was going to get paid or what kind of payment I was going to get from that. Having Snoop Dogg on my reel automatically added so much cachet, so much value to my brand, as a colorist as a as a post production house, or company. And it did exactly that. I wrote that music video for years, where anytime anybody showed up to my site, they go, Oh, wow, he's worked with this guy. And that one music video that I did for free spawn 20 or 30 other music videos where I worked with huge stars in hip hop and country and did a ton of different work all because I did that one job for free. So be strategic about the kind of jobs you do for free, you might be able to get on a big project with some big stars, and you might not be able to get paid everything. But if you could get those stars on your reel, if you're a dp, if you're a production designer, something like that, all of a sudden, that's a tremendous amount of value. And I can't say to do it all the time. But when opportunities present themselves, then don't don't just go oh, I don't work for free. Think about it. And it's a great see what kind of value you can get out of doing that job for free. Because many times there's more value in doing the job for free than getting paid something small to do a job that is not going to take your career or your company anywhere else. And that's it for this episode, guys, I hope you learned a little something about how to make money. As a filmmaker, these are just a few things that I've been able to come up with, over the course of my career to make a living as a filmmaker. And you know, what we do at indie film hustle is to help you survive and thrive in the business, how to actually make a career of doing this. You know, one thing I didn't talk about is about making feature films at a lower budget to sell them at a higher budget. There's that model there short film models that you can make short films, and put them up on YouTube and do other things like that. There's so many different other avenues you can go down in today's world where opportunities that I didn't have when I was coming up. But a lot of the stuff that I talked about here are all the stuff I talked about here has value in one way shape, or form depending on where you are on your journey as a filmmaker, don't don't don't put your nose up at certain avenues like I would never do a corporate video, that's such a sellout. I hate to tell you man, you're going to have to do something like that. If you're going to survive in this business, sometimes you have to do stuff like that, we all do it, everyone does it, all of us do it no matter how big of a filmmaker, you were at one point or another, you had to do something you didn't want to do to get get your foot in the door. So keep up, keep that mind open. And always just think of other ways that you can make revenue streams. And that is one more piece of advice I can give you guys, revenue streams, as many different kinds of revenue streams that you can come have coming into you is, is the key is diversity. Because if you're not able to make money as an editor in May, maybe you can make money as a colorist, and then the so that month you get a job as a colorist. But if you didn't know that skill, you would not be able to get that job not work. And sometimes because you're doing the color work. They're like, Oh, well, we also need to re edit. Okay, great. I could do that job, too. Oh, we also need a post supervisor. I've got credits in that as well, I could do that as well. Oh, we need some help with VFX. I can do that as well. I'm just using the post production aspect of things. But all of a sudden, if you're doing it in the production standpoint, you just come in as a camera guy, all of a sudden you're like, Oh, I also edit. Oh, I also call a grade or so do other things. Find multiple ways that you can make money. Don't just stick to one thing, because if that thing or that one thing dries up, you're in trouble. Okay, and then you gonna be really, really bad place. That's what I've never done. I've always been doing multiple things at different ways. And if you can create multiple passive revenue streams, that's even better if you can figure out other ways to do different things and get different revenue streams coming in. That's the best, especially passive revenue streams. And that's it for this episode. Guys. If you want to hear you want links to anything I talked about in the show, just head over to indiefilmhustle.com/243 for the show notes, and if you haven't already, please head over to filmmakingpodcast.com and leave me a good review of five star good review. You have no idea how much it helps our rankings in iTunes and getting this information out to more and more filmmakers. So thank you guys for listening. And as always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

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