IFH 250: The Secret to Making Money with an Independent Film



Top Apple Filmmaking Podcast

20+ Million Downloads

Right-click here to download the MP3

We are here! Episode #250! I can’t believe we got here. I’m humbled that the IFH Tribe has allowed me to continue this show for almost three years now. I wanted to do something special for episode #250 so today I’m going to talk about The Secret to Making Money with an Independent Film. After being a part of over 60 features films and studying hundreds more I’ve noticed a few things that filmmakers should avoid.

This is not all just doom and gloom I promise. I also go over what I think the future of independent film is and how you can be a part of it. So please enjoy this episode and I hope it’s of value to you on your filmmaking journey. Keep on hustlin’!

Alex Ferrari 0:00
This is episode number 250. I have been yapping for 250 plus episodes, with the throwbacks and specials is also so forth. But this is the official 200 and 50th episode, I want to first and foremost thank all of the indie film hustle tribe, for being so supportive of me and what I'm doing here at indie film hustle for the last three years, we are coming up on the three year anniversary of indie film, hustle, calm, I am super excited, I can't wait to show you guys what I've been working on in the lab, you know me when I'm working. It's uh, it's it's dangerous for everybody involved. But thank you again, so much for all the support. And I'm so glad that indie film hustle has been able to be a beacon hopefully, and a source of information for independent filmmakers out there to empower them to go out and make films. And that's what I'm here to do to help you in today's episode, I want to do something special for the episode number 250. So I wanted to tell you guys how not to make an indie film. I've gone through many, many movies in my career in post production been involved in many, probably over 5060 features at this point in my career. And I've seen every Gambit from $10 million movies to $3,000 movies. And I have learned a lot of what to do, and especially what not to do. And I was sitting here thinking the other day about the world of independent film and where we're sitting today in 2018. And looking around, I saw a bunch of things I don't I don't hear a lot of people talking about so in today's episode, I'm going to lay it all on the line. And at the end of the episode around the end of the episode, I'm going to give you the secrets on how to be a successful independent filmmaker, how you can cut through all of the crap out there and make money selling your feature film, your video content, or your series. So let's talk about current market conditions for independent filmmaking. For independent films in general, I'm noticing that there is just so much competition for your eyeballs out there it is insane. You've got Netflix paying one to $2 million per episode of shows that they have on their on their platform. Not to mention Hulu and Amazon, YouTube, video games network television, there is more content than ever before. There's 1000s I think I forgot there's like 250 series being produced currently, if not more this year for all of these different channels and platforms. It is there's so much stuff to watch and I just me personally have things in my queue that I probably will never get to because every time I'm about to watch something new, something else comes up another movie comes up another series I want to watch comes up and they're so good that you want to watch them I tell you this because this is your competition, guys, as independent filmmakers, as Video Creators, as content creators, this is what you are competing against, you're competing against million dollar franchise shows your big time 200 $300 million movies of video games that cost $200 million $300 million to produce, you know, there's so much entertainment out there. But that's what the independent filmmaker, and the content creator is fighting. That's who your competition is. And I don't say this to kind of bring you guys down. But I want you guys to know the truth, the reality and how you can approach it accordingly. Because the days of just like, I'm going to make my little independent film and put it out. And it's just going to, you know, people are going to find it, those days are gone. Absolutely gone. We are not in the 90s anymore. Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez in 2017 are not walking down the streets of Park City at Sundance anymore. Those days are gone. Okay, those days are gone. And I want you to be very clear about that. And I know a lot of you out there right now are in prepping a movie, or about to start a movie or just finished a movie or in post in a movie. And I might get you really depressed after this episode. So hopefully I won't. But hopefully you're not doing anything that I'm gonna say you're doing. But I've got to lay it out there. I got to be truthful. And I got to be blunt, to help you guys out. So a few things that you cannot do anymore. You cannot make a broad comedy, or a drama with no stars, or for that matter in action with no stars. Believe it or not star power as much as they say it is gone. It is still a thing. Okay, especially overseas, it is a very viable thing to help your movie stand apart and make it more marketable. So even domestically, that's the case as well. So perfect examples. Steven Seagal. JOHN Claude Van Damme, those guys can't open a book in the United States. They can't open anything, they can open a movie they can, they're not worth a whole lot. Here. They're still worth something, but not a lot. But overseas. They're killing it and have been killing it for decades. So you have john Claude in your movie, you've got Steven Seagal movie, you're automatically sold in certain certain territories around the world. It's just business automatic just because they're in the movie. So understand that that you cannot just go out and try to make this a comedy. Let's say you're going to make a comedy and you're going to try to make a comedy that is like a Judd Apatow comedy that is very broad, that you're trying to hit as many people as humanly possible. Those days are gone. Same thing for dramas, you can't just make a very broad drama that you're trying to hit everybody, you can't hit everybody, you do not have the resources, or the money to make your film to get the awareness for your film that you need, like the studio's do. I mean, there's nobody on the planet that didn't know that Justice League was going to be released last summer, okay, because they spent 200 million plus dollars, just diluting the planet, on their marketing and advertising. So you are aware of their movie, you cannot do that. So if you make a movie, that's a broad comedy, you know, like a dumb and dumber or, or just a comedy that you're trying to aim it at a very large audience. You're dead, even with a big stars. And sometimes it's not going to happen. I've seen huge movies with big name stars that were done independently that died that made no money because they cannot get the awareness to get people to see that movie. There's just too much competition. Now there are a few there are a few genres that don't rely on Star Power whore obviously is one of them. It's one of the few genres that does that does not rely on Star Power, though. Right now. There's just way way, way too much inventory of horror movies. If you went to a I went to AFM last year, anytime anyone even opened their mouth about horror, they didn't want to hear about it unless even had a star and even then they wouldn't want to talk about it. They just did not want to hear it. There's too much horror out there because it's very cheap to make. And now everybody's got a horror movie because everyone thinks their paranormal activity or something along those lines, you know, so you're competing with Blum house and those kind of guys. When you're in the horror genre, it's just not a good genre to get into again, and I'll tell you, I'll tell you in a little bit how you can get into those genres without star power and still make a profit but I'll talk about that in a minute. Another another genre that does not rely too heavily on Star Power is family dramas, family films, in general. Just stars that basically that it's a family film, whether it's a dog movie, or it's a Oh, I'm gonna go play with I discovered the law This monster and it's a family, anything that's family friendly. It is so valuable right now if you make family family friendly films, you are in a goldmine. There is such a need for family films out there. I'm not even joking. So if you can make family films, you don't need a lot of stars, you don't need any stars. But if you have a face or two always have a face or two. Anytime you can have a recognizable face in your film, do it. But family films is another genre of film that does not rely too heavily on star power. But someone like Kirk Cameron, who was a Caleb who was on an episode just recently, Kirk Cameron, who is very heavy in the faith based films, cameras, not a very big star anymore. He wasn't you know, he was at one point, huge television star. But you know, in the grand scope of movies and theatrical films, he's not a very big star anymore. But in the world of faith, a faith based films, my God, he is a juggernaut, because he is a recognizable face and genre that people and he's really positioned themselves and the brand of himself into something that works for faith based films. So if you can have recognizable faces, or even a little star power always get it. But family films do not rely heavily on that. dramas, thrillers and even action films are extremely hard to sell. Without any star power. dramas in general are difficult to sell because they don't travel very well. comedies are difficult to sell overseas. Because comedy is different from territory to territory, country to country, thrillers do a little bit better, because you can kind of you kind of sell it on genre a little bit, but not as much as horror, and even action movies. And generally action films cost a whole lot of money to make. So if you don't have star power behind it, you're kind of really rolling the dice. Again. Now one of the big examples I can give you is, this is Meg now my film this is Meg did not have any major stars in it, but had a tremendous amount of recognizable faces, all television and feature film, you know, character actors that everybody here in the United States would recognize these people's faces. And because of that, I think is one of the main reasons we were able to sell to Hulu at the time that we were able to sell it. And we also had a bunch of things going for us that it was a female lead, she was Latina, it was it was checking off a lot of boxes, let's say, but, but the recognizable faces helped me a lot. Now another thing you can look into is a television stars, you don't need to have big movie stars, in your movies, especially for overseas stuff. But in if you get a good television star, that is huge overseas. So like if you got someone like in CSI, Hawaii, five o Criminal Minds, these shows have traveled overseas so much, and they're so popular that those stars have extreme star power overseas. So and you can get them a lot of times much more affordably, then you can get big movie stars in your movie. So definitely look at that as well. Now one of the things that you should always do if you're if you're trying to make a movie and trying to sell it to the marketplace, is talk to distribution companies, and talk to producers reps before you actually go out and make the movie if you can, this way, you know what they're looking for. And they say, look, if you have this person or this person, and you're gonna sell this, this, this, this or this in their territory, and you can expect X amount of dollars back, that's really helped you out a lot. And then really smart thing to do as a producer, if you're going after that, that market now, if you're making an indie movie, because it's personal, because it's something that's very passionate, very passionate about. This is a different conversation, guys, if you're going to go down that route, which is what I did with not only this is Meg but also ego and desire is I keep the budget really, really low. The lower the budget, the more power you have, the more freedom you have, if you will, to be able to experiment to be able to go out there and do things. This is Meg was not supposed to sell. And as many territories as it did, it was not supposed to sell to Hulu, it was not supposed to sell to China and to South Africa. But it did. And I was shocked that it did, I was honestly shocked. Because it was a very experimental little film that I put together, we shot it in eight days, it was you know, mean to other people on a crew. And we just kind of rolled with it. But I took that risk because the budget was extremely low. So the lower the budget, the more freedom you have to be experimental. But really, if you guys are, you know, breaking that 3040 $50,000 barrier for budget, you really need to really think about how are you going to get your money back. Now if you can throw away 30 4050 grand and not worry about it. Please call me. No. But seriously, if you can throw that money away, then don't worry about it, whatever that whatever that number is for you. Where you know, like if I lose this, it's not going to kill me. That's where once you break past that that line, that number is really when you scratch are thinking about, wait a minute, if I'm going to throw 100 grand into this, how am I going to recoup my money? You know, I speak to so many filmmakers who don't have any stars in their movies, who go out there and spend 7590 100, Grand 150 grand on movies. And don't don't have a plan on how to make their money back. And it's just just so frustrating. So please, if you are going to go past that budget, really start thinking about how you're going to make your money back with all the things I told, I spoke about before. So that's all the doom and gloom of what not to do, and all this kind of stuff. Now I'm going to tell you the secret to being a successful independent filmmaker, I'm going to tell you the secret on how you can be profitable on your feature film that you're making, or your video content, or your you know, YouTube content, or even a series or things like that, that you're creating. The best way for anyone making films independent films today is to niche down when I say niche is to find a group, a segment of the population that you can focus the content towards. With the world flooding with content and content, the best way for you to cut through all the noise is to create content that is niche to a specific audience. So I'm going to give you a few examples. On the corner of ego and desire, which is my latest feature film. That movie is specifically designed for my niche audience, which happens to be independent filmmakers, film buffs people who like cinema or the making of cinema or the process of making movies. That's who I'm aiming at, and is a very small, niche audience. It's not going to be making tons and tons of money. I'm not going to make millions off of this. But it is about that audience. So I constructed my entire movie, around my audience, on the corner of ego desire is as perfectly built for independent filmmakers, for film makers, for people who are interested in filmmaking, that any film I've ever seen in my life, but it is niche that way, very specifically, and I kept my budget ridiculously low. And one day, I'll tell you guys what that budget is, but not just yet. But that's what I did. And because of that I've I honestly, honestly, to the bottom of my heart know that once we release this film into the world, it's going to do very well, it's going to do well enough to make its money back, get it out there and I'll make a little bit of money, a little bit of profit on it, and everybody who's involved will get a little bit of money as well for working on it. Because I niched it down, I always talk about the vegan chef movie, the vegan chef movies, let's say you're gonna make a romantic comedy. Now, this is a different thing, a lot of the rules that I said earlier, kind of go out the window when you niche it down. So the vegan chef movie, you make a movie about a vegan chef who falls in love with a meat eater, and it's a romantic comedy, and it's a blah, blah, blah, and all that kind of good stuff. You're aiming it at specifically, the vegan audience, the healthy eating audience, the Paleo people, the vegetarians of the world, these are specific segments of the population that you're creating content for, you have to understand something that when you're just doing ask yourself this question, when you watch content, why are you watching it? When you watch a movie, when you watch a show? Why are you watching it? Because at some level, it's something that you're interested in, that you find entertaining, or educational in one way, shape, or form. You have to think that way for your projects and your films to be affecting other people. The reason why I watch a documentary on Netflix is because I'm interested in that specific topic. Not all documentaries. But that specific topic because it interests me. So I'm watching all the content that I watch is because I'm interested in that. So if I if you can create content that is specifically built for me, I will watch it, I will skip by the $200 million you know latest blockbuster that I'm kind of alcohol might watch it, I might not watch it. If it's nothing else on I'll watch it but I'll skip right by that. I'll skip by the 50 $60 million episodes, or series seasons of shows. Because, okay, I'm interested in kind of entertaining, but if it's something that really sings to me, something that really just turns me on, in one way, shape, or form. That's what I'm going to watch. So I watch documentaries, I watch shows, I watch films and series, that are specifically are things that I watch and I promise you that if you ask yourself that question, that's what you do, too. Because that's what human beings do. You're going to watch things that are entertaining to you and that are interesting to us. You've got to find a way to cut through that audience and get to that audience. So now let's say you do that vegan chef movie, you got to start building that audience, you got to go after where that audience lives. And you got to sell this product to that audience. And that's a whole other conversation about audience building and all that kind of good stuff, ancillary products like creating, you know, cooking courses of vegan cooking courses that you can sell along with that movie, and so on. A great story that we did on episode number 167, which I highly recommend everyone listening to this episode, go out right after this and listen to episode number 167. It is the range 15 story. This is a perfect example of what I am talking about range 15. If you guys don't remember that episode, is about a bunch of military guys opened up a T shirt company years ago. And they're one of the leading t shirt and apparel people accompanies for the military, police, firefighters, firefighters and so on. They decided to make a movie one day and they aim that movie specifically towards their audience. And what happened? Long story short, you can hear the whole story on that episode. Long story short, they made over $3 million just on ticket sales selling directly on iTunes. And on. I think it's just iTunes, iTunes and Amazon maybe I think those are the only two places Yeah, I'm Amazon and iTunes, were the only two places they sold their movie, they skipped through all the distribution didn't go anything. They went straight to their audience. Now they had a big audience to begin with. And they built it up even more, but they made content for that audience. Anybody outside that sub genre, or that niche is not really going to be interested in that movie. It's a it's a zombie action comedy. You know, a bunch about a bunch of military guys running around trying to save the world. Now, you might find a few people outside of that niche that are interested. But the guys that they had starring in it were like real Purple Heart winners, real people who had had been, you know, had been in war and that were famous within their niche. And it was fascinating. Sure, they had a little bit of star power because they were able to raise a bunch of money on crowdfunding and all that stuff. So they had a little bit of star power, fun funds from actors like William Shatner, and Shawn Aston, and cap Keith David. And Danny Trejo, of course, because Danny Trejo legally has to be in every movie ever made. But they did. And they were fun, little, fun little cameos that they did in the movie. But the majority of the cast was people who they were aiming at their niche. And they knew exactly what their audience wanted. And they built content for it. That is the future of content creation, that is the future of independent film. That's the future of creating series. That is the future of what you guys are trying to do. You have to understand this, and I want you to get it really clear in your head, that you really need to understand this concept of niching. down, okay, make yourself a skateboard movie, a surfing, movie, and environmental film, faith based films. All of those are sub genres that our audiences are hungry for, and will cut through all of the other crap out there. If it rings true to them. Okay, if you're very religious, and you really want to watch faith based stuff, that the watch that over anything, Hollywood is producing, much faster. I've worked on faith based films. In post, I saw it happen, I was like, wow, that, you know, they did that movie and had one star in it. And it was really just a faith based film. And they sold it and they made millions off of it. It was fascinating to watch, you know, skateboarding movies, DJ movies, all of these are sub genres. These are sub subcultures of people in an audience that is hungry for films, I worked on a movie once that was a hot rod movie. It was a movie specifically designed for people who love hot rods. There's a whole subculture of people who are you know, the rockabilly world, and they just, you know, they love classic cars and hot rods, they made a movie specifically for that audience, and sold it to them and sold a ton of them have movies to that audience. It was fascinating to watch and that's what I I really want to get clear to you guys, is if you remember anything from this episode, remember this saying the riches are in the niches. Okay? The riches are in the niches, how you're going to be successful and cut through all this crap that's out there is to understand that concept, niche down, go down into a niche, make something for a specific audience. Okay, make something for a very specific audience. And that way you'll be able to cut through all of this other crap out there, I promise you ask yourself the question, What do you watch? And why do you watch it? If a duck if you collect comic books, There's a show on on AMC about comic books, like the comic book men with Kevin Smith, I watch that show because I love comic books, you know, and I'm a fan of Kevin's. So it's something that rings to be our watch that over $200 million movie that 30 minutes of the day, or series about if I stream the whole thing and watch the whole thing in a row, I'll watch that over hundreds of millions of dollars worth of, of series and movies and other content. Because it's mean something to me, it's something I'm interested in. So please listen to my words, the riches are in the niches, you really don't have the resources to compete with the studio system. With other films with big monster stars, and big marketing budgets, the way that you'll be able to cut through all of that and compete at a level that you can make money at and may be successful at is if you understand the concept. The riches are in the niches. Now, I hope this episode helped you guys out I hope it shook you a little bit to the core, which I hope it did. It took me a long time to understand this concept. And you know, when I was doing my earlier projects and stuff like that, I was going after a very broad audience with my shorts and and other projects I worked on. But once I understood that, you really got to niche down, at least at this level. Look, when you're working at the studio systems, you're gonna you're gonna make the next Pirates of the Caribbean, you don't really have to niche that's not a niche. Now you're going after a very broad audience. But if you're working in the independent world, please understand those concepts. If you want to hear if you want links to anything I talked about in this episode, head over to indiefilmhustle.com/250. And I can't believe it guys, we are actually 250. And thank you again. So so much. I really really appreciate it. I'd also like to thank our new sponsor streamlet comm now if you're selling your film on amazon prime and noticing that you're not getting a whole lot of cash for nowadays, think about also putting it on streamlet. It is a SVOD platform, a subscription based platform where your movie will not be buried. It's free to submit and has a royalty rate three times as much as Amazon. So you get to keep all the rights. So if you want to submit your film today, go to streamlette.com. That's streamlette.com and I'll leave links to it in the show notes. Thanks again for 250 and here's to 250 more and beyond. As always keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.




  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook
  3. Rev.com – $1.25 Closed Captions for Indie Filmmakers – Rev ($10 Off Your First Order)



Where Hollywood Comes to Talk

Oliver Stone

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Platoon, Wall Street, JFK)

Edward Burns

(Brothers McMullin, She's the One)

Richard Linklater

Oscar® Nominated Writer/Director
(Boyhood, School of Rock)

Eric Roth

Oscar® Winning Screenwriter
(Forrest Gump, Dune)

Oscar® Winning Writers/Directors
(Everything, Everywhere, All At Once)

Jason Blum

(Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver)

Oscar® Nominated Producer
(Get Out, Whiplash)

Chris Moore sml

Oscar® Nominated Producer
(Good Will Hunting, American Pie)

(Menace II Society, Book of Eli)

Marta Kauffman sml

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Last Samurai, Blood Diamond)

Emmy® Winning Writer & Showrunner
(Friends, Grace and Frankie)

Free Training of The Week


How to Direct Big Action Sequences on a Micro-Budget

By Gil Bettman

Join veteran director Gil Bettman as he shares the secrets to directing big budget action on a micro budget.