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

Please note: Throwback Fridays are archival episodes from the Indie Film Hustle Podcast. After many requests from the IFH Tribe to bring back some of the show’s best episodes, I decided to create Throwback Fridays. These episodes will not be posted every week but at least twice a month…if not more. 

There’s so much amazing info and knowledge bombs in many of these past episodes and I don’t want them to be lost in the sea of IFH Content so I’ll be putting a spotlight on them in Throwback Fridays. Enjoy! 

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.

Steps to Make a Living as an Artist and a Filmmaker

Step #1 – Have a Plan

How are you going to support yourself while you’re 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 you’re 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 managers
  • 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 every day 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.

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Step #3 – Show Up Everyday

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

Woody was correct. I’ll rather work with someone who shows up every day and bust 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 overnight. 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
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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 you 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 an 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 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)

Filmmaking Resources

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  1. Werner Herzog Master Class
  2. Aaron Sorkin Master Class
  3. (Your FREE Filmmaking Audio Book)


  1. INDIE FILM SYNDICATE Filmmaking Community
  2. IFH’s Online Film School
  3. Six Secrets to get into Film Festivals for FREE!

Action Items:

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Transcription – Indie Film Hustle Podcast Episode #98.
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