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Filmmaking Basics

How to Make Money Filmmaking (Even If You’re Just Getting Started)

November 9, 2021

By Colette Nichol, Filmmaker and Story Strategist

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

You can make money filmmaking.

That’s a simple fact. Even if you don’t know how to make money filmmaking right now, it’s something you can learn. You don’t have to wait for some big magical funding wizard to come along and grant your filmmaking wishes. Instead, you can take your filmmaking dreams and come up with creative ways to make money while also doing what you love.

As a solo filmmaker and educator, I’ve seen over and over how many of us wait for someone to give us permission to pursue our filmmaking dreams. We want legitimacy perhaps. Or maybe we’re just scared.

Sometimes though, there’s something even more nefarious going on. We’re playing the waiting game because we just don’t want to honour our dreams and our creativity.

Let me explain.


Table of Contents

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF WAITING FOR YOUR DREAMS

THE FUNDING TRAP

HOW TO MAKE MONEY FILMMAKING, EVEN IF YOU’RE JUST GETTING STARTED

HOW TO BE GENEROUS WITH YOURSELF AND YOUR PASSIONS


Anyone who has the passion, curiosity and persistence can make money as a filmmaker.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF WAITING

“I don’t know WHY I waited 40 years to get one!”

That’s my mum exclaiming over the pretty freaking silly fact that she’d wanted to buy a digital meat thermometer for over 40 years but hadn’t allowed herself to buy one until last year.

And YES, this will have something to do with filmmaking. Wait for it…

So my mum is in her 70s and has been a hard-core home cook since she was in her 20s. She’s even written a recipe book dedicated to the quirky art of baking the perfect scone. Growing up, our kitchen had hundreds of cookbooks on a bookshelf next to the kitchen table. As a kid, I ate all sorts of weird and wonderful things because my mum was always experimenting in the kitchen. For Christmas dinner one year we took a family trip to a wild boar farm so we could pick up some weirdo meat delights.

Yes, that’s right, wild boar roast for Christmas dinner. Erm, I never really liked answering the question, “So how did you spend the holidays?” The answer was always going to be something weird. But anyway…the point is my mum was passionate about her craft. She loved it!

So why did my mum wait over 40 years to get a digital meat thermometer for goodness sake?

“I just thought…well, they’re expensive!”

For the record, a good digital meat thermometer is about $100. But my mum isn’t alone in her propensity to delay gratification for an extremely long time. She also isn’t alone in leaning on a complete absence of logic when making strangely frugal decisions around her passions.

If nobody believes in you…then it’s time to believe in yourself!

I’ve done the same thing. Probably you have too.

In fact, as filmmakers or aspiring filmmakers, this is something we are usually guilty of doing in a big way. We’d rather wait and wait and wait and waiiiiiit for the perfect opportunity, instead of just getting started in a messy and imperfect way.

Or we’re waiting for the big leagues, and in doing so totally putting off the creativity and learning we could be doing right now!

Case in point is the creative person who dreams of making films but is waiting for funding.

Now if this is you, don’t worry, I’m not about to criticize you because I get it! I’ve been there. I used to think that to become a filmmaker I had to write a great script, get funding, and then somehow have a blockbuster success on the big screen. While that idea has not lost its appeal, I’m not waiting for it to happen. I get to make films now rather than wait for my golden ticket.

Ideally, this is what I’d like for you as well.

Instead of waiting, you could be going after some version of your filmmaking dream right now.

So today, I’ve got a few options for you and a little tiny dose of industry info. And I want to discuss why waiting to become a filmmaker makes no sense logically.

Nobody can give you permission to follow your dreams except you. Learned that one the hard way!

THE FUNDING TRAP

According to Steven Follows, a brilliant film researcher from the UK, 94.3% of feature films made in the US between 1999 and 2018 were independent. 9 out of 10 of those films didn’t get shown in commercial movie theatres. In other words, the vast majority of independent films didn’t make much of a profit, if any at all. (For more on, read Follows’ blog on the topic.) Also, for those indie movies that did get a theatrical release, the majority didn’t earn enough at the box office to break even, let alone earn a profit.

So what does this tell us?

It tells us that as filmmakers, creative beings, and freedom-loving humans we need to be focused on what we CAN control.

If you do win the lottery and manage to get funding for your first feature and it doesn’t at least break even, you won’t likely get funding ever again. But nobody dreams of becoming a one-hit-wonder filmmaker. Most of us want to be forever filmmakers. We want to gain a skillset, develop our voices, start telling the stories that matter to us and are meaningful to an audience, and we want to keep doing it! Forever!

RELATED POST: How Much Does It Cost To Make a Movie

Filmmaking Basics

So what’s a creative person with a ton of ideas and no big funding source supposed to do?

Should you wait forever and keep hunting down funding opportunities while perfecting your screenplays? Or should you just get started the quick and easy way?

I think you know my answer.

When you stop being so attached to the idea of making a feature with funding, then you can get down to the actual work of learning and bettering your craft. You can start small as a solo filmmaker. You can make scrappy micro films. You can become a better storyteller and visual artist.

AND you can also make money while doing this.

Full disclosure, I’m heavily biased towards helping people become solo filmmakers. That’s what I teach. And I run an online course that helps people become solo filmmakers. I also believe that anyone who was born into this world with storytelling bones should be living that purpose now, not later.

And I believe that solo filmmaking is one of the most powerful art forms on the planet. So if the idea of getting started and not waiting forever appeals to you, here’s a list of ways you can make money while also improving your solo filmmaking skillset.

Follow your gut and get started sooner rather than later. I waited ten years. I hope you don’t do the same!

HOW TO MAKE MONEY FILMMAKING, EVEN IF YOU’RE JUST GETTING STARTED

1) Indie Content Creator

Build an audience online by making films and videos about topics you care about. There are tons of ways to monetize this including sponsorship, ad revenue, Patreon-style insiders clubs, selling courses and memberships, and offering content upgrades.

2) Corporate and Small Biz Video

There’s a huge range of films and videos that businesses need made today. This industry is growing, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. While some of this work is dry but well paying there are also some opportunities that allow for more creativity.

3) Stock Video and Cinematic Stock Video

I’ve had to use stock video on quite a few recent projects. It’s clear that there is plenty of room in this space for passionate filmmakers and videographers to make money. The income depends on how much you put into it (like most things) but I’ve heard of creators making as much as $250,000 a year if they go all in with this. While others do a little on the side and might make an extra few hundred or thousand dollars per month.

4) Wedding Films and Real Estate Films

These two niche industries support many filmmakers who earn their income in these spaces and then do personal projects on the side. You can make a very good living in either niche.

5) Indie Documentarian and Self-Distribution Maven

If you have the guts to self-fund and self-produce a documentary on a topic that audiences are hungry to learn more about and has a built-in audience, then you can earn a serious reward for your efforts as long as you’re willing to learn the art of selling and promotion. I’ve seen many filmmakers who frankly aren’t even that skilled do this with great success simply because they’re passionate about a topic and willing to put in the time needed to promote a film.

6) Being a Technician for Hire

If you like the freedom of doing one-off contract work then you might like being a technician for hire. Some filmmakers earn their incomes as editors or colourists or DPs. You can earn $750 or more per day as a technician for hire once you get good at your skillset.

7) Micro Low Budget Feature Filmmaking and Self-Distribution

If you go this route, you’ll need to be a good producer and storyteller. So I don’t recommend jumping right in at this level without any other experience. But if you have some experience as a solo filmmaker, this could work for you. For $10,000 you can make your first feature. But it’s all about focusing on story and strategy when you’re doing something on a tiny budget. You won’t be making a CGI vampire epic. But you can make an indie drama that takes place in one location and features a cast of four. If you’re interested in this route, you should check out Noam Kroll’s website. He writes a lot about this topic and gives great advice.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of how you can earn money as a filmmaker, these are the most common ways I’ve seen people doing it. Any one of these is within reach once you build up the skillset.

If you do go any of these routes, then you can earn money while also getting better and better at something that you genuinely love doing.

So what do you think?

Are you absolutely wedded to the idea of getting funding for your first feature or are you open to trying some alternative methods?

HOW TO BE GENEROUS WITH YOURSELF AND YOUR PASSIONS

My mum is now so happy she finally got a meat thermometer that she’s become an evangelist on the topic.

She’s insisting I have one as well, lol. Pretty sure I know what she’s going to get for me at Christmas this year. But now it’s time to pass this over to you. Is there anything you’ve been stopping yourself from buying that would actually really serve your goals, dreams or creative pursuits?

If so, why not give yourself official permission to indulge your passions… especially if whatever you want comes with a return policy! Sometimes we’re weirdly frugal with our most treasured passions, and sometimes we need to just treat ourselves. I once waited three years to take a writing course that I REALLY wanted to take. I’d been eyeing it from afar but had talked myself out of it. It was too expensive. I didn’t really need it. Blah blah blah. When I finally took the course I raced through the whole thing in 10 days. (It was a five-week course.) I loved every single minute of it and felt completely inspired!

Why had I waited so long to give myself that gift?

My best guess is that sometimes we creatives like to withhold the things that will make us most come alive as a weird way of keeping ourselves in line with the status quo. Really pursuing your dreams and passions can be disruptive to the people around you and can upset your daily life. Yes, the changes that come from pursuing your dreams will be positive. But there can also be negative fallout as naysayers criticize you. It all comes down to change. We’re both deeply attracted to change and deeply scared of change.

But psychology aside, it’s always going to be beneficial to give yourself the tools or education or experiences that you need to pursue your dreams. And so, I wish you all the best with it!

About the Author

Hi, I’m Colette Nichol. I’m a story strategist, filmmaker, and entrepreneur based out of rainy Vancouver. Obsessed with personal development, solo filmmaking, and marketing, you can often find me attempting to read ten books at the same time. Join the inbox party: take my free mini-course and start building your filmmaking skillset.

I'm Colette, here to give you a filmmaking skillset boost! 

Welcome! I’m a story strategist, filmmaker, and teacher based out of rainy Vancouver, Canada. My mission is to give you the tools and tactics you need to pursue your filmmaking dreams, so you can start making films this year! No more waiting for the right time.  Join the inbox party: take my free mini-course and start building your filmmaking skillset.

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ahoy there!