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Typical Gross Revenues for Indie Films?


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#1 Mark Bonnington

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 04:03 PM

As a poor guy with very little money, my indie movie creation will likely cost me all of my savings. Before going into production, I need to figure out how much of my money I'm going to lose for good, and how much might come back to me from sales of the movie.

The characteristics of my planned movie are as follows: a genre of romantic comedy (pseudo-typical plot); average acting by as yet unknown people (mostly friends); few if any special effects; very good sound; very good picture quality; a bit of sex appeal from the female cast (no nudity though); and an almost non-existent advertising budget. The total spent on the movie (excluding recording gear) MIGHT get as high as $10k, but more likely will come in under $5k... essentially micro-budget.

The question then is, what's the typical income brought in from a no-budget independent movie with the characteristics I've mentioned? Is there a standard sales path that provides a fairly predictable return on investment? What kind of sales figures have other low-budget movies had in the last year or two?

Edited by Mark Bonnington, 13 June 2007 - 04:03 PM.

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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 04:12 PM

> Typical Gross Revenues for Indie Films?

Is negative.

I didn't even bother reading your post, to be honest.

Phil
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#3 Nathan Milford

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 04:24 PM

I've actually read your post.

And I agree with Phil (he's usually right though...), you'll lose what you invest in it plus the time invested.
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#4 AdamBray

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 04:32 PM

I need to figure out how much of my money I'm going to lose for good.



All of it.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 04:33 PM

On the other hand, if you lose $5,000 to 10,000, that's nothing in filmmaking terms. Think of it as an investment in your long-term career.

Certainly there's a small chance that you can sell the movie for cost or at a profit, depending on how marketable it is, just that an under-$10,000 feature tends to be so low in production value as to be limited in marketability. And romantic comedies with unknowns tends to be a difficult genre with limited overseas potential.

You're talking about micro markets, a limited straight-to-DVD release if you're lucky. The best thing would be to find some successful examples that resemble your film in cost and content to see what they did.

I'm not saying you shouldn't do it, because completing a decent movie on a tiny budget may be a springboard into a bigger project -- it gives you some credits, some experience, and hopefully some respectibility. This could make it easier to get investors on your next movie, or at least, find you work. Or maybe get you into the film festival circuit and meet people who will take you to the next step.
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#6 Nick Mulder

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 06:05 PM

I agree with all replies on this one ...

I'm pretty much in the same boat at the moment except my genre is a po-mo sci fi mash up with some 'serious' ideals hidden in there somewhere (po-mo so I can get away with crappy effects) ... Cue mocking laughter etc...

I would personally try and go for better actors even if means a loss of capital input into other areas ...

anyhoo, totally go for it - learning experience even if it just gets a youtube release.
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#7 Mark Bonnington

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 07:13 PM

Wow, so I should expect no profits at all. That's not good news.

Is there ANY way to make money on a low budget movie? What do I have to add in order to make it a salable product? How big would the name stars have to be? How much extra money do I need to put into the project and what aspect of the development should get that money? Should it all go into advertising costs? Is 4-walling the movie a viable option to get some sort of income from it?
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#8 Richard Boddington

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 07:54 PM

Want to make money with 10K and a mini DV camera? No problem, you make one of these:

http://www.braindamagefilms.com/

Go heavy on the nudity and blood, and you'll make money. I should have started out this way 10 years ago :D

A 10K romantic comedy? Every one is right, your return will be zero. Unless you make the next "Brothers Mc Mullen" I think it was?

I agree with David, 10K is nothing to lose, especially if you're young, who cares?

What you gain in experience will be well worth it.

R,
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 09:17 PM

Obviously there are examples of low-budget comedies and romances that make money.

Look at "Once", shot in consumer DV or HDV (still get mixed opinions on that) -- a real charmer. I loved it. Seems to be doing well, or at least, the soundtrack is. Or the Dogma95 drama "The Celebration".

It's just that the odds are so poor that you're better off going in not thinking you'll make money off of the movie, so if it happens, it's great.

Just make the best movie you can -- who knows, if it's a hit at a film festival, you may get some traction and interest. I think it was winning the audience award at "Sundance" that got distributors interested in "Once".
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#10 Mark Bonnington

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 10:34 PM

Sundance is a pretty high bar to shoot for, they don't let indies into that festival anymore, do they? Isn't it just high-budget Hollywood cousins allowed in? I'll give it a go but I suppose it'll be kind of like buying a Lotto ticket.

The nudity and blood recommendation; I'm not above that sort of thing, I'll look into it.
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#11 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 10:44 PM

> Wow, so I should expect no profits

No, you shouldn't.

> That's not good news.

No, it isn't.

> Is there ANY way to make money on a low budget movie?

No, not reliably. If you aren't spending seven figures, you need to consider it entertainment expenses.

Phil
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 11:16 PM

Not to depress you, but your odds of turning a profit are greater if you just put the $10,000 in a savings account. Doesn't mean you have no chance, just a very low one.

Film students regularly make short films with bigger budgets than $10,000 that never see a profit.

Your motivation should be to make a good film with the money you've raised, and if you get lucky and sell it at a profit somehow, that's a blessing. But don't make the movie around the idea that you will see your money back and rely on that as part of your personal financial planning, like taking the money from your kid's college fund thinking you'll just put the money back in later.
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#13 Mark Bonnington

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Posted 13 June 2007 - 11:39 PM

Film students regularly make short films with bigger budgets than $10,000 that never see a profit.


Short films aren't really something anyone wants to buy. Your average viewer looks at a short and thinks "long trailer".
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#14 Patrick Neary

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Posted 14 June 2007 - 12:23 AM

Hi-

I think you would have to ask yourself why anyone would want to buy a romantic comedy with a pseudo-typical plot, average acting by as yet unknown people (mostly friends) and few if any special effects.

Even as just a film-goer, would you seek out and pay to see something similar?

The first feature I shot (for a friend) was a 16mm no-budget (I think $7,000 or so) B&W "thriller" and I think the only sale he made was me buying a copy off amazon ($14.99) just to have in my collection. That's not a very good return!
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#15 Mark Bonnington

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Posted 14 June 2007 - 12:50 AM

I think you would have to ask yourself why anyone would want to buy a romantic comedy with a pseudo-typical plot, average acting by as yet unknown people (mostly friends) and few if any special effects.

Even as just a film-goer, would you seek out and pay to see something similar?


Excellent question. I suppose that is the crux of the matter... what is the motivation to see my movie. Why do people pay for blood and nudity? Why do people pay to see comic book adaptations, or big-name stars? Maybe because they're tired of the day to day life, they want visual stimulus they can't get at home. They like escapism, and fantasy, without having to go to the effort of creating it for themselves. They want to live through the characters on screen. Some of the moviegoers want to have their emotions prodded, either with laughter or tears, others with fear and suspense. That's what I'll have to shoot for in my movie, to make it worth while, I've got to prod the viewer awake. I've got to give him something to look at that he can't see in his work-a-day lifestyle. And I'll have to make it better than the next guy's film which also happens to have the support of a million dollars.


The first feature I shot (for a friend) was a 16mm no-budget (I think $7,000 or so) B&W "thriller" and I think the only sale he made was me buying a copy off amazon ($14.99) just to have in my collection. That's not a very good return!


How long did you have to be in the movie business before you started to see positive returns? How many movies did you have to make?
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#16 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 June 2007 - 01:37 AM

In mentioning that student short films often cost more than $10,000, I was merely pointing out that $10,000 is really low for a feature. "Clerks" and "Brothers McMullen" both cost nearly three-times that a decade or so ago, and those are considered very "small" movies with minimal production values.

Maybe you'd just like us to say what you want to hear, I don't know... but you can convince yourself that "all" you have to do is make one of the best $10,000 romantic comedies ever made, but all we can tell you is that the odds are poor for turning a profit so you had better not count on it., that's all.

Make your movie and maybe you'll get lucky, find a way to make money on it -- it's not impossible, just improbable. Your motivation should be much greater than simply a return of your investment.

What sells a movie? Usually it's either a name actor, which unfortunately costs some money (for the very reason that the actor knows that) -- I mean, at minimum they are sure to be in SAG, which makes your movie a SAG shoot probably with them getting scale at some point.

Or it's a highly popular genre not driven by stars, like horror, to sell to fans of that genre.

Or it's a bunch of major film festival awards to sell the movie to the art house cinema crowd.

Please, go make your movie and make it a good movie. None of us are telling you not to make a movie; we're just trying to warn you to not rely on it returning its costs or turning a profit.
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#17 Mark Bonnington

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Posted 14 June 2007 - 02:46 AM

In mentioning that student short films often cost more than $10,000, I was merely pointing out that $10,000 is really low for a feature. "Clerks" and "Brothers McMullen" both cost nearly three-times that a decade or so ago, and those are considered very "small" movies with minimal production values.


Ah, I getcha now. Yeah, I guess in that perspective $10k really is a pittance for making a full length movie.

Maybe you'd just like us to say what you want to hear, I don't know... but you can convince yourself that "all" you have to do is make one of the best $10,000 romantic comedies ever made, but all we can tell you is that the odds are poor for turning a profit so you had better not count on it., that's all.


I'm taking it all in. But I've heard "you can't possibly succeed at <x>" from people I've talked to through most of my life. Sometimes it's true and I fail, but sometimes there are ways to get things done where others have failed. What I'm looking for is an idea of the daunting task ahead, and I'm feeling around for the logic behind it all to see if there's a logical solution to achieve success. It's the analyst in me that's fighting the odds, and it's the human (ego) in me that's being naively optimistic.

Make your movie and maybe you'll get lucky, find a way to make money on it -- it's not impossible, just improbable. Your motivation should be much greater than simply a return of your investment.


My motivation is to create, for the sake of improving the world. But, you know, money's good too.


What sells a movie? Usually it's either a name actor, which unfortunately costs some money (for the very reason that the actor knows that) -- I mean, at minimum they are sure to be in SAG, which makes your movie a SAG shoot probably with them getting scale at some point.


Down with SAG!

Or it's a highly popular genre not driven by stars, like horror, to sell to fans of that genre.

Or it's a bunch of major film festival awards to sell the movie to the art house cinema crowd.

Please, go make your movie and make it a good movie. None of us are telling you not to make a movie; we're just trying to warn you to not rely on it returning its costs or turning a profit.


Ok, I'll go make the good movie the way I originally intended it. Then I'll follow it with a horror movie, followed by another good movie if the horror movie brings in enough for me to keep shooting.
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#18 Yancey Franco

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Posted 14 June 2007 - 04:50 AM

I'm pretty much going to agree with everyone here. I'm pretty new to both film and video but I know I'm probably not going to see a dime out of anything I produce unless it is something fantastic. Once in a while there is a long shot. My boss has a small episodic show that started out on podcasts and on youtube, its called Mr. Deity. It really is a very funny little show and now they're being contacted by Sony to hopefully produce a TV show. They barely started Mr. Deity in January I believe. This is a very long shot and even they are amazed at the short span of time that they were up before they got so many viewers and such. But then again, its not a film.
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#19 Patrick Neary

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Posted 14 June 2007 - 09:33 AM

How long did you have to be in the movie business before you started to see positive returns? How many movies did you have to make?


I'm not sure I'm really in the movie business at all- But I see positive returns on every project because I get paid for shooting (except on the aforementioned feature and a few shorts). But to add to the list of despair, 3 other 16mm features I shot, all with budgets between $100k-$150k, are still in shoeboxes in the producers' closets. One deservedly so. But two were made by a fairly established actor, had very good non-name actors and good scripts, I thought they'd make it to cable or dvd or something no problem, but no-dice. I haven't talked to the director in several years, so I don't know why they apparently died on the vine. He had previously written and directed "Def by Temptation" (shot be Ernest Dickerson) which had Samuel Jackson and a few others- that one was picked up by Troma but I remember him being not happy about the deal for some reason. One TV movie I did (The Legend of Sasquatch) is out there, but it was part of a syndicated series I was already shooting, just three episodes strung together pretty much. I also shot 2nd unit on a couple TV movies (P.U.N.K.S. and Miracle Dogs) that did receive wide exposure on Disney and Animal Planet, but those were produced by established companies and had name cast.

I'm supposed to start shooting a $1+ million 35mm feature this summer (name cast), maybe then I'll be in the movie biz- But that project has been a long time coming. I think one of the things that has allowed this project to get as far as it has though, was a nice short we shot (also in 35) that played a number of festivals- and that 12 minute film had a budget almost twice what you're talking about for a feature.

You might look at "The Puffy Chair" -it's on netflix- I don't really know anything about it, except it was very low-budget, no names, and was one of the best movies my wife and I saw last year!
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#20 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 June 2007 - 10:49 AM

I'm taking it all in. But I've heard "you can't possibly succeed at <x>" from people I've talked to through most of my life.


I'm not saying you can't succeed in life, I'm saying that the odds of turning a profit on a $10,000 feature are extremely low. There's a big difference.

You don't have to turn a profit to be a "successful" filmmaker actually. There are many indie directors that go from one film to the next without their movies actually turning a profit. Partly this is the result of creative accounting (their films really are making money for someone) but this is mostly to do with being savvy about playing the game. In Hollywood, all you have to do is act successful, you don't actually have to be successful. It doesn't really matter what's in your bank account at the time -- that's not the real measurement of success. Success, here, is the ability to keep working, to keep in the game.

I've done four features with one director, and I'm not sure any one of them actually made much beyond the cost of production, plus prints and advertizing costs (over course, over time in home video and cable, money probably keeps trickling in) but they were generally well-received critically and did respectable business and this allows the director to keep moving ahead on new projects. Of course, an outright box office success would mean more power, but the truth is that the majority of movies released don't make their money back so that's not held against the filmmaker. Distributors make money off of their few real successes out of their many flops. One hit can cover the costs of releasing a dozen flops.
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