How I earn money with my short films
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You are a passionate filmmaker and you go all-out to make movies. Then we have something in common.
But how to finance your movie passion? There are tons of blog posts out there on how to make your low or no budget movie and I'd say that's the easier part. I've made a no budget feature myself and about 10 short films many of which didn't cost a cent. The more difficult part: how to make money out of your content when everybody wants to watch everything for free? And how to pay the bills? Even though you make your movie for next to nothing... you still have to live on something.
In 2008 I got selected to participate in the Berlinale Talentcampus, a workshop for filmmakers from around the world taking place during the Berlinale Film Festival. I managed to listen to all segments of the panel discussion about self distribution - an eye opener! The speakers Arin Crumley ("Four Eyed Monsters") and M Dot Strange ("We are the Strange") successfully distributed their films themselves. And they didn't succeed through getting their films into festivals (even though "We are the Strange" was officially selected in Sundance) but through a smart online campaign.
In the following years I tried out a lot of streaming and social networking sites. Below you'll find what worked for me and what didn't (listing the most important ones):
In 2008 we posted a couple of our films at filmannex.com. Depending on the download quality you had to pay between 3 and 5 USD for one download. We didn't earn a cent. We thought if nobody wants to buy our movies nobody will watch them either. As result we put the movies up for free. We still didn't earn anything but at least we started to get an audience. The filmannex staff being super nice, and always replying instantly to our emails and requests definitely helped to make us feel appreciated as filmmakers.
I think it was early 2010 or late 2009 when filmannex came up with their concept of webTVs: if you have at least 4 videos with a minimum length of 4 minutes each, you can start your own webTV and get a share of the ad revenues. Nothing to loose, we tried.
Conclusion: SUCCESS! THANKS to filmannex, we started of in early 2010 with about USD 25 for each of our webTVs and each month the revenues doubled ... so far accounting until June 2010 :) You can check out our webTVs here:
My personal portfolio: http://www.jblockbustertv.com/
Action films and clips from Low Angle Productions and me: http://www.ramlyatwartv.com/
Films from my filmmaker friends and affiliates with Fat Kat Studios: http://www.fatkatstv.com/
The revenue scheme at Indieflix.com is a little bit different than filmannex. You submit your short or feature and if Indieflix selects your film, they distribute it via stream and / or DVD. Additionally you can apply for distribution through iTunes, Hulu and Netflix. However Indieflix choosing your film, doesn't necessarily mean you can distribute it through iTunes, etc. because these sites are still able to reject your film, even though Indieflix accepted it.
During the first days (before 2008), my shorts were just available on DVD. Furthermore, I sold my first short "Killerbus" just as Pal version and Indieflix sells mainly NTSC versions in the US. Took me a while to figure out why I didn't earn much. However, Indieflix, similar to filmannex, doesn't stop to support their contributors and the staff always makes you feel appreciated as filmmaker. (Thanks! :)
The biggest pay off came when Hulu.com accepted my first feature Emperor. For me the returns came totally unexpected and even though it wasn't huge... it wasn't small either and made me feel good! People watched my film! And I got money!!
I would recommend Indieflix for no-, micro- or low budget features which take the path of self distribution. Get your movie with competent people into Hulu, iTunes and Netflix.
Youtube & Google Adwords:
M Dot Strange talked during the Berlinale about Youtube as one of the websites which led to his success. His persistence in posting 'how to' videos about 3D animation finally paid off. After about 2 years he reached a turning point when his youtube audience suddenly multiplied. He applied successfully for the youtube partner program and earned money with Google Adwords. (At least that's what I remember from his talk back then :)
Malaysia isn't applicable for the partner program, but Germany is. As German I applied and it worked! (YAY ... was the first reaction.) I set up Google Adwords and made less than 10USD in the following months. Bummer.
At some point I linked Adwords to my account at www.filmannex.com - and suddenly I made about 50USD in 2 weeks! Seemed good to me, strange to Google. They kicked me out with the suspicion of invalid activity and even when I explained that most of my audience is located in Asia they didn't revise their decision. I never got the money and won't be able to use Google Adwords again... ever.
"Filmaka pledges to reward your creativity. Our monthly competitions provide exciting challenges where you can win prizes, showcase your work, develop your skills and find an audience." So far, so good!
In October 2008 I tried their monthly competition with my movie partner Adrian Lai. Our second trial was successful. In November '08 we managed to pass the entry level (YAY ... was the first reaction.) The deal: filmmakers get USD 500 for being shortlisted in the entry level and an additional USD 1000 as production fund to make a second film for the Jury level (round 2), all films less than 3 minutes. The winner of the Jury level becomes eligible for the final competition at the end of the year. Each year one filmmaker gets to direct their own feature.
We produced our second short film for the Jury level in round 2. We didn't win but submitted all the necessary documents to get our reward and the production fund.
Bummer: After more than a year and more than 30 reminder emails sent from our side (feels humiliating by the way) I finally got a small amount of money via overseas bank transfer in March 2010 (we won the entry level in November 2008). It didn't match with the amount promised for winning the entry level and we never saw any money for the production of the Jury level film either.
Conclusion: FAIL! (I think filmaka.com takes emerging filmmakers for a ride.)
A final word:
Don't be afraid to put your movie up for free streams. Eventually people will rip it anyway. One of the most important lessons I learned: share your movie. Don't be afraid of people stealing it... in fact, as more people steal your movie, as more people will know about it and as more people will buy it. All my income came from ad revenues of people watching my films for free. And it starts to be enough to finance my living. Time to make more movies!!
Now I'm interested in your story. I told you about my experiences. However there are as many opportunities as films out there. Please share your success stories and let us know about your bad experiences... which sites are worth a try, which sites should filmmakers avoid?