I know artists, especially filmmakers, are supposed to be in debt and starving. That is until maybe…JUST maybe…some amazing man in a suit who works at a Hollywood studio offers you a chance to 2nd AD on a superhero reboot film.
Serious question: how does Jim Jarmusch afford two houses? Where are Chris Marker’s paychecks coming from?
I always wonder how even successful independent and “Arthouse” (I’m sorry I hate the whole “Art” film thing) filmmakers get by. Does Jarmusch work as a baker in between films? Most of his films seem to break even at best, and even if they do make him some money, he makes one film every 4-5 years.
I remember reading Jon Jost’s story of his life as a filmmaker and it seemed pretty tough, but a lot less grim then some of the other independent directors’ financial woes.
I know there are some notable American independent directors on here, and maybe if you see this you can chime in.
I ask this question not because I want to become a director that makes millions, but I’m just wondering how not to starve in life. While every artist surely struggles with money, it seems like musicians can actually at least partially make a living based on the music they make and sell (and perform). Unless a filmmaker gets into a theater he seems doomed.
I always figured there is some group of rich people in Europe that simply gives art filmmakers money. Maybe there is?
I don’t know enough about Jarmusch to say specifically about what he’s doing to get by but I can tell you that plenty of independent filmmakers make a living working in mainstream cinema. Cassavetes is the most obvious example – he’d act in stupid movies so he could afford to make his own.
John Sayles is another example. People think of him as an indie-maverick but he makes his living writing screenplays for major studio films. Another avenue beyond screenwriting and more likely uncredited “script-doctoring” is working in television and commercials. Patty Jenkins and Lisa Cholodenko both directed episodes of television shows (Cholodenko worked on Six Feet Under for example). Even big name directors like Fincher still direct commercials (he did one not that long ago for Nike). This is really how directors (and DPs) make their living because the pay is good and the time commitment is minimal.
At the very least, somebody’s made a living publishing a book on how to make a living as an independent filmmaker.
^yeah, that’s another option, writing books on how to make a movie. Or better yet, teach classes on film (Kelly Reichardt for example). In my experience, most independent filmmakers (at least the directors whose names we are familiar with) are making their living doing something related to film (whether it’s script doctoring, writing books, teaching, etc.). In other words, I don’t think Jim Jarmusch is paying his rent delivering packages for UPS.
Sure, those jobs come along if you’re lucky. But usually you get offered to work on scripts or direct commercials if you get notoriety first. And of course Cassavetes had great acting ability.
But I guess the kernel of my question is: before all of that, before notoriety. Let’s say you make a film that is good in the artistic, non-mainstream sense. Does that film by itself actually earn you a living?
It just feels like even good art films nowadays would lose people money. Musicians who do good work make money by playing that good work. It seems if you’re a filmmaker that makes good work, you must work on other people’s bad work to make money.
With self-distribution channels opening up more and more, how likely is it that someday SOME independent filmmakers can actually make a decent part of their living just….making good movies?
There ar emany ways to get started as long as you have a good script, actors and, of course, a decent camera. You can even make films without two.
To break in though, usually most filmmakers submit their short films to festivals, where they also get to expand their network. Making commercial ads is another good option. Working as an intern or assistant will also help to make more connections. But, I think it is indeed important to maintain some job on side in order to pay for the rent. As long as you continue making films from perior to period, you will get your name recognised soon or later. All it really takes is patience and passion.
As for whether indie filmmakers make good enough money from their films to support themselves, I personally believe the smaller the budget, the greater chance of profit. If you make a $10k film, get it distributed and make over a million or atleast half of it, that would be already a good result. Small budgets do limit most filmmakers, but they are a safer bet and usually encourage more creative input.
“Does that film by itself actually earn you a living?”
Probably not. If it does, it’s not for very long. One of my mentors at film school had his film premiere at Cannes and it was released by a major studio but it wasn’t like he was living the high life because of it. He still had to find other ways to supplement his income. I think at some point if you make enough films (like Jarmusch) then yeah, you might be able to support yourself. But a lot of these independent filmmakers want to keep their independence and not give up their creative control and the only way you do that is if you finance your films yourself (or you find supportive investors). If you’re doing that, if you’re not relying on studios or large production companies to finance production, then your films either have to be super successful financially or you have to find dough somewhere else.
“But usually you get offered to work on scripts or direct commercials if you get notoriety first. "
I guess it depends on what you mean by notoriety. Patty Jenkins made one film (Slums of Beverly Hills) then spent nearly ten years in and out of television. Ditto on Cholodenko – I don’t think she became much of a household name until The Kids Are All Right, which she made after she’d been directing episodic television.
If that’s your primary concern, you shouldn’t make films anyhow.
“You make movies because you need to make movies. Everything else is unimportant. If you wait to get the money to make a movie then you shouldn’t make the movie. If you need distribution in place before you have the courage to make a movie then it’s not a movie worth making. There are many other ways to make money than making movies. If you need to make money, please find some other way to do it. You make movies to lose your money. That is the purpose of making a movie—to put your life into something—not get something out of it.”
- John Cassavetes
I so much agree with that quote by Cassavetes!
As for me, I think the goal to beocme a filmmaker is somehwat similar to what writers usually have to say about it. It’s mainly like when you cannot really imagine yourself doing anything else, but make films. I cannot fit in any work evironment other than a set, where I have my camera and cast.
Right but I guess to me that feels so stale and weird and old. To me I see little difference in simply working an office job or working in television. Sure, script writing would be easier, but I have no desire to break my back for 10 years to maybe become an director for a talk show or something.
@ Blue K.
I think you misunderstand what my thread is about. It’s not about being rich or making a movie with the goal of making money. I’m going to make the movies I wanted to make regardless. But it’d be nice if someday, if a filmmaker is really good, he can actually make a bit of a living off his work because people like it and want to buy it and support him. I KNOW some indie directors do it now but I honestly have no clue how much they make off of subscription and DVD sales. Doesn’t Joe Swanberg do that?
“To me I see little difference in simply working an office job or working in television.”
Well, all I can say is try it. I used to think the same thing but a lot can be gained from working in television (I’ve never worked in television, I don’t watch television and I certainly appreciate your disdain for it). But the reality is, if you’re getting an opportunity to direct, you’re honing your craft and you’re learning. That doesn’t mean you have to do it forever. But believe me, if it’s a choice between the limitations of directing television (which is actually where a lot of the best artists are going these days because of the freedom of cable and how shows have become much more cinematic) and being a desk monkey, I’d seriously consider the former (especially if you see how many people who started in TV have gone on to successful filmmaking careers – Altman, Lumet, Clooney, Abrams, etc.). There was a great article in Film Comment last month about this very thing and how a lot of movie peeps are being drawn to TV (Philip Kaufman, Barry Levinson, Mike Nichols, Michael Mann, etc.).
No I’m saying for me there is literally no difference. I might actually feel better at the desk job.
That might sound pretentious but I honestly would not want to do anything Altman, Lumet, Clooney, or Abrams did. I have no interest in that world and to me, being in charge (as a director) of anything creative and having someone tell me what I can or can’t do is impossible. I can’t do it at all. With a desk job I’d expect it though.
You’re asking the wrong questions. Just make films if that’s what you truly want. The money will either happen or will not. Unfortunately, the universe isn’t always fair, so you could end up being very poor with a great but mostly unseen body of work. Or you could end up being very rich with a shitty and well-distributed body of work. It’s a chance you take. If you have to work 40 hours at some menial graveyard shift job so you can shoot for 20 hours a week in the daytime, then you do that. How much do you want to do it is the only question.
Jon Jost is one of those great independent American filmmakers. He actually posts on here now and then. You know what he’s said? He’s been broke all his life. Only very recently, about 5 years ago or so, he got a rather decent paying job teaching at one of the best universities in South Korea. Before that, he was literally scraping by. And Jon Jost is someone of rather significant stature.
Not personally familiar with the indie film world, but I was going to address your comparison to music.
Yes, musicians/bands have the option to tour to make money. But those small, independent bands that only rely on their music for income are road-dogs. Out on the road ALL the time. For most bands (even fairly well known bands on reasonably large “indie” labels), those guys still have supplementary income, whether its loading trucks at UPS, working in a kitchen, or, if they are lucky, have another job within the music industry.
If you want to make money, come up with something quirky as your first flick like Spike Lee, Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez did that captures attention. In this day and age, you can go digital and publish it online. Who needs producers? But, I don’t think any of these guys expected to hit it big when they started out. They were just projecting their stories and fantasies, and managed to be in the right place at the right time.
I don’t think Jarmusch spent much on Permanent Vacation, or Stranger than Paradise for that matter, but he was lucky enough to have John Lurie as a friend, and managed to land some German backers. He also had the advantage of making the film at a time when the movie industry was desperate for new blood, but I liked the way Jarmusch stuck to his guns on Dead Man, refusing to give into Weinstein on edits. It cost him big time, but it was worth it.
As for Cassavettes, he covered his films by acting. Not all of us can be so lucky.
Blue, there are no wrong questions. If I’m curious, I ask questions. I still feel like you’re viewing this whole thread in the wrong light, it’s rather harmless. I never said I’m looking to be loadsamoney and I’ve already read Ray Carney’s mailbag so I don’t need any more quotes lifted from that.
I’m well aware of the risks of filmmaking, but I’d also like to point out that Jon Jost sells DVDs of his films directly from his website. And he very sharply points out that his films, when they were released, made him zero dollars. And they probably don’t make him much now.
The point of this thread is not to hesitate and say “Well maybe I won’t be a filmmaker”. The point is that there is no reason to celebrate poverty. If you look at independent MUSIC nowadays, sure most of those bands and artists struggle too. But there seems to be a much bigger culture there where independent artists get support, both monetarily (even if it’s not a lot) and in the social sense. Mainstream music is obviously the way to get rich, but independent musicians can now distribute their work directly and build a fanbase and actually survive a bit easier thanks to the internet.
In other words, someone like Jost should be making money from selling and screening his DVDs and films. He’s earned it. And I’m sure he’d agree he’s earned it. If Cassavaetes was alive today he’d be doing the same thing.
It has nothing to do with cashing in, it has to do with focusing on just making your art so that’s all you have to worry about. Of course, that’s every artist’s dream and it’s always the minority of artists that achieve such a luxury.
That’s interesting to hear. I don’t know much about that scene so that’s essentially why I started the thread. It seems that they can at least build a fanbase better so that people can actually follow their work.
I still feel a bit of hope about the future of artist distribution but I’m sure it’s naive.
Can it make money? Well lets ask James Benning:
“James Benning: Artist filmmakers are on the margins. I mean, there’s a number who have made a career out of it but even they tend to be marginalised. Nobody’s making any money out of it. Those who do become well known are often known for their theory, which helps their films become known. People like Hollis Frampton, who wrote a lot – I think that helped his work become better known.
DZ: Artist filmmakers don’t fit into the industrial film world, but then they are ignored by the art world as well.
JB: They’re in-between! It’s the non-commodity status of the work; it doesn’t have a “value” in either world. If you’re an artist in any other medium, you find a gallery and have hopes of making a decent living. A few do climb to the top of that pyramid to make a living. I’ve never really made money from my work, unless it’s an installation."
Gondo, thanks for that.
Benning has hit the nail on the head, exactly what I’m trying to say. “Artist filmmakers don’t fit into the industrial film world, but then they are ignored by the art world as well.”
This is why I started the thread. It goes beyond “making money” and it really just has to do with support. I feel like independent filmmakers need a better support system, and I think that’s already start to happen with things like No Budge, Remodernism and even Mubi.
We also need a better concept for touring independent films….
If one needs a cash cow, there’s always money in the adult film/ video industry.
Nobody else would say it but there it is, just another option.
I don’t think you have to be an artist to be a film maker. It is more about being a good storyteller and having something worthwhile to say. Even “Indy” has become so banal in recent years. It is formula driven just like Hollywood, with a lot of “Indy” filmmakers doing very well on the film festival circuit. You get enough play in these festivals and someone will pick up the distribution rights, even if it is just DVD rights to the film. But, it is like anything else, you have to work hard at promoting yourself and your film to make persons take notice, assuming this is what you are after, John.
Re. Cassavettes: It didn’t hurt having Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara to play in his movies. Success comes from having good people around you.
You can make a living as much as your friends in that band in the bar can off their music or the kid you sat next to in art class with painting.
If you do, if you have the talent that sells, you will
Question is if you want the talent that ‘sells’ or the talent that is most true to you.
Some filmmakers are lucky
they do QAs, appearances, teach, write etc
people like lynch become entrepreneurs outside of the art, but are able to because of it.
For art house/indie/whatev filmmakers a majority of your income comes from the luck of doing the first things i mentioned.
Play smart and be honest with yourself and if you work hard good things will happen in some form or another.
Above all accept that it will hurt — but don’t let that stop you from trying.
True, Nightshift, nothing pays like porn.
“Artist filmmakers don’t fit into the industrial film world, but then they are ignored by the art world as well.”
I think one of the problems with “Indy” filmmakers is too many of them view themselves as “artists.” This has become a very loose term. If art is what you are after, buy yourself an old Bolex camera and start filming. To hell with what anyone else says.
Of course it helps to come from money. Some directors I know have pulled the starving artists thing even though they use the silver spoon to eat ramen. A lot of folks will work on anything, whether it’s bad commercials, wedding videos, political ads. I even worked on a twelve part history series that funded entirely by a crazy lawyer who thought that he could sell it to schools as a means of combating what he saw as falsehoods in textbooks. We took his money and did the job, but he never found a distributor and most of us left our names off the credits.
““Artist filmmakers don’t fit into the industrial film world, but then they are ignored by the art world as well.”
I think one of the problems with “Indy” filmmakers is too many of them view themselves as “artists.” This has become a very loose term. If art is what you are after, buy yourself an old Bolex camera and start filming. To hell with what anyone else says.”
True, true. But that wasn’t the point Benning was after, at least I think so . He was trying to say that “film-making” as an ART doesn’t really get you much cash as a basis for a stable life compared to the other forms. I mean think about it, when you are a painter you can make a living by just selling your work for example. Which gets easier and more profitable the more Exhibitions or Installations you get. It is not that Benning meant he is an “Artist” and therefore deserves money for what he does, but that as a filmmaker who is not part of the industry, money just isn’t really in the picture. Cassavetes once said that you don’t make films to make money but to loose it. I think that is very fitting and is also what Benning was going for.
Most directors I have ever met (in 28 years in the trade) do not make more money than dentists, ad people or accountants make. Even successful filmmakers. Only reason to get into film making is because love for the trade.
Yeah but if you keep reading Benning’s interview, he also seems pretty disappointed. And Cassavetes’ quote was simply pointing out the very likely reality of the situation. But it doesn’t mean it can’t ever change.
If I was making dentist money I’d be confused. Those guys are rich.
To reiterate, this thread isn’t about a get rich quick scheme. I’m simply wondering why, compared to every other artform (except maybe literal poets) filmmakers kind of get the shaft. You can be a celebrated independent filmmaker, people will want to see more of your work, yet you could also be homeless and dying in a gutter. I feel like that’s something that needs to change.
I have been a film director, writer and producer on independent films for over twenty years. I’ve won Sundance, I’ve been a runner up at Cannes Critic’s Week, premiered on PBS, repped by William Morris and been distributed by a “specialty” division of Columbia Films. I’m broke if you want to tally the dollars made for the directing work I’ve done – which had some pretty awesome reviews. I’ve always made my money by writing or consulting on films for producers or directors. Also not great money but it has taken me to some very distant corners of the world into cultures and with people I would never have worked with or met, otherwise. So there is the up side and the downside. And frankly, I don’t buy what seems to be an excuse for some, that is the “artist” card. Today it is less expensive than ever to actually make a film, cut it and have it ready to be seen on DVD. Pennies compared to what it used to be and the same holds for distribution. If you don’t get picked up, there is always the option of self-distribution, which if you are willing to focus on it (it takes time and a lot of work that won’t be spent writing or directing your next project) you can find ways to make some money. Problem is, are you willing to wear that hat?
Don’t know if it was said yet but, Commercials. a lot of directors make them on the side, and if you’re a known director you can make a lot of money from it.