Making Money With Short Films

About two years ago I wrote a post entitled Why Make Short Films? which has become one of the more popular posts on my blog. A lot has changed in those two years, and I want to write some more about what the average young filmmaker can expect when setting out to make films.

First off, unless you live in Europe, don’t expect anyone to give you money to make a short film. You and your friends will have to do this on your own. And yes, you need friends. You need talented people who will work for less than they’re worth, because you can’t afford to pay strangers the amount of money they deserve.

Keep the costs down as low as you can. Learn all you can about the camera options available. These days you can do amazing stuff with some cheap HD camcorders. Definitely shoot HD. DV is not acceptable. 720p is fine. It’s the default resolution of HD on the web. I used to be able to recommend cameras, but I just can’t keep up with it anymore. A very good Hollywood DP is planning to shoot a portion of a film I’m editing on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II; a DSLR still camera that also shoots HD. You probably can’t afford to pay your crew, but you must buy them meals. Having bagels and coffee on the set in the morning really raises morale, and lunch is essential. If you’re shooting late, order some pizza.

Edit the film yourself. It sounds strange coming from a professional editor, but anyone can edit a movie these days. The only cost should be your time. Again, do your research. If you shot 24p, learn everything about what that means for your workflow before you start shooting, and for God’s sake at least before you start editing. Cut it with whatever you feel comfortable using. I hear iMovie is incredibly full-featured these days, although I can barely make the thing work.

Once you’ve finished the movie, put it out every way you can. Don’t be a dope and hold back your premiere for fancy film festivals. Film festivals are 20th Century relics. Sundance isn’t going to show your short, and even if it is, nobody watches the shorts there unless a famous person is in one of them or was seen near the venue at the time of the screening. Apply to some local festivals, and some bigger names, but applying to every festival you can will cost you way too much money. I spent about $1000 sending Kalesius and Clotho to film festivals. It got me a few awards to put on the DVD box, but never any money.

Put it on YouTube. Get yourself enrolled in their Partner Program. I’m pulling in a few bucks a day with that. Put it on Vuze. It was a strange and unique set of events, but I made over $2000 from Vuze’s pre-roll ads in a single quarter last year. Since then I’ve made about a dollar a day. Try Revver. I made a few bucks from them a year ago, but haven’t seen any since then. supposedly has revenue sharing, but I haven’t seen any hits or cash from them at all. Make a DVD and sell it on your website. You can burn them yourself and print full-color discs with an awesome Epson R280. Or if you want to make less money but spend less time, use Createspace to get them on Amazon. I’ve sold one DVD of my collected short films. Try merchandising. T-shirts are the true heart of our economy. I have sold exactly no t-shirts of my own logo, but other films might lend themselves to catchphrases or funny graphics that fans would like to own.

At this point I have made back the cost of producing Two Night Stand, which I shot 4.5 years ago. Most of the cast and crew didn’t get any money, and I haven’t been paid for all the time I spent writing, directing, and editing the movie. That doesn’t exactly qualify as a raging success, but it’s more than I ever hoped for. The problem I’m having is that there is an insatiable desire out there for more and more content. I could make a lot more money if I continued to put out videos. Unfortunately I just can’t keep up the pace. If you can be prolific you are much more likely to build a steady fanbase who talk about and anticiapte your new films.

5 replies
  1. Fahad
    Fahad says:

    Good read.

    i’m a big fan of the internet and online distribution. i’ve been researching a lot about money, art, and filmmaking (how i found this page).

    i think online “video consumption” hasn’t yet been fully taken advantage of by filmmakers. there seems to be thousands of filmmakers, the world over, who channel all their efforts very inefficiently. the approach seems to be a romantic one, rather than practical. it seems that a lot of these people are great artists, but not so great businesspeople. except the ones who “make it”, of course.

    personally, i started my research because i love the artistry that is filmmaking. however, as others, i quickly realized how expensive this “hobby” can be. not to mention the competition out there. it seems to me that the general business of making a short, hoping it gets “noticed”, is a drenched market (so to speak). i’m sure you know this more than i do.

    but then, i notice that there are people doing creative things AND their time and effort is payed for. particularly, i looked at popular entertainment channels on youtube, and i think these guys are doing it right. if we assume that film is a combination of moving images and sounds to provoke emotion and thought, then these top youtube guys are making very successful films. thus, they are being successful filmmakers. not only are they successful because they get ad revenue, but also because they started out ultra low-budget. they didn’t go out and get the latest HD camera, a lot of them started out with a simple webcam. WOW. now that’s filmmaking. they took footage and sound, mixed them together, and provoked the emotion and thought of their current fan-base.

    notice that the most successful videos are usually under five-minutes. sometimes no more than a couple.

    i think this approach hasn’t been fully exploited by filmmakers, as artists and businesspeople. currently this market is dominated by comedy-themed entertainment. i would like to see more people making true creative art, in a broad range of genres, for very little money (and actually make money). why not have a horror-themed channel? a drama-themed one? or a particular director-themed channel? etc. etc.

    i’ll leave you a couple of examples to illustrate. the first is definitely comedy-themed, and the second is music-themed.

  2. Renderyard
    Renderyard says:

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  3. Leo Birch
    Leo Birch says:

    thank you so much for your site which I stumbled on, but I have a Handycam DCR-SX30E……. . Would this be suffient for making a small, say, five minute film, please??? It has worked for me in the past regarding Youtube, but is there a way one can make a movie and make money with it, with the equipment I have??
    Thank you

  4. Kyle
    Kyle says:

    Leo, I don’t know anything about that camera, but it’s the wrong way to think about making movies. Make a good movie. The camera is irrelevant.


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