How to make money as a filmmaker

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It’s a question that comes up a lot in our DMs. Everyone wants to know how to make money as a filmmaker. I’ve written before about independent film funding, but paying for a creative project is very different from paying yourself… and paying your bills. Everyone dreams about selling a movie to a distributor for a lot of money, but that’s not what this article is about. This article is about small, practical steps you can take to make more money as a filmmaker; producing and distributing a film takes so much time and money, and this is about short term steps you can take to make more money. There are several ways to make money as a filmmaker, but all of them take time, strategy, and hard work. If you’re looking to go freelance and get more gigs, these tips should help you make money as a filmmaker.

Get really good at one skill.

While many indie filmmakers have a super wide range of skills that make them invaluable on set, if you want to be hired onto a lot of other people’s film sets, it makes more sense to be a total expert in one area than a jack of all trades. For example, our sound production recordist Cecilia was able to get extremely, extremely good as a boom operator and one man sound band. She spent time building her skills and her sound kit, and now it’s way easier for her to get on set. She’s also a skilled producer and actress, and that’s great and gets her opportunities as well, but being an adept sound person keeps her in demand.

Maybe there’s one production aspect you really love and already know a lot about. If that’s the case, it makes sense to get even better at that one skill and then make yourself available for hire. If you’re stumped about what to choose, try this thought exercise: if you were producing a film right now, is there any role that you either wouldn’t know who to call or you have very few good choices, maybe consider learning more about that. 

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t make your wide variety of skills available to producers and clients. However, it would be great if producers thought of you every time they wanted a specific role filled, regardless of if that’s a sound person, a DP, a PA, a grip, or something else entirely.

Build your connections.

We’ve said it before, but when producers are looking to hire, they are more likely to reach out to creators they’ve met in person than people they’re only connected to online. This means you need to build your IRL connections as much as possible. There are a lot of ways to do this. You can go to local and regional film festivals to network with other creators. You can join local and regional filmmaking groups that have an in-person component, or if you only have access to a Facebook group, see if folks are interested in having a meet-up. If there are screenings of indie films in your area, attend those and meet people. Are there local film production companies? Introduce yourself with no expectations or asks, just make sure they’re aware of your presence in the area. If you live in an area like LA or NYC, it won’t be difficult to find other filmmakers, but even if you’re in a smaller area with fewer productions, there are people looking to hire. You just have to do the work to find them.

Make it easy for clients to find you.

If you’re a filmmaker for hire, you need to have a website. I have a whole article about how to build a website and what you should include in it, so be sure to check that out. However, a website is only the first step to helping clients find you. It’s important to learn more about SEO so that people are able to find you on Google when they’re looking for video production in your area. Semrush has some great free classes on SEO. Focus on learning about local SEO if you’re looking to work in your local community, or if you typically travel for work, focus on general SEO. There are a few ways to maximize your SEO, and you’ll want to figure out what works best for you. For example, posting regular blog posts makes it easier for search engines to bring clients to you, but that can take a lot of time and effort that you may not have to spare. Be thoughtful about what you take on, but don’t forget about this vital aspect of helping clients find you and your work.

Social media is another way to help clients find you. Don’t feel like you have to become a full blown influencer, but it’s not a bad idea to have a social media presence. I recently wrote an article about social media for filmmakers, so give that a look and see what feels doable for you.

Be clear about what projects you want to work on.

If you only want to be working on narrative film, build a portfolio of narrative work, highlighting your favorite genres. If you love documentaries, see if you can build a reel of documentary clips. If you want to make ads, see if there’s a company in your community that you can do a short video for free or at a reduced price to show clients what you’re able to create for them. It’s possible that you are happy to work on a variety of projects, in which case your portfolio should reflect that. Make your website and other promotional materials crystal clear about your skills and what you want to be focusing on. This will make you an easy choice for clients and producers who are looking for your specific skill set.

This also means being clear about your rates. For your rates, you will have to walk the line between being accessible to your target audience and being able to pay yourself. Don’t underprice yourself; if rates are too low, not only will you not be able to make a living, but you might make people suspicious that you won’t do high quality work. Look at other filmmakers for hire in your area, see what they’re charging, and then think about your own needs before setting your rates. It’s okay if you need to negotiate your day rates to get signed on to a project, and when you’re first starting out with client work, it may make sense to lower your prices until you can build up your portfolio and your reputation.

Be easy to reach… and easy to work with. 

Make it easy for producers and clients to reach out to you. Have a professional email that you check daily, and be as prompt as possible when people reach out to talk about a project. Film production often moves fast, and you don’t want to miss out on an opportunity just because you forgot to check your messages or didn’t respond to an email. 

Once you’ve been hired onto a project or a client has reached out about your services, be as easy as possible to work with. This means hitting deadlines, being on time for all scheduled shoots and meetings, and being kind, professional, and hardworking. If you’re good at what you do and easy to work with, it’s that much more likely that a producer will call you again or that a client will recommend you to others. 

I wish it was easier to make money as a filmmaker, but like many industries, it can be difficult to get your foot in the door and make a full-time living. Many filmmakers start their careers while working day jobs in other industries, and there’s absolutely no shame in that. Follow these steps, and you’ll be a lot closer to making money as a filmmaker. 

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi


Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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