The film industry is run by 11 major companies, which control the financing distribution and production. Indie filmmakers, however, with the right planning can still manage to create a profit stream. Any filmmaker must be passionate about the topic, story and movie. They will be the one who will be trying to get the financing for the film. They will have to purchase and or have legal permission to the rights to use the story. Ultimately, they will be involved in every part of the process from selecting the talent, the script writer if applicable, where it will be distributed and how it will be distributed.
A filmmaker and/or the artist must make financial decisions from the beginning as to what kind of film and what scale they would like to make. Financial decisions must be made as well as legal rights and copyright ownership to ensure that everything goes smoothly. Contracts and agreements between every party involved with the film should be done prior to the start of the process.
For example, in general partnerships, the partners can create and operating agreement so that duties are made and everyone knows what their role is. The operating agreement will lay out everything from casting, to food, to directing, post production, editing, distribution, salaries, financial reports and tax payments. A filmmaker may decide to have a sole proprietorship and a DBA so that can conduct business on her own. The sole proprietorship is the easiest way to begin work as a filmmaker. Corporations should not follow standard corporate business forms because they do not apply to the film business. Every project will operate on it’s own profits and losses. Corporations could work best when there is investor involvement. A LLC could work if a filmmaker would like to operate properly and be able to hold investments at another separate business. They would then have two separate LLC’s. In every business setup, there has to be careful consideration of tax payment. There are fiduciary obligations and the every type of business will have accountability to have the correct documentation, reporting and payment of taxes.
Good financial accounting will begin with a good budget that ensures the investors and filmmakers best intentions. First, the filmmaker and investors must decide on the scale of the project. How much funding is available for the film? The budget should be detailed to include how much actors will get paid, if they will be union or non-union.
I think it’s wonderful that filmmakers can make movies on their own budget and release them however they want to. It makes following a passion and making important art pieces so accessible. If you think of how far a documentary could go like ‘Food Inc.’ and how much it made us think about what I’m eating, I am grateful.
Also, the idea that an independent movie or feature film could become a tent pole like Star Wars is a great motivator to be passionate and create a masterpiece! A film can be marketed in Cannes, at the American Film Market or other markets. Investors can find it at one of the markets, invest in it and the film can be distributed in larger markets as well as win awards. I watch a lot of indie films and I see ‘Winner at Cannes’ quite often in the beginning credits. With a larger distribution the film, even foreign films can be exposed to a wider audience and win larger awards like Oscars.
Source: The Independent Filmmaker’s Law and Business Guide by John M. Garon