Film is an ingenious medium. At least until you want to make money out of it. Because in this case, the motto is: “If you want the best, you have to taste the bitterest!”.
In this series of articles, Filmpulse addresses all the essential questions that make the difference between financial success and economic failure in the film and video business.
For our series we not only examine different segments of the film industry, but also look at and explain the most important basic mechanics of the economy. We help you to place your own activity in the film business or as a video producer into the overall context of the market. This allows you to review your own strategies and, if necessary, sharpen them.
How to make money with film or video
The article series “Making money with film or video” consists of 4 episodes:
- Basic knowledge: how, where and when do I earn money with film and video?
- How do I optimize my service or product to earn more money?
- How do I market my service or my skills?
- Where is the market today? Where is it developing?
This first part is about the basics of making money. Then in the second part we look at the value chains of individual areas. Part 3 deals with the question of marketing, because somehow the customers have to find you in the end.
In the last article about making money, we take a look ahead. We do this in the knowledge that the future always needs an origin, from which certain conclusions can be drawn for the film industry and the video business.
How, where and when do I earn money with film and video?
There are questions that seem pretty silly at first glance. How to make money with film or video is one such question. Spontaneously you will answer that you simply have to offer a service that someone pays you. This offer can be your manpower, your knowledge, your talent, your experience, possibly also tools (a camera, sound equipment).
Nevertheless, there is much more behind this question. It touches the basics of how our economic system works. Making money with film and video also follows these overriding rules. They decide not only whether you will earn money, but also how much and for how long.
Let’s take a look at these rules one by one. Let us imagine that we are in the lucky position of being an investor. Why? Because every halfway successful investor always asks four basic questions first before investing.
These are the same questions that you have to ask yourself if you want to make money and earn your living with film or video.
1 What problem does your offer solve?
Ha ha! You’ll say I would have thought of something like that myself! You’re not the only one. Nevertheless, an endless number of freelancers and business ideas have been driven into the wall because of this question, fully motivated to make money. Firstly, because not only you have to recognize the problem. Your customer must really have the problem. What does that mean? Many people want to solve problems that exist but nobody is willing to dig into their wallets to solve them.
So your first question is always:
Do I solve a problem that exists in the eyes of my potential customer? And will continue to do so in the future?
Imagine you were born with extraordinary hearing. If frequencies overlap in a sound mixture and destroy the dynamics, you will hear this immediately. The professionals in the recording studio are truly impressed by your ability to analyze audio tracks in real time. But the producer, who should be paying you, doesn’t hear the nuances that only you are able to recognize. Even if you explain to him what it’s all about, he’ll reply: “The audience of my films has never complained about the soundtrack, why should I change anything? If I do, I’ll invest in scripts or actors!”
If you’re a focus puller, the Sony PXW-Z90 should scare you when it comes to making money, for example. It shows you where the journey is headed. At some point in the not too distant future, an algorithm may be able to pull focus even with complicated camera movements. If sharpness is no longer a problem in complex productions, this problem does not need a solution.
2Making money: Can your offer be scaled?
Your second question is whether what you do can only be sold once. Or multiple. This does not mean that you can sell your performance (like working days) several times in a row. Economies of scale, to put it simply, revolve around the question of how you optimise processes or how you produce something only once, which you can then sell to many people.
As a lighting technician in a film, you sell for money to earn your lifetime in the form of work. Be it by the day, by the week or, in the case of feature films, for a longer period of time. At the same time (at least until human cloning becomes legal) you cannot commit to a second shoot at the same time.
The situation is different if you own the rights to a feature film. Once produced, you can sell the same film to dozens of other countries (always provided you don’t have a feature film that no one wants to see). If the film is a success, maybe even worldwide, you’ll get a pretty nice sum.
Even though in life possible economies of scale in film and video usually correspond directly to the risk (state-subsidized films are the exception that confirm the rule), without this possibility of multiplication you will bake smaller rolls when making money than vice versa.
The situation is different with making money if you have other people working for you and you have your own company. Here, too, you carry more risk, but you earn money directly and indirectly with every employee you can charge to a customer.
If you have the choice, you will strive to sell more than yourself and your work force.
3How easy is your offer to copy?
Investors also refer to the question of copyability as an entry threshold. This refers to the question of how easily a service or product can be offered on the market by other participants. You probably guessed it from the first sentence in this section: The question of the entry threshold is currently a killer for the film and video business.
Job titles are not protected in the video industry and in the film business. Equipment is always cheaper to buy and hardly any customer feels committed to the local industry or the long-term nature of a business relationship.
The mechanism for making money is as fatal as it is simple:
The more frogs happily croaking and offering the same performance as yours, the less you can ask for. Even if you can not only claim a higher quality, but even show or prove it.
That’s because the first question comes back into play here: Does the client really have a problem with the quality of his image film? Does it harm the product film if the color correction was done automatically with a plugin instead of in Da Vinci by an experienced color grader who has also colorized Lady Gaga’s music videos?
Let’s be honest: Usually the quality problem is not a problem for the customer.
4Do you have the knowledge, the experience and the talent?
If you are in the privileged position of having found a field for making money with film and video, where you can solve a problem from the customer’s point of view with a multi-purpose approach that is difficult to copy, you have arrived at the last, simple but sometimes hard question. Hard, because especially in the film business it’s always about talent.
You either have talent or you don’t. You are born with it, even if your talent might be promoted later at a film school. Like beauty, talent is neither just nor democratic. There is no right to it.
After all, there are over half a hundred professions in the film – but you will only succeed in each of them if you have talent.
It’s simpler with experience. If you want, really want, you will gain the necessary experience over the years. That also applies to the indispensable film knowledge. Here the way is open to you. Nevertheless you need all three elements for economic success: Knowledge, experience and talent.
★Additional rules for making money with film or video
Even though it’s getting easier and easier (from a technical point of view) to make a living in the film industry (which, as we’ve seen, makes it harder to make money), unwritten rules also determine your success in making money.
Making movies has a lot to do with trust. That’s why not only availability, price and quality determine your economic success, but also your network. The Internet with its wealth of information has not changed this.
Trust is something you do to people you know. Not information and data.
That’s why you will usually need at least two to three years before you can really stand on your own two feet in the film business and be compensated fairly. The advantage of this is that if you have the necessary stamina and willingness to make sacrifices, you can already gain a first advantage over your competitors with your stamina.
Continuation of the series to earn money in the film business
The next article in the series “Earning money with film or video” uses examples to explain why salaries and earning opportunities can differ depending on the job and type of film. Part 3 of the series then deals with marketing and sales of one’s own person or services, while the last, fourth part shows possible scenarios for the development of the market for moving images.