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How Do Independent Short Film Makers Make Money?

If you’re a filmmaker who is only just starting out, or you’ve got a budget that can just about afford a meal at McDonald’s, then making a short film is a way to go.

They’re cost effective and don’t take months on end to finish (most of the time), but they’re also a great way to show off your filmmaking finesse and get your name out into the industry without having to struggle with putting together a full feature film. 

Many filmmakers here this and get started on their own short films straight away, but some hesitant filmmakers will have something on their mind; the financial situation. And I’m not talking about budgeting and financing the film; I’m talking about making money from the film.

As much as filmmakers like to say that they don’t do it for the money, and that it’s about expressing their creativity, there is of course, with any profession, a financial drive.

A filmmaker can’t be expected to pump hundreds or even thousands of hours into a project only to not receive a single penny for their efforts. Filmmakers need to sustain themselves like anyone.

So how does one make money from a short film. Well in this article we’re going to go over some of the main ways that indie filmmakers can profit off of their sub-40min masterpiece…

infographic of income streams for short film makers

YouTube & Vimeo

Sites such as YouTube and Vimeo are becoming more and more popular every day, as huge media corporations and mainstream artists begin to settle on the platforms, especially YouTube.

So why not capitalise on this market where anyone can upload anything for free and make money off of it? 

Rhetorical questions aside, it is true that more and more indie filmmakers are uploading their films to YouTube and Vimeo based on how easy their monetisation system is. If you don’t know a lot about how the monetisation systems work on these sites, here’s a very basic explanation:

Every time a viewer clicks on your video, an advertisement will play. Advertisers will pay to have their brand/product shown in front of your video, in this case, your film.

On YouTube, they will take ~68%, and you’ll get the other 32% of that money.  If you get say 10 views, that’s practically nothing, maybe about $1. But if you get 100,000 views, you could earn anywhere between $500 to $2,500, depending on the content of the video and the audience who watches.

You see, YouTube can cut your pay on videos that go against their TOS (Terms of Service). According to their TOS, “Racial slurs, derogatory content, and mean or hateful content directed at an individual or specific group of people are not safe for monetization.

Context is key when it comes to certain types of videos, such as comedy, but this type of language in a video, title, or thumbnail will get your video demonetized”.

So, depending on the content of your film, how much money you make will differ from other short films on the site. For Vimeo, it’s very much the same. 

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Film Festivals

Now this one is certainly a gamble: Film Festivals.

While film festivals are a great way to distribute a film and get it known by the general public and folks working in the film industry, it’s probably not your best bet at making money out of your film…but it’s always a possibility, which is why we’re including it in this article. 

Not many film festivals actually offer money as a prize to winners of a certain category or the festival as a whole. Only a few major film festivals do, such as Toronto, Melbourne, and San Francisco; these prizes range in magnitude from $1000-$50,000. 

Now as we said previously, film festivals are a complete gamble; you have no way of knowing that you’re going to win these cash prizes unless you’ve bribed the judges and the audience beforehand (disclaimer: don’t do this), or if you’re really that cocky and overconfident that you just know you’re going to win because you’ve produced the next Citizen Kane

If you just so happen to win, good for you! But don’t go into a film festival expecting to walk away with dollar bills flowing out of your coat pockets.

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VOD (Video on Demand)

Now, this links more to distributing a short film, but part of that process involves money-making so let’s talk about it for a little bit.

One of the best strategies when it comes to trying to make a bit of cash off of your short film is to try and sell it to a video on demand service.

As of writing this article, Netflix very rarely ever purchases or produces short films, and chances are they’re not going to start buying out hundreds of them tomorrow, so you’re better off looking somewhere else.

Amazon has a separate section attached to their main platform, Prime Video, known as Prime Video Direct, which specialises in hosting independent films, including short films. With Prime Video Direct, you’ll earn money through,” a revenue share for rentals, purchases, monthly channels, or ad impressions—or any combination of these options”. 

ShortsTV is a renowned streaming company that buys and licenses short films from filmmakers around the world and plays them on their cable network channel (in addition to streaming them online) and can pay up to a couple of hundred dollars per short, usually somewhere in the range of $200-500.

It’s not much, but at least your film is still getting some exposure. The other downside with this platform is that they often own the exclusive rights to show your film, which means, if you decide to sell your film to ShortsTV, you can’t sell or play it anywhere else. It can only be shown on their channel. You should only really sell your short film to ShortsTV after it’s been shown at film festivals or local theatres, as otherwise, you’re limiting the exposure your film will get in the early day of its run. 

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The final method of making money off of your short film is to make it available online through a per-per-view site.

Pay-per-view is a great way to profit off your film; viewers pay a one-time fee (sometimes recurring based on the platform) to unlock your film and can watch it from the comfort of their own homes, almost like a home cinema. This method is great because unlike other methods of monetising your videos such as YouTube, you are guaranteed a set rate of money per view you get.

Yet, like with VOD platforms such as ShortsTV, you should only make a film pay-per-view after it has done the film festival circuit, otherwise, people will be deterred from paying for a film if they’ve never heard anything positive about it beforehand. 

There are plenty of great sites that utilise the pay-per-view system, such as MUVI, Boomstream, and Patreon

Some platforms will only allow the viewer to watch the film once after purchasing, but others, such as Patreon, will allow the viewer to watch it as many times as they like as long as they keep their subscription.

Whichever you choose is ultimately up to you but it’s probably best that you choose a site which lets the viewer watch the film more than once, and this will do wonders for the longevity of the film’s popularity. 

Wrapping it up…

Making money of an independent short film isn’t easy (that’s an understatement) but as long as you put in some time and effort, then it is absolutely possible to make a decent amount of dosh from your own short film.

As for which method is best for monetising your film…probably YouTube/Vimeo. It’s the simplest method in terms of how quick and easy it is to get your film up on the platform, and with over 2 billion users, it’s the best platforming terms of potential reach. Although the amount of money you make may not be the absolute best, it’s still the best overall pick.

Well, that was a quick rundown of how independent short film makers make money, and how you can make some cash off of your own film!

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as a guide only for educational and informational purposes. It is not legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters.