Revisiting an issue I wrote about a while back over at IFP’s website, this year’s Filmmaker Conference will address whether Indie Filmmaking is a Hobby or a Career. First of all, I’m not sure that is the right question. Most of the hard controversy around this subject has to with IRS issues that ask the fairly obvious question, how can you call filmmaking a business if it never ever makes any money? (Though in the case of documentary, it should be said, there is grey area with some filmmakers selling their films to TV).
My original point in “At Least Hobbies Are Fun” was that most filmmakers probably make little or no money from their films, and that certainly films very rarely “make money” in the traditional concept of cost vs. return. There are an elite number of filmmakers who make money by being paid and an even more precious few who could say their independently financed film earned more on net than it cost to make. It’s becoming increasingly easier to reduce production costs, somewhat easier to self-distribute, and much more difficult to see massive ancillary returns through DVD sales. That could mean more filmmakers are breaking even. Ideally more people can make films, not lose their shirts, and even make enough to keep making more films.
Independent filmmaking has an industry around it. But that industry is not as important as it thinks it is, and this often accounts for the hysteria around this issue. Filmmaking does not actually need thousands of film festivals, panels, pitch sessions, heads of acquisitions, or parties at which the percentage of actual filmmakers is under 20. At this point, filmmaking needs access to equipment, to learning, to Creative Cow forums, to Vimeo.
Yes, financing and distribution are important, especially for higher-profile or amore ambitious projects. But reasonably speaking, in North America, how many independent projects can command budgets over $5 million? Those that can have to play by different rules, commercial rules, which is reasonable (otherwise just give the money to UNICEF or something).
Is Independent Filmmaking a hobby or a career? If you don’t see it as a hobby first, in my opinion, you are going to be unhappy. If you don’t love it, don’t feel like doing it whether you get paid or not, why not take up hedge fund management? Yes, you should be smart, make good business decisions, ideally you will prosper. But independent films aren’t made in a boardroom; they aren’t just mini studio films. They succeed because we love them, they are superior, and they come from people who could never do anything else.