Film is an ingenious medium. At least until you want to earn money with it. Because in this case it is quickly true: "He who wants the best, must cost the most bitter!".
In this series of articles, Filmpuls takes on all the essential questions that make the difference between financial success and economic failure in the business of film and video.
For our series, we’ll not only examine different segments of the film industry, but also look at and explain the most important basic mechanics of the economy. We’ll help you put your own work in film or as a video producer into the overall context of the marketplace. With this you can check your own strategies and, if necessary, sharpen them.
Earning money with film or video
The article series "Earning money with film or video" consists of 4 episodes:
This first part is about the basics of making money. Then, in the second part, we look at the value chains of individual sectors. Part 3 revolves around the question of marketing, because somehow customers have to find you.
In the last article about earning money we venture a look ahead. 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 make money with film and video??
There are questions that seem pretty dumb 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 will pay you for. This offer can be your manpower, knowledge, talent, experience, possibly tools (a camera, sound equipment).
However, there is much more behind this question. It touches on the basics of how our economic system works. Making money with film and video also follows these overriding rules of the game. These determine not only whether you will make money, but also how much and for how long.
Let’s take a look at these rules one by one. To do this, let’s imagine we are in the fortunate position of being an investor. Why? Because any reasonably successful investor always asks four basic questions first before investing.
These are the same questions you need to ask yourself if you want to make money with film or video and thus earn your living.
1 What problem does your offer solve?
Haha! you will say, I would have thought of something like that myself! You are not the only one. Nevertheless, an endless number of freelancers and business ideas have hit the wall because of this question, fully motivated to make money. First, because you are not the only one who has to recognize the problem. Your customer must really have the problem. What does it mean? Many people want to solve problems that exist, but no one is willing to reach into their wallet to solve them.
That’s why your first question is always:
Do I solve a problem that exists in the eyes of my potential client in the first place? And also in the future?
Imagine you were born with an extraordinary ear. If frequencies overlap in a sound mix and thus (dis)disturb the dynamics, you hear this immediately. The professionals in the recording studio are honestly 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 capable of discerning. Even if you explain to him what the problem is, he will answer: "The audience of my films has never complained about the soundtrack, why should I change anything?? If you do, I invest in scripts or actors!"
If you’re a focus puller, Sony’s PXW-Z90 should scare you when it comes to making money, for example. It shows where the journey is going. At some point in the not-too-distant future, an algorithm may pull focus even on complicated camera movements. If sharpness is no longer a problem in complex productions, this problem doesn’t need a solution either.
2 Make money: Can your offer be scaled?
Your second question is about whether what you do can be sold only once. Or several times. This does not mean that you can sell your service (like working days) several times in a row. Economies of scale, to put it simply, are about how you optimize processes or how you make something once and then sell it to many people.
As a lighting technician in film, you sell your lifetime of work to make money. Be it by the day, by the week or in the case of a feature film also for a longer period of time. At the same time (at least until human cloning becomes legal) you can’t commit yourself to a second shoot.
It’s a different story if you own the rights to a feature film. Once produced, you can sell the same film to dozens of other countries (always assuming you don’t have a feature film that no one wants to see). If the film is a success, possibly even worldwide, you can make quite a bit of money.
Even though in life possible economies of scale in film and video usually correspond directly to risk (government subsidized films are the exception that prove the rule), without this possibility of multiplication you will bake smaller rolls in making money than vice versa.
It’s different when it comes to earning money if you have other people working for you and have your own company. Again, you take more risk, but you earn directly and indirectly with every employee you charge to a client.
So if you have a choice, you will strive to sell more than yourself and your labor.
3 How easy is it to copy your offer?
The question of copyability is also called entry threshold by investors. Meant with it is with the money earning with it the question, how simply a achievement or a product can be offered also by other participants at the market. You probably guessed it from the first sentence in this section: the threshold issue is currently a killer for the film and video business.
Job titles are not protected in the video and film business. Equipment is becoming cheaper and cheaper to buy and hardly any customers feel committed to local business or the long-term nature of a business relationship anymore.
The mechanism is as fatal as it is simple when it comes to making money:
The more frogs happily croaking offer the same service as yours, the less you can demand for it. Even if you not only claim a higher quality, but can even show or prove it.
This is because the first question immediately comes into play: Does the client really have a problem with the quality of his image film from his point of view?? Does it harm the product film, if the color correction was done automatically with a plugin instead of in the Da Vinci by an experienced color grader, who also already color graded the music videos of Lady Gaga??
Let’s be honest: As a rule, the quality problem for the customer is none.
4 Do you have the knowledge, the experience, and the talent?
If you are in the privileged position and you have found a field to make money with film and video that allows you to solve a problem from the customer’s point of view with a multipliable approach that is difficult to copy, you have reached the last, simple but sometimes hard question. Tough, because especially in the film business it is always about talent.
You have talent or you don’t. You are born with it, even if your talent might be promoted later on at a film school. Like beauty, talent is neither fair nor democratic. There is no right to.
After all, there are over half a hundred professions in film – but you will only succeed in each of them if you have talent.
It is easier with experience. If you want, really want, you will acquire the necessary experience over the years. This also applies to the indispensable film knowledge. Here the way is open for you. Still, you need all three elements for business success: Knowledge, experience and talent.
★ Additional rules for making money with film or video
Even if it is getting easier and easier (from a technical point of view) to make money in the film industry (which, as we have seen, makes it harder to make money), unwritten rules also determine your success in earning money.
Making movies has a lot to do with trust. That’s why not only the availability, the price and the quality determine your economic progress, but always also your network. The Internet with its abundance of information has not changed anything in this respect.
You trust people you know. Not information and data.
That’s why you’ll usually need at least two to three years before you can really stand on your own two feet in the film business and get compensated fairly. The advantage: if you have the necessary perseverance and willingness to make sacrifices, your perseverance will already give you an initial advantage over your competitors.
Continuation of the series on making money in the film business
The next article in the series "Earning money with film or video" explains with examples why salaries and earning potential can differ depending on the job and the type of film you do. Part 3 of the series then deals with marketing and selling yourself or your services, while the final, fourth part shows possible scenarios for the development of the market for moving images.