What Does an Independent Filmmaker Do? Where Do Independent Filmmakers Work? ACR Takes a Look.
|American Film Institute||Los Angeles||California|
|California Institute of the Arts||Valencia||California|
|Columbia College Chicago||Chicago||Illinois|
|LA Film School||Hollywood||California|
|Loyola University New Orleans||New Orleans||Louisiana|
|Montclair State University||Montclair||New Jersey|
|New York Film Academy||New York||New York|
|Ringling College of Art and Design||Sarasota||Florida|
|Rutgers University||New Brunswick||New Jersey|
|San Francisco Art Institute||San Francisco||California|
|University of California Los Angeles||Los Angeles||California|
|University of Southern California||Los Angeles||California|
|Wichita State University||Wichita||Kansas|
What Does an Independent Filmmaker Do?
Independent filmmakers produce films outside of major film studios. Also called “indie” or “art” films, independent films are typically made with lower budgets and the look and feel has a noticeably different look and feel than that of big budget productions. Independent filmmakers usually have more flexibility in filmmaking though, so their personal artistic vision shines through.
Independent filmmakers have the same responsibilities as studio filmmakers, except the budget may be smaller and the deadlines tighter. Filmmakers are the ones that actually make the film, so they are involved in all phases of production. They direct producers, directors, film crew, and other staff. Independent filmmakers are also involved in budgeting, scheduling, and promoting the film. Some independent filmmakers are also heavily involved in distribution of the film.
Where Do Independent Filmmakers Work?
Independent filmmakers may work on a contract basis for film and video production studios or animation studios. Many run their own private production studios, whether it’s out of a garage or a rented facility.
What is the Job Outlook for Independent Filmmakers?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not report employment and salary information for independent filmmakers. It does report average earnings for salaried and independent directors. The U.S. is home to 134,700 directors. For the 2016-2026 decade, the BLS reports an impressive 12% increase in employment for directors, which is faster than average for all occupations. At a 12% increase, the industry will add 16,500 new jobs by 2026.
The BLS says:
Some job growth in the motion picture and video industry is expected to stem from strong demand from the public for movies and television shows, as well as an increased demand from foreign audiences for U.S.-produced films. Consumer demand for reality shows on television is likely to increase, so more producers and directors will be needed to create and oversee editing of these programs.
In addition, the volume of TV shows is expected to grow as the number of Internet-only platforms, such as streaming services, increases along with the number of shows produced for these platforms. This growth should lead to more work opportunities for producers and directors.
Theater producers and directors who work in small- and medium-sized theaters may see slower job growth because many of those theaters have difficulty finding funding as fewer tickets are sold. Large theaters in big cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, which usually have more stable sources of funding, should provide more opportunities.
Other Schools to Consider:
- Atlanta, Georgia; Savannah, Georgia; Lacoste, France; and SCAD eLearning
How Much Do Independent Filmmakers Make?
Independent directors average $118,190 annually. The mean annual wage for directors is $89,840. The highest paid directors average more than $163,540 annually and the lowest paid average less than $34,450. Note that average salaries do not show the total picture. Individual salaries vary based on geographic location, industry, type and size of company, and many other factors. Just think, some of the world’s top filmmakers/directors—Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, and James Cameron—are worth hundreds of millions to billions of dollars.
When it comes to geographic location, the highest paying states and metro areas for directors are:
- New York - $115,610; New York-Newark-Jersey City - $117,160
- California - $115,080; San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward - $112,830
- New Jersey - $92,180; Trenton - $97,010
- DC - $89,390
- Connecticut - $84,900; Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk - $98,280
Some of the lowest paying states for directors are North Dakota ($42,570), Mississippi ($44,310), Wyoming ($45,930), Iowa ($46,610), and Nebraska ($51,620).
The top paying industries for directors are:
- Other Personal Services - $140,600
- Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers - $118,190
- Advertising, Public Relations, and Related Services - $106,420 (third highest employment level for directors)
- Motion Picture and Video - $104,600 (highest level of employment for directors)
- Computer Systems Design and Related Services - $103,270
- Sound Recording Industries - $95,210
- Cable and Other Subscription Programming - $88,950 (fifth highest employment level for directors)
- Radio and Television Broadcasting - $78,740 (second highest employment level for directors)
- Performing Arts Companies - $63,650 (fourth highest employment level for directors)
How Do I Become an Independent Filmmaker?
While talent can go a long way in the world of independent filmmaking, many filmmakers hone their craft through a degree program, workshops, certificate programs, and immersive programs that do not necessarily lead to a degree. In addition to earning a degree or completing a non-degree film program, some independent filmmakers might work their way through various departments at a film or production studio for years before branching out on their own.
Which Schools Offer Programs for Aspiring Independent Filmmakers?
Some of the top schools for aspiring independent filmmakers include:
- American Film Institute, School of Film/Video, MFA or Certificate of Completion in Directing
- California Institute of the Arts, MFA Film Directing
- Champlain College, BFA Filmmaking
- Columbia College Chicago, BA Filmmaking, BFA Cinema Art Science, Concentration Directing
- Los Angeles Film School, AS, BS Film, BS Digital Filmmaking
- Lesley University, BFA Digital Filmmaking
- Loyola University New Orleans, BFA Digital Filmmaking
- New York Film Academy, AFA, BFA, MFA Filmmaking, BA Media Studies, MA Film and Media Production. The school also offers one- and two-year filmmaking programs, along with more than a dozen 2-day to full semester filmmaking workshops and programs.
- Montclair State University, BFA Filmmaking
- Ringling College of Art and Design, BFA Film (Directing, Screenwriting, Cinematography, and Editing)
- Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts, BFA Filmmaking
- San Francisco Art Institute, BFA Filmmaking
- University of California Los Angeles, MFA Directing, Film or Production, Emphasis Directing, Certificates in Directing or Producing
- University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts, BA, BFA Cinematic Arts, Film & Television Production, MFA (Producing, Directing, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, and Sound)
- Wichita State University, BAA Filmmaking
Awesome Animation Fact: Who says an independent film won’t lead to a big payday? Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane produced a series of independent films at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) before making it big. His thesis film—Life of Larry, became the inspiration for Family Guy. MacFarlane's professor submitted the film to the animation studio Hanna-Barbera, where he was later hired. At Hanna-Barbera, MacFarlane worked as both animator and writer on Johnny Bravo (1997) and Cow and Chicken (1995). –Bio, A&E Television Networks