What does an Independent Filmmaker do? Where does an Independent Filmmaker work? ACR takes a look:
About Independent Filmmakers
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 is noticeably different than bigger budget productions. Independent filmmakers usually have more flexibility in filmmaking, however, so their personal artistic vision shines through.
Independent Filmmaker Jobs
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.
Independent filmmakers may work on a contract basis for a film and video production studio or animation studio. Many run their own private production studios, whether it’s out of a garage or a rented facility.
Independent Filmmaker Salaries
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report salaries for independent filmmakers. However, it does report earnings for salaried producers and directors. The Bureau reports that producers and directors average around $71,350 per year as a single group. The highest paid producers and directors average $187,040 per year and the lowest paid average $31,650 per year.
The industry with the highest paid producers and directors is, of course, the motion picture and video industry ($94,110), followed by cable and other subscription programming ($83,220), and television broadcasting ($56,950). Finally, California and New York have the highest average salaries in the U.S. California-based producers and directors average $122,210 per year and New York-based producers and directors average $113,060 per year.
It is important to note that earnings vary greatly whether you’re an independent or salaried producer, director or filmmaker. Earnings depend on how many films the artist produces each year, how well the films do at the box office, online or on DVD, clout, and much more. This means, an independent filmmaker can earn as little as several thousand dollars a year up to six or even seven figures a year. Still, filmmakers say that wages shouldn’t be the motivation for working in the industry.
In From Script to Screen: Careers in Film Production by Sara Royster and Dennis Vilorio—economists in the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, BLS, Michael Merino says “Don’t do it for the money or the accolades. Do it because you love it.”
Just a few of the world’s highest paid independent filmmakers include Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, John Waters, David Lynch, Richard Linklater, Spike Jonze, David Mamet, Sophia Coppola, Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Michael Moore, and Darren Aronofsky.
Becoming an Independent Filmmaker
Independent filmmakers are extremely creative, driven, disciplined, and focused. They work long, grueling hours, they have to raise money to fund their films, and in most cases they end up funding part or all of the films themselves. Further, most independent filmmakers have to market and even distribute their own films. Stamina, focus, drive, creativity, and determination are just as important in this industry as education and skills, but you need both to be successful in this industry.
Common degrees for this occupation include filmmaking, animation, art, or fine art. Many independent filmmakers have completed internships or apprenticeships in addition to working for several years in the industry before setting out on their own. Some independent filmmakers are also former actors or directors for large studios.
Independent filmmakers rarely graduate from college and go right into directing. Many aspiring filmmakers work their way through various departments to gain valuable experience and contacts for years before making their first marketable film.
Job Trends for Independent Filmmakers
Independent filmmaking has become the way to go for aspiring animators, directors, and producers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this sector of the filmmaking industry may provide the best job prospects for new entrants. “Many small and independent filmmaking companies have sprung up to fill the growing demand for entertainment content.” These companies also provide job opportunities for new entrants and aspiring independent filmmakers.
Employment for directors and producers is projected to grow 3 percent for the 2012-2022 decade. An increasing demand for content for cable and satellite stations, the internet and mobile devices, videos, and DVDs will fuel growth in the industry. While film studios can be found all over the U.S., many are located in California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Georgia. In fact, California and New York are home to more producers and directors than any other state. The Bureau reports that California is home to 25,440 producers and directors and New York is home to 18,730.
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