Do you know you can actually make money from short films? If you had asked me this question – “How to Make Money from Short Films? “a few years back, my answer would be no but in this day and age where the social media and global online platforms have opened the doors for the creators to innumerable possibilities to find its audience, the answer is a Big YES. Wherever there is an audience, the money will follow.
When I started out, the only good option was Youtube. I had no audience. My friends and relatives were my audiences. Monetizing was impossible. Today with Facebook and Instagram, you can grow a following and your films can reach the right audience in no time. Websites like Short film depot and Without a box offer to archive your short film and with one link and you can apply to tons of film festivals. Whether you live in the jungles of Amazon or any abandoned village in Afghanistan, if you have a smartphone and an internet connectivity, the world is at your feet.
So, With my background in digital marketing, I don’t see any reason why you can’t make money from short films today. But before thinking about making money, you need to take into account an estimation of your short film cost. You can only make money if you invest your money smartly. Making money is subjective. Earning $100 is also making money but if you make your short for $10,000 you may not agree.
Short film Business Plan
For any Newbie, making a short film is a challenge in itself when it comes to raising money. You either you dig holes in your pocket or borrow. If you look for an investor or a producer, the first question that confronts you is – Can you make money from short films?
So, to make money out of your short film, you need to have a business plan. Any business is only profitable when the income from the short film is more than the cost of the short film. You need to have an ROI ( Return On Investment). If you make your short film with no money, ten bucks generated is a profit. But, we know, though filmmaking has become considerably cheaper, it still demands a significant money if you want to compete with the best in the world.
As an indie filmmaker you may not challenge the studios but with powerful content and a production good enough to support the script, you can beat them. It has happened in the past but it needs some funds to produce it. You have to choose your ammo well.
If you have a budget estimation, the next thing you need to do is to explore avenues to monetize it on profit. You need to have a marketing plan for your short film. However, it becomes challenging with every dollar adding up on the cost of making the film.
The cost should also include the marketing expenses like festival submission fees, postal charges of DVDs, paid advertisements, agent’s commissions etc. The higher the costs, the pressure of generating more earnings rises. As a filmmaker, your budget should not shoot up and you should be smart in optimizing the input costs.
Types of Investment:
As you short filmmaker you can invest in your short film by two means:
Investing your Money –
You produce your short and raise the fund for it. You either invest your money or borrow from your friends and relatives. There are other options to raise money through crowdfunding or taking a loan. You can also collaborate or make your film for free.
In this case, you don’t have any pressure but you need to maintain a standard that reputed festivals or online platforms command.
Investing your Time –
You invest your time here and you don’t deal in investing or raising fund for the film. Usually, the producers or the studios hire you for making their short film. The money you make like a short filmmaker is your fee.
Many corporates make short films nowadays and the same goes for social organizations. Companies hire short filmmakers to create viral videos which touch a chord in the social network.
How to make money from short films
I have found eleven incredible ways to make money from short films. Selling can be an easy process but making money from it is not. You need a lot of patience to see the results. Some are lucky to close a profitable deal at once. But, most of them struggle with it. But, if you have a plan in place and a clarity in your mind about its outcome, you can definitely make good money from short films.
So, as I said earlier, your cost or expense of making and marketing the film plays a key role, but with the right kind of mindset and a smart hustle, you can reach the figure you have in your mind. Set realistic goals and if you go crack a deal beyond that, it is a bonus. Here are the top 11 ways to make money from short films. I have broadly broken it down based on the investment type to make it easier for you.
When you invest the money:
1- Outright selling:
For a newbie, it is the best option. Outright selling off your rights to the film for a sum which make you enough profit to produce your next is an excellent deal in my opinion. Why this is the best option? Because as a newbie you don’t know the distribution methods of the film. A Buyer who is experienced can help reach your film to a larger audience. If you have made a good money from the deal I see no reason to be greedy about it. You move on to the next project with a fresh mind and not carry the baggage of distribution.
But who are these buyers?
- Film festivals – Many prominent film fests have a marketplace. You can your film there.
- Short film buyer – As the name suggests there are buyers of short films who will offer your good money for exclusive rights or outright buys.
- Short film distributor, sales agents, and managers – They will get you deals for some percentage share on your income
- Producers – Many producers buy shorts as add-ons for their feature films merchandise.
- You get a lump sum money.
- You are over with carrying the film ahead.
- The film reaches a larger audience than what your hustle could have reached.
- You can start afresh with new projects.
- The earning is limited.
- You no longer hold the rights.
- If there is any new platform to monetize your film, you may not do it.
We have a detailed article on Who buys Short Films. Read Here
2- Sharing Royalties with online Distribution:
Short films have found its market today. With the ever growing video consumption online, there is a proliferation of short film distribution platforms everywhere. The best part is you can submit to many platforms for free or for a minimal fee. With every view of your short, they share the profits from advertisements to your film.
There many videos on demand (VOD) platforms all over the world catering either worldwide or to their markets and niches. The only thing to take into consideration in these platforms is to adhere to their terms and conditions and your quality and duration of the short.
- If you have an audience you can make some good money by driving them to your short.
- The money will keep coming passively forever with every view.
- If you rank higher or you gain popularity in these platforms, you can generate substantial income.
- Money dripping in is petty and may not be substantial if you don’t get many views.
- The competition is steep and you can’t rely on the platform’s traffic.
- The listing of your film will depend on the search algorithms of that platform which is not in your control.
- If your film fails to gather views or popularity, your income will tank and you may end earning nothing.
3- Sharing Royalties with Youtube:
I excluded Youtube from the above section because Youtube is a giant and there are many articles about how you can make money on Youtube with your short film. So, I had to give a special place to Youtube. However, I have some reservations about Youtube. Monetization on Youtube is significantly low unless your film goes viral and you get millions of views.
A million views may make you few hundred dollars which is negligible when it comes to ROI.
But, if you plan to start a short film channel and keep making short films ( hundreds of them) your channel will get some good subscriber base. The success mantra to earn from Youtube is quantity over quality.
With millions of videos uploaded every day, you need to know some SEO ( search engine optimization) and keywords strategy to beat all these videos and rank yours over others. Youtube is notorious to change its algorithms and you may wake up one day to see no views on your film which was gathering hundreds a day back.
But Youtube is a platform you should not ignore if you have long-term plans of making many short films. It has a snowball effect on views when you keep posting videos frequently.
- Free traffic and the world’s best platform to showcase your film to date.
- If your film goes viral, the views can shoot up beyond expectations.
- You can create a brand by making films on Youtube.
- It is excellent for home videos, gags, information-based and social message films
- One or few films will hardly give you any traction on Youtube.
- It is a highly competitive platform and you have to learn SEO to rank.
- Youtube can’t be trusted on ranking algorithms as it keeps changing without your control or knowledge.
- You may not monetize if you use copyrighted stuff on visuals and music.
- Youtube’s Earnings per view is going down day by day.
4- Winning Awards:
Participating in film festivals and competitions which offer good money to Awards is another way to make money. There are thousands of festivals and if you smartly compete in certain categories where competition is less.
You can win many awards in participating in your genre or niche based film festivals. Everyone dreams of Sundance and Oscars but you shouldn’t ignore the lesser known ones as you will easily beat the competition.
- Awards give recognition to your filmmaking craft and also lends credibility in selling your film.
- Some awards pay in thousands. It becomes profitable if you have made your film at a lower cost than that.
- Awards have a long-term intangible effect on your filmmaking career.
- Hoping to monetize your film through awards is a bit far-fetched thought.
- Filmmaking is expensive and awards may not make you enough money.
5- Sell it to OTTs :
Over the top platforms are in fashion now. With the emergence of Netflix, Amazon Direct and Hulu, viewers skip the regular movie viewing as the movies have entered their bedroom. OTT as they are known, bypass the satellite connectivity and stream on your home television through any wifi adapter or a flash stick.
The best thing about it is that it has changed the concept of home-viewing. It is similar to video on demand and you can watch it whenever and wherever. You can access them on your smartphones so you don’t have to slump on your couch every time to see your selected movies.
Short films are also exploiting these platforms in a big way. But, for a newbie, unless you have some great concept, craft or awards it is tough to sell it here. But if you crack a deal, the returns on your investment goes through the roof.
- OTTs offer big money to buy your film.
- It is a reputable medium and can speed up your filmmaking dreams.
- Selling your next film to them becomes easier.
- It is tough to crack a deal.
- You need to publicize your short so that viewers pick your movies.
- Your film may go out of circulation if you gather negative reviews.
- It is a one time deal. If you are not offered a good price, that is more or less end of your monetization possibilities.
- The competition is fierce.
6- Direct Sell it Online:
Now, in this day and age when any website is accessible worldwide, selling your movie directly to your audience is not a bad option. Just like any website, you can set up a website of your film or your company which has articles, videos, and images of your short film journey.
You can have your teasers and trailers and offer people to buy the film either through DVD or watch it online. Another way to do it is to redirect them to your OTT or VOD link. It safeguards your website from getting hacked.
Also, there are various digital platforms like Gumroad, Kajabi to put your film online and charge your viewer a one-time fee. So, the financial transactions are done by these websites and you get the money transfer to your account minus their fee.
- It is a one time set up and the income is totally passive for life.
- You have full control of your short film.
- Your film will face no competition.
- You can grow an audience organically over time for free.
- You need to learn or know about building and maintaining websites and digital marketing.
- The process is slow and time-consuming initially.
- A good ROI is not guaranteed.
- Fulfillment of orders can become cumbersome if you have to send hard copies.
If you want to know how to build an audience which is extremely crucial for direct selling, check this article – How to sell your short film.
7- Monetize with Different Version:
If your short has a universal appeal or it is on a genre which has a mass appeal, then you should explore the possibilities of selling it to different parts of the world. All you have to do is either dub it in their native language or subtitle it. Subtitling is cheap but dubbing makes a difference.
If you have a longer short say more than 20 minutes, you can re-edit to a 10 minute or 15-minute versions. Then your film opens the possibilities of participating in more festivals and it also becomes available for short duration platforms.
- More possibilities equal more money and openings.
- Your film will open more doors to reach a wider audience.
- There are many countries or language-specific OTTs and VODs where you can pitch your film.
- Investing further in the film may be risky.
- You may end up losing energy and time which may not yield profitable results.
- If your translations are not up to the mark, your film may lose its sheen.
- Same goes with re-edits. Shorter formats may look incomplete.
8- Rent a Theatre/Auditorium:
This a real hustle but a very fulfilling one. You can rent an auditorium in your neighborhood and showcase your film by selling tickets. You can also do a road trip like the earlier times. Also, you can hire a place in any events and show your films.
You can also grab in a couple of sponsors to serve snacks to lure your audience. You can publicize through newspapers, online forums, associations, meetups platforms, schools, colleges etc. Also, you can team up with a few short filmmakers and share the costs and earnings.
It is always smart to make children’s short film with strong messages and showcase your films for free on school auditoriums. You can charge the schools per student.
- You get a real audience and a fell of a feature film.
- You get to know the real-time feedback on your film.
- If you are a smart salesman, you can earn a bagful.
- It is tough to sell tickets for shorter duration films.
- It doesn’t give your audience a value for money.
- You may end up losing money if the audience doesn’t turn up.
B) When you invest the time:
9- Producers / Studios
When you invest time means a Producer or a Studio hires you for making their short film. They may want you to direct, write and direct, or produce and direct. Here you earn a fee for the job which means you don’t have to invest any money.
The fee is your earning and you may not have any right or privilege to distribute it. The property is theirs and all you invested here was the time.
- You are free from investing any money and you get to make the short.
- Your film will be marketed by experienced marketers.
- Your career can skyrocket if your film is received well.
- You have a positive ROI as you didn’t invest any money.
- You can’t scale it up like you can do when you own the rights.
- The remuneration is fixed.
- You may never learn film marketing and distribution as you will work as a freelancer.
10- Make films for Corporates/ Associations:
It is similar to the previous one but here the person hiring you may or may not have any experience in filmmaking. They hire you to make the film on a certain cause or product which involves storytelling
The Corporates or the Associations make it for their audience and they may not market the short film like a film producer or a studio. They usually have their distribution in place and is mostly not exposed to the common public.
- You have a better chance of making more money as you can produce it as well.
- Crack a package deal of more short films.
- You don’t have to invest any money as the previous one.
- You can run a profitable business making short films for corporates and associations.
- You can’t reach a wider audience as they are made for a niche audience.
- Your films are for private viewing. Chances of going public are less.
- They may not satisfy your creative needs.
- You have very little control over the films.
11- Get Sponsors:
If you can get a sponsor for your film, the money can be used for making and selling the film. Many times you can get them to advertise their product and if you promise them good coverage and wider distribution, they will be more than interested to oblige.
If you gather few product sponsors and place their products without making it obvious, then you have already made money even before selling the film. This is a win-win situation for both the filmmaker and the sponsor.
- You almost or fully cover the cost of the movie before making it.
- It is additional money which can be invested in making the film more marketable.
- You can still have other monetization options open as you have all the rights with yourself.
- Sponsors sometimes want their products to show their way.
- Products can distract the audience from the story.
Is it Wise to look at money while making short films?
Is money your real investment? There are many intangible benefits attached to the short you make. It can’t be assessed with the return on investment. Your short film is a gateway to your filmmaking career. It not only becomes a demo reel for you as a filmmaker you can also grab some other filmmaking assignments like an advertisement or corporate films.
Filmmakers like George Lucas, Tim Burton, Neill Blomkamp, John Lasseter, Michel Gondry etc got their breakthroughs because of their shorts. Your short film is an asset for life. It will keep giving you returns forever.