A New Paradigm for the Business of Indie Film

Today, I’m pleased to introduce you to a podcast I’ve been thinking about creating for a long, long time.

At first, it was called The Filmpreneur. But now (thanks to a trademark conflict) I’ve rolled it into my original podcast Filmmaker Freedom.

Anyhow, as the names imply, it’s a show for indie filmmakers who want to be more entrepreneurial. But it’s more than that.

My goal for this show is to build out a body of knowledge that will help you towards the one goal we all share… to make a meaningful, sustainable living from your work as an indie filmmaker.

You’ll learn how to build audiences online, cut out the middle men, and sell directly to your fans. More than that though, it’ll be a complete education in creative entrepreneurship and ethical marketing, featuring what I’ve learned over the years, as well as super in-depth interviews with filmmakers.

So without any further ado, here’s the first episode, which sets up everything you can expect from this show.


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A (lightly edited) transcript of today’s episode

Hey friend,

Welcome to The Filmpreneur—a brand new podcast for indie filmmakers who don't just want to make the films that they care most about, but earn a comfortable, sustainable living from those films.

My name is Rob Hardy, and in addition to being an indie filmmaker. I'm a marketing consultant who's worked for some of the biggest names in filmmaking education, as well as a handful of startups.

Now, we'll go deeper into my story later on, but I want to kick this off with what you can expect from listening to The Filmpreneur.

And I think the best place to start is telling you about a disheartening conversation I had the other day…

The sad state of micro-budget filmmaking in one story

Last week, I met an indie filmmaker who I've looked up to for years, somebody who I thought had it all figured out.

So we went and got some beers and dinner at a little place here in Tucson.

After talking for a bit, I learned that he had spent seven years making his first feature film. It was something that he cared deeply about. It was a personal story, and one that he felt he had to tell.

And like a lot of us, he poured his heart and soul into this thing. He went into debt to make it, maxed out some credit cards, called in favors from family and friends, the whole nine yards.

Here's the first sad thing.

Not only is he still in debt and paying off those credit cards years later, but when it came time to sell his film and try to actually do something with it, he made a grand total of like 200 bucks.

And that's not even the most disheartening part of this conversation.

The part that bummed me out most was he no longer believes in being an indie filmmaker. He doesn't think it's possible to devote yourself to this work, and live a good, fulfilled, financially stable life.

And while I’m more optimistic, I can't say I blame him.

What no one tells you about successful indie filmmakers

I've been in the indie filmmaking space for about 10 years now, and that story I just told you is super common.

Even though it's cheaper and easier than ever before to make films. And even though we’re now able to distribute our work and get it in front of audiences freely through the internet…

Even though we've got all these amazing advantages, the dirty little secret of our modern age is unless you're one of a handful of elite filmmakers, chances are you're not actually earning a living through your film projects.

And of the people who actually are making a living as indie filmmakers, most of those people are making films in the 5 to 20 million dollar budget range. At that point, I'm honestly not sure it counts as “independent” anymore.

Sure, the internet is rife with stories of successful indie filmmakers. Just listen to other podcasts and read all the blogs and follow the festival circuit and trade publications. You’ll find plenty of evidence that indie filmmakers are doing ok.

But beneath the surface, there’s more to the story.

The truth of the matter is that even the people who are seemingly successful as indie filmmakers—the people who make really kick-ass features, who go to festivals and win a bunch of awards, who end up getting distribution deals, or who successfully do the DIY distribution game, with getting their stuff on iTunes and Amazon and all of these different tools...

Even those people who are succeeding, the majority of them are not making a living, are not paying their mortgage and putting food on the table with their film projects.

Instead, most of them do commercials, or corporate videos. They freelance. They work on other people's sets for a regular paycheck. Or they teach, or drive for Uber, or have a day job in graphic design or marketing or whatever.

In other words, even for many of the most successful indie filmmakers these days, the filmmaking part of their lives is rarely more than an expensive time-consuming hobby.

It’s depressing, but that’s the unvarnished truth about being a truly independent filmmaker in 2019.

My story, and a responsible detour into the marketing world

Once I came to terms with the sad state of the indie distribution landscape, I also felt hopeless—a lot like that friend that I got dinner with last week.

I just didn't see the value in trying to build a career as an indie filmmaker because it seemed like a senseless, quixotic endeavor.

After all of that, I decided to be responsible. So I've spent the past five years of my life working in the realm of direct marketing, doing content marketing, copywriting, and specifically email copywriting.

And I've helped some pretty sizable brands and startups in the filmmaking space and in the creative space. My specialty is helping them attract audiences online, build relationships with those audiences, and then monetize those relationships with their digital products.

That's how I've been putting food on my table.

In that five year stretch, I also started my own site called Filmmaker Freedom. (Previously it was named Filmmaker’s Process, but the new name is way more badass.) Essentially I applied a lot of these same ideas from my day job to building my own audience.

And through all of this time, I still had this mindset that indie filmmaking just wasn't a viable way to make a living. In fact, I wrote a mega article here about that very topic.

I argued that it was perfectly fine to pursue film as a hobby. To disregard the business because it was pointless anyway. At least that way, you’d be able to bring fun and fulfillment back into the mix.

Like my friend, I stopped believing indie film could be a business, or that you could combine entrepreneurship and marketing and film in any meaningful way.

That is, until I met Mike Dion.

Meet Mike Dion, the guy who singlehandedly changed my mind about indie film entrepreneurship

You probably don't know Mike, as he's not really a household name in the filmmaking community.

But during Sundance 2017, he was putting out this rad series of videos about how he was distributing his own work and building audiences and cutting out the middlemen.

And I saw these videos and I was just sort of blown away, because it was it was so unique. And I when I saw that Mike lived in my hometown of Denver, it felt like serendipity. So I reached out, and we ended up getting coffee a few weeks later.

And what he told me during that conversation has forever changed the way that I approach filmmaking and entrepreneurship.

What Mike told me is that for the past 10 or so years, he's been making his entire living off of a handful of his feature documentaries.

No film festivals. No distribution deals. No middle men. Just him, his audience, and people buying his work.

And the crazy part about this that really blew my mind was that Mike's audience, his niche, seemed impossibly tiny.

Yo see, he works in a niche called “bike packing.” I'm not sure if you're familiar with it, but it's essentially those people who ride their bike all the way across the continental US with nothing but what's on their back. So it's a mixture of like long-distance endurance biking with backpacking.

And he makes films for those people, for that small sliver of the population who are passionate enough about bike packing that it's a core part of their identity. He tells stories of big races and famous athletes and helps this group reinforce its worldview.

And he's been able to make his entire living with those films. Not just part of his living. Not just his living for a year or two before having to get a real job again. But his entire living.

But is this applicable to other indie filmmakers…?

Now at first I thought it was cool, but maybe it was just a fluke. Maybe Mike got lucky and he just sort of fell into this. Maybe these ideas only work for documentaries, but not narratives.

It's easy to write off success like that. It’s easy to look at someone’s story, and find reasons it’s not applicable to your situation.

But the more I thought about it, the more I worked in marketing, the more I built my own audience, the more I started deconstructing what Mike did, the more I realized that what Mike had done was applicable to all of us.

Truth is, what I do as a direct marketer and audience builder is not very far removed from what it takes to make a living with your own independent films. The tactics and details change a bit, sure, but the same core principles apply.

At the end of the day, if you can identify an audience that’s hungry for a certain type of content, earn their attention, and make work that those people are going to truly care about, there's no reason that you can't make a living.

Yes, there are all sorts of things that complicate that equation, things that we're going to talk about throughout the run of this podcast.

But it is possible. When you harness the power of direct marketing, and building niche audiences, you can make a living with your indie films. I promise.

Once I had that realization, a whole new world opened up to me.

I've been exploring it for the past two years now, really trying to figure out the nuances of how to make this into a repeatable framework that other filmmakers can follow.

After working one-on-one with a handful of filmmakers to help them build their audiences…

And after building out an early version of my course that teaches this stuff, and testing it relentlessly…

I can honestly say that what you're about to learn on The Filmpreneur isn't just marketing theory. It's stuff that really works in the real world to help filmmakers make a living with their content and connect with audiences.

What you can expect from The Filmpreneur Podcast

So that's a little bit of context for how we got to where we are right now, which brings me back to the question of what can you expect from this show.

First and foremost, you're going to get lots of short, hands-on, practical episodes. No nonsense. No fluff.

The point of these is just to give you strategy, tactics, and big ideas needed to build a niche audience, market to them, build real relationships with them, and then earn a consistent living as you make films that serve that audience.

I'm going to teach you everything that I know about how to merge filmmaking and entrepreneurship. And how to practice marketing in a way that's honest and ethical, so when you go to bed at night, you can feel good about the work that you've done.

Because when you market correctly, you haven't tricked anybody or done anything sleazy. Instead you've approached it from a place of service, and given people content that enriches their life, validates who they are, and makes this crazy world a little bit more tolerable.

Plus, when you market this way, you end up making more money in the long run, so that’s pretty cool as well.

Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that I don't know everything. I'm not some kind of marketing guru or expert or any crap like that.

Honestly, I'm still a student at this stuff myself, and I will perpetually be a student forever.

And that's why in addition to these shorter more practical episodes, I'm also going to do meaty long-form interviews with entrepreneurial filmmakers from all over the globe.

I'm not talking like 30-45 minute interviews, like you might find on other podcasts. Instead, we're going to go deep. We're going to talk for 90 minutes, two hours, two and a half hours, maybe three. Whatever it takes.

And we're going to talk about the real shit. We're going to leave no stone unturned to really help you understand what it takes to make a living this way.

Frankly, there's been a real lack of transparency in the world of indie film business, and indie film distribution. And the only way we can change that culture is by... well, changing that culture. We need to talk truthfully about what's working and what's not working.

So when I do interviews with people on this show, you can expect to hear the real, honest truth about what it takes to make a living this way.

And as much as I hope you enjoy these episodes and get a ton out of them. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't also for my edification. Because frankly I’ve been craving information and conversations like this for years, and I'm just not finding them anywhere else.

So, I'm going to take the bull by the horns and make it happen myself.

That's what you can expect from listening to The Filmpreneur. Short tactical episodes, and long meaty interviews. All with the goal of helping you make a living with the films that you care most about.

Distributing directly to your fans, cutting out the middlemen, and living a good fulfilled entrepreneurial life making the art that you you feel compelled to make.

That's the overarching goal here.

Who’s a good fit for The Filmpreneur, and who’s not?

That brings me to one final point before we wrap this thing up, and that's to really hone in on who this podcast is for.

Because I can tell you upfront, it's not for everybody.

In fact, the "filmpreneur way of doing things" is is pretty involved. It's a lot of work, and frankly. it's not going to resonate with the vast majority of the filmmaking community.

I know this because I've been talking to filmmakers for years about this stuff, and most people shrug it off. They're not interested in doing that level of work. They’re not interested in becoming a marketer and an entrepreneur in addition to making films. It's a lot to ask.

But there are a handful of people who just aren’t satisfied with the status quo, who are willing to try something different, who are willing to get outside of their comfort zone, who are willing to work for years to build a life for themselves that's outside of the ordinary.

So if that sounds like what you want out of your life, and you're willing to take responsibility not just for making good films, but for what happens once your films are done, and you're willing to do the hard, but rewarding work of building an audience for not just months but years on end...

If you're willing to do all of that, then this podcast is for you.

So here's my promise to you.

I commit to show up every single week and give you at least one new episode. And I promise to do everything in my power to share what I know, and make the time you spend on this show the most insightful, useful, practical minutes of your week.

But more than that, I promise to continuously build up The Filmpreneur podcast and make it a cohesive body of knowledge, so that when future generations listen to this, it's all here. The entire system from A to Z, without me holding anything back or making you join a paid course.

I want you to be able to take what you learn in this show and build a thriving life as a filmpreneur.

That's my promise and my commitment to you.

So I'm going to leave you with one more quick thing.

If you're interested in surrounding yourself with like-minded entrepreneurial filmmakers, you should check out Freedom Fighters, my private community for people like us.

And don’t worry, it's not another noisy, spammy facebook group or anything like that.

But instead, it's a place for thoughtful discussions, hands on support, and filmmaking entrepreneurship content that you just won't find anywhere else. Plus, it's totally free!

So to apply to become a member of that just go to filmpreneurshow.com/freedom

All right friend, that's it for today.

Thanks for listening to the first ever episode of The Filmpreneur, and I'll see you next time. Peace out.

If you’re truly invested in putting these ideas to use, I’d recommend joining Freedom Fighters, my private community for entrepreneurial indie filmmakers.

It’s not another spammy facebook group or noisy forum. It’s an online oasis just for people like us. A place of sanity and respect, where we try our best to support one another in our respective journeys.

So if you’re interested in becoming a member, here’s where you can get the full scoop and apply (don’t worry, it’s totally free).

Hoping to see you inside.

-Rob Hardy

Lastly, if you enjoy thoughtful content like this, you'll love Filmmaker Freedom Weekly. Each week, I share my latest writing, curated stories from around the web, a short film that I love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

Are you ready to take your filmmaking to the next level?