Why Filmmakers Must Diversify Their Income

Why Filmmakers Must Diversify Their Income

No matter how you make your living as a filmmaker, there's a good chance your primary source of income isn't going to be stable in the long term.

For instance, if you work in the industry, you might wake up one day to find that production and post jobs are starting to dry up because the tax incentives in your state or country have changed.

If you’re a freelancer, you’re bound to go through dry spells where there’s no work, especially when the economy tightens and companies invest less into their marketing.

And if you’re trying to make original content for a living, there's never any guarantee that a new project will pay off.

Here’s the point I’m making. When you rely on one source of income, you invite financial catastrophe into your life—because there are forces beyond your control that could lessen (or completely cut) that income source more quickly than you can find another one.

I know that sounds a little bit dramatic, but take it from a guy who’s had his primary source of income cut down to nothing a few different times, and who just had it cut down to nothing again at the time of writing this. Pardon my language, but it fucking sucks, and it’s not something I wish for you.

That's why today's episode is all about diversifying your income, and a few of my favorite ways for filmmakers to start doing this using the skills and tools they already have. In order to tackle this subject, I brought in Pat McGowan, a 20 year industry veteran and the founder of BlackBox Global, a new platform that aims to help filmmakers achieve financial freedom.

So here's what you'll learn in episode 7: 

  • How forces outside of our control are making filmmaking a fundamentally more unstable profession.
  • Why diversifying your income is the key to financial stability in an increasingly uncertain world.
  • Two ways to generate side income with the skills and tools you already have.
  • Why stock footage is one of the single best ways for filmmakers of all types to start diversifying their income (it will pay off for years to come!)
  • The mindset you need to adopt in order for stock footage to pay off for you in the long run.
  • What kinds of things should you shoot? And how should you shoot them in order to sell as much footage as possible?
  • A cool new platform that makes the business side of stock footage as painless as possible.

Here's the episode. You can also listen and subscribe through iTunesStitcher, PocketCasts, and the Google Play Store.

If you enjoy today's show, it would mean the world to me if you'd leave a rating and review on iTunes. That's the best way to support this small indie show and to help new filmmakers find it!


The first season of the Filmmaker Freedom Podcast is sponsored by my friends over at Music Vine.

You have a lot of choices these days when it comes to finding music for your films and video projects. But Music Vine stands above the pack.

Not only is it refreshingly straightforward to license music you’d actually want to use, but it’s also genuinely affordable, even for indie filmmakers on shoestring budgets.

And the best part is, the music is all thoughtful, expressive, and genuine. It’s sourced from indie artists all over the globe who put the same care and attention and soul into their music as you do into your films.

That’s why all of the music in this podcast comes straight from the Music Vine library. Here's the playlist of songs from this episode.

You can get 10% off your first purchase when you use the code FREEDOM at checkout. Enjoy.

Practical Takeaways from Today's Episode

There are quite a few ways for anybody to diversify their income and start side hustling, especially if you're willing to break out of the world of filmmaking into other types of work. However, if you want to stay within the realm of filmmaking, I have two relatively minor recommendations, and one huge one.

Let's start with the small ones:

Make useful stuff for other filmmakers

There are plenty of stock assets that you can create if you have the time and expertise to do so. You can make LUTs and looks for digital coloration of media files. You can make light leaks and film grain packs.You can make After Effects templates.

Hell, if you can code, build an app that solves a common problem that filmmakers face. You can even teach a valuable filmmaking skill you’re good at in a course or an ebook or something.

There are so many possibilities for ways that you could create additional income using the skills you already have. So be creative, learn what the market wants, and try to make something useful.

Your gear can also help you create income

You can always create extra income by renting out your equipment to other filmmakers in your area. This is particularly useful for freelance filmmakers who own their own gear and who sometimes need to create extra income when they can't find clients, or when they want to take time off.

In years past, renting out your equipment would have been a hassle. But much like BlackBox has made the world of stock footage hassle-free, there are services that remove the headaches (and most of the risk) from renting. Personally, I'd recommend ShareGrid as the best place to start, but if they don't operate in your area, you might try KitSplit.

As for what gear to invest in, here's a good rule of thumb. Camera bodies typically have a limited lifespan because of how quickly technology progresses, but lenses, support equipment, lights, and microphones rarely go out of style. So if you're going to invest in gear with the intention of renting it out, think long term and invest in equipment that won't be obsolete in 18 months.

Getting into the stock footage game

Stock footage is easily my favorite way for diversifying your income as a filmmaker. With such high demand for video content these days, the market for individual clips has exploded, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

And getting started with producing stock footage has never been easier (thanks to a cool platform I’ll tell you about later in this lesson).

Best of all, it’s a beneficial practice that any type of filmmaker can start incorporating into their life immediately without disrupting their other work. That said, it really has to be systematized and habitual for it to pay off in the long run.

Here are a few examples.

If you’re an industry worker who has three weeks before the next gig, why not take two of those weeks off (because you’re probably exhausted from your last gig), then spend the other one actively shooting stock footage? Do this a few times a year, and soon enough, you’ll have some healthy side income.

You can do the same if you’re a client worker. There will always be slow seasons where there isn’t as much work, so why not spend the slow season investing time into creating stock content that will pay you for years to come? Plus, if you’ve been freelancing awhile, I can almost guarantee you there’s a goldmine of unused footage sitting on your various hard drives. Could you turn this into stock footage?

If you’re just starting out as a filmmaker, or you’re working your way to a sustainable career in original content, not only is shooting stock footage a way to start earning a little bit of income, but it’s a great way to practice various cinematography techniques and hone your skill. Go out with a few friends and shoot some nice looking shit. It's fun, it's useful, and you'll be doing something that will financially benefit you for years to come.

As for what to do with all this footage and how to get paid for it, that’s where my new favorite service comes in.

Meet BlackBox, a magical service to make the business of stock footage super simple

Far and away, the worst part about getting into the stock footage game is dealing with the business side of things. If you want your footage on multiple stock marketplaces, you have to go directly to each of them, work through their individual processes for uploading and tagging. And you have to deal with all sorts of different types of approval processes. And it’s all just one big pain in the ass.

But not with BlackBox.

This service essentially takes your content to market for you, dealing with all the business crap so you can spend more time shooting. You upload footage once to BlackBox, and they take it straight to all of the major stock marketplaces.

But it doesn’t stop there. BlackBox also manages the intellectual property rights for you. So if you have a bunch of footage, but don’t want to cut it up and color it, you can find someone in the BlackBox community who does those things, and you can give them, say, a 25% share of the revenue for life.

And BlackBox manages it all, making sure the content gets to market, you get paid your share, and your collaborators get paid their shares, in perpetuity, for life.

If it sounds like I’m selling you hard on this service, it’s because I’m wildly excited about it. BlackBox is one of those companies that has the potential to substantially improve the financial lives of filmmakers everywhere.

So, to all you lovely guys and gals reading this, I’d say that signing up for BlackBox and starting to upload footage (or collaborate on other projects) is one of the better things you can do.

Further Reading & Resources to Help You Diversify Your Income

Digital Service: BlackBox Global

This is the stock footage/intellectual property management tool I mentioned above, and I can’t recommend enough that you sign up and start uploading footage. It’s free to join, and it could very well prove to be one of the smartest financial decisions you’ll ever make.

Digital Service: EditStock

If you have a high quality short film that you'd like to sell in its entirety (with all of the raw footage and everything), EditStock is definitely worth looking into. It's a service that gives aspiring editors raw footage from real world projects to practice with.

Article: How to Succeed in Stock Video - VideoBlocks

This is a great crash course in getting started with shooting stock video. If you’re brand new to this, it’s a solid place to start.

Blog Archive: Stock Footage Tips from Ryan E. Walters

If you’re ready to get more serious about shooting stock video, I recommend digging into the archive on Ryan’s blog. He did a massive series awhile back about the different pieces of being successful with selling stock footage, including a bunch of the technical junk that might seem overwhelming.

Book: Stock Footage Millionaire - Robb Crocker

I haven't read this book yet, and I doubt it will make you a millionaire, but if you're looking for something more in-depth to get you started in the stock game, this seems like a good place to start.

Book: Born For This - Chris Guillebeau

Born For This is a great book about the nature of doing work you love in the modern world, but Chris's chapters on side hustling are worth the price alone.

Website & Podcast: Side Hustle School

This is a great podcast and site (also run by Chris Guillebeau) that will give you more ideas and inspiration and practical knowledge for starting a side hustles than you'll know what to do with.

Education for Creating an Indie Business: Fizzle

Fizzle is a one stop shop for learning the ins and outs of creating your own little indie business. It'll help with your freelancing, creating an online business, and all of the tech (and mindset) stuff that comes along with diving into this world. It helped me start this site, and I recommend it highly.

Join the Podcast Squad

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Just record your answers into your computer or phone mic, and then you might just hear yourself on the show!