4. Pay backend only.
Really. Pay no one up front. Work out backend deals, and treat filmmaking like a business. If your film is any good you will make some money back. And if you have only 10 people sharing backend, with no investors (get to that shortly) to pay back, everyone will see a check or two, or more.
But also remember, you as director/writer/producer should keep the biggest piece of the pie. You could be working on this project for a years (I shot my first COLOR ME OBSESSED interview in November 2009, it’s now May 2012 and I’m still traveling with the film), while the person doing sound was in and out in two weeks. So, you are the biggest investor: of TIME. Figure out everyone’s role, how much time everyone is spending on the film, what they’re bringing to the table so to speak, and work out percentages from there. If the DP is bringing along the entire camera and lighting package, you need to factor that in. If you are shooting in one location for a few weeks, and that location is as important as any cast member, the owner of the location needs to be compensated appropriately. And no, one percent or less is not an insult, if the person really has only spent a small amount of time on the film. But really think this through. Make a list of every single person who will have something to do with the film, from indie bands who contribute a song to the soundtrack, the person designing your poster/website, leave no one out, then work on the numbers.
This CAN work. But backend gets a dirty name because most people don’t follow through, or they have no solid plan on how to distribute their film once it’s done. There are so many ancillary markets at this point in time, so many places to get your film seen, and so many books and sites that point you in the right direction. Do some homework, research, Google exists for a reason. You are not going to make a film, sit back, get into Sundance, be signed by CAA, and get a 4-picture deal with one of the studios. That really is not going to happen. Ever. You need to be proactive, you need to make everything in your career happen. It’s ALL on your shoulders.
But remember, when you get in that check from Netflix, or iTunes, or even YouTube, when you get in every check, even it it’s only $500, pay out backend. Because even getting a royalty check of $20 will make someone’s day. And you will get a reputation as a filmmaker people will want to work for, i.e. he/she finishes his/her films, actually gets them distributed, and pays out royalties. That almost seems like a pie-in-the-sky fantasy in the indie world, but ask my crew/cast members, they’ll tell you it can happen.
Next up: Funding Your Film