Independent film producers long used to raising money for movies they believe in report they are mostly underpaid, stressed and face an uncertain future, as the industry stands today.
Those are among the findings of the first-ever Producers Sustainability Survey from Dear Producer, a digital forum for indie producers. If your experience with the indie film world has been viewing red carpet moments at the Cannes Film Festival or movies from key financiers like Oracle heiress Megan Ellison, Len Blavatnik and Teddy Schwarzman, think again.
“It’s not a career, it’s a crap shoot,” one producer responded anonymously to questions asking how fellow producers felt about lending commercial clout to auteur directors to get passion projects made. Rebecca Green, founder and editor in chief of Dear Producer, says being an indie film producer is hardly glamorous and high paying.
“That may have been true 20 or 30 years ago, but it is not reflective of the industry today. The reality is that producers rarely make a living wage. We work for years to bring movies to life — which may or may not happen — without compensation, and in fact, we are often spending upwards of $5000 of our own money to even get a project started,” Green explains in a statement.
The Dear Producer poll asked 75 questions of in all 474 U.S. producers who responded, half of whom were women. The survey respondents are mostly well-established industry players with producer and produced by movie credits, not unknowns without credits to their name.
As the poll offers a snapshot of indie film production, it reveals the business predictably went south in 2020 as Hollywood battled shutdowns of film sets and movie theaters brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.
Last year, around 42 percent of those surveyed reported an income of $50,000 or less, and the number of producers tapping their savings or government assistance to survive the industry shutdown jumped.
But the survey also points out how the pandemic upending Hollywood has only accelerated long-term trends that undermine the usual optimism of indie film producers and possibly their future business prospects as they pivot and adapt to COVID-19-era challenges.
Many reported increasingly being asked by film financiers to waive or defer all or part of upfront producer fees they collect — typically a percentage of the budget. And that has producers placing big bets on their projects’ backends, with only 54.8 percent of respondents indicating their films paid out in the last 10 years after securing distribution.
Green hopes the survey results help build a consensus for an industry support system for indie producers as the days of “big money” for filmmakers may be ending. The indie film business has been disrupted in particular by the rise of studio-sized franchises, the digital disruption by Netflix and Amazon and the dominance of superhero tentpoles crowding out character-driven dramas.
To create more financially sustainable careers for producers, the poll found that 77.8 percent of respondents called for minimum producer fees and 69 percent suggested a budget line item to repay development costs to producers.
But despite being pressed to support themselves and their families, indie producers polled reported they still like their work — with 39 percent indicating they enjoy it “a good amount,” while more than 50 percent said they love it.
“I love working with artists, interpreting them, finding ways for them to connect to others more effectively — and I love watching my own creative contributions marry with theirs to make a better film, a better pitch, a better promotion package, a better rough edit, a better social media campaign,” one producer told the survey anonymously.