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First feature film:- Should everyone get profit share?
  • Hi guys, I'm shooting my first feature next year and we have everyone lined up ready to go. Crew (mostly film students) and cast (non union). We are shooting this in Australia. We don't have money in the budget to paid anyone since being a low-budget film. The budget in total is around $40,000. That's including everything from pre-production through to post/distribution. But now, we have an actor (supporting role) wanting payment in "profit share' form. No one else has asked for pay so far, from both crew and cast. As the director/producer, what's the best way to navigate through this? Should everyone get profit share who's involved? We highly doubt this movie is going to make millions and any cash we do get would go straight back to the investors and our next feature. cheers

  • 37 Replies sorted by
  • I am curious to hear how did it go at the end? By now I assume, that the movie is finished and distributed. What happened with the crew, contract, profits, money share etc...? Thanks!

  • I think I'm going against the grain here but, whilst it's infinitely preferable, and generally simpler, to pay people you can do food and reasonable travel expenses and/or minimum payment + profit share and if people want to do it/have a reason to do it they will. If you're going to do profit share for one supporting actor you should obviously do it for all the cast and principal crew because when they find out they won't be happy and it's just not fair! Strange to change the whole system for one supporting cast member I'd say.

    I've done several plays and shorts on a profit share basis some with well known actors (within the UK) and no there hasn't been any profit but if people have a reason to do it i.e. a promotion for crew members and a decent role for actors that will help them shine/do something they don't normally get to do because they're type cast they might well be fine about doing it as long as you're not taking the piss and trying to make money off their labour - I've only ever lost time and money even though things have done well. I wouldn't allocate profit to my future projects personally, I always put myself in the same boat as everyone else. I know there's a logic of well if we make another film we will hopefully employ you again, but will that be paid anyway? Would the small amount of profit really make the difference between your next project happening or not? I remember a TV channel wanted to use a short I made, they said it was fantastic exposure, but they were selling air time and not paying people who made the films that generated the advertising revenue, they said they were setting up a fund to allocate to film makers as they saw fit, I said they could fuck off.

    Anyway you would have to be very clear on contracts and you would also need to very diligent with your accounts so you could be, and be seen to be, transparent with your stakeholders. It can also be pretty complicated figuring out all your points allocations, does it change with seniority like money would, how long is each person working on the project etc. So I would say if you can pay do pay, if you can't pay be fair and clear and don't do one deal for one and not the others and make sure there is something else in it for people other than money so there is a reason for them to want to do it, just like there is for you.

  • @vicharris "The first thing in your budget is Crew, Crew and Catering......Period."

    That was the best piece of advice I've ever heard on this topic. Thank you!

  • Yes I know, that's why I started it in the first place. Thanks all!

  • Think you pretty much have a overwhelming consensus here dude. You need to pay the crew and feed them well. $40,000 is a good amount of money these days with the gear we have at our disposal. Might be time for this thread to die :)

  • As Mark Cousins shows in the documentary “The Story of Film”, some of the most innovative cinema has been made by a bunch of friends with a borrowed camera.

    Whether it's budgeted or no-budget, people can easily make inaccurate assumptions about a project. On rare occasions, friends may agree to work on a project, not because they want to, but because they feel obligated for something else you might have done for them. A different kind of resentment simmers and ten years later, you find out they helped you only because you loaned them a lawnmower every summer!

    On a no budgeter, Casting/recruiting notices should make clear there is no pay. Cast/crew should sign a release form/ deal memo stating something like " I understand that I am to receive no compensation for this appearance/project" A union actor may go though a lengthy audition only to find it’s non-paid. If they are courteous they may say something like:

    “ Oh I had no idea it was unpaid. Sorry I can’t do it…But..I hope I’ll be able to work with you guys in the future on your bigger projects!”

    If they’re less diplomatic they might say:

    ” You A***oles! I took a whole day off Trader Joes to come here! Lost a F’kin day’s pay Your names will be known at SAG, jerks! You'll be stuck in Amateurwood FOR-ever, Pend@@jo! Ay! Enchilada! Audition in Boyle Heights! I shoulda known somethin' was fishy, man!

    It does help to put everything in writing from the start to dispel assumptions. First monies should go to an entertainment attorney. If not, indie film organizations like IFP or Raindance in your area may have attorneys or consulting producers who can help you either gratis or for a small fee.

    Other than that, to paraphrase Harlan Ellison: " Pay the cast & crew!"

  • There's sometimes profits, there isn't always marketing. More important to spend your money wisely, make a good film or video, then use that product to make a larger budget project where you pay more. Take any profit and put it into the next one.

  • I think it's kinda amusing that anyone would think their first feature would make any money at all. I also don't think that anyone who works on such things should even be led to believe that any money will be made at all.

    May be in such case work on something that brings money?

  • I think it's kinda amusing that anyone would think their first feature would make any money at all. I also don't think that anyone who works on such things should even be led to believe that any money will be made at all.

    If you find folks who will work for free, be very upfront to them that they are working for free and that others will be getting paid. If they aren't cool with it, let them go on their way. If they are cool with it, then be sure to at least treat them well.

    You can make whatever promises to distribute revenue to the unpaid cast/crew but you should be very very careful to make sure that all of them know that there is NO guarantee that there will be any money made. People will agree to do things for free but in the back of their minds they are still believing that they will possibly make money. It's human nature to hold onto hopes like this.

  • ( not implying that the OP or anyone here is like this, but some ) No Budget / Low Budget filmmakers often act like bank robbers. They haven't even robbed the bank yet. And they're already thinking about knocking off their accomplices, so they can keep all the loot! Giving up 1% of nada is so hard to do!! Then again, they don't even have all the proper tools and talent to break into the bank, which Hollywood has in droves.

    Hollywood studios think a good movie needs certain "elements" to be successful. Imagine a big cauldron boiling over a fire, being stirred by three witches…er... studio execs. Into the pot they throw name actors, a hot script, a hot director, car crashes, 100 million worth of CGI, stir and hope it does well with a test audience. A lot of it is just gambler's superstition. If the handpicked "elements" gave them lucky numbers before, it will again. They hope. A recipe for beef stew may contain 15-17 ingredients. Along comes the no budget moviemaker who says, "I’ll just make it with salt and carrots. It’s no budget! " Hmmm. Oughta taste good!

    But seriously, I know art films or personal films aren't assembly line industry movies. Skimping is often necessary. Cheese & cardboard pizza vs Steak & Lobster pizza! The non-profit arts sector pays very little if anything, depending mostly on volunteers. But more and more artists in the for-profit cultural industries are being asked to work for nothing. Not good.* Very few if any of the crowdfunded features offer any pay or profit participation to its supporters either, unless the SEC implements sweeping changes. That may mean having to raise more money on each project.


    • Here’s one musician’s response to being asked to work for free:

    … scathing letter from British alternative rock/electronic artist, Whitey, to television production company, Betty TV. They were one company too many to request free music for their productions, claiming to have “no budget for music”. The response is clearly the result of a long simmering irritation that boiled over, and then poured over into social media.

  • I've been producing a lot in the music industry. My only advice is:
    no matter what you do, or if you have high budget or none at all and even if people are willing to work for free: just always make a contract with every participant of the production. It may save you lots of possibly imaginable problems.

  • You should redesign your script for what you can afford or wait until you get more investors. If you get enough voluntaries kudos to you. But I could not have a crew working for me for free. I always make sure on voluntary projects they get a the bear minimum a 100$ plus food even if it comes out of my pocket. With a great and unique idea you can make a great movie even under 10k. As I sad if you are not able to get money you have to design your script to your budget. Sometimes the greatest scenes and ideas comes when you are forced to think out of the box. Necessity is the mother of invention.

  • Yeah, I don't expect there will be...

  • Don't spend a lot of time worrying about this. There will be no profits.

  • @kellar42 Yes sure, this was just meant as a general proving a point figure. As you say, scaling it down is one way. But I have not seen that work often. Let's imagine you have only an average 3 actors and 3 extras on each day (Some day that will be 15 and some only 1). That means average 6 per day for cast. You then have: director, camera, focus, lights, producer, sound, 1st AD, Art, hair and makeup, costume, catering, 1 runner.

    This is already 18 and it is very hard to see how you can skip any of them without have a very particular type of script or a very long shooting period. And we haven't even begin to talk about post production. Of course, anyone can suggest having fewer on the crew or come up with examples where that was achieved. But in any feature film context, 20 is not a lot.

  • I think for most people the best idea with this kind of budget is definitely going to be to pay a crew and find acting talent that wants a chance to shine and hopefully even pay them something.

    Personally I kind of like the Edward Burns model, where his crew is 3 people including himself who share in the profits of the movies, and uses his minuscule budgets (Nice Guy Johnny was 25 grand, Newlyweds was 9) to pay pretty good actors who are also fairly fresh faces and want to work with him. The locations are borrowed. The reason this all works, however, is with his name and track record, Burns knows he'll make a profit on films with these kind of budgets, and I imagine he and his crew do quite well.

    Obviously that won't work for all of us. I'm poking away at my first super indie feature, which is dominated by the lead actor screen-time wise and being handled technically almost entirely by myself. Both my lead and my producer are older established people with a great deal more money than I have, so nobody is getting paid but the three of us are taking percentages even though I do not expect this film to turn a profit. (It's important to me and my producer and a spring board to bigger things.) I am shooting a lot of stuff documentary style but I have a few scenes that require staging and possibly a more elaborate crew. In this case I will be hiring locals and paying them out of my pocket and possibly flying someone in for sound and putting them up and feeding them and giving them a few days at a resort as a kind of trade for vacation arrangement. I could bullshit my way to some free work with local crews but that feels wrong maybe unless I'm getting them some commercial work on the side.

    Point is I guess different strokes for different folks but at this level of budget I really think the money has to be for the things that you need to make a successful film and can't do yourself and percentages should be what you and one or two other key people get. Otherwise it becomes complicated to track as noted above and kind of meaningless anyways. If you do get people willing to work for future credit or future maybe money you're probably just screwing them, anyways.

    I'm seeing talk above of '20 cast and crew being a pretty barebones feature'...just want to throw out also that such a thing doesn't sound like a $40,000 movie to me. Yes films are collaborative, no we're not all Robert Rodriguez on some half cocked solo mission, but still, all the financial savings we can get with today's tech starts to get meaningless when you've got 20 people milling around. I'd keep it smaller. Much smaller.

  • Regarding payment or not of crew/cast: I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with making something out of voluntary work. There are plenty of things that happen in society on a voluntary basis - just people coming together to do something. Of course, this does not apply to profitable enterprises trying to save money by hiring "interns" for nothing or something like that. I realize there are grey areas, and the key thing here in my opinion is that everyone is clear, transparent and honest from the beginning.

    The key question is of course if you think you get get the right skills and talents committed to such a big project as a feature without paying - and often paying ends up being easier :)

    $40,000 budget is pretty hard to pay crew properly for a feature. I have no idea about your project, but let's be optimistic and say you are shooting average 20 cast and crew for 20 days (a pretty bare-bones feature) - it would still only amount to a $100/day. Given that you WILL need some of that money for the physical production (transport, catering, equipment, etc) then you'll probably end up either paying no-one, or paying a tiny symbolic fee to everyone, or you open the can of worms that is paying some people and not others :)

    Anyway, I started a topic a while ago about many of these question, I think some of the discussion on "WORKING WITH OTHER PEOPLE" might be of interest to the OP.

  • @azza_act

    I think that people want to tell you is that investing in your crew is best thing you can do.

    In most films share promises don't work as no one who are promised money get's them, none at all. Even if film will make some money more smart guys, in distribution as people told you, will make it so for you it'll be in minus or even.

  • When a bunch of guys get sick of hanging around, drinking latté and talking about film making, once in a while they just go and crank up some cameras and get a result without anybody getting sued or complaining about the sandwiches. ;-)

  • I think sharing is a great idea, I'm not sure how practical it is.

  • @azza_act With regard to paying crew, again, they should be paid upfront. Also, as you are a "tight crew" and this is your first feature, I assume the work they've done for you in the pat has been unpaid? Again, I am assuming, but often what motivates people to work for free for you is the hope that you will one day have a "real" gig for which you can pay them and that for which the investment of their time and energy thus far will have been for... Therefore, you should pay them... upfront. Don't ask them to invest further in your hopes and dreams - they have worked hard FOR THIS JOB. You have $40K, I suspect you earned it by instilling confidence in your investors based on the past work that you "tight crew" helped you with... The reality is you will not profit on this film nor will anyone who invested in it, so don't ask your crew to join you - reward them for helping you get to a point where people will give you money to make a film. As for cast - get the best talent you can, while also getting the best deal you can. Pay your actors, pay as many people upfront as you can. Believe me, you WILL mostly likely have to deal with legal battles with distributors over who gets what... The last thing you want are people asking you when they will get their cut.

  • Hold on guys, sorry but i was caught up with other things... Thanks for everyone's input. With the budget, we factored in new equipment - camera, lights etc, locations, catering, sound editing (I be doing the editing/grading myself, none of the budget money is going to myself) costumes and the like. I would say 80% of the people helping us have worked with us over the years, we are a fairly tight crew/cast. This is my first feature, i totally new to this level of filming making. I've done various types of short films etc (with the same people). We still have to cast a couple of roles also. I wasn't saying that this actor asking for some type of payment was a negative or a bad thing. I just wanted to find out the correct steps and/or other peoples experiences. And from what I gather, I'll have to look into more and work out a way that everyone gets covered.


  • @theconformist Just realized you might be right. He stopped responding after we all said this is wrong. Good point sir.

  • I'm curious now what that $40K is going to if not to pay cast and crew. I seriously hope this isn't just a payday in the form of producer's fees, rights fees and script fees. I've seen budgets for $4M low budget where nearly a half-million went to writer/producer/director types of no consequence while name actors worked for minimal rate.

    I mean, it's legal and good work if you can get it. I just don't know how those charlatans sleep at night. Oh wait, Akira Kurasawa made a film about that called The Bad Sleep Well.

  • @goanna I think what happened is he wasn't planning on paying anyone anything, and then this actor forced him to consider how to compensate the cast & crew... Just my hypothesis given the lack of response to his topic... I think perhaps he was looking for tips on how to get everyone to work for an imaginary pay day.

    FILMMAKERS: Listen up! Your BUDGET is FOR cast, crew, producers, etc. If you are budgeting a short or feature film, and there are no lines for these people, you are doing it wrong. You can get away with going cheap everywhere else if you have creative people (motivated by money) to make it all work. It simply doesn't work the other way around.