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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
  • Get a good accountant if u do. Cuz the problem is how much did the film really make. Regardless, it can turn into lawsuit city no matter what.

  • While I firmly believe in "real world experience/credit" in lieu of payment (for inexperienced crew and/or film students who will receive school credit), for cast and crew with some experience, they should be getting paid. The profit sharing model is appealing but ultimately, without a good accountant (like Shian said) and a lawyer, you're going to run into problems, and may ending having spent a good portion of your budget paying people to help you figure out how to pay people... You can't say you don't have money to pay people, and then turn around and say you have money ($40k) for the film. The people are the film - payroll, catering, these are generally a film's biggest expenses. I would suggest you pay people upfront and save yourself the future hassle, put together a budget for your cast/crew and then budget for the rest of your film with what's left. If it's not enough to make your ideal version of the film, get creative or get more money.

  • Ok, where to begin here. First, my opinion is only mine and is based off of years of working in LA both in front and behind the camera on everything from student films to $200,000,000 tent pole movies.

    I hope you're paying all your crew. $40,000 might not sound like a lot to you but that seems like a lot of money to crew especially if they aren't getting paid. A paid and fed crew is a happy crew. The other side of that, well your production pays for it and this is almost 100% true. I've seen it time and time again.

    I would think you are paying your actors too. Even crappy little things I do just for me I manage to scrape up $100/day for my actors. Once again, makes them feel wanted and appreciated, especially those who really can't get anything good for their reels. Many actors will do stuff for free in the hopes of good footage for their reel but when you have $40,000 in your budget, they might start to wonder what the fuck is going on and why am I not getting paid for you to possibly make money?

    As @theconformist said, you really need to rethink this whole process here. If it were me, I'd be pissed on either side of the line, especially if I was G&E, working my ass off for someone else to get all the accolades.

    The first thing in your budget is Crew, Crew and Catering......Period. Then see what's left. I know it's not ideal but you project will end up better.

  • This is roughly the budget of Sick Boy which is now in distribution in worldwide home video markets. For that money we had SAG actors that were paid the minimum allowed and a paid crew, with catering. What it didn't allow was for us to pay ourselves, but that was the decision we made given we stood the most to gain by the film being completed and successful.

    As @vicharris says, you pay your crew, something, and you feed them. This is very important. Being willing to pay even a token daily rate that helps with gas and some pocket money, plus making sure they're fed, gets you their respect and you can get good, hard working folks that will make a huge impact on how well things run versus asking people to work for free. Even if they're good and agree to no money, they won't respect you. We've made two independent features and both times had zero crew turn-over because even though we couldn't pay the crew a whole lot we made sure they knew we weren't asking them to apply their craft and trade for free. Knowing they would turn right around and do it again with us is a point of pride.

    Actors or certain key crew asking for deferrals is pretty normal. If it's not their first trip to the rodeo they know, like you may not know, this is money nobody is ever likely to see. Profit participation on a movie this level, with the kind of options for sales you're going to have, is easy enough to give away. There will likely never be any profits. That's just a simple fact.

    There are the occasional exception but know that once you get to distribution (and most filmmakers, if they've completed the shoot, if they've completed post, still don't make it this far) the system is such that it's practically engineered to never pay the filmmaker. You don't want to highlight this with your backers but they'd have to be living under a rock by now to not know that independent film is a horrible "investment". They'll be lucky to break even in a few years even on a film with this little to pay back. True story. An independent feature has the chance of paying itself back, or making a profit, unlike the short film, which is a complete write-off, but this is very slim and it doesn't happen fast. Hope is almost cruel in this case.

    So, realistically, if the actor or crew is integral to your vision of the film it's not really a difficult concession to make, given there will likely never be the funds for them to collect from later on. If you're incredibly lucky and there are actual profits, well, what's the harm in giving them a portion, given they helped make it happen? Nobody is losing here. But don't feel like you need to make or even offer the same deal to everyone.

  • Changing horses mid-stream is never a good idea.

    It seems like you started out without strict terms of reference; in which case you've really got to try to be true to the understanding you had at the outset. Quite possibly that will work out for you.

    For profit sharing, there's the argument that only professionals should get paid full rates - because they make good use of their time. On the other hand, anyone who's still learning part of what they do must try to honestly estimate how much of their working time has really been spent on getting something right which a pro would have got right straight away. That sort of thing is hard for an individual to do, impossible to supervise and makes for big debates when a group sits down together to decide.

    Next time, get advice on how to set up terms of profit sharing. Standard contracts are a good place to start.

  • @goanna

    I'm going to plays devils advocate here but if he has $40,000 to shoot the thing but not going to pay anyone anything, do you think that is right?

    I think paying someone for distribution is not the best way to spend the money. As Rhoades said, getting anything back from distributors is pretty much a lost cause now. They will make all profits disappear, it's what they do. This is simply money thrown away in these times.

    Pay your crew, feed them well and hope for the best.

  • Bottom line: pay crew upfront, budget for crew/cast/catering FIRST. Whatever is left is yours to spend on locations, effects, post-productions, festivals, distro, etc. Skimp on cast/crew and you won't have a movie worth sending to post anyway.

  • /\ What he said :)

  • Give him 10% net profit. ;)

  • ...I think paying someone for distribution is not the best way to spend the money...

    Yeah, that's kinda bassackwards. You shouldn't be paying out-of-pocket to have your film distributed, unless you're self-distributing and having to front your own material and duplication costs. You'll likely have to lay out some cash for some of the deliverables but not for the actual distribution, if you're working with a reputable sales agent who's sold a region to a legitimate distributor. They recoup their costs right off the top.

  • /\ andddddddddd, what he said! Exactly.

  • But now, we have an actor (supporting role) wanting payment in "profit share' form.

    ... And so now you're going to sit everybody down to negotiate everything again? Just when you've secured their agreement? For this supporting actor? Really?

  • @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.

  • 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.

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

  • 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.


  • @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.

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

  • 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. ;-)

  • @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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • @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.

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

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