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Ben Yennie: New Study Finds Filmmakers Aren't As Broke as you Think They Are

The first thing anyone tells you about filmmakers is they’re broke.  However, that may not be the case, at least not as definitively as it’s usually stated.   I can see your skeptical look all the way through the series of tubes that make up the internet, but the answer as to whether or not filmmakers are broke is far more complicated than it would seem.  What do I mean?  Take a look at this data from section 2 of the State of the Film Industry Report.

SOTFI Part 2/7 - Economics of Filmmakers from Ben Yennie

As you can see, filmmakers have a household income slightly ABOVE the national average, but if we look at their filmmaking income, it’s much, much smaller than the national average.  While the reason why lies well beyond the scope of our survey, we can speculate some potential reasons.   

Filmmaking is a very aspirational career, it’s possible that many filmmakers come from families making much more than the national average.  With that in mind, it’s possible that one reason filmmakers under 25 have a higher income than average is due to the fact that they’re still living at home.  It’s also possible that as they get older, they become more dependent on the income of their partners or other day jobs while they pursue their craft.

The true measure of spending power for any group is derived from their household income more than income from any individual source.  Given this, we believe that filmmakers have as much if not more spending power than the national average as a whole.   To me, that sounds like filmmakers aren’t so broke after all.

What about income from filmmaking?  According to our survey, the film industry is subject to borderline grotesque amounts of income inequality when it comes to filmmaking income.  The bottom 60% of filmmakers make less than 10,000 dollars a year from their craft, and the top 5% make nearly 90,000.

This means that the top 20% of filmmakers make nearly 70% of the overall income for the film industry.  However, if you look at the household income of filmmakers, the income inequality is hardly greater than the national average.   You can see this data on slide 9.

So if filmmakers make more than the national average on a household level, why does everyone think that filmmakers are broke?  Part of it is certainly the fact that most filmmakers don’t derive the majority of their income from filmmaking, but rather from other sources.  However, this may not be the only reason.

We hypothesize that filmmakers spend a disproportionate amount of income on their craft or equipment to support said craft, which may or may not be a wise investment.  We’ll have more on these numbers in parts 6 and 7 of this report.

Before we go, we want to address some criticism we got last week, especially given that a lot of this section of the report focuses on the disparity in income facing the film industry.

Last week we were criticized that our data was biased towards hobbyists or people not making their living as a full-time filmmaker.   If you only survey the most affluent members of any group, you fail to encompass the whole picture.  We all know the film industry is a high-risk industry where few make it the way they hoped.  Everyone within the industry is hoping to win big with their talent and their voice, but few surveys take a look at those who it didn’t pan out for or hasn’t panned out for yet.

The purpose of this survey was to give a realistic look at the lives of those within the film industry, and what it means to be a self-identified filmmaker.  I personally believe that even though many in this group make most of their income from work other than filmmaking, this data set represents an accurate look at the overall industry.  Further, given the way the survey was disseminated, I believe it has the least selection bias of any survey I’ve seen.

The closest comparisons are for attendees or submissions to Sundance and Cannes, or surveys of members of trade associations.  Only somewhat affluent members of the film community are able to join those organizations, thus there’s a rather large selection bias that leaves out much of the industry and those who wish to join it.  This report cast a wide net in order to review a much more encompassing sample of the industry.

Thanks for reading, let us know what you think and check back next week when we examine the effects of film school, and whether or not it’s a wise investment for filmmakers. In the mean time, check out the fantastically awesome ProductionNExt Closed Beta!  It's the best new project management system on the block, specifically designed with the needs of independent filmmakers in mind.  What does it do?  We'll let our banner tell you.  

If you want to read the other sections of this report, plus lots of bonus content, plus an entire standard survey export, check out the paperback version of this book on Amazon.  It's more than 110 full-color pages of data on the Film Industry.  Plus, for every copy sold, we donate a copy to a relevant educational institution.  Click the image below for mor information.

If you want to read the other web versions of this report, here's a table of contents.

Section 1: Overview/Key Metrics - 
Section 2: Economics of being a filmmaker - (This Section)
Section 3: Does Film School Matter - 
Section 4: The (Not So) Changing Face of Gender in the Film Industry -
Section 5: Do Romantic Relationships Correlate to Success in the Film Industry -
Section 6: Is Equipment a good investment for filmmakers? - 
Section 7: What makes for Economic Success in the Film Industry? - 

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