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August 26 at 8:30am

How Much Does An American Indie Producer Get Paid?

By Ted Hope

Even if we are not in it for the money, it does not mean we shouldn’t be rewarded fairly for our knowledge, labor, services, expertise, relationships, and talent. It doesn’t happen much. If you are either starting out or already at an expert level, what can you expect to earn producing in the American Indie Film Industry, circa 2011.

It is often said by financiers that one of the problems with the film biz is that producers do not have enough “skin in the game”. They frequently think that the services Producers provide may not be worth the price they pay. I beg to differ, and I think if they feel that way they are working with the wrong producers.

I think a fair rule of thumb of what to pay for an expert producer, is five percent (5%) of negative costs, subject to a cap based on precedent. If one is not a true producer (i.e. there and responsible for everything from beginning to end), then one is not deserving of that full fee.

But you don’t start there. You need to work your way up to that fee.

So…

What does an indie producer get paid on a film?
2-5% of “budget” — depending on experience.

What is a fair initial salary?
2%: $50K for $2M, w/$25K increase per $1M increase in budget

What kind of cap is fair?
cap at $150K until 5 films produced
cap at $250K until you have a hit
cap at combined director & script fee
increase the cap if you are coming off a hit;
5% of negative cost, up until a budget level of $40M, with balance going on backend.

What does a producer fee mean in terms of earning a living?
Well, to answer that you have to answer a few other questions:

How long does it take to get a project made?
5.5 years (generally speaking)
development 2years
packaging 6 months*
financing 1year
production/post 1year
distrib/mktg.fests 1year

What is the annual take-home for a film
Annual starting producer salary for a $3M film (2%) = $10,900 /yr
Annual starting producer salary for a $5M film (2%) = $18,181 /yr
Annual starting producer salary for a $10M film (2%) = $36,363 /yr

Annual experienced producer salary for a $3M film (5%) = $27,272 /yr
Annual experienced producer salary for a $5M film (5%) = $45,454 /yr
Annual experienced producer salary for a $10M film (5%) = $90,909 /yr

The hard reality is that the American Indie Film Biz average budget is probably below $3M these days. It is the range I expect most of my movies to be in these days. Recognizing what it costs to live in NYC, it looks like one might need to produce 5 -10 features a year to make it work. It doesn’t leave much room for a hands-on craft-oriented approach to producing. A volume business is generally thought to be the antithesis of quality. Content can’t be king if no one is willing to pay for it. Clearly at these fee levels producers have a tremendous amount of “skin in the game” because the only way this could equal a career is if one is betting on the upside of the backend and winning.

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  • http://twitter.com/AnotherFineDDay Tom Green

    Welcome to the world musicians have been living in for a decade- and as many, like me, boosted their activities in the media world to make up for the loss (writing music for film, tv, music libraries etc) watching the same thing happen to the film industry isn’t exactly good news for us either. If I want to make even minimum wage by writing music for documentaries, I’d have to be writing at least 15 scores a year. Not only am I unlikely to be offered that many (competition being vicious) I doubt I’d even be capable of it. Craft rarely comes into it, now, however much I try. On my last job, about 45 minutes of original music to picture was expected to be produced in 5 days flat. I managed it, just. The budget, as usual, only allowed the use of sample libraries, not musicians, yet the demands for ‘authentic, real, live, music’ are the same as always.

    We’re being asked to do the impossible. Produce music that sounds like it was played by a real orchestra and composed by a genius, hours of it, within days, and then get paid a pittance. And be thankful we just get the work in the first place. Fairly soon, no doubt, we’ll be expected to provide the same service that consumers get everywhere. “You’re lucky you’re getting the job anyway – what, you expect to get paid as well ?”

    I have nephews and their friends, talented people, asking me “how do I get into the music/film/publishing industries ?”

    My answer is now – “Don’t bother. Do it as a hobby, enjoy yourselves. But make sure you do something else for money. There isn’t any left.”

  • Yvonna Russell

    Thanks for this post on the reality of producing from one of the best independent producers in New York. (Christine Vachon is the other best).

  • Tremoloking

    what about the Russ Meyer business model?

  • ADKinLA

    This doesn’t necessarily take into account deferred comp. Certainly producers on Indie’s don’t drive Bentleys from the money but there are other revenue streams other than the upfront fixed.

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