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.
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)
packaging 6 months*
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.