How Much Does An American Indie Producer Get Paid?

by Ted Hope
August 26, 2011 12:30 PM
20 Comments
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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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20 Comments

  • darick favors jr | April 10, 2013 10:18 PMReply

    i want to be a film producer so bad so my dad can be proud of me.

  • John does | November 27, 2012 6:15 PMReply

    As a producer working on a slate of eight productions this is one of the most ridiculous articles I have ever read. 10% is the minimum producer fee I have ever received and most of my deals have equity attached as well as backend on film sales. This policy is aplicable for projects I have come aboard as well. In short the individual writing this article is unbelievably coy and kind, or nieve; regardless its not reality. There are no rules anyway, just ones that larger organisations and unions deem the standard normal which change depending on the country your dealing with.

  • Miles Maker | December 10, 2011 6:06 PMReply

    Revelationary!
    Choose your projects with a discerning intuitive eye for what audiences want (with the strategy & resources to interact & sell effectively) or consider another profession.

  • Mynette Louie | October 10, 2011 4:51 AMReply

    How'd I miss this post? It's a great one! I'd love to hear your thoughts on the fee structure when there are multiple "producers," as well as whether/how you think producers who also assume roles that are traditionally outsourced should be further compensated--such as budgeting/boarding, line producing, post supervising, designing the website, selling/distributing/publicizing the film, etc. Should we budget these pieces as if we were going to outsource them, and then if we decide to do it ourselves, take those fees, or a fraction thereof? Increase our "producing fee" to account for these additional duties? Or just suck it up and wear the thousand and one hats?

  • Jane Kosek | October 2, 2011 9:16 AMReply

    Great post Ted! Thanks for sharing the industry standard producer fees. Suggestion to indie filmmakers who defer their fees to get their film made. Make sure your fees or at least partial fees are first out when any revenue comes in after any outstanding debt is paid off. Then pay back your investors. That way you are assured of getting your pay even if you have to defer your salary.

    Jane
    allaboutindiefilmmaking.blogspot.com

  • Robin Chappell | August 29, 2011 2:41 AMReply

    5.5 years to produce a low-to-no budget? If I spent more than a year in production on such a level, I'd consider that I wasted **my** time.

    I plan on paying myself $20k for my first indie, for producing, having written the script, and also directing. But it's my project. And the budget is fluctuating between $125 and 500k. But it's a four location pic with largely a four person ensemble. No fx (no zombies), and no large P&A campaign. Of course, it will come out after the novel I based on the script does, so that hopefully will also make a dif.

    Also, if you're working with OPM, get a nice backend. That makes up for the low wages to produce. Oh, and since it' your first pic, it may also not even make back it's budget, unless you're either extremely lucky (Blair Witch) or good. Most indies don't. And that's depresing in and of itself.

  • Really | August 28, 2011 1:58 AMReply

    Beyond depressing

  • Mashitoh | August 28, 2011 1:32 AMReply

    I signed a contract for my producers and agreed on quite a substantial sum as compared to the usual rates that i've got. I knew its a bit high but i believe and wanted them to feel being part of the team and give their best that they have, collectively for the project. I think that somehow, money don't need to be counted too much, cos you cant buy their loyalty, heart and soul that they're gonna put for your project , etc, etc...What really matters; everyone's in the team give their very best.

  • David | August 27, 2011 5:55 AMReply

    As an aside, I've been trying for a while now, to find out what US independent writers and directors usually make (their fee, AND backend points).

    Anybody?

    Thanks Ted for a great post.

  • Zaha | August 27, 2011 1:25 AMReply

    Great post Ted!! I think the issue here is that as a producer you are in charge of the budget to great extent and with your first film you try to cut down on your income as far as possible so that all money is spent on front of the camera. This along with the fact that you are sharing your title along with the other ten “non producers” makes it very frustrating! When I tell people what I do they immediately visualize me as some one loaded who gives money to make movies. What they do not see is how hard we work. We are the guys who everyone finds a reason to be upset with- for multitude reasons! So yes in my next movie I will not shy away from putting deserving amount under the line item – producer!

  • Gabriel Gornell | August 26, 2011 12:05 PMReply

    Great read. Thank you to Ted Hope. Low as the salary numbers are in this article... in this current market, we're seeing even lower numbers way too often. Regarding the comments posted suggesting that producers should "own it" ...let's be real. That's almost a impossible when there are folks other than the producer providing the liquid. Perception is reality. And sweat equity doesn't equal investment in the eyes of anyone writing a check. Your theory of ownership sounds nice though. My advice: bring on a pro sales agent during the script phase... and let their voice be heard. You won't spend 5.5 years on a project if it's actually being produced with actual sales in mind. Imagine that: Sales! www.locomotivegroup.com

  • Nayan Padrai | August 26, 2011 11:53 AMReply

    Perhaps the new Producers Guild of America certification (which was approved by the Justice Dept today) will help in at least segregating who's who, and accordingly fees for start to finish producers who do the legwork vs the obligatory titles which are handed down for a variety of reasons. It may also help in demonstrating that "skin in the game" is there if people care to look.

  • ryanc | August 26, 2011 9:31 AMReply

    I think these numbers are somewhat wishful thinking... while it sucks, the truth is that above the line fees take a beating in the indie landscape. It seems the last to drop are actors and the first to drop are producers. Especially when the choice is - get your movie made or get paid.

    I just produced a 1mil film and my 'salary' was 10k. If I took any more we wouldn't have gotten through production (and I've only been paid half that). Note: I'm 'the' producer - so my salary was dictated by me. This has been 6 months of my life and it is about another year of work.

    But I wanted to make this movie and there was a financial benchmark we couldn't go below without seriously sacrificing quality - and the most we can go on our SAG mod low budget agreement is 937,500 - so I find myself somewhat out of luck.

    Long story short, I think the unions (all of them) have to come to grips with the fact that the landscape is changing. And if they want to keep working (and getting paid), then we need to go back to the drawing board.

    Without producers, nothing will get made. And we can't go forward based on good looks and charm.

  • Bob Germon | August 26, 2011 8:55 AMReply

    I'd like to add one more item to the Wishful Thinking Brigade (WTB): only make hit films that don't cost a lot (Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity.) To recap--

    1. Reduce timeline from 5.5 yrs to 1 yr max.
    2. Own it. (financial, creative, backend.)
    3. Only make low cost hit movies.

    In three simple steps you too can become a big shot Hollywood producer. Sign up now for my two day, 3 step approach to Fun & Profits in the Movies. Hurry, limited seating available. Order Now!

  • mindy affrime | August 26, 2011 7:39 AMReply

    Most of the Indie Producers I know would love that paycheck.. My advise- own the movie.. don't give up any financial and creative control... so the back end is your back end and that is where the money is!

  • James Merendino | August 26, 2011 6:52 AMReply

    5,5 years!!! Too long.

    Try one a year and multi task.

  • Dazed and Bothered | August 26, 2011 4:09 AMReply

    Why we would expect producing in this country to be any more lucrative or sustainable than filmmaking itself? Granted, producing in the indie world doesn't pay remotely what it should, requires large sacrifices, and the rewards are rare and limited, typically without the glory and future wealth which on rare occasion goes to the filmmaker. And you'll be secretly despised by 49% of the filmmaking cadre for producing the films you do produce, and by another 49% for not producing the films they think you should be producing.

    You're famous, made more money in better times, are sought after, so there must be some satisfaction there. But for most others, it's just plain unsustainable, except for masochists.

    Maybe this is our real problem, not marketing or distribution. The conditions which would allow fruitful and exploratory work simply don't exist. It's lousy for filmmakers, and it's lousy for producers. In a rich country, there will always be indie films, too many, in fact. But who expects great work to emerge from this miserable situation? When the work isn't professionally sustainable, the difficult fascinating films just won't get made. Or all the wrong films will get made, because all people think and worry about is money, and sensibly so, if they expect to eat.

  • Shawn Rasmussen | August 26, 2011 1:40 AMReply

    Ted, another great post. What would be a standard backend for an indie producer?

    Especially with micro budget films, most of the $$s you have should go into the production value of the film - not on salaries.

    Since most indies are being made for less than $500K. What's a fair model for producers in that budget range?

  • Natasha Carlish | August 26, 2011 1:26 AMReply

    What a great article!The picture is very similar if not worse for most Indie UK Producers. My non-industry friends find it very hard to believe that I have the credits, experience and acolades that I do & still do not earn my living as a producer but more from related activity!And yet there are also many people who always think being a film producer I must be loaded!If only!Am not complaining as nobody makes me do what I do and I love doing it but hope one day to be earning a living from it.

  • Indygirl | December 8, 2011 1:43 PM

    We're raising funds for a $5.5M picture and $2M P&A. We--a two person team--budgeted a total of $250,000 for script and producer fees. Less than 5% of the production budget. I am a firm believer in acting like a business professional. Everyone else is getting paid, you should be too. Our skin in the game is the 3 years we have spent in development writing the film, putting the team together, paying $$ for legal fees and the PPM, and now shopping it.

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