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Indie Filmmakers Reveal Biggest Beef: Show Me the Money

Sixty percent report compensation problems in Writers Guild of America East survey

Getting paid is the top concern for indie filmmakers who responded to the 2015 Independent Film Survey, released Tuesday by the Writers Guild of America East.

More than 60 of the 100 respondents said they have had problems receiving initial compensation and or backend payments on a film.

And while the majority had a producer credit on at least one of their own productions, less than a third of those paid themselves any sort of compensation. That furthers the notion that payment for filmmakers is not a “normal” expense in an independent film’s budget, several pointed out.

“We need to understand our worth,” said one. “In our efforts to get into the game, we’re willing to bring the bat, the ball, the glove, the field and the hotdogs, but then we allow others to keep all the profits from ticket sales.”

Half of respondents reported having entered into a “bad” distribution deal, while two thirds of those surveyed have had a project released on a digital platform.

The growth of experimental digital distribution deals based on complicated formulas for backend resulted in writers recouping very little – if any – income once the project is released across multiple platforms and into numerous territories.

Many filmmakers noted that they signed a 50/50 distribution deal, minus expenses, but the “expenses” never seem to end, and distributors would not provide explanations for many of them.

“Writers craft great stories and draft great scripts, which make it possible to attract financing and talent and get the movie made and distributed. Yet writers are often called upon to sacrifice their compensation,” said Lowell Peterson, the WGAE’s executive director.

“The desire to get a film made and released should not be an excuse for being treated unfairly.”

To address the concerns raised in the survey, the WGAE is urging independent filmmakers to use its Low Budget Agreement. Introduced last year, the LBA has been specifically tailored for filmmakers working outside the studio system on feature or documentary films budgeted at $1.2 million and below. The agreement offers writers a number of options for reduced upfront payments or newly defined fee deferments – which are often required to make a micro-budget film.