When you think about filmmaking, the first images that come to mind might be movie stars and the Hollywood sign. While the Hollywood Walk of Fame might be exciting, James Velissaris, founder of Fortress Films, will tell new filmmakers that the reality is that most filmmaking never reaches this level of “ultra success.” Instead, projects sometimes completely flop or make very little profit—and filmmakers have to be prepared for this type of setback.

Is Filmmaking a Profitable Business? Tips and Tricks from James Velissaris
Jakob Owens

Ultimately, understanding the risks, having realistic expectations, and good planning can help many aspiring filmmakers. James Velissaris notes that patience and perseverance are often the keys to being profitable in the filmmaking business.

How do films make money?

The movie industry is extremely hit or miss—creating a movie is a risky business, and the industry fluctuates a great deal. In 2020, for example, the film industry took a huge hit, dropping upwards of 60% in revenue from 2019 by some reports. The decrease was due, in large part, to the COVID-19 pandemic. While things are getting better, the comeback has been slow.

Just a few years ago, the movie industry relied heavily on movie theater sales to make money. Today, however, filmmakers have to get a bit more creative to get their films in front of an audience. While ticket sales are still a huge factor for most movies, filmmaking might also make money from

  • General merchandising
  • In-home streaming options
  • Rental sales (whether through physical rentals, like Redbox, or streaming, such as through Amazon)
  • Advertising within films or in conjunction with the film

James Velissaris will tell you: “It can take some pretty serious creativity to make any money from a film, especially as a filmmaker who is just starting out. But, that shouldn’t stop budding filmmakers. You have to start somewhere.”

How much does making a film cost?

Because making money has become a bit harder, budgets for movies are even more important. A $15 million film is considered a “small budget” in Hollywood. While large blockbusters spend millions of dollars on production, the average filmmaker has to make do with a much more modest budget.

In addition, advertising and marketing budgets are often completely separate from production—and arguably just as important. For a $40 million move, for example, promotions end up costing something in the range of $15 to $20 million.

How can a filmmaker increase their revenue?

It takes years of work to be a good filmmaker. It also takes creativity, late nights, and early mornings. As James Velissaris notes, “It’s unlikely that your first film will be your best film. Instead, it may take several films before you feel like you are really getting it right.”

Like many businesses, making movies has a lot to do with who you know. Having the right connections and skills will help you move forward in this fickle industry. For example, many people are looking for filmmakers who can produce, edit, and shoot—so being a “jack of all trades” can pay off.

James Velissaris provides some sage advice: “Jump on opportunities when you first start out. Even if it isn’t a perfect fit, it will get your name out there and give you invaluable experience. New filmmakers have to be prepared to put in the work to be successful.”