What makes low budget films sell?

29 September '14 6 Comments on What makes low budget films sell?

Low budget film camerasLast week I shared some results from a survey I conducted of 542 film industry business professionals who have attended Cannes, AFM or Berlin in the past five years.  I looked at their perceptions of how much “micro” and “low” budget films cost, and the amount needed to make a ‘commercially viable’ film. Today I am sharing more results, focusing on elements which filmmakers can influence in order to improve the chances of success with their low budget film – i.e. the film’s elements, genre and distribution route.  I also canvassed opinions on statements on a variety of topics relevant to low budget feature filmmakers. In summary…

  • The single most important factor in the success of a low budget film is the script
  • The track record of the director and producer don’t seem to matter much
  • Everyone thinks that horror is the most profitable genre for low budget films
  • Only 17% of industry professionals think that the traditional distribution model is most appropriate for low budget films
  • Low budget films are great for training and showcasing talent…
  • … but not so great for investors seeking a profit

Which elements make a low budget films sell?

The script is everything.  Interestingly, the track record of the director and producer is of little interest, suggesting that low budget films are judged mostly on the merit of the finished film, rather than “who you know”. Low budget films sell because of script quality These results are consistent throughout the industry, however those in Sales and Distribution rate the artwork/poster above the abilities of the cast. Most important factors in for low budget films sell

Which genres are best suited to low budgets?

This question provides proof of the industry-wide belief that horror rules on low budget. Best genres for low budget film It does not, however, reveal that horror actually provides the best profit margin, only that everyone thinks it does. Interestingly, those in Exhibition are more supportive of Action films than everyone else. Most profitable low budget film genres

Which distribution model is best for low budget films?

The “traditional” distribution model (i.e a film’s rights being sold via a single sales agent at a film market to distributors purchasing ‘all media’ in their territory) has been under threat in recent years.  Digital cinema distribution, audience power, piracy, the globalised world, new distribution platforms and a massive increase in the numbers of films being made have all played a part in the unraveling of this model. Because of these changes, I was keen to canvass opinions on how low budget filmmakers should approach distribution in 2014.  The overall feeling was that the “traditional” model is not really appropriate for low budget films.

Best distribution model to make low budget films sell

When we split by sector we can see a divide between two broad camps.  Those working in Sales, Distribution and Exhibition are considerably less keen on hybrid distribution models that the rest of the industry.  These numbers don’t reveal why this is, although two reasons which spring to mind are that either…

  1. Those closest to the distribution chain see the process as more straightforward (‘the curse of knowledge’), or…
  2. They are unwilling to create new hybrid models, wanting filmmakers to comply within the existing system or to do it all themselves.

Best distribution method for low budget film

What is a low budget film good for?

I asked my audience to rate (out of 5) how much they agreed with a variety of statements. In the questions I defined a “low budget film” as a feature film budgeted at under US $500,000. The overall feeling was that low budget films are very useful to filmmakers (as training and showreels) but not really to investors seeking a profit. What makes a low budget films sell? And those same results split by sector show a rough consensus, save for the fact that those in Exhibition seem less keen on directors making features as showreel pieces. Results split to what makes a low budget films sell


Just to state the obvious for a moment, this survey is measuring people’s stated opinions – not facts.  It could well be that some of these results reveal a blindness or shared delusions on the part of some or all of the industry.  In the longer term I hope to uncover potential bias by comparing these opinions with objective data.  Until then, we can but wonder…



  1. The Low Budget Producer is pretty much forced to use the “hybrid” model… which means “anything” that works. Theatre Owners / Exhibitors cannot afford to show low-budget, no promotion movies since it makes no economic sense to them… and indeed they may not be permitted to because of their agreements with other distributor. Keep in mind, Hollywood views these as competitors and wants to squash these bugs.

  2. Stephen thanks for your work!
    I’m an activist-filmmaker with a couple productions and my latest was a documentary feature film (my first non-short) and spend around $30.000.00 – there’s a bit of momentum for us true grassroots independent conscious filmmakers but we need the opportunity of visibility – we don’t fit anywhere…even the “impact” film community I find elitist (not purposely I’m sure) since grants aren’t created for us, distribution is where most people crash, it really is an arduous process since you have to do so much work to be noticed, for people to see your work and then festival audiences sometimes don’t know what to do with you (I think my film is basically a mirror of society but society does not like to recognize what’s in front, it tends to ignore or avoid change), then you have our own communities or those affected by the issue highlighter in the film…there they prefer celebrity over relevance so you are given the opportunity to show a few min of your project and then they welcome someone from a show that has no “lived experience” with the issue your doc highlights but he/she may have “played” someone with such issue so they get an hour! LOL – I’m digressing! I do want to say that there have been a handful of industry folks that recognize the labor and value of projects like mine, in this case, and it feels good to be acknowledged so we replenish energy and build up confidence to engage in the next project…! But Stephen, if you ever get interested to know about the nano-budget independent film work, Cannes is not the place to find us! much love! marco

    1. hola yo tengo varios guiones de amigos y mios que no ven salida aunque tocamos muchas puertas aun esperamos una oportunidad , nos dicen que son buenos les gusta como estan escritos, pero ahora estan copados por lo menos un año de trabajo atrasado , tenemos cortos ,como largometrajes de alto presupuestos como para rodar en Hollywod., lo espongo aqui por si alguien tiene la amabi
      lidad y su tiempo de leerlos y darme su opinion,hemos rodado ya tres cortos con directores independientes , y en combersaciones un peliculon con un conocido DIRECTOR de Mexico que vendria a rodar a España.hacemos guiones para productoras grandes ,esa es la idea para darse a conocer , bueno gracias por leer este articulo .

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