Short films have historically been a filmmaker’s calling card for larger projects. Can you make money on a short film in and of itself?
To find out, I did some research and listed all the ways you could possibly make money on just short films.
Product Placement / Sponsor
Get a brand to sponsor the film.
There are many ways to do this. You could do what YouTubers do, by naming the sponsor of the video at the end or giving a promo code from which you get a commission. However, ideally, you would get the brand to pay for the entire film. With this, you’re basically making an ad disguised as a short film, but if sticking a vodka bottle or cool car in your film gets it made, why not. Most big films have product placement anyway. The challenge here is getting a brand to sponsor you.
While these examples are big brands, you could do the same for a smaller one. Which creates more attention for a supplement brand? A “buy my supplements” video or an action film where the hero takes pre-workout or uses nootropics in place of coffee to crack the code of a difficult intellectual task. Get creative.
Ancillary Content / Merch
Sell ancillary products for your film. Merch, t-shirts, props from the film, etc.
Sell Your Products
Make yourself the sponsor.
Release the short film for free, but use it as an ad for something you are selling.
Product place your own products.
You could even use the short as an ad for your larger films.
Marvel, Star Trek, and Pixar all do short films in the world of their larger films to build buzz for their features.
Why not do a short film in the world of your feature(s), and give the short film away for free as an ad for your other movies?
In this case, the short film is ancillary content for your feature.
Sell the film to a big streaming platform like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, etc. You could also sell to a niche streaming platform (Gaia, Nebula, etc.), or sell per-stream on Amazon Prime. Selling to a bigger platform takes work, Amazon is free, but pays very little a (1 cent per stream). Still, it’s something. Shorts.tv is also one of the biggest distributors for shorts. Some TV networks will buy and produce short films, such as Adult Swim or IFC.
Get people to pay for the film directly. The best way to do this is crowdfunding. I created a course teaching people how to crowdfund. Short films are perfect for this model. You could do a single crowdfunding campaign for your short, or have an ongoing crowdfunding campaign for a series of short films. My course will help with either model.
Bundle Short Films
You can sell short films directly if you bundle them or produce them as a series.
For example, you could sell a DVD or VOD for a series of short films linked by theme, genre, or shared element.
You could also produce your film as an ongoing web series. In this case, on-going crowdfunding models would still apply.
Make the short film part of a live event. A short cannot fill a whole evening, but if paired with food, comedy, live music, public speaking, a non-profit fundraiser, or the opportunity to connect with other interesting people you can make an event out of it and sell tickets.
Short Film Contests
There are lots of short film contests. Some offer cash prizes. Read the fine print with these, as many have terrible rules or are basically scams. However, if you spend less than the prize you win, you can make money. I know at least one filmmaker who repeatedly does this.
Win An Oscar
The Oscar-winning shorts are almost always released in theaters. In an interview, the founder of Shorts.tv says they make usually make 30k per film just on theatrical. However, I’m not sure this repays the production budget of some of those films, and the festival expenses of promoting yourself to Oscar status. Still, if you can win an Oscar, win that Oscar.
Give the film away to get people to sign-up for your email list.
Most email lists and sales funnels have a piece of free content they give away to get you to sign-up. Email marketers usually use an “ebook” that is basically a glorified pdf. Why not a short film?
If everyone else is giving serious print content, a cool short film will stand out.
I use a short scene from my documentary American Circumcision as a free give-away for the email list for the film.
If an Amazon view is worth 1 cent, a new email list subscriber is worth at least that, especially if you can later sell them on giving $25 to your Kickstarter project.
Just get someone to pay for it, or do it for free.
This is the most common option.
It’s not a business model, but it gets the film made.
What other ways do you think you could make money on a short film?