Tuesday 19 September 2023

The Business of Filmmaking

By Jeremiah Samuel Sunday and Ruth Ajawu

Africa No Filter organized a masterclass on The Business of Film. It was a deep dive into the world of movies presented by director, producer and founder of the Republic of Story, Victoria Thomas.

It covered various aspects like what it takes to create a compelling film that resonates with audiences, peers, mentors and funders, and what it takes to make it in the global film industry.


Filmmaking at its core is a creative and artistic endeavor. It involves storytelling visual aesthetics and the collaboration of talented individuals to bring a vision to life on the big screen. However behind this art form lies a complex web of financial considerations and business strategies that are crucial for the success and sustainability of any film project.

In this blog post, we will explore the various aspects of the business of filmmaking and shed light on the key factors that filmmakers must consider to ensure a successful venture.

The Film Value Chain

Film is a product and it can be of cultural and economic value. To have a successful film from a business perspective, it is important to add value as the product goes through its life cycle. This is the film value chain. 

The film value chain is a series of consecutive steps that go into the creation of a finished product, from its initial design to its arrival at a consumer’s door. This happens in every industry. 

The value chain steps are: Development—Finance—Production—Distribution—Exploitation, then Legal and Marketing, which cuts across all the steps because it happens in every stage of the film business and will affect the value of your film if you neglect them. 


Development is the stage where you take an idea for a story and turn it into a valuable film project worth investing in. Ideas can come from books, articles, imaginations, your life, public figures/events, music. The process of development can be very long because you have to review different ideas, secure rights for the ideas, find a writer, fund the writing, and develop the script.  A good script needs a writer, the writer needs time, and time is money.

Funding for the development of ideas can come from government culture funds, labs/workshops, cultural philanthropy, grants, private investors, and personal funding. If the funding is coming from grants/labs, they might have their own perspectives and preferred approach, but they might offer a route to market. People who give equity generally will want some kind of ownership and may think about audiences first, but they can offer access to their existing networks and relationships.

Through the development process, you should have a package that can be invested in. Do you have a fundable script? Did you get any selection from reputable labs? Did you get funded by reputable film brands? Do you have verifiable interest from cast, crew, and other partners? Do you have a clear chain of title (contracts and rights)? Do you have a finance plan?

Budgeting and Financing 

Every film project, regardless of its scale, requires careful budgeting and financing. From securing funds for production expenses like equipment, locations, and actor salaries to marketing and distribution, these cost and a comprehensive budget. Filmmakers must explore various financing options such as investors grants, crowdfunding or even personal investments to secure the necessary funds for their project.


Production is the stage where the film is made. You will have to attach a cast, hire a crew, manage the crew, and then solve problems. There are three stages of production: pre-production, production, and post production. Pre-production is finding a cast, crew, locations, facilities, and money to pay for all of it. Production is shooting the film, managing risks, staying within budget and schedules, and ensuring the crew is skilled. Post-production is where the film is edited and mastered.

Marketing and Distribution 

Once a film is completed, marketing and distribution play a crucial role in reaching a wide audience and generating revenue. Developing a comprehensive marketing strategy is essential to create buzz and generate interest in the film. This may include creating a compelling trailer, participating in film festivals, engaging with media outlets, and utilizing social media platforms. Additionally filmmakers must explore various distribution avenues including theatrical release, streaming platforms, video-on-demand or DVD sales to maximize the film's reach and profitability.


Exploitation is the stage where a film gets seen. There are lots of avenues to get your films seen such as cinema, streamer, TV, education/library, and hospitality sector. How widely the film is seen depends on the target audience, access to distribution, and the audiences’ access to the film. You need to think about the audience you are making the film for and where they have access to watch movies. 

Revenue Streams

While box office sales have traditionally been the primary revenue stream for films the landscape has evolved with the rise of streaming platforms and changing viewing habits. Filmmakers need to consider multiple revenue streams including theatrical releases, streaming platforms, DVD sales, merchandise licensing and international distribution, networking, and prestigious festivals that align with their film's genre and themes. Attending festivals not only provides exposure but also offers opportunities to network with investors, distributors and fellow filmmakers which can open doors for future collaborations and funding opportunities.

Contracts and Legal Considerations

The world of filmmaking is governed by numerous legal aspects that filmmakers need to navigate. Contracts with cast and crew members, distribution agreements, intellectual property rights and copyright issues are just some of the legal considerations that must be addressed. Hiring an entertainment lawyer or seeking legal advice can help filmmakers protect their interests and navigate potential legal pitfalls.

Risk Management

Filmmaking is not without risks both creatively and financially. Unforeseen challenges such as production delays, budget overruns or legal issues can derail a project. Filmmakers must have contingency plans, insurance coverage and an understanding of potential risks to mitigate these challenges. Conducting thorough research preparing for unforeseen circumstances and having a solid risk management strategy can protect both the artistic vision and the financial stability of the project.

The business of filmmaking is a delicate balance between artistry and financial considerations. Filmmakers - including us at Shades of Us Storytelling Initiative for African People (Shades of Us) - must not only hone our creative skills but also understand the intricacies of budgeting, financing contracts, marketing, distribution, and risk management to navigate the complex world of cinema successfully. By considering these key factors filmmakers can increase their chances of turning their artistic vision into a commercially viable and sustainable venture.

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