An independent film producer is one who is not working under the auspices of one of the major film studios. The term encompasses everyone from deep-pockets Martin Scorcese down to the college film student with no budget. At the lower end of the budget scale, independent productions have become more and more affordable and higher quality, both because of advances in technology and because of new markets.
Technology has first and foremost eliminated the major cost of movie film. Digital video cameras became available in the 1990s. Previously, a thrifty producer or director of photography would purchase 1000 ft film ends at a discount in lieu of full film reels. Production time is then lost because of the more frequent need to change film. Digital recording, by contrast, removes almost all limits on how much can be recorded. Digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, for example, are improving year by year and now accept interchangeable lenses.
In post production, a major time and effort sink is editing the film into a coherent story. Software suites are available and affordable to budget-conscious film editors. Forthermore, a conversion step is eliminated when the film recording is digital from the beginning and does not need to be converted.
Distribution has always been the greatest challenge for independent film producers who wish to see enough revenue to finance their next project. New distribution channels have opened up in recent years, along with new means of marketing. Some new distribution channels are obvious – there are literally hundreds of new cable channels, many of which need new content. Central repositories such as iStore, Netflix, and Amazon offer large amounts of streaming movies. Less well known are the video on demand websites, of which Vimeo is one of the largest.
Marketing of a film is at least as important as distribution. The film must find an audience, but the audience must also find the film. Once email, and now social networks, provide a low- or no-cost means of promotion. In fact, promotion and financing can be combined. Crowdfunding a film serves both purposes if pledges are accepted in exchange for a free download or viewing.