By Ted Hope

Adam Leipzig is the consummate sharer. For more than a decade, he has committed himself to sharing insider information with creative people—the kind of knowledge you only get when you have been on “the inside” at a big movie studio or distribution company. Adam has done all of that and has been a producer as well. He knows what’s what and, just as importantly, what you really need to focus on.

He doesn’t tell you how to make your movie in this book. He assumes you already know that, and I assume that if you’re a true filmmaker, you never stop learning how. Instead, this book tells you—specifically, point by point, with precise instructions—how to get your movie financed and distributed. It will become your indispensible how-to guide.

There has never been a better time for creative individuals to be truly independent filmmakers and collaborative creators. The barriers to entry are tiny, the cost and labor time of creation and distribution are lower than ever, and new opportunities and methods abound.

For us filmmakers, the world has changed. New possibilities abound. The artistic future of the film industry depends on our willingness to seize the opportunities before us. We cannot approach the creative, production, distribution, or business process in the ways we used to. For those of us willing to drop the blinders of the past, the time is now.

Until 20 years or so ago, film production generally entailed filmmakers’ having to work for someone else because the cost of production was so extreme—you simply weren’t able to afford it on your own. Now, the economic barrier to personally producing what you yourself have conceived of has virtually disappeared. What, you might ask, has caused this disappearance? Digital Evolution.

Because of digital distribution platforms, which you will find are discussed throughout Inside Track for Independent Filmmakers, the power to create, access, spread, amplify, and appreciate film is available to each and every one of us. If you don’t think you already have these powers, think again—because you do. To assume the role of digital distributor for your own film, you will need to break down the false divisions between art and commerce, between you and your audience, and between content and its financing, marketing, and distribution. This book reminds you of your own power, and gives you the tools to assume your rightful place as distributor of your own product.

Discovery, engagement, and the “sell” are all part of our creative mandate: marketing is a Pied Piper, paving the way so we can fully immerse ourselves in the stories we wish to tell. We react not just with our own instincts, but also in accordance with what is happening around us, and what our contemporaries are experiencing, too. The value of our work extends beyond profit, to social, aspirational, and community significance, too.

Distribution, marketing, community—all aspects of sharing—are part of our creation as well. As Adam Leipzig reminds us throughout Inside Track for Independent Filmmakers, we craft our stories so others can receive them, in the contexts of their lives, emotions, and communities, as well as the screens on which they can access our work. For a vibrant independent cinema, what I call Truly Free Film, we need to get our hands dirty and understand how all of this functions and what our roles are. We need better films, and we need to build our audiences and strengthen the communities around them.

Above all, we need transparency—authentic information so we know what’s what. The book you’re holding in your hands (or on your tablet) is full of transparent, exceptional information you will start using right away. Transparency is not just about data. Transparency is a process, a behavior. By definition, it is an openness to share.

Think about the world you want and the movies you want to make. Think about how you can now actually earn a living doing what you love. Think about how you get there and how you can sustain it. Adam Leipzig reminds us that it is more possible than ever before. I cannot imagine that such thoughts could lead you to any other process than one of sharing with your fellow filmmakers. Sharing leads to engagement—which then prompts action. Wonder why you aren’t getting more done? Perhaps because you aren’t sharing enough.

If we are transparent with each other, are collaborative, and share our failures and successes openly, we’ll be able to abandon the old ways and unearth and embrace the new ways. We’ll all be able to make our way to the Inside Track.

So let’s get going. Learn. Share. Collaborate. Love your audience. Let them love and engage you back. Truly be free to build the world that you want. We will build it better by all working together.

Ted Hope is the CEO of Fandor, a subscription movie-viewing service and social video-sharing platform ( hosting many of the greatest films and filmmakers. He has been responsible for more than 70 films, produced through his companies Good Machine and This is that, including The Ice Storm, Eat Drink Man Woman, 21 Grams, In the Bedroom, American Splendor, The Brothers McMullen, and Happiness. He is the author of Hope for Film (Soft Skull Press), a film memoir with insights from his directors and productions, as well as a regular blogger at


As an aspiring filmmaker, you will experience few emotions that rival the joy of stepping onto a film set for your first day of shooting. There will be the thrill of beginnings, the excitement of bringing your vision to life, and an immense sense of achievement.

Yet the first day of shooting is an event experienced by only a small percentage of the people who hope to take that step. For some, their projects simply were not good enough to warrant support. For others, the process of putting together the pieces to make a movie, especially the financial puzzle, was simply too daunting. This book will help you solve these potential problems, by giving you the tools to discover if your movie is worth pursuing in the first place, and how to get the financial resources if it is.

Then, there are many people, far too many, who have the grand excitement of the first day of shooting, the spectacular event of the last day of shooting, and the big finale of finishing their movie—only to discover that no distributor will take it and there is no viable way to get it in front of audiences. This deflating, near-tragic outcome happens to 90% of the movies that are made. However, if you read this book and follow its instructions, it is highly unlikely that you will be one of the unfortunate many.

I have spent the past 25 years of my life in the movie business, an environment where you will meet the most inventive, collaborative, creative, and generous people in the world—and also people who have the opposite traits. As someone who has sat at many seats of Hollywood’s great banquet table—I’ve been a producer, executive, financier, and distributor, for studio movies and independent films, and for U.S. and international productions—I have had the rare opportunity to understand the many different viewpoints and expectations that must be addressed in order to get a movie made. One of the unique features of this book is that I let you eavesdrop on the conversations that take place after you have left the room. You will learn the Inside Tracks, and they will help you calibrate your approach to financiers and distributors.

What are Inside Tracks, you might ask? They are the quickest, most efficient route to success. When experienced runners are running a race, they move to the innermost ring of the track as they hear the starting pistol fire, because they know that the inside track is a precious few feet shorter that the outside ones. Those few feet can make a world of difference and often account for the difference between the winners and everyone else. In naming this series, I’ve used the concept of the Inside Track because this book and the ones that follow will give you the insider’s edge. Each book will be filled with step-by-step instructions, real-world examples, highly specific directions, and checklists, and will take a no-nonsense approach. Every Inside Track book will be written from the perspective of someone who has run the race many times before and won; as Inside Track authors, we can see you in starting position directly behind us, and we want to make sure you have every advantage as you move forward.

Inside Track for Independent Filmmakers will become your roadmap to getting your movie made, seen, and distributed. There are 11 Inside Tracks to this roadmap, and each one is composed of several insider tips, for a grand total of 99 essential insider tips. These 99 nuggets of practical, how-to information will tell you what to do, how to approach the toughest challenges unique to the movie-making business, what to say, whom to meet, and where to go. Among the challenges you will learn to navigate: how to make sure your script reads well (Tip 30), how to make a rational budget (Tip 45), and what to do when you get into a film festival (Tip 65).

This book takes a unique viewpoint in that it does not tell you how to move a camera or shoot a scene. I assume you know how to make a movie or you are well on your way to learning the craft. You will find no filmmaking tips in these pages. This book does not tell you how to make your movie; it tells you how to get your movie made. You are about to learn the answers to the two questions producers, filmmakers, and students ask me most: “How do I get my movie made?” and “How do I get my movie seen?” This pair of questions seeks to unpack the two most puzzling problems facing independent filmmakers today: How do the financial resources come together, and how can filmmakers get meaningful distribution?

Inside Track for Independent Filmmakers is designed to answer these two questions simply and painlessly. Discovering the answers will require a mental shift, though, and for many filmmakers, it will be a groundbreaking one: You have to think like your buyer. Here, perhaps, is the most singular difference to this book’s approach. By thinking like your buyer, you will discover your buyer’s expectations, learn how to fulfill these expectations, and adapt your language into words your buyer can hear. Adopting such a mental shift typically distinguishes filmmakers who get their movies made from those who don’t.

You may believe your buyer is the audience. That’s true, but the audience only gets to buy your movie after two other buyers have already put their money down. The first buyer is the financier, the company or private investor that pays for your movie to be made in the first place.

The second buyer is your distributor, the company that actually gets your movie onto theater screens, laptops, television sets, mobile devices, and any other kind of screen where your audience can pay for it. (Even though you may become your own distributor, which you’ll learn about in Inside Track XI: Free Range Distribution, if you take this step, you will need to adjust your mind-set to the flinty realities of the digital distribution world.)

Only after these first two buyers, the financier and the distributor, have bought your movie does the audience even get a chance to pay to see it.

In this book, you’ll learn how to reverse the process many people mistakenly follow. Instead of thinking about the kind of movie you want to make, you’ll think about the movie you want to make in the context of what your buyers want to buy.

Inside Track for Independent Filmmakers is organized into four sections:

The Landscape. Here you will get your bearings. “If one does not know the topography, one cannot maneuver an army,” wrote Sun Tzu, the sixth-century BC Chinese philosopher and general, in his famous book of military strategy, The Art of War. Sun Tzu recognized that if you do not understand the ground on which you walk, it is impossible to find your path.

It’s the same with the world of independent filmmaking—a territory of wonder, glory, mystery, and, occasionally, terror. Before you begin your journey, you need a map that will tell you what to expect in this strange land. The five short essays in this section give you a context for your art and your work. They are meant to provoke you to go out, do your work, and do it well.

Get Your Movie Made. What does it take to get a movie made? If you guessed money, you’d be wrong. Of course, money is part of the equation—money to pay the cast and crew, to rent equipment and buy supplies—but you don’t get money by asking for money, and in fact, a lack of money is rarely the reason films don’t get made.

To get a movie made, the movie has to have value. When a film’s value is apparent, money races toward it like a river coursing downhill.

The Inside Tracks in this section give you the tools you need to bring massive value to your movie, and with that value, the greatest potential for you to stand on the set one day and shout “Action!” These Inside Tracks are Concept,

Comps (short for “Comparatives”), Script, Casting, Cost, and Now You Make Your Movie.

Get Your Movie Seen. Once you have made your movie, you want lots of people to see it. To do that, you need to get your film distributed, either by a theatrical distributor, a digital distributor, or a platform you can manage yourself. You will need to be the team leader, driving the process and bringing your audience along with you.

The Inside Tracks in this section include Getting into Festivals When Your Movie’s Ready, Selling at Festivals, Selling Everywhere Else for Theatrical Distribution, Selling for Non-Theatrical Distribution, and Free Range Distribution—the newest form of digital and physical distribution, which allows filmmakers to keep their rights. Taken together, these Inside Tracks will prepare you to distribute on any screen that can show your film.

Essential Resources. Here you will find directories of DIY distribution platforms and other filmmaker resources, contact information for sales agents, and other highly curated recommendations so you can gain even more knowledge.

You can use this book in multiple ways.

If you are a filmmaker, please read the whole book, cover to cover, before you do anything else. This will prepare you for what comes next, and what comes next after that. Just as a good film production plan takes post-production into account even before pre-production has begun, the best plan for getting your movie made and seen is derived from being prepared for what’s ahead. For example, you will discover that getting distribution is much easier if you have set up your financing in the right way (see Tip 54).

If you are a student, you should also read the entire book. Further, even if your first feature film is still largely a dream, this book will give you practical insights into the inner workings of the movie business. It will help you select what your first movie should be, and provide you with a pragmatic approach to getting it made.

If you are an instructor, you will find that many of the short chapters easily suggest themselves for practical inclass exercises or homework. For example, Inside Track II: Comps can become an energetic, participatory experience in the classroom, as students try to find comps for their own movie ideas. The financial concepts in Inside Track V: Cost can be adapted into exercises where students practice different financial models for getting films made. The materials filmmakers need to market their movies, enumerated in Inside Track VIII: Selling at Festivals, lend themselves to projects where students can create sample websites and media kits.

No matter what brings you to explore this book, Inside Track for Independent Filmmakers will train you to think like a movie executive and distributor, which will give you the Inside Track as an indie filmmaker. That’s what you need—because you want to be one of the filmmakers whose films are made and seen.

Have fun. Make beautiful movies.


A book is a collaborative exercise, just like a movie. I’m grateful to the independent filmmakers who inspire me every day with their selfless drive and boundless optimism. Thank you to all the readers of the first edition, who generously shared this book with others and offered me numerous suggestions for this new edition. I’m especially grateful to Erika Gutierrez, Alexis Smith, Elise Kaiser, Joe Ford, Thomas Digiano, and Simon Glick, my friends at Bedford/St. Martin’s, for their invaluable guidance and for adopting this book (and the Inside Track series) into their fine lineup. Thank you, Jordan Ancel, for telling me I had to sit down and write this book in the first place. For wise counsel, early reads, and countless good suggestions, thank you, Tod Hardin, James Kaelan, Blessing Yen, Audrey Arkins, Eric Stein, John Forte, Hoyt Hilsman, Nicholas Jarecki, Saundra Saperstein, Garner Simmons, Graham Taylor, Jeremy Walker, and Lori Zimmerman. Thanks to Molly McKellar for fact-checking, Jennifer Greenstein for copyediting, William Rigby for proofreading, and Kirsten Kite for indexing. Deep gratitude to all my friends and colleagues in the movie business who have collaborated with me and taught me over the years, and especially to those who offered generous praise in the opening pages. We also thank the instructors who participated in a review of the Inside Track series concept and offered their valuable insights: Jake Agatucci, Central Oregon CC; Frank Barnas, Valdosta State; Sara Drabik, Northern Kentucky Univ.; Marie Elliot, Valdosta State; Erik Johnson, Univ. of Wisc. – River Falls; Robert Johnson, Framingham State; Madison Lacy, University of Kansas; Jamie Litty UNC – Pembroke; Phillip Powell, Valparaiso University; Shaun Wright, James Madison University.