Take a quick glance at the 10 highest-grossing films this year so far and two things immediately become clear. First, nine of them are based around established intellectual properties or are sequels. Second, Free Guy, the lone original piece of intellectual property on this list, was directed by Hollywood veteran Shawn Levy and stars A-list actor Ryan Reynolds. With the 10 listed all coming from major film distributors, from Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures to Universal Pictures, the average film budget ranges between $100 million and $250 million. More “original” lower-budget films released this year, like Zola, The Green Knight, Nobody, and Judas and the Black Messiah, were all made for under $30 million. None cracked the top 20.

Meanwhile, the rise in popularity of streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, and Amazon Prime is leading to high demand for production despite conflict with more traditional film distribution mediums over first-runs. Last January, Netflix had even promised 70 films would be released on its platform before the year ended. 

Somewhere amid the big battle between traditional Hollywood and various streaming giants are aspiring filmmakers looking to carve their own lane in Hollywood.

Independent filmmakers have had it especially rough since the production shutdown brought on by COVID-19. Speaking with Filmmaker Magazine, director/producer Miranda Bailey said investors “may not be interested in risky businesses” like independent films, even though these endeavors require a lower investment than feature-length films.

Even short films that many aspiring directors use to build a portfolio or generate interest around a longer film aren’t cheap. According to Newbie Film School, the average short film costs between $700 and $1,500 per minute, with the possibility of shooting up higher. Regardless of the length of a film, though, the reality is that filmmaking is an expensive business all around. 

And another thing is certain: there’s no absolute route toward financing a film. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and aspiring and established filmmakers have learned how to get their art out to the masses. But unless an aspiring filmmaker’s network is big enough for them to call on the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson, Prince, and Janet Jackson for help financing a film (like Spike Lee was able to do for his 1992 biopic, Malcolm X), they’re probably going to have to think of alternatives. Here’s how a few young filmmakers are doing it.