One of the easiest-to-get-started ways of making money back from your film is to do mail-order DVD sales. Set up a website, and a blog, drum up some publicity for the film through festival screenings or DIY screenings (screenings that you produce), post some clips on YouTube & MySpace Film, get your local newspaper to write a story about you, advertise wherever you can afford to advertise, set up a PayPal account, get a PO Box (if you don't want everyone in the world to know your home address) and when people mail you checks or pay through PayPal, mail them DVDs of your movie. I know of a handful of indie filmmakers who are doing this right now and some of them are doing pretty well at it, selling over a thousand DVDs of their unheard-of-in-the-mainstream DV movies in less than 12 months. And on the high end of the revenue scale, The Last Broadcast & The Debut has reportedly earned over a million dollars each; TLB $4 million as of '06, Debut $1.8 million in late '02 from theatrical alone.
But, for most filmmakers, what does it take to make a living through DIY filmmaking & self-distribution? I guess that depends on how much money you need in order to live well. If you were to sell 5,000 DVDs of your awesome indie movie over the course of one year, with each DVD selling for $12, you would collect $60,000. That's before expenses: before paying taxes, shipping (at least $1-$2 per DVD through US Post Office for shipping within the USA), paying back the cost of making the movie (to yourself or to your friends/investors), and the cost of marketing the movie/DVD for a whole year. Maybe after all the expenses you can make a profit of $30,000 - $40,000 or more. Not bad at all for a very small, start-up, more than likely a part-time, new business.
And when you have more than one feature being sold down the road, you can do the math, the amount of total revenue & profit gets bigger.
Selling DVDs through the mail is one relatively simple way to make $s from a movie. Then there are other ways that you may or may not be able to make happen, such as licensing your movie to TV & cable broadcast. Also you can sell merchandise related to the movie, teach a class on making & distributing indie/DIY movies, etc. If you have a good movie (liked by audiences) then ways to make money from it can be thought up. There is a whole section of the book publishing industry catering to this subject, hit yer great used bookstore or more likely Borders or Banes & Nobel or better yet, your local library & study up on it. The web can help a lot with that also.
I still have my great slacker day job. But I do see a point where I can quit it & live off of revenue from my films, in the not too distant future. When I actually get to that point, I'll be sure to let you know :) Perhaps that will be additional encouragement to the next generation of DIY filmmakers.
How come I am sharing this info? Am I not worried about competition? Nope. Indie film can be/is art, and no two artists are going to tell the same story the same way. That doesn't happen even in Hollywood. Plus, there are a whole lot of great stories out there all over America & the world that are not being told, that I can't possibly tell due to the limitations of my/any one person's experience & interests & skills & of course available time, but that can be told by many eager & enterprising filmmakers if they have an avenue to use for producing and distributing their work. DIY film can be that avenue.