Being a filmmaker is like starting your own business and you need to think of it that way. The role and responsibilities of a filmmaker can be abstract and over glamorized for many starting out. They only see the artistic or technical aspects, but when it comes to the business side they don’t have a clue.
When faced with the business realities they either throw their hands up in frustration of their ignorance or they will just ignore it hoping it won’t matter or someone else will do it for them. Sure you can (and must) hire professionals such as lawyers and accounts, but you must also have some basic knowledge otherwise you can’t instruct or verify. Business knowledge also goes far beyond contracts and ledgers. You need to know sales and marketing, strategy, management skills and more.
There is so much to know you don’t know where to start. First take a deep breath. You can learn this stuff. You don’t need a Harvard Degree or be Warren Buffett. All you need is patience, persistence and a positive attitude.
Lets start by making the profession of a filmmaker less abstract by creating an analogy. We could choose lots of different bushiness to compare it to, but opening a restaurant shares many of the same motivations and obstacles.
The Restaurant Analogy
Lets say you love to cook and you want to make a living doing it and share your food with the public, so you decide to open a restaurant. Soon after looking into the prospect you discover the cooking part of owning a restaurant maybe the smallest aspect. Just to get the doors open you need to find financial backing, which requires knowledge financing. If you get past that you will need to deal with all sorts of legal aspects, accounting, licenses, permits, employees, marketing, sales and on and on. And, even if you have a business degree you still don’t know anything about running a restaurant.
The best place would be to get a job working at someone else’s restaurant. Even a fast food place would give you a basic understanding of how the business is run. As you move on to fancier eateries work on expanding your knowledge; ask questions, try and get a position in the back office, learn to manage workers, find out who they do business with (wholesalers, banks, law firms, etc.) and above all else network. Build lasting relationships with your employer, their employees, customers and business contacts.
There is little that can prepare you for being out on your own. Freelancing is a good middle ground to work from. Working for someone else is a good starting point. You need to walk before you run. Start off with some small catering jobs. You are working off of someones else’s instructions, but it should give you enough artistic licence to show off your talents. Freelancing is also a great way to network (you see a pattern here). The people that hire you can be a great source for financing down the road, always be professional and don’t burn bridges.
Build Your Name
Now you need to widen your exposure. Start building a name for yourself by entering cooking contests. Attend trade-shows and other industry events. Give out food samples at local fairs. Think of other creative ways to get your work in front of the public and industry.
Hire a Lawyer
I don’t care how much business experience you have you need outside legal advice. Even if the best business attorney in the country was opening a restaurant he would still want a second opinion. It’s hard to see all the legal forest fires through the trees.
Create a Business Plan
A business plan is like a blue print of how you are going to open your restaurant and how you plan to be profitable. No bank or investor is going to consider loaning you money without a well thought out business plan. Projections, every number you give them is just more for them to pick apart. The numbers part of your business plan should only serve to show them you have some business sense, anything more and you are just supplying them with reasons to say no. Trust me, what looks good in your eyes more often than not will backfire.
Money is the biggest roadblock between potential owners and their restaurant. It is very hard to get bank financing unless you have collateral, so your best bet will be private investors. You should start with that network you have been building. Go to those business owners that hired you for freelance work. Ask your old (or current) employer where they got their funding. REFERRALS, REFERRALS, REFERRALS. Even if you are turned down ask them if they know others that maybe interested. Let your investors do the work for you.
Nobody is going to invest money they need to rely on for income. They will however invest money that they would have spent in Vegas or on a new sports car. Restaurants are risky investments. If your main sales pitch is big returns, you need to rethink it. You should be selling dreams, and the fun of owning part of a restaurant, having their own table, etc..
Don’t ever guarantee them anything and don’t ever lie to them…ever. Work on building a good personal relationship with them that will last for a long time. Even if your restaurant is a failure if you where honest with them and have a good relationship most of the time they will double their bet with you.
Opening the doors
I’m not going to spend time describing this part because if you followed the steps above you should have good foundation to build on.
…. End Analogy.
There are countless books, websites, forums, etc., filled with “advice” on how to break into filmmaking. They talk about who you need to know, what you need to write, how to talk, walk and shit. But while (some) information is always a good thing, they don’t really tell you what’s truly needed. Yes you need some talent, but the true filtering process is all about how much an individual is willing to give up/risk to become a filmmaker.
You’re not competing with other filmmakers, only with yourself, and that’s the hardest competition there is. No one is ever kept from making it as a filmmaker. They only give up or die trying.
Make sure and check out all these articles: Pre-Production
If you have any business related question please ask them in our Business School Group.