Film as a Business: The Business of Film

You’ll hear freshly hatched film students and budding filmmakers say their creation is out of love for the work.  But many would, at best, like to make a living at it.  Still, few view filmmaking as the monetization of a high-demand commodity.  I say high-demand because of the proliferation of Video On Demand and other streaming channels.   The increasing numbers alone indicate a growing desire and/or need for fresh cinema.  Cinema is the number one export in the United States, and now with Federal recognition as a viable business entity, a filmmaker can and should approach the long-term track of their work with more precision and direction.  But it’s less about planning the route of their commodity than the importance of managing a ‘corporate structure’ surrounding the commodity.  Focusing solely on the object leads to, what Michael E. Gerber says in The E-Myth Revisited, an Entrepreneurial Seizure.  He continues in saying even though a product may be phenomenal and, in the context of movies, a beautiful example of cinematic expertise, weak support structures will burrow the product into obscurity.  “Indeed, the problem is not that the owners of small businesses in this country don’t work; the problem is that they’re doing the wrong work.  As a result, most of their businesses end up in chaos – unmanageable, unpredictable, and unrewarding.” Louise Levison, author of Filmmaker’s & Financing: Business Plans for Independents says, “many filmmakers lose interest when they realize that writing a business plan takes work.  The impulse is to think, ‘I have a good script, just give me the money.’” But doesn’t work like that anymore.

In film production, the business plan is an extension and articulation of the producer’s package, while the producer’s package itself is primarily used to seek for distribution and industry support.  Many experts believe creating business plans around a film attracts not only serious investors, but also, as John Cones writes, may useful in “identifying founding shareholders for the initial corporation.” A successfully positioned film will lead to greater monetization, thus creating momentum towards the making of another film.  Isn’t this the goal independent filmmakers have in mind?  Then forward-thinking ambition is required.

Business owners turned investors will view incorporated films with business plans as focused and professional.  Investors will appreciate the respect this extends, and will respect the forethought of a filmmaker as well. “Your business plan is your first impression,” says Cindy Freeman of the Film Method.  “Make sure it reflects you, your project, your passion and your professionalism.” It’s a paradigm shift for filmmakers, I know.  But if you think about it, incorporating a film as an LCC (or other) makes sense for many reasons.  The film becomes an entity entitled to legal protection; crew positioned as employees or individual contractors will increase validity; and doing so will help a film acquire clout and reputation beneficial to the marketing of the film.  The moviemaking climate in the industry has progressed in ways very different from the past.  Independent filmmakers are more empowered with control over their work, and therefore their future.  For indie filmmakers, the industry is ripe for harvesting.  Make sure the seeds of your “small business film” are planted well.

Specific business plan resources to review:

John W. Cones: How Filmmakers Can Avoid the Business Plan Scam

Louise Levison: Business Strategies blog

Jason Brubaker: Filmmaking As Your Small Business

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