Filmmaking As Your Small Business

When deciding on a business, some people open frozen yogurt shops. I should know. Thanks to D’Yogurt on Sunset boulevard (near my house), I’ve been eating frozen yogurt just about every night. The owner of the shop is passionate about Yogurt, just as we are passionate about our filmmaking.

Since moving to LA and producing several indie movies, I realize the major ineptitude most filmmakers suffer from is a lack of general business acumen. I mean, most filmmakers know about the movie business. And these filmmakers usually fall into one of two categories. Either they understand the studio business or they understand traditional independent filmmaking.

In my humble opinion, I think both arenas are based on an old paradigm. In the studio system, the business revolves around asking a lot of folks for permission.

  1. “I finished this great screenplay. It’s high concept and awesome!”
  2. “Would you please read my screenplay?”
  3. “Can we have a meeting?”
  4. “Did you read my screenplay?”

All of which results in a lot of this: “We have decided to pass at this time.”

As an independent filmmaker, many of us also suffer from a similar permission based way of doing business.

  1. “Mr. Investor, if we are lucky this movie will get into Sundance.”
  2. “If we are really lucky, we will get a great distribution deal.”
  3. “And if we are really lucky, we might get a distribution deal.”
  4. “And if we are really, really lucky we will get a 3 picture studio deal, and we will live happily ever after.”

And that got me thinking about this talk about modern moviemaking. Can we now consider movie making a small business? I mean, if you think about it, all you need to start a small business is an idea, some start up cash, raw material, production and a customer base – and a way to sell whatever it is you’re selling.  And unlike years past, non-discriminatory video on demand marketplaces provide that… So what would modern moviemaking as a small business look like:

  1. We have a screenplay with a strong, well defined concept.
  2. We know our target audience and how to reach them.
  3. We will need to sell 25,000 video on demand downloads to recoup our investment?

Why should we over-complicate our filmmaking? What do you think? Can Modern Moviemaking be your next small business?

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  1. Hunanyankhachatur says

    i really like these ideas that you have,that means you’re very smart what will u suggest for beginners ,like i want to shoot my own movie and don’t know from where to start,the screenplay is mine originally ,i’ve been writing it for 3 years finally i have this very interesting story about life, love, danger, fear,game and etc….. if i shoot this project with the normal crew i’m sure it will shine after because it’s way too interesting,but how you can see dreams needs connections :-) thanks

  2. says

    Thanks Jurgen. I sometimes forget about this mindset. I wish we could somehow make it easier. But the cost of learning the business stuff far outweighs the cost of spending my life, waiting for someone to give me permission. Given your experience in the industry, what you say is quite validating.

  3. Anonymous says

    There’s still a feeling in some parts of the art world (including indie filmmaking) that a real artist doesn’t concern him/herself with commerce. That’s fine while you’re in film school, but the real world doesn’t support that idea very much anymore (the days of generous grants are over). I think your approach is the only way forward, thanks for sharing it.

  4. Peta Astbury says

    Its seems really simple, but for some reason it sometimes doesn’t click. You have put it out in a really good way! I absolutely agree with what you are saying…

    Before I produced my first feature (independent Australian comedy ‘The Marriage of Figaro’), I went and did a MBA. My friends thought I was crazy, that i should go to film school rather than business school. But after producing a successful film which i also self distributed in a commercial cinema (for 3 weeks before it was picked up by a distributor) I am very glad that I did it. It armed me with all of the knowledge you need to make a successful film (and helpful after the fact in terms of planning what next).

    In the same way how you have explained, before the ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ was written, we worked out where we thought there was a gap in the market, also who exactly the audience was and then it was written for them and to budget. I wrote a business plan and everything happened according to the business plan (except the self-distribution part – although that ended up taking care of itself after pulling good numbers in the initial release).

    But Im not advocating that everyone has to have a MBA to make a film, but it definitely helped me. But just looking at what you are doing from a business perspective as outlined above is a good start…

  5. says

    Thanks for your well thought comments. It looks like I’ve found another modern moviemaker to add to the list! To directly answer your question, with a non-discriminatory sales channel, you only need to look to the local wealthy businessman in your home town. Based on those three tenets, the business should finally make sense.

    Again, great thinking and great feedback.

  6. nwrann says

    p.s. The Other Jason Brubaker ( referred me here about 6 months ago during some conversations I was having with him. good stuff.

  7. nwrann says

    I fully agree with both of your takes on modern movie making, 1) Indie film as small business & 2) Modern Moviemaking manifesto. I used to be a small business owner (I owned a coffeeshop in New Haven, CT) so I know what it’s like to develop a business plan and create a product that has a niche market (we were the first 100% fair trade coffee shop in New Haven and the first wi-fi internet cafe) and figure out the customer base etc. Unfortunately, when we started our estimates and guesstimates and hopes and dreams were so pie-in-the-sky we made these “Social Networking Will Save Indie Film” proponents look like grounded conservatives. But the important thing was that we learned A LOT of lessons. And when I embarked on the filmmaking adventure I started applying those business lessons. What a lot of people don’t understand is that by knowing the business it frees the art. It doesn’t restrict it. Many indie filmmakers think that the art has to be cultivated or about a certain thing to be successful, that the art has to fit the business. The fact is that the business needs to fit the art. There is no reason why a filmmaker can’t make the most low percentage movie about the most obscure thing. But the filmmaker has to realize that they can’t spend a million dollars making it. And in order to do that, they need to look at the 3 tenets of moviemaking as a Small business that you have:

    1) We have a screenplay with a strong, well defined concept.
    2) We know our target audience and how to reach them.
    3) We will need to sell 25,000 video on demand downloads to recoup our investment?

    If the filmmaker realistically knows that they’re only going to sell 1,000 VODs at $1.99 each then their budget better not be over $2,000 and should only be $1,000 if they intend to make money from this venture.

    My question though, is where do you find investors willing to change their mode of thinking that indie film is a gamble relying on the whims of a distributor?

  8. says

    Sabina – it’s my goal to help all filmmakers feel empowered. Filmmaking was once cost prohibitive. But now, as you mention, the resources are out there. There are no more excuses. This is an exciting time!

  9. Sabina says

    This mode of thinking, I feel, will empower a whole lot of independent thinkers to get out of the mindset of “If only…” and “I need…”. Truth be told, many of us have resources our filmmaking ancestors couldn’t even dream of literally at our fingertips!

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