Filmmaking as an Artist-Entrepreneur

Or, How to keep your creative vision on the table
while keeping food on it, too

Advice from one filmmaker-entrepreneur to another:

  1. Don’t do it!
  2. Be very careful of the satisfaction derived from buying equipment, like cameras and such. Make those investments very purposefully with knowledge of the income stream it can help create. Are you going to get that much more work simply by having it? Is it a camera that covers the needs of a majority of your clients or are you going to be renting a “bigger/better” camera for most of your shoots anyway. Is there a market for your gear in your area on a peer to peer equipment rental service like ShareGrid.com or KitSplit.com, i.e. can it make money when you’re not using it. And try to be honest with yourself about the size of the market.
  3. That said, if you are just beginning, and you’re still learning having a decent DSLR or some other “starter” camera on hand makes many things easier. You can just shoot at the drop of a hat and if you have to convince clients that you’re worth them “taking a risk on” then not making them pay for a big camera rental on top of that is useful. And you can always just shoot your own stuff, cause you own a decent camera.
  4. Just get out and shoot. Make a movie a month, or better yet, a movie a weekend. Make them for nothing. Make them with what you have on hand. Spend some time getting those movies wrong, making a bunch of mistakes you didn’t even know existed on those films before you go out and spend a bunch of money and resources and favors on that dream film with the story you’re just dying to tell. And then after you make that dream movie and you screw it up and no one wants to see it, take what you learned and go back and make a movie a month again. Work out some kinks and try again with the next big idea later.
  5. Figure out a position that is important that you can get paid to do, like editing, or sound, or even DP and learn to do it really well, so you can make money doing this while developing your stories and your own projects where you get to do the job that you really want to do but no one wants to pay you for.
  6. Marry someone who is supportive of what you want to do and has a job that pays the rent.
  7. Better yet, get a trust fund.
  8. As quickly as you can learn what your time is worth and quote it. If they don’t respond then let it go. If they want to negotiate then go ahead, but don’t sell yourself short. I’ve worked too many projects where half-way through and realized I was working for free from there on out.
  9. Don’t promise something you can’t deliver.
  10. Just because you don’t know how to do something doesn’t mean you can’t get or do the job. Just make sure you can learn it in time. See #9
  11. Build travel into your rate.
  12. If your friend asks you to work on their project and you can, go do it.
  13. When everyone is working for free, they’re not paying you enough to not have a good time. Your attitude is on you.
  14. No one is going to make your film for you. No one is going to read your script and say, “Here is everything you need” or even “Here is one thing you need.” If it’s your project . . . get up and do it.
  15. When the task seems insurmountable, just do what you can that day. Don’t worry about the mountain. Just keep walking. God will take care of the mountain, you just walk the little steps in front of you that day.
  16. Read scripts. I don’t do enough of this.
  17. Watch movies. Watch them again. Figure out why they work and why they don’t.
  18. You can’t learn how to fix a car by only touching ones that run. Sometimes you have to wrestle with something that is broken beyond repair and fail to fix it.
  19. Good sound is more important than a good picture. No, really. Don’t skimp on sound.
  20. “Walk through the door that’s open, not the door you think should be open.”—Jim Houghton (Director of Juilliard Drama Division)
  21. When someone tells you there is something wrong with your script/film they are most often right. When they tell you how to fix it they are most often wrong.

From Michael Markham, actor, photographer, and independent/commercial filmmaker, Kite Monkey Productions.

Three concepts to remember:

  • Art is not free.
  • It’s not about us.
  • We need partners, not patrons.

The Gig Economy, Side Hustles, and Portfolio Careers

From The Gig Economy: The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life You Want, by Diane Mulcahy (pp. 12-13)

The Gig Economy is disrupting how we work by transforming our labor market of jobs into a labor market of work…. For workers who are skilled, the Gig Economy provides opportunities to turn good jobs into great work…. By disaggregating work from a job, workers can realize levels of autonomy, flexibility, and control that have been traditionally unavailable to employees.

The Gig Economy is also disrupting how we live. Our traditional highly leveraged, high-fixed-cost lifestyle won’t work as well in an economy of variable work and income. And structuring our lives to binge work for 40 years and then retire doesn’t make as much sense when we can take more time off along the way and have a more balanced mix of work and leisure throughout our lives.

Succeeding in the Gig Economy requires a new mindset, specific skills, and an updated toolkit…. Succeeding, though, doesn’t mean finding a job. It means creating a more aligned, better balanced life and finding satisfying work that helps achieve your vision of professional and personal success.

In the book, Mulcahy covers “Ten Rules to Succeed in the Gig Economy” within three main categories. Here they are, along with some thoughts from Luann (headings and numbers are from Mulcahy’s book – bullets are from Luann unless otherwise noted).

Getting better work:

  1. Define your success.
    • Take fame off the table. Cultivate a vision rather than a dream.
      “Dreams are something you wake up from.” –Luann
      “A vision is a dream plus a plan.” –Smarter people
    • Examine your expectations and assumptions. Anytime you find yourself thinking “I need” or even “I want,” challenge that. Why do you need/want it? For survival? For comfort? For status?
    • What are your values? You only have 112 hours a week to do your life (Take the 8 hours of sleep! You’ll need it!). How do you want to spend them?
    • Read David Brooks’ “The Moral Bucket List” on NY Times, or watch his TED entitled “Should you live for your resume or your eulogy?
  2. Diversify
  3. Create your own security.
    • Teach yourself. You don’t need a business degree to do this. There’s a ton of free and cheap training out there.
  4. Connect without networking

Taking more time off:

  1. Face fear by reducing risk.
    • “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” -FDR
    • Assume that whatever is stopping you from moving forward is fear. Look at it. Break it into its component parts. Ask “what’s the worst that can happen?” Ask mature people you respect if they have lived through the worst (they thought) that could happen.
  2. Take time off between gigs.
    • In the Gig Economy, it can feel like you’re always at work, or should be. Create boundaries between “work” and “life.” You work to live, you don’t live to work.
    • But don’t forget that the time to be looking for the next gig is well before you’ve finished the previous one.
  3. Be mindful about time.

Financing the life you want:

  1. Be financially flexible.
    • Get scarily good with personal money management. Go through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at a local church or online. Use a software like You Need a Budget that offers a system and training rather than just tools.
    • Track your spending for two months and be brutally honest about whether your spending is aligned with your values and, if not, what needs to change. Do the same with your time while you’re at it.
    • In the Gig Economy, you will need to make more per hour than you would in a traditional full-time employee situation. You will be responsible for your own FICA (and you’ll need to save for taxes – no withholding!) and health insurance. No paid vacation and sick time. No free office supplies. You don’t get paid for marketing, networking, and basic maintenance of your business.
    • Limitations are creatively freeing.
    • Avoid credit card debt. For every Hollywood Shuffle there are hundreds of filmmakers who went deeply into debt (or bankrupt) financing their film that didn’t become a blockbuster.
    • Again, examine your assumptions and expectations before buying something you can’t afford, and definitely before using credit for it.
      • Home ownership – Is owning really better for you than renting?
      • Cars – Can your family make do with fewer cars? Public transportation, Uber, Zipcar, etc.
      • Toys, clothing, and other stuff – See The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
      • Student debt – Do you really need that masters degree? Do you (or your children) have to go to “the best school”?
      • Your kids’ needs
  2. Think access, not ownership.
    • Reevaluate “collections.”
    • Will downsizing what you keep on-hand allow you to scale back on home or office size, paid storage space, etc?
  3. Save for a traditional retirement – but don’t plan on having one.
    • Retire from what? The goal today is to have a life you don’t want to retire from.
    • You may become unable to work at some point, so some financial planning is needed.
    • The magic of compounding interest.
    • If it helps, consider it a savings account that’s hard (and expensive) to get to and only for true, desperate emergencies.
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