Show Business. Two separate words: Show. Business. Each equally important to the success of any filmmaker, yet so many of us choose to only focus on one over the other. And almost always, we only focus on the show… ultimately neglecting half of the equation.
This is a natural tendency for filmmakers, as most of us are creative people who started making films because we love the art of storytelling… Not necessarily because we love the business of movie making (although some of us do!).
The truth of the matter though, is that for any of us to succeed as filmmakers we need to play both sides of the coin. We may be driven by our desire to express ourselves through art, but that dream will only be fully realized when we understand the business well enough to actually make a living off of our work.
The good news is, we don’t need to compromise creativity in order to flourish as filmmakers from a business standpoint. We just need to understand that the best way to succeed is by tapping into the powerful intersection that is art and commerce… Although this is often easier said than done.
To use myself as an example, while I have always been very business minded in many regards (which is largely why I am self-employed and run my own business), I wasn’t always business minded when it came to filmmaking. In my earlier years I saw film as a form of pure creative expression and I had no interest in monetizing or corrupting my work by thinking of it as a commodity.
Over the years though, my mindset changed as I realized I was looking at things the wrong way. I still am very much an “art filmmaker” at heart, and I’m sure I always will be. But I now understand that for any filmmaker to succeed (even those making art films), there needs to be a method to the madness, and business is that method. I also understand that business doesn’t have to be an enemy of creativity. In fact, it can be a close friend.
As a filmmaker, it’s natural to fear that your creative vision will be stifled by focusing too much on the business, but in actuality it’s more likely to be stifled because you neglected the business.
Take distribution for example. If you are a business savvy filmmaker, as you embark on any feature film project you are not only going to consider the strength of your story, script, and characters, but you will also take into account your audience. Before you even write the script, you’ll know who is going to want to see your film. You’ll know what kinds of characters your audience relates to, how and where they like to watch movies, what themes might connect most with them, and so on.
Having this kind of knowledge will serve two purposes –
- It will give your film a much better chance of financial success as you’ve now carved out a demographic that you can market your film to
- It will give you strong creative guiding principles and parameters to work within – ultimately enhancing your end product
In other words, understanding the business of marketing and distribution will not only benefit your bottom line, but your creative potential as well. It will force you to ask yourself new (and sometimes difficult) questions about the relevance of your story and your theme, and understand how it will be viewed through someone else’s lens. If you only focused on the art and not the business, you would never be forced to ask yourself these tough questions.
This is just one very basic example, but the same principle applies to virtually any facet of your journey as a filmmaker. When you take into account both the creative and business implications of any decision, you put yourself in the best position to thrive.
It isn’t all about the art, but it also isn’t all about the business either. It’s about how they work together as a unit.
You could make the best film in the world, but if you don’t know how to get it in front of an audience then it will effectively not exist. At the same time, you could have the best business strategy in place for your film, but if it isn’t artistically sound or at the very least entertaining, no one will want to see it. You need both. Show & Business.
The marketing example I gave above is just one of countless ways that business plays a part in both your film’s success, and your personal success as a filmmaker. But it doesn’t start and end with marketing… Far from it. A solid business foundation (or lack thereof) can make or break you in so many scenarios:
If you don’t have the right soft skills to pitch your screenplay well, your great idea will come across to others (likely investors or collaborators) as disinteresting.
If you don’t understand the importance of forging long term business relationships with your collaborators, you’re unlikely to find a team that will stay loyal to you as a filmmaker as you attempt to move ahead on your journey.
If you don’t understand the hustle and grind that it takes to run a business (and yes, an indie film is a business), you will never be able to get through the darker moments of the long marathon that is making a feature film.
If you don’t … Well you get the point.
Even if we don’t consciously think about our films or careers from a business perspective, that doesn’t change the fact that we are still playing by the same rules as the big production companies and studios – some of us just don’t realize it. Even if you want to focus solely on the art of making a film, and completely ignore the business side, at a point you will still need to pitch your idea (soft skills), work with a team (leadership), and get your movie in front of an audience (marketing).
You are going to go through all of the business-centric motions whether you like it or not… So the sooner you recognize the game you’re playing, the sooner you’ll develop the skills and knowledge you’ll need to win that game.
As a starting point, the best thing you can do is make learning your number one priority, as your growth as a filmmaker depends on it. This notion applies equally to the show and to the business, but for the sake of this article I am going to stress the importance of learning the business.
Now I’m not suggesting you need to go out and get an MBA (far from it), but I am saying with certainty that taking a genuine interest in the business side of what you do will go a very, very long way.
Read as many books as you can on marketing and sales. Watch in depth interviews with successful CEOs. Listen to podcasts about networking. Stream the Hollywood Reporter roundtables. Do whatever you can to consume as much information as possible, and you will inevitably apply those lessons to your work…
And don’t feel like everything you consume needs to be directly related to film. In fact, it might be better if it isn’t. I’ve probably applied more insight from someone like Mark Cuban than I have from fellow filmmakers or producers… But that’s just me. Find what works best for you and keep consuming, learning, and growing.
I’ll leave you with one last thought –
The greatest benefit you’ll find in focusing on the business, is your newfound ability to take control of your own destiny. No one wants to be the filmmaker that works for countless months (or years) to make a film that never gets seen because they weren’t miraculously discovered by a producer that instantly proclaimed they were a genius. But everyone wants to be the filmmaker that succeeds despite all odds, simply because they outworked the competition and never stopped learning both about their craft, and about the business of their craft.
If you can truly master both, I believe you will be unstoppable. I have yet to master either, but I spend countless hours every day in the pursuit of achieving my goals, and that alone gives me a great deal of satisfaction.