September 3, 2014
Editor's Note: You can now vote for the panels you want to see at SXSW 2015! If voted in, Márcia will join our very own Emily Best, Mia Bruno of Gravitas Ventures and Paul Osborne of Conspicuous Pictures in “Price of Passion: The Filmmaking Entrepreneur,” an action-oriented conversation on the real work of making money making movies. But it’ll only happen if we vote! Do it, do it, do it.
One of the questions most often discussed in independent producing circles is, “How can we actually make a living doing this?” Ask most people who have made a movie, and they likely either had a day job on the side, or were living an ascetic lifestyle supported by loans. Neither of these two scenarios allows filmmakers to fully focus on their work because another job takes up all their time or the knock-knock-knocking of the bill collectors keeps them awake at night.
But everyone agrees that filmmaking is, in fact, a job. It’s a crazy one, and one that will lead you down many paths most people would never go, but it is, at its core, the traditional activity of creating a product that others will (hopefully) buy.
In recent years, this discussion has reached a fever pitch. Whereas it’s possible for directors and actors to parlay a successful indie first feature into lucrative careers and even superstardom (think Neill Blomkamp and Jennifer Lawrence), it’s very rare for the same thing to happen to an independent producer, especially one that doesn’t already come with deep pockets. Indie darlings Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy have talked about this problem, and even industry veterans like Ted Hope are flummoxed by the question of making a sustainable living while doing the work they love.
One of the main causes of this dilemma, in my opinion, is the fact that many filmmakers don’t consider themselves businesspeople. They are artists, or “art facilitators,” but most wouldn’t consider what they are doing an entrepreneurial activity. We’re living in a golden age of entrepreneurship, with startups and incubators at almost every corner, yet the film world has struggled to insert itself into it.
This is a mistake. While most entrepreneurs also live through their lean periods— working for little or no salary—the foundation of startup living is to have a plan. If you can’t quantitatively show how and when your business will become profitable, you are out of the game. Why don’t producers also follow this advice? Why do we look at each film as a single entity, using sales estimates that we all know are dramatically overconfident as barometers for the success of each discreet title? Why don’t we consider ourselves the cornerstone of our business, and instead come up with a plan for success and profitability that spans multiple ventures and multiple years?
At festival after festival, we spend a lot of time talking about all the challenges of the industry, and especially this question of how to make a sustainable career; but we don’t spend much time at all actually creating solutions. Keri Putnam, the Executive Director of the Sundance Institute, recently suggested that instead of panels and roundtables we have working sessions and hackathons. This is exactly what we’re aiming to do in our South by Southwest panel, Price of Passion: The Filmmaking Entrepreneur. We will take questions from real filmmakers attending the conference and answer them with practical and working ideas on how to tackle them. Rather than just speaking theoretically, we aim to work towards a better model together, by calling upon the audience and their experience as well as ours.
We don’t expect to answer all the questions in this short hour. But we do believe that unless we start taking these opportunities to do more than just expound and bemoan our situations, a solution will never present itself. It’s time to stop looking for the answers and start creating them.