Putting the "Business" in Show Business

Added on by Chris WHITE.

Emily and I approach the business of our filmmaking systematically, equal parts art and commerce…with an overarching emphasis on our audience: people who aren’t seeking something else to watch as much as they crave being included in authentic, ambitious creation.

These five strategies reveal how we are able to do that:

1 \ EMBRACING THE MOMENT

Three key attributes of the present cultural moment work in favor of our success as filmmakers. In fact, what we do and how we do it would not have even been possible five years ago.

  • Today’s digital filmmaking tools, specifically HD cameras and editing technology, make the production of low cost, high quality motion pictures possible. Add to this technology our skills as screenwriters, cinema storytellers, and producers, and there is the very real possibility for quality work.
  • The ubiquity of social media communications, from email to Facebook, Twitter to text messaging, means that we can share direct, personal communication with our audience. This is time consuming work, but the rewards are tangible: we know our audience and they know us.
  • Pervasive societal exhaustion from “narrative collapse,” or the loss of traditional story forms and structure in a world that has become increasingly fragmented, disjointed, and noisy bodes well for those willing to craft patient, clear, insightful cinema from human experience and discovery.

So…rather than defying the present moment or cynically exploiting its less noble possibilities, we choose to embrace it.

2 \ RAPID-PROTOTYPING

We write and produce one imperfect feature-length film every year. This forces us to hone our craft quickly, shortening the learning curve.

Moving rapidly through an ambitious and complicated project makes the artist surrender his debilitating perfectionist tendencies. Emily and I realize that we simply cannot make a perfect film in the amount of time we give ourselves…and this frees us to fail. But more importantly, it helps us keep our eyes on the most important objective of any film project: tell-the-story.

As our film budgets get bigger, and the projects grow more logistically complicated, our annual output may slow, but the urgency with which we start new projects and complete them will remain a key component to our business.

3 \ FRIEND-FOCUSED

Our mission statement is “handmade films for friends.” For Emily and me, audience development is all about finding and connecting with kindred spirits, open and curious people who live their lives creatively, believers as opposed to cynics. Friends.

These connections may happen via social media, but most they most often happen face-to-face, at a screening, talk, or other social event related to our work. We’ve built personal interaction with our audience into our business plan. We tour with each movie, give talks and seminars about our work, and even teach in secondary schools and colleges.

I am always surprised and a bit dismayed when I meet filmmakers who (either consciously or unconsciously) expect their audience to find them. I think that sensibility may come out of the Myth of Showbiz Discovery, the belief that stars are made, that talent is scouted, that worthy artists will have their day.

Emily and I understand who we are and what we have to offer: we are hometown, do-it-yourself filmmakers who need devoted friends and fans to keep doing what we love to do. We are audience-dependent. And we work hard to offer and earn these friendships.

4 \ WANTED: VALUABLE EXPERIENCES

It is important for all independent artists to take full responsibility for their business success. And that especially applies to independent filmmakers.

Only fools wait for a lightning strike.

Emily and I see the process of making money from our art, as a kind of door-to-door, sleeves rolled up, person-to-person retail sales event. Moreover, we realize that sustainable income is not derived from movie download income, DVD sales, or even our salary from a particular film’s budget.

Our business is not selling movies. It’s sharing valuable experiences with our friends and fans…it’s sharing a sense of identity, relationship, education, even inspiration.

This kind of active engagement with our audience has consistently turned into far more revenue than the occasional $5 download or website banner ad. Our friends and fans buy private house screenings of our films, tickets to gala premier events. They hire us to speak and teach in their schools and businesses. Some even pay us to make custom short films for them or consult on their own screenplays or manuscripts.

We manage to make a living as filmmakers by selling valuable experiences to those who like us, our work, and how we accomplish it. Only a relatively small portion of our revenue comes from individual film sales.

5 \ A CLEAR AESTHETIC

When asked to describe what kinds of movies I make, I say simply, “artistically ambitious, non-cynical” movies. I also like to tell people that we work with smarter, more technically accomplished people than ourselves…who are kind.

I think those qualities come through in every film we make, every talk either Emily or I give, each event we host. We are very upfront about what people can expect from our work, and though it is most certainly not bound by genre, style, or tone, there is an aesthetic consistency that people have come to expect from a Paris MTN Scout film.

Marketing folks would call it our “brand.” Friends would say it’s our personality. Whatever you want to call it, it’s absolutely true and authentic. We can’t not be ambitious for great work and uncynical. We can’t not work with talented, decent people. We can’t make something false or phony. And I think this is a critical aspect to our continued success.