Filmmakers are Entrepreneurs

16 Nov

Lately I’ve been very interested in the film industry. I don’t have aspirations to actually write or direct a film. Rather, I’m interested in learning more about the nuts and bolts behind the creation of the film product.

This started a couple months ago when I heard this interview with Julie Delpy (one of many actresses I’ve crushed on over the years). This part in particular jumped out at me:

It’s a hard thing, because, you know, I think directing is very much about problem-solving, and it’s very rational. You know, you have to wake up at this time, you have to know your shot list, you have to know what scene you’re [doing] — I mean, you have to know your stuff. It’s not something you can take lightly…

You know, when I know I have to make a movie, I really think of the money that I’m spending, I’m really thinking of the time that I’m spending. I’m pretty rational when I start working on a set as a director. I don’t feel that creative when I’m directing, I’m just really, really, really focused on making everything work. Just like any other business, you know; I feel like I’m dealing with doing business.

I realized as I was listening that she was describing a the life of an entrepreneur. Problem solving, money, managing people with diverse skill sets. And while the film industry is very mature in terms of output – the experience of a movie hasn’t changed much over the last 100 years, it’s just a higher fidelity –  I suspect that every movie that gets made goes through a very unique process.

The typical startup story includes things like the “lightbulb” moment, founder recruiting, prototyping, iteration of product until you reach MVP stage, raising capital, growth and company culture. Practically all of these apply in filmmaking, the only differences being:

  • A movie has a finite production lifetime (whereas startups can continue operating for many years)
  • For a movie, the vast majority of revenue comes in a very tight window of 4-8 weeks.

Another commonality is obsession with the product. Steven Soderbergh touches on this in an interview:

Filmmaking is the best way in the world to learn about something. When I come out the other side after making a film about a particular subject, I have exhausted my interest in it. After Contagion, I’m still going to be washing my hands, but I don’t ever—I’m not going to pick up another book or article about Che as long as I live.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve many times come in the grip of an idea. I wake up in the middle of night and scrawl notes on a pad, or I spend days reading books and blogs about an industry. I bend the ear of everyone I know asking them what they think of it.

I bet there are a lot of would-be Steven Soderbergh’s out there who feel the same way when a great script comes their way.

Cross-posted from my personal blog


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