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May 16 at 8:30am

16 Recommendations For Filmmakers To Discover Best Practices For A Sustainable Creative Life

By Ted Hope

Note: If you’d like to share this post, here’s a shortened link: http://bit.ly/SustainCrtvLife

Two weeks ago at The San Francisco Film Society we launched A2E (Artist To Entrepreneur), a specific line of programming designed to provide filmmakers with the necessary entrepreneurial skills and best practices needed to have a sustainable creative life.  We launched with A2E OnRamp, a workshop to allow filmmakers to budget, schedule, and predict possible revenues for their film throughout the direct distribution process.

Before we rolled up our sleeves to start the practical, I warmed up the crowd with a series of short lectures focusing on what all filmmakers should know about the film biz, the current culture, and recommended best practices for themselves.  Last week I shared with you what we discussed about culture in general.  Prior to that, I shared with you what I felt we had to recognize and accept, at least for now, about the film business.

Today, I offer you my recommendations on best practices in times like these if you want to have a hope of a sustainable creative life as a filmmaker.  Don’t worry if it looks like there is more than you can currently achieve.  It is a process and you are not alone.  It gets better. We can build it better together.

  1. Focus on developing Entrepreneurial Skills as well as the creative.  The corporate distributors don’t need your work to the extent that they will ever value it as much as you will.  If you want your work to last, engage, and be profitable, it is up to you to be prepared to use it to ignite all opportunities.  Armed with a good story and good storytelling skills, you should be able to profit if you know how to take responsibility for your creation.
  2. The great challenge is no longer how to get your film made or funded, but how to get people to watch it.  All the tools and connections have improved.  Information is accessible.  You need to allocate time and resources to engage people with your work.  There is nothing harder in the filmmaking eco-system than this.
  3. Aggregate audience.  Build those email lists.  Transition or lead folks from social networks where you don’t own the data (Twitter, Facebook, etc), to your own lists where you can directly connect and engage with your community.  You need to know how many people you can lead to action.
  4. Go beyond thinking of whom the audience is that you make your work for, and start figuring out how your audience uses your work – and with that comes the shift from a passive one way relationship from a maker to a fan base, to an active participatory relationship between an instigator and the community they are part of.
  5. Transition your passive audience to an active engaged participatory community.  If you know how people find your work, why people respond to your work, and what they use your work for, you can unleash their power and creativity to fully engage, and thus make the work a more critical part of their life.
  6. Distributors are for the few; recognize though, that platforms are for the many.  Distributors have their pick of licensing films, but also have a limited bandwith as to what they can promote well.  Platforms need your work.  If the odds are those that you want won’t want you, shouldn’t you first figure out how to play well with those that want you on their team?  You have the opportunity to do well.
  7. The only logical response for filmmakers to these Days of Too Much is to be more prolific and ubiquitous.  “How are you going to be more generative in more places?” you ask? This demonstrates both the need for radical collaboration – and the forum to do it on. Your work is how people will discover you.  You need to make it available in as many forms as possible.
  8. You need others to be authentically incentivized to share and promote your work.  That means they must honestly appreciate it and understand what they have to gain by getting the word out about it.  The easiest way is for your work to share the same goals as they do.  This may mean it needs to be part of the same thing as theirs.  Think about that.
  9. We have stop trying to reinvent the wheel every time we release a new film.  Currently, each new film is a new effort to gather audience, even when it is from the same director or story world.  IMG_5545We must start to remain engaged with our fans, and shift our focus from a single product business to one of an ongoing relationship.
  10. The film biz lacks a way for the passionate fan to demonstrate their appreciation of a work.  People buy art both because they like it and because it elevates their status.  If you like a movie as a work of art, maybe you can find a foreign poster of it, or wait until Taschen publishes a book on the director.  There are few fetish objects to award the die-hards with.  What can you provide for those that love your work?
  11. You are currently witnessing the end of feature film dominance.  The feature film form was born out of economic necessity and biological necessity.  People valued the time commitment it took to consume and could get through it with one bathroom break/stop at the concession stand.  This product length has been the basis of all media based financial decisions other than subscription fees – and even there it was the initial driver (along with sports and pornography).  Yet, feature films are a costly product to market with no easy way to initially engage an audience on an active level without giving away the cow.  In this connected age we can create an infinite variety of storyworld extensions, discovery nodes, and engagement forums. Time to start thinking broader and deeper.
  12. Be responsible for your film, for no one has the incentives you do to do so.  Learn to strategize, schedule, budget, and predict revenues for the entire life cycle of your film.
  13. Embrace rapid prototyping with multiple iterations. There is no current business model for indie film & there will probably never be a universe template for most films.  The goal is to determine a variety of “best practices” as soon as possible.  We need to work together.  This is the era of cooperation not competition. Each step brings us closer to a certain truth.
  14. To increase your rate of success, fail twice as much. Experiment.  We have to get over our cult of success and speak more about the ongoing process instead of the rare result.
  15. You are not discovering gold or creating a patentable process.  Determining best practices to have a sustainable & rewarding creative life is a group endeavor.  We can build it better together, but if we hide our failures and the powerful information we collect, we will not advance. Gather & share data.  Embrace transparency and an “Open Source” attitude to all you do.  This is a collective process to lift all of us up.
  16. Don’t despair.  As much as art has always shown us where we are, we also depend on it to show us where we want to be.  The work you create moves us closer to the world you aspire to.

I am trusting you to let all of us know what I forgot. I look forward to the comments.


19 Things Regarding Our Current Culture That Should Completely Alter Your Creative And Entrepreneurial Practice.

17 Things About The Film Biz That Should Significantly Alter Your Behavior



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  1. Mark Savage / May 16 at 8:30am

    These are all fantastic points, Ted.

    ’10′ really stood out to me; the idea of providing objects for those that love your work. Because many features/shorts only exist as simple files these days for many people, they can become irrelevant very quickly. Objects such as pins, old-fashioned lobby cards, posters, and relevant trinkets would also enhance the brand of the film’s maker. Their presence in the life of others builds greater familiarity, and enhances engagement. Never has it been more possible to create ‘events’ simultaneously rather than just films with all the media you can utilize.

    ’8′ is a great point for discussion, and the key to getting others incentivized is definitely a sharing of goals. Working with others who have plenty of self confidence helps a lot, too. There’s a lot of insecurity about.

    Accepting that filmmaking/media-creation requires a plethora of skills is essential, as is acknowledging that nobody cares about what you do until they have a reason to care. ‘Filmmaking’ has become entirely reciprocal.

  2. Jeremy Wilker / May 16 at 8:30am

    THIS! Excellent points for filmmakers, Ted. Everybody should read and learn from this list. And #2 is so true. Distribution isn’t a problem any more, but getting the attention of audiences certainly is challenging.

  3. Gian Antelles / May 16 at 8:30am

    Thanks so much! Need to make a poster of this!

  4. Daneen Akers / May 16 at 8:30am

    Thanks for this. It’s been a hard-earned lesson to me that promoting/screening/just engaging our audience is actually just as much of the job as making the film itself. I feel fortunate to have a really engaged fan community around our documentary (Seventh-Gay Adventists), but there is so much of this post that I’m resonating with as what we need to lean into for the future. It’s encouraging to see you addressing the sustainability of film/filmmaking, even though I still feel a bit rather overwhelmed.

  5. Izzy / May 16 at 8:30am

    Love this! Inspired by your call to share and learn from each other, I’ve put up our documentary’s social media strategy for other filmmakers to use as guide and inspiration. http://bit.ly/bigflipstrat Having made my name and career in communications for the last 10+ years before returning to filmmaking, marketing strategy is what I do well.

  6. Ryan Strandjord / May 16 at 8:30am

    We have to take ownership over our audience if we wish to survive as independents. Getting your film made has never been easier in the history of cinema, and through the internet we now possess the power to connect with and engage an audience. Consider the business aspects of film from very early on in the process and begin cultivating an audience soon after a project’s inception. Don’t keep it all a secret, transparency is key!

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    Are you a filmmaker? Find your mystery coupon here! http://ow.ly/mv6bs

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    I get that engaging the audience is the hardest part. Just try launching a
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