The problems inherent in working with sponsors are entirely different from those of working with television stations. In the latter context, someone usually has some idea of what film and filming is all about. That is not necessarily the case with sponsors.
What are you really up against? Well, first there's the question of knowing your client. Ray DiZazzo, a well-known writer on corporate filmmaking, is of the opinion that you'll face everyone from would-be writers, busybodies, and yessirees to vacillators, ramblers, and plain old perfect clients. So be prepared for personality problems. But that's just the beginning.
Even though the sponsor may have suggested the film, he or she may still not be sure it is a good thing. Many sponsors still think film a tremendous waste of money, and even though they have agreed to do something, they may be tremendously lukewarm about the project. That means you will be battling the whole way. Similarly, many sponsors will want to see immediate, concrete results from the film. You must then convince them to be realistic about the short- and long-term effects of the film.
Often the sponsor will tell you that he or she has to feel happy and moved by the film. That's all right, I suppose, but it misses the point—that the film is made for the audience, not for the sponsor. Antony Jay, one of the best filmmakers in England, once expressed it to me this way:
You're not making a film for the company but for the people the company are going to show it to. You're not out to pat the managing director on the back or boost the ego of the chairman. Your job is to capture and hold the attention of people who don't necessarily want to be sold to or preached to, but who merely want an entertaining half hour.
If the audience is moved and happy and does what the sponsor wants them to do, then that's really all that counts.
There are four battles that have been fought with sponsors through the ages but that rarely get immortalized in print. The first battle is for unorthodoxy. Try to do something different, try to be a little unusual, try to do a film in a new way, and you may find your sponsor climbing the wall. The second struggle is the catalogue controversy. If, for example, you do an industrial or hospital film, your sponsor may ask you to mention every department and piece of equipment in the hospital, or every branch or product of the firm. Resist to your last dying breath. Catalogues have a place in stamp collections but usually only ruin films. The third major conflict is over big shots. With the best of intentions, the sponsor may ask you to include the factory owner, the board of governors, the main contributor, wealthy relatives, and so on. Again, ask yourself whether this naming of names does any good for the film or whether it's simply a matter of sucking up to the boss. Last but not least, you may have to wage war over the question of committees. All sponsors love committees. But remember one of the wisest sayings of all time: A camel is a horse designed by a committee. Stay clear of committees. Making films under the guidance of committees is the fastest route to disaster that I know.
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