Pros and Cons

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A good place to begin when considering starting a company is to look at the advantages and disadvantages. There are many pros and cons, a few of which are listed below. If you find that the cons seem insurmountable, you may want to reevaluate the timing of your decision. However, there is never a perfect world in which to take such a risk, and you could end up waiting for a moment that never happens. Listen to your intuition as you read this list.

Frey Hoffman, owner of Freydesign Productions in Chicago, sums up a common perspective on the pros and cons.

"The fact that no one is really dictating your work is exciting, plus you're able to pursue work you find meaningful. Being your own boss is a very big deal. The huge disadvantage is not having a steady paycheck, but you learn to adapt to it over time. Hours can also be extremely grueling because once you get work or start your own project you can find yourself going around the clock. There's always something else you can do for your business. The challenge is figuring out an appropriate rhythm, knowing when to stop, and learning to say, 'I'll do more tomorrow.' "

Many filmmakers worry that location is an issue. If you don't live in a major city, does a film production company even have a chance? Les Szeleky of Secret's Out Productions recently moved from Los Angeles to Cleveland and couldn't care less about the geographical change.

"If you want to make independent films on shoestring budgets you can be anywhere," says Les. "It's not like 90 percent of us are in L.A. and the other 10 percent someplace else. It's really the other way around. Hollywood is not so much about filmmaking but about making money. Granted there's nothing wrong with wanting to make money but

PROS

CONS

Being your own boss

You must make all the decisions and

wear multiple hats

Income is potentially unlimited

No steady paycheck, health

insurance, or retirement plan

Time to work on your own film projects

You are responsible and accountable

for the success or failure of a project

Freedom to make your own schedule

You must be disciplined enough to

work autonomously

New opportunities arise through

Marketing and business skills are as

meeting and networking with

necessary as creative abilities

other professionals

You decide on team members

You may feel isolated and cut off from

for a film project

the normal world

Executive creative control on

You have no technical support or

most projects

assistants unless you pay for them

Ability to create a name for yourself

Potential for failure and

in the film industry

embarrassment

Interesting work and lifestyle

Competition is fierce

Prestige and funding opportunities Funding for film projects is extremely with successful projects difficult to acquire

Prestige and funding opportunities Funding for film projects is extremely with successful projects difficult to acquire very often the big multi-blockbuster world of Hollywood overshadows any attempt to be creative or different. Every now and then you see a movie that's genuinely good but more often it's a letdown. Only time will tell where it's going to go but independent filmmakers are certainly all over the place and don't have to answer to anybody but ourselves. If our films make it, that's great. If they don't, well, we did it our way and the mistakes were ours."

The biggest fear of any independent filmmaker is how to survive without a steady paycheck. Encountering slow times is an overwhelming challenge that has caused many filmmakers to give up on their dreams.

"You're not going to make a living overnight making movies," Les Szekely points out. "If so, it's going to be a very long Alaskan night."

When Jim Machin started R.duke Productions in 1988 as a director and videographer, he spent sixth months on an extensive marketing campaign that included eight-hour days of making phone calls to prospective clients and sending out hundreds of letters and postcards. One morning, he looked at his contact list and realized he had made every initial and follow-up call he could without having landed a single job.

"I remember very distinctly making that last call. It was noon and there was nothing else I could do. It was my first realization that when there's nothing to do, you should just go have fun. Go to the beach, go swimming, whatever. The first job I finally got was through a friend. All I did was pick up a tape, take it to a dub house and get four copies. The total bill was $60 but I was so thrilled because I made $20 and I figured it was a start. Strangely, the next day the phone rang and I got a bigger job. And suddenly the jobs started pouring in."

Jim's optimism kept him going at a point where others might have succumbed, and I'm happy to report, more than fifteen years later, that R.duke Productions is still thriving.

Struggling through the slow times can be demoralizing, and it's not exclusive to startups. Companies with many years in business discover such debilitating moments. Diana Sole, president of MotionMasters of Charleston, West Virginia, and the producer of numerous documentary and corporate projects, recalls one especially frightful time.

"We have slow cycles like anyone. Along about Thanksgiving I'm starting to go crazy because business drops off so significantly, but after fifteen years I realize that's going to happen. I try to prepare myself for it but each year these knots begin to form in my stomach. The worst was after 9/11. For a small company in West Virginia you'd wonder how the terrorists could affect us, but we lost about half of the business we had on the books. We'd come together as a staff on Monday mornings and I'd look around the table and see ten other people sitting there, knowing about each of their families very closely, and I would worry about how to keep all those paychecks going. We ended up weathering that storm pretty well."

Despite the slow times, there are certainly enough positives to sustain us. Autonomy and freedom of schedule probably top the list.

When I started Amphion Productions in 1991, after eight years as a company workhorse, I was thrilled not to have to get up at the crack of dawn, commute in unbearable traffic, play office politics, and attend butt-numbing meetings. I could work in my cutoffs, bang away on scripts, or chat on the phone to friends without worrying about who was looking over my shoulder. Ultimately, I could create my own destiny.

Every filmmaker in this book has been around for more than a few years, and it's the exhilaration that comes from the high points along with grit and determination that has kept their companies afloat and flourishing.

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  • Timotea
    What are some pro's and cons of film?
    2 months ago

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