By Jane Applegate
I like to compare independent producers to farmers and bakers. These professions are all labor-intensive, exhausting and unpredictable. They require patience, persistence and luck to succeed.
Why farmers? Smart farmers spread the risk by planting several crops and hoping, with the right mix of sunshine, rain and lack of crop-munching insects, at least one or two crops will be harvested and sold.
Rotating crops to let the soil rest between seasons is also a farming technique that applies well to filmmaking. Planting lots of different seeds and pitching several projects at once, increases your chance that something will be funded and grow to maturity.
So, what can independent producers learn from farmers?
Being patient and persistent at the same time isn’t easy. I have a very short attention span and my creative collaborators often chastise me for being impatient. A year into developing and pitching a project that I came up with, I began to lose interest.
We were turned down a twice by decision-makers at top companies so I was ready to move on. Luckily, my creative collaborator gave me a stern, but loving pep talk. She frequently reminds me that it can take years to package and sell a project. I know. But, why should it take so long when we hear every day that the appetite for new shows is insatiable?
The answer is simple: the entertainment industry is a business built totally on personal relationships. So, you can have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t get the ear of a top decision-maker, your chances for a green light are slim to none.
That’s why having a slate of projects, similar to fields sown with different seeds, is so critical to success. You also have to work hard to cultivate personal connections.
About five years ago, I met an experienced non-fiction producer who had about 20 projects on her slate. I was impressed, but I diplomatically suggested she cut down the list to a handful, rather than a bushel-full.
A few months ago, her patience and persistence paid off. She sold a very big series to a major production company. It will be a few years before we see the first episode, but if she’s producing it, I’m sure it will be a success for many years.
In addition to patience, persistence and personal contacts, luck and serendipity are the wild cards for independent producers.
Meeting one person on the shuttle bus around Park City during Sundance or standing in line at the IFC theater or during Tribeca can radically change your life. But, to make these personal connections you have to force yourself to get out of your office or home. Getting out to network is similar to planting fields full of different crops.
Even when I’m tired, I push myself to attend all sorts of industry events at least twice a week. These events are sponsored or co-sponsored by the Producers Guild of America, New York Women in Film & Television, IFP or IDA.
On the way into the room, I vow to make at least one new contact. Important tip: keep your phone in your bag, make eye contact and don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Also, bring along some good, old-fashioned business cards.
Getting out and about to meet new people is essential, especially when you are waiting for the crops to come in.
Producers as Bakers
One last thought: I also like to compare running a production company to operating a bakery. All productions require the same ingredients: great ideas, a talented team and a clear vision. These qualities can be applied to a variety of products, whether it be a web series, blockbuster, independent low-budget film or episodic show.
Before diving into the world of independent films, my production company, The Applegate Group, produced everything from small business news segments for CNBC and PBS, to music videos for Capital Records and expensive corporate marketing videos for Sprint and Microsoft. Despite the different formats and distribution channels, every project required a solid script, a great crew, cool music and editing and a creative vision.
If our client didn’t want muffins, I’d bake them a pie. If they didn’t like pie, I’d offer cupcakes.
The basic ingredients were always the same.
So, think of yourself as running a bakery—a job which also requires great patience, persistence and stamina.