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Complications Ensue:
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Blog Reader/blogger Emilie inquires about setting up her own production company as a writer.
From what I understand, in Canada it is production companies that bring shows to networks. Would it be possible to bypass the whole hierarchical system by starting your own production company? What if you launched a company and slowly built up the company’s portfolio, writing/shooting web content for clients or producing short films, and maybe applying for grants to help fund your projects along the way.
My initial answer is on her blog with some other useful info.

Of course it turns out that part of her plan is to find a great producing partner who will do the applying for grants for her.

The reason you don't team up with one producer partner is that it's limiting. The producer you team up with will like some of your projects and not others. Her contacts may be good with one part of the industry and not others. Her skills may be up to a certain budget and not above.

As a free lancer, I team up with all sorts of producers on different projects, with obvious advantages.

Also, when you start a company, you increase your nut. You acquire expenses. Producers have bigger expenses than writers. They have to go to markets. They have to pay for lunch. Why yoke yourself to one producer?

For a writer, I think, it only makes sense to have a company when you're already showrunning. Possibly showrunning more than one show. It makes sense for Joss Whedon to have a company. He's already telling everyone on his shows what to do, so why not have them on staff?

But I think for most writers, the key to having a happy career is to keep your expenses down so that you can afford to take the most challenging job rather than the best paying job. Or so you can write a great spec pilot rather than having to write corporate videos in order to stay housed.

I would add that if you keep thinking about how fun it would be to have a company, it is possible that you are not congenitally a writer. You might congenitally be a producer. That's not a bad thing. Creative producers are rare and valuable.

UPDATE: In the comments, Lackie writes:
I'm a Radio and TV student in Toronto, moving towards a similar plan in a couple years (starting a small prodco to kickstart my writing career), but mostly because I plan on just shooting my own low-budget projects for the web; essentially, being the showrunner of low-to-no-budget webseries right out of school. If I'm working on my own projects to be released outside the network hierarchy, is this the more feasible plan?
It's a totally feasible plan for starting a production company and becoming a writer/producer/director.

What I'm not sure is whether it is the best path to a writing career. On the plus side, you get experience seeing your words become pictures. And you have a calling card.

On the other hand you are investing a huge amount of time and energy and money in making a web series, time and energy you could be spending writing some spec scripts and getting hired onto a real show. It's a tradeoff.

A web series requires a concept that can be realized on practically no budget -- LonelyGirl15, not Inception. It requires good writing. It requires production values appropriate to the scope of the concept. It requires great acting, which generally means union actors. Don't do one unless you can do it really well.



I'm a Radio and TV student in Toronto, moving towards a similar plan in a couple years (starting a small prodco to kickstart my writing career), but mostly because I plan on just shooting my own low-budget projects for the web; essentially, being the showrunner of low-to-no-budget webseries right out of school. If I'm working on my own projects to be released outside the network hierarchy, is this the more feasible plan?

By Blogger Lackie, at 11:08 AM  

I'm a few years out of school, and I'm on the tail end of writing/shooting/editing/everything a couple shorts.

In my case, before I started producing these shorts I'd written three specs, two pilots, two manuscripts, and a play--plus, I was in the midst of a LA jobhunt. I felt like my skills had plateaued and I was sick of having tons in the drawer and no finished projects to show for it. The shorts helped me overcome both issues, and everyone is interested in seeing them (which shocked me, esp because nobody wants to see specs).

If you make sure you've got the conventional writing samples to back you up, already have a job/writing group in which to make connections, and that your films are as near professional quality as possible, then yes, I've found that they can be a better calling card and a better learning tool than spec scripts (after a point in your development as a writer).

Caveat: from what I've seen, I do think it's a mistake to put your time and effort into quantity as opposed to quality--everybody's got a zillion low-budget sketches and web series on their hard-drives, and nobody wants to look at them. You've got to make sure your finished projects are impressive and *unique* if you want to use them to improve your skills or show off your voice/potential.

As for starting your own production company--isn't it people who have plateaued at the big, established places, and who have built up start-up capital and contact lists besides, who open their own boutique shops? If you're just starting out, you don't have a client list or a brand, so nobody knows what they've got to buy from you or even that you're selling. That's not a good business plan.

By Blogger Sasha, at 3:17 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger Emilie, at 5:17 PM  

Emilie here, from aforementioned blog... I thought about this some more. I guess my idea is similar to Lackie's. I am thinking of starting with a low-budget web series, produced through the production company.

I think my reasoning was this: Starting your own company means you can write a series and be assured that it will actually get made! Of course being a writer on a show would accomplish the same thing. It's just hard to get yourself to that point...

Being a show-runner at your own production company seems like a good way of bypassing the whole system (networking, working your way up, etc.)

By Blogger Emilie, at 5:18 PM  

It is. But again, what you produce has to be primo quality. Professional quality actors. Professional quality lighting. Otherwise it's not worth doing.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 5:29 PM  

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