How to Start a Film Production Company
A film production company is responsible for nearly every aspect of the movie-making process. Once a movie has been given the green light, the production house goes to work. For smaller companies – or even individuals – getting the most out of a shoestring budget is paramount.
If you want to start a film production company, get ready to hustle. You’ll need to find backers, crews, equipment, and more to see it all come together. Many production companies are born from individuals making their own movies, finding success, and growing from there.
Until you get the buy-in from major studios, here are a few things to take into account. Even if you strike it big, these are the facets all film production companies must be able to take care of:
- Securing Equipment
The major part of any production house is the ability to raise money that’s needed to make a film. If you don’t procure the necessary funds you won’t have the capital to hire the people you want, rent the equipment you need, or distribute the movie, in which case there’s no film to speak of, right? No moolah, no movie.
In the majority of cases, investors are sought to finance the movie. This could be an investment from the studio, the use of an investment firm, or money from individuals that have the wealth to invest. For smaller films, the money may be coming from the filmmaker themselves. In these cases, however, a production house probably won’t be used.
These investors don’t give from their hearts, however. There has to be some kind of return on investment, a form of collateral, or a history of success to open the purse strings. The success of Clerks allowed Kevin Smith to establish View Askew Productions and secure funding for future films such as Chasing Amy and Dogma.
That works the other way, too. Smith used his relationship with Harvey Weinstein to great effect, making several movies together. However, after the failures of Mallrats, Cop Out, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, the relationship frayed and Weinstein opted out of Red State, another critical flop.
As they say, you’re only as good as your last film. You want to be a good risk, not a bad one.
A production company is only working when they are producing a movie. Makes sense, right? What doesn’t make sense is buying a bunch of equipment that may only be used once a decade. So companies rent what they need when they need it.
It’s this kind of business plan that will help when it comes to budgeting for a film. As a business entity, you’ll need to keep track of where the money goes, both for yourself and potential investors. And you won’t be stuck owning equipment you may never need again.
Decisions made during the hiring process can make or break a movie. Would the Marvel Universe be the same if Tom Cruise played Iron Man instead of Robert Downey, Jr.? It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Tony Stark. But the hiring decisions aren’t limited to the people you see on the big screen.
Depending on the size of the movie, production companies may be limited to using industry guild labor, which counts the best directors, technical talent, and behind the scenes workers. Larger movies are required to use these members due to agreements with major movie studios. Smaller movies can usually cast whoever they wish to make the film.
A major issue with budgeting comes when productions don’t stay on schedule. Equipment rentals cost more, permitting locations becomes more expensive, and labor – the largest outlay of money – could cripple a production. You certainly can’t rush genius, but for every Jaws ($3.5 million budget, $9 million spent, $470 million made) there are many more Heaven’s Gates ($11 million budgeted, $44 million spent, and $3.5 million made).
As a production company owner, you’ll need to run a tight ship. Establishing your company as one that stays on deadline and on a budget will go a long way to solidifying your place in Hollywood. This is especially true if your working with 10’s of thousands of dollars instead of millions.
When you start a production company, getting your movie in front of audiences is a paramount concern. Securing a big-name star or someone with a notable following can make your movie more attractive to movie houses. Otherwise, you will need to hit the film festival circuit to get the film seen. This is where many indie films find distribution deals.
Cannes, Sundance, and a host of other film festivals have been known to launch a career or two. Made for $60,000, Super Size Me won the top documentary prize at Sundance and went on to earn more than $22 million. Imagine trying to sell a movie based on a guy eating fast food every day without that kind of cache.
In many cases, marketing and distribution go hand-in-hand. A good marketing campaign will create buzz for audiences and critics alike. In turn, theaters will want to take advantage of the hype to get bottoms in their seats. Of course, marketing budgets of $100 million are reserved for only the most surefire hits.
Which seems counter-intuitive, right? Just how much marketing does Endgame need, anyway? For smaller films without distribution deals, getting trailers attached to larger movies, advertising in major publications, or appearing during the Super Bowl is a daunting task. The key is to diversify, use the internet, social media, and even print media to get the word out.
That’s a lot to consider when you run a production company, and we didn’t even cover normal business costs like office space, paying employees, or even making sure the printer has paper. It’s a thrill to see something that you had a hand in delighting movie audiences around the nation.
But it can be a nerve-wracking process on multiple fronts. For that reason, starting a production company most definitely is not for the fainthearted. Sounds like you? Apply here!
The Top Student Success Stories of 2018.
Film Connection student Gabe Gottstein ADs Pro Shoots and more!
Roundtable with Film Connection mentors Daniel Lir and Bayou Bennett of Dream Team Directors.