Indie filmmaker? Here’s how to make great producing partnerships
We’ve all been there. Your latest independent project attracted a bit of attention and people are forming an orderly queue to work with you. You’re flattered and think it might be nice to have a little support for once. A few months down the line, after saying yes to the first opportunity that came your way, you notice some undesirable traits in your partner. It’s too bad you can’t get out of the relationship now. Never fear! Here’s our handy guide to never suffering a toxic partnership ever again.
Before you enter into a creative partnership
Thoroughly vet your potential creative partners.
The movie business is a complicated world with high stakes, high stress and many deliverables. The good news is most of those deliverables are highly trackable. While it’s important to use gut instincts about people, including judgement based on your personal experiences, you can also learn a lot about a person from their past relationships.
Before you get in bed with a partner, make sure you meet some of their “people”: friends, lovers, family, ex-colleagues, and regular collaborators. You want to see your potential partner interacting with people and get a vibe for the way they operate.
Ask your potential partner about their recent projects. Understand why they had a bad experience on a recent project, and find out about their favorite last projects. By getting to know what makes them tick, you can make an educated guess about how you’ll work together. For instance, your potential partner might be an amazing person, but you might not have compatible working styles. This is a great thing to find out before you get into business together.
If your potential partner is going to be responsible for accounting, bookkeeping, or financial management, then take even further steps. Ask for references and proof of financial certifications where necessary. You need to see a proven track record of solid budget management. Many an indie filmmaker has gone bankrupt due to bad accounting. If your prospective partner’s last few projects went vastly over budget and they can’t explain why, he or she is probably not right for you (or anyone, really).
Suggest a trial or short-term project on which you can work together.
Only fools rush in. Why not suggest a short-term or trial project to see how you gel as a creative team? If you are both busy on different projects, visit your potential partner’s location to see how they work with their team. If you’re a writer, suggest a collaborative writing session. If you act, run scenes together. By trying before you buy, you can learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and decide if you can live with them.
Hire an attorney and get a contract drawn up.
Every creative or small business owner should have an attorney, period. These days it’s incredibly cheap and easy to work with a badass business attorney whose job it is to protect you. If you have an agent or a manager, they should be able to point you in the right direction. Even if you don’t, you can find fantastic professionals who work by the hour on Upwork or Upcounsel.
There are three reasons you need to be supported by an attorney:
- The whole legal process adds an air of formality to proceedings. By bringing in your attorney in the early stages, you set up the relationship from a place of mutual respect and deference.
- Your attorney’s sole job is to protect you. Having someone looking out for you in any business deal with, no other interest, is always a smart idea – especially a professional who knows what they’re talking about.
- If things do turn sour later on, you have everything documented in writing with a qualified witness.
Once you begin the partnership
Plan and plan – then plan some more.
After your vetting stages are done, throw yourself deep into planning. Once you’ve mapped out your schedule, you should be able to come up with a list of clear deliverables and deadlines for each partner.
Check in often and review each other’s performance.
With tools like Slack and Trello, it’s easier than ever to communicate. Make time to communicate daily with your partners and share workflows and systems using tools like Google Docs. Monitor your progress and update deliverables if things change.
As soon as you have a problem with your new partner, bring it up.
Don’t be an ostrich. While confrontation is daunting, talking calmly and professionally about a problem can really nip it in the bud and clear the air for your future relationship. If communication becomes problematic, work with an independent party such as a mediator or an impartial member of your team to talk through the issues. Sharing is caring, and although painful at the times, working through issues can help both of you become better at your jobs.
Know when to throw in the towel.
Sometimes relationships just don’t work. You may have different values, different approaches to work, or different management styles. You might think your partner is a gauche asshole, while they think you’re a timid wallflower. Whatever the reason, if you feel you’ve reached the breaking point, the relationship has gone too far. Call a meeting, make arrangements to leave the partnership, and make it official through your attorney.
Life is far too short to be stuck in a creative relationship that stifles you. Work with the right partner who can help you achieve your goals.