Producing in or outside the system

First we need to define what the system is.

In Germany the system is very clear: medienboard

You graduate from one of the top film schools of the country where you had the chance to produce tons of short films and even a feature if you´re lucky. You write a killer script for your first (or second) feature. You find an interested producer with a track record or you decide to produce yourself. You send it to the networks usually co-producing films (arte, zdf, sat1, etc.). You are one of the lucky few to get selected and get a letter of intention for co-production. Then you apply for regional state funding (medienboard in Berlin-Brandenburg) and federal funding (FFA). You get funded, produce your film and you or the production company apply for additional distribution funding or you get a sales agent or distributor. You show your film in Festivals around the world and get theatrical screenings in Germany before you try to sell to other territories and finally release DVD/BLuRay/VOD etc. You cash whatever you need to cash.

That´s the route “professional” filmmakers and producers take in Germany and for most, the only valid one. But even producers confess (as they did in this talk) that the only money they see from this system is the wages they get while working on the project. So, the only way for them to make a living is by jumping from one project to the next as fast as possible so they can keep getting a pay check.

The system may look similar in other countries except the U.S. where the real system is getting your project picked up by a studio and get developed in house.

Producing inside the system may take years and what happens if you fail in one of those links? You´re screwed. Are you? Well, then you can go and produce outside the system.

Producing outside the system is what should really be called independent filmmaking and it is probably the only option you or I may really have. So, how do you go about creating a sustainable career by producing outside the system? Well, that´s the challenge. But luckily things have changed in the last years and even though technology have allowed an over flooding of the market with an estimate of 50.000 feature films made every year, where maybe only 1% get really distributed, there are steps we can take if we really take our career seriously and have an entrepreneurial mindset that allows us to concentrate on our goals while pivoting and experimenting.

There´s a producer named Ted Hope, which is now president of the San Francisco Film Society, who has been analyzing this situation and empowering independent filmmakers to create sustainable careers. He operates within the American system which is much more business oriented than the European mindset, but I think that´s exactly what we need right now, to change our mindsets from thinking that filmmaking is a cultural craft that needs to be solely supported by the state (also valid in Latin America). WRONG! So, first things first, go to his Website and read all he has to offer, but to give you some orientation, maybe you want to start by reading his “17 Things About The Film Biz That Should Significantly Influence Your Behavior“. Try not to get depressed and discouraged and then we will analyze some courses of action he describes in other articles.

So, what about you? Are you producing in or outside the system? Have you done both? What can you tell us about your results and experience?

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About xagudo

Xavier Agudo is a Berlin-based Venezuelan filmmaker.