Inside the Producer’s Corner with Suzanne Lyons
This is a series of articles that film producer and best-selling author Suzanne Lyons (listen to her interview here) will be writing over the next 6 months. I personally asked Suzanne to share her knowledge, experience, and motivation with you the IFH Tribe. Whether you are a director, producer, cinematographer, screenwriter or editor I think you’ll get a ton out of this series. Check back every week for a new post that will help you on your journey as an indie filmmaker.
10 Tips & Techniques to Put the Business Back into Show Business
I don’t know if you’ve checked your calendar recently, but the American Film Market is just around the corner. Are you ready? I mean really ready to be pitching yourself and projects. And ready to do a ton of networking. I think the timing couldn’t be perfect for these “10 Tips on Putting the Business Back in Show Business”.
What is the point of having a killer logline, a great pitch, a brilliant demo reel, a fantastic script, composer’s reel, costume designer’s portfolio, etc. if you don’t know how to get it to or be with the right people?
A few years back I went to a PGA (Producers Guild of America) seminar on Packaging and it was so interesting to watch and observe people interact. Human beings are fascinating! The degree which we are unconscious is staggering. I think we, as creative people, are the worst. We really don’t focus on the Business aspects of our business and we are especially bad at wearing the Business Hat when we are out at events, on the phone or in meetings.
We all knew it was a sellout event and yet the guy sitting in front of me sat in the isle seat and put his notebook on the seat beside him, a clear gesture that he didn’t want to meet anyone. While a lot of people were doing their best to meet the people around them (around 50% of people were meeting and interacting with people) he was doing his best to avoid it.
He concentrated on his blackberry the whole time and it was Saturday morning at 9:30 so it’s not like it was the middle of a work day. Finally, another guy asked if he could sit beside him and the guy in the isle actually looked annoyed, but removed his notebook and made a point to get back on his blackberry, even though we had another 10 minutes to go before the panel began with lots of time to create a relationship.
We have no idea who we are sitting beside! Here were we, nearly all Producers at this Producer’s event and we, of all people, should know the rules of business. Amazing! The guy beside him could have been the perfect partner or even investor for his project. I can’t imagine any other business in the world where that would happen. Getting to know people at events is so important. It’s the best place to create relationships and do business networking.
So let’s “Put the Business back in Show Business”…please!
Here are “10 Tips” to help you get acquainted or re-acquainted with “Putting the Business Back in Show Business” (or any Business!)
1) SETTING YOUR GOAL
When it comes to setting your goals, start with the long-range picture first. I suggest an exercise where you imagine yourself many many years in the future and you’re writing the speech on what a colleague would say about you as you are sitting waiting to get up on stage and receive your “Life Time Achievement Award”. Start there.
Write that speech first. Look at the bigger picture so you can create a context for your career. Heidi Wall, my business partner in the Flash Forward Institute years ago would always say,
“pretend you’re in a candy store and you can have anything you want”.
So create a big future for yourself. Now come back in time and write down what you have accomplished 15 years out, then 10 years out, then 5 years out and now from there write your one-year goal. Have it be specific and measurable.
Now, let’s work on the timeline for that goal. A timeline is what I describe as biteable pieces. When we look at a big goal that we have set for ourselves it can look daunting and overwhelming, but if we have it broken down into small pieces, breaking down that one-year goal into milestones, it becomes doable and fun.
Okay, so we have our goal, and what’s it really going to take to make it happen? What would you have to accomplish quarterly? What would you have to accomplish by the beginning of each month to accomplish your goal? What are specific targets you would have to hit?
3) MAP OF RELATIONSHIPS
Your MOR is a categorized list of everyone you know in the industry. What I do when I am making my MOR is make a list of all the producers I know, all the entertainment attorney, actors, writers, directors, etc. It is not a data base or Rolodex. It literally lets you see clearly (on a big poster board) who you know and it is always surprising how many more people you know than you thought you did.
Also, it becomes painfully clear which areas you need to work on. When my former film partner, Kate Robbins, and I did our MOR early on in our company, we saw very clearly that we needed to meet a lot more directors. It was like a visual wake-up call! It’s not about feeling bad that you don’t know a lot of people in certain areas.
It’s a good thing because it lets you know where you need to focus some of your energy. Nearly every business is a relationships business and knowing not just who you know but where the weaker areas are is essential.
4) TARGET LIST
When you have your goal and know the areas on your MOR that you need to focus on, it’s time to write up your Target List. In the Flash Forward Workshop, we called it a Hit List. When my husband was just starting out in the industry and wanted to write hour long television he made up a target list of the show runners (executive producers) and co-executive producers on the shows he wanted to work on.
Your list may be 5 people, it may be 20 people. For actors, they may want to create a list of the 10 producers that they want to work with and the 10 directors they want to work with. Now, it’s your job to find ways to meet those people. The next few tips will help.
5) MAKING REQUESTS
This is one of the hardest things for people in the entertainment industry to do. In other businesses, it’s the normal language of business. Making requests is common practice. Here, in the entertainment world, we tend to feel like we are interrupting, interfering or over stepping our bounds, and instead of making request we end up asking for favors.
Favors don’t work in business. Requests work in business. It’s the language of business. We tend to ask in a tone of voice that is more like a favor. In a meeting where the person has shown an interest in your script, you say “I’m really happy you want to read my script, thanks so much for doing this, I really hope you like it.” And it’s the tone that implies a favor.
Like they are doing you a favor if they read it. I have tons of unread screenplays that have been collecting dust in my office for years that came to me as a favor. A request has power in it and it keeps the power in your court. It would be more like,
“thanks so much for agreeing to read my script. I am certain it’s a perfect fit for your company, and can I call you in two weeks to get your response”.
They may counter offer and say no, call me in three weeks, but at least it’s in your court.
EXERCISE: Okay, now I want you to take your MOR and call everyone (yes, I said everyone!) on your map and make a request. Get back into a relationship and then, tell them what you’re up to and make a request. Maybe it’s asking for a referral to someone on your Target List. Always end those calls with “and is there anything I can do for you?”
6) KEEPING TRACK
What are some categories of activities that you can track that will let you know you’re making progress? For a writer who is writing a screenplay one category could be “number of pages written”. I usually have one month on one page and break it down into 4 weeks or you could have one week on a page and break it down into Monday to Friday for example. However, you want to do it is fine. Write down on the left category list what you want to track that pertains to you….
However, you want to do it is fine. Write down on the left category list what you want to track that pertains to you…. the number of meetings, number of referrals, number of phone calls, number of auditions, etc. It’s another great wake up call. Get the numbers up!
I love this one. When I was teaching the Flash Forward workshops I’d spend a lot of time on this one. We would set aside a full hour during a few of the classes for Brainstorming. You don’t have to do anything on your own! Not ever! There are billions of people on the planet and 1000s in our industry (and every industry!) that we can call on to help us with ideas.
How do I get to A-List Directors for my project? How can I get more auditions? How do I move from the low to the bigger budget films as a costume designer? Get a group of friends from the industry together (different levels and different facets of the industry are fine) and brainstorm. When you ask the question, you sit, be quiet, and just write down everything everyone says… don’t edit. Just write.
Get a good long list and you will be amazed at how many ideas you will have that you could never have thought of by yourself.
8) ACTION PLAN
Now take that list and go through it and pick the things from it that you really want to try, and take your timeline list and see what the first milestone is. Now it’s time to create your daily and weekly action plan. What are three actions you can take tomorrow that will move you toward your goal?
I love this one too! Probably my favorite. Get a mentor. Get a mentor. Get a mentor. Or maybe two or three. There are people who have already done (and mastered) what you are about to do. They have done it, they have made mistakes, they have learned along the way, they have mastered it, and they are dying to contribute to YOU!
They have tons of great advice to share with you that will help you not only move in the right direction but to do so with velocity. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s been done. When you do make the request for a mentor please be very specific regarding the time and keep the time limited.
For example, in the Flash Forward workshops, we suggested three 10-minute conversations (phone or in person) over a four-week period. Or I have invited my mentor to a half hour coffee meeting. Make it easy for them to say yes.
10) ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER OR TEAM
Using the tools and techniques mentioned above is all great but the bottom line is, we are human, and sometimes when the going gets tough, we would much rather go to a movie than write one. So have an accountability partner or team that you check in with once a week or once a day for five minutes. For years I had a partner that I met with every Tuesday morning and a team, that met monthly.
We’d check in every Friday by email stating what we had accomplished that week, what didn’t get accomplished that week and what was on our action plan list for the next week. I can’t imagine doing it on my own. I need to be held accountable. Even though I am very trained in all of this and have been teaching it for many many years! I am human. I need to be held accountable. We all need to be held accountable.
Above all, have fun. Don’t take actions until you’re having fun doing so, otherwise, you’re just spinning your wheels. Inspired actions are what will move things forward. Remind yourself daily why you’re here. Remember we are in the entertainment industry. We’re here to provide entertainment! How cool is that? We get to bring joy, pleasure, escape, and fun to people. What a great job! What an amazing ride!
Suzanne Lyons is President/Producer of Snowfall Films, Inc. having produced/exec produced 12 feature films to date. She co-founded the Flash Forward Institute which focused on teaching the tools of business needed to market oneself in the entertainment industry. She’s the author of Indie Film Producing: The Craft of Low Budget Filmmaking published by Focal Press. She has also hosted over 125 informational videos on the film industry. When time permits she does private career and business coaching. Suzanne is originally Canadian and lives with her husband in Los Angeles, CA.
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