The Parallels Between Film Production and Entrepreneurship

There is something that film school graduates know very well but not many are able to apply to their careers: The more entrepreneurial they are, the better prepared they will be to make professional decisions conducive to success. Perhaps it is for this reason that many entrepreneurs who become film producers are successful, and this is a trend that dates back to the early days of the Hollywood industry.

In 1915, enterprising actors such as Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks reached out to acclaimed director D.W. Griffith with a business proposal that resulted in the founding of the United Artists Corporation. Griffith used to rub elbows with financiers who made film productions happen, but he was not always happy with the monetary arrangements. Taking advantage of his powerful connections, Griffith brought a former United States Treasury Secretary to this business venture, which sparked the beginning of a prosperous period of filmmaking known as the Golden Age of Hollywood.

What the founders of the United Artists film studio realized was that each movie production needed to be managed as a business enterprise, and this approach to filmmaking eventually became a Hollywood standard. It is not unusual to see a film production being treated as a business entity; in fact, quite a few movies are organized as limited liability companies or stock corporations even though a separate production company is listed on the credits.

To say that movie producers are serial entrepreneurs would not be a stretch. When we look at the group of tech entrepreneurs and investors who were involved in founding PayPal and Twitter, we see that many of them went on to form other start-up companies; these are individuals who think in terms of ideas, markets and products. Film producers also think of their projects as products that can be promoted and sold within certain market segments. Similar to serial tech entrepreneurs who develop ideas into products, producers evaluate pitches and scripts that they believe can be turned into profitable enterprises.

Producers are more likely to operate as serial entrepreneurs than their counterparts in the tech sector; however, this is not always the case. Some producers think bigger than others, and this is why we have major film franchises such as Star Wars, James Bond and the Marvel Comics’ Avengers series. Other producers treat films as branding opportunities, and the best example in this regard is the extensive merchandise associated with Star Wars. You know how certain films have modest box office runs that are followed by straight-to-video sequels featuring different actors and directors? This is probably the work of production companies that see a better opportunity in other markets, and they don’t wish to take risky chances.

In the end, the parallels between producers and entrepreneurs boil down to transforming ideas into moneymaking products. If a single idea can be expanded into a major brand, a film franchise may be formed; otherwise, producers will often move on to the next project, which will invariably consist of developing ideas into new productions.

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