How to be a creator (and a business)


© Jenny Ueberberg

It’s something of an unfair stereotype, but nevertheless a stereotype indeed, that artists and creative types have a tough time being business people as well. Well, if you’re reading this post and you find yourself in the movie or entertainment industry in any way, shape, or form, you will also know that for many - it is so true. 

How many spirited conversations about scripts, screenplays, whiteboard ideas, and topics have been had around dinner tables, never to see the light of day? Our guess would be - far too many. 

It would be all too easy to write it off to the impulsiveness of the artistic and creative ones. Still, the thriving business of Hollywood belies that notion, so that means we’re prompted to ask a very poignant question, one that deserves thorough unpacking:

How do you turn your creative skills and ambitions into a business?

Understanding the legal side and employment

The long journey to self-employment within “the industry” is a road that many will take. So few will complete it because unless you’re lucky enough to be snapped up by one of the prominent recruiters or agents with a studio or production house contract, or a payrolled employee, it’s a road you’re probably not going to complete without determination and understanding the business.

That means that if you’re committed to working in the industry, then you’re going to have to stand on your own two feet and navigate these challenges.

There are obvious benefits to getting your name onto that payroll with an established production company such as a regular and stable income, benefits, and in some cases unionized employment (certainly in the United States), but if you’re starting to see that that is not going to be the path for you, you'll need to take a different direction, and that's ok too. 

At this time, we need to be very clear about a crucial element that will determine whether you make it on your own or not: you absolutely, 100% have to be very, very good at your specific skillset (or multiple skillsets) whether you're a filmmaker, actor, character animator or producer. Because if you’re going to stand out in a highly competitive industry, you'll need to bring your own style, ideas and creative vision to the table that sets you apart. 

In 2012, the State of California law was changed to make it more difficult for employers in the movie industry (and by extension those connected to it) to “misclassify” workers, as there had been significant abuse in the field. It was elementary to hire and fire at will simply, and there were precious few protections for workers when things went wrong, outside of costly legal pursuits. This law has determined that most of the workers in the field should be considered employees and not IC’s, which has prompted moviemakers to ask: when should they appoint an IC and when should they employ a worker?

But while this has made employers think twice before appointing an IC, it has also facilitated a more equitable competition pool amongst IC’s because the rules are more transparent. Therefore, if you’re a specialist in your field, you could still qualify for IC status, allowing you to take responsibility for your payments, taxes, and so forth.

So what does all of this mean for you, as a budding independent contractor providing creative services? On the face of it, it could seem more difficult to find work initially as employers have to justify not having you on the payroll. There is a workaround to this; if you’re an established professional and being on the payroll doesn’t work for your business model, you need to set up a company that’s offering services to the industry, that’s a relatively straightforward process and a potential long-term solution.

But, if you’re just starting out and don’t have enough credits or professional references under your belt to warrant this, your process is going to be slightly more complicated, but not impossible. 

Breaking into entertainment as an IC (independent contractor)

So, the stars in your eyes are well established, you’re living in a shoebox apartment, and you don’t know the right people (yet). For you, while the road ahead is not going to be without its challenges, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing.

The first thing to do is expand your circle of influence, and you may want to divert some of your precious resources to that end because having the right partner that can give you access to the “pool” will tear down a ton of barriers for you and give you a slight of credibility too.

Your next move (and it’s well worth reiterating this) is to be absolutely sure that you know your stuff, and it’s here that you may find tremendous value in taking on a mentor. Mentoring Software can help you do this.

It is virtually impossible to get into Hollywood today, and expect that you will be working by tomorrow. So along with having the knowledge of the law and being prepared to network and find the right partners that can aid you on this journey, you’ll also need a fair amount of grit to help withstand the barrage of “no thank yous” that you’re inevitably going to encounter. It also wouldn’t hurt to have some cash saved that can keep you self-sufficient without an income for starters, potentially for a few months before you begin to gett regular work.

You’ll need to have something of a “brand,” no matter how small, and you’ll need to ensure that you have sufficient awareness to build that awareness in the online space for what you do, so if you’re not of the “tech-savvy” types, it’s time to brush up and understand the latest platforms where you can showcase your abilities.

There is simply no other industry like it anywhere else in the world. The rewards are unmatchable for those who have the skill, patience, and tenacity to navigate this field successfully, so far from trying to dissuade your efforts; we want you to understand the competitive nature of the industry, an industry that has given rise to some of the most inspiring movies of a generation, and one that continues to bring new ideas to audiences around the world. 

So start small, be consistent, understand the law and find a solid partner to help you network. You'll then be on your way to building your career with a strong foundation and understanding of the business. 

Good luck!

film industry network members