Sunday, February 10, 2013

What's wrong with the localized Indie world?

Why so many Indies fail not just at home, but also in the crowd funding world.

I am a cinematographer, editor, sometimes even a writer, but most of all a business person. Why do I even state the latter? Probably because without that knowledge, I would be like most indie producers that seem to not have much success with their projects. I emphasize the word "most" as there are some that are very successful. So what makes those "others" successful and the "most" not?

I can answer that and will try to keep it brief and to the point.... but first a little story.

I was recently approached about a project. A musical project, or should I say what I believed to be a music video. This all came via email. My first response was to ask two questions that immediately would tell me how serious, how planned and how organized this project would be:

1. What is the time frame?
2. What is the budget?

Of course I could also have asked; "Who did, or who will do the pre-production as well as the storyboard?"
But I decided to wait with that one until I received a reply to the first two questions. As it turns out, I never needed to ask the third question as the reply to the first two was somewhat as follows:

"It's a 'labor of love' and we want to do it like right away." - Basically two red flags in one simple line of response. "Labor of love" simply put is that there is no budget. "We want to do it like right away." means there is absolutely no planning whatsoever behind it. Because like, that's the way I see it.

I replied very politely and stated the following: "I do not do spec (as in speculative) work for others as this is the same as asking me to be an investor. For me to be an investor, I would need to see a business plan, or at the very least some quality pre-production work so that I can make a judgement call on whether or not I want to invest."

The reply; "No no, we don't want you to invest, but rather just shoot (DP) and edit it."

Need I say more? My time is in their opinion, worth nothing. Oh, and my equipment amortization happens magically without costing me a penny. This is how many of these so-called "Indie" producers see it. But the "real world" is a far cry from how they think it is. 

Here is my further response; "This may be a labor of love for sure, but it is YOUR labor of love, not mine. My standard rates for shooting and editing are a gazillion per hour and half a gazillion per hour respectively. I pay myself that when I do a 'labor of love' for myself. So I ask, do you want to negotiate a discount?"

Of course the sarcasm just had to come in as I knew who I was dealing with and really wanted to once and for all make a point that there is one thing worse than work, and that quite simply is working for free. In reality, this would be worse than working for free as it would mean for me to even spend money on the project. My time, my equipment and my knowledge, which they believe I acquired all for free!

Now let's move on to the crowd funding model. You know Indigogo, Kickstarter and so on. Hmmm, there are so many projects that seem to have the same modus operandi or M.O. No wonder the statistics are what they are. Here are some hard facts from Kickstarter for the year 2012:

Total Projects Launched: 85,995
Total Successful: 35,911
Total Unsuccessful: 46,543
Total % without even getting a penny of the unsuccessful:   ~11% (approx. 5120)

Are the projects not being funded for specific reasons? You bet! They are the same reasons I wouldn't "invest" in the above project. Philanthropy, as is common on the crowd funding sites works the exact same way as any other investment. The difference between being an investor vs. a philanthropist is very simply that the latter doesn't necessarily care about an ROI or "return on investment". But they both look for careful planning, structure and seriousness on any of these projects. 

Bottom Line

If you are venturing into the "project world" of anything from producing an indie to creating the next widget, you MUST treat it like a business venture and take it seriously. An by seriously, I mean you need to be able to prove that you are serious, not just state it or talk about it.

You want to do business, you need to act like a business. Get prepared, plan, document and most of all, be serious and don't use words such as "like" in a sentence as; "It's a 'labor of love' and we want to do it like right away." That in itself makes you sound very un-serious and like, you know, a loooooooser.

Whether you are asking for a favor, help, support, or anything else that may involve time and/or equipment for any project, you are asking for someone to literally invest in you. In such case, the very least you should do is show respect by showing that you are serious and have a plan. Credibility is also a very helpful thing. 

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