Thoughts on running a small production company

Posted: January 28, 2013 in DVD Releases, Industry, Running a company

I’ve been Googling templates for business plans. There are quite a lot of them out there, with varying levels of complexity and helpfulness. Most of them make me a little uneasy, but the fact is that I want to get some kind of focus as to what my company is going to achieve over the next five years and somewhere in all these various bits of paper I hope that I can start to find the answer.

The business/company side of things is something I still find challenging to manage. Jinx Media has existed for ten years (this July!), but the basic mechanics of keeping a company going is something I doubt I’ll ever find simple. I’m a creative guy rather than a business guy, and I’d have never ended up as a company director were it not the only sensible way legal framework with which to pull my projects together.

Completing the end-of-year accounts that first year was a rude awakening. I attended various seminars about doing your own accounts and ended up panicking that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I signed with an accountancy firm who ended up billing me over three times the amount that they’d verbally estimated, despite the fact that the first year’s accounts literally couldn’t have been simpler (mainly because they consisted of a single page of A4 and were ALL outgoing). That experience left me annoyed and feeling a bit helpless. I didn’t feel capable of doing my own accounts, but couldn’t afford to keep paying stupid amounts of money to other people to do them for me. I eventually ended up signing with a local accountant who was friendly, reliable and charged exactly what he said he would, and we stayed with him for many years, but that first experience still haunts me a bit. It sometimes feels like there are traps all over the place when you’re running a company, and some of them can cost you serious amounts of cash.

In the ten years since we got our articles of association the industry has changed almost beyond belief. The giants who seemed enormous and permanent in 2003 are now largely either laid low or gone altogether. Everything has changed, from the way films are shot through to the way they are delivered to consumers. In terms of our particular niche (horror features shot on micro-budgets in the UK) we’ve gone from being a small fish in a deserted small pond to being a small fish in a small pond that’s so full of other small fish you can barely see any water. The arrival of home computers that can edit video straight out of the box, buddied up with countless devices that can shoot high-quality video, has meant that the filmmaking process has been thoroughly democratised. The disappearance of any ‘gatekeepers’ standing between filmmakers and their potential audience has meant that anyone can get their stuff out there.

In other words, it’s a very, very different jungle out there to the way it was ten years ago. Not necessarily easier or harder, but very different.

The smartest thing we ever did was to get TrashHouse shot before it was easy to edit on home PCs. I can’t help feeling that if we’d have shot that same movie five years later, it would have been forever lost in the deluge of home-grown horror and would probably never have seen the light of day. Luckily, back in 2004 a cheap home-grown horror movie was still something of a novelty; novelty enough that people would watch it, anyway. Nowadays there are a couple of hundred such flicks slated for completion in the UK this year alone, and nobody thinks there’s anything particularly special about shooting a feature all by yourself. I would hate to be in this environment trying to get people to pay attention to my first film. It may be a million times easier to make something nowadays, but getting people to pay attention to it (let alone give you money for it) gets tougher with each passing week.

So, where does this leave the business plan? Well, we announced our feature for 2013 at the Horror-on-Sea festival last week. Our official online launch for the project is still a couple of weeks off, so if you weren’t in that room last Saturday I’m afraid my lips are still sealed, but the fact that I’m still talking about feature shoots will be enough to tell you that we’re not suddenly putting our 7Ds down and entering the flower arranging business any time soon. What happens before and after that shoot, however, is the stuff of business plans and late-night brainstorming sessions. We aren’t in a position to simply think, “hey, we’ve already done this a half-dozen times, let’s just do the same thing again” because that’s the kind of thinking that would land us on that pesky extinct pile pretty damn quickly.

We’ve made mistakes over the last decade, of course we have, but I’ve always prided myself on making all-new mistakes every time rather than making the same ones over and over again. So we need a plan. A plan to ensure that I’m still sitting here typing something about Jinx Media when we’re approaching our 20th anniversary, too.

I’m really proud of the work that’s being done on the new movie, and we’ll be giving you guys the chance to get involved in that production like never before. But that’s a tale for another update.

Me, I’m just looking at these business plans.

Regardless the size of fish, the size of pond or the amount of competition out there.

A five-year plan.

A ten-year plan.

No matter what, we’re going to keep swimming.

PS. Since writing this blog, we’ve released a filmed version of our 2013 live show Werewolves, Cheerleaders & Chainsaws, which details many of the experiences of running a small production company. The video can be seen below. Please note that it features strong language, bloody violence and partial nudity.

Comments
  1. Ahh Pat I hear your pain. Running a business (and/or your freelance work) is really daunting and stuff like accounts still give me a headache! I was luckily enough to attend lots of free Business Link workshops that really helped me with the business plan and money side of things. Now these have been scrapped I’d hate to think how it would be now for someone starting out – there is a real lack of support out there. As you say it’s all a learning curve!

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