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Ben Yennie: 7 Pieces of Advice from an Executive Producer to a Film Student

If you’re in the film industry, you’re pretty much always learning and expanding your skill set and knowledge base.  That being said, I’ve been out of Film School for longer than I’d really care to admit.  In retrospect, there are a few things that I may have done differently if given the opportunity.  But, since I don’t have a TARDIS, the best I can do is advise the filmmakers just starting about how they can get the most of their (hopefully) 4 years in film school.  

1. Your Network is Even More Important than your Teachers Tell You.

I did have teachers tell me that my film school network was going to be important.  I didn’t really listen to them, however, in many ways I wish I had.  There are several film school classmates that have reached out to me in recent weeks seeking my distribution services and asking me about ProductionNext.  

I never really networked that hard during film school, so I feel like there’s at least a chance that I’d have picked up a few other lucrative distribution agreements or ProductionNext would have a few more members than it does if I had networked a bit more in school.  That being said, we’re happy to help you stay in touch with your film school classmates with a few of our new features including Groups.  

2. It takes Experimentation with Different Genres to Find a Voice.

In order to figure out what stories you want to tell, as well as how to tell them, you’re going to have to go out there and shoot a lot of movies.  This shouldn’t be limited to your class productions.  You’ll also need to shoot other stuff on the weekends and over breaks to get the practice you’ll need to have before you leave school and enter this highly competitive and cutthroat industry.

That being said, don’t wait TOO long before you make your first feature or web series.  You’re going to have to make something with commercial viability at some point, and has produced or directed 20 short films before making one feature doesn’t make you look too good in the eyes of potential funders. 

If your film school is in the ProductionNext Film School Program, then you can use our software to create an unlimited number of films, all for an annual price of just 24.95 USD.  If they’re not, it starts at 49.95 a year or 6.95/month.  You can have your head of operations reach out to us, at FilmSchools (at) ProductionNext.com and you might be able to get on the hyper discounted member film school program.  

3. Low Budget Dramas are almost impossible to sell.

Some people never learn this one.  I had a filmmaker last week approach me saying he was living out of his car working on a low-budget drama he was just sure would win an Oscar and was a true arthouse masterpiece.  He’d made about 30 shorts at this point.  I told him my strong professional opinion was to get a regular job and stabilize himself so that he could focus on making a film instead of scrounging to buy food.  

Sure, some studies have shown that Dramas have the most breakout potential, dramas win the Oscars, and have a disproportionate instance of winning awards at big festivals.  But most of those dramas have strong recognizable name talent attached to them and cost 3-5 million dollars to produce.  Most of the dramas made for 200,000 or less languish with no views on Amazon Prime or don’t even make their aggregation fees back on iTunes.  Also, in order to sell well, Low Budget Dramas have to be absolutely fantastic with user rankings on IMDB and meteoritic scores of 9+.

Instead of making a low-budget drama that’s unlikely to go anywhere, I’d recommend you find a way to make a good Thriller, Family movie, or action movie.  Ideally, have these films target a strong niche community.  Two of the easiest to monetize are faith-based films or LGBTQ+ Films.  Generally, to make these films well you’ll need to be a part of these niche communities.  

4. Your Social Media Presence MATTERS.  

Some filmmakers say that spending time on social media is just taking time away from making films.  This is not true.  Especially if you happen to be an actor.  Increasingly, producers, executive producers, and distributors are looking at the size of filmmakers social media followings when reviewing their work and considering whether or not to work with them.  Building a strong social media presence can make or break your career prospects.

5. Volunteering and Internships can greatly expand your career opportunities, to a point.

This feeds back into #1.  Taking internships and volunteer opportunities can help you grow your network.  They’ll often teach you very valuable work skills.  You should consider doing some volunteer work even outside of credited internships if you can.  That being said, we all have bills to pay and after you’ve given a semester or two to a company or organization for free, it may be time to move on if they don’t start paying you.  I’m not proud of this, but I’ve been on both sides of that scenario.  

6. You need a network outside of the film industry to really find success.  

Few of the people I went to film school with are currently working in Film/Media.  I think there are only 2 or 3 that are actively involved in making narrative films as a primary source of income (and I count myself among that number.) The others make their bread and butter in corporate video and industrials.  The way most of them find their work is from their network and from a strong referral rate.   In order to get that work, you need to have a strong network to get you started. 

Further, most filmmakers don’t have enough money to invest in film projects that are not their own.  So if you want to raise equity investment for your feature films, you’ll need to develop a community of investors outside of the film community.  

7. If you live outside of a major film hub, you’re probably going to have to move.  At least for a time.  

This one took me a long time to take to heart, and if I’m honest I still haven’t fully acted on it.  I’d probably be able to scale my businesses faster if I lived in Los Angeles.  However, I absolutely adore my community of non-blood family and the general culture of San Francisco, so that’s a cost that I have to weather.  

That being said, I don’t think I’d have the career now if I had stayed in Denver after Film School.  SF is close enough that I can get to LA with as little as 6 hours notice if I need to.  Colorado is much more difficult.  When I moved here I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it work, but I’ve thrived here, as has my career.  Be aware that even if you don’t have to move to New York or LA, you may have to move away from wherever you went to film school.

Thanks so much for reading!  If you found this valuable, just wait until you try out our software.  It does everything from independent film scheduling, indie film budgeting, call sheet generation, storyboard storage, production scheduling, shot listing, stripboards, and more.  Not only does it do all of that, but it’s build on top of a powerful cloud-based community that now includes groups!  Sign up below to try it out.  It’s free to start, and you can even set up the basics of your project for free!

Finally, if you’re a film school teacher or a film school administrator looking for production software for your school, please sign up via the link below, or reach out to us at film schools (at) productionnext.com.  Our packages are very inexpensive, often costing the school nothing at all.  

Oh, and if you are a film school teacher and would like to use any of my blogs from this blog or TheGuerrillaRep.com/blog in your class, please feel free to reach out and I’ll send you a more easily printed hand out version.  

Comments

8/29/18

Excellent points! Regarding point #7. I recently heard a story from an experienced producer friend of mine about how he started out in the television production biz. He is in New York City now and has been for years. However, he started out in a regional market and his mentor told him "Make your mistakes here. Once you get to working on Network shows there is less room for error." So, there is value in working in your regional market to grow your skills and reel before moving to a more active major film hub. And, of course, once you've made your name you can live wherever you want and just fly out to work.