It’s time for our first class: Business Basics. Before we begin, a word about the general approach and technical aspects of classes on this site. First, this information is provided free as a supplement to what you are already learning through personal experience and, if you’re in film school, your course work. A lot of the information, especially surrounding taxes and rates is time specific. As much as I will endeavor to keep things current, always check sources and don’t rely on these classes for accurate, up to the minute prices and rates.
Second, I am not a lawyer, nor am I a practicing tax professional (although I received my CPA in 1983 I have not practiced since 1985), nor am I an expert in any field other than the one you’ve come here to learn about: producing. But remember, every single producer operates under a set of rules but with their own style and philosophy. Much of what we do is based on judgment. With respect to legal and tax matters, always rely on the advice of your legal and accounting team first and foremost- that’s what you pay them for.
As for the courses, individual classes consist of a series of video lessons, each around 10 minutes in length. Class descriptions will be posted as blog entries and, at the end you’ll find a free link to a short video introduction posted on YouTube (my on-camera debut!). You’ll also see a link at the end of this post to register for the full set of lessons. The links will have a two-week time limit so it’s important to get right to the class. After registering you’ll have access to a PDF of all of the course documentation – Powerpoints, Transcripts and any other material used.
There’s lots of information to convey in these courses and the video format only allows for one-way communication but always feel free to use the Just Ask page to submit questions along the way. I do believe that repetition is helpful in teaching, so you will hear similar themes coming through many of the courses and I’ll always summarize the key things to take away from each lesson. Now, about this course…
No discussion of producing is possible without an understanding of some basic business principles. This course provides a foundation for understanding the essential structural components of a film. It will also explain the whys and wherefores of working on an artistic endeavor in a business environment. A producer often finds him or herself in the position of “interpreter” for the creative folks on a production because business concerns are always a factor in creative decisions. I often thank my own business school education and CPA when confronting a gnarly problem. As I began producing my first film, I was already familiar with the kinds of legal entities required and their tax reporting obligations. I had some experience with contracts and with maintaining adequate books and records. This knowledge alone didn’t make me a great producer but it did put me on solid ground with my investors who appreciated my business background. Having knowledge of some business concepts will hopefully put you in the same place.
The course starts by examining the types of legal structures used, the way in which money flows back to participants in an equity deal and the types of insurance coverages common in the industry. Additionally there’s an overall union and guild primer including a simple example of interpreting a union agreement – translating words in a written agreement into numbers in a budget. The course raps up with basic accounting and tax concepts so you can understand your cost report and communicate with your accountant.
It’s important for a producer to have basic knowledge in all of these areas in order to conduct the business of the production. This course will be a good place to begin and allow you enough knowledge to have informed conversations with your attorney, accountant and insurance broker. Again, I am not advocating a DIY approach to this area of filmmaking. Take this course for an overview. It’s not a bad idea to also take some business courses in college. But really choose your business advisors wisely and learn from them. My hope with this Course is to give you an idea of the types of things you need to know. That way, those calls to the expensive lawyers and other professionals can be shorter and more productive.
As always, let me know what you think!