Five Lessons Learned from Making Movies that Transfer to Business
Guest Blog by ELP Student Nicole Teddone – Screen Arts and Cultures – Literature, Science, and The Arts – Class of 2019
Anyone who knows me well knows that I like to say this pretty often: filmmaking and entrepreneurship are the exact same thing. Both are about taking an idea from thin air and creating something tangible that has a positive social impact on our community.
I’m not your typical entrepreneur. I don’t code security software or build prototypes of autonomous vehicles. But what I do know is I have learned a lot from making films that I’ve been able to apply to business to become a more successful entrepreneur.
So, here are my top five business lessons I’ve learned from making movies that I think are important for any entrepreneur to understand.
Forget the Budget — Find a Different Way!
Among all the passion and creativity, it can sometimes be easy to forget that you have a budget to abide by. And for college students like myself, that budget usually involves your close friends, a camera, and not a dollar to spend. Instead of jeopardizing your movie because of a silly budget, as a Producer, you have to be resourceful.
My professor told me a story that a past student produced a film at Cedar Point without spending a dime. Usually, it would be thousands of dollars to rent out the whole park for a day. But instead, this student called dozens of amusement parks until he perfected his lines, called Cedar Point, went through a month of negotiating, visited the location three times, and pitched his film to the Board of Directors. By the end of the month, Cedar Point not only allowed him to film an entire day for free but offered to feed the whole cast and crew for no extra charge.
What this filmmaker did was cold-called everyone he knew, perfected his pitch, and displayed his commitment and passion to make his project become a reality. On my films, I’ve used the same strategy to secure filming locations at my friend’s houses, a train station, and public schools. When working on a project, remember that thinking outside of the box to get things done can save you plenty of money in the long run. Be flexible in your decisions and open-minded to trying something new to save a buck and make your idea a reality.
Be The Glue That Holds the Team Together
It’s a known fact that many people don’t like working in groups. But when you’re on set, it’s inevitable. The art director dresses the actors, the actors take notes from the Director, the Director and their assistant give notes to the camera, lighting, and sound departments, and the chain of collaboration goes on and on. In business and entrepreneurship, the same rule holds. It’s important to learn how to work with multiple personalities. In an ideal world, everyone on every team would have the same work ethic and personality. But in the real world, teammates will butt heads, so it’s important that you be the glue that holds the team together.
As a director or producer, you’re the person that people talk to when they have an idea or a problem, so you must learn to be a good listener and problem-solver, as well as become confident in your decision-making skills. It’s also extremely important to acknowledge that confrontation is key. Many people tend to avoid confrontation because of its awkward and insensitive reputation. However, in a professional relationship, managing confrontation is crucial.
In order to be a great manager, learn how to be an effective and efficient mediator. Allowing your team to vocalize their ideas and feelings leads to more constructive conversation, as well as a better work relationship characterized by mutual respect and understanding. This is all vital to ensure the smooth and timely progress of any team project because losing time is losing money and resources.
Also, when working with differentiating points of view, it’s important to keep an open mind and remember that the reason why group projects exist is because the best product comes from a combination of amazing ideas, not just your own or one specific person’s. That’s why it’s important to keep a positive attitude and listen to everyone in order to ensure the best ideas are going into the project so the best product is made.
Multi-tasking Under Pressure is Key!
Before you even start filming, as a Producer, you need to worry about finding locations, managing the budget, organizing auditions, solidifying cast and crew, creating a schedule, and so on. As the Director, you need to worry about analyzing the script, attending auditions, holding table reads and rehearsals with actors, approving the shot list, approving the art director’s set design, and the list goes on. And that’s before you even step foot on set, which is why being the glue for the team is extremely important. But with so many tasks to keep up on and people to check in with, it’s also important to become a good multi-tasker and learn how to work quickly and efficiently in high-stress environments.
What I found to work for many people is organizing as much as you can and constructing a battle plan before you start working. I usually do this with visual aids. First, I write everything down that I need to do for a project. Then, I consider the timeframe I have to complete everything. Next, I prioritize tasks to certain hours, days, or weeks depending on my timeframe. Usually, I try to divide one task across a few days so I can multi-task. I have to find a location for a movie, I spend one day researching, then one day contacting owners, then one day visiting locations.
After getting my battle plan down, I vocalize this to the rest of my team. I can’t stress enough how important this is! If teammates don’t know your battle plan, they may feel inclined to do the work themselves or begin to feel animosity towards you for multiple reasons, like feeling you’re neglecting your work when really you’re planning to do it at a later date. Remember, confrontation is key! After all of this, I start chipping away at my work bit by bit. Although it may seem like a lot, don’t push anything off to the side. Stick to your plan and keep chipping away at it until you get it done.
What I also found to be helpful is to leave cushion time in your schedule. For business or film projects, you’ll hit a hiccup at some point that needs your immediate attention. It’s important to make sure you schedule cushion time so you can address these instances. And when no hiccups occur, this cushion can give you a moment to get ahead of your work.
Have a Happy Attitude
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many bosses forget to do this. As the leader, teammates are watching you more than you realize. They see you as the head of the group. So, if you act stressed and worried, they act stressed and worried due to your appearance of not having control. If you act angry or upset, everyone else will feel the same and the work ethic of the group will drastically decrease.
You’d be surprised how easy it can be to have a great attitude even when things aren’t going your way. Instead of confronting the problem with angst, I like to find the silver-lining. If I come into an obstacle at work, I try to look at it as an opportunity to get other work done or to challenge myself to find an innovative way to keep pushing forward. Once I had my lighting equipment malfunction, so I took it as a great opportunity to practice my directing skills and work with the actors while waiting for new equipment to arrive.
This even works with the little things that can set off a boss’s attitude, like having to get up early for work without a good night’s rest. When I’ve had to face this, I remind myself that I get to see the sunset over the river as I ride the train to work as a result of waking up early. Shifting your perspective can help you drastically change your attitude and have a better day. And this in turn will help your team to continue working happily as well.
When someone else on your team is the one with the bad attitude, it’s important to not let it affect you. Instead of feeding off of the bad energy, I like to focus on my own energy and verbalize my positive energy to the rest of my group. I’ve noticed that even taking the extra five seconds to say “You’re doing fantastic work!” or “You look nice today.” can turn the energy of the group from negative to positive.
Keep Throwing Darts at the Dartboard
Making yourself available to your connections at all times is key. In other terms, “Keep Throwing Darts at the Dartboard” and don’t stop trying. Try to do as many things as possible without driving yourself crazy, always be talking to people and making connections, and take serious moments to sit down and think about what you’ve learned from every experience.
Here are some of my favorite tips for how to “throw darts:”
First, reach out to see if your connections need help (even if it’s just for one project and not a full-time job).
Second, thank your connections for every opportunity they give you. Every opportunity you get is not only a chance for you to learn but also represents the time someone took out of their day to teach you. Make sure they know you’re thankful for that.
Third, always make your free time free productive time by looking for a class to take, a club to join, or a job to do rather than sitting on the couch and watching Netflix (which if you know me, I’ve been guilty of countless times).
Lastly, never slack on any job you take. The more you demonstrate yourself as a professional who’s eager to learn, the more likely your dream job will come your way.
Educating yourself about your field is extremely important. Throwing darts doesn’t just apply to jobs, but to knowledge, as well. For instance, if you want to be an entrepreneur and you don’t know who Elon Musk or Gary Vaynerchuk is, you may want to brush up on your industry knowledge. Learn not only about your industry but about yourself. If you’re not able to answer the question “Why are you pursuing this industry?” then you should definitely take serious time to think. The “Why?” question is your opportunity to pitch yourself. Take advantage of it and have your answer ready at all times.