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Seattle Indie: Entrepreneurial Spirit–Or Employee Mentality?

 

We all want to make a living in film. Even those who say they don’t, like yours truly, really do at their core. I think our biggest hurdle in turning this into a living is the fundamental way we view ourselves in relation to the outside world.

For the most part I think we view people with money as someone who can hire us. An employer.

We look for a producer who will be willing to invest in us and pay us to do what we love, we look for a studio to purchase our labor directly from us in the form of our film. I am arguing right now that this way of looking at things is incorrect for Seattle indie film makers and will not work for us. As my father’s boss was fond of saying, “You will never get rich if someone else is signing your checks.”

Certainly the employee mentality has worked for some and continues to work- just not for you. Or me. No one is looking for us. At all. If they were, they would not find us because we are in, where? Seattle. There are thousands of people in line ahead of us who are more talented, better looking, more experienced, more ruthless, better connected and not least of all, luckier. And I’m just talking about Portland. (Ouch! That hurts!)

We view ourselves highly. And why not? We are special and immensely talented, we deserve success simply because of who we are. And yet despite that conviction we place ourselves in a position as supplicant to people with money, thus lowering our value and tossing our fate in with the faceless sea of nobodies that annoy the hell out of legitimate producers and distributors alike. We want to make a living, but bottom line is: People with money don’t want to take care of us. They don’t. It’s irritating. They’ve got their own problems to worry about. And people with money want to make more money with as little headache as possible. If you can do that for them, fine, but they don’t care about your art, your dreams, or your passions.

What I am suggesting is nothing less than a sea change in the way we view the outside world:

Everyone is a customer.

This is the view of an entrepreneur, and it is the world view that will lift us out of indie hell and allow us to make a living at this. The mantle of the entrepreneur is a heavy one in the early stages of building any business, but the payoffs can be substantial. Let’s examine some of the aspects of entrepreneurship:

Customer. We must stop viewing people as objects of supplication and view every potential audience member or investor as a customer who needs our product. We need to view things from their perspective. Fortunately that is easy, because we are all consumers. We instinctively know what we like, what is good, what is lame, and what we are willing to spend our hard earned money on. How many times have you shut something on TV off because it just didn’t speak to you? Shame on you, that was someone’s dream! They worked for years on it. It was their big break! Do you care? Nope. You just care if you’re entertained. Everyone from producers to distributors to Joe Blow audience members reacts about the same way. They know what they like or can make a profit from and they know it instantly. So give them what they want already. Stop making films for other film makers, they are not going to give you money. They can’t, because they are broke, just like you.

All a business needs to get off the ground is one good customer. But without that, everything else is pointless.

Product. A business must have a product people actually want. They should want it so bad they will break our door down if we don’t give it to them. A customer may want our product for any number of reasons; it may simply may them happy, it may be useful to them in some tangible way, it may have so much hype around it they simply must have it, or they may even be able to use it to make profit for themselves. Can we say any of those things about the majority of entertainment products coming out of Seattle? Not really. Oh, there is some great stuff, but looking at it purely as product, what are we truly offering? If we slapped our product as-is on TV or even on the indie film channel, how would it stack up to the competition? If we are being honest, we have to admit that most of the indie stuff coming out of Seattle is simply not good enough for wide consumption. It’s not. But in the end it doesn’t even matter if a product is good in any objective sense. It only matters if the customer wants it. Maybe this is a bad example, but do you remember when South Park first debuted? It was little more than a bunch of stop motion cardboard cutouts with guys saying horrid things over the top of it. It was really pretty lousy. But it was hysterical to a lot of people, myself included, and we had to have it.

Competition. There is competition in any industry, indie film included. But in the case of Seattle indie film, the competition is contrived, false, and little more than a pernicious distraction. How can I say that Seattle indie film makers are NOT in competition with each other? Well, what is it we are competing for? Are we going head to head against our fellow indies to beat out their product with a particular distributor or studio? Are we fighting over precisely the same investor? Do we have a franchise in exactly the same genre and are fighting over viewership loyalty? I can’t imagine any of these situations actually existing. There is such a rapacious demand for content, not just in television and film but also online, that there is room for everyone at the table without even touching elbows. Have you seen how many sites now stream indie content? It’s exploding right now. The success of our fellow film makers will always be a good thing for us because there is a tendency for demand to build upon itself and become self sustaining. If that occurs, the old adage applies, “A rising tide floats all boats.” If demand for Seattle indie products increases, more of us will be required to provide the content. If that content whets the world’s appetite for more Seattle film, yet more of us will be needed, and on and on. That doesn’t sound like competition to me, that sounds like a tag team.

In short, stop trying to figure out how you can work for the man and be the man. An employee will always be an employee, no matter how loyal they are or how much profit they bring their employer.

If you become your own boss, well, the sky’s the limit!

 

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