Sunday, June 19, 2011

Business 101: Do Your Paperwork

You practice writing.  You practice directing.  You practice camera work and editing.  But, you're forgetting an often overlooked area that is absolutely essential to successful films: the paperwork.

If you have, or may eventually have, any desire to submit your work to festivals, distributors, or even just online, you need to have your paperwork in order.  Sure, there's a punk rock romanticism to guerrilla productions, but if you're serious about having a career in film, then you need to show that you're serious about doing things the right way.  Always be sure to get image and location releases.  They help to ensure that you have the right to use that footage you just spent all that time and money getting.  It's important to remember to get written releases.  On-camera verbal agreements are better than nothing, but carry little weight in most courts.  Directors have had to cut out whole segments for not having the proper, written consent of subjects, land owners, or copyright holders.  Again, sure, you could shoot without consent, and post your video on YouTube in order to impress people with your filmmaking skills, but you'll have a much stronger impression by showing that you can do great work the right way.  Even if you're only filming friends and family, get their signatures, and get in the habit of securing releases.

Another area to pay attention to, is your paper trail.  Keep track of all your project expenditures, and SAVE THOSE RECEIPTS!  For one, if you fill out tax forms as an independent contractor, those receipts can be written off as business expenses.  More importantly, keeping track of how much you spend is the only way to know if you're project is on budget.  With low budget projects, make sure to account for donated expenses like labor, equipment rental, and other line items you got a deal on.  It's one thing to say you made a great film for $500.  It's another thing to say you made a great film for $500 that should have cost $5,000.  See how that plays into making a good impression?  It will also give you an honest look as to why films are so expensive to produce.  You won't always be able to get labor and equipment for free.  Keeping tabs on your spending now will allow you to know what kind of budget you need in order to accomplish bigger projects later into your career.

- RA

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