How We Launched Our Production Company

Got a question from a friend on Twitter, Sean Duran (on Twitter as @esotericsean.) He and a small team of filmmakers run Take Zer0, Take Zero Productions, and We Heart Short Films.

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How did you get started in building up your own production company? We’ve been at this for about 5 years now and it just seems like we’re headed nowhere. Is it easier to just go out and work for other studios and work your way up? Is it worth it starting your own company? Our passion is short films and we hope to eventually evolve into doing features. We quit our day jobs and are now attempting to shoot actor demo reels and music videos, but it’s tough.

Sean, these are questions all aspiring producers and filmmakers ask. Let’s take your question a part at a time. In this post, we’ll cover how we started our production company.

In part two (coming soon) we’ll discuss how you can increase your odds of moving from short films to features. Be sure to follow us on Twitter or subscribe to Joke and Biagio so you don’t miss it.

How We Started

As we talked about in one of our first posts, it was seven years ago, in our tiny shoebox apartment, that we just decided to “do it”…whatever that meant!

In our mind, that entailed putting our money where our mouth was, and producing our own TV pilots and films from scratch.

As our friends will tell you, we became recluses. We took various day jobs, but worked on our own projects seven days a week. Every spare second we wrote scripts, produced indie films, and shot reality TV pilots. If we went out and socialized, it was never more than once a month. Seriously.

Every penny we made went towards gear. A camera. An editing system. A deck. A wireless mic. We built slowly.

Like you, we shot and edited actors’ demo reels to help pay the bills. We took on the occasional local commercial, wedding video, and any other job that let us sharpen our producing skills.

When we weren’t working for others, we were working for ourselves,

As fate had it, our reality TV career took off first, and we ran with that, knowing that we’d eventually segue back into scripted projects as well.

Start Your Own Production Company or Work for Someone Else?

When starting out, it’s a tough decision. There’s success stories on either side of the fence. Working for people in the industry will never hurt you, and working your way up is a nice, steady way to break in to the biz. We’d say more people earn success this way than any other.

Not us. We actually went the route of starting our own company first. It wasn’t easy. We produced entire TV pilots, feature films, and documentaries from scratch. Managed to bang down a few doors. Everyone loved our work. Only one problem…no one knew what the heck to do with us!

Without a single “real” industry producing credit, our resume was thinner than that of most production assistants (one step above interns.)

Producers, industry people, and agents responded positively to our tapes, but since the two of us produced nearly every aspect of our work, no one could get a reference on us.

Think about it…who could they call to find out the truth about how we performed on set. Just us!

Of course, we said, “We’re great!” But before a studio or network would put their neck on the line for us, they wanted someone else to verify we were as good as we claimed, and had to skills to take an entire production from start to finish.

We Needed Street Cred

At that point, we DID go to work for other production companies. Showing the pilots and presentation tapes we’d created as samples of our work, production companies agreed to hire us to create pitch tapes for them. The deal was that if one of the tapes we created sold to a network, we’d produce on it.

Eventually that happened, and we became Producer/Directors. This allowed us to jump into the producing game at a very high level and on our own terms. Going that route was a huge risk, but in our case, it paid off.

Becoming a Real Production Company

From there, we built our reputation with networks as hands-on producers. We proved we weren’t afraid to get our hands dirty. Since we’d produced all of our own projects for no money, we had a bag of tricks that let us stretch budgets as well. That helped a lot.

Over time, we earned a good enough name that networks began to trust us to produce and deliver television series on our own. That’s where we are now, a full fledged production company with offices in Universal City.

Which Path Should You Take?

You have to decide for yourself. Working for other companies from the get-go may be safer. It might even get you to the top in about the same time it took us.

The route we took was risky and there was nothing easy about it. We could’ve ended up with a bunch of home-made TV shows no one ever watched.

If we had it to do over, though, we wouldn’t change a thing. After all, if you won’t take a risk on yourself, why should anyone else?

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