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From a young age, I was always intrigued by the entertainment industry — film, acting, modeling, etc. As the years went on, this fascination turned into a passion and became more concentrated on the film industry — mainly acting. After a decade or so of working in front of the camera in several various acting roles and being constantly exposed to the way things worked behind the camera while on set, my curiosity began to take control of me. This curiosity eventually led me to begin studying the technical side of things.
In 2018, my brother Joe Massa — a filmmaker — had just started a docuseries where he was interviewing survivors of attempted suicide who shared the stories of their triumph over their attempts. After a few episodes, the series began to garner some significant attention, and the need for a larger crew became necessary. It was at this time that my brother asked me to come on board as the series’ assistant director and executive producer, and I was able to amass a wealth of technical knowledge.
Our work on the series was ultimately successful and has reached tens of thousands of viewers across the globe. Even more importantly, several hundred survivors of attempted suicide reached out praising the series’ unique ability to offer a raw look into the minds of those suffering from “SI” — suicidal ideation.
To date, My Suicide Story has six episodes — with a seventh to be released in mid-November. The series has also been featured in several national news and media publications including USA Today, Yahoo Life, The Palm Beach Post, Medium and Thrive Global. It also earned my brother a spot in Connecticut Magazine‘s 40 under 40: Class of 2022.
In addition to this series, my brother and I are currently co-producing and directing a feature-length documentary film about a young woman who was tragically paralyzed from the neck down during her Disney internship, which is set to be released next fall.
Our ongoing work on both My Suicide Story and this upcoming documentary warranted the need for us to start our own production company, which we did last year. It was this journey that encouraged me to write the following article that I hope will help aspiring filmmakers who are looking to follow the same path.
1. Call your pocket
Just like when playing pool, calling your shot and sticking to it can earn you a lot of respect and success. In production companies, identifying your niche is calling your pocket.
What kind of content will you produce? Do you make artistic, low-budget films that feel like you have a million dollars to spend, quirky indies that capture hearts or something, even more niche and notable? Narrowing your company’s brand identity will help you pick the best projects to produce.
2. Make a blueprint
You’re building an empire, and like any building, you need to have blueprints. Start with the essentials: a name and a business plan. Figuring out your niche will point you in the right direction for your name, which will encompass your identity.
A business plan is a roadmap for any high-functioning and high-earning company. Choose a business plan that gives you room for growth and improvement while accounting for startup costs. Try to think of every aspect of a production company, including labor, office space, taxes and black canvas chairs that say “director.”
3. Get your story straight
Now you know what you want to do, it’s time to start doing it in the most legal and organized fashion possible. Going it alone might seem wise, but hiring a qualified small business or entertainment lawyer will save you from the fire more times than you can count. This savior will walk you through the process, ensure everything is above-board and in your favor and help with contracts and hiring.
While you’re getting everything in order, keep it in order. Create an organizational system and stick to it. You’ll be responsible for every aspect of your business, from bank accounts to IRS employer identification numbers, operating agreements and more. Keeping them in a safe, accessible location will save you a headache later.
4. Ink that Inc
Organizing a business correctly means formally registering it as a legal entity. Your options include:
The complex nature of legal entities is why I recommended hiring a lawyer first. They can help guide you in this process.
5. Get money to make money
To start, you need funding. There are many ways to get this, from leveraging your business plan for a small business loan, to angel investors, to being independently wealthy. However, be careful not to overextend; don’t risk being blocked, blackballed and bankrupted if it doesn’t work out.
6. Assemble your avengers
There’s a reason the MCU skyrocketed, and it’s not just because of Thor’s flowing locks. It had an all-star team of talented people with great ideas. The four positions you need to focus on sourcing amazing brains for are:
- Head of development: Decides what scripts to produce and guides the creative team
- Head of production: In charge of budgeting and the actual production process
- Head of post-production: Edits and cuts together the final product
- Head of distribution: Markets and sells the content
These four heads will create a mythical hydra that grows into the rest of the company. Of course, they can grow and develop their teams as your company grows, but you want to be sure these four core people intimately understand your vision and goals and the voice of the niche you decided on back in step one.
7. Stay accountable
There is a load of complicated parts that go into owning a production company, and accounting for it is a full-time job in and of itself. Hire a certified public accountant specifically trained in entertainment financing. They have the necessary training and information on regulations to keep everything working smoothly.
8. Ensure you’re insured
A good old-fashioned accident can easily take any company out, and accidents on film sets can be especially devastating. Ensuring you have proper production insurance for your productions that covers you for every incident imaginable can be just the safety net you need for a rainy day that turns into a hurricane.
9. Prove yourself
Proof-of-concept projects are a great way to show off what you’re capable of and that you’re headed in the right direction. Consider producing these shorter and cheaper samples to sound your voice out and help sell investors and studios to leap to bigger projects.
10. Get the word out
Nowadays, a company isn’t a company if it doesn’t have a website and social media. Creating a high-quality website that lets big players find brief examples of your work and contact info is vital to show that you’re serious and give people a way to get involved.
These 10 steps will help you map out what you need to do so you don’t have any excuse not to. I promise you’ll find more stages of your own to take yourself as you go.
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