Combining film and business. Ah, yes, the dream of anyone who’s ever picked up a camera and wanted to make a living with it. If you’ve ever dreamed of starting your own production company, then we have the guide for you! In today’s article, I’m going to walk you through how to start a production company from the ground up.
There’s no denying video content is the way forward and has been an integral part of modern-day digital society for several years. If you’ve decided to start your own film production company, it’s safe to say there’s never been a better time to do so.
However, for many aspiring filmmakers and entrepreneurs, starting a production company can come across as a mammoth task, and it’s difficult to know where to begin.
There are so many elements involved and so many different things to consider. It can quickly become overwhelming.
Don’t worry, we’ve been there.
How to Start a Production Company
Today we aim to put any fears you have to rest and will help to guide you through the process step-by-step.
We’re going to explore everything from start to finish, detailing what you need to know to get your film production company off the ground and into the thriving position you’re dreaming of being.
Note here, that we want to make a distinction between starting a film production company and starting a video production company. There are similarities and overlap, but we’ll be concentrating on starting a film production company in this article.
What Does a Production Company Do – Defining Your Vision
The absolute first step you need to take is defining the vision of your company and which direction you want to take. The term ‘film production company’ is a broad term, so it’s important to make sure you know what kind of film production you’re going to work on.
Here are some ideas:
- Are you going to produce commercial content for other companies?
- Are you planning to create short films or even feature-length films?
Next up, consider these questions:
- What kind of genre of film (or video) are you going to specialise in?
- Are you going to offer outsourcing services to larger production companies, or independent companies?
Whatever route you decide to take, the more information you can brainstorm at this point and the more precise you can be, the better off you’ll be in the long-term.
Top Tip: A great way to define your vision is to write down three key values your business is going to have, a core mission statement, and a one-sentence paragraph that sums up your company and what you want to achieve.
Start Working on Your Branding
When organising your film production company, the way you present yourself is your branding, which is so essential in the eyes of your viewers, investors, and partners. For example, Warner Bros have a defined image, and with many of the films they release, you know what to expect.
This is true with Marvel, DC, and even specific directors, such as Christopher Nolan and Alejandro González Iñárritu. This part of the process also means thinking up a name that suits your branding and creates the image that people will soon understand what to expect from you.
Some of things you’ll need to consider here include:
- Your production company name.
- Your logo.
- A website.
- Social media pages.
- The tone of voice of your company.
- The way you communicate with partners, suppliers and clients.
How to Start a Production Company – Building Your Brand Effectively
Building a company is basically defining your identity as a brand. You will have to create a concept of what you are and what you have to offer and, along with that, you will have to make many decisions, like picking a name, a visual identity, and the services you will offer.
There’s a whole variety of services you can offer when you start, such as promotional videos for local businesses, weddings, videos for local bands, parties, and so much more
If there’s a specific area that you enjoy, you can decide to only specialize in that. For example, let’s say you like extreme sports and you want to shoot skaters all day long, this could be your avenue to success. You will know your field and you will get really good at it. Also, people will recognize you for it, being a central part of your brand identity, and you will have a huge passion for it, being something you already love.
On the other hand, diversifying and getting all types of jobs can get you to more work, more money and you will learn a lot from the different situations you will be put in.
To decide this you have to think not only about what you like, but the needs of the people/clients you will be serving.
The name, image and design of all elements referring to your company will have a close link to what you do and how you do it.
People pick their company name for a whole host of reasons. Everything from:
- personal reasons.
- a homage to something you like.
- something that sounds cool.
- something that sounds futuristic and technical (we are a tech company, after all).
- that name you wanted to use when you were an 8 year old Spielberg wannabe contemplating starting your production company.
To start getting work you have to have worked before. Sound funny, right?
This is one of the great problems for getting started in any activity. You need a portfolio of the best work you’ve done. Otherwise, if you haven’t produced anything, why would anyone employ you?
So if you don’t have any professional video experience, then you can get together all the pieces of work you’ve done for fun, productions you’ve done at College/University and so on, until you get some good amount of material to show until you’ve worked in a professional capacity.
Once you have pro work to show, you want to add that into your portfolio (with permission, of course). Your pro folio should always be naturally evolving over time.
At first, you might want to do some stuff for free (for friends, colleagues, people in the industry you respect, etc), so you can get experience and improve your portfolio.
Marketing, these days, is all about the Internet. That’s an oversimplification, but let’s run with it.
We have a really good and complete guide to building your website, where you will find the reasons why this is so essential to what we’re doing here.
In short: you’ll definitely need one.
A website, for a video production company, will be a sort of online portfolio, since you will need to show your work to get new clients, and the best way to do it is owning a well-made website.
It will also work as the communication channel between you and your clients, and that is certainly important! The majority of my early corporate/commercial (and wedding) clients came from finding out about my work via my website.
Don’t underestimate social media and its utility for marketing your company and getting you new clients.
As soon as you decide your name and image, you should start creating your social media profiles and inviting your friends and family to follow you.
Never forget to take good care of the way you communicate. A professional social media profile is not the same as a personal one, so make sure you write with a professional tone and that you’re addressing the readers as you would potential clients.
Social media is also great for learning and checking out what your competitors are doing. 😉
Business cards, flyers, leaflets
Even in this highly digitalized world, physical marketing material is still a key part of building a great company and getting your message out there.
A eye-catching and well made business card is still a must-have. Flyers to distribute around town and leaflets where you explain your services in detail are pluses. Get a great graphic designer involved if you’re not confident yourself.
These marketing materials should all follow the visual identity you chose for your company, and be well written and professionally designed. Even if you do them yourself, take design very seriously, it really changes the way people perceives you and gives them a hint on how good your work will be.
The advertizing of any creative business should be outstanding from a design perspective. If you have sloppy/amateur design, it won’t make the rest of your creative services look very promising!
How Much Does it Cost to Start a Production Company?
So when it comes down to it, just how much does it take to start a production company? When you’re learning how to start a production company, this is a very viable question.
After all, you don’t want to be turning on a non-stop fire hydrant of money from the beginning: you need to first understand what your costs will be.
Firstly, know this: you can start your production company for very little. You don’t need a bank loan, help from your parents, or crazy connections with high rollers in your local area!
Please don’t do that.
You can start things off for a very reasonable amount of capital, and knowing that renting gear when you just start out is an option is a huge relief for many people.
We’ll cover the raw costs of starting your company later on in this article. Just know that things are very reasonable to start out and that there are many ways to avoid destroying your bank balance from the beginning!
How to Start a Production Company: Sourcing Your Talent & Building Your Team
This is where things start to get complicated, and the majority of film production companies will either give up or find it impossible to overcome the challenges. Be mindful here.
Of course, a production company is only ever going to be as good as the people working within in and fulfilling every role you need.
In a film production company, there are plenty of roles that need to be filled, which of course will depend on your budget (more on that below).
The way to approach this is to single out the key roles you’ll need to start actually producing films and to help you set up your business and stick with these.
It can be incredibly tempting to go all out and try and build a company that has everyone you’ll ever need from the word ‘go’, such as writers, camera operators, and editors.
However, firstly, the chances are you won’t be able to pay them all. And, secondly, you won’t know if the team is one who will work well together and bring out each other’s strengths.
If you’re a group of friends who are starting their own company, it’s probably safe to say you’ve got some interest in filmmaking yourself and probably have some of the skills you need.
If you can write the films, shoot them, edit them, and promote them, this is basically everything you need to get off the ground. The idea here is to get as creative as possible.
Top Tip: There’s no need to rush when building your company. Take things slow. Experiment with specific roles and try and learn the skills you need to get the job done.
In theory, you could start a film production company with just one person who does everything. Of course, this would be a lot of work, but if that person is willing to make it happen and is willing to put the work in, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work.
Whether you’re a solo venture or a group of friends or partners working together, plan to build up slowly and steadily. If you need people for individual projects, look into hiring people on a freelance or per-project basis. We’ve covered this in countless articles around the site.
Form partnerships with other production companies to outsource certain tasks to make things more manageable and to get more traction on certain projects, if required.
At the end of the day, people are going to judge and rate your film company based on the films you’re producing, so make sure you’re focusing on the level of creative content and the cinematics you’re creating.
Starting a Production Company with a Limited Budget
Money is always going to be a key concern when starting any business, especially a film production company because so much can be spent on staff and equipment. When is it not? This is why this is the area you need to start focusing on.
As a rule of thumb, make a list of everything you need, including hardware and equipment, as the bare minimum to get you off the ground.
In some cases, you may even just need a camera and editing equipment, and that’s it.
If you want to start that small and you’re making short films, uploading these shorts to YouTube or Vimeo can be a great way to get started at minimal cost.
Filmmaking is not a job but a social responsibility for me – Garth Davis.
However, if you’re going straight into producing commercial-quality advertisements and features, you’re going to need a little bit extra to get you started. Fortunately, there are multiple ways you can approach this.
You can start by saving up your own money from your previous job, or perhaps the savings you have in your personal account. If you’re starting your company with friends or partners, you could agree to invest a set percentage of the total needed and split the business equally.
Alternatively, you can create a business plan and financial forecast and then attract investors or acquire a bank loan.
This can be an ideal way to get a large sum of money to invest quickly, but you’ll need to remember you’ll need to pay it back, and the risk of not being able to pay it back can be dangerous.
Production Company – Gear, Equipment & Resources
This website is dedicated to helping those who want to learn how to start a video production company, or work as a freelance filmmaker.
From buying your essential equipment, to getting your first client, and getting paid; this article will cover every you need to know to start and grow a successful video production company.
There are many positive aspects to owning your own video production company, and some negative ones. If you accomplish starting and building your company, then you will be your own boss, manage your time and you will enjoy full benefit of the profit you make.
On the other hand, you will be responsible for a growing company that will will feature a few headaches that you might not have considered along the way: from human resources, to production nightmares, marketing & sales and keeping the books on the uppity up.
To run a successful video production company, you’ll require tonnes of self-discipline and hard work that, if done right, will be absolutely worth it.
But how will you start this endeavor?
Getting your essential equipment
To get started you will only need the essential gear.
You can always start investing in more equipment when you start growing. And, as we already mentioned earlier, renting gear is an option from the beginning to save your bank balance.
This way, you rent what you need when you need it. This is especially effective when you consider rare equipment that you might only need from time to time. For example, an expensive lens for specialist projects that you might only use a few times a year.
Also, equipment is always evolving and being updated, so it’s tough to recommend specific tools, but here’s a list of the essentials that you will need to start your video business right now.
In the past, acquiring a film camera to work as a professional filmmaker was somewhat inaccessible and difficult. These days, we’re living the “DSLR Revolution”.
DSLR cameras (Digital Single Lens Reflex) were made originally for taking photographs, but a number of companies (like Canon and Nikon) began developing awesome cameras that had a solid video capability. The “DSLR Revolution” was the answer to every amateur and indie filmmaker’s prayers: finally there was a commercially accessible camera that could achieve something close to the “film look.”
For years filmmakers had craved an affordable camera that generated a “filmic image.” The 1080p HD shot in 24p with a DSLR was the answer. It’s true that many indie films have been shot on DSLR and even some Hollywood films.
This is great, because it means that the technology needed to produce great cinematic looking videos is more accessible, but it also makes the field more competitive and leaves the quality of your work at the hands of your technical and artistic knowledge.
Two of the top DSLR brands, as we already mentioned, are Nikon and Canon. They have a whole range of entry level and more professional cameras. As with anything, you get what you pay for, but even the cheaper ones are really good and can get you to great results.
If you want a professional DSLR but it’s far out from your budget, consider seriously buying used cameras. There’s a good deal of photographers that are constantly renewing their gear and don’t mind letting go of their old camera for a fair price; or amateurs that thought they liked photography for a month or two and now want their money back.
As a great upgrade to a DSLR camera, you can look into something like the Canon C100. The C100 is a more professional camera with a lot of features that you don’t get with a DSLR. It also uses the same mount as the Canon DSLRs, so all your EF mount Canon lenses will work with it.
The lense is just as important as the camera body and will, in most cases, last you longer.
You don’t need loads of lenses to get started in video production, since you have the option of hiring them depending on the particular job you have to do and its requirements.
Be aware that to fit some lenses in some cameras of a different brand, you might need a lens adapter.
If you’re working with Canon (my brand), a great ‘walk around’ all purpose lense is the awesome 24-70mm 2.8. This is great if you’re working with full-frame cameras (like the Canon 5D Mark ii, Mark iii, the 6D, etc). You’ll find this lense helpful is most standard video production situations — you get get fairly wide shots, as well as covering two-shots and singles quite nicely.
After you get a great multi-purpose lense like the 24-70mm, you should invest in the very cheap ‘nifty-fifty,’ which is th Canon 50mm 1.8. Great depth of field and awesome for creative work.
Follow that up with a great telephoto lense like the (much more expensive) Canon 70-200mm 2.8. For video, make sure you get the version with IS (image stabilization), though! You can thank me later.
Nikon, of course, have a range of equivalent lenses. And most of the lenses I mentioned above have cheaper Tamron and Sigma little brothers. Although, ensure you do your due diligence before buying.
You will find a computer will be necessary for the job as soon as you start, because you will need to edit the footage you have filmed.
It’s not a bad idea to carry your laptop and some hard drives to your shooting locations. If it’s a shoot that will last many hours, you should get into the habit of ‘ditching’ footage onto hard drives as you go. At weddings, this is a little trickier as it’s naturally quite run-and-gun, but there aren’t many shoots you’ll attend when you don’t get at least some downtime.
You’re also need a solid computer/laptop for all the tasks that owning a video production business involves, like getting in touch with clients, running your website and performing marketing through social media, etc. But that goes without saying.
A laptop will allow you to be more mobile than a desktop computer. Of course it’s ideal if you can have both, since a well prepared desktop computer will run faster for heavy video editing.
But, as mentioned, you can take your laptop on production shoots and upload footage directly from your camera onto it, which is something to have in mind.
I’m an Apple guy, so I’d recommend the latest Apple MacBook Pro (tricked out with as much RAM as possible) for your laptop solution.
For a desktop solution, and staying with the Apple theme, get an iMac or (the more expensive and more powerful) Mac Pro. Although I’ve heard from multiple editors that the iMac, from a storage and price perspective, can be the better option. At the time of this writing, the 5K 27″ iMac looks pretty awesome.
You will definitely need editing software in order to put together and edit the material that you capture.
Some options are Final Cut Pro X, or Adobe’s Premiere and After Effects.
There are cheaper alternatives such as Sony Vegas and Pinnacle Studio.
Without editing software, you won’t be able to deliver any work, so make sure you know how to use it. Luckily, these days you can find all sorts of online tutorials that will teach you how to use its specific features.
A tripod is something you will need.
Before getting other stabilization tools, if you’re building from scratch, make sure you get a good tripod. Something by Manfrotto is the way to go.
Of course, you can film without one, but it just doesn’t look as professional — it’s the difference between professional looking footage and vacation looking footage!
With this essential tool, you’ll be able to shoot steady shots, pan horizontally smoothly, and tilt (up and down) movements.
After investing in an excellent tripod that will last you a really long time, then consider other stabilization tools like monopods or sliders.
Good sound is extremely important to the quality of video production. When you get into this business you will find out why “audiovisual” starts with the “audio” bit.
A good DSLR camera should capture “decent” sound, but you should want more than decent!
On and Off-camera mics will give you good quality, and there are all sort of options at your disposal. Two affordable solutions out of many possible options could be the Rode VideoMic (on-camera) and the the Zoom H4N (off-camera).
Once you master these, you can start experimenting with other solutions. As mentioned before, you have the great advantage that you can hire sound equipment to try out, and then buy the one you like the most.
Getting clients and getting paid
You know there are clients out there waiting for you, but where are they? And where are they going to be looking for you?
Target clients and their needs
You need to know who your potential clients are, based on what you offer and who would need that service (solution) to cover their needs (problem).
For this, you have to think like them. Pretend you’re about to get married and you’re looking for a videographer, or that you’re in a band and you’re looking for someone amazing but accessible to shoot your first music video.
Where would you go to find a video professional?
For wedding clients, think Facebook groups with brides-to-be, wedding magazines, wedding fairs and more.
For music video clients, think local music forums/message boards, venues in your area, recording studios in your area, etc.
That’s about outreach. But you also want people coming to you. Inbound marketing is all the range right now, and if you want to learn how to write great content online to get people coming to you asking you to work with them, we have a guide on that here.
Contacting potential clients
To start, you could research local businesses or people that you feel might need your services; and make a list of their email addresses. These could be, for example, businesses who don’t already have video on their website.
Then you should email them. Don’t take writing the email lightly, make sure you write properly and use a professional tone, but not too stiff.
Check the website of each potential client and mention some particular detail about them and their company in your email. This shows that you’re choosing them specifically, you know who they are, and that it’s not just a copy-paste to a million other businesses.
When contacting them, also don’t forget to include your personal contact information and link to your website. The goal of your email should be about getting an in-person meeting. If you don’t hear back from them, you can phone them after some set time (let’s say a week).
If they do respond to your email, then you have a meeting with a potential client! If they don’t respond, you can call and try and close them on the phone, and now you also have a meeting with a potential client!
Starting to work
If you get a client meeting, and the person agrees that they want to work with you, you now have your first client!
But now this is where the real work begins! Basically, the steps are simple (if you want to read in more detail, here’s the long version):
- You get a client.
- You work out a contract between you which legally binds the work.
- You work on their project.
- Give the deliverable and ask if changes are required.
- Make requested changes.
- Deliver final version of the project.
- Get paid.
When you’re done, if the client is happy, you should ask them for a testimonial to use for attracting future clients. Also, don’t forget to keep in touch with clients, and maintain the relationship; they might have future work for you, or refer you to their colleagues and friends.
There are many different ways you can get paid for your services.
You can get paid by bank transfer, by giving clients the details of your bank account (be it personal banking or business banking) and have them pay you directly from their bank to yours. This can all be done online and it’s quick and easy.
You can also get paid by cheque, or even accept credit cards!
Once you decide on your payment methods, make sure they’re displayed on all invoices that you send out after a project is done. Your goal should always be to get paid as quickly and efficiently as you can, and everything you write and create should make that possible.
As for the video production process itself, we find this great SlideShare offering from Purple, Rock, Scissors is great:
Acquiring Clients for Your Film Production Company
The final thing you’ll want to think about after everything is set up and you’re ready to go is sourcing clients who are going to employ you and actually pay you.
Of course, if you’re making films for yourself, this may not be a primary concern, but if you want to get paid from a traditional video production company standpoint, it’s essential.
There are plenty of ways to go about this, but you need to take everything you’ve learned and then define your ideal client.
Who is your perfect client or audience? That’s a great starting point. Perhaps, again using the video production company model as an example, you’re making wedding films in a particular style for newly-wed couples and chronicling their special day.
Maybe you’re producing commercials for small businesses in your local area, or perhaps you’re recording concerts and gigs for bands and venues. As you can see, these are all wildly different clients with varying expectations and requirements for their projects.
Take your time to think about who your ideal client is and what they want.
Now, through your website and your social media pages, newsletter, or ad copy, you need to make sure you’re appealing to this ideal client and, within your ad, you’re simply ticking the boxes for everything they’re looking for.
You’ll need to think about this when writing a successful client proposal.
You want your ideal client to look at your ad and think, ‘Yes, these guys are perfect. They’re everything I’ve been looking for and more. I need to get in touch with them now!’
This will take a certain degree of trial and error, but once you start getting it right, you’ll start to see the clients come flooding in.
It’s important to make sure you’re not working with clients who don’t fit the bill and suit your business.
It can be tempting, especially if they’re offering money to work with you. But if you’re unable to provide the work they’re looking for, you’ll end up with poor testimonials and reviews which can damage the reputation of your business down the line.
How to Start a Production Company – In Conclusion
This is just scratching the surface of everything you need to do when it comes to starting your own video production company. And, of course, we cover many of these pointers (and more) in other articles around the site.
However, it’s important to remember that your film company will walk its own path and its own direction, and what works for one company, might not work for yours.
It’s important to look around for examples and production companies to compare yourself against. Just always remember that there are many variables and what works in one market might not necessarily work in yours.
However, as a rule of thumb, make sure you’re starting small and growing steadily. Even the mightiest tree needs strong roots to hold it into the ground, and it’s the same with your business.
Pace yourself, be mindful and level-headed with the decisions you’re making, and you’ll have a thriving film production company before you know it!
We hope this article on how to start a production company has given you a launching point in starting and growing your own video production company.
We wish you the best for starting your production company! Don’t forget it’s hard work, but running a video business can offer adventure, fun and profit the likes of which you can’t imagine!
If this article on how to start a production company has been helpful, please let me know in the comments below. I also appreciate any thoughts, questions and ideas about the article, as well as social shares using the share buttons below!
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