I have had several fruitful and painful partnerships in the movie world, but probably the most interesting are some that I observed, not participated in. Several months ago I was approached by this guy, a local actor. He already had a partner who he worked with as a writer/producer/actor. We were talking about something unrelated, and he brought up all kinds of interesting tidbits. I got the sense he was feeling me out to see if I would replace his buddy who shot and produced all this videos. There were compliments for movies I’ve made, and talking about the professional “polish” I put to my work.
He said when he was a teenager he wrote to David Letterman and got a letter back. That’s plausible. Then he said he spoke to David Letterman on the phone, and could get him on the phone anytime. Not so believable, this part. If there’s one thing I find ultra-amusing it’s when people feel they have to lie or exaggerate to feel important. I guess this was supposed to make me want to work with him? Even if by some miracle this David Letterman connection is true, what good does it do me? Wow, I’m working with someone who knows someone famous. Maybe he’ll introduce us and David Letterman and I will become the best of friends? More importantly, does this tact work?
On the other hand, if this guy, as an actor or writer, does get anywhere in the real industry, how exactly would that benefit me? If he gets hired on a sitcom or a drama to write or act, he won’t be in any position to do anything for me. The hierarchy of a film or television production is no secret. First time writers or actors starting off won’t be able to select of hire any directors or editors. So dangling these carrots in front of me to do free productions today won’t work, at least with me. What he wants is someone to slave away for free today, so it benefits him tomorrow, and you’re left in the land of forgotten stepping stones.
The truth is I didn’t want to work with this guy regardless. He seemed nice, but I politely declined any offer to work together. I had already heard from another actor he works with that he just wanted a “video bitch”, meaning someone to do all the work for him so he can get ahead without paying them. Funny how this guy touts his ability to sucker people to other actors.
When you work at the no-to-low budget, aka MicroCinema, level of moviemaking, it’s always a good idea to get into good habits, like contracts, etc., but don’t go overboard. You can’t get someone to contractually obligate themselves to give you a job if they are successful later in their careers. Similarly, you can’t really expect a movie with no budget for craft services to be able to hold you to a contract for confidentiality or liability.
When two or more people band together, it’s probably wise not to talk nasty about the other ones on set. It gives a horrible impression. People talk, loud and fast, about a partnership going awry. It undermines the authority of the production if the people running it are talking smack about each other to the entire cast and crew during a shoot. People stop investing in what they are doing because they start to worry that this production might never finish if the people in charge secretly hate each other. The last thing an actor wants to hear is a producer saying something about how his partner, the director is doing everything wrong. It’s not only disrespectful; it’s just stupid.
There’s the old adage “strength in numbers”, which is true in so many ways, but for a non-paying, free form production company trying to produce and direct movies, it almost universally ends in disaster. Again, everyone wants to direct. It’s like having 4-6 people on a life raft and everyone wants to be the captain, no one wants to row, especially when there’s no money in it. Without a clear leader and power structure, meaning specific jobs and tasks for each person that they all adhere to, these “production companies”…. I have to stop for a second. So few people register their company and pay taxes for these million or so “production companies” that make movies these days, so it’s so odd to call them “companies” when they are little more than a logo and a handshake, but I digress. Therein actually is the problem too. These groups form and disband just as hastily.
My advice is for people working with little to no money not form these fake partnerships or pretend business relationships. They don’t work in the new world order of moviemaking where anyone can do everything. Sadly most are not aware they can’t do it all well, but because the option is there, they don’t want to give up control. When you aren’t paying people, it’s harder to boss people around to get exactly what you want without their input.
It seems to be better when you either just make your movies and ask people to help you as needed, and help them back when they need you. Serve their production in whatever capacity is needed, and vice versa. Since the productions tend to be as thin on the business level as the supposed production companies making them, then why get all involved in emotionally charged situations with partners or production companies?
As is always the case, communication remains the most vital piece of every dispute. If people openly discuss, and be as descriptive as possible about the hierarchy, there tends to be less confusion as to who does what and when. Everyone thinks that everyone can equally participate and they will all be on the same page, but unless you’re paying them to be on your page, this rarely works out without a strict guide as to who is in charge of what and who makes the final decisions.