Two crucial things sustainable screen businesses do

By April 5, 2016September 14th, 2018Entertainment Industry, Generate


Long ago, in another life, I worked on film and TV productions as a location scout and liaison. It was here that I first met and worked with film producers and got to see a little of the long and arduous process of making films.

It seemed to me highly demanding, very risky and requiring a long-term commitment to their film. I admired those producers’ ability to gather support from a huge number of stakeholders and keep their faith in a project throughout development, production and beyond.

Fast forward to my business consulting career and I’m lucky enough to have worked with a wide range of screen production businesses and have seen the producer’s process through a different lens. That admiration for their perseverance and dedication hasn’t lessened.

As business entities, screen companies can be tricky to advise upon, because the process of making films and the timeframes involved means the business model is very different to other industries. If anyone ever tells you that all businesses are essentially the same, point them towards a film production company.

The more and more I work with successful screen businesses, the more I see two key elements stand out among them.

1.They have slates filled with strategically selected projects

The depth and quality of a screen company’s slate is crucial. It has to include enough projects in various stages of development, so that a critical number of them – perhaps 2-3 – move into production every 12 months. The thinner the slate, the greater the risk to the company’s ongoing sustainability.

For every project that moves into production, there’ll be another 1-2 that stall, so a company can’t be dependent on too few projects. When it becomes clear that projects aren’t going to progress, they should be removed from the slate and replaced ASAP.

Strategic selection of projects is also important. The slate has to consist of quality projects that have a good chance of support from funders, broadcasters, distributors and so on. It is – sadly – not uncommon to see a production company with projects on the slate, but no consideration of whether those projects fit the needs of their stakeholders (ie. the people with the money to make the project happen).

A diversity of projects can also be useful. Projects with smaller budgets and quicker turnaround times can sit well alongside longer term projects and provide more regular revenue over the course of a screen business’s lifecycle.

The second of characteristic of successful screen businesses?

2. They can move projects into production regularly, ensuring regular cash flow for the business

Successful screen businesses can maintain momentum on their projects, so that they move steadily (although rarely swiftly) through the development and production processes. This requires ongoing relationship building with funders and investors, and decision makers who can help move a project forward.

It also requires an understanding of the points within the production cycle when revenue flows to the company. Because most production companies have multiple projects on the go at any time, plotting out these revenue points and planning how they impact the business over several years is imperative. Yes, a fair amount of guesswork is involved. But even so, it gives the business owners some idea of how much money will be generated each year.

Again, this comes back to the slate, and which projects on it have the potential to generate the money needed to sustain a company, at the right time. It’s unhelpful to have lots of projects move into production at once, but then nothing for another year. So scheduling – as accurately as possible in the fickle industry of film – is essential.

What all these means, is that business planning is essential

Just because screen content companies have a unique business model, doesn’t reduce the need for taking a strategic approach to planning. In fact, the vagaries of the screen industry make business planning essential, but it needs to tailored to the industry and address the particular pressures upon it.

It’s not always a comfortable process for filmmakers, but done well, it can yield valuable results. As one well established film producer told me recently, the value is not so much in the business plan document itself, but in going through the process, and forcing yourself to see your production company through a business person’s eyes.

If you think your screen production business could benefit from some objective, long-term thinking – please get in touch. We’d love to help out.