Leadership in low-budget filmmaking
Yesterday I met with Dan Cogan from Impact Partners, the sort of man and the sort of organization that bring so much generosity and spirit to filmmaking. Impact helps to finance “cinema that addresses pressing social issues.” I was afforded this lucky meeting by a family friend. Dan started out working on sets, then worked as a producer, and went on to co-found Impact, which has financed over 25 films in its first three years, and the awards list those films have garnered is long. He was generous with his advice, candid about the challenges we face in micro-budget filmmaking, and also deeply encouraging. I am writing today to share what struck me as a brilliant piece of advice that should be spread widely:
Low budget filmmaking of any kind means relying on favors, in-kind donations, and countless donated hours of work and expertise. On every low-budget set, people are working for a fraction of what they might normally get paid, for the experience, or simply for the love of the project. (Our goal is to make it some combination of all three.) Dan said that in a low-pay world, the leadership on these sets of the producer, director, and all of the above-the-line talent is what will mainly determine the successful execution of the film. (This is, of course, assuming you have done your homework!) On a low budget set, things go wrong like on any other set, except there’s no money to throw at the problem. In Dan’s view, the leadership’s ability to deal with these inevitable challenges with “glee” can be the make or break factor.
“Glee.” If we can separate this word in the English language for a moment from its television counterpart: what a perfectly onomatopoetic word for being gentle, smiling, and calm. It is visionary, in a way, to think of assembling a team and creating a work environment with glee. I was so grateful for this word and this reminder. This group of women embarked on this project for love of working together, and Dan reminded us not to lose sight of that for a single moment, to imbue it in how we organize and how we execute.