One of my favorite mailing lists is Fred Wilson’s “A Venture Capitalist,” and I was really struck by this recent article about whether it’s better to back the team or the product, when evaluating investing in a startup company.
In the post, Fred makes the case that the three important factors are a mix of market, team, and product. The overall size of the market is important, because that determines the size of the opportunity. The founding team is important because they determine how the company is run, what its values are, and how decisions are made on how the product made. And the product is important because it’s the thing that actually has to appeal to consumers.
I think this analogy links very closely to how I tend to evaluate what movies to make. The product is the screenplay or the treatment or the pitch. The team are the writer, director, stars, and key department heads that will determine not only how the product develops, but also what the process will be like.
The market is a bit trickier. If a film already had distribution, the market is the moviegoing audience for this particular product and team. If a film doesn’t have distribution, then you also have to consider the market of what companies would distribute a movie like this. You have to plan for the eventual audience and the smaller audience of acquisition executives who decide what movies they want to buy and release.
But really all three of these things matter. The filmmakers, the movie, and the potential audience for that movie. If you get all three of those things right, then you drastically increase your opportunity for success. If you start getting any of those things wrong, and you’re going to have a very rough path ahead of you.
I've been thinking a lot about pop culture and “content” and movies and what it takes to stand out in a world where audiences have instant access to vastly more hours of entertainment than they have the ability to consume in a lifetime. It's not enough to just make a good movie anymore, as people have immediate access to every other good movie ever made. Hell, they have access to every great movie ever made. How do you compete with The Godfather? How do you compete with every Bond movie? How does someone who makes movies fit into this world?
I write this blog for a specific audience. It's all written to be appealing to the “me” of ten years ago. By that, I mean the young eager person who loves film and is avidly trying to absorb as much knowledge and experience as possible. I hope I can help share some insight, and help people realize that everyone in this industry is still trying to learn how to make a good movie.
In that spirit, these are some books that I've read over the last decade or so that helped shape my approach to filmmaking and my understanding of the film business. I think these books all have considerable educational value to the aspiring or working filmmaking. The list is broken into categories, but I recommend cross-pollinating your knowledge. I find that breakthroughs in one filmmaking discipline often come from knowledge and experience acquired in another. The art, craft, and businesses of filmmaking are not orthogonal; they intertwine and it's expected for an expert in any field to at least have a basic understanding of how their work impacts their colleagues.
The movie Killer Elite was released with “based on a true story” as part of its marketing campaign, and gives that clear message in the opening credits of the film. Many of the characters have the names of real people, including one of the characters being Ranulph Fiennes (yes, he's related to Ralph Fiennes), the author of the book The Feather Men, which the film was based on.