How do you start a film production company?

by Shante C.
(Cleveland, OH)

How do you start a film production company?

How do you start a film production company?

Question: Hello again! I started filming a documentary series about music festival culture in April. Now I have a ton of footage and im about to start fundraising so we can head into the editing/post production phase. The reaction to my style of storytelling was ALOT better than i anticipated so I think I might've found my niche!

I realized that I'd really like to expand and start a production/ interactive media company under which I can produce all the footage that we already have and future projects as well.

I've started to collaborate with other filmmakers and artist, all of which are much more established, so I feel the need to step my professional credital up a level to keep up.

So my question(s) are: 1) is this a good idea? 2)What steps would I have to take to get a production company up and running? and 3)Should I fund raise under a single project or for the start up funds for the company?

Thanks again!

Desktop Documentaries: Hi again Shante. These are some great questions. And congratulations on getting good feedback on your first filmmaking endeavor!

Yes, it's a good idea to create a "business entity" for your filmmaking endeavors. In fact, you may want to consider creating a business entity for each of your documentary projects in addition to your production company (although that's probably overkill for most first-time filmmakers).

Starting a video/film production company is not difficult (assuming you are the only employee and working out of your home). Here are the basic steps to get you started:

  1. Decide on a name for your media company

  2. Decide the legal structure for your company, for example sole proprietorship, Limited Liability Company (LLC), S-corporation or non-profit. The easiest and least expensive option is sole proprietorship, but if you can afford it ($150+), LLC is better. Read: I'm working on my first documentary. Do I need an LLC?

  3. Register your business name with your state government ("Doing business as")

  4. Get a tax identification number from the IRS, also called an Employer Identification Number (EIN).

  5. Check with your local and state government agencies for any additional requirements.

  6. Consider Video/Film Production Insurance

If at all possible, talk with an attorney, accountant and insurance agent for additional advice. I am not a lawyer, so the above recommendations should be considered general advice only.

Regarding your question about fundraising, more than likely you will raise money for your documentary THROUGH your production company unless you decide to create a separate LLC for your documentary.

Click here to set up an LLC with LegalZoom.

Unless you want to start your own non-profit (time consuming and a bit pricey), I recommend partnering with a non-profit "Fiscal Sponsor" who can accept money/donations on your behalf. They in turn will funnel the money to your production company which you will then use to fund your documentary. I wrote a whole chapter about how to do this in my Documentary Fundraising Guide. In fact, if you are SERIOUS about fundraising for your documentary, I recommend checking out the whole Documentary Fundraising Tool Kit (includes the fundraising guide).

Another resource to consider. I haven't personally read it, but it gets good reviews:

The Complete Film Production Handbook, Fourth Edition, by Eve Honthaner.

Of course, there are all the other extras involved in starting a production company such as creating a logo, building a website, writing your mission statement, creating business cards, etc. It's easy to get wrapped up in all the "extras" of the business, so always keep these other items in perspective and not allow them to overtake the priority of the actual making of the documentary!

I hope this helps!

If anyone else has insight on this topic, please leave your comments below.

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