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Feast or Famine

Feast or famine. It's the eternal challenge for indie producers. How do you concentrate on making the best possible show now, while making sure there is another show waiting for you to produce in the future? For me it was the great terror. I still have flashbacks about imagining that total annihilation and complete humiliation are lurking just around the bend.
August 1, 2004

Feast or famine. It’s the eternal challenge for indie producers. How do you concentrate on making the best possible show now, while making sure there is another show waiting for you to produce in the future? For me it was the great terror. I still have flashbacks about imagining that total annihilation and complete humiliation are lurking just around the bend.

The problem is, when you start out, your best skill is as a producer. You have finally been given the opportunity to make a show. You want to make it great. You want control. You want excellence. So, you try to do it all. The result: your program is terrific. You are proud. It is all your glory.

Then, reality sets in. The production is over and there is no new project waiting for you. In a panic to uncover new business, you make phone calls, you scramble to submit new ideas, and you wait and wait and wait. The terror rises. Sleep recedes. Then you wake up in the middle of the night and it hits you, maybe you’ll never work again.

Fortunately, by some miracle you get another project. And the process begins again. But, is this any way to live? Hot-cold. On-off. Frantic-hysterical. How long can you endure it? There must be a better way.

There is… sort of. The way to beat back the feast or famine cycle is: development. Dedicate some of your present energy and resources, and put them into the future. It takes time. It takes money. But, how much would you pay to smooth out your cash flow, eliminate famine and keep sane? Consider this recipe for success:

Delegate – You simply can’t do it all. You need development support. Find someone, even part-time, who’s interested in the biz, likes the content, can write a letter, make a phone call, do research, and offer good advice. More importantly, find someone who doesn’t want to be a producer.

Research new ideas – Wherever you are – on a plane, out in the field, in an edit bay – keep idea notes. Call them in to your new development assistant and get the research started. By the time you return, expect a folder filled with links, print-outs and ideas.

Write solid one-sheets – Concentrate on a good title, subtitle, and an extremely strong lead. If after the first paragraph your pitch is still unclear, you are already sunk. Use punchy language. Remember it’s a sales tool, not a dissertation.

Target most likely buyers – Who is most likely to buy from you? Where do you have personal relationships? What content do you have a track record in? Work it.

Listen – Network execs know what is working, and they know what has failed. Offer suggestions, but make sure you hear what they really need. Think of it as a grocery store. What do they sell? What are they short of?

Respond quickly – Ideas and conversations grow stale. There are a dozen other producers out there with similar ideas and interests. Sometimes just being there first is all it takes.

Be patient – Most deals take about a year from first discussion to first dollar received. Relax, they’re not out to get you, they’re just busy.

So, there you have it, your roadmap to a financially safer and saner production future. The truth is, you’ll never completely eliminate the feast or famine cycle. But, if all goes well, you will flatten out the waves and occasionally sail smoothly between projects. And, after all, if you were so sane, you wouldn’t be an independent producer.

Michael Hoff is the president and executive producer of Michael Hoff Productions in the San Francisco Bay Area. MHP counts CourtTV, The History Channel, Travel Channel, and National Geographic Channel among its broadcast partners. Hear more from Michael on this topic at the RealScreen Summit Feb. 7 to 9, 2005, Washington D.C.

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