top of page


for filmmakers by filmmakers


Here is where you'll find our show notes, insights from our friends in film, and a variety of thoughts, ideas, and perspectives we've developed during our time in the film industry.

In this series, we consider how the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey relates to indie filmmakers. In this post, we discuss the "Put First Things First" habit.

First Things First: The Macro Level

Filmmaking is so many things when you consider both the art and the business of it. At times, it seems like you're doing all the things all the time just to keep your career moving forward. So how do figure out what to do first? Well, at a macro level, we believe in a strict order of operations for setting up your filmmaking career for success.

There are three distinct areas that need your focus from the day you decide to be a filmmaker:

  1. Brand - Who you are and what you offer.

  2. Work - The projects you get involved in.

  3. Recognition - The acclaim you receive.

The reason we put things in this order is because your brand gets you the work and the work gets you recognition. The recognition, in turn, improves your brand which get you more work, which invites even more recognition, and starts the cycle all over again. It's a pretty good model for success.

So, in this context (the macro), putting first things first means creating your personal brand so that others know why they should work with you. Here are a few areas you should consider when building your brand:

1. Value

Identify the value that you intend to provide. Read our article on "Begin with the End in Mind" for an idea of how to build that out. This statement tells people who you are, what you bring to the table, and what your aspirations are for your career.

2. Principles

These are the rules that guide your actions and how you interact with the world around you. It's important for you to know the rules, play by the rules, and work with others who play by those same rules. Filmmaking takes a community. Good filmmaking takes a village. Great filmmaking takes a family. Be wary of who you let in your family. Be true to your principles.

As an example, one of our first principles at Bonsai Creative is "No mercenaries." We live by this principle every day and we refuse to stray from it. "No mercenaries" means that we will only work with teams that are there for each other and care about each other's success. Hired guns take no accountability and therefore cannot be counted on when things get tough. When the money runs out, their loyalties will lie elsewhere and the team will fail in their absence. We've learned our lesson. No mercenaries.

3. Awareness

A brand that is silent isn't a brand at all. A brand aligns itself with those who share its principles and seek its value. Before you ever create one piece of work, it is important to align yourself with others. Let them know who you are, what you are about, and what you have to offer. This will help you to validate your brand and to engage communities that will eventually serve as the base for your audience, your support, and the work that has yet to come.

To do this, leverage social media to tell your story and to participate in the conversation. Here's how to leverage the various outlets to your advantage:

  • Facebook - Join communities that share your interests. Comment, like, share.

  • Instagram - Post photos and videos of yourself engaging with your community. Share on Facebook.

  • Twitter - Join the conversation on relevant topics being discussed by your peers and mentors. Comment, like, share.

  • YouTube - If you have free content to share, share it here. This gets your work out there for people to comment, like, and share.

  • TikTok - Share your personality. You were a person before you were a filmmaker.

First Things First: The Micro Level

On a micro level, putting first things first is about setting expectations each time you engage with someone on a project. In business, there is only one way to do this effectively: contracts.

If money is going to be exchanged for any reason, you need to have all expectations articulated and memorialized in the form of a contract. It doesn't matter if you are dealing with friends, family, colleagues, teachers, students, or seasoned professionals. Handshakes are only good for introductions. Contracts are legally binding and can be upheld in the court of law. By committing others to contractual relationships, you are demonstrating professionalism while protecting your interests and the interests of your projects.

If you don't know where to start, an entertainment lawyer is the way to go. Find one who will help you identify which contracts you need for which purposes and leverage them to build templates you can use over and over again. When presented with a contract, make sure that your lawyer reads through every line to ensure that the language is clear, consistent, and correct. This is an expense that all filmmakers must find a way to afford as this is how you'll protect yourself in the short and the long run.

Who's On First

Remember, when it comes to your career, your brand comes first. It is what you lead with, it's what grows with you, and its what gets you the work and the recognition you are a seeking. When it comes to the work, contracts come first. It's what sets expectations and protects your brand.

As always,

Be Better. Be Creative. Be Engaged.

If you're looking for someone to help you on your creative journey, feel free to reach out to us. We'd love to work with you!

In this series, we consider how the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey relates to indie filmmakers. In this post, we discuss the "Begin with the End in Mind" habit.

This habit is all about your goals and how you define success for yourself, not just the project you're working on today. The "End" is a combination of a number of factors that will serve as guideposts to your decisions and markers for your success. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself to define what the "End" goal truly is:

1. What do you want to be known as?

This question gets to the heart of the value that you as an individual bring to the community and the role you choose to take on to provide it. Are you a Director who injects comedy and whimsy into your work to evoke positive responses from your audiences in the delivery of timely social messaging? Are you a Documentarian who dares to tell untold stories to highlight the realities of the human experience? Are you a Writer who infuses unmistakably identifiable characters into uniquely fantastical worlds that rethink our childhood fairytales?

To answer this question, simply frame your response like this:

"I want to be known as [adjective] [role] with a unique talent for [area of specialty]."

The action should be an expression of what differentiates you in the role that you choose.

A response would like something like this:

"I want to be known as an [award-winning] [Director] with a unique talent for [whimsical infusions of fantasy, comedy, and sci-fi]."

2. What do you want to be known for?

This question is about the work that you do and its value to a community.

The work is defined by the projects you work on like short films, feature films, documentaries, music videos, and episodic content. It is also informed by the genre you select (e.g., Comedy, Drama, Horror, Action, etc). Being specific in these two areas allows you to focus your efforts, education, and expertise thereby enabling you to continuously build and maximize your potential. Spreading yourself too thin, however, will make it difficult to pinpoint the things that you are especially good at. After all, being a "Jack of all trades and a master at none" will always make you second choice to someone who specializes in any given area.

The value part of the equation is all about the standout elements of your work that distinguish you within the communities you serve (we'll talk about defining those communities in a bit). As a filmmaker, your work will serve one or more of three purposes:

  • To entertain

  • To educate

  • To inspire

It's important to identify which of these means the most to you and how you intend on leveraging your art to make it happen.

To answer this question, simply frame your response like this:

"I want to be known for [genre] [film type] that [purpose]."

A response would like something like this:

I want to be known for [romance and fantasy] [feature films] that [inspire audiences to find their own unique paths to self-actualization].

3. By whom do you want to be known?

This is about the communities from whom you get your recognition. Being specific here enables you to make the subject matter, cinematography, and casting decisions needed to to get your community's attention. It also helps you to choose the projects that best align to your goals while turning down the ones that don't.

There are few types of communities for you to choose from each of which is defined by its purpose. These include:

  • Those who share the same interests

  • Those who are attempting to bring about change

  • Those brought together by geographic boundaries

  • Those who share the same profession

  • Those brought together by circumstance

To answer this question, simply frame your response like this:

"I want to be recognized by [community]."

A response would look something like this:

I want to be recognized by [the filmmaking community and those who seek inspirational content].

Putting it All Together

Now that you've answered each of these questions, it's time to clearly define what the "End" looks like so that you can begin taking the right steps and making the right choices to achieve it. Let's see what it looks like when you put all of the pieces together. To do this, you'll put your answers together in this order:

Answer 3 + Answer 1 + Answer 2

Here is an example:

"I want to be recognized by the filmmaking community and those who seek inspirational content as an award-winning Director with a unique talent for whimsical infusions of fantasy, comedy, and sci-fi into romance and fantasy feature films that inspire audiences to find their own unique paths to self-actualization."

At this point, with a statement like that, you can feel free to drop the mic and begin with the end in mind.

[Insert mic drop here.]

As always,

Be Better. Be Creative. Be Engaged.

If you're looking for someone to help you on your creative journey, feel free to reach out to us. We'd love to work with you!

In this series, we consider how the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey relates to indie filmmakers. In this post, we discuss the "Be Proactive" habit.

Your success begins and ends with you and the collection of choices that define your journey. You can either make those choices yourself, leveraging your own intelligence, experience, wisdom, and intuition or you can let others make those choices for you. Being proactive is about taking responsibility for your actions, your choices, and ultimately your future. If you allow others to take the wheel, you'll go where they want you to go, not where you want to go.

As a creative, it can seem like a no-brainer that you must be proactive in order to create your art so that the world can see it. Artists are often the singular guides to bringing about their inner visions. But what happens when it's no longer just about the art? What happens when art turns to business?

In independent filmmaking, there are a few myths that are pervasive throughout the community. These myths lead filmmakers to believe that someone other than themselves is ultimately responsible for the success of their films. Here are two of those myths:

Myth #1. Winning a Film Festival is the Key to Selling My Film

Film Festivals are designed as opportunities to celebrate the art of filmmaking while providing networking and educational opportunities for the filmmaking community. Film Festivals are not markets and they do not guarantee interest from studios nor distributors.

Winning a film festival in any category is truly an accomplishment and will certainly help validate your claims regarding the quality of you work, but it is not a silver bullet. Placing your faith in a festival to be the springboard to your success is a passive approach because this means you've placed your future in the hands of those you hope will be interested in taking you to the next level. Unfortunately, those chances may be less than 1 in a million. Though we encourage you to enter film festivals (the right festivals for your film), it is important to use them as a tool along the way and not to rest your laurels on...laurels.

Myth #2: Distributors Will Brand and Market My Film

If you're fortunate enough to find a distributor for you film, it is important to know that most distributors of indie film content do not have the infrastructure to do branding and marketing. That's your job. The major studios pour millions of dollars into their tentpole films because they can guarantee a return on their investment. Smaller distributors do not have that luxury on either side of the coin. Not only do they not have the funds to pour into marketing for every film in their slate, they can't guarantee a return on investment.

If you are betting on a distributor to make your film a success by leveraging their name and their connections, we'd advise you to keep that bet and invest it in your own marketing campaign. This is yet another area where taking control of your future can mean the difference between the life and death of your film. You are ultimately responsible for building the brand of your film, just as the major studios are. They leverage recognizable talent and prolific brands to sell their films. It's up to you to build a brand for yourself and your film that fosters audience engagement so that your distributor will have someone to sell to.

Be Proactive

For indie filmmakers, being proactive is all about taking care of your baby. You brought it into this world, you've nurtured it and you've helped it grow. Though you may partner with others along the way to give it the life it deserves, no one else will ever love it the way that you do. After all, it is your baby and it is your responsibility to help it reach its full potential.

As always,

Be Better. Be Creative. Be Engaged.

If you're looking for someone to help you on your creative journey, feel free to reach out to us. We'd love to work with you!

bottom of page