7 Habits and Indie Filmmaking - 3. Put First Things First

Updated: May 21

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!


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