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How to Start a Film Production Company
Films may start with an idea or a script, but it’s the production companies that bring the content to life. From pre-production tasks like choosing the ideal shoot location to post-production editing and refining, film and video producers are arguably the most important component of a project’s success.
The recent pandemic brought many film projects to a halt, but the industry is bouncing back quickly. The U.S. film industry is massive and headed for strong 8.3% annual growth through 2027. If you’re thinking of starting up a production venture of your own, now seems like the perfect time – you might even make the next big blockbuster!
But before you splurge on the latest cameras, you’ll need to understand what it takes to launch a business. Fortunately, this step-by-step guide contains the tools and insight you need to give your film production company a great head start.
Time to build
Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You
Pros and cons
Before starting a film production company, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons.
- Flexibility – Set your own work schedule
- Fulfilling Work – Showcase your creativity!
- Large Market – Huge pool of potential customers needing video content
- High Stress – Satisfying client demands is hard work
- Skills Required – Must know how to operate equipment
Film production industry trends
Industry size and growth
- Industry size and past growth – The U.S. movie and video production market is worth $18.2 billion in 2022. After experiencing a decline over the last several years, the industry is back on the rise.https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-statistics/market-size/movie-video-production-united-states/
- Growth forecast – The U.S. film industry is expected to grow by 8.3% annually through 2027.https://www.zippia.com/advice/us-film-industry-statistics/
- Number of businesses – In 2022, 4,912 movie and production businesses are operating in the U.S.https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-statistics/number-of-businesses/movie-video-production-united-states/
- Number of people employed – The U.S. movie and video production industry employs 34,633 people in 2022.https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-statistics/employment/movie-video-production-united-states/
Trends and challenges
Trends within the film production industry include:
- Through the use of social media platforms like YouTube, amateur film producers can showcase their work without having to go through established media channels. Many independent filmmakers have had their work go viral, landing them bigger deals.
- Gaming and filmmaking are beginning to come together through the incorporation of virtual reality technology. Big companies like Netflix are exploring movies and TV shows that have an interactive component where audiences can influence a program’s outcome.
Challenges within the film production industry include:
- The recent pandemic put a countless number of film projects on hold and many were canceled completely. Although the industry is experiencing a comeback, it’s still feeling the effects of the past few years.
- Even if you capture the perfect footage, the editing process can be very time consuming, especially if you detect issues with sound or picture quality. This can cause a great deal of stress, especially when there are client deadlines to meet.
What kind of people work in film production?
- Gender – 32% of U.S. film producers are female, while 68% are male.https://www.zippia.com/film-producer-jobs/demographics/
- Average level of education – The average film producer in the U.S. has a bachelor’s degree.
- Average age – The average film producer in the U.S. is 40 years old.
How much does it cost to start a film production company?
Startup costs for a film production company range from $13,000 to $29,000. Your main costs will be the purchase of production equipment. Additional costs include production software, a website, and marketing expenses.
If you’re interested in taking an online course to develop your video production skills, sites like Udemy offer classes for under $100.
You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your film production company, including:
- Lighting kits
- Production and editing software
|Start-up Costs||Ballpark Range||Average|
|Licenses and permits||$300-$1,000||$650|
|Marketing and advertising||$1,000-$3,000||$2,000|
How much can you earn from a film production company?
The average cost of film production services for a new company is $50 per hour. As your production company grows, your rates will likely be much higher. After factoring in operating costs, expect a profit margin of around 60%.
In your first year or two, you could work 40 hours per week at a rate of $50 an hour, bringing in $104,000 in annual revenue. This would mean $62,000 in profit, assuming that 60% margin.
As your company builds a reputation, you could raise your rates to $150 per hour. At this stage, you’d rent out a production facility and hire staff, reducing your profit margin to around 30%. With annual revenue of $312,000, you’d make a handsome profit of $94,000.
What barriers to entry are there?
When it comes to starting a film production company, there are a few barriers to entry. Your biggest challenges will be:
- Purchasing expensive production equipment
- Finding distribution channels for your films
Step 2: Hone Your Idea
Now that you know what’s involved in starting a film production company, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market.
Why? Identify an opportunity
Research film production companies in your area to examine their services, price points, and customer reviews. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing a wedding video production company or a documentary production firm.
You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry, such as music videos, shorts or animated films. This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away.
What? Determine your products or services
You’ll be providing film production services for customers within a specific niche, which could include weddings and events, corporate videos, music videos, and more. You will most likely also offer editing services. If you produce shows and films for entertainment purposes, you could generate additional revenue by working to find production outlets for client projects.
How much should you charge for film production?
Film production companies charge for their services in several different ways, the most common being per hour, per day, or a flat rate per project. A beginner film producer could charge anywhere from $25 to $100 per hour, while a more experienced professional could charge as much as $250 or more.
Depending on deliverables, daily rates for services could range from $1,000 to $2,000. Many wedding video production companies charge per event or package, which commonly ranges between $5,000 and $10,000. Aim for a profit margin of around 60%.
Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.
Who? Identify your target market
If you’re not producing your own original content, your target market will be people looking to create films and videos for a variety of different reasons. For independent film projects and wedding and event video production, spread your marketing efforts across social media sites like Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook. To target customers looking for corporate video production, advertise your services on LinkedIn.
Where? Choose your business premises
In the early stages, you may want to run your business from home to keep costs low. But as your business grows, you’ll likely need to hire workers for various roles and may need to rent out a production facility. You can find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.
When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:
- Central location accessible via public transport
- Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
- Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
- Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
Step 3: Brainstorm a Business Name
Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.
Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:
- Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
- Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better
- Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
- Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
- Including keywords, such as “production house” or “film company”, boosts SEO
- Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “Jim’s Bakery” over “Jim’s Cookies”
- Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
- Use online tools like the Step by Step Business Name Generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.
Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these.
Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.
Step 4: Create a Business Plan
Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:
- Executive Summary: Brief overview of the entire business plan; should be written after the plan is complete.
- Business Overview: Overview of the company, vision, mission, ownership, and corporate goals.
- Product and Services: Describe your offerings in detail.
- Market Analysis: Assess market trends such as variations in demand and prospects for growth, and do a SWOT analysis.
- Competitive Analysis: Analyze main competitors, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and create a list of the advantages of your services.
- Sales and Marketing: Examine your companies’ unique selling propositions (USPs) and develop sales, marketing, and promotional strategies.
- Management Team: Overview of management team, detailing their roles and professional background, along with a corporate hierarchy.
- Operations Plan: Your company’s operational plan includes procurement, office location, key assets and equipment, and other logistical details.
- Financial Plan: Three years of financial planning, including startup costs, break-even analysis, profit and loss estimates, cash flow, and balance sheet.
- Appendix: Include any additional financial or business-related documents.
If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist at Fiverr to create a top-notch business plan for you.
Step 5: Register Your Business
Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.
Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business!
Choose where to register your company
Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you are planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to film production companies.
If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state.
Choose your business structure
Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your film production company will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely.
Here are the main options:
- Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
- General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
- Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
- C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
- S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using ZenBusiness’s online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.
Step 6: Register for Taxes
The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN.
Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.
The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online. It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you are completing them correctly.
Step 7: Fund your Business
Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:
- Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
- SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
- Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
- Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
- Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
- Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.
Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding a film production business. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept.
Step 8: Apply for Licenses/Permits
Starting a film production company requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.
Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits.
You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more.
You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.
This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties. If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.
Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account
Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.
Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your film production company as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.
Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account.
Step 10: Get Business Insurance
Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.
Here are some types of insurance to consider:
- General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
- Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
- Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
- Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
- Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
- Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
- Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
- Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.
Step 11: Prepare to Launch
As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business.
Essential software and tools
Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.
- Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero.
- If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.
Some of your business will come from word of mouth or online visitors, but you should still invest in digital marketing! Getting the word out is especially important for new businesses, as it’ll boost customer and brand awareness.
Once your website is up and running, link it to your social media accounts and vice versa. Social media is a great tool for promoting your business because you can create engaging posts that advertise your products:
- Facebook: Great platform for paid advertising, allows you to target specific demographics, like men under age 50 in the Cleveland area.
- Instagram: Same benefits as Facebook but with different target audiences.
- Website: SEO will help your website appear closer to the top in relevant search results, a crucial element for increasing sales. Make sure that you optimize calls to action on your website. Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Book Now”. This can sharply increase your client base.
- Google and Yelp: For businesses that rely on local clientele, getting listed on Yelp and Google My Business can be crucial to generating awareness and customers.
Take advantage of your website, social media presence and real-life activities to increase awareness of your offerings and build your brand. Some suggestions include:
- Flyering – Distribute flyers in your neighborhood and at industry events
- In-Person Sales – Offer your film production services at local markets, trade shows
- Sponsor events – You can pay to be a sponsor at events that are relevant to your target market
- Post a video – Post a video about your film production company. Use humor and maybe it will go viral!
- Start a blog – Start a blog and post regularly. Change up your content and share on multiple sites.
- Seek out referrals – Offer incentives to generate customer referrals to new clients.
- Paid ads on social media – Choose sites that will reach your target market and do targeted ads.
- Make a podcast – This allows you to make a personal connection with your customers
- Testimonials – Share customer testimonials about how your film production company helped them.
Develop your website
Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism. They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google.
You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.
Focus on USPs
Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your film production company meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire.
Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your film production business could be:
- Magically memorable films
- Top-quality video for weddings and corporate events
- The power of film brings stories to life
You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a film production company, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in film production for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections.
The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in film production. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership.
Step 12: Build Your Team
If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a film production business include:
- Production Crew – Film footage, edit content
- Administrative Assistant – Schedule shoots, assist with tasks on set
- Marketing Lead – Manage social media accounts, run ad campaigns
At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need.
Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent.
Step 13: Start Making Money!
Film and video production takes a lot of hard work and a specialized skill set, but it’s a rewarding and creative way to earn a living. Right now the industry is growing fast, so you could launch your own firm and make good money while partnering with amazing clients and working with them to bring their ideas to cinematic life!
Now that you’ve done your homework, it’s time to launch the film production company you’ve been dreaming about and start working on the next Hollywood blockbuster.
Film Production Company FAQs
You can start a film production company for around $13,000. Costs include production equipment, software, a website, and marketing expenses.
Yes, film production companies can be very profitable. Your success depends on how well you stand out from the competition and choosing a niche that’s in high demand.
Your rates will largely depend on the type of clients you work with. Hourly rates for film production range from $25 to $250 an hour and are usually based on the production company’s experience and reputation. Daily rates for video production typically range from $1,000 to $2,000. Wedding and event video production companies usually offer packages per event, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000.
You may be required to obtain or visit MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance page.
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