Monday, April 10, 2023

Forget the door. Find the bridge! (Part III)

Identifying legitimate resources and opportunities
Founder/President Utah Filmmakers™ Association

(Start at the beginning!)

The Utah Filmmakers™ Association has a vetting process to determine what endeavors are worth pursuing and which resources or projects are worth highlighting in the Community. The questions it asks are the same ones that anyone should ask before deciding to participate in or promote a project, especially when the general public could infer that what’s being promoted is a legal entity—or something in service to such an entity—other than an individual person.

Image by Canva

In the 21st century, when a new business is first establishing itself, it will create an online presence in some form or another—usually a website with a unique domain name and/or social media profiles. Then the marketing begins, content is created, and engagement is sought. At this point, such endeavors come to the attention of Utah Filmmakers™, like a new production company, online service, community resource, etc.

The first step in the UFA™ vetting process is always to determine whether it’s legitimate. In other words, asking, “Is this a licensed and registered business or nonprofit organization?” The reader should consider how often they have seen an online introduction along the lines of, “Hi, I’m ‘Sew Andso,’ with ‘Generic Productions,’” complete with a link to a website and/or social media handle.

The Utah Department of Commerce maintains a publicly accessible database for looking up registered business names. On more than one occasion, the author has entered a search for names akin to “Generic Productions” only to be greeted with “The business name ‘Generic Productions’ appears to be available!

This, in and of itself, does not mean that “Sew Andso” is out to scam anyone. They’re usually just an enthusiastic kid eager to get to work and “put the cart before the horse.” They may not even realize that forming a production company means starting a business, which entails registering a name, incorporating, getting an EIN number, opening a new bank account, and obtaining a county and/or municipal business license. Perhaps a permit to operate out of one’s home—if they don’t intend to hire anyone. It can be overwhelming for a lot of people; not everyone is cut out to run a business—even a sole proprietorship—and that’s okay. Any capable filmmaker doesn’t need to invent a brand to make a living in the film industry. Those who do want to start a business take it seriously enough to do their homework.

There are also red flags to look out for. Indicators that don’t just inform Utah Filmmakers™ about whether or not to offer a public word of acknowledgment but should also serve as warnings for members of the local film Community—and the general public—to steer clear of them.

One of the biggest concerns for Utah’s film Community is the complete absence of regulation, permitting, or licensure for individuals that conduct business as “Talent Agents” or “Managers.” Are there talent agents and/or managers in Utah that are legitimate businesses with experienced and competent operators? Yes. A talent agent and a manager represent the author, but they will not be identified in this article for the reasons explained below.

Does the Utah Filmmakers™ Association endorse any agents and/or managers? No.

As a matter of policy, Utah Filmmakers™ will not endorse any individual or entity operating under an assumed name that does not meet and maintain the state's licensing and/or permitting requirements for running a business or nonprofit organization. Where individuals that conduct business in Utah as “talent agents” or “managers” are concerned, the organization will not endorse anyone using such or similar titles until a licensing requirement is put into place by the state government.

It is the author’s opinion that anyone who wants to call themselves a “talent agent” or “manager” and charge money for the services that they provide should be required, by law, to apply for a license, pay an appropriate fee, post a bond, provide sample contracts, maintain financial transparency, and meet an informed minimum standard of professional competence, to include demonstrating a practical understanding of ethical business practices, all subject to approval and periodic renewal by a licensing board.

Presently, Utah requires educational certification, documentation of supervised experience, and successful completion of a state board examination—including a written portion and demonstration of skills—in addition to filling out an application and paying a licensing fee just to cut hair for a living.

To become a “talent agent” in Utah, one only has to register a business name—also known as a DBA (“Doing Business As”) certificate.

Outside of certain established trade unions and professional guilds, the film industry generally has no educational or licensing requirement to be credited in a motion picture for anything. Within the “Independent” sphere of the film industry, where tight budgets often require filmmakers to wear multiple “hats,” individuals may have several credits to their name in multiple departments for the same project. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s practically a right of passage for independent filmmakers.

However, when it comes to transitioning from being an amateur filmmaker to becoming a professional filmmaker, one has to learn to let others wear their own hats. That can be difficult for anyone accustomed to working within the constraints of microbudgets and small crews. Making and owning difficult decisions, being able to collaborate, delegating responsibility, and giving others opportunities to learn, grow, and excel, are all defining characteristics of Professionalism in any industry.

Collaboration requires trust. Trust requires letting go of control. Some professional filmmakers run very strict sets, maintain high-quality standards, and demand excellence from those they work with. That is not the same thing as being in control. Spike Lee is famous for the magnificent work that bears his name under the titles of Producer, Writer, and Director—and he’s usually acting in a key onscreen role as well. It can’t be denied that he enjoys a degree of creative control that’s atypical for the film industry, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t trust those he works with to excel in their areas of expertise. The same cannot be said for others.

(Part IV)

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and—especially where guest posts are concerned—do not necessarily reflect the official policies and/or practice of the Utah Filmmakers™ Association, its officers and/or associates.