Friday 1 August 2008

Ideas don’t move mountains, people do

After not looking at any potential new movie projects for the past year I read another synopsis for a feature film recently. I liked the concept a lot but I felt the story needed to be explored a bit further, and more importantly, I thought the characters had not been developed enough. But that doesn't really matter at this point. What is important is the person who gave me this story. He had a good way about him, and that is why I was keen to read what he had put down on paper.

I asked him about how he intends to make the film. He told me that the budget was super tight and that they will be utilizing all kinds of new technology to keep the costs down. All of this sounds good, but, it is not technology that gets a film made. People make movies, not technology.

As per my first piece on this forum, I want to re-iterate that you only ever invest in is people. You don't invest in film scripts or business plans. Think about this: a VC firm or a merchant bank sees many business plans in any given week. These ideas on paper are worth nothing. They are just words, and words come by pretty easily to most. Talk is cheap, as the saying goes. What makes these plans potentially worthwhile are the people behind them and the value they bring to the equation.

I remember back when Internet Solutions started off on its trajectory of exponential growth. The first customers that came on board were nervous. Many of them asked us tough questions, like "You all look like a bunch of kids. How long are you going be in business for?" I know they never meant to insult us; they were just concerned, and rightfully so, that they would be investing their time with a bunch of green guys who may go out of business soon because those are the odds. In short, these customers were looking for peace of mind. They weren't buying into technology, they were buying into people. They took it for granted that we knew what we were doing, but they wanted to know that we were going to be around to look after them long after they signed their contract.

Let's get back to the film story now. When someone sends you a screenplay there are a bunch of leading questions one should ask. Such as: what experience have you had making films? And, do you have a distributor who is committed to releasing the film? Other key questions should include: what is the budget for the film? How do you intend to recoup your investor's funds? Do you have any talent that have come on board the project, like bankable actors, etc.? Have you done some market research? Will people be interested in the story you want to tell? And the list of questions goes on and on. These are all pertinent business questions. Yes, they don't have much to do with the art of film making, but if you are going to ask someone for money for your art then you should consider the business imperatives that go hand in hand with your proposed venture. In my experience over the past 8 years of investing in artists I have really struggled to truly connect with anyone (except for a couple of people) on the fundamentals that underpin any venture. But when you do get this balance and alignment right, magic happens. In the past year I have been very privileged to connect with a group of talented and driven programmers who are doing some very cool things on the Net.

Einstein once said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I have met so many of these "genius" artists over the years and they all go on about how brilliant their ideas are. I do love many of their ideas but I would love them more if someone was prepared to suffer for their art. I have not found too many people willing to put their money with mouths are when it comes to their great ideas. And I am not referring to risking everything you got. I am just hinting at someone stepping out of their comfort zone.

Einstein said another compelling thing which I have been thinking about a lot this past year, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." This is why I took a break from feature film adventures for the past year. I was starting to go insane. And, following on from my previous blog entry here, I think I was digging for oil in the Karoo! Luck certainly has not been on my side when it comes to my adventures in the local screen trade. Perhaps I have just been plain stupid. As that one guy who posted that comment on this site said, referring to a survey where successful entrepreneurs spoke about luck, "Everyone has luck, I just did something about it." What I am trying to say is that doing something about it when the omens are telling you otherwise, is just an uphill battle. Call it bad luck or call it just dumb. One thing is for sure, the next time I embark on one of these journeys I won't do things the way I have done them before. And most importantly, I will make sure that the place we go digging at does have some evidence of oil.

If I look back at the Footskating film, I think we had a good bunch of people and a good plan. But I do think now more and more that we were digging in the wrong place. I was really happy with the end product. I like that film a lot. It was innovative and quirky, and it had heart. It is currently on M-Net and for the most part we have been getting some good feedback. I know it is not everyone's cup of tea, but I like it, and even though I lost money again, I have no regrets. But I did learn a hard lesson through all of this. Yes, luck is something you need to recognize. I have been digging for a long time, and the more I practice the luckier I get. But, I still haven't got it right yet and I am convinced, more and more, that I have been looking for oil in the wrong place.

Now what I am saying here is open to a lot of interpretation. Rest assured I am more positive than ever. I just needed some time and perspective to figure out where the oil is. My nose is itching again; I think I picked up the scent finally! Well, I hope I have!

But, this piece here today was not about where to look for oil, but rather, about who to go digging with. So, I think the last question I am going to ask my new film making friend is this: Are you convinced there is oil where you currently want to dig?

Posted by Ronnie Apteker