Before I dive into this, I realize few people want to talk about losing or quitting. Filmmakers and creators are a tenacious bunch, but it is part of what we do. In fact, there are more failures in this business than successes and it is a fact that needs to be looked at squarely.
The web series and creator industries are filled with success stories of people sticking to their guns. The origin story of HIGH MAINTENANCE is legendary and one of a web series producer who just didn’t give up until it became a hit on HBO. Or Kit Williamson’s topsy-turvy ride toward getting his web series EASTSIDERS sold to LOGO and towards making it a streaming hit on Amazon Prime.
These stories remind us that perseverance is an important part of staying with a project and seeing it through. Focus and perseverance are truly important aspects of getting projects out into the world and god-forbid, making money. But sometimes, grit and stick-to-it-iveness can do more harm than good.
The good news is that successful producers frequently put down or outright quit a project on a fairly regular basis. Lord knows I’ve had my share of projects that I’ve walked away from. But what criteria should one use to know its time?
The reality is, the most successful creators are the ones who are best able to persist on promising projects and able to bail on ones that stand a slim to no chance of commercial success.
So how do you know it’s time to put down the pen, stow the camera or turn off the lights in the edit bay? Below are 4 key indicators it’s time to pack it in.
SUNKEN COST - Researchshows that most people stick with a failing project simply because they’ve already invested so much time into it. The idea of sticking it out until the bitter end is in a filmmaker’s DNA. Though, on the surface that makes complete sense, one needs to gage whether the only reason you’re sticking around and persisting is that you put in months of time and money verses; is three more months of the same going to yield different results?
TEAM MEMBERS ARE LEAVING – Did you start this project with other producers and key creatives? Are those people still around and just as jacked about the project as you are? If key people have left to work on other projects and you find you’re the last one standing, that might just be a sign the end is near.
It gets even worse when those people own a piece of the project. Not only do you not have them taking their share of the workload, but their dead weight when it comes to back-end profits. They get all upside with only having done a fraction of the work you did. Not to mention, getting that back from them can be a hell-scape.
NO ONE IS WATCHING – You’ve spent months on the project, you did all the social media you can think of, you’ve been to every festival you’ve been accepted to and still the only views you have are friends and family and a few hundred stragglers. Unfortunately, the industry pays attention to that and it gets increasingly more difficult for buyers to take a chance.
NO BUYERS ARE TAKING YOUR MEETINGS – Now I get it, many people don’t have a rolodex sitting on their desks filled with studio execs, but the reality of it is, if you’re serious as a creator, getting it in front of at least a handful of decision-makers is 80% of your job after production. If you are able to get even a small number of people to see it, either through pitch and screenwriting competitions or a few contacts in the industry, and ten people passed or even worse didn’t take a meeting with you at all, it may be time to walk away. That’s the market telling you, it’s not interested.
When all is said and done, there is no shame in walking away from a time, energy and money suck. Rather, It’s a big part of your business model. At some point, it may be worth taking-a-hike from a project simply because the ultimate success of that series or film no longer has the significant viability you believed it would have when you started it.