I worked in the development department of a major production company in Los Angeles. That meant me, and my co-workers were responsible for providing show concepts for the higher-ups to pitch to studios. The name of this game is quantity. Making things fast isn’t the best way to make good things, especially in creative fields like filmmaking and content development. The number of show concepts we had to produce per week was staggering.
This breakneck pace meant we worked in an environment where the house was always on fire. Needless to say, this led to a ton of burnout and a ton of turnover.
That turnover is what caught my eye one day. It hit me like a cartoon anvil. Co-works would leave with little to no fanfare. One day they were there and the next day they were gone. No cake or a pat on the back followed by a “Great job. We’ll miss you”. They were just vapor… a puff of smoke that never got mentioned again… and then the next day there was a new body in the place that last person was.
That’s when I realized, I was just a warm body that could write. I was completely and utterly replaceable and so was everyone else. When someone left, was fired or even once, died, they were replaced immediately with someone filled with hope and the illusion they had just “made it”. We would watch that gleam in their eyes fade after about two weeks.
For the time we were there, we were figuratively chained to our desks and “forced” via the threat of getting fired, to spew out ideas at an alarming rate. My friend called it a “content sweatshop”.
We all struggled with the same thing. How do we provide our bosses with ideas that can sell and still not give away the ones we wanted to keep for ourselves? Eventually, that became impossible because of the massive amount of output needed to stay in that job and we soon found ourselves giving away our best concepts. The ones we all saw ourselves being recognized for. The ones that could have possibly put us in the driver’s seat of our own careers.
Now, before you say, “Alex, you ingrate, sounds like you had a shitty attitude” or “that’s just one example”, Hollywood burnout is a very serious thing. I’ve had the opportunity to work for some of the most successful production companies in LA and the culture is the same. Some even worse than the above example.
Seriously, Twenty- and thirty-year veterans of the industry are leaving by the truckload and returning to their home towns to start a bakery because of this shift in how content gets made, bought and sold
The main problem of working as an employee for a studio or production company is that THEY own the ideas based on work you often intended to keep for yourself. While it pays the bills, the reality is, your show concept is now out there making a very small group of people rich. You have NO ownership of the thing that came out of YOUR brain. This is why selling your time for money instead of your ideas is such a losing proposition in the long-term.
In all fairness, I wouldn’t change those experiences for anything. I learned a ton. But as a long-term play, it’s a doomed proposition.
Instead, being a partner to these same people means you have a say in the direction the project takes, who works on it and how the money is handled.
In addition, for every dollar that comes in for the project BOTH you and your partner are sharing in that.
This revenue may last as little as one year or in some cases, if the show continues to succeed, a lot longer.
If you’re employed by Hollywood, when you stop working, the money stops coming in. If you partner with them, even if you leave the project, money continues to be generated. This is called ‘passive income” and it’s the key to thriving in Hollywood rather than just surviving.
So obviously, the question becomes, “How do I partner with Hollywood”? We’ll it’s simple. You ready? Here it comes! Yes, it’s…. have your own audience. In today’s content market, everyone with a DSLR camera has a film or web series idea so it’s a buyer’s market. Hollywood has the pick of the litter where show concepts are concerned, and since they are funded by providing eyeballs to advertisers, a project that comes with a built-in audience is WAY more attractive to them than one that comes from someone who simply has a good idea.
In the end, bringing them something of value, like an audience, rather than showing up in their office looking for them to give you money for your idea and asking them to do all the heavy lifting, is the surest way to have a long and satisfying career rather than to simply be an “idea slave” (Seth Godin’s words, not mine) to someone else’s agenda.
***Alex LeMay is a Showrunner and Director from Los Angeles, California. He creates and produces web series’ for Sony Studios, YouTube Red, Maker, Go90, Air + Style and more. In addition, he is the founder of alexlemay.com 1 , a coaching and consulting business that helps working filmmakers build high-earning content businesses.