I’ve had an interest in film ever since I took a video production class in high school. I loved the creative aspect of it. I went to college at DePaul; I liked the idea of living in Chicago, they had a film school, and I thought it would set me up for success. To be completely honest, I didn’t learn much. But there is value to gaining a network and improving social skills.
When we started Pink Hippo, there were 4 of us, and we were like a lot of kids fresh out film school with big dreams. We wanted to be the next Film Production company, the next Paramount Pictures, and build a big studio. We had no idea what we were doing, but we were fortunate enough to have access to investors, which is not typical. We made a business plan, received coaching from a firm that helped us prepare to pitch our idea to investors, and ultimately got funding.
With our newfound cash, we bought $100,000’s worth of gear to function as both a production company and an equipment rental company. We thought we were doing something groundbreaking because most companies don’t do both. It wasn’t such a good idea; our monthly overhead was upwards of $30,000, and we had no customers. We harassed every possible person we could think of, knocked on doors, made phone calls. Our network got thoroughly abused. We did manage to get a few $5,000 projects, but our working capital was gone.
On the ropes, we managed to land a sale with TOMY Toys and leveraged the deal to pitch our investors on additional funding rounds. We were lucky; traditional investors would not have given us the funds; it was unique. Ultimately, we discovered our company was confusing, sold all of our gear, a founder left, got out of debt, and became a lean full-service production company and creative agency.
We had a dream, but we were naive, and it is not a path I would recommend. $300,000 does not last long, and making movies is VERY hard. There is a market for making movies, and we’ve made a couple (Canal Street, Final Choice), but there are many more opportunities to work with companies who want to make commercials and online content.
Pink Hippo Productions is a creative agency for film writing, production, and post-production. Our best clients are the ones who come to us with an idea and give us creative control. We work hand in hand with customers, but we also know a bad idea when we hear one and try to make sure things stay within budget.
A day in the life as an owner of a small film production company is probably a lot different from a larger competitor. I do a lot of hands-on editing in addition to everything required to run the business. Often, I’ll wake up, check emails, and ensure client meetings are set-up for our sales lead, which I hop on for if it’s with a larger client or post-production related. We bid on various projects, where we create a budget and a visual pitch deck to send to the client. I’m reasonably hands-off, but I’ll look the proposal over briefly before we send it. If editing is required, that’s what I’m working on all day long. With existing clients, I’m checking in with them regularly to make sure they’re happy with our progress, our product, and everything is on schedule. There is no typical day; everyone in the company is very hands-on, which is fun.
It’s a risky endeavor, but I can’t see myself doing anything else. I get to be creative, travel, work with talented people, meet celebrities, CEOs, and get the satisfaction of having content with millions of views. We’ve worked with stars like Alvin Kamara, Juice Wrld, DRAM, Trippie Redd; I’ve filmed one of my favorite online shows, Hot Ones with Chance the Rapper. If you can make it big, there’s the potential to make a lot of money.
If you look at what’s happening now with COVID, there are many industries in decline, but film making isn’t one of them. With everyone being home, the demand for content has never been higher, and people want entertainment. The data shows that websites that use video content are much more engaging than those that don’t. It’s a fantastic marketing tool for those that use it correctly.
Free lunch, networking potential,
This is an industry built on dreams. If you have goals of being the next Steven Spielberg, you are not alone. This industry is saturated with big dreamers. If I didn’t start this company, I probably wouldn’t have made it as an editor. Having a solid portfolio helps, but it only gets you so far. You need to have social skills and be presentable to clients. Since I started my business eight years ago, I’ve received close to 10,000 emails from people trying to pitch themselves. I appreciate the effort, but there’s no practical way sort through these, due to sheer volume. This is a word-of-mouth industry, and you need to know people to get an in. I’m not going to take a risk on someone unless they have an impressive portfolio, and someone I trust recommends them. The stakes are too high, and reputation is everything.
If you’re going to go down this path, understand that it’s a risky adventure without substantial financial support. Being a freelance film provider doesn’t provide health insurance or benefits. And building a portfolio is hard because it’s a chicken and an egg problem. No one will hire you without experience, but you can’t get experience without being employed. If you expect to get the skills you need in film school, you’re in for a rude awakening. I wish schools taught courses on how to utilize your skills and find work.
If you want to get into editing, building a network is the most important thing. You don't necessarily need to go to school to learn the skills you need (you can teach yourself online), but you need to build a network; word of mouth is EVERYTHING in this industry. I know several people who've created a network through influential family members, friends, or the companies they've worked for, but it's usually not as easy. However, I don't think going to film school is a good option if it requires you to take on a lot of debt.
If you decide to go to school, there's a couple of options:
Major in film. Do a lot of project work, and build an extensive network. Once you graduate, find a job. Keep in mind that open positions are very, very competitive. There are not enough jobs to go around; that's the reality.
Minor in film. Get a job with whatever your major is in, and see if the company will allow you to do film work on the side. This option can be an easy way to build your portfolio if your ultimate goal is to become a freelance editor.
Starting a Production Company
Be as lean as possible. It will most likely take several years to build your brand and reputation. If you have low overhead, there's less pressure, and your chances of making it long-term are significantly higher. It's going to be a grind; if you don't love it, you won't make it. Best of luck!