Mr. Affleck, Movies Are Like Start-Ups

September 15, 2010

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to “The Town” premier at Fenway Park.  I was surrounded by celebrities, sitting within 10 feet of Rebecca Hall, Jon Haam, Blake Lively, Jeremy Renner, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck… pretty cool!  The movie was great, and the presentation at Fenway made the experience even sweeter.   I’ve been fortunate enough to attend two other movie premiers (“Spider-Man 3” and “The Boondock Saints II”), and each time it becomes more evident that creating a movie is fantastically similar to starting a company.

When starting a business an entrepreneur must find the equilibrium between the team, resources, and opportunity, while using the business plan to bring them all together.  Often the sequence is: entrepreneur identifies the opportunity, validates it with a proof of concept, creates a business plan, builds the best team possible and acquires the needed resources to pull it all off.  This is a very basic outline taken from the Timmons Model for Entrepreneurship.  Repeat entrepreneurs tend to have established relationships and reputations that attract stronger team members and easier access to resources (financial and other).  The process for producing a movie is very similar.

Movies always start with an opportunity.  One way to validate an opportunity in the film industry is to examine recent box office numbers for similar types of movies.  Using “The Town” as an example, Boston-based thrillers have been very popular over the past seven years; “Gone Baby Gone” (2007) grossed $35M*, “The Departed” (2006) grossed $290M*, and “Mystic River” (2003) grossed $156M*; being three years removed from the most recent Boston-based thriller the market seems primed for the newest entry.  With an opportunity identified the movie producer (the entrepreneur), must create the script (business plan), to obtain the resources and build a team.  “The Town” had many options for creating a script, but by using a proven concept as an outline, the award-winning novel “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan (winner of the 2005 Hammett Prize), the risk was lessened.  With an opportunity identified, a script in-hand, and a proof of concept, the producer must build a winning team to acquire the needed resources and make the script into a real live movie (similar to making a business plan into a real working company).  A producer that “attaches” a big Hollywood name to his script will attract other big names (building the team), which attracts resources.  If the producer, or another member of the founding team, is a big name (repeat entrepreneur) then the quality of the team and amount of resources available increases.  Imagine if you used your business plan to attract Bill Gates as a board member of your start-up, think about how easy it would be to build your team and obtain the necessary resources.  The same rings true for “The Town”, with Ben Affleck as a founding member of the team (he wrote the script and directed the film), attracting Blake Lively and Jon Haam (two very popular actors whose names on the billboard will simply attract fans) was not too difficult.  With the all-star talent line-up acquiring the needed resources ($37.5M according to Wikipedia) must have been relatively simple.  Following the sequential path for “The Town”, a seasoned entrepreneur (Ben Affleck), with a tested business plan (script based on an award winning novel), strong team (popular movie stars), and sufficient resources ($37.5M) the business (movie) now exists.

Even though I’ve pled my case that movies are similar to start-ups, bear-in-mind I’ve only examined the most basic elements of the relationship at their earliest stages.  Execution is key.  A business plan outlines the holistic nature of the company, while the script is only one element of the entire film process (which includes marketing, editing, distribution, etc.). I draw the similarities between start-ups and movies by viewing business plans and scripts as entrepreneur and producer’s tools to identify the opportunities, build winning teams, and obtain the necessary resources.  “The Town” was able to build itself in a similar fashion as a business, and like many businesses founded by serial entrepreneurs, I’d bet my money that Ben Affleck hits a homerun with this one!

*Box Office Mojo (http://boxofficemojo.com, 15 September 2010)


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