I’m incredibly fortunate to be working with James on making Janapar. Not only is he a very talented producer-director, but he is one of the few with enough ambition (or recklessness) to turn down numerous well-paid TV gigs in favour of his own independent film.
It’s an inherently risky business we’re in here. The majority of independent documentaries are passion projects. Most will never see a penny of profit. A startling proportion will bankrupt their makers.
Why? Because filmmaking costs money. ‘Low budget’ means at least a five-digit number. Even the accepted definition of ‘no budget’ usually runs into thousands.
To minimise costs, James and I are living off meagre savings and working full-time in a home office to fill the roles that dozens (or hundreds) of people might fill in a commercial project. We are typical indie filmmakers.
And that’s where I’ve met the double-edged sword, which I suppose is one that most self-employed-for-life people will sooner or later encounter . In order to remain creative and self-directed — particularly when non-negotiable overheads like a bed, food, and a place to practice a craft are concerned — attention must be paid to making the practice self-sustaining.
That means engaging on one level or another with the instruments of ‘business’ — of creating things of value and making them available to those who want them. And that means making connections. Which means spending time communicating. And in this day and age, that means screen time. For an ex-website-developer like me, it’s an unwelcome return to the original cause of escape.
There’s a compromise, of course. But it’s difficult to identify where it lies. For three weeks now I’ve spent 8 hours a day at the keyboard, interspersed with runs and bike rides and project-related trips to the city. What differentiates my job from an office nine-to-five? At the moment, not much.
(I have nothing against office nine-to-fives, by the way. I know plenty of people who are happily aligned with such jobs. But they’re not for me.)
I keep telling myself it’s a means to an end. And the end is clear: to be in a position to share a story, having collected and crafted the material for it over the last five years of my life.
The question is: when do the means instead begin to dominate? At what point does the (meaningful) marketing, publicising, communications and business development I’m doing to serve my creative passions simply become a (meaningless) marketing, publicity, communications and business development management job?
What do you think?