Starting a production company outside the industry center

In a nutshell

  • You can successfully start a video production company outside traditional industry hubs by leveraging local needs.
  • Starting with the equipment you already own is a practical way to launch your production company without needing a large budget.
  • Passion and community engagement are key elements that provide a solid foundation for a successful production company.

“You want to start a production company where?” That may be the question you get asked and it’s usually followed with, “Don’t you need to be in Hollywood for something like that?” The idea is that you must be in one of the industry hubs like Los Angeles, New York or Chicago to make it work. We have seen many video startups succeed in places that might be considered far off the beaten track.

In the current state of the industry, video production and production support are needed everywhere. That’s because video production is happening everywhere. We’re not just talking the standards like local TV ads or real estate videos, but actual network programming. The more networks there are, the more content is needed. You could also make the argument that, because of internet delivery and cloud-based production, there are no longer any boundaries, and the industry hubs are shifting to places like Atlanta and Las Vegas.

We’ve got some tips to get you going. These are things that we’ve gleaned after interviewing lots of people who are making it. These are tools that you can apply to any number of industry niches just about anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you want to start a small freelance operation, a lighting or sound company or even a rental house. There are some things you can do right from the start. Plus, we’ll give you an example from one company that’s making it work in Carlsbad, CA — a beach community that’s located about 100 miles south of Hollywood.

Focus on the need

The first step is to identify production needs in your area. This will take some research and maybe a few phone calls. You’ll need to find out what is already happening in terms of production in your area and don’t limit yourself to just your town or region. Your state’s Film Commission is a good starting point. Not every state has one, but such offices handle production requests from large companies and provide guidelines for both large and small-scale productions. For instance, if a show like Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” plans to feature a local restaurant, they’ll consult the Film Commission. If there isn’t a specific commission, your state will likely have a related office within the Secretary of State or Governor’s office. Some states even publish a guide of available services.

After you’ve begun your search, start reaching out to companies to see if they require your services. Listen closely during these conversations; you might learn about specific needs you hadn’t considered. You may hear that there’s a demand for specialized services like drone footage or underwater cameras, filling a niche you’re equipped to handle. Be prepared to offer some assistance, even if it’s for little to no cost. Businesses are more likely to work with someone who’s enthusiastic and willing to get involved. Many industry professionals have gotten their start this way.

Use what you’ve got

Often, the belief that you must have the latest, best and most expensive gear can prevent you from starting your business. The reality is that most people start with what’s available. Keeping up with constant technological advancements isn’t feasible without a massive budget. If Steven Soderbergh can make feature films with an iPhone, you can make do with what you have. Also, consider gear you might be able to borrow. There’s no need to go into debt. Start with what’s at hand, and as revenue comes in, you can invest in upgrades.

Moreover, the gear you already have is probably what you know best. You’re familiar with its controls, which will likely yield better results than a brand-new, high-tech unit you’re not acquainted with. It’s more beneficial to master your current gear than to spend time learning a new system. For instance, a $20,000 Red Camera could have controls and features that take months to master. Stick with what you know.

Inside Stepchild Rentals Image courtesy: Grace Chaves

Follow your passion

One basic principle of starting any production company or business is having passion and loving what you do. Most entrepreneurs launch ventures precisely because they love the field. This love serves as a foundation, helping you persevere through challenging times. Your passion will also motivate you to continually learn and improve, a truth that applies to every aspect of the industry. Whether you love shooting video, editing, or handling electrical setups, that enthusiasm will sustain you, as it has for many production professionals.

Passion for the task is also what’s going to help you make certain sacrifices along the way. In fact, if you’re truly passionate about it, it won’t feel like sacrifice at all. For example, we’ve heard about people who live at their workplace, so they don’t have to have two rental spaces. We know people who have bought alternative forms of transportation, so they can save on gas money, which they then reinvest in their business.

Find your community

Image courtesy: Grace Chaves

Stepchild Rentals in Carlsbad, CA serves an excellent example of what the principles above look like in action, plus one more secret ingredient: the power of community. Founded by Giuseppe LoTiemo and Kelly Hammond, both with industry experience and a local upbringing, they got their start after meeting through the website ShareGrid. the area needed better access to space and equipment, saying, “After a few times of working together, and talking, we figured that we’re so sick of driving up to pick up equipment. There’s got to be some stuff down here [in the San Diego area] So, we came together to get a space.” The need was there, and they were willing to start small in a warehouse space.

What has helped them really get off the ground is connecting with others who have the passion and the gear. Giuseppe says, “It’s more about that community base versus just is saying, here’s a rental and handing it off to somebody. It’s more like, ‘Hey, come prep at our space and if you need to learn something we’re happy to show you.’” It’s through this community approach that they’re able to offer a dozen types of cameras.

Kelly adds, “There’s been a lot of people that who have told us that own gear. They approach us and offer to throw their equipment in our catalogue as well. And so, in addition to having our own stuff and putting our own money, other people that have equipment here as well.” He tells us that is how they can stay ahead of the changing technology. “When the Alexa 35 came out, there was four people in San Diego that hit us up and said they pre ordered these cameras and they would love to bring them in.”

Giuseppe tells us that the focus is really all about the community and there’s another need they want to meet, “Now that we have the equipment, we want to offer workshops or whatever people want to learn how to do. Our goal is to make it more accessible to people that want to use this stuff.” Both Stepchild founders are learning to use gear. They are both passionate about learning the film process.

Time to start your production company

So, what about your area? Is there a need that your are passionate about? Do you have some gear to started? Is there a community that you can connect with or a community that you’re already part of? Don’t let your location hold you back. You can start a production company right where you are.

Jeff Chaves
Jeff Chaves
Jeff Chaves is the chief creative officer of Grace Pictures Inc. and is a full-time minister with over 12 years of experience in television broadcasting.

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