I probably should have done this post on Partnerships before last week’s post on how not to screw up your funding application but there you go. I’m doing it now.
One of the biggest ways that a project can fail (in general, not just with funding applications) is in picking the right partners to work on the project. This is co-producers or digital media and television producers or creative partners. The same rules/guidelines apply.
Audio-visual media is a collective work. None of us can create (high quality commercial) film, television and digital media on our own. We need to work with other people to bring complimentary skills together to get the end product completed. I think that we all understand that a screenwriter, producers, director, actors and crew are needed to produce but this also applies to the producer. Sometimes it is skills that are needed, for example when a smaller production company or series creators partner with a more experienced production company to take on a bigger challenge. Sometimes it is financing as when a Canadian production company partners with a treaty co-production partner. And then there are the partnerships between formats when a tv producer partners with a digital media producer to create affiliated digital media content for a television program.
Early on in my career I learned a few key rules on partnerships from a tv producer who became a broadcaster and then a winemaker and is back to being a broadcaster. I like to sum them up as ‘can you get drunk with your intended partner?’ It may seem frivolous but bear with me. You get drunk with people you like (most of us do anyway). Production is hard and you should only do such hard work with people you like and trust, can talk to and feel that you can rely on. This means spending time with people and getting to know them before signing an agreement. Put the relationship ahead of the deal.
How do you do that? Meet lots of people and companies before decided which one you want to work with. Attend markets and conferences where you can meet a lot of people (and socialize with them!). Talk to your friends and colleagues about their experiences with those companies. Yesterday I told a story about the reactions of two different companies to an event that I was trying to set up and the person I told it to heard the story as more evidence that one company was a better potential partner for her than the other company. It wasn’t the point of my story but it definitely informed her opinion about which one she would rather work with.
It is more than likeability and ethics though. What you look for in a partner depends on what you need but you need to be certain that your partner has it and isn’t just BS’ing you or entertaining magical thinking about their abilities. That’s the due diligence part that you have to do. Can they bring that financing to the table – check out their past projects. Can they produce the digital media component – check out their past projects. Do they have the distribution skills or marketing skills that you lack – check out their team. Right now possibly the biggest problem in convergent media production is tv producers partnering with digital media companies who do not have the skills and experience to produce what the tv producers are looking for. For example, if a convergent project is going to be about developing and supporting the television audience with content then a digital media shop that has only created websites that sell products will not have the necessary skills. The result, if it can be funded, just may be garbage.
If you don’t know the sector that you’re exploring for a partner then consider hiring a consultant who works in that area to help you find potential partners. Yes, it does sound like hiring a matchmaker but it can work. Some organizations are partnering with other organizations to facilitate matchmaking, for example WIFT’s Digiscape in partnership with CMPA, CWC and Interactive Ontario. Go to funders’ websites and check out what they’ve funded and who produced it.
OK, so you’ve found your dream date, now what? An effective partnership comes out of both parties clearly understanding the strengths that each bring to the partnership, the roles they will each perform and being completely on the same page about what is being produced. You can do this in a co-production or services agreement but you also need one or more meetings where you can talk about the big picture and all the little details that it will take to get there. I cannot tell you how often I have been able to see in a funding application that partners appear to have completely different ideas about what they are producing. An effective partnership involves constant communication – which of course isn’t difficult because you do like each other, right? [see above re getting drunk together] You do not carve up the responsibilities and go off and do your thing, assuming that your partner is off in their corner doing their thing and somehow magically it will all get put together and end up being fantastic!
Ideally you want to have such a fantastic working relationship with your partner that you can work with them again and avoid all of this hard finding your partner work.