How Independent Filmmakers Build & Manage Their Relationships

How Independent Filmmakers Build & Manage Their Relationships

How Independent Filmmakers Build & Manage Their Relationships

David Zannoni
David Zannoni
2 years ago

I started to work in the independent film business in 2007. I have since, as an employee, consultant, representative, and executive producer worked for and with global service providers, production companies, individual filmmakers, sales agents, and others in this industry. And although knowledge, expertise, and affinity with the industry are certainly and undeniably important elements as well, I have learned that nothing has been of more importance to my career than building and managing my business relationships.

In this article, I will highlight what makes the independent film industry different from corporate cultures, what sort of business relationships there are in independent film, why it is essential to manage your business relationships, and how to attract and manage business relationships.

What makes “independent” different?

Studios and streaming platforms develop, produce, and distribute their own projects in-house. They fully control the whole process of filmmaking. People work as employees or under a work-for-hire contract. Studios and streaming platforms are generally large companies with typical corporate structures and cultures.

The independent film business is different in nature. The whole process of developing, financing, producing, distributing, and releasing film projects, is carried out by a chain of multiple independent players. Although these players have commercial and contractual relationships with each other, they are independent vis-à-vis each other, and their relationships change on a project-by-project basis.

Throughout the several stages of the film, independent filmmakers work with a multitude of people, from co-producers, investors, agents, and distributors to cast and crew. Most of these players are small businesses and what I would call “mini-entrepreneurs,” often individuals with a “portfolio of multiple activities.”

Given the very particular nature of independent film, whereby projects come together by a large chain of small businesses and freelancing individuals working together, building, and managing business relationships in the independent film industry is key to success.

How Independent Film Executives Build  Manage Their Relationships

What sort of business relationships are there in the independent film industry?

Relationships can be with co-producers, directors, writers, actors, crew, cast directors, photographers, investors, lenders, financiers, government agencies, talent agents, lawyers, and basically any filmmaker or anyone else that moves around in this business and contributes to movies being made.

There are several ways you can look at relationships, and I would like to highlight the following.

  • Creative vs. financial vs. legal: A way to look at the types of relationships is to distinguish between creatives, financials, and legal & business affairs. Creative people include individual producers, writers, directors, and actors. On the financial side, we can find CFOs, investors, and financiers. Legal & business affairs are the field of CEOs, lawyers, service providers, and executive producers. Each of these categories plays a dominant role during different stages of the filmmaking process and are, at the same time, interrelated.

  • Domestic vs. international: Many relationships in filmmaking will be with people who live around the corner, and others may be further away but in the same state or country. Other contacts, however, are from abroad. It really depends on each person’s role in your project. Individual producers and cast and crew may be predominantly domestic, but you may have a foreign sales agent to sell your film. Certainly, local distributors who buy the distribution rights of your film are based abroad and can be from any corner of the globe.

  • Direct vs. indirect. Contacts can be people you do business with directly or people who may be in the same circle but with whom you do little to no business directly. Examples of direct relationships are co-producers for your projects with whom you have signed a co-production agreement or a sales agent that sells your project under a sales agency agreement. Indirect relationships may be writers who are part of the same writers’ club and may even work on similar projects but who do not work together on any project. Both direct and indirect relationships are important to build a professional network and cross-refer.

  • Intense vs. sporadic. Another way of looking at business relationships is how much you work with people or how often are in touch with them. The film industry is a people business. Some people have been in the industry for ages, others are just starting their careers. Some are involved in multiple projects at the same time, for others, it may take years to achieve small steps forward with one script. Depending on your position in the film industry and that of others, contact with your business relationships can be intense or, on the contrary, sporadic.

  • Deep vs. superficial. You will get business relationships that go deep, and others will be superficial. There is no right or wrong, both types of relationships are real and part of the business (and life in general). Each of them just serves a different purpose. The longer people run around in the film industry, the deeper some relationships may become.

How Independent Film Executives Build  Manage Their Relationships

How to attract business relationships

Regardless of your position in the film industry, how long you have been around, and in how many projects you have been involved in, people constantly ask themselves the same question: how do I find the right people to produce, finance, or sell, my next project?

Here are some thoughts about how to attract business relationships in the independent film industry.

  • Be identifiable by finding and promoting your niche: what is your role in independent film (producer, actor, writer, other)? What are the sorts of projects you work on or would like to be involved in (comedy, horror, feature films, animation, other)? Do you work on local or international projects?

  • Brand yourself: Once you have found your niche, make sure that the world starts to know you and the projects you are working on. Create your own webpage and utilize social media like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and of course, industry-specific platforms like Stage 32!

  • Use the help of your existing business relationships to refer you and to get in touch with more industry people.

  • Network by going to festivals and markets, and join and participate on online platforms. You can find some great communities and networking sides.

Why is it essential to manage business relationships?

The independent film industry is a highly competitive business. It can take years before film projects come together. To succeed, you have the be patient and insistent. But most of all, you need to engage with people, know who is doing what in the industry, and build a genuine and reliable network of industry people.

It is essential to manage your business relationships to:

  • Understand how the independent film industry works: which includes all stages of filmmaking like development, production, financing, distribution and eventually, revenue sharing.

  • Keep up to date on developments in the industry: what are the trends, and what sort of content is hot.

  • Create a long-lasting professional network in the industry: make the right contacts and engage with your contacts.

  • Get involved in film projects through relationships: your contacts might be able to assist you with finding a job in independent film.

  • Find the right people to produce, finance, or sell your project: your contacts may help you to move your project to the next level by becoming co-producers, financiers, or sales agents for your film.

How Independent Film Executives Build  Manage Their Relationships

How to manage business relationships in the independent film industry

With so many potential contacts, it is important to know how to manage your business relationships. The following has worked for me.

  • Distinguish between the sorts of relationships. As indicated earlier in this article, there are all sorts of relationships, and each of them is of a different nature.

  • Identify and appreciate the value of each business relationship you have. Each relationship has its own purpose, but all of them deserve acknowledgment.

  • Keep track of your contacts. Make sure you have a system like Google Contacts. Google Contacts, Pipedrive, Capsule, Salesforce, LinkedIn, or otherwise just simply an Excel Sheet with contact details and projects you may share.

  • Create and stick to a strategy to engage and interact with your relationships. Communicate and stay in touch with your relationships by sending regular notes, sharing important and valuable information and thoughts, giving input, setting regular in-person or remote meetings (Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or otherwise), and interacting and engaging together on social media.

  • Create mutually beneficial relationships through education and by helping each other. We can all learn much from each other by sharing our specific expertise. Also, cross-referring contacts to each other is a great way of helping your relationships find the right people and achieve things.


Regardless of your profession, job, or role, to succeed in the independent film industry, it is essential to building a professional network and managing your business relationships. Independent film differs from corporate business cultures associated with traditional film studios and, more recently, streaming platforms. There are all sorts of business relationships, and you will have to distinguish between them and appreciate each of them. To build and manage your professional network of business relationships in the independent film industry, elaborate a strategy, keep track of your contacts, and engage and interact with people. I am sure you will see your professional network grow and that opportunities will come along!

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About the Author

David Zannoni

David Zannoni

Business Affairs Consultant, Business Development/Sales

I have been working in film and TV since 2007, as an international consultant, representative and executive producer. I run my consultancy firm Zannoni Media and am consultant for North America for Freeway Entertainment, global leader in collection account management and escrow services for the inte...

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