Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Running a small tv production company

Running a company is a double-edged sword. I've sorta done it in three different iterations:-

As a video game programmer, I ran my own one-man-band business, living on quarterly royalties and less-than-quarterly advances. Tax, planning, accountancy - yes, all there and all as tedious as ever. However I slept 'til midday, did OK moneywise and got many more plaudits than I should've had...

After a spell as a proper employee, I ran a very small tv business as a separate unit of another company. More legal and money things there - directorships, company secretaries, VAT, tax writeoffs from the parent company... all ending in being bought out for a quid in the House of Lords. (Long story)

And now I run a proper bigger-than-small-but-not-that-big company that I wholly own. All the above times twenty.

You know, mostly, I totally love it. When there's lots of work lined up, when the stuff we're making - and it's a 'we' as that's how I view the people I work with, they're 'us' and 'we' to me - is great and going down well, it's one of the best jobs I can imagine. I get to think up ideas and sell them and decide things and have them done and everything ticks along nicely. I'm very lucky in that a lot of good people work with me - oh, and I say 'with' not 'for', important distinction I s'pose but not something I've ever much thought about until now.

Basically I love going into work most days. I still revel in the fact I made telly for a living. I don't all the time, obviously. I still hate the accounty side but try to keep it under control as everyone suffers if I don't (another long story). As I've said here, some aspects of people in some areas of telly annoy the hell out of me - but, hey, it's my business so I don't make anything for them kinda people. 

I feel a real sense of achievement when I see one of our shows on telly, or on DVD in a shop, or in a catalogue for international sales. It's like that end logo for some American production company I'm too lazy to look up, it used to go 'I made that!" when the show finished. And even if I didn't do the animation, or think up the basic idea, or write the script, or record the audio, or edit the- well, you get the idea, even when I did nowt much apart from suggesting the font for the credits, in a way I did make that as I hired the people and in the immortal words of Captain Jean Luc-Picard, I made it so. 

In its many forms my little company has made over a thousand standalone programmes, and eleven years of doing this is a nice happy thing to have. One of my friends said I was obviously an alpha male who enjoyed being in charge and having total responsibility, which really made me laugh - alpha, me? More beta I'd say - but I reluctantly concede there's some truth in it. Some being the operative word.

So yay me, and yay running a telly company,yeah? 

Err, well. Hmm.

There are some times when it's just fucking awful to be in charge. I'm not talking about the aforementioned annoying people that I might have to work for sometimes to make ends meet - if that's the case I get on and do it. I whine constantly about it but I grit my teeth and smile and get the job done. Then whine some more to my long-suffering co-workers in the pub after.

As I've bleated on here many times, tv is an industry with no safety net. Contracts come and go, for companies and individuals. It's freelance, cut-throat and subject to the vagaries of who is in and out at a broadcaster, or the ad market in Germany, or a lord of the realm deciding to cash his chips in. When that happens, and the work you do seems to have no bearing on the work coming in, it's not nice. Not Nice At All, in capital letters and everything.

I'm sure you've guessed I'm currently going through - or, more accurately, we are currently going through - a Not Nice At All time. Decisions have to be made and they're all bad. And I mean bad, as in no matter what I decide, I haven't much choice in the matter and the outcome is, in some shape or form, bad. I'll try my best to make it the least bad outcome possible that word 'bad' is still there. 

I try not to think I've failed when I haven't managed to get the next contract to smoothly flow from one project to the next. I think I've done well in the past to get that to happen almost continuously for a long time, that I've bridged gaps by funding them myself - not easy sometimes - and I've done all I can in trying to get everything to happen at the right time.

Well, in my totally unthought out sprit of honesty, I haven't done all I can do. I've done all I can do without appearing to be desperate to the clients we work for. Hell knows I have no pride or shame but I honestly think that any business can only do the 'but otherwise we'll go bust and you'll lose the thing you want' tactic only once. I did it with my parent companies once each time, and things came good, and I'll get one chance with a broadcaster, perhaps, but if things don't come good then the relationship is tarnished forever.

The irony in all this is that things are far from bleak for my company, thanks to the efforts of the we's and us's in it. (Can I have an award for Not Nice At All English for that last sentence ta?) We're on the verge of two great big lovely commissions, and have a slate of new ideas I'm massively proud of. It's just down to timing, that's all. And timing has meant having a Not Nice At All conversation with lots of people today.


So you'll excuse me from this blogging lark for a couple of weeks, whilst I try and sort this out. I'm in Meeting Frenzy Hell, and then at the end of the month I've got the Desperate Phone Call to make if I can't make the meetings come up with the goods.


No comments: