If you're starting a new film production company - old school legit, not guerilla style - it takes about as much effort as making a short movie. Everything from duplicating new office keys to buying commercial insurance demands both time and focus. This can be tough if you have an imagination that rivals Walter Mitty's and the experience of the Sorcerer's Apprentice - just enough to get you in trouble. So, is there a magic formula for getting up and running quickly without going crazy? Here's a page from our experience.
It's been a wacky couple of weeks since my creative partner Todd Bull and I signed a lease for our new business, Circle B Productions LLC. The office is almost ready. The only thing we're missing is our electronic equipment.
So why isn't it here yet? Simple - the insurance. It's not worth the risk to bring our high-end PC, our audio equipment and movie camera here without covering it with a commercial insurance policy. These are our greatest assets.
So far, Todd has been dealing with most of the financial details for our business. This morning I thought I'd take a load off of him and lend him a hand. Todd told me we can't buy insurance until our LLC paperwork goes through. All we can do is wait.
But hold on. I've been self-employed, working from home for twenty years, and my electronics have always been covered by my renter's insurance. Couldn't I just take out a short term policy for the stuff in our new office? I called GEICO.
WINE FROM SOUR GRAPES
After a robotic voice asked me why I was calling, what my zip code is, my date of birth and my blood type, I made it through to a live agent, Rick. "Great," I thought. "This is going to work." I candidly told him my situation.
"Do you work at home?" Rick's voice oozed with the rancor of suspicion, "or is this equipment at a separate location?"
It was the kind of moment when you know a date has gone sour. You had such high hopes, you had chemistry, you had a few laughs and then… you had a meatball fall in your lap. Or you spit while talking, the little glob glistening, quivering in full view right there on the tablecloth. Or you spilled a blotch of Merlot on your silk shirt front. "Merlot. Why did I order the Merlot? Merlot is for children."
The agent's voice broke through my reverie, tense. "I'm going to have to transfer you to Commercial Lines," said Rick. "Please hold."
I got through after a quick wait. I didn't think Rick had had time to explain my situation to the new agent. Maybe customer service reps have a code to tip each other off - "Fool on line 3" - or maybe my insurance IQ is just plain obvious because I called the wrong department.
CROSSING THE LINES
"This is Terry in Commercial Lines. How can I help you?" I'm pretty sure the agent was a woman this time. You know the type - brisk, efficient, and just chilly enough to make you wonder if it's you or if it's actually 64 degrees in here. I struggled to hold the phone to my ear while putting on a sweater.
"Hi, Terry. I was just explaining to the other agent that I've been self-employed for about twenty years, and now my partner and I just formed an LLC."
"Mm hm." Terry already knew this.
"I'm wondering about getting a short term policy to cover my office contents as a self-employed person, just until our LLC paperwork comes through."
"No, if it's not in your home, the policy would have to be written for the company," Terry said.
"Oh, I see," I said without inflection. I didn't want to let on that I knew this call was a train wreck.
"What line of business are you in?"
"We're starting a film production company. Not a big movie studio, just a two person office where we can make phone calls and edit video."
There was dead silence on the line, then a quick hissing noise that sounded an awful lot like a pissed off cat.
"I'm sorry," Terry said. "You'll have to go through one of our partner carriers. We don't handle liability for film companies."
"No, no," I corrected, "this is for contents only, not liability insurance. We just want to be able to move our computers into our office."
Terry's words tumbled out, clearly a rush to end the call. "Look, maybe you can get an Inland Marine policy through one of our partner carriers to cover your equipment."
My head was swimming. Inland Marine? What is that, even? I was picturing a derelict boat in dry dock and some old salt named Duncan eternally scraping and re-painting its wooden hull. These guys had us all wrong. Don't they know? We have a second-floor walk up. With desks and a land line and everything.
"Can you recommend one of your partner carriers?"
I'd lost the magic of the moment, if I'd ever had it at all. This call was going nowhere. I wanted to know why. Dammit, I was going to find out. "What is it about our company that disqualifies us from getting commercial insurance with you?"
Terry paused, the silence dripping with disdain.
"We just don't insure film companies."
THE STATE GETS THE LAST LAUGH
I called Todd and told him what I'd been up to. "I was trying to save us some time so we can get up and running faster… I don't think they like us."
"Probably not," he grinned through the phone." Anyway we have to wait until the 12th. That's when our LLC paperwork goes through."
"I thought you said it would go through on the 25th. Y'know, our Christmas present from the State."
"No, they changed it. Oh, and wait 'til you hear this. We have to pay the State $800 this year."
My jaw dropped. "What? Oh my god, what for?"
"Taxes. They're taxing us in advance for all the money we made this year."
"What?! What money?" I laughed. It started as a chuckle and grew into a guffaw, then a full rolling boil until I was holding my sides and gasping for breath.
"All the money we made?" I managed to blurt. "We're thirty thousand bucks in the hole, and we haven't even opened our doors yet."
"I know, huh? Bend over," Todd chimed blithely.
At the end of the day, the way to get a business up and running is to take baby steps. You've got to learn to walk before you run, and that takes patience. And, yeah, sometimes it means stumbling once in awhile.
The only short cut is through the wallet. You've either got to spend the time yourself or spend the money on help. The things that will get you through are a good sense of humor and a partner to share it with. If you have those, you'll never grow old.