Jake Oelman is a producer and director at Barcode Films in Los Angeles, a boutique production company he founded in in 2005. We talked with him about how he decided to make the leap into working for himself.
What was it like starting out on your own?
After doing a lot of work for other people, working on content where I didn’t necessarily have a voice and was doing work I wasn’t really passionate about, it was a pivotal moment when I asked myself, “Why am I living in LA if I’m not pursuing and doing what I really came out here to do?”
When you start out on your own, you’re giving up financial security, but you become more in harmony with what you want and who you are. It’s a big transition because you still have to make ends meet and survive in the world, but you’re pursuing the things that ultimately make you happy. It’s a balancing act; you don’t want to decline every job offer, but you have to give yourself the time to nurture your own projects.
So how do you know when it’s time to stop working for someone else and start working for yourself?
It’s all about your gut and trusting your instincts. That moment will come at a different time for everybody. There’s nothing wrong with doing corporate, commercial work that pays the bills, especially if you’re meeting people and getting knowledge and experience, and incorporating all those things into that wheelhouse down the road. But you have to listen to what your career is trying to tell you. I don’t look at it with any regrets; I don’t say I wish I’d started this earlier. I’ve been able to learn from mistakes I’ve made.
You cannot give up on your projects if you want to be a professional artist for a living. It’s really difficult, it’s not easy to do, and it’s not for everybody. A lot of people think they want to work in the entertainment business, but then they try it and give up after the long hard days.
On your blog you say that “committing is so crucial because it takes a filmmaker who can nurture the film in good times as well as bad that will ultimately see their careers flourish.”
No matter what bumps are coming in the road, you have to keep trudging forward to get your work finished. Once that commitment level breaks down, that’s when you give up. You cannot give up on your projects if you want to be a professional artist for a living. It’s really difficult, it’s not easy to do, and it’s not for everybody. A lot of people think they want to work in the entertainment business, but then they try it and give up after the long hard days. I’m not in it to make money – I really love the process of doing what I do. It’s getting to wake up in the morning and pursue your projects.
When do you find it most helpful to have contracts?
Especially if there are projects where you have a lot of people who are on the job, contracts are crucial. Then everyone feels there’s no question as to what they’re invested in or how is this going to work.
Contracts also give legitimacy because you’re not going to be able to work with SAG actors unless you have a deal in place. It doesn’t have to be a 20-page contract; it can be a one-page agreement.
Marketing is an important part of what you do. How does a filmmaker learn to talk to the media and the public, and how to find the right audience for his or her films?
It’s really tough for a lot of artists because there is not a definitive right answer. How can you legitimately start conversations with people? You want to create a community and a discussion, not just do hard marketing. I think a lot of artists will get stuck because they assume that if you make a movie, then all of a sudden the red carpet rolls out. Maybe that was true for the film industry 30 or 40 years ago, but today that’s not true at all. You need to create an audience, and if you are not willing to become your greatest spokesperson, you can’t expect anyone else to do it for you, not even an agent or a manager. You can’t just sit in the shadows anymore; you really have to be front and center.