Interview with Lisa Kaselak, Arts Entrepreneur

What is it that you do?

“I’m an interactive and new media artist,” is really how I would describe myself.  I came up through a background in web technology, and then I worked in film departments.

I graduated with an MFA in Film from the University of Texas at Austin, and have made a number of independent films of my own as well as worked on feature films, television series, and commercials as a Loader and 2nd Assistant Camera.  I have been a Director of Photography for a number of short films and commercials myself as well as directed my own short films and documentaries.

What role does a business plan, or simply planning in general, play in the creation of an artistic product?

You have to set up your business, which is the legal structure under which your product will be developed; under which you will hire people; under which you will be protected as a Limited Liability Corporation; under which you will pay your taxes; under which you will file all your legal documents; under which your name will appear.  For me, I have two companies that are LLCs: one is Fosforo Films, which is what I do all of my film and commercial production company work under; and then under my other company, beaklabs.com, we do all our interactive digital work.  So now I have an umbrella under which to do any project that I want to do.

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurial filmmakers about planning?

We had a Director who came in and guest lectured to our class last week, and would echo exactly what he said, and what Alfred Hitchcock said: “by the time you get to set, everything has already been executed.  Really all you’re doing is going through the motions to actually shoot what you’ve already planned.”  The shoot – the actual production – is the least amount of time practically that you spend.  Especially on a commercial: you could spend weeks planning every last detail of how you’re going to shoot it, and you only spend a day shooting it.

What eliminates fear is eliminating what is unknown.  So, if you want to feel confident that whatever you’re going to do is going to be your best foot forward – which frankly, if you’re in business, should be every project that you do – pre-planning helps to eliminate unknown variables.  And it allows you to be confident that you can come up with the best possible product, whatever that product is.  If you don’t do that kind of planning, what you end up with is having to do a lot of problem solving that could have been mitigated.

What qualities do you feel are necessary for an entrepreneurial artist to possess?

Scrappiness is probably the number one.  You have to be good problem solvers.  In a large organization, if a computer goes down or you get a virus or something, you call IT, and IT comes over and fixes it.  If you need office supplies, you call your administrator, and the administrator orders it from the Office Depot and delivers it to your office.  When you’re an entrepreneur, you are doing everything for yourself all of the time.  Sometimes that means fixing the plumbing in the house that you rented that is your office space.  Sometimes that means taking a course in Beginning Accounting so that you can figure out how to do your own bookkeeping until you can afford to hire a bookkeeper.  Sometimes that means learning how to pitch an idea to a crowd of investors in order to raise enough capital to make whatever you’re happening happen.  You basically have to be an autodidact.  You have to be willing to teach yourself anything you need to learn to move forward and be successful.  So that’s probably the key skill.

Secondarily, you need to be able to have a stomach for the unknown stresses that come up every day.  If you’re somebody who really appreciates stability and having a regular paycheck and needing to know where that paycheck comes from, then probably being an entrepreneur isn’t for you.  And that’s perfectly fine: there are plenty of people who are happy just having a job.  And thank goodness, because there would be too much competition for us entrepreneurs if we all wanted to be entrepreneurs.  You really have to be okay with the rollercoaster that is entrepreneurship.

And three, there is a cost to autonomy, which is what entrepreneurship offers you.  So in a job setting, you go to a job from eight to six, you have a routine schedule every day.  If you need to take time off of work you need to ask your boss and log it into your vacation or sick days.  Point is, the company is paying for your time, and that is where your paycheck comes from.  When you’re an entrepreneur, the number one reason people become entrepreneurs is for the autonomy.  They want to be their own boss: they don’t want someone to tell them when or how to do something.  But along with that comes a lot of responsibility and headache – especially if you are employing lots of people and are responsible for their payroll.  So, you have to be okay with the cost of autonomy.

Lisa Kaselak is currently working as an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University, teaching largely within the Film & Media Arts area of study.  She also works independently through her two companies, beaklabs.com and Fosforo Films.

Kyle Given is a Film & Media Arts student at Southern Methodist University.  When not busy with classwork, he is always working for experience in the Dallas/Fort Worth film industry.  The immediate goal is to find work as an Assistant Director, and later weave into the position of a Producer.

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