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Starting from Scratch

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Starting from Scratch
on Sep 19, 2007 at 7:37:22 pm

I have a business person who wants me to partner with him to produce Medical Videos. We are in the very beginning of pre-production and focusing on developing content in an industry (medical field) which I am as GREEN as it gets. He wants to have 6 hours of Edited Content that will be broken down into a variety of segments, spanning across various medical fields.

I have never taken on a project this large and want to protect myself, as well as proceed through pre-production, production and post production as efficiently as possible (upfront, clear communication, hiring the right people) as well as protect my partner's vision.

My partner is looking at paying me a low salary & giving me a stake (%) of the company's profits. From a business standpoint, what do I need to do to protect myself? What advice can anyone give me with how to practically proceed from pre to post production, with this sized project (once again, in a field that I am very green in)?

Technical FYI: He wants to shoot with Broadcast equipment (AG-HVX2000) edit the final projects in the native Video format 720 24p, then convert the projects to flash for his website.

Somebody please help...

Thanks in advance...I know there are blanks I need to fill in to adequately answer the broad questions of mine...I will do so accordingly...


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Mark Suszko
Re: Starting from Scratch
on Sep 19, 2007 at 9:49:39 pm

"Broadcast equipment" is a rather broad brush, but it's not impossible to use the HVX200 for that. But people who throw around buzzwords like that make me nervous.

Frankly, you haven't given enough information to make a lot of comments on, but my gut (substantial as it is) tells me your partner is being overly ambitious and optimistic at the outset. And you are right to be a little nervous about working in medical video, in the sense that it is not necessarily easy to show a lot of the things you want to depict without a substantial outlay for specialized (expensive) equipment. Shooting in an OR or lab for example takes some extra skill to get something useable. Not to mention lots more permisisons and legal hurdles...

If your product is more along the lines of interviews and lectures about a procedure or a drug or a device, that's more familiar territory.

It's also a territory well-travelled by a number of established providers. Not that you can't add to their ranks, but I'm thinking your partner may not realize he has some established competition.

For something as grandiose and at the same time nebulous as this, with so many unknowns, I think what you want to do is establish benchmarks, milestones and goals with a narrow scope. Then build on that a piece at a time. By keeping the projects more manageable, you can control the amount of your risk exposure and avoid long-term debts or other problems.

Don't try to do the 6-hour epic right out of the can. Also don't wait till the 6 hours are all done to start getting paid. Establish a modest "pathfinder project" or "demo" pilot project first, one that will use all the techniques and equipment the biger projects will use. You'll get real dollar figures for costs and expenses out of the pilot project that you can then extrapolate to the more ambitious ones.

This will also test and reveal the strengths and weaknesses of your partnership, and point out areas that may need work, before you get into too much trouble.

Use the principles we rehash here over and over again: establish a true budget based on ALL your actual costs of doing business. Arrange partial progress payments to pace the completion of each stage of the project. That way, if it falls apart at any stage, you have been paid up to that part and will not be left holding the bag. Pay your crew and suppliers first, so that your word in the production community is your bond. Stiff your crew or your gear suppliers, and you quickly run out of people and gear when you need them. If you're known to be a stand-up guy, gear and people magically appear when you are in trouble and need something on short notice without advance payment. It really is a small circle we travel in and if you lose your good name, you may as well quit the business and move to another town.

Also, these things don't just materialize in front of a lens when you hit the red button: they require research and preproduction and planning. To really get a grip on the production, end to end, you need to write a treatment. Even for "unscripted" programming, you benefit from the treatment process. If you ask, I'll go into more detail about that in another pst, or you could just go to Amazon and find a used copy of John Morley's book on Effective Script Writing. I've made my entire writing career so far out of the principles in his book. It will serve you well.

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walter biscardi
Re: Starting from Scratch
on Sep 20, 2007 at 12:34:36 am

[schades] "My partner is looking at paying me a low salary & giving me a stake (%) of the company's profits. From a business standpoint, what do I need to do to protect myself? What advice can anyone give me with how to practically proceed from pre to post production, with this sized project (once again, in a field that I am very green in)?"

Do you have any idea if the project has a market? I would ask this business partner to give you some good hard numbers to look at showing the potential market for this product.

I have never gotten into a deal like this that ever worked out in my favor. it's a lot of promises and all I've gotten out of it was a lot of hard work with very little to show for it.

If you've never produced a project this big and this business person is looking for you to handle all production, you really should be looking to bring in an experienced producer / writer. There are so many things that can be overlooked and the business partner will most likely push you to do "cheaper / smaller" when it comes to production time and crew. That doesn't work with a project the scope of which you're describing. Sounds like a very expensive proposition and I would not go into this thing alone. Ask around for recommendations on a good producer to work with you on this project.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
HD Editorial & Animation for Broadcast and independent productions.

All Things Apple Podcast!

Read my blog!

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Todd at Fantastic Plastic
Re: Starting from Scratch
on Sep 20, 2007 at 1:33:56 pm

[walter biscardi] "I have never gotten into a deal like this that ever worked out in my favor."

I haven't either. In ten years+ of being in "business for ourselves" our little production company has had only two bad debts (knock on wood), but they have both been from deals exactly like this. And they weren't small uncollectible debts either, one of them was several tens of thousands of dollars.

Unless I was virtually guaranteed of a pretty darn big payoff in the end, we would run from a project like this. But that's just us, we are too old to be gamblers anymore... maybe it is an acceptible risk for you, but the deal you sketched out is just one solid warning flag after another. Just ask every conceivable question that you can, get everything and more in writing, and cross your fingers.

Good luck!


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Re: Starting from Scratch
on Sep 20, 2007 at 9:18:04 am

Your post has lots of alarm triggers in it!

Why does a business person want you as a partner - you, who by your own account know nothing of the subject area. More, to guess from your post (apologies if this guess is wrong) also have little experience in video production ..?

A cynic might wonder whether your potential partner is looking for someone to cover most of the costs and time in producing an ambitious project s/he can't otherwise fund - and for which, as is pointed out above, there may be a limited market.

Really, you're not being offered partnership. Partners don't do things like "My partner is looking at paying me a low salary & giving me a stake (%) of the company's profits.". Partners are in it together.

You are being offered high-risk, low-paid employment with a potential profit share (Shakespeare in Love skewered that one beautifully) by - who? Someone you know well, trust, love? Or a "business person" who chose you - why exactly?

Your posting here suggests you may harbour doubts.

To me, it seems those doubts would be well founded. I'd want to be very clear about what time and money (is he asking you to fund the video kit hire / purchase?) you invest in this project.

In the (unlikely?) event profits do come through, you'd also want to know in advance what rates both your contribution and hers/his would be valued at in calculating your "real" project costs ... your partner would want to make up your low wages to fair wages before calculating any profit, right ?

Hope it works out!

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Re: Starting from Scratch
on Sep 20, 2007 at 4:29:00 pm

Before you even start thinking about how to produce the show, you need to consider two major points if you haven't already - Opportunity Cost and the reward for your risk. A six hour show will require a LOT of work to complete, at least several months. If you are working for 6 months at a reduced salary, you are missing out on a lot of potentially high paying gigs and that is your opportunity cost. You MUST factor that in when considering whether the project is worth it.

You should also ask your "partner" how much revenue he anticipates making from this project, and ask to see a business plan or other documentation backing up his claim. If he has no idea, run away NOW. If he anticipates making $10,000 profit (important distinction between profit and gross!) and you are getting a 10% share, that means you make a mere $1,000 from the profit sharing plan. If the project takes 6 months to complete, this profit share only adds $1.00 per hour to your "reduced" salary. As was mentioned, this project has a lot of competition and could take years to see any real profit so any money you make from the profit share could be spread so thin over the years that you barely benefit from it at all (do you REALLY want to get a check for $3.85 every month?). Get some hard numbers from your "partner" and do the math to determine if it's really worth it to you before wasting another moment planning the production.

Consider one other point. Since you are doing all of the production work, what happens if the "partner" feels like your production is less-than-stellar? If the project fails to make a dime he can turn around and blame the whole thing on you, claiming that you delivered an inferior product. There is so much room for trouble in these types of arrangements that you have to consider this angle.

I tend to agree with the general sentiment here. I have had many offers from businesspeople to "partner" on ambitious projects, and have never once accepted the offer. These people are usually what my studio lovingly refers to as "Dreamers" - a big idea and a small bank account or, at the very least, an unwillingness to invest properly in the project (which should tell you how confident they are that it will make money). They rarely analyze the market properly, because when you get down to it they are just running around convincing others to do all the work so they aren't risking much at all. May not be the case here with your "partner" but that's how it usually goes.

As was mentioned in another post, the word partnership implies equally shared risk and reward, but it sounds like you are being asked to shoulder the majority of the financial risk AND the effort to make this show a reality and a success. If it were me, I would never accept a deal like this unless firm numbers were presented showing real profit potential, or a guarantee from this "partner" that even if his idea fails, he will pay you a certain amount to compensate for your risk.

Whatever you do, make absolutely certain that every detail of your arrangement with this person is spelled out in a contract, or you are truly asking for trouble.

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Re: Starting from Scratch
on Sep 20, 2007 at 6:18:54 pm

Thank you for your responses, I will certainly re-read them over and over to ensure my steps are taken carefully with foresight and clear communication. The deal here is that my "partner" is going to foot the bill for the entire production, post production, ALL the production equipment, the hiring of freelancers, marketing, etc. He has successfully started a handful of medical offices and does have a modest bankroll for the project. We are both of the same mindset that your production is MADE in pre-production: the better prepared, the better the production. The main issue at this point in time is research and developing content, which is going to take months (2,3,4,5 months).
The situation is that I'm working for free during this research phase which I don't mind doing so much, yet, I'm hesitant to move forward without something in writing for reasons stated in all the responses to my post. I do need to reread all your responses and absorb the advice and wisdom given...

There is a market for this video content, one that quite lucrative in getting advertising dollars. It is a very niche market. And my "partner" is quite aware of the expense needed to pull this off. He has explained the potential in dollars which is the reason why I am interested. If anyone can provide info on the companies involved with medical content, please share, as I am interested if they are within the niche that my partner has said is virtually untapped. I am no fool, as I've been taken in the past, yet, I am aware of the red flags. In fact, I want for him to read this thread. Any thoughts on that?

Thanks again...I sincerely appreciate all your feedback...


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David Roth Weiss
Re: Starting from Scratch
on Sep 20, 2007 at 6:52:33 pm


Just for the record, medical videos are not as tough to do as some people believe them to be, especially if your partner is an MD. The writing of course must be vetted by medical personal, but that's very typical of any technical video production.

Much of the specialized equipment that was referred to in an earlier post is actually already in place in many operating rooms, in use by the medical staff. For example: much of today's surgery is done arthroscopically, and the surgeon actually watches his own work inside the patient's body on a video monitor via a sub-miniature arthroscopic camera. And, wouldn't ya know, the output is very often recorded to tape or DVD for educational, documentation, and/or insurance reasons.

So, if you shoot the procedure with one or more cameras, you have the option of shooting the surgeon's POV of the monitor, shooting the monitor over the surgeon's shoulder as he watches it, or you can cut to the arthroscopic view any time. It makes cutting easy.

Oh BTW, you'll find when shooting medical videos that it is much more like watching mechanics fix a car than like watching work on a live human being. I was shocked that it was so unemotional the first time I ever shot inside an operating room.


David Roth Weiss
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles


A forum host of Creative COW's Business & Marketing, and Indie Film & Documentary forums.

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Gary Chvatal
Re: Starting from Scratch
on Sep 21, 2007 at 1:37:57 am

Lot of good advice on the business side so far. I agree with all of it. Also, there is a lot of competition in the medical information field. I spent about 25 years doing it...medical education, nurses education, staff training, patient education etc etc.

On the patient education side...Milner Fenwick is a major supplier. I haven't checked with them in a long time but I'm sure they have a web site that you could look at to see what kinds of programs they offer. Patient education is a crowded field and there is a lot of competition there. Also, many pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers offer material for very low prices or free (to consumers or providers) because they help to sell product.

Pharma companies and device companies also provide lots of medical programming to physicians and support people...also as a marketing effort. Some of these companies have huge budgets. In addition, many small medical education consulting firms exist to provide the same kinds of material..often after being jettisoned from or leaving large corporate or medical organizations.

Opportunities exist, especially as medical technologies and techniques advance...but sometimes you need to move quickly to meet these needs....Are you looking at medical eduction (for physicians/staff) or the patient education side?

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Steve Wargo
Re: Starting from Scratch
on Sep 22, 2007 at 4:43:56 am

I have entered into several of these operations and only one paid anything. Usually, someone has the greatest idea ever thought of and needs to produce a video that the entire world cannot do without.

The one that paid, paid quite well. The other two looked really good on paper and in theory, but, the "producer" didn't have the money or the skills to market the product. If they have nothing invested but time, it's very easy for them to walk away from the project. As mentioned earlier, you could catch the blame for the product not selling.

If the product were in such demand, most likely, someone else would have done it by now.

Is there a demand that you can recognize? Most people say "If I start asking around, someone else will do it and I will be screwed out of my idea." This is a risk we take with everything we do.

If this is a partnership, your "partner" has to put something of value into the mix or does he just have this great idea and you have to put up all of the time and money?

You are asking us what we think because you have a gut feeling that you are about to embark on a loser. You're probably right.

If you decide to move forward, you should invest in a contract attorney and follow their advice.

Also, do no show the other person this thread. It's time for you to make a few decisions and our experience is intended to be your guide.

All of this being said, the guy that produced the first Jane Fonda (US traitor) work out videos made a lot of money. However, they were filling a giant need, not coming up with a product that had a tiny client base.

A final word: One project that I passed on made over a million bucks for one of the dumbest people to ever grace my doorstep. So, now what?

Steve Wargo
Tempe, Arizona
It's a dry heat!

Sony HDCAM F-900 & HDW-2000/1 deck
5 Final Cut Pro systems
Sony HVR-M25 HDV deck

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