February 5th, 2024

Are film schools/ business schools important for Entertainment careers? How do you establish your own production company from scratch? – Ryann's Inspiring Journey – Part 2

Judson Jackson

Ryann Lauckner loves designing, building, and scaling companies, product lines, and partnerships with amazing creators. She is an Army Brat through and through, loves new challenges, and thrive in diverse dynamic ecosystems. She is the Chief Strategy & Operations Officer at Fulwell 73 Productions

Q: What role does a film school or a business school play in shaping our careers?

Ryann: It's such a great question, and I hate to give a cop-out answer, but I really do think that those tools matter as much as you're willing to utilize them. Look, I have a bunch of friends who went to film school with me. Many of them are like, 'can you believe we had to do so many critical studies classes? We never use those!' I think that's one way to look at it, right? There are much more practical ways to get into film and television. I'm a firm believer that there are technical skills that you can pick up at community colleges, and you don't need to worry if you didn't go to USC, UCLA, or NYU. Some of the best producers I know either didn't go to school or went to school for chemistry and ultimately fell into TV and film.

That said, I really believe in the value of education. After we relaunched Asylum and I became president, I decided to pursue an MBA from UCLA's Anderson School of Business. And the reason I value that is because I think a lot of people – and I would put myself in this group – really learn a lot better with structure. The structure and pace of an organized program are designed to teach you different ways to think, process information, and problem-solve.

Q: What qualities does one learn at these institutions that help them going forward?

Ryann: I think that these kinds of schools and programs are great for building collaboration skills. One of the things that my team is tired of hearing me say is that television is a team sport. I think many of the people who really struggle in this industry don't know how to play well with others. The programs also encourage you to develop coping mechanisms to deal with people who may see things differently than you but with whom you ultimately have to deliver a product.

The challenge with the programs, though, and this is a tragic reality, is that they are incredibly expensive. My program at UCLA was over $160,000. Granted, that was designed for mid-career professionals, many of whom have some means, but it's a stunning price tag, and there are very few means of financial aid besides loans. That puts the program out of reach for many people who are otherwise really terrific candidates, and I think that's one of the biggest challenges facing our country in a lot of ways. The wealth required to build the tools needed to build wealth can be jaw-dropping. The silver lining in this instance is the proliferation of a lot of very good online resources that teach these tools. It does require you to really be self-motivated, and it doesn't have the same structure, but if you want to build your own MBA with courses online, there are some fantastic ones.

Q: Everyone straight out of film school or after a few years of production dreams of starting their own production company. How does one go about it?

Ryann: At both Asylum and Fulwell, where I currently serve as Chief Strategy & Operating Officer, I've run a label strategy. So, those are essentially joint ventures between the larger production company and individual producers or producing teams. At Fulwell, we've launched two labels with creative executives in the last year. I love the strategy because it allows them to tap into a bigger infrastructure that they wouldn't have the resources to pay for, and it allows us to use the platform we've built in ways that our teams wouldn't – pushing us into new genres, new mediums, new partnerships, new geographies without having to go through the lengthy or expensive acquisition process.

But as much as I like the strategy, I really would caution indie producers not to jump into these sorts of deals too early in their careers. For most producers, it's better to work in someone else's shop before you establish your own. That's not always the case … but it's almost always the case. It's really tough because you listen to people tell stories about how it took decades to get their company to a place where it really started to hum, and you're like, oh my gosh, if it takes decades, why would I want to wait another couple of years? But I'd say that, even though it might feel like you're delaying your goal, there's so much to learn from other people's successes, strategies, and – most importantly – their mistakes. Do yourself a favor and work for someone you'll come to call a competitor. You can even put it on a timeline and say, 'OK, I don't want to do it for more than two or three years.'

If you do this while deciding where you feel you fit into the market, go out there and work for someone else. It will probably accelerate your timeline because it shows you different ways to lead companies. You'll see some things you like, and then you take that and apply it in your company. Some things you will not like and then you will remember not to do that in your company.

Q: What are your views on collaboration and networking for producers and executives in this ever-evolving entertainment industry?

Ryann: It goes back to this: it is a collaborative industry, and I think that the more people you can have rooting for you – including your competitors – the better. I think this industry is actually pretty different from a lot of industries in that there's more willingness to sit down and break bread with your competitors to commiserate with them, to sometimes launch initiatives with them, to find strength in shared practices and challenges. And you know that isn't by accident. It comes from the fact that we all worked in other production houses, and when those people go out and launch their own companies, you sometimes get to collaborate with them.

Q: What should film producers keep in mind before making a decision to start a production company?

Ryann: Not enough founders ask themselves a set of critical questions, including: How am I different from my competitors? What are my actual strengths and weaknesses? And sometimes, it's easier to understand your strengths and weaknesses when they're viewed alongside someone else's. So if you're working somewhere and you see that the principal of that place has really great talent relationships and you can't imagine building those talent relationships, that probably means that you need to lean into a different strength.

If you want to launch a company, but you don't challenge yourself to really and credibly answer questions like these, it's like putting a boat out on the water without a motor or sails. You're on the water, but you probably aren't going anywhere you want to all that quickly. Set yourself up for success through the success of other people. No one has ever figured it all out by themselves or without deep work and reflection.

Q: What is your message to the budding entertainment industry enthusiasts, producers, or someone who aspires to be you someday?

Ryann: One of the first things you should do when you're looking to succeed in any industry is show people that you're willing to work hard. Nothing is more impressive than this. So, if you have that kind of work ethic, show it off.

I'd also say you need to know your audience. Know who it is you're talking to, what they need, and what makes them tick. What's their story? Yes, you are here because you have stories. You want to tell or help tell, but slow down and listen, too. Build relationships by caring about the people you work with and respect the fact that they also have stories they want to tell, to buy, to watch, to make. Again … team sport.

Established people in this industry want to champion you. Make it easy for them. Show up on time, be observant and looking for ways that you can help even before they ask for help. Never ever sit around and wait to be told to do something. If you do that, you might get by but you will not thrive in this industry unless you have some serious connections (and that really only looks like success).

Finally, be humble. I don't care if you won a student Academy Award or a festival or your family ran a studio. There's a certain amount of water that you should carry. And it's not because you don't have skills greater than that. It's because you're actually meant to be weaving yourself into the fabric of this industry, and one of the best ways to do that is when you first start out and you commit yourself to being deeply useful.

The Revolution Team

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