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By Hammad Zaidi | June 21, 2011

Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed with some wonderfully enjoyable and financially fruitful producing partnerships that have turned into lifelong friends, trusted confidants and even groomsmen at my wedding.  However, I’ve also been cursed with a few horribly fractured producing partnerships that snaked into ugly threats of litigation and a loss of hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars (depending whose accounting you believe). Additionally, I’ve met at least several hundred to over one thousand filmmakers who have told me stories of how their producing partnerships crumbled in front of their eyes, even when they were working with their “best friends.” Thus, today I thought we’d discuss how to build trust-infused, long lasting producing partnerships. Of course, there is no exact formula for building “perfect partnerships,” because if there were, I would not have had to suffer through a few sour experiences. Nonetheless, the following ten tactics will certainly help you limit most unforeseen pitfalls.

Discuss And Confirm Partnership Ownership Amounts
While most people assume having a “partnership” means the parties involved have an equal ownership in the deal, this is often times not the case. Thus, if you’re about to engage in a partnership, or if you’re already in one without a clearly defined agreement, make sure all parties discuss and agree on the percentage amounts of ownership, (i.e. 50/50, 75/25).  Never assume you have an equal portion of the partnership. Furthermore, once the percentages are agreed upon, make sure your contract clearly defines your percentage of ownership in both numerical and written form. For example, my contract would read, “Hammad Zaidi owns 50% (fifty-percent) of the partnership.” Getting the numbers ironed out early is one hell of a smart move, because people get crazy, irrational and unreasonable once money is on the table.

Define Your Roles In The Partnership
All partners involved should understand what their roles are and how the chain of command, flow of information and distribution of money works. Deciding who handles the accounting, signs the checks, and who, if anybody, can sign checks without the knowledge or approval of the other partners, are important decisions. Furthermore, deciding which one of the partners will work with the script/story and or talent and director, and which one will be an on-set producer as opposed to being a financial based producer, are also equally as important. The last thing you want to do is to have your fellow producing partners arguing about what they’re “stuck” doing as opposed to what they want to be doing.

Define The Order The Producers Are Listed In The Credits
This is one of the most contentious elements of every partnership. Not only should partners define whose name goes first, but whether or not the names appear on the same screen, different screens, or whose name gets front credits as opposed to end credits. Another seemingly ridiculous, but important, point to cover is how big the letters in each producer’s name will be on screen. Even though having to “negotiate and agree” to the size of the letters in your name for your on-screen credit seems like an enormous waste of time and energy, not doing so opens the door for your partners to make their names appear larger on screen. Trust me, money changes people, especially those people who are getting their first taste of “real money,” so never underestimate power of a hungry ego.

Never Partner With Somebody Just Like Yourself
A healthy partnership demands mutually exclusive skill sets. Thus, if you’re a “good cop,” find yourself a “bad cop.” Your partner should excel in the areas where you have shortcomings, and you should be able to excel in theirs. Two producing partners with the same personalities won’t produce much more than a huge pile of debt, so make sure yours is damn good at the things you’re not so good at.

Talk To Your Producing Partner’s Former Partners
Implementing this tactic will help you decide whether or not your potential partner is right for you. If you get inundated with tales of caution from your partner’s former colleagues about how you should run for the hills, just remember there are always three sides to every story: your partner’s side, your partner’s former partner’s side, and the truth…

Hold Each Partner Accountable For Failing To Deliver
In the event a partner (including yourself) was supposed deliver an actor, or money, or both, or any other game-changing element in exchange for their credit and ownership in the partnership, but failed to do so, consequences should surface. Just because the partner “tried hard night and day for two years” to land the elements they promised, doesn’t mean they should keep the same level of ownership or credit if they ultimately failed. At best, the failed partner should have their credit and ownership reduced in order to make room for the next partner you will have to bring in to acquire the elements needed to make your project grow wings and fly. At worst, your failed partner should be unceremoniously excused from your partnership. While doing so may seem harsh at the time, ask yourself: would you allow someone to earn the same money and credit you’re earning even after it’s painfully obvious that they’re not pulling their own weight?

Place A Time Limit On Achieving The Partnership Goals
Knowing how much time the partnership has to perform is a good way of learning how well the partnership is working out. Then, once the time limit nears its end, examine how things have progressed and what, if anything, needs to change.

See Your Partners At Their Worst Before You Sign
Producing partnerships, like most relationships, are rosy and beautiful in the beginning, but true personalities will eventually come to light. Thus, you should know if your partner is a screamer, depressing negative freak, or an otherwise unpleasant person, before you sign. One way to learn this early on is to pay attention to how your partner treats people, (i.e. waiters, waitresses, assistants, interns, etc). Don’t fall into a trap where you convince yourself that even if your partner treats most people like the pile you flushed away this morning, they treat you great, so it’s all good. Remember, a dick, by any other name, is still a dick (yes, I’m using the term “dick” for both male and female producing partners).

Observe Your Partners In Social Situations Before You Sign
Many deals are ultimately shot to hell because the entity buying, financing or otherwise providing the partnership with a huge element, dislikes one of the partners involved. While I’m not suggesting you should refrain from partnering with people who lack social graces, I am saying those partners should be nowhere near important meetings where the image of your partnership can make or break getting the deal done. Thus, if your partner(s) suffer from diarrhea of the mouth, an annoying voice, laugh, or are otherwise socially awkward, make sure they do not represent your partnership in meetings or important social events.

Trust Your Partners
Trust them to have your back, and the collective backs of the partnership. Of course if you can’t trust them, even if you only have “reasonable doubts,” or if they doubt you in any way, you shouldn’t engage into a partnership. Simple, isn’t it?

While even some of the greatest partnerships didn’t last forever, like Lennon and McCartney, Simon and Garfunkel, and Starsky and Hutch (okay, Starsky and Hutch did stay together until they were canceled after their fourth season), all of these partnerships were pleasantly littered with trust and each partner having different skills sets. Thus, here’s to all of your current and future partnerships to be filled with success. I hope everyone enjoyed a happy and healthy Father’s Day with their dads, I thank you for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday!

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