Navigate the Film Industry like an Entrepreneur with Edgar Esteves
Award-winning filmmaker and activist Edgar Esteves drops into the Filmmakers Academy studio to chat with Brendan Sweeney about what it takes to create a successful business in the film industry. Listed in Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2020, Edgar discusses some serious truths about the industry, like whether you need an agent or representation, or if you can navigate a prosperous career on your own. Not only that, but Edgar shares insights into how he manages his own business relationships.
This is a must-watch for filmmakers rising in their careers. Edgar gives some serious advice about ego and what you should look for in colleagues running a production company.
LISTEN TO THE FULL EPISODE
FOCUS ON RELATIONSHIPS OVER MONEY
We say it over and over again, relationships spark and sustain careers! However, one of the biggest mistakes filmmakers make is focusing too much on the money at first. Sometimes you have to build trust and show that it’s not just about business. For instance, you may want to grow with a certain accomplished filmmaker or even brand.
Busta Rhymes complimented producer and director Edgar Esteves for doing just that. The rapper previously worked with an editor who charged an extra $10K to show up to set. However, with Edgar, it wasn’t like that at all. Edgar never brought up money and displayed his appreciation for the opportunity. To Edgar, he was more interested in earning his trust. $10K can come and go but it’s the relationship that can last forever.
That said, Edgar also notes that it’s a risk and they can tell you to kick rocks. So, it also depends on the person, and you want to be cognizant of who you do a favor for.
“If it works out, then amazing. If it doesn’t, then I understand that you know what, I tried my best. And maybe there’ll be another opportunity come in the future. But I think earning people’s respect is more [important] than anything. Like, I don’t even have a commercial rep. How are we doing a tequila commercial today? It’s because I know certain people, you got me? It’s all relationships. The people that I was good to six, seven years ago, are now in a position where they can make the decisions and come back to me.”
Of course money matters, but that will come later. And in the long run, you will earn much more as a result of the relationships you make. On the flip side, if you’re hiring filmmakers, always treat them fairly and nicely. If you have an opportunity to pay someone a little extra because they earned it, do it. It might sting in the short term, but in the long run, Edgar insists you’ll make it back 10 fold.
DO YOU NEED AGENTS AND REPRESENTATIVES?
Some filmmakers prefer to have the support of agents and representatives while others prefer to navigate the industry by their own networks and relationships. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either choice and depends on the filmmaker.
So, for a self-starting filmmaker like Edgar Esteves, he shines in front of people and navigates the industry with an entrepreneurial spirit. While others may prefer to do the job and go home, Edgar embraces the opportunities in the film industry and fearlessly takes charge of his career.
According to Edgar, your success is about who you surround yourself around. He quotes Kendrick Lamar who said it hurts the most when you fall from the top. With that in mind, Edgar didn’t want to be at the top of his career only to crumble because of his ego. So, he surrounded himself with childhood friends and family to help run his business.
“If you fall, we all fall together,” explains Edgar. “And if we rise, we all rise together. And that’s kind of how I like to build my company. And it does take a lot of hard work. But you have to remove your ego, and just be like, I’m gonna be that person to bring all this together. And whether I get credit for it or not, I don’t care. You got me? It’s just more so I want to help these people. I think it’s the right thing to do.”
In the agency they opened, Edgar ensured that everyone on the team had equity in it. Some people will invest all their time into a company and one day they leave and that’s it. Edgar doesn’t feel that is moral and prefers to run his business fairly.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A DIRECTOR
Edgar believes resilience is the most important characteristic for any director, producer, or other kinds of filmmakers.
“Are you going to let this life beat you up,” asks Edgar, “Or are you going to rise to the occasion and rise like the phoenix that you are?”
There are plenty of opportunities to lose it on set. Between all the filmmakers, labels asking questions, and collaborating with celebrities, it can be a lot to manage. Especially when everyone has a hand in the pot and wants their voice to be heard.
However, at the end of the day, it’s up to the director to manage all the personalities around them. You must be able to handle your emotions and keep from snapping at people.
“I’ve seen directors just be disgruntled. And everyone was like, ‘I will never work with you.’ Five years later, they have no career. And it’s sad to see. But you have to control your emotions. You have to be respectful. And you have to be willing and open to learn and understand that we’re all students. And at the end of the day, if you see something I’m doing wrong, approach me and tell me and have transparency. But I feel like nowadays, everyone’s so scared to talk to each other that no one’s telling each other.”
Since Edgar Esteves is a director and producer who also runs his own company, he has learned when to let go and pass opportunities to colleagues. He finally reached the point where he is making music videos between the range of $300,000 – $700,000 and feels at the top of his game.
That means he is super busy and doesn’t have the bandwidth to solely dedicate his attention to each and every project. For that reason, you will often see Edgar’s name beside fellow co-directors like Jon Primo and Juan Felipe.
“I wasn’t even about to do the World Cup video if it wasn’t for Juan Felipe,” recalls Edgar. “That’s what people don’t understand. I was in Colombia and I was like, I was with him. And I’m like, ‘Man, I just got this opportunity to do this video. It’s called ‘Tukoh Taka’. I was like, ‘What is this?’ I listen to the song and like alright it’s cool. It didn’t have Nicki [Minaj’s] verse on it yet. But I was like, ‘Damn, I’m just really busy and I’m really focusing on my film right now.’ And then Juan’s like, ‘Yo, if it’s with FIFA, like don’t turn it down.’ I was like, ‘Alright, man, well, if you want to drop a treatment, I can look over it and give you my notes, and then we can work on it together.’ And we did that. And that’s what happened.”
This is one of the many reasons why you want to build a team to support you. Edgar lives by the advice of none other than Jay-Z, “If everyone’s a crutch around you, you’re never gonna fall.”
Edgar also shares his own motto: “Alone you can go fast, but together you can go far.”
“I think that’s like a real mentality that we put into our company because we want to be in this together. And we want to rock and we’re gonna blow up together, and we’re gonna be all happy for each other’s success. Sometimes as a human, not even filmmakers, we get a little bit caught up in ego. But I’m lucky that I feel like I’ve worked on myself in the background that I come from. I’m just very grateful to have what I have.”
Edgar’s career really took off in 2020, which was also at the height of the pandemic. That year, he did 111 videos and business was absolutely booming. So, Edgar turned to his best friend Joan Pabon and said that they should start a post-house.
So, Edgar and Joan approached their editor friend Cal Laird and asked him if he wanted to start his own company. Cal did but didn’t really know where to start. Edgar offered to give him the infrastructure of Blank Square to work within and build his new company, Digital Sword.
When they decided how to split up the business by percentages, Edgar looked to Phil Knight and Nike with the 51/49 rule as an example. “This is where people can’t be greedy.” Since Edgar wouldn’t be editing, he offered outright to take a smaller percentage of the company.
With Joan and Cal as majority owners, they came together and now have eight to ten editors working for them on a given day in a Hollywood office. They have an entire floor to themselves. Then, Edgar has one office for Blank Square there and they help offset the cost.
“We all work together to make sure things are great. Like I have two rooms, they have four. But then when we go there, they feel like they have six rooms. And when I go take my clients, they feel like I have six rooms, because in a way we do. But that’s what is so important about trust and partnerships.”
MENTORSHIP AND SHADOW PROGRAM
There’s so much you can learn on set but it’s a challenge to pick up everything from the ground level as a Production Assistant. Sometimes it’s best to be a fly on the wall and see everything the director is doing firsthand. Fortunately, Edgar Esteves has set up a shadowing program that brings you virtually on set with him. And all you have to do is text “Shadow” to the phone number he provides.
“I just had this girl, Anastasia, and she came to the tech scout, the prebuild, the prelight, the shoot day, and she also came to the editing side. And she saw everything — she saw the conversations that I had with the artists, and I’m like, ‘And you got paid for that.’ So it’s like, learn. And she’s like, ‘What do I do on set?’ I’m like, ‘Nothing, learn. I’m paying you to learn.’”
Edgar and his team at Blank Square turn down millions of dollars of work every year. They constantly receive quotes for $10,000 and $20,000 videos. Sure, they might be too low for Edgar but they could be a fantastic opportunity for rising filmmakers. So Edgar thought it would be a fantastic idea to share those opportunities with filmmakers that are growing in their shadow program.
“Now that I’ve built the network of producers around me to lead them in the right way, and give them insight and be like, ‘Hey, now your treatment is too expensive. Here, change this idea before we send it in blah, blah, blah. And like having people like that, that’s a great tool. Because, you know, directors will be like, ‘Alright, here’s a $50,000 brief.’ And they’ll be like, ‘Alright, well, here’s a million-dollar idea.’ And it’s like, we would love to do it but we only have $50,000 as a client.”
From this kind of mentorship and collaboration, directors young in their careers can learn the reality of budgets and what is possible for given budgets.
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW
This is only a segment from our interview with director/producer Edgar Esteves. To get the full picture of his experience forming successful businesses in the film industry, listen to the audio for free on Spotify or iTunes.
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