FEATURE: Film as Social Enterprise?

"While the social enterprise is concerned with its cause over its profits, it must nonetheless secure financing."

Pat Guerra, Director of Development, explores the connections between The Global Film Initiative’s nonprofit, social entrepreneurship model with the business of filmmaking, in this first of several blog posts on the topic.      

Embarking on filmmaking is an inherently risky social endeavor. A film’s purpose is storytelling, an act that dates back to the dawn of mankind, as does being an entrepreneur or merchant. Few undertakings are more entrepreneurial than launching a new film project. There are many parallels between launching a film project and a launching a new social enterprise.

The storytelling in film is typically layered and nuanced. It carries significance and meaning to both the raconteur and attentive audience, and often has a deeper purpose. It may be light and engaging entertainment, or the film may be poignant and provocative — seeking to bring awareness to hypocrisy, community foibles or social injustice.

Director Oday Rasheed (QARANTINA, Global Lens 2012) discussing The Iraqi Independent Film Center - a social venture with film.

Whether the film is about people – their lives and adventures — or animals, the environment, current events, or history, it can be told using fiction, non-fiction or a blend of both. In many cases the filmmaker provides commentary on his or her society.

When such commentary exist, the film, by definition, has  a very social purpose. The Mission of the film transcends the filmmaking! And it is a mission aimed at awareness, or a call to action. The film then has the power to move us in ways that can precipitate significant intended and unintended consequences.

Underlying the storytelling, acting, props and scenery, is technology, cinematography and artistry. And foundational to all of that is the financing of the filmmaking venture.

A social enterprise is “an organization or venture that advances its primary social or environmental mission using business methods” as defined by the Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA). While the enterprise is concerned with its cause over its profits, it must nonetheless secure financing.

Students work at making a film while attending filmmaker Gaston Kabore's (GFI Film Board) Imagine Institute in Burkina Faso

Any commercial or social enterprise–educational institution, health care center, consumer products company, food producer, moviemaker, or film distributor, must deal with essentially the same foundational processes related to financing the venture and attracting both the investor and consumer market.

Each process begins with an idea, an innovation, or a contribution to society, like… building a better understanding about the world we live in.

While an entrepreneur hopes for the broadest audience or market for their film, product or service innovation, they have a target market in mind. One that they believe will be drawn to their product. For some consumers the appeal will be irresistible. Knowing what makes it so to a large enough target market is one of the keys to success.

The other keys involve raising money to launch the venture, how the venture is organized, the talents of the people that they select, the quality of what they do and then how they roll the product out to the market, and at what cost!  A product can’t be a success if the costs of bringing it to market swamp all prospects for the amount of revenue received, whether it is contributed, earned or both.

In future posts I can explore other dimensions of success, critical acclaim, product and market development, attracting funds and achieving financial returns. I might also explore how to mitigate the risks with a new venture whether it is a film or a product or service innovation. Let me know what you are most interested in by sharing your comments and thoughts below.

Best wishes with the dreams you undertake.


Pat Guerra joins the Global Film Initiative after serving in senior management, information technology, and operations roles with Hewlett Packard, Advance Micro Devices and Ariba. Pat has also served as President and CEO of SpinCircuit, and as Executive Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University, where he co-founded the Global Social Benefit Incubator. He is a current member of the Band of Angels venture investment organization, a consultant to domestic and international early-stage ventures, corporations, non-profits and award winning social entrepreneurs and holds a B.S. in Economics and a M.B.A. in Operations Management and Information Systems from Santa Clara University.

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