To honor the many women in the LGBT community who possess a fearless entrepreneurial spirit and keen business acumen in executing their ideas SheWired has launched a Women in Business series of interviews with female business owners from producers to restaurateurs to retail business owners.
We kick off our series of interviews with producer, actor and production company founder Michelle C. Bonilla. An actor with a long list of credits on her IMDB page including an several-year stint on ER, a role as a Klingon in Star Trek: Enterprise and appearances on 24, Luck, NYPD Blue and many more, for Bonilla, it wasn’t enough to act. The industrious thespian built Soul Art Productions from the ground up and has since delved into just about every aspect of the filmmaking business including writing, directing and the ever-important money end of the business, producing.
A winner of the ALMA (American Latino Media Arts) Award for her performance in PBS's, Award Winning Foto-Novela Series, Seeing Through Walls, under Soul Art Productions Bonilla wrote, produced and starred in the critically lauded LGBT-themed short film Slip Away. She has since, with her business partner Matt Crabtree, launched MCBMC Productions, LLC.
Currently they are working on producing the web series Failing Upwards, “about unemployment and the hilarity of trying to find a job - Even if you have to lie to get one.”
Bonilla chatted with SheWired about the ups, downs, challenges and rewards of kick starting a business.
SheWired: What inspired you to launch your own business?
Michelle C. Bonilla: I was inspired to launch my own production company, Soul Arts Productions, with the sole purpose of creating my own content. As a Latina Woman, I felt that our stories were not represented enough, and I wanted to be able to tell our stories. I also wanted to launch Soul Arts Productions as a platform for film and told stories that moved and touched people in ways that are not typically discussed or talked about. My story was the best place to start from. I successfully was able to produce my award winning short film, Slip Away, which deals with two women who were involved with each other but were torn apart because of the others addiction to cocaine and alcohol.
After coming off of creating Slip Away, I knew that I wanted to keep creating content, but wanted the content to be lighter and have a faster pace.I also wanted to launch another company that dealt with television and the new media category. Thusly, MCBMC Productions, LLC, was born. I decided it would be a great idea to have a business partner and collaborator in my new venture and enjoy the creativity and talent of my very good friend, Matt Crabtree, who is also a fantastic actor, and thought it would be marvelous to have someone to bounce ideas off of and to help in the day to day in running a production company.
Matt and I decided we would love to cultivate our own series based on the odd jobs we have had to take as actors. However, we decided, as a team, we did not want our characters and series to be centered on “actors.” So, we made the characters normal, everyday people, with slight...okay, more than slight quirks and turned it into a comedy. That is how Failing Upwards, our new comedy webs series, was born.
What attracted you most to the business you’re in? Was it practicality, passion or a little of both?
As an actress, writer, producer, PASSION is what attracted me most to continuing to grow in my field. I believe you have to be passionate in the business of filmmaking and television because you would have to be out of your mind to willingly want to get into this business! However, I also have to be practical. There is a lot of rejection, heartache and growing pains. But, I do it because the pleasure and love I feel for creating – whether I am acting, writing, or producing, is so much greater than the pain of rejection -- when it is fully executed and done correctly. There is so much reward and beauty in creating something that makes people laugh, cry, think, or just moves them, in some way or another, that you continue to make content in the face of the obvious pitfalls that this business has.
How did you develop your business plan?
We decided to use the web platform because we would have control of our material and could create and produce it ourselves. We also loved how quickly we could reach our audience. And, because the internet is so fast, we would get quicker feedback from our fans and would be able to have a closer contact with them. Also, the web is a doable, tangible, quick way to distribute your own material. Of course, we pride ourselves on quality of content and how our series looks, so “Quick” is not a pseudonym for “sloppy and poorly produced” – the quality of what is being put out there on the web is increasing immensely, which is why it was the perfect platform for Matt, myself, and our new series, “Failing Upwards”.
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Explain some of the about the challenges you faced in kickstarting your business. Was it difficult coming up with start-up capital after you had the initial great idea for your business?
Some of the challenges we faced were raising capital to create our series. It still is a challenge, after filming our first season, to keep trying to raise money for the post production of our show.
We used IndieGoGo to raise funds for our first season and just did it with what we had. We made it work for us because we had to. We also have a ‘donate’ button on our website that gives our fans and people who want to invest in our show the opportunity to do so.
My business partner, Matt, and I were also faced with wanting to hire the best crew for our production but had to pay them very minimally. Crew is worth their weight in gold and it takes very special people to work for less. But, you will find an increasing amount of great people will do this because that is how this business works. You meet people who are great to work with and when you reach a financial place where you can rehire them, you do so! And, that is my intention for Failing Upwards.
Explain some of the rewards and drawbacks –-if any—to owning your own business as opposed to working for someone else.
The rewards of having my own production company are that I control the content of my work. At the end of the day I can feel good about creating great work. However, the drawbacks, in the beginning, would be that you have to do so with very little capital. You have to create a product that people can see so that they can reinvest. And, if you haven’t created that product yet, you have to go to the people who believe in you. I’m lucky that I have that. However, I do have a good track record so far so I hope that people who are reading this article will donate! (laughs)
Now that you’ve owned your own business would you ever go back to working for someone else?
I am an actress who has learned to create opportunities for myself. I will never say no to another producer or director who wants to use my talents. I’m always for hire!
That’s the beauty of owning my own production company – I can work for anyone else who needs my talents.
Are there challenges that are specific to being a female business owner? Or do you think men who launch a business face equitable issues?
Yes, I do think there are challenges to being a female business owner. If you look at all the statistics around you they still exist. There is still a glass ceiling and men still make more than women. However, I don’t let any of that deter me. I’m a fighter.
What sort of ingenuity has helped to keep your business thriving during trying economic times over the past few years?
My business is very unique in that you can put a lot of time and effort – be amazing at what you do, and NOT get rewarded. My business, first and foremost, is being an actor. I have been a professional one for over 20 years. What has kept me thriving is to keep a positive attitude, and that’s challenging at times, and continues to cultivate my craft. I have done so by making my film, through my Soul Arts Productions banner, and now my own web series, through my new production company, MCBMC Productions.
How do you see your business growing over the next five years?
I see MCBMC Productions to continue to produce quality television along with the help of veteran show runners. I see our business collaborating with wonderful, talented people, who also are interested in creating content that is accessible to viewers and entertains them in the process.
When you take time away from work to splurge, how do you like to treat yourself?
I always say “Yes” to a Chinese Foot Massage. Actually, I’m a bit addicted to them.
Do you have advice for young entrepreneurs? What are some tips or pitfalls to avoid?
Create from your heart. No matter what business you intend to start you have to love what you are doing. And, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. You can! Believe that you can and others will follow. However, do your homework and learn from others. Always have an open mind and never be afraid to ask for help. There are great people out there that want to help you succeed. The challenge is to find them. If you are honest with yourself and truthful to what you want you will find them.