Radical Transparency = Knowing What You Are Worth

This month’s cover story for Wired is about a concept of radical transparency – of (shock, horror!) honesty with your clients, your employees, vendors, etc.

I am a total believer in this. If it’s truth, it’s worth saying. If it is not truth, it’s not worth saying.

In show business in particular, in the past when talent was artificially made scarce (by agents, agencies, access to resources, etc.), the talent could get away with an awful lot of things. By talent, I’m referring in this particular case to producers (and that includes me, as a card-carrying PGA member).

Specifically, a producer could tell a network (and still *does* in many cases) that a show will cost $$xx,xxx,xxx to make. The producer of course has producing fees built into the budget that are declared.

As producers are generally greedy, the producer then may make a deal that said “here’s my fee, but if I, in my infinite wisdom and talent bring the show in under the amount we agreed upon, I get to pocket the difference.” OK, that wouldn’t be so big a deal, except that we forgot to mention one thing, “We’re not going to tell you how much that difference is, and you won’t get to audit our costs.”


The problems this creates are manifold.

  1. It creates distrust between the partners who have opposing goals
  2. It gives the producer the incentive to cut costs as much as possible so as to pocket the maximum amount of money.
  3. It takes away a lot of incentive & personal investments for many of the people working for said producer, who know that this is exactly what’s going on.And worst of all, I believe,
  4. It obscures the true value of your work as a producer.

By being transparent about costs, and making sure that your distribution network knows exactly what is going on creates enormous goodwill and trust which pay dividends far beyond whatever a producer is going to eek out monetarily from their budgets.

But most producers are too short-sighted, with a severe case of “get-mine-while-I-can, and screw everyone else.”

I know the value of my work, and I will tell you exactly what it is, in clear, concise points. I will ask for backend as well – so long as what I make is producing revenue, then as one of the principal creators of that revenue stream, I should participate in that.

In return, you will know exactly what every cent was spent on, and every single last possible one of those cents will go onto the screen, or into the story, or the script, or somewhere where I hope it will make a tangible difference in making something *better.*

When you’re busy hiding things up from your production partners, you’re also busy hiding from yourself the real value of what your work is worth…. but maybe that’s the point, eh?