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How to Start a Film Academy in 2023

Do you want to start a film academy? If YES, here’s a complete guide to starting a film academy with NO money and no experience.

There was a time when starting a private film academy was best left to the imagination. But now the advent of technology has made it very easy for entrepreneurs to use their talents and resources to create their own film academy, even within the rather insular world of Hollywood.

In the general film industry, there are unlimited opportunities for anyone willing to take this route. You need to understand that it is quite tough to venture into the film business without some guidance. This is why people are advised to first find a mentor who can help them navigate the potential challenges of the industry.

You will also need to raise money to run your business. If you already have the funds to start up your business- then great. However, if you don’t, you may want to investigate getting a business loan. You can also raise part of your startup capital from friends and family to invest in your enterprise.

Getting into this business is not an easy task as you will need industry experience and good management skills to succeed. At first you will probably want to start small. Are there universities nearby with film departments? Are there small advertising firms in your area, or local businesses whose ads could use some help?

According to reports, the U.S. film industry posted $31 billion in revenue in 2013, with the movies going public spending nearly $11 billion annually at the box office. Also, people rent and purchase their favourite films on DVD, Blu-ray, and on-demand/streaming services, and subscribe to cable channels devoted to showing recent and classic movie productions, around the clock.

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Americans read magazines and books about filmmaking and visit web pages devoted to their favourite stars and movies.  You can start a business that teaches willing individuals the basics of filmmaking and all other related topics. Continue reading as we explain all you need to know and consider when planning to start a film academy in the United States.

Steps to Starting a Film Academy

Table of Content

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1. Understand the Industry

A film academy is simply an educational institution that teaches willing individuals the various aspects of filmmaking, including such subjects as film production, film theory, digital media production, and screenwriting. These educational courses and hands-on technical training are usually incorporated into most film academy curricula.

The technical training may include instruction in the use and operation of cameras, lighting equipment, film or video editing equipment and software, and other relevant equipment.

These educational institutions may also include courses and training in such subjects as television production, broadcasting, audio engineering and animation. History has it that formal teaching of film started as theory while practical technical training started soon after the development of the filmmaking process in the 1890s.

It was stated that early film theorists were more interested in writing essays on film theory than in teaching students in a classroom environment. Most people who learnt the technical craft of filmmaking in the early days of cinema were largely self-taught engineers or still photographers who experimented with new film technology.

But with the rapid growth and acceptance of commercial filmmaking in the 1920s, most notably the Hollywood studio system, those seeking to learn the technical skills of filmmaking most often started at the bottom of a hierarchical system and apprenticed under a more experienced person to learn the trade.

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You need to understand that the tradition of apprenticing up through a hierarchical system still continues to this day within film studios and in television in many technical positions such as gaffers, grips, camera operators, and even into post production with editing and colour correction.

The idea of a giving a four-year college degree in film started in the 1960s with the founding of prestigious film departments like the New York University Tisch School of the Arts (1965), Walt Disney founded California Institute of the Arts (1961), the University of Texas department of Radio-Television-Film (1965) and the Columbia University School of the Arts (1965).

Statistics has it that over the years, competition for admission to these programs has grown immensely with many undergraduate programs accepting less than 10% of their applicants, and with even more stringent selection for graduate programs.

Beginning from the 1990s, increased admission difficulties and the financial costs of attending these programs caused a lot of individuals to spend their money self-financing their own features or attending a shorter trade school program for around the same costs.

2. Conduct Market Research and Feasibility Studies

  • Demographics and Psychographics

A lot of people each year strive to sharpen their dreams of becoming actors, screenwriters, producers, or directors. Most of them, if not all, will need to learn from a film academy.

If you plan to start and run a successful film academy, you likely possess a thirst for knowledge and drive to continuously grow and help people achieve their dreams. You love to dabble in every aspects of the film industry, learning as much from your students as they learn from you.

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Agreeably, you need to employ experienced teachers, as with time your duties will increase, as many of your students will be coming from other areas of the world. Immersing yourself in the program is critical to your school’s success, as building deep connections is what will set your school apart from the others.

When not instructing, you will need to manage the business aspect, network with others in the community, and market your school. You should be a creative storyteller and technologically adept in film or digital production.

Your expertise might come from a film academy, employment in the film industry or a background in creating film content.

3. Decide What Niche to Concentrate On

What differentiates one film academy from another is the type of courses they offer, the content, cost and duration of their courses. Most universities offer courses ranging from 1 to 4 years, with the majority lasting 3 or 4 years.

On the other hand, films schools focus on shorter technical courses of 1 or 2 years. A lot of film academies in the United States still teach students how to use actual film in their productions, even though the incorporation of digital media in film academy curricula has grown rapidly in recent years.

You also need to note that some film academies in the United States offer only digital filmmaking courses, or eschewing instruction in the medium of film altogether.

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Have it in mind that the use of digital cameras and digital media is relatively cheaper than film cameras and film stock, and allows a film academy to offer more equipment for students to learn with.

It’s also very important to state that online film academies are becoming realistic as they teach filmmaking through articles, tutorial videos, and interactive forums. Reports have shown that the next generation of digital cinematography using large sensors and manual features available in still DSLR cameras has lowered the barrier further towards creating inexpensive digital video that compares closely to 35mm film.

The Level of Competition in The Industry

One of the challenges of starting a film academy is getting your first set of students. However, knowing how to get started in film and taking the key steps will probably get you much farther. Have it in mind that making it in the film industry does not depend on school or degrees but instead on your own ingenuity. To succeed, you have to be intelligent, creative, and have what it takes to make in the film industry. Even more important than that, you must be a social person who is able to market him or herself well.

When planning to start up a business in the film industry, you must understand that the film industry is difficult to break into and is incredibly competitive. It is due to this competition that people attend only notable academies, and executives only hire people they know.

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Usually, when you know a person, you prefer to hire them, because you know their personality, know that they can get along with co-workers, understand their abilities and strengths, and see that they are reliable people. Almost every career does this, and while it is sad, it is also beneficial for them.

Another fact you should keep in mind is networking. Networking is the real key to get started in film. To succeed and gain more students, you must expand your network. If you do not have a network, start small and then begin to move up.

It’s advisable that you practice socializing with friends, go out to meet friends of friends, and you can even use your parents social network and friends. Remember not to exclude anyone from your social network just because they do not work in the film industry.

You never know who a person may know and what kind of resources they have. These people may be able to introduce you to someone who does work in radio – or someone who knows someone.

You need to understand that this is the way social networks work, you keep meeting friends of friends and connections of people you know. Succeeding in the film industry simply means knowing how to network because without a strong network, you are as good as empty in this industry.

4. Know the Major Competitors in the Industry

There are so many film institutions both public and private in the United States, which are very much dedicated to teaching film either as a department in a larger university, or as a stand-alone entity.

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But you need to understand that universities offering film degrees as part of their arts or communications curriculum differ from institutions with a dedicated film program, which offer degrees in multiple aspects of film making such as theory, directing, cinematography, and screenwriting.

  • Academy of Arts University
  • American Film Institute
  • New York Film Academy
  • Global Cinematography Institute
  • Ringling College of Arts and Design
  • Studio School (Formerly Known as Relativity School)
  • School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Digital Film Academy
  • Hunter College
  • The Arts Institute
Economic Analysis

Experts in the film industry have different views on the value of a degree in film in relation to the ability to find work and succeed in the field. Some of them believe that talent can never be taught, while others feel that learning techniques and understanding the business is very necessary to one’s success as a filmmaker.

The category of professionals who argue against the importance of film academy state the high cost of such an education as prohibitive, and believe that an aspiring filmmaker’s money would be better spent on the actual making of a film, the experience of which would offer a more practical hands-on education.

Reports have shown that in some film academies, initial student films in non-digital programs are shot with non-synch Arri-S or Bolex film cameras produced in the mid-20th century. These films are shot on black and white reversal film with no dialog, or limited sound added after shooting.

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It is argued that shooting films like these challenge students to harness creativity and express their story without depending on dialog or other modern conventional devices. While some also question the practicality of having students spend a substantial amount of money making use of equipment that is no longer used in the industry, and doing simple filmmaking exercises that could be recreated for much less.

These arguments have gone on for so long, as some film academy proponents believe that a formal education gives room for a more rounded theoretical understanding of techniques artistic approaches, and creates the opportunity to gain from the knowledge and experience of professional instructors who work in, or who have worked in, the industry.

Another benefit of a film academy are the opportunities available to students to work as interns for filmmakers or in related businesses, such as post-production editing facilities, and to network with others interested in filmmaking who may be in a position to collaborate with the student on a project or to eventually offer work in the industry.

Statistics has shown that the rise and popularity of independent filmmaking and digital video have influenced this debate, as anyone with a digital camera can shoot a digital work with little formal knowledge of the industry, and can succeed or establish a following by making the work available for viewing or by publicizing it on the internet.

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5. Decide Whether to Buy a Franchise or Start from Scratch

When starting a Film academy, buying a franchise can be a better alternative to starting your own business. This is because buying a franchise gives you the independence of business ownership supported by the benefits of a big business network.

You don’t necessarily need business experience to run a franchise. The franchisor is charged with providing the training you need to operate the business model. Franchises also have a higher rate of success than start-up businesses.

Also as a franchise, it will be far easier to get funds. It may also cost less to buy a franchise than start a business of the same type. Franchises often have an established reputation and image, proven management and work practices, access to national advertising and ongoing support.

To many people, franchising is a simple way to go into business for the first time. But franchising is no guarantee of success and the same principles of good management – such as informed decision-making, hard work, time management, having enough money and serving your customers/members well – still apply.

6. Know the Possible Threats and Challenges You Will Face

Owning and running your own business – especially one revolving around your passion – can be extremely exciting: you answer to no one and you share your practice with the world in a way you believe.

But you need to understand that starting and running a business is not for the faint hearted. The film industry has its own challenges and threats, you just need to plan ahead and get ready to deal with them as they come. Problems you may encounter when starting a Film academy business may include;

  • Location
  • Marketing and equipment
  • Developing an entrepreneurship mind set
  • Finance
  • Choosing a niche
  • Registration and licensing
  • Developing your recruitment plan
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7. Choose the Most Suitable Legal Entity (LLC, C Corp, S Corp)

This will probably be one of the hardest decisions you have to make when putting your film academy together. It’s advisable that you first check with your local city and county government to get the necessary licensing before you open your doors for business.

There are six legal entities available to entrepreneurs in the United States of America and they include; Sole Proprietorship, Limited Liability Company (LLC), Cooperative, C Corporation, Partnership and the S Corporation.

But when trying to open a Film academy these options are reduced to two – Cooperative and LLC. But no matter the size and concept you have for your business, note that the LLC is the best option for you.

LLC stands for Limited Liability Company. When a business is structured as an LLC, it becomes its own legal entity. Forming an LLC is the simplest way of structuring your business to provide personal liability protection. This means your personal assets are protected if your business is sued. The LLC is responsible for its own debts and lawsuits, not the owners. It’s advantages may include;

  • Pass through taxation
  • Increase credibility
  • Access to Business loans
  • Personal assets protection
  • Flexibility
  • Simplicity
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8. Choose a Catchy Business Name from the ideas Below

  • City soul
  • Film age
  • Clockwork
  • Marcelo film Academy
  • Silver card
  • Cutting Edge films
  • Princeton
  • All Star
  • Clear Jersey Films
  • Elite Films
  • Revolution films
  • Houston School of arts
  • Gracie Barra
  • Sky schools
  • Master film Academy
  • Gold Team films
  • Elements of acting

9. Discuss With an Agent to Know the Best Insurance Policies for You

Insurance for film academies are specifically designed and it provides a comprehensive basket of coverages for the schools. The Film academy insurance program quotations are usually issued within 10 minutes after receipt of application, during business hours. Your insurance program should include the following:

  • Health insurance
  • Public liability insurance
  • Professional indemnity insurance
  • Business interruption insurance
  • Employer’s liability insurance
  • Contents insurance
  • Money and loss of license cover
  • Legal expense insurance
  • Inland marine insurance
  • Excess liability

10. Get the Necessary Professional Certification

Indeed a film certificate and training program can help you sharpen the skills needed to succeed in this business. A lot of film schools in the United States offer certificate programs focusing on digital and film arts, film studies, film and video, film-making and film production.

Depending on the school and your previous education, you could enroll in an interdisciplinary or targeted undergraduate or graduate certificate program. These programs provide either the basic skills needed for a film career or a supplementary to your education.

You might be able to specialize in film topics, filmmakers genres, foreign films, theory, media in society or sound design. Also if you decide to pursue an interdisciplinary certificate, your options include film studies and film production programs.

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Have it in mind that a film studies certificate program allows you to understand and critique a film’s message through camera angles, lighting, prop setting, dialogue and editing. You can take courses in criticism, documentary films, film and literature, narratives, anthropology and director aesthetics.

You could take courses that discuss digital film editing with Final Cut Pro, cinematography, film and audio synchronization and digital or 16mm cameras. You can pursue a graduate certificate while enrolled in a master’s or doctoral program.

These programs develop both theory and technical skills. You’ll usually be required to write a thesis paper in order to receive your certificate.

11. Protect your Intellectual Property With Trademark, Copyrights, Patents

The importance of intellectual property protection in film academy is unquantifiable. It is your duty to protect the works and creativity of your teachers and students. You have to protect the hard work they put into creating works and make sure they don’t get stolen.

You also have to protect your trademark and ensure that the key factor that announces your brand clearly doesn’t get tampered with. Indeed protecting intellectual properties is like managing a winning sports team—you need both a good offense and a good deference.

  • Be vigilant
  • Choose a strong mark
  • Get everything registered
  • Have an IP Lawyer
  • Use it or lose it
  • Beware the Escalator Fate
  • Police everything
  • Enforce your mark
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12. Get the Necessary Legal Documents You Need to Operate

Indeed some state permits and licenses are needed to start and run a film academy. For more information about local licensing and permitting requirements, it’s advisable that you check with your town, city or county clerk’s office, or get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.

Certificate of Occupancy

Without doubt, a film academy is usually run out of a physical location. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met. If you plan to lease or buy a property, have the following procedures in mind:

  • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
  • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a film production company.
  • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for you business’ location to ensure your film academy will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO
Service Contract

Also in an enterprise like a film academy where services and courses are offered on an extended basis, a service contract is often put in place clearly stating the terms and conditions of service.

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You should always require clients to sign a service agreement before starting a new project. This agreement clarifies client expectations and minimizes risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, and service level expectations.

13. Raise the Needed Startup Capital

Research has shown that most entrepreneurs only consider one or two choices when they are assessing their financing options – personal savings and bank loans. You need to understand there are a lot of other options to consider, such as borrowing from a private investor, government grants, and using your personal credit.

Each of these methods has it’s pros and cons; it’ll be up to you to decide which will best suit your resources, needs and goals. Ways to raise funds to start your business may include;

  • Debt finance
  • Equity
  • Grants
  • Supply chain finance (e.g. credit from suppliers)
  • Crowdfunding
  • Social investment
  • Venture capital & business angels
  • Financing by family and friends
  • Loan finance

14. Choose a Suitable Location for your Business

This is undeniably one of the greatest decisions you have to make, as it will to a large extent dictate the success of your academy. Note that each type of location has its advantages and disadvantages, which is why you need to weigh the pros and cons of each to determine what is most important for your own situation.

For instance, high-traffic areas will attract more people, but they come with higher rents and noises, while lower-rent areas are not as easily accessible to students. It is advisable when starting out your film academy that you strive to keep rent costs low while spending the extra money in other areas of the business.

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Another thing to consider when looking for a facility to house the film academy are safety and size. It is also important to make sure that the school is located in a safe area, as it is difficult to attract new students if that part of the town is known for its notoriety. Other things to consider may include;

  • Initial purchase costs, including legal costs such as solicitor’s fees and professional fees for surveyors
  • Initial alterations, fitting out and decoration
  • Transport links and parking – good public transport links and local parking facilities make it easier for members and students who don’t live within walking distance
  • Size and layout of the premises
  • Structure and appearance, both internally and externally
  • Any special structural requirements, such as high ceilings
  • Facilities and comfort for employees and students – including lighting and toilets
  • Utilities, such as power and drainage, and any special requirements
  • Permission, including planning permission, to use the premises for a Film Institute
  • Access and parking space – for deliveries or students
  • Whether you need the flexibility to alter or expand the premises
  • Your long-term business plans
  • Continuing maintenance and repairs
  • Building and contents insurance

15. Hire Employees for your Technical and Manpower Needs

You need to understand that your portfolio is very important for getting new clients and for finding investors, partners and collaborators. If you’ve worked for others in the business, showcase the best of your work.

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If not, create your own content for demo purposes. Also you need to have the self-confidence to be able to sell yourself and your vision. You also need to possess very good business instinct to carefully run your academy, as well as have the capital to market your school and find partnerships that can help you turn a profit. Below is how your annual start-up costs might break down:

Teaching and work gear

This will cost up to $15,000 or more. Indeed, people have actually made respected films with natural lighting and their smartphones, but this is more of a novelty. Have it in mind that you will need computer hardware and software, microphones, booms and lighting, and a decent digital camera at the very least.

Work space

This might cost up to $10,000 or more per year. When starting up, you might be able to conduct your business in a small space or garage, but as your academy grows and students start to troop in, you need space to hold different classes and store more equipment and gear.

You won’t often conduct business meetings here with investors, so it doesn’t have to be more than a space that’s safe, secure and spacious enough to use comfortably.

Academic and Non Academic Employees

This will cost within $20,000 to $100,000 a year or more. Try to keep it as lean as possible.

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Marketing materials

$1,000 or more. You’ll at the very least need an attractive and professionally rendered website and business cards.

Insurance and licensing

This will cost you up to $6,000 a year. Note that you will need fire and theft insurance for your film equipment, and liability insurance at the very least.

You need to plan every move you make and strive to keep your budget as tight as possible by doing as much for yourself as you can. But as your needs grow, try to form relationships with other independent creatives. It’s advisable that you hire people who are good at sales and networking if you prefer devoting most of your time to the creative aspects of the business.

The Service Delivery Process of the Business

The primary activity of a film academy is to offer different film education sessions to different groups throughout the day. Note that part of having a successful business is knowing what not to do.

Learning from other people’s mistakes will save you lots of time you do not have and frustration that you do not need. Outlined below are few pitfalls you should avoid, they include;

  • Having a large ego – Even if you were the best student at the academy where you learned, your students need an instructor, not an Alpha dog.
  • Not having a website – In the 21st century, every business needs to have a web presence. It is a form of advertising for your business.
  • Not having a marketing program – Continually marketing the school will continually bring in new students.
  • Not knowing what your students do for a living – Your students can potentially be perfect advertising for you. Know what they do for a living and use them as a connection to new students when and where it is appropriate.
  • Not continuing your education – Even teachers need to be students. Letting your students know you are keeping up on new techniques will tell them that they are receiving top-notch training and education.
  • Being “closed for business” – building a business needs time and effort. To truly grow a student body, be present at the facility, even when classes are not in session.
  • Not having a lunchtime class – It is important to have a noontime class that caters to workers who are trying to get a lesson in during the workday. Although the class might not be heavily attended at first, eventually it will be filled.
  • Not starting class on time – Be respectful of you students’ time. They will appreciate that you value them.
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16. Write a Marketing Plan Packed With ideas & Strategies

If you have decided to take your expertise in the film industry to the next level by opening an academy, you have, hopefully, built a name for yourself within the community. Word-of-mouth will serve as a great source of advertising.

In fact, many teachers have even found success advertising to their current customer base. Try to make use of these connections and provide your students with the best. Create a flexible marketing plan that announces your vision and uniqueness. Things to consider when putting together a marketing plan may include:

  • Budget
  • Audience
  • Marketing channels/media
  • Types of promotions that will be offered
  • Public relations
  • Special events
  • Appearances
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Have it in mind that advertising is not a simple task and it’s not just a do-it-once process. If you are not comfortable with the advertising process, then you are advised to consult with a marketing company or public relations firm for guidance. Although there is a cost connected with those services, the resulting new students will offset the money that is spent.

17. Develop Iron-clad Competitive Strategies to Help You Win

A lot of business owners in the Film Academy business are on the lookout for the one magic string that will bring in new students. Everyone is trying to outdo the other and the competition keeps getting intense. There are a lot of ways to generate a whole lot of students and at the same time bench your competitors. They may include;

  • Endorsement from a Local Celebrity
  • In House Events
  • Free Seminars
  • Birthday Parties
  • Booth Space
  • Demos
  • Door to door fliers
  • Lawn Signs
  • Car Magnets
  • Newsletter to Current & Past Students
  • Mobile App for your current students
  • Newspaper Advertising
  • Website
  • Blog
  • Video Marketing
  • Search Engine Marketing
  • Pay-Per-Click Marketing
  • Social Networking Sites
  • Email Marketing
  • Creative Direct Mail
  • Networking
  • Publicity
  • Community Outreach/Special Guests Programs
  • Speaking at Events
  • Contributing Writer to a Publication
  • Author of Book
  • Tele-Marketing
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18. Brainstorm Possible Ways to Retain Clients & Customers

You need to understand that your work or the grade of work produced in your academy is your calling card. You need to maintain a strong presence on social media. You can show your portfolio, an entire small film, or a clip of a longer work on YouTube to demonstrate your academy’s capabilities.

Then solicit followers on other social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram to join creative discussions and create backlinks to your work. If you do win awards, hire a public relations or publicity firm to publicize your achievements and attract new students and customers.

  • Give your students Something Your Competitors Aren’t
  • Be more convenient than anyone else
  • Make your students your foundation
  • Send them Something They Didn’t Know They Wanted
  • Take your students Advice (and Credit Them for It)
  • Give your students an upgrade
  • Be there when they need you
  • Make quality a priority

19. Develop Strategies to Boost Brand Awareness and Create a Corporate Identity

In this modern era, having a string brand affinity is one of the best ways to improve profit and reduce overhead. Have it in mind that the nature of the business means more students will always lead to an uptick in monthly payments, but be mindful of whether you will make a sufficiently higher overall profit by expanding your business and increasing your other costs. Ways to boost your brand awareness may include;

  • Take to social media
  • Launch a PR campaign
  • Invest in promotional merchandise
  • Hold an event
  • Exhibit yourself
  • Sponsor something
  • Organize an experiential stunt