CONTRACTS, CONTRACTS, CONTRACTS! That is the major separator.
I've been a part of, and i've seen to many independent projects that start as great ideas and turn into "he said, she said feuds".
I've truly come to realize that Creating Contracts and Clearly defining roles and positions on paper is one of the most important aspects of DOING THINGS RIGHT.
This is one of the main reasons why the people who have agents are playing at such a higher level than those who do not. The agents ensure that the contracts are signed sealed and delivered BEFORE THE WORK BEGINS.
Once again, the key is that contracts must be signed sealed and delivered BEFORE THE WORK BEGINS.
After 2 or more people say "Lets do this venture together," they need more than a verbal agreement. They need more than a general understanding, THEY NEED AN AGREEMENT THAT THE AVERAGE PERSON CANNOT MAKE PROPERLY ON HIS/HER OWN.
To many times i've seen people without agents start a project with great intentions, and stop the project pissed off and unproductive .
As an example, 3 Film makers say "Lets make a movie together." They talk it out and say, "we each get a third". One is a Producer, One is a Director, One is an Actor. then they get started working... 2 months later, one of the people is turned into an outcast in the group, and now we have a big problem. Chances are, the Director and the Producer get into an argument about something creative. The Director says, "This is my movie" don't touch the camera, don't touch the edit, don't touch anything". The Producer says, "I'm the producer, i choose the editor, i get the final say, i choose the marketing vision, I make sure the director is getting a good shot" and the Actor says, "I'm gonna side with one or the other"... Now we have a problem. And since its a verbal agreement, things become a cluster fuck.
Ultimately, the problem in this situation is that the roles were not clearly defined, and nothing was put on paper. One of the bigger problems is, one person's definition of Producer is different than the others. The Producer says, "this project is 1/3rd mine, and I'm the Producer. As the Producer, I have creative control over the direction of the overall project." But, the Director says, "No, i'm the Director. The Producers Job is to set the schedule, handle contracts, liability, marketing, distribution, etc. This is my Movie, and as the Director I am in charge of every creative decision." *** Here you can see what I mean by a Cluster Fuck ***
Next up, what happens if one person is asked to leave the project. Does that person still keep 1/3rd share for doing only a portion of the job? Does that person get to say, hey you can't make this project without me!, Does that person loose their credit in the project, all voting rights, ability to promote their involvement, etc.? ***All I can say is "Cluster Fuck AGAIN" ***
SO, IN CLOSING. The people with Agents play at a higher level because they don't have to worry about this crap. They have Agents who handle this part and make the roles extremely clear. The agents have experience with these situations and know what the best practices are for avoiding future misunderstandings based on clear assumptions and understandings. This is the #1 reason why talent with agents are playing at a higher level than those without. IT'S BECAUSE THOSE WITH AGENTS HAVE CLEARLY WRITTEN UNDERSTANDINGS BETWEEN ALL THE PEOPLE INVOLVED.