Monthly Archives: July 2011

Stoked

One winter when I was a kid the power went out for two days.  I grew up in Connecticut and every winter we would have several Ice Storms.  On these days, you would wake up to all the tree branches glistening with a coating of ice around everything.  It was most fantastic because school was always cancelled.  My sisters and I would sit around the kitchen table, ears stuck to the radio waiting to hear our town called out as closed. When there were Ice Storms they always closed school.

You see, as the storm progressed, the roads would develop a half inch or so of solid ice.  I remember this particular time putting on ice skates and skating right down the middle of the road. That is until those beautiful tree branches began to break and fall on the equally coated power lines. Then, what was a lot of fun became something else. Downed lines flailing and sparking and a stupid kid in skates trying to run down the street.  I did manage to make it home.

After several hours of the power being out and phone calls to friends who still had power and reports from the radio, it became apparent that it would be a few days before we had heat again. So, my parents hatched a plan where after waiting for the roads to be sanded, my mother and sisters would head off to my Grandparents house in the next town to wait it out while my father and I stayed behind to drain the radiators (we had those old steam kind) and keep a fire going in the fireplace so that hopefully the whole plumbing system didn’t freeze up.

It was quite an adventure.  We had sleeping bags in the living room, a pile of wood and we took shifts staying up and keeping the fire going. I was only 12, we sat up for a long time talking.  He let me have a beer, I didn’t really like beer that much at the time, especially beer that had been sitting in 10 degree weather on the back porch and was more like a half frozen 7/11 beer slushy.  But we were two men braving the elements and surviving anything a  suburban living room could throw at them.

I remember keeping that fire going strong all night. I mean the house was freezing and I’m not sure the fire warmed the plumbing system that much (though it didn’t freeze) but we made it through the night. The following afternoon as we were preparing for another death defying night on Mt. Rumpus Room, the power unexpectedly came back on.

I think we all have experience sitting around a fire and tending it, keeping it going.  There’s something primal and satisfying about making a “roaring” fire and keeping it really big.

So what about your career’s fire?  Is it roaring? Is it fading?  I’ve seen plenty of careers that at one time were roaring but one day become barely glowing embers. They got that way simply because as they died down, the owner failed to stoke it and put more wood on.  There’s a misnomer that once you “make it” your career will just keep going on it’s own momentum.  But, it won’t.  It’s just like a fire that needs constant tending.

Some say, “that’s why I have an agent” but, as an agent myself I can tell you that isn’t enough.  If you rely solely on your agent’s contacts without making and maintaining contacts on your own, the day will come when you will realize that you don’t actually know many people in the business. You’ve worked with a lot of people, you’ve done a good job, but years after the fact, you don’t really know them well enough to suddenly reach out and start a work dialogue.  When you finally do reach out long after working together, it seems desperate because let’s face it, as a freelancer, if you wait until you need work to work on getting work, it is desperate.

On the other hand, if you maintain your contacts by regular casual ‘hey what’s up emails, birthday and holiday greetings, or even just using the Facebook ‘Like’ button daily, you are ahead of the game. Through constant contact you may even make some close friends and we all want more of that.  You have to see each contact you make as a stick of wood going on to the fire of your career.  The more sticks, the higher the fire may grow.  If you make contact with people infrequently, don’t expect too big of a fire. If not at all, you will find yourself blowing at the embers just trying to get a small flame started up.

It may be that you think that since people really like you when you’ve worked with them, and that’s enough for them to think of you next time.  It’s not.  People forget very quickly and need to be reminded that they really like you. And the best way to do that is to keep being likable. When you pay attention to people, it shows you like them. When people feel you like them, you in turn become likable.

It’s never too late to sleep in the living room and get that fire going again.  But once you do, make sure you keep an eye on it every day. And more than that, make sure that every day you keep throwing sticks on the fire.  More sticks = more fire. More contacts = longer career.

The math isn’t hard, but organizing a plan can be.  Try this: make a list of everyone you can ever remember working with.  Now go on Facebook and if you’re not Facebook friends already, FRIEND THEM.  In almost every person’s Facebook info is their birthday and their email address. Add this info to your contact list. Now the hard part: use the information. Put together a daily list of contacts that can be made and follow through.

This is a simple first step towards building a fire.  The casual contacts are sticks, so put them on the fire.  When you actually work together, those are logs so make them count.  After the job, make sure you keep throwing sticks on the fire until the next job.

And take my advice: don’t try to run in the street in ice skates. It’s very difficult.

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Want to share this idea with your own Twitter network? Here are handy tweetable bits.

More sticks = more fire. More contacts = longer career. http://bitly.com/lF4tfb @agentonloose

What about your career’s fire?  Is it roaring? Is it fading? http://bitly.com/lF4tfb @agentonloose

When you pay attention to people, it shows you like them. When people feel you like them, you in turn become likable. http://bitly.com/lF4tfb

Don’t try to run in the street in ice skates. It’s very difficult. http://bitly.com/lF4tfb @agentonloose

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Value Added Proposition?

The new Prius. Now with 'Smug Suppression!"

I leased a new Prius a few weeks ago. That’s right a Prius. Hollywood agent rolling on 15’s. It has a mode that lets you drive up to 25 mph all electric. Which in LA covers most freeway driving. Once upon a time I had a black Mercedes E430, blacked out windows, 0 to 60 in, now. Really fast car and it looked very cool. I called it my agent car. Unbelievable vehicle. Before I had it, it belonged to Paul Walker. His agent bought it for him to drive around when the original ‘Fast and the Furious‘ came out. He left the agent 4 months later, the agent took it back and sold it to me. But, the car never really fit me somehow. Or did it? Maybe it did at the time, or maybe I just changed.

I’d like to say that I’ve shunned the Hollywood image thing, but I’m not sure that’s even it. I think I just got pissed. Pissed at the price of gas. Not just the price at the pump. pissed at the human cost of gas. The oil wars, terrorism, the crumbling American society, all in the name of cheap gas and the oil company’s continued government subsidies amidst record profits.

So, I decided to vote with my wallet. I want to use the least amount of petroleum possible and encourage car makers to move to all electric in my lifetime. But, don’t give me too much credit. I could have gone the route my wife has advocated for years, which is to buy a diesel car and convert the engine to veggie fuel. Of course this requires putting a vegetable oil straining unit next to my garage. I just keep picturing myself trying to strain used fryer oil. Covered in grease while I try to clean enough Mazola to get me to Hollywood and back. Or, better yet, when the voice in the McDonalds drive through asks if I want fries with that, I could just respond “no thank you, I’m just here for a fill up.”

Anyway, what I’m getting at is values. I have developed certain values based on my experience. Those point me towards a Prius. My wife’s values point her in a more difficult direction and I must admit, while I respect and applaud her choice, I’ve held her back in her pursuit of a vehicle that emits nothing but a vague scent that reminds you of the Outback Steakhouse parking lot.

I’ve had clients who have refused to shoot Exxon commercials because of the Valdez calamity and still others that refused to shoot for McDonald’s because of their destruction of the Amazon for their grazing farms. Granted, that was a few years ago, before the economy tanked and work slowed. In actuality, I can’t say I’ve heard of anyone refusing to shoot anything on moral grounds for some time now. What does that say?

Just a few days into my Prius adventure, I was driving home on the 101, living my values to the fullest and I found myself climbing a hill and closing in on what appeared to be a 15 year old Ford, belching smoke and chugging up the grade at 40mph. As I smugly zipped alongside in my 50 miles per gallon Eco statement, I noticed all the windows of the Ford down, and a sweaty woman driving that had to be all of 22 years old. No AC, engine failing. someone just trying to get somewhere.

People just trying to get somewhere.

That’s the problem we all face isn’t it? In one way or another, we’re all just people trying to get somewhere. A lot of people living in this world have values that are based solely on being someone just trying to get somewhere. They can’t afford to have Eco friendly values. That is a luxury, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have values.

I’m beginning to come to grips with the idea that one’s values are relative to their situation and ever evolving. That’s ok because, well, it has to be. Gone are the times of Patrick Henry and “Give me great gas milage or give me death!” I cant argue with someone just trying to get somewhere. That’s a valid reason for driving a bomb of a car while the polar ice caps melt. But OK, this is a business blog right? What does any of this have to do with business?

Businesses have relative and ever evolving values also. At the beginning of this year, we at WPA got together to talk about ours. It’s not easy to talk about. Actually, It’s a rather esoteric discussion for a business setting. We came up with buzzwords, they were: customer service, forward thinking culture, positive attitude, ascension, tribe, family, innovation, top of mind. These are things we value a lot. They are not by any means all the things we value, but it gives us a reference point.

We tend to think of values in terms of what our parents taught us: be polite, play fair, cleanliness is important, be kind to animals, etc, etc, etc… But as we get older, those kinds of values are assumed. We have to sit down and try to work out for ourselves where our values live within our professional lives and where our professional lives live within our values.

Sal about to 'go for a ride' in a Prius

There have been plenty of times where I have made tough decisions based on necessity and called them just business. We strive for the win/win situations where everyone comes away happy, but it just doesn’t work out that way every time. I always harken back to that scene at the end of the Godfather where they are escorting Abe Vigoda to the car to “take him for a ride. ” They say to him “It’s nothing personal, it’s just business” and Abe nods and gets in the car knowing full well what’s to come.

Values are a double edged sword. On one hand there’s the golden rule. On the other there’s what needs to be done for the benefit of the many over the benefit of the few. And let’s not forget about self-preservation. What must be done in business doesn’t always jibe with the Golden Rule. The inescapable truth is that to win in business, someone else must lose.

After all, in the end we’re all just someone trying to get somewhere. For every time I’ve made a decision that has an air of ethical justice, it seems there’s another time that may appear to others hypocritical or duplicitous on my part. However, I’m the one left with the decisions I make. I’ve read ‘The Art of War’ and I’ve read the ‘Bible.’ In reality both are full of humanity and both are pretty violent, but there are good lessons in both.

I do believe we’re entering a new era in business culture. I don’t believe that it’s necessarliy kinder or gentler. I’m mean layoffs are layoffs right? But, it is far more philosophical, far more based on the proven science of interaction and collaboration. What the most progressive business thinkers of todays view’s on values have in common are establishing a culture of  working towards a ‘common purpose’ based on shared values.

Film crews and theatrical productions have a natural common purpose.  It’s bringing a script to life.  The hiring of the crew and casting, is the process of finding the people who have not only have the requisite talent, but similar values to the creators of the project. For the cast and crew have to become co-creators in pursuit of the common purpose.  I’ve heard it time and time again when clients meet on feature projects that what the producers and directors are really looking for is the answer to this question: who do I want to spend the next 6 months with? In essence, they are looking for a values match.

So think about it.  What are your values? How can you express them? It’s not an easy question, but essential to answer.  When you have verbally committed them to yourself, others will be able to see them too!