Category Archives: Uncategorized

Learning To Breathe

As the Pandemic has progressed, it has become natural to want things to go back to normal. We’re all tired. We spend so much time now, feeling like we have to keep our heads above water that we are not paying attention to a simple fact; It’s time to learn how to breathe underwater. I know, I’m going all esoteric, but that’s it in its purest form. We need to learn to breathe underwater because who knows when things will, if ever, go back to the way they were before Covid-19? The world has moved on already as the world tends to do. There’s no going back. If you’re waiting for things to get back to say January 2020, it’s going to be a very long wait. As in so many previous eras with significant challenges, it’s a matter of adapt or perish.

Learning all the set protocols is learning to breathe underwater. Adjusting to a new marketplace where most projects are made for streaming while the world figures out the future of Movie Theaters is learning to breathe underwater. Making Advertising while sports are an on-again-off-again affair is learning to breathe underwater. Of course, your kids attending school at the kitchen table is probably more like learning to breathe while someone holds your head underwater, but you get the picture.

It’s a brave new world out there. We’re all learning to do our jobs over again in many ways. Embrace it. It’s just what we have to do now.

Here’s an article from The NY Times last week about the adjustments made on Jurassic Park – Dominion. It’s the 200 million dollar movie learning to breathe underwater.

Vancouver continues to lead the way in North American Production hubs. They are committed to getting back to work safely and were questioning protocols early on. They reached an agreement on protocols with the Studios over the last week. Here’s the latest on learning to breathe underwater from the Great White North:

http://www.btlnews.com/featured/vancouver-back-to-work/

“Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’” – Marcus Aurelius

So, pining for the past, which is not coming back around soon if ever is not the answer. If it’s not essential to going back to work so we should put it aside. It’s time to lean into where history is taking us. Wear a mask, know the protocols. Many people in different departments are taking the same online class that Covid Officers are completing to be Certified, because, more information is better. 

If you have a desire to be Covid Certified, here is a resource for that:

https://healtheducationservices.net/training/c19co-officers/

As we start to travel again, it’s good to see what to expect at airports, not only today but three months from now, as they find more effective scanning and disinfectant technologies:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/2020/08/the-future-of-flying-is-going-high-tech-due-to-coronavirus-cvd/

We can look at it all as an annoyance or hope that things will go back to normal. But, the better strategy is to re-educate yourself on what you need to know to work effectively in our chosen field. Yes, so much of the new world involves things that don’t pertain directly to the technical art of filmmaking. But, if they are what we need to learn to continue to tell stories, so be it. If we need to grow gills, we’ll do it.

Be Well, Be Safe,

Steve

Normal

Aurora 4What do you accept as normal? It’s funny because just about everything we accept as normal at one time was considered abnormal. Everything from premarital sex to lack of gun control is normal now. In the 1940’s and 50’s most people really didn’t have sex until they were married. As recently as the 1970’s there were strict curbs on gun possession and types of weapons available.

But, now, and for a long time now, both hooking up single and wanton gun violence are considered the norm. Why? We get used to things that we don’t reject with enough collective force because we become distracted by other more pressing problems, and then either they have an inherent justice that makes them acceptable, or in other cases, greater forces are able to oppress us with the status quo.

As we know politicians are pros at distracting us with shiny things. Trump has made a career and now a Presidency out of a never ending game of three card Monte. He does something outrageous and the cover for it is something more outrageous. The daily shifting of the narrative is now normal.

My statement here is not a judgment about sex or gun violence. What’s the big deal about sex anyways? Consensual sex is the major component of the human experience. It’s natural, it feels good, everybody seems to like it. You just have to be aware that there may be unintended consequences and accept responsibility for yourself. And guns? I’ve given up on that at this point. If massacring a classroom of 1st graders didn’t get the society to do something significant, then you have to figure the debate is effectively over. Our collective will is weak and we’ve decided money is more important than the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, of not just 6 year olds, but all of us.

But, the thing about normal is this: What’s normal for the United States is not necessarily normal in other places. For example, if Sandy Hook had happened in France, millions would have been in the streets and they would have stayed there until something was changed. They would have changed their whole government if necessary by the sheer veracity of their Frenchness. That’s just the way they roll.

I was just in Iceland. What’s normal for the Icelandic people is far different.   There’s 350,000 people living in the country and it takes about 4 hours to get from end to end. Once you’re outside Reykjavik, the economy seems to be overwhelmingly focused on sheep and horses. So, of course it’s different. They are concentrating on community and sticking together, because they depend on each other to get by.

They don’t understand what’s going on in the US at all. Why would they? They have no context for living in a society of 330 million people. By their standards we’re incredibly abnormal. By our standards they are quaint at best. But, which is normal? It depends on your circumstances and context.

But, what about shifting normal? First, you have to discover the baseline of your reality based on the world directly around you. Then you have to examine it versus what will give your life meaning and what is acceptable or unacceptable to your circumstances. If you can’t reconcile what your meaning is with the baseline, you need to shift your “normal.” Every gay person who has ever come out has had to do this.  To further that thought, marriage equality is in that space between abnormal and normal.  After a time it will enter the normal sphere fully, just as marriage between races has.

Decide what is your normal. But, at the same time, realize that others have their normal. Normal is not the exercise of getting all of our ideals to match up. Normal should be not getting sucked into a status quo that excludes some and silences others, but that is often exactly what happens in the pursuit of “normal.”

If you know me well, I certainly hope that you don’t think I’m normal, because I don’t think I believe in it any longer. Hopefully, you think I’m too complex and hard to pin down to think I’m normal. As I look back, I realize I’ve changed so much over the years that I could never be considered normal from a simple congruency standpoint.

In actuality, normal is and should be considered the process of change. Abnormal is feeling that the status quo is appropriate, that everything is fine the way it is. That nothing ever really changes. Abnormal is demanding that everyone should agree with you.

Normal is the realization that the only constant in the world is change. Normal is evolution. Normal is knowing that everything, including you and I are temporary. Temporary problems, temporary raptures. In the end it will all pass away and be replaced by something new.  Take it all in and go with it, because that is the only normal offered to any of us.

Painted Tigers

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“There was a hermit monk living in a cave in the mountains of Japan.
He was a talented artist, and over time he painted a picture of a tiger on the wall of the cave. He was extremely meticulous in his work, and it took him several years to finish. When it was finally done, the tiger was so realistic that when he looked at it he became frightened.”
Excerpt From: Goldstein, Joseph. “Mindfulness.” 
How much of our day is spent on “Painted Tigers?” In this Zen story, the monk becomes frightened of his own creation.  But, not just his creation, what the creation represents.  If it is indeed an image that becomes real in his mind, it could certainly eat him now or if he stays in his cave, it could eat him in the future.
Can an image kill you? Of course not, or can it?
What you hold in you mind, an image from the past that hurt you, an image that makes you apprehensive of the future will define your reality.  I’ll take myself for example.  Cold calling artists I would like to work with fills me with dread.  Why?  Any time I reach out to someone I do not know already, who doesn’t know my work, there is always the possibility of rejection, and that is a painted tiger.
I remember all the times I called people in the past and they rejected me – painted tiger.  Never mind that I’m relatively successful and I have also reached out with great success.  But, in the moment I don’t remember the successes, only the failures. Rationally I know why, because they cause psychic pain!
Our minds are optimized for two things: to seek pleasure and to avoid pain.  Of the two, avoiding pain (like being attacked by a Tiger!) is the stronger of the two instincts, and on a primal level your mind doesn’t differentiate between a tiger and a phone call. So, it becomes easy that in our attempts to avoid pain we paralyze ourselves.
The kicker is that paralysis also causes pain. The pain of failure and regret for having not acted in the first place.  It’s a vicious cycle. But, even as the cycle may have started many years ago with real pain, it is now and into your future only being perpetuated by a painted tiger.
You have a choice: You can continue to stare at your painted tigers and scare yourself into inaction. Or, you can choose to see it for what it is: an image from your past that is ruining your present and future.
By doing so, you paint over it and reclaim your power.  What are your “painted tigers?”  Declaring them publicly is a way to cast them aside.  Feel free to use the comments to share.

Values

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What do you value? Your family, wife, kids, friends, filmmaking, your career? All of the above? In what proportions?

In your work, what value do you provide? Are there multiple elements to your value? In what proportions?

Most importantly, what are your “values?”  I would argue that values inform what you value and the value you provide, and all of their proportions.  Your values, or “how you see the world” or “what you stand for” tells the world everything it needs to know about you.

So, what are your values? What are the principles that guide your life.  Mine are: honesty, loyalty, hard work and humility.  You see, knowing this about myself helps me color inside the lines.  When I fall outside my values (and I often do, especially the humility one) , knowing that I have contemplated and articulated the things that are my guiding principles will instantly set me straight.  In any situation, I am either walking with integrity in my truth or I am not, and if I’m not,  it’s up to me to get back on the right side of my values.

It’s good to take stock. Do you value honesty, yet find yourself lying a lot, even about little things, even if to just spare other’s feelings?  Doesn’t matter, you have to call bullshit on yourself and get back to where you’re supposed to be.  You may have to fess up, make amends and now try twice as hard.  It’s worth it.

It’s also OK to have a values wish list that you are working towards.  On mine would be “no-ego,” but I’m so far from it that anyone who knows me would do a spit take at the very mention of no ego and Steve in the same sentence.  I wield mine like a Sith Lord with a double sided Light Saber.  It doesn’t mean I can’t aspire to it, notice where the line is and work towards getting and staying on the right side of it.  That’s how you start to develop better habits.

So, think about it and as an exercise in getting on the same page with yourself.  If you dare, state them in the comments below.  What are your values? Whatever they are, know that they will directly affect what and who you value AND the value you provide.

Transformation

Artists are in the transformation business.  Business is in the transformation business.  Society is in the transformation business. We all seek the same thing.  A better way, a better life, a better world, and as Steve Jobs famously said:  “making a dent in the universe.”

We can choose through our actions to just reflect what has already been present in the world, or we can choose to make our way forward with the spirit of transformation and evolution.  To be truly useful and to lead fulfilling lives, we have no choice but to consciously and constantly engage the world in a transformative way.

But, transformation works both ways. When you engage the world through transformation, you get to choose to evolve or devolve. Evolution is forward thinking, bright and dynamic. Devolution is a dark corridor, full of derivative thought and laggards. The Rainbow flag and the Confederate flag as art and symbol for example.  Which one is transformative in a evolutionary way and which is devolutionary?

With every breath we take in the entire universe.  Everything that has been and everything that will be. That is a mighty responsibility. There’s a simple fact to our biology:  within every human now living  resides some molecules of every human that has ever lived, and our earliest relatives came from stardust. So too, in one thousand years our molecules will reside in others.  Yes, with every breathe we take in the entire universe.

It’s easy to disappear into the problems of every day life and forget that we’re here to create and move forward.  It’s easy to to think that “I’m just one person, what can I possibly do?”

Jobs didn’t do it alone.  Churchill rallied a country but didn’t take on the nazis by himself.  These people had vision yes, but it took many thousands of people to transform that vision into transformative experiences.  Edison didn’t do it alone, nor did Charlie Chaplin, Mary Ellen Mark or George Lucas.  They had friends, family, crews, executives and an audience that wanted to evolve with them.  They together transformed industry, art and society.

Do you want to feel excited about what you do and what you’re leaving to your children?   Commit to evolution and be in the transformation business. Use your creative voice to make a dent in the universe.

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Wind Direction

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Have you checked the wind direction lately?

Where are you going?

Are you still on course?

Did you decide along the way to head in another much more desirable direction than where you first intended to go, but suddenly find you are still headed towards your first destination?

Has a storm risen up, forcing you to set down for a while to wait for better conditions?

Have you followed a tributary inland and now find yourself fighting your way upstream?

Has the sea totally dried up and you find your boat aground?

 

After you choose a destination, it’s easy to not notice what’s happening around you if the first part of the journey goes smoothly.  You think you’re focused, but focused on what? It’s easy to wait until it’s too late to change course.  We have so many distractions, so many things trying to get our attention that it’s no wonder that obvious changes to the environment can take us by surprise.

Any port in a storm is often a mistake.  It’s preferable to sail through the tempest.  You may know you don’t have the skill set to enter the storm, but if you can survive you will have the skills forever after. No storm can then frighten you and you may even welcome them as they put you at your best.

Just be careful not to create storms where they don’t exist. They come from changing your destination from week to week because you can’t see past the horizon. That boat just sails in circles.

Check the wind direction, set the sails, push off and stay the course. But, remember that the only constant is change. Conditions may change to the degree that you abandon your ultimate destination for another.  It’s life, we all need to do that from time to time, just make sure you are not compromising your truth or the desire of your soul.

So, have courage, be adaptable, watch the sea carefully and listen to the breeze as it whispers.  The wind will tell you everything you need to know.

Ambition

“He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Universe,
just do your job, then let go.”
– Lao Tzu
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As I watch the National tragedy play out in Washington.  A President and those close to him only focused on their own benefit, both in terms of power and plunder, I have to ask: as the days and weeks and eventually years go by, what effect does it all have on us deep inside?  What effect does the barrage of reckless and unreasonable blind ambition have on each of us and our businesses? On our families?
Is it becoming normal to try to crush those around us who simply have another view? Is it really just all about being a winner or a loser? Are we becoming numb to the idea of grabbing what we can and selling it to the highest bidder? Does watching lack of loyalty to the whole in the name of expediency and self aggrandizement encourage us to follow suit?
We have to be careful to not steamroll others with our own view of how things should run. For within our ideas lie our own ambition and within our ambition lies our personal agenda which is only human to have, but not usually helpful.  If we don’t listen to those around us very carefully our ambition can quickly become blind.  When we do that, it may seem as if we are getting ahead, and we may very well be in the short term.  But, in pursuit of our personal goals we may just destroy everything around us in the process.
I recently read “Powerhouse – The Untold Story of CAA.”  Fascinating and in many ways inspiring.  But, it’s easy to forget that at it’s core, it’s a cautionary tale.  In the end, although extremely successful and wealthy, Ovitz and company managed to destroy friendships, long time working relationships and each other.  At a certain point, they forgot why they started the company in the first place and were no longer working together.  Instead, they were working against each other and the greater good of the group that was so tight in the beginning.  All for blind ambition, power and greed.
Ambition is good when it’s purpose is for something beyond ourselves.  It’s good when we’re making a difference not just in the day to day of helping our clients, our co-workers and our families,  but in making the world a better, more gentle and honest place. That is accomplished by examining the how and why of the way we as individuals and as a group are doing things.
Ambition should feel great.  It should feel like you’re at the best beach party you can imagine, laughing with your friends and together feeding a warm bonfire.   That is the joy of feeling successful together. But be careful. If you see the bonfire going down, don’t run back to the house by yourself and comeback with the furniture and doors.  You’ll eventually throw the whole house on the fire.  Instead, to bring that bonfire back up, scour the beach together for more wood.
I make it sound easy, it’s not. It takes putting your agenda aside. It takes listening respectfully,  being calm, having empathy, giving honest feedback and aligning towards a common cause. Not aligning against each other, individually or in groups.
If Ambition feels anything but great, don’t bother looking at others as the reason why it doesn’t.  Look to yourself and do a careful examination to make sure your purpose is truly beneficial to those around you.  If it’s not, you may be going blind.

Letting Go

Let go.  Yes, that’s it, let go.  There comes a certain time where you have to let yourself fall into whatever it is you need to fall into.  It could be organization, it could be disorganization.  It could be progress, it could be regress. Only you know the answer to the question.

Anger is pointless, fear is pointless, so is joy if you are not walking to the edge and then falling through the barrier that you have set up for yourself there.  This is business, this is life.

Sometimes, letting go is walking through the fire and sometimes it’s just walking away.  Most of the time, the barrier looks like a dense forest that appears beautiful in its complexity, but too difficult to ever make your way through.  It’s funny how we see accomplishment as pushing, pushing, pushing, when it is really relaxing into your fears and letting go of the barriers to success that exist only in your mind.  The barriers that you’ve developed through years of positive and negative experiences that have taught you where the boundaries are.  The boundaries appear to protect you from too much pain. But, they also protect you from too much joy, too much accomplishment and too much peace.

Walk up to those boundaries, relax and walk through.  Let go.

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Don’t Scare the Wildlife.

There is a saying:  be nice to assistants, receptionists and car valets.  One day, they’ll be green lighting your projects.

There are many ways of doing business in Hollywood.  The stereotype is the Agent as Shark.  Plowing a way through the ocean, eating everything in sight and generally causing havoc.  When you have the leverage, it’s easy to do that.  But, with experience you learn that you should rarely do things because you can. Doing things because you can has no view of the long term.  Instead, you do things that will be fair to everyone involved now.

You’re not kind to those under you because someday you may be under them,  you’re kind because it’s right. Because, whether you realize it or not, when people are working under you, the way you conduct yourself teaches them how to treat those that will be working under them someday. It’s like the cycle of abuse. You can perpetuate it or you can break it.

You have a choice.  You can continue Hollywood’s bad behavior or choose to take a moment, think about it, and make the choice between coldness or empathy, bullying or mentoring. Almost always, people are doing the very best they can.  Berating them won’t make them better.  It will freeze them where they are. In the end, if people disappoint you, you probably haven’t done a good enough job of teaching them what they need to know.  Such is the mystery of power.

Kindness and understanding is not situational.  It’s an operating system.

 

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The Inefficiencies of Anger

Unknown-3Around the WPA offices, I am sometimes called Obi-Wan.  I try not to take this as the old, decrepit and hooded Alec Guinness of Star Wars, but rather, the sage, father figure and hooded Alec Guinness that is all at once serene and powerful.  I suppose we all tell
ourselves the stories we need to hear.

When I was a young agent in New York.  Well, a younger agent, I was prone to getting angry about the weirdest things, little things, big things, anything really.  One day, I actually got a call from the head of the agency in Los Angeles, informing me that if I kept throwing my phone headset against the wall and breaking it, I would have to supply my own.  Fair enough I thought at the time.

I’m not sure when I realized what a waste of time my emotions were becoming or when I realized the amount of mistakes I was making sans calmness, but at some point I turned over a new leaf. As I think back, I wonder if it was inexperience that made me angry or my fear of failure when I found myself in unfamiliar territory, or an addiction to the drama of it all.

I think I calmed down for good when one day, on a negotiation I said something out ofimages-1 anger to a producer, who instantly used it as leverage and not only beat the hell out of me in the deal, but then he (of course) used the comment to deride me to my client. I ended up losing that client, even though what sparked my outburst in the first place was my feeling the client was being insulted and taken advantage of.  Hard lesson.

Once I turned the corner, I was left with a few undeniable philosophies:

  1. We’re making movies, not saving the world.  We’re white collar executives, not Seal Team 6.  No one dies in what we do if we are close to competent. In the movie industry, it’s only the extreme hubris of a Randall Miller that will kill a Sarah Jones. 99.999 percent of the time we are perfectly safe.
  2. If your client will walk away from a negotiation, you can go hard because you have all the leverage.  If your client is desperate, you’ll have to accept what they give you and there’s no use in being upset about it. Supply and demand.
  3. At this point I’ve seen so many people get into trouble through their emotions that it’s hard to miss the lesson.  I have passed on so many clients after hearing their reputation as a screamer on set or unreasonable in negotiations.  It means at the least that they don’t understand principles 1 or 2. At the most, they are just assholes. In a business based on repeat business, they will have a short shelf life. Sometimes, they are in the “so talented, they’ll be around forever category.”  But, that just puts them in my “life’s too short category.”

I’m left with the image of Abe Vigoda’s Tessio in the Godfather as they put him in the car to drive him to his execution.  They told him it wasn’t personal.  It was just business and he understood with a resigned calmness.  For him, it was life and death, well pretend life and death anyway, but again, in the end it was just business.

images-3Now, when things start to get heated at work, I take an imaginary step to the left and let the other person’s emotion pass by me instead of through me.  If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that the person who is more emotionally invested ALWAYS loses a negotiation. It’s a simple success model, be the calm one.