Tag Archives: Film

It’s a New Year and I’ve Been Thinking

UnknownOnce again, it’s a new year.  OK, a little past New Years.  I’ve been kind of busy lately (I’ll get to that in a blog post next week). Anyway,  Is it going to be a fresh beginning?  Is it going to be more of the same?  Well, that’s always the question isn’t it? Maybe not for some people, but I think that if you can’t point to lessons you’ve learned and acknowledge that wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you’re learning. If you are paying attention, you can avoid making the mistakes of the past.  If it seems like you’re not learning, you’re just not paying attention.

Over the holidays, I take time to reflect.  Not just on the last year, but I think about what I’ve done over a course of many years to get where I am (wherever that is). It’s a process and there have been victories and mistakes.  Every once in a while you have to take stock and hone things down to a few concepts you know have worked for you.  In that spirit, here’s what I’ve been thinking about that has worked for me.

Invest in Yourself.  Here’s why: no one else is going to do it. At least not in the long term.  People will invest in you so long as their short term needs are being met and so long they maintain their profit margin.  So, be an owner, and if that’s not possible yet work towards being an owner.  How do you do that? Invent your job and when you’re done inventing your job, reinvent it.  You do that by doing way more than your job description. Own your position and commit to your evolution within it.  I’m not just talking about business. Invest in your physical well being, your mental well being, your spiritual well being. Own it all.  If you are not doing the investments, own it and change it.  If you are doing the investments, own the process, own the failures and successes equally.

If you’re already an owner, a freelance entrepreneur, an Artist: Examine your investment.  Are you constantly making it more valuable with everything you do? Or are you undermining it with time wasters, vamping, avoiding issues or excuses? Be honest and make sure you are on track.

Casals

Study and Be Curious.  When the world famous cellist Pablo Casals was 90 years old, someone asked him “why do you still practice 4 hours a day?” he replied: “because I think I’m making progress.”

When I’m not studying I notice.  When I’m not studying I have the nagging feeling I am falling behind.  Why do I care so much? Because this isn’t a frickin dress rehearsal.  I’m on stage right now. My career is happening right now.  I’m mentoring those around me right now.  I’m building a business right now.  

What are you trying to accomplish?  Are you seeking out the best information to accomplish it?  Are you stretching your mind and your skill set?  People who know me well, know that I am a big fan of listening to business books on my commute.  I am always looking for new ideas.  If I could do it all over again, I would have started and maintained my discipline of studying whatever endeavor I was involved in a lot sooner than I did. If you are not constantly bringing new ideas into your life, if you are not practicing what you choose to master, you run the run the risk of maintaining your own status quo.  Essentially, status quo doesn’t exist.  It’s against the laws of physics to stand completely still.  You’re always moving in one direction or the other.  Make sure it’s forward.

Trust Your Gut – When people say “my gut is telling me…” they are usually right.  You’re gut is the outward extension of your subconscious.  Our subconscious is much more in tune with how we are really feeling, because it’s not susceptible to the constant brain chatter we engage in.  The key with gut feelings is to separate them from excitement and fear.  After you work through your reasoning on a decision, take a moment to breathe and be silent and let your gut weigh in.

Feel Like an Imposter – I am driven by fear, I admit it. I’ve also found that it’s a good place to be.  So long as fear doesn’t paralyze you, it’s good to worry that you might be “found out.”  It’s good to feel not as smart or talented as people think you are.  It’s the trait I find most prevalent in successful artists.  It makes you humble and focused. Fear handled correctly will make you study harder, practice harder and be more driven. Confidence is great, over confidence breeds mistakes.

6a00d8341c630a53ef013480b8a92d970cTake Risks  “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – Wayne Gretzky.  Usually attributed to Michael Jordan, but indeed he stole it from Gretzky.  This one is very tough, especially if you have a lot of responsibility.  It’s easy to stay where you’re at, do the things that got you to where you are now and maintain. You have to force yourself to step out of your comfort zone and try things that just might not work.  We have two parts of the brain, our modern brain, which reasons and our primitive brain which controls our fight or flight response.  Our primitive brain hates taking risks, because back when we were living in caves, if you took a risk that didn’t work out,  you usually died.  Our primitive brain doesn’t know the difference between a lion and making a cold call.  You have to push through the physiology and risk failure. You also have to fail a lot to succeed.

In my youth I knew the theater impresario Hal Prince quite well.  He once told me that only one third of the shows he produced over his career made money.  It wasn’t lost on me that he he had to produce 9 shows to get 3 successful ones.  He had to work on every one for years to find out if it was a success or a failure.  That is commitment to process.  That is knowing the math and accepting it.  So, accept the math,  get out there, take some risks, fail a lot and start realizing some successes.

Road-Perspective

Look to the Horizon – When I was learning to drive, I remember the instructor teaching us the concept of looking as far down the road as you can see and let your peripheral vision handle what is directly in front of you.  That way you can see problems as they develop long before they reach you.  This also pertains to opportunities.  I’ve always been interested and excited in the future.  The excitement of what’s coming.  I’ve always looked down the road, it’s just now that I’m realizing how well it’s served me.

Have Some Things in the Pipeline – This is the game of what’s next? In the music industry, you can have a song, an album, a tour, but you’ll never get a record deal if you can’t tell the label what else they can sell after they’re finished selling what you have now.  For every deal I’ve got, I have two more that are gestating in the background. For every move I make, I have two more long range ones that I’m working on. Some will work out in the long run, some won’t, but that’s not the point.  Things worth the trouble take a long time to develop.  You have to put in time on a variety of options and that’s hard when you’d like to have some instant gratification.

And Finally…….

The truth never lives in what you say, the truth is always found in what you do – This is the most important one of all.  People say a lot of things.  I say a lot of things. Sometimes I’m thinking or fantasizing out loud.  I do a lot less of that now, because as a leader, people tend to believe me when I say something and they expect it to happen. So, when I say something I have to back it up with action or lose my credibility. I’ve found it’s very powerful to put yourself in that position. The need to act based on my words will eat at me until I throw down and do something about it.  Declarations may set a standard to be held to, but what you take action on is how you will be judged. What you take action on will determine your success.  What you take action on tells the world your values, your standards and your true intent.

Good luck out there this year.  Make some magic!

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I Want To Innovate

I toss and turn at night.  Just ask my wife, she’ll tell you all about it.  She’ll show you the evidence in the form of sheets, covers and comforter not even gathered on my side of the bed, but passed over my spinning body to a pile on the floor next to me.  We’ve taken to giving her a healthy lead when we go to bed by starting with the covers touching the floor on her side.  I out run her every night.

We’re almost to the point of attaching another set of covers to the ones we have and going “double wide.”  We already know it won’t work.  My churning will make short work of it. I’m a worrier.  I don’t have happy dreams (luckily, I don’t have bad dreams either,) I have anxious dreams.  I’m just damn restless about the constant in my life: What more can I do?

We all do that to an extent, and I’m sure anyone reading this can relate to their life, their business, their relationships.  I live in a business world where someone always needs a job.  You can have a day where one client really breaks through, getting a gig that is life altering. One that enters them into a new realm of money, prestige, creativity.  But, on the same day, you still have a client who just needs a job, any job, to make that month’s mortgage.

As objective as you can make yourself, as hard as you become to the realities of representing freelancers,  it still tortures you. Perhaps there are agents out there where it dosen’t affect them.  But, those people can’t possibly be in possession of a soul. Really, it’s my own damn fault.  Me and my partners in crime are trying to take a dusty old industry and turn it on it’s ear.  We’re using technology, social media, automation, marketing and carefully crafting a corporate culture that has yet to exist in our industry as a strategy and business model.

We keep noticing competitors copying things we’re doing and we are still a step ahead.  All that is great, but there’s still a client out there that needs a job, and so my nightly comforter conveyor belt continues unabated. I read and read, study and study, implement and implement and WPA gets better and better. Not by virtue of me, but by virtue of us.  Everyone is bringing new things to the party everyday.  But still, there’s a client out there that needs a job.

So, where is the next innovation?  The next breakthrough?  What will bring us to the holy grail of 100% roster employment? Am I chasing something that will just never exist?  I refuse to believe that.  In some parallel universe somewhere, amidst the infinity of worlds with intelligent life, there is world where ‘The Artist’ did not win Best Picture and an agency called WPA has 100% freelance employment.

So, we try everyday to get a little bit better.  We get ahead, we have setbacks, but we keep going.  We try to hone our attention to detail, our communication and our commitment to each other and our clients. Don’t get me wrong.  Things are going great.  Things are just where they are supposed to be financially and culturally. Growth is right on track per the business plan. We just took a much bigger office space in Beverly Hills to accomodate our growing staff.  But, oy, I just keep spinning at night. Someone, somewhere needs attention!  The job is never done!

So, we recommit to innovate and build a company that not just sustains us, but one that honors our clients, our buyers and the filmmaking community at large. I want not just an innovation, I want THE BIG innovation.  The agency innovation to top them all.  But, what I’m learning is that exists as much as me sleeping in one position does.  What does exist however, are a number of small innovations that can be strung together to be bigger than the sum of their parts.  The key here is having the courage to explore and act on all the little things instead of waiting to think of the one big thing!

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

So, I’ll keep tossing and turning.  My wife will keep grasping at covers as they disappear and I’ll keep putting together the small things to keep moving forward.

Snapshots From Bydgoszsz

Downtown Bydgoszsz

I Just returned from Poland. Bydgoszsz, Poland to be exact.  It’s pronounced (bid-goe-sh.) Yeah pronouncing it took a while.  For the longest time before my business partner Richard and I took the trip, we were just calling it Badonkadonk. We were there for Cameraimage, the international cinematographers film festival.

It took four planes to get there. Halfway through the journey I was trying to figure out exactly why we were going in the first place, especially on the last plane, a small prop plane that was pitched around in the winds and seemed like it was going to land upside down. Oh yeah and the plane before that which Richard proclaimed looked suspiciously like the one from the movie ‘Alive.’

Looking forward to the post flight meal.

With any trip to a culture that is completely foreign, the answer doesn’t come until you’re there. I checked out some travel sites before we went, one of which proclaimed it was unclear why anyone would want to go to Bydgoszsz, but if you did, after a few day you would find it charming.

You see it’s a rather strange place where the sun rises at 8:30am and sets by 3:30pm and they are not even in the shortest days of the year yet.  It’s cold, (see Richard’s over compensating coat) and the architecture is a mix of new post Berlin Wall, Soviet era cheap housing and pre WW II buildings, some stucco’d over in places to hide the cracks of age and  bullet holes.

That being the case, I found that Polish people seem to rely heavily on three things: 1) Vodka, 2) Various dumplings and 3) Cold cuts. Those of you who know me know I am not a drinker.  However I can attest that the dumplings and cold cuts rock. Richard assures me that the Vodka rocks as well.

The people are not what you would expect.  After decades of Soviet propaganda, you would think they would be either be wary of Americans or downright hostile. Not the case at all.  It seemed to me that only about a third knew how to speak English.  When I found myself trying to communicate with a non english speaker, they would hurridly look around to find someone to translate, dragging them over, genuinely and happily wanting to speak with me.  No one was put out that I dared to come to their country not knowing the language.

The short day messes with your internal clock and produces an active nightlife.  Not a big city at all, the Bydgoszsz Holiday Inn (yes, there was a Holiday Inn) came alive and blossomed into a huge party at midnight.  So, when the sun went down, there was a tendency to retreat to nap for a few hours, grab a late dinner, then hit the Holiday Inn.  People proceded to stay up until 5 or 6 am, then grabbed a few hours sleep until the sun came up at 8:30a and started their day. I’m pretty sure they didn’t do that every night, but you never know.

Richard and our French colleagues Vanessa and Magali about to get on the prop plane from Hell.

The festival itself was pretty cool.  Films from everywhere in the world and more importantly, the people from everywhere who made them.  The whole experience reinforced in me the importance of people.  We talk about great films, great performances, great technical innovation, great distribution platforms. But, it’s groups of committed people, coming together and finding ways to communicate a vision.  First to each other and to the world.  Any endeavor depends on this. In the information age when you would think communication advances would bring us closer together in meaningful dialogue, we seem instead to be dumbing down the quality of our collaboration.

I used to talk on the phone to people all day everyday.  Now it’s all email and iChat and a few calls a day.  It’s faster, more efficient and creates a communication economy of scale.  But, direct conversation creates a deeper bond and a more visceral truth.

Renown Cinematographers from all over the world came to teach master classes. Young Cinematographers came to take them.  There was a spirit among the teachers and students alike of:  “I may know a certain amount, but there’s always more.” In that lies a creative delight.

Ah yes, then there’s truth.  In Bydgoszsz there was a lot of talk of truth.  Films that were “true to character, true to story, true to vision.” That comes back to people gathered around a camera face to face, deciding to achieve that truth.

So, if I learned lessons in Bydgoszsz they were these:

1) Cold Cuts can be a dietary staple and are delicious.

2) If your day is more like night, learn to live in it.

3) Just because a plane looks like one that crashed into a snowy mountainside in the Andes, doesn’t mean you’re going to end up dining on a stack of pancreas and someone’s foot.

4) Popularity does not define successful art, truth does.

5) True masters realize that there will always be more to learn and they take joy in teaching others the art of trying to understand this.

6) Nothing beats face to face communication.  Even if you don’t speak the same language, the effort of pursuing mutual understanding  in any form is worth going halfway around the world for.

25 Rules for Surviving and Thriving In Hollywood

As an actor (my first career in entertainment) I came across a list of rules for making it in show business. I can’t remember who it was by, but it was funny, succinct and to the point.  That was a long time ago and I don’t remember the rules other than the mantra which I’ve repeated here in rules 3, 8, 16 & 25. Also, rule 1. came from an English blogger who’s blog I can’t find now (credit where credit is due… sort of.)

So, here we go.  My first rules for making it in Hollywood. Based on my experience, I wrote down  the 25 most common sense things I could think of. Why 25? I figured you could handle that many.  If I thought if the cast of Jersey Shore was reading, there would only have to be four and I’ll let you guess which ones they are. If you think there are some missing, feel free to chime in.  With no further ado, I bring you my 25 Rules:

1. Always carry a pen.

2. Have specific, time sensitive goals.  Use the pen to write them down. Keep them in a place where you can see them.

3. Save your money.

4. Don’t neglect your family and friends. When the bottom falls out, they are the net that will catch you.

5. Go easy on the cosmetic surgery. There’s a fine line between looking younger and like a surprised floatation device.

6. The best route between Hollywood and Beverly Hills is Fountain Avenue to La Cienega to Burton Way.

7. Always remember that youth and skill are no match for age and treachery.

8. Save your money.

9. There’s no such thing as overnight success.  There are only years of hard work that suddenly pay off.

10. There is a big difference between leaving your mark and marking your territory. Don’t confuse the two.

10. Failure is not an option, it is an inevitable and necessary ingredient of success.

12. Getting knocked down in Hollywood thins out the herd.  Always be sure to get back up.

13. If anyone ever says you’ll never work in this town again, realize it’s only until they need you again.

14. People don’t need a good reason to sue you, they just need a lawyer. Don’t take it personally, it’s just business.

15.  If you don’t love the movie business, find something you love and do that instead.  Love expands and so does bitterness.

16. Save your money.

17. Always make sure you’ve removed the lens cap before rolling.  Success is in the details.

18. The town can smell fear and desperation. Find a way to erase these emotions from your business life.

19. Be nice to waiters, valets and receptionists.  Someday they’ll be green lighting your projects.

20. When someone’s assistant says “actually he/she is in a meeting and can’t talk now.” They “actually” just don’t want to talk to you.

21. Know the difference between providing opportunity and mentoring.  It’s the difference between making someone opportunistic or loyal.

22. Movie making is problem solving. If there are problems, it means that you’re still in business.

23. Never say “to be honest with you” or “I’ll be totally honest.”  These phrases mean that you are not usually honest and your current honesty is an exception to your standard operating procedure.

24.  Anything positive you do or say is instantly forgotten.  Anything negative you do or say follows you forever and makes you a suspect in all the ills of humanity.

25. Save your money.

It Takes A Village

“It takes a village.”  That old saying that everyone uses for everything from the success of a child to a business project gone completely awry. In my experience, I would say that it’s a very true metaphor. Even in art that appears to be a solo endeavor. Painters need someone to loom canvas and manufacture acrylic paints. You could argue that a dancer doing a solo might qualify. But, that would be a naked dancer with no training, and we’ve all seen that before, usually being dragged (still dancing) into a police car. Entertaining? Yes. Art? Not really.

So, what do we really need to be creative? Collaborators seen and unseen. But before that we need to be motivated to create something.  Where does that come from? Somewhere in the soul is my guess.  The Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi coined it “flow” (and yeah, that’s really the guy’s name.)  Flow he discovered is that place we all have been, where we are so intently engaged in something that we lose track of time and reach a level of focus so deep it is almost trance like.  We forego sleep, don’t feel fatigued and can ignore hunger. Based on the feeling of personal connectedness and engagement, we tend to come back to those activities again and again.

That’s where the concept of ‘opensource’ comes in.  It is a neighborhood in the new village of art, entertainment and hopefully collaborations well beyond.  In his book “Drive –  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Daniel H. Pink cites numerous studies that determine:  the intrinsic value of our flow activities (that is, how they make us feel) far out weighs any extrinsic rewards like money that we might get for doing the activity.  You can want or need to be paid for your creativity, but according to the science, money will never be able to motivate you enough to enter flow and ‘true’ creativity.  You are far more likely to create your best work with like minded people regardless of whether or not you get paid for it at all.  So, money is one thing, but not the only thing.  Here is a version of Pink’s philosophy:

What is really interesting to me is the descriptions of Wikipedia and Firefox and how they came about.  Code wonks donating their talents (which they get paid for during the work day) build something together that not only is bigger than any one of them, but provides a space for those creating to gain mastery over their craft. They work for free, but they are free to work how they like, when they like without deadlines or the constraints of work for hire.  And that is the recipe for flow.

So what does this science mean to an agent that depends on 10% of my artistically gifted clients making a living?  It means I need to encourage my clients to recognize the concept of flow.  It means I need to encourage mastery. To realize that it’s my job, to get the issue of money off the table by striking fair deals, so they do not have to think about it. I believe that is the way I participate as a collaborator in their art.

I’m not a filmmaker, nor do I want to be or pretend to be. I’m a manager, a partner that can focus on the bigger picture of the business and find myself in “flow” by ways of listening, advising and negotiating.  Sounds strange, but flow exists in any talent you can think of and that’s where it exists for me.  But, more so my job is encouraging artists to create even when they are not working for money.  To take some down time to keep working for mastery and to open source with other like minded artists on projects of their choosing.

The definitions of success are changing.  In the wake of so much pain at the hands of economic collapse,  and the realization that consumerism as a social ideal merely trades flow for a quick endorphin rush, the next phase of human progress is upon us.  It may be Utopian to suggest, but there has never been a better time in modern history to be in the arts.  People are hungry again for beauty, for experience and open to the understanding the human potential is far more than survival and unlimited cheap gasoline.

So, lets see what we can create.  As artistic collaborators we can show the world that collaboration is exponential and born of compassion and empathy.  No doubt financial gain is important to sustain art and the artist, the business and the businessman. But, flow is the true goal to fixate on.  It may be too early to tell, but even science seems to be saying that flow, and it’s resulting mastery takes a village.

Time Keeps On Slippin, Slippin, Slippin……..

Back in the day, it seemed like there was plenty of time, extra time. So much time in fact I was constantly bored and made sure everyone around me knew it. Of course I was 15 at the time and I had trouble making people understand that not enough of the known universe was revolving around me. Alas , then I became an adult, and more and more responsibilities were added. My waking hours became horribly stretched and I began to long for boredom. I began to realize that not only did the universe not revolve around me, I seemed to be exhausted from hurtling through it aimlessly, barely avoiding black holes and bumping my head on the random asteroid.

Then something amazing happened. I did my first 20 hour day on a film set. Then another and another. I did years of this. Film production is like that, hours and hours and hours of work to get a project done The lines between waking and sleeping become so blurred that your whole life seems to be overtaken by the work directly in front of you. But, it made me realize just how far you can push yourself and just how much you can get done when forced to focus.

Those days are long behind me now. I’ve had regular office hours for the last 15 years. I get an awful lot done in my day, but I often wonder how I can squeeze a little more time out of the 24 hour cycle. I want to be more efficient (don’t we all,) so I decided to break it down to see where I could find more time.

According to the Julian calendar, We all have the same amount of time to begin with. 168 hours per week to be exact. Lets break it down: Take the necessities off the top.

• 40 hours typically goes to working a job. Office work, work at home, work from home, primary parent, taking care of a domicile. If you are a parent of kids under the age of 16 add another 20.
That’s 60.

• Add 8 hours of sleep per night, that’s 56 hours a week.
2 hours a day watching TV or reading, hobbies, 14 hours per week.
We’re up to 130.

• Time with your spouse out to dinner, movies, making love, fighting (yeah fighting counts), socializing with friends, average 7 hours per week.

• Exercise, 7 hours per week. We’re at 144.
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, 1.5 hours a day, that’s 10.5 per week.

The total of all this is: 154 hours.

There are 14 hours left. The question is: What can you do with 14 hours? The answer is a lot. Are you busy already? Sure you are, I know I am, but until I did the math, I didn’t realize that I have been wasting more than a full work day a week on…. I don’t know what.

These numbers will vary wildly from person to person. You have to sit down and add up your own time, but I guarantee that you will find as I did, that you have at least 14 extra hours of time per week to be moving your life forward in the direction YOU CHOOSE.

Here’s the great part. I gave you a stereotypical average of how the hours break down. These are not how YOUR hours break down. My kids are grown, so I spend a lot less time parenting. You may not have kids at home. You may not have a significant other right now. You may sleep 12 hours a day. That’s bad for you by the way, take a minimum of 3 hours off that and go to the gym for an hour, then use the rest to work on your actual dream life.

Being aware of your time is the first step. There’s no doubt that time management is hard. Personally, it’s my biggest challenge. I like the freedom of a “loose schedule,” but I know it doesn’t serve me well. For me, having a loose schedule is an invitation to putter about. An avoidance of the hard work of managing my life and pursuing the activities that will help me reach my goals and dreams.

There’s only one way to conquer it. Plan your time on a daily schedule. Especially hard if you’re a freelancer, but, that’s why a daily, not a weekly appraisal and schedule becomes necessary. It certainly can be done. A good amount of success is measured on your capacity to get things done. How much can you handle in a given amount of time.

You have to find the answer for your life. What I’ve tried to accomplish here, is to point out the amount of time we all have in common, and that there really may be extra time in your life that you didn’t know was there. Here’s my challenge to you this week: Sit down and write down how you spend your 168 hours a week in broad terms. Then refine it against your goals. Then, for one week, take ten minutes every morning and plan your day accordingly.

If you are not spending enough of that weekly time on working towards the goals and future you imagine you will see it in your daily schedule. You will also see ways to adjust.. I like zoning out in front of the TV as much as the next guy and often do it for too long, but I know that I can spend that time more productively. When I have a schedule, I better know when it’s time for leisure and time for work.

If nothing else, do this exercise for fun, just to see how you are spending your time. Once you have done that, perhaps you can redraw the 168 hours into a life that you feel suits you better. I’m not just talking about goals here either. Do you spend TOO MUCH time working? Do your kids, spouse, friends need more of you? Think about it. Nobody on their death bed ever said “I should have spent more time at the office.”

We are creatures of habit. I think we all agree, some of those habits really don’t serve us well. This exercise will help you find some of those negative habits and redirect them into positive habits.

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.
-Benjamin Franklin