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“When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thickskinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.”
Neil Gaiman
The University of the Arts Keynote Address 2012

Since I started this week talking about high school and college graduations and there’s been an educational theme throughout the week, it makes sense to end the week with a graduation speech. Here’s a little bit of inspiration from the above talk:

And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that’s unique. You have the ability to make art.

And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that’s been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.
Neil Gaiman 

Related posts:
Emma Thompson on Failure
J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure
Embracing the Near Win (part 1) 
Embracing the Near Win (part 2)
Commitment in the Face of Failure
Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“Break on through to the other side…”
Jim Morrison

dv

You can file this post under “Old dog, New Tricks.”

Recently we welcomed a 9-year-old Golden-Lab rescue dog named Ginger into our home. It was just about a year after our 15-year-old Golden Retriever Lucy died, and we still had all of her tug toys and were looking forward to our new dog playing with them.

But we found out that Ginger did care to play with any of Lucy’s toys. We were told that Ginger’s original owners were elderly and could no longer care for her which is why they gave her up. We realized that maybe she’d never chased a tennis ball or played with a stuffed dog toy.

But slowly we’ve introduced an old dog to new tricks. Albeit she’s a bit awkward because she is not a puppy, but she seems to be enjoying her latent retriever skill set.

Then it was my turn.

Yesterday, I completed three days of training on the Adobe Creative Cloud at Genius DV here in Orlando. I made the switch from Final Cut Pro to Premiere two years ago, but this filled in some gaps as well as gave me a better working knowledge of After Effects, Photoshop and Audition. (Way back in 2002, I also went to Genius DV when I was making the transition from AVID to Final Cut Pro.)

While I’ve learned greatly from various online tutorials over the years (paid and free), there is something special about stepping away from your regular work environment for a few days (or a week if you can afford it) and doing a hands-on workshop or class. (Some of my greatest leaps in learning have come from going to workshops/seminars in various places throughout the county.)

And here’s the secret that an older TV/video producer taught me when I was younger. I was complaining about a two-day seminar that I attended and how I didn’t learn that much. That can be a problem with any seminar, and there are usually many people there with varying degrees of knowledge and experience. So you can’t just skip a few pages forward, you have to stay on pace with the group.

Anyway, my friend told me, “Scott, you don’t go to workshops to learn everything, you go to learn a few things that make you better at what you do.” Amen. It may only be 10-20% of what’s taught, but that 10-20% can be huge in helping you create better work.

And I’ll add to that that your learning is not always what was actually meant to be a part of the training. Sometimes it’s the rabbit trail discussions, the passing conversations at lunch or break time with others taking the workshop, that are meaningful.

In my Adobe class led by Juan Carlos Santizo he taught this old dog, many new tricks. Some had to do with the nuts and bolts of Premiere (virtual reality in the next upgrade), much in After Effects, and a healthy dose of shop talk including showing the following behind the scene video of three of the then remaining members of The Doors (Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore) recording with Grammy-winning Skrillex back in 2012.  The official song on You Tube has 19 million views. Old dogs—new tricks. Keeps life interesting.

P.S. And I haven’t given up on Final Cut Pro. I just finished a project using FCP7 and started dipping into FCP-X earlier this year. I think it’s wise to be platformagnostic—to borrow Morgan Spurlock’s phrase. I started my production career as a Arri & Eclair 16mm  cinematographer and Steenbeck flatbed editor, so I’ve learned to actually enjoy the continual changes in technology.  And I’ve long cherished the sentiment of photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) who said his one regret was that he wouldn’t be around to take part in the digital world.

Scott W. Smith

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“The whole goal is to tell our story… Every single day the task of our social media accounts is to help tell the story of what it’s like to be a Clemson Tiger.”
Jonathan Gantt
Digital & Creative Director, Clemson University Athletics
Jonathan_Gantt

It’s not only police departments now that have social media departments producing content, colleges athletic programs are also telling their story as a way to connect to students, donors, alumni, and to attract new recruits.

In the Sports Illustrated Social 100 Clemson came out #1 for their excellent use of Twitter, Instagram, Vine, videos, etc. In 2015 alone they are said to have had 27 million views across all platforms. The really amazing thing about Clemson University is it doesn’t have a film school (I don’t believe they have a TV major either) yet much of the content being produced are being done so by students.

Way back when I was a walk-on football player at the University of Miami and film major there all I remember the team having is a 16mm camera that filmed practices for coaches and players to watch. Fast forward to today and there are millions of people watching their favorite players prep for games. I’ve seen videos where even mundane fitness drills or workouts are made interesting. (And it’s not just football teams—or male sports— that are covered and followed.)

And schools are just in their infant stages of using all of this technology so this is a growth trend for people wanting to work in production. It’s not all done in 15 second bursts, and you can see longer narratives starting to be developed.

The Dream is our biggest production to date. The Dream tells the story of a young boy who dreams of becoming a Clemson Football player and running down the Hill for the ‘most exciting 25 seconds in college football’ and chronicles his journey to the moments before his dream becomes a reality. It’s not common for athletic departments to produce fictional short films in house, so we’re very proud of this one.”
Jonathan Gantt

And if you want to dig deeper, here’s a video that unpacks the inner workings of how Gantt, digital content coordinator Nik Conklin & their social media team at Clemson work their magic:

P.S. If you’re down in south Florida and handy with a DSLR and/or After Effects connect with someone in the social media department and help the Miami Hurricanes and their new head coach Mark Richt rebuild the dynasty in Coral Gables.

Related posts:
Postcard #24 (Coral Gables)
Miami vs. Florida
Hawkeye, Hawkeyes, & Hurricane Mark Richt
Hitting Rock Bottom with the Rock
Screenwriting & the Super Bowl

Scott W. Smith

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It’s graduation time and if you happen to be receiving  your degree from film school or as a TV or electric arts major I have good news for you. In fact, if you’re gradating from high school and have a couple of years of shooting and editing short projects I also have good news for you.

Remember Sonny Crockett? That character Don Johnson portrayed on Miami Vice back in the 80s? He wore funky clothes, lived on a sailboat, drove a Ferrari,  and was a Miami narc officer. He was cool. But now in real life we know that the Miami Police Department has an officer cooler than Crockett. (And apparently, a whole cast of characters.)

Officer Nick Perez is a vlogger and part of a three person social media team at the police department.   Here’s the video featuring Perez that’s going viral:

Now the reason I say that it’s a good time to be starting a career in production is places that never did videos before, or that outsourced it if they did, are now hiring young people who are jack of all trades production people to help tell their stories and sell their products.

When I was in in film school I worked as a PA on projects and as a driver for an equipment rental company. No great, but it seemed better than the survival jobs that Aaron Sorkin was doing when he was starting out.

But just armed with a GoPro camera and FCP-X, and a little talent you to can be a You Tube content creator earning a living. Here’s some background videos that show how the Miami- Dade Police Department launched it’s You Tube channel just a few months ago to be a way to connect to the community it serves. Mission accomplished.

P.S. Congrats to the recent college (or soon to be) high school graduates. Best wishes on your job search. (Just put “video producer” or “video content creator” into a Google search and see what people around the county are looking for.)  My guess is there are going to be a lot more police departments around the county that are going to be looking for content creators.

Scott W. Smith

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“The etymology of freelance is exactly as it sounds. In medieval days if you were a ‘free lance’ you were a knight without a lord. You were a mercenary. And I loved the idea of going to Hollywood without an agent, without a manager, without a publicist, without a lawyer, and booking as much work as I could. I didn’t care about the work. I didn’t care about the quality of the work.  I didn’t care if it was infomercials. I didn’t care if it was books on tape. I didn’t care if it was sitcom or talk shows, it didn’t matter—I did it all. Or tried it all. And got my share. And by 1995 I’d had dozens and dozens of jobs in Hollywood, and in New York, and feeling kind of arrogant in the way you do when you think you’ve figured out what most people haven’t. And so I was freelancing. And many, many jobs—eight months on, four months off. I’d pattered that whole part of my career after John D. MacDonald and Travis McGee. A guy who took his retirement in early installments. And I just loved it. And American Airlines was one of maybe 300 jobs that I Forrest Gumped my way into.”
TV host/narrator Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs, Deadliest Catch)
Podcast interview with Tim Ferriss

I’ve been a fan of Mike Rowe’s for a while, but John D. MacDonald & Travis McGee—fuhgeddaboudit. Discovered those cats over three decades ago. In college I even did a report on MacDonald for an American Lit class. No one told me that you weren’t supposed to write about a pulp fiction writer of detective stories. (Besides now that we know that William Faulkner lied his way through his non-fiction classic Travels with Charlie— MacDonald is holding his own these days—long after his death.) Stephen King said MacDonald was, “the great entertainer of our age, and a mesmerizing storyteller.”

Now if George Clooney would just play Travis McGee in a film or two that part of my life would be complete.

What I also love about Rowe’s above comments is it just shows a great degree of hustling to have the kind of success he’s had. Rowe also said he’s not the one to tell people to “follow their passions” but to follow the opportunities that come their way—and take their passion with them.

And here’s a nice bookend comment (also from a Tim Ferriss interview):

“I love being a storyteller right now. I love being a content creator, being a filmmaker, a director, whatever you want to call it, because there is a place now to tell all these stories. Whether it’s 90 minutes, or 30 minutes, or 20 minutes, or 10 minutes, or three minutes. Like we made an amazing bunch of movies a few years ago called Focus Forward that GE paid for where we basically made these 3 minute short films about innovators around the world. People who were doing incredible things. And each one of these movies were three minutes long and they were powerful. They’re so beautiful and inspiring and now they’ve been seen by a 100 million people around the world.”
Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me
Podcast interview with Tim Ferriss

Related posts:
‘Art is Work’—Milton Glaser
Stephen King’s Doublewide Trailer
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Iowa Kutcher on Jobs/Work

 

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Harry Crews has a talent all his own. He begins where James Dickey left off.”
Norman Mailer

“I wrote four novels and short stories before I even published anything, and the reason I didn’t publish any of those things was because it wasn’t any good.”
Harry Crews

In his interview on The Tim Ferriss Show, Cal Fussman mentioned that he’s only had writer’s block once in his life and writer Harry Crews (1935-2012)  helped him work through it.

Fussman was so moved reading the novel A Feast of Snakes by Crews that he got in his car and drove 20 hours to meet Crews unannounced at his Gainesville, Florida home. Fussman’s Esquire article Drinking at 1,300 FT: A 9/11 Story About Wine and Wisdom was the result.

I grew up in Central Florida and first became familiar with Crews’ writing back in the 80s. His essay A Day at the Dogfights (from Florida Frenzy) is hard hitting in the Hunter S. Thompson-style of immersive journalism.

From the late 60s to 1997 Crews not only published books, but taught creative writing at the University of Florida. Crews wrote about what he was after in his classes:

“Part of my job as a teacher is first to try to help my students determine what’s worth writing and what is not. If they want to write science fiction or detective stories, that’s fine with me; I just want to make sure they know what they’re doing, to make sure they realize they are not writing the kind of fiction that can crush the heart of the living memory. I want to show them that they are writing nothing but entertainment. It is not that the greatest fiction, the kind I want them to spend their energies on, is not entertaining. It is. But it is so much more than that. It is the ‘more than entertainment’ that I want the writers who work with me to know about, be concerned with, even consumed by.”
Harry Crews
Essay Teaching and Writing in the University
From the book Florida Frenzy

And this is as good a time as any to throw in another quote of his on writing:

“Writing fiction or plays or poetry seems to me to be a very messy business. To be a writer requires an enormous tolerance for frustration, for anxiety, for self-doubt.”
Harry Crews

P.S. Two other names that came up in the Fussman/Ferriss interview were legendary fitness expert Jack LaLane and the great wrestler & coach Dan Gable. I have mentioned them both on this blog before and had the opportunity to work on video/TV productions with both of them. As they sing a few hundred times everyday here in Central Florida, “It’s a small world after all.”

Related link:
Harry Crews: On Writing and Feeling Like a Freak, NPR (1988)

Related posts:
‘Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus’
Jack LaLanne (1914-2011)
Screenwriting Quote #70 (James Dickey)
Thanks for the Plug TomCruise.com (Touches on Dan Gable being Cruise’s hero back when he was a high school wrestler.)
John Irving, Iowa & Writing Touches on the novelist love of wrestling and how he was trying to get a screenplay done on Gables life.

Scott W. Smith

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“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
Proverbs 12:15

BillboardListen2.jpg

Yesterday I listened to the longest podcast I’ve ever heard. The Interview Master: Cal Fussman and the Power of Listening on The Tim Ferriss Show is over 3 hours and 22 minutes long and full of storytelling gems.

Fussman is perhaps best known for his Esquire features What I learned, where over the years he’s had the opportunity to interview a wide variety of people including Tom Hanks, Muhammad Ali, Dr. Dre, Helen Mirren, Mikhail Gorbachev, Faye Dunaway, George Forman and Johnny Depp.

Here’s one bit of advice I pulled from that interview.

Q—Tim Ferriss: If you could have a billboard anywhere, with anything on it, what would you put on it?

A—Cal Fussman: One word, listen…I don’t know what reaction that would get, but I would like to see the reaction on people’s faces when they saw that. Listening is an art form, people just aren’t using it as an art form. But it is an art form. And a lot of great things could be achieved through listening.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) was also interviewed by Tim Ferriss and his answer below is a nice bookend to Fussman’s answer.

Q—Tim Ferriss: If I watch Inside Man or 30 Days I’m consistently impressed  with how you get people to embrace you from different worlds and get people to accept you and trust you. How did you develop that? Or have you always been hardwired for that?

A—Morgan Spurlock: Well I think the biggest thing you have to do is—you just have to listen. The minute you start listening it’s amazing how people will talk to you, and how people will embrace you. We live in a culture where we don’t listen to begin with. I think that’s one. And I think we also live in a culture, and live in a world, where people aren’t honest with each other. And just don’t kind of openly have conversations with you, and talk about things that are hard to talk about…I think that if you come into those kinds of moments wanting to understand, and wanting to understand where someone is coming from—it doesn’t have to be confrontational, it doesn’t have to be ugly—you can have a really honest, above board conversation that is meaningful. So for me I think that’s the biggest thing. I think the best thing I do sometimes is shut up and listen.   

Scott W. Smith

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