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Posts Tagged ‘Dave Ramsey’

“I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring.”
Chuck Nolan (Tom Hanks)
Cast Away

Screen Shot 2020-03-26 at 8.30.28 AM

Tom Hanks in Cast Away (who in real life is recovering from the Coronavirus)

On March 1, I flew back to Orlando from Boston after attending a documentary filmmaking workshop and started reading on the plane In the Heart of the Sea; The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex.By the end of the first chapter, author Nataniel Philbrick lays out how the small island of Nantucket in the 1800s was one of the wealthiest places in the country thanks to the whaling industry. But changes came that put an end to a 100 year tradition as demand for whaling oil diminished and eventually died.

It reminded me of my grandfather who worked for more than 30 years at Youngstown Sheet & Tube in Ohio before the steel industry greatly shut down production. Business guru Tom Peters once said, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance less.” In the past few weeks, we’ve seen a world of change. (From a record stock market high to record unemployement.)

While I heard this week someone in the grocery business say that their business has doubled in the last week, I know more who are like my freelance production friends who have had their work in the past week to 10 days totally disappear. It’s normal to have a shoot here and there be canceled or pushed back, but the fear here is what does the new normal look like.

How long will this Coronavirus shutdown last? And obviously, it’s not just the production world that’s impacted by this. Here in Orlando, the ripple effects of Disney World and Universal Studios being closed financially impacts people working in theme parks, hotels, conventions, restaurants and bars, airlines, etc.

This may seem like a bad time to bring up the concept of an emergency fund, but I’ve found in my own life that hard times are ideal times to hit the reset button. And in case, you don’t feel like reading further, let me point you to Dave Ramsey’s website where tonight (March 27, 2020) he and some of his team will be streaming a free message of hope starting at 8 PM. It’s billed as “Answers to your top questions on money, career and life during this time of uncertainty.”

Ramsey is known for his popular radio program and podcast The Dave Ramsey Show where he gives financial advice and encourages people to get out of debt and create wealth. While he has his share of critics, he also has millions of people who are success stories. I’m one of them.

I was already aware of Ramsey and some of his teachings—yeah, he’s the cut up your credit card guy—when my financial planner gave me his book The Total Money Makeover the year it came out in 2003. I wish I could tell you that I was a quick learner, but some lessons take years to learn. (I’d made plenty of my share of financial mistakes along the way, so I was open to Ramsey’s core teachings.)

And I’m still learning. I was listening to his podcast two days ago on a walk, and I heard that they were giving free access to people for 14 days to their Financial Peace University ($129 after that). These are high-quality videos that walk you through their nine steps of financial freedom. If you’re out of work at the moment with major concerns about paying your bills, watch the first three videos today (about a three-hour investment) and then cancel before your credit card/debt card gets dinged. (Binge watch them all if you’re ambitious.)

Since I’d never gone through a Ramsey class or video series, I signed up yesterday for the free  14-day trial offer and watched those first three messages and here’s a recap. (And it’s important to point out that Ramsey learned these lessons after he was overextended on some real estate dealings and filed for bankruptcy at age 28.)

“You’re never going to win with money as long as you’re paying payments.”
—Dave Ramsey

—80% of people in the US live paycheck to paycheck.
—The average new car payment is over $500.
—Money problems are the number reason for divorce.
—Having a good credit score only means you’re a good borrower.
—There are plenty of well-dressed people, driving nice cars, who are broke.
—Run from debt like a gazelle runs from a cheetah.
—The goal is to have an emergency fund, pay off debt, and build wealth & give.
—How? One step at a time. (It’s like working out. One pound at a time.)
—Baby step one: Set aside $1,000 for an emergency fund.
—Baby step two: Pay off debt with the debt snowball. Sell that car you really can’t afford. Pay off the smallest debt first, regardless of the interest rate. You need small victories and to gain momentum to pay off larger debts. Most people can do this in 24 months if they’re focused. Get a second job if you have to.
—Baby step three: Build up a 3-6 month emergency fund.  This covers all your expenses for 3 to 6 months.  Why? Because emergencies  happen. (The fallout from the Coronavirus is just the latest reminder. And the more unstable your field, the longer you emergency fund should be. I think having an emergency fund is like a superpower that is attainable.)

Some of Ramsey’s steps seem radical. (If you have credit card debt, you shouldn’t see the inside of a restaurant. The paid off house, not the BMW, is the new status symbol.)  But radical steps are often needed. He jokes that you should try it his way and get out of debt— if you don’t like it you can go back to being in debt.

His more advanced steps are saving for your kid’s college, building up your retirement fund, paying off your house, and being at a place where you can live and give like no one else.

And if you’re looking for a job, Dave Ramsey is hiring, and they’re located in Nashville/Franklin, TN—one of my favorite parts of the country. Amazon is looking for 100,000 full and part time people to hire to meet their increased demand. The University of Texas in Austin just posted a job for a multimedia producer.(A lot of schools are going to be looking for multimedia producers.)

Working in any creative field is always an uphill and competitive battle.  And if you live in New York or L.A. it’s extra hard because the cost of living in so high.  I feel for you. And if I can offer any solace, it’s that I’ve been there. There will be brighter days.

In 1984, I graduated from film school in Los Angeles and worked as a photographer for a couple of years before landing a job as a 16mm camera operator and editor in 1987. My first big shoot was going to Aspen, Colorado to shoot footage of a national downhill ski competition. I was going on the Warner Bros, Disney, and Paramount studio lots. I was 26 years old and living the dream.

On October 19, 1987 the stock market crashed. Long story short, in December ‘87 I moved back to Florida. Thought I’d get on the ground floor of what was called “Hollywood East.” That transition didn’t go well and though I shot a few weddings and bar mitzvah’s, my main source of income was delivering Domino’s Pizza. (Note: Domino’s Pizza and many food delivery places are also looking for drivers.) Remembering my grandfather worked in a steel mill for 30 years gave me a little perspective on my “hard times.”

I did that for a few months and was soon working back in production. The silver lining there was Domino’s did a star search and I sent in an old acting headshot and was one of eight people chosen to fly to Ann Arbor, Michigan to meet the Domino’s founder Tom Monaghan, and shoot a Domino’s Pizza commercial.  All those acting workshops in L.A. finally paid off with a gig that paid. Thanks Mr. Monaghan.

Fast forward to shortly after September 11, 2001. I left a group I’d been producing and directing videos and a radio show for over a decade to go out on my own. There was a group in Chicago that wanted to hire me as a producer on their TV program as soon as a hiring freeze was lifted, but could offer me steady freelance work. One of my production friends told me, “You know, the middle of a recession isn’t the best time to hang out your shingle.”

The first few months were incredibly busy and I lined up some other ongoing projects. I even did a video shoots in London and Berlin. Living the dream 2.0.

Long story short, that job in Chicago never panned out as they stopped the show they were producing altogether (meaning no more freelance work from them).

For cash flow, I took a sales job that I wasn’t particularly good at. But I did learn about sales, and I met a fellow named Marc Reifenrath who was great at sales and had an up and coming  (now well-established) web marketing and design company named Spinutech. Marc threw some production work my way and before I knew it I was off to shoots in Russia, Jamaica, and South Africa. Meeting Marc was the beginning of one of the most fruitful and fun decades of my career. And it all started taking a three month non-production job I needed for cashflow.

Marc was also the person that introduced me to blogging. That led to this Screenwriting from Iowa blog—which led to winning my first Emmy. That blog that I started in 2008 is finally becoming a book in 2020. Step by step.

And a third time of personal transition followed a health bump in the road in 2014 that put and end to being out on my own. In 2015, I landed a job as a multimedia producer at a college doing mostly educational videos. There’s perhaps no such thing as job security in production, but working in the online educational world is currently a hot field, as the trend for all schools at all levels to be at least online friendly is probably a new reality.

I hope something in this post encourages you in this time of transition. If you’re in high school, let this be a lesson to avoid any student loans you can. If you’re a new or recent college graduate, there will be new opportunities that flow out of this current situations as companies look for cheaper ways of doing things.

And if you’re further along in your career and facing a bleak future, do what you can to stay positive and know sometimes you just have to do what you have to do to pay the bills.

Watch that Ramsey free seminar tonight because it’s about career as well as financial advice. Ramsey’s hope is rooted in his Christian faith, which may not be your thing, but listen to what screenwriter Brian Koppelman (Billions, Rounders) had to say about Ramsey when he had him on his podcast:

“I am a Jewish, atheist, screenwriter, New York liberal and you’re like one of my three favorite things to listen to. Because at the core, it’s clear how much you care about people. … What you’re saying to people, especially these young people listening, is develop a habit of thinking about your future and protecting yourself for your future. And take these steps that will help you be able to not make the mistakes that so many of us made along the way.” 
—Brian Koppelman
The Moment with Brian Koppelman, “Best of: Dave Ramsey”

There’s an old saying that we buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people who don’t care. This is a good time to reconsider how we’re living our lives.

P.S. The only movie poster I own is from the 2003 movie Seabiscuit.

That Great Depression-era story of three broken people (and one broken horse) coming together to mend each other touched me during one of the harder transitions of my life.

“You don’t just throw a whole life away just because it’s banged up a little.”
—Tom Smith (Chris Cooper)
Seabiscuit’s trainer

“This is not a movie about victory, but about struggle.”
Seabiscuit screenwriter/director Gary Ross,

And to come full circle, Cast Away (2000) is also a movie not about victory, but struggle.

Related post:
Revisiting Seabiscuit in 2008 (With a photo of the poster in my then office)

Scott W. Smith  

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Have you ever seen a one-legged dog making its way down the street?
If you’ve ever seen a one-legged dog then you’ve seen me
Then you’ve seen me, I come and stand at every door
Then you’ve seen me, I always leave with less than I had before
Bruce Springsteen
The Wrestler

“Credit card debt is a major problem in America.”
Dave Ramsey
The Truth About Credit Card Debt


Americans love a good success story. We love good myths as well.  And the model of financing your film via credit cards has given us some wonderful success stories and a myth as well.  The truth is most credit card  filmmakers (99% would be a good guess) are like the one-legged dog that Springsteen sings about in The Wrestler—they leave with less than they had before. And the one thing worse than being broke, is being in debt.

The problem is we usually only hear the success stories. Robert Townsend was the first person I ever heard about who financed a feature film using credit cards. Back in 1987 Hollywood Shuffle was released and it launched his career.

“There was nothing I couldn’t get with a credit card. And what I couldn’t pay for with credit card I would get a cash advance on the credit card. I couldn’t pay people but I said, ‘I could put gas in your car.’ So I said, ‘All of you follow me to the gas station. I would tell the dealer, ‘See those 20 cars out there? Put it on my American Express.”
Robert Townsend
Jet magazine Jun 1, 1987

Kevin Smith’s Clerks is another film said to be funded on credit cards. Again, it launched a career. The documentary Spellbound was not only nominated for an Academy Award  but grossed over six million dollars and was funded by credit cards.

“We hit the road, using our credit cards to fund the project. Then we’d come home between shooting the film, pay down some of the debt and resume shooting,”
Spellbound producer Sean Welch in a Money magazine article.

So there you have three examples of success stories that solidify the myth of credit card filmmaking. But the truth is best summed up in a Charles Lyons 2005 article in The New York Times called Join a Revolution. Make Movies. Go Broke. Seriously, every filmmaker needs to read that article. Arin Crumley and Susan Buice were filmmaking darlings five years ago as their film Four Eyes Monsters was well received at film festivals and garnered lots of press. But the film did not find a distributor and left Crumley and Buice with $55,000.+ in credit card debt.

“It’s not O.K. for our film to have been mildly successful on the festival circuit. But otherwise, it was just a jaunt into the abyss and now we have financial hell to pay.”
Susan Buice (2005)

Filmmakers using credit cards to self-finance their films is another reason why Kelley Baker is The Angry Filmmaker;

“Too many people finance their films on credit cards, and they go broke! Their films end up not getting a distributor and they’re left paying 30% interest on a film that no one wants. Heed the words of noted financial consultant and former NBA player Charles Barkley, ‘Credit cards exist to keep poor people poor.’

DON’T USE YOUR DAMN CREDIT CARDS FOR ANYTHING!!!”
Kelley Baker
The Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide

With that said, Four Eyed Monsters filmmakers Crumley and Buice got creative and kept finding ways to get people to see their film. One of them was in 2007 when their film became the first feature length film to be shown on You Tube. As I write this on October 29, 2010 there have been 1,256,401 views. They also made a plea on You Tube for people to join spout.com and that company would give Crumley and Brice $1 for each person who joins up to $100,000. Fast forward a few years and I read on the blog Distribution 2.0 that Crumley and Buice got $50,000. from the You Tube/Spout deal, and that exposure not only added DVD sales, but the online attention got them a $100,000 broadcast and rental deal. Does that add to the credit card myth or fall under the category of a crazy success story?

The entire film is linked below. (As a quirky side note, A few years ago I did a documentary shoot in Russia with DP Jon Fordham who was a cameraman on Four Eyed Monsters.)

Scott W. Smith


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