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Posts Tagged ‘Spinutech’

“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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There is something I’ve learned about photography over the years that translates well to writing screenplays.

Last Thursday my company (River Run Productions) and its sister web design company Spinutech pulled down nine awards* at the 2010 AAF-Cedar Valley ADDY Awards. Two of the awards were for photos I had taken including the above photo which won a Gold Addy.

That photo was taken to promote an active retirement community here in Iowa and features a women in her 70s coming off a water slide. (May we all be as active when we’re in our 70s.) Photography has paid a lot of bills for me over the years, and every now and then you really know when you’ve nailed a shot. It’s a good feeling. And that photo was one of those times.

When I take photos I’m always asking myself, “How can I make this unusual?” It can be subtle or drastic, but something has to make your work stand out. Common ways that photographers make their work uncommon include:

  1. Lighting
  2. Composition
  3. Camera
  4. Aperture
  5. Shutter Speed
  6. ISO
  7. Angle
  8. Environment
  9. Expression (if a portrait)
  10. Post-production

“How can I make this unusual?” That’s a good question to ask about the screenplay you are writing. What sets it apart from the stack of screenplays on a readers or producers desk? Is there something different and out of the ordinary about your screenplay? Common ways that screenwriters make their work uncommon include:

  1. Unusual plot
  2. Unusual character(s)
  3. Unusual setting
  4. Unusual dialogue
  5. Unusual point of view
  6. Unusual ending
  7. Unusual conflict
  8. Unusual jobs
  9. Unusual situations
  10. _____________

I’m sure you can add to the list. But there must be something usual about your screenplay to get producers passionate about spending time and money getting your screenplay made, to get actors exciting about being in the film, and to get audiences interested in watching the finished movie. Look at your favorite film list and ask what makes them unusual. Then look at the screenplay you are writing (or want to write) and ask what makes it unusual.

A couple examples of #8 Unusual jobs would be found in The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air. Unusual usually means original. What are some of your favorite unusual movie elements?

*Here’s a shot of our awards from last week. (They’re not x-rated, it just happens to be the thirtieth anniversary of the local ADDY group.)

Scott W. Smith

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