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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Peters’

“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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A couple of weeks ago I was in Des Moines on a project and came across a book by Hugh MacLeod (@gapingavoid) called Ignore everybody; And 39 Other Keys to Creativity. And I landed on this little sentence of his that I’ve mulled over ever since:

“Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether.”
Hugh MacLeod

It reminds me of Tom Peters‘ advice to “Go where the hotspots aren’t.” Back in 2003–after living my entire life in either Orlando, Miami or Los Angeles—I moved to Cedar Falls, Iowa. My friends who thought I was crazy started to change their tune when the state and area started showing up in lists such as “top ten places to start a business,” “best small towns to live in,” and  “healthiest places to live.” And to top it off there is a good creative heartbeat in Iowa.

MacLeod was once a “struggling young copywriter living in a YMCA” when he started to doodle on the back of business cards. Those cards turned into the blog/website gapingavoid.com. (He first went online in 2001 and according to a 2005 article he was getting 1 million views a month.)  Now he’s a successful author, speaker, artist, actor with several companies under his belt.

Of course, you don’t have to physically move to Iowa (or Marfa, Texas) to avoid crowds, but be creative and find room in your little red wagon to carry that thought around for a while —”Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether.”

Related post: “A Sea of Sameness”

Scott W. Smith

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“The ‘surplus society’ has a surplus of similar companies, employing similar people, with similar educational backgrounds, coming up with similar ideas, producing similar things, with similar prices and similar quality.”
Kjell Nordstrom and Jonas Ridderstrale, Funky Business

We live in a culture that is swimming in “a sea of sameness.” I’m not sure who coined that phrase “a sea of sameness,” but I first heard it from Tom Peters many years ago. The phrase instantly resonated with me because it was so easy to look at the world around me and see that it was true—from fast food restaurants, to automobiles, to Hollywood movies.

The big question is once you notice “the sea of sameness” around you, what do you do about it? If you like the sameness of the life you are living and are surrounded by then there is no dilemma. But if you no longer care to conform to the “sea of sameness” then the only sane thing for you to do is step off the track you’re running on. Rebel. Change.

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”
General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

Of course, the courage to change may take years…or something you do today. (Or at least take the first step towards.)

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
Howard Beale
Network, written by Paddy Chayefsky

You can apply that where you will, but since this is a blog on screenwriting that’s where we should look. Are the stories you’re writing the stories you are dying to tell? Here’s how screenwriters Gill Dennis and James Mangold laid it out in the script Walk the Line where record producer Sam Phillips gives some advice to a young Johnny Cash who had just performed a lackluster gospel song for him in hopes of landing a recording contract:

“If you was hit by a truck and you were lying out there in the gutter dying and you had time to sing one song. One song people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know what you felt about your time here on earth—one song that would sum you up, you telling me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmy Davis tune that we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it’s real, about how you’re going to shout it. Or would you sing something different? Something real. Something you felt.  Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song people want to hear. That’s the kind of song that truly saves people. ”
Walk the Line

I hope that’s the kind of script you’re working on now. (Or you at least have a file started.)

Scott W. Smith



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“The world needs a new culture around creativity…Being Creative makes this planet a better place.”
Chase Jarvis

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”
Genesis 1

About ten years ago I read a Tom Peters quote that off the top of my head was something like;  “Sometimes to rejuvenate yourself creatively, you need to move to another climate or another culture.” Seven years ago I moved to Iowa (“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by”—Frost) and that has made all the difference. Long story short, it turned out to be the change I needed to rejuvenate myself creatively. In a sense it was a step back from the track I had been on.

I had been on the traditional track, doing traditional things, with a traditional mindset. Even the places I lived were somewhat traditional for somebody with a creative mindset—Miami, Los Angeles, Orlando. And along the way I got to work with some good people on good productions, traveled a good bit, and kept up with the creative changes by embracing new technology as it came my way, like shooting stills and video digitally and going from editing film on a Steenbeck flatbed to editing with an AVID. (And now FCP, Motion, Soundtrack, etc., etc.)

But I ways also looking for something different. Something that tapped into that creative ideal I had when I was 18-years-old. Along the way I was also reading Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, and Seth Godin. Turns out the same people Chase Jarvis*, a Seattle-based photographer, has been reading. Jarvis is a piece of the puzzle of bridging the gap between the old traditional creative guard and a new way of doing things that is well on its way. This new thing, this wave of change, Jarvis calls “social art.”

What is social art? Jarvis says, “I can’t say exactly what it is, but I can tell you that it’s creating content and context. It’s interdisciplinary, it’s participatory, it’s interactive, and it’s symbiotic. Everybody can win. Most importantly I think social art is incomplete if there’s not another person on the end of the pipe in some way, shape or form participating in that art with you. “ (Have you ever written a screenplay that didn’t get produced? Yeah, me too. That’s a good example of an incomplete art.)

Social art could be a communal dinner where someone is sharing their art of cooking, while another is sharing a song, and others are showing photographs, paintings, and films. What a wonderful world, right?

And despite all of the negativity associated with the Internet there is an amazing amount of sharing of creative content. Dare I say communities connecting via Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and the like. Today people are connecting and freely sharing information with the same zeal that the old tradional guard tried to hide.

Last week Jarvis spoke in New York City at the Photo Plus Expo and said, “I’m asking you to put yourself at the center of a new art, a social art where you’re creating something and sharing it with those around you…Take more picture, be fearless, put yourself out there, shoot more films, build tools—the iPhone app is a great tool, and educate. At the end of the day what I’m talking about is the democratization of creativity.”

It’s an exciting time to be in the creative arts. I have a first hand view of young creative people (some with no traditional arts education) who are carving out niches taking pictures, producing music videos, making films, painting, creating animation, and designing graphics and websites. And they’re earning a living not even aware of the fading traditional way of doing things.

“This is the most exciting time in the history of the world to be a photographer…It’s the first time in the history of the world that content creators are also distributors. Anybody in this room, if you took a picture of me in the hallway you have— within five minutes—you can have a blog, a Facebook account, Twitter and be sharing your work. The content creators are the content distributors. And the best thing about this is we don’t have to ask anybody’s permission.

Until now everything previous to this you had to have permission if you wanted to show your work on any sort of scale. Sure you could show your work to your friends, you could walk around New York with a portfolio, walk into five ad agencies in a day, sure—that’s that scale. You needed permission from the gallerist, you needed permission from the magazine editor, the photo editor, you needed to get tapped, selected by the ad agency to be able to show your work on any sort of scale. Those days are over. Any person in here can share what they create, with scale, right now.”
Chase Jarvis
PDN PhotoPlusNewYork

This may not be the most exciting time in the history of the world to be a traditional screenwriter. But to be a screenwriter with a “social art” mindset it’s an incredible time. Imagine writing a script, doing an online reading, gathering a following, rasing money through a Kickstarter campaign, making your film, generating interest via your blog,  and distributing it via DVD sales on your website and iTunes rentals and sales. That is not the future, these are tools that are at your disposal right now.

Over the weekend we’ll look at how writer/director/actor Edward Burns is a great model for independent filmmakers. For his latest film,  Nice Guy Johnny, Edwards is both the creator and the distributor.

*Jarvis has a blog and you can follow him on Twitter @chasejarvis.

Scott W. Smith

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“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
 
                                                          Henry David Thoreau

“I lost passion. I felt a little unfulfilled and empty.”
                                                           Jim Brandenburg

                                                           Photographer & cameraman
                                                           (Reflecting on his 90-day journey)                       

We normally associate renewal with springtime but I think fall is a wonderful time to undergo creative renewal and would like to talk to you about a great story of an artist who used the 90 days of fall to undergo a creative transformation.

Today marks the first day of fall. Before I moved to Iowa a few years ago fall had little impact on my life. That third week of September was usually just another summer day in Florida and California. But here in the Midwest the change is amazing to watch. Just this week I was riding my bike and couldn’t help but notice the fallen leaves on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail.  Soon there will be an explosion of color in the trees and coolness in the air.

Several hundred miles north in Ely, Minnesota near the Canadian border I’m sure fall is well on the way. That is where photographer Jim Brandenburg calls home. Several years ago when Brandenburg was on contract with National Geographic he found himself in a place that many dream of. Traveling the world in search of great images that people would admire and appreciate.

Yet the schedule was grueling as he traveled away from his family 50 to 70% of the year. After 20 years he decided that he need a time of creative renewal. I have read that National Geographic photo assignments average 550 rolls of film and that a 1,000 is not unheard of.  (A thousand rolls of 36-exposure film is 36,000 shots.)

It’s been said that every assignment for National Geographic is like getting up to bat expecting to hit a grand slam home run. 

Brandenburg said of the schedule “the day is never done. You start early and don’t stop until you are exhausted or you are absolutely sure you got that photograph. And I had been through that cycle for 20 years and I was getting weary.”

So he began to look for way to find creative renewal knowing that he’d either find a breakthrough or do something different with his life. 

So Brandenburg’s idea for creative renewal was to take the fall of 1994 and only shoot one shot a day. If he stayed the course he would shoot less than three rolls of film. He explains it as sort of a Zen experiment in ascetic discipline. To search everyday for the one photograph that needed to be taken.

Brandenburg said, “I was looking for something elusive, an idea or a process, or a spiritual direction of some kind.”

“If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things. This is the best season of your life.”
                                                                    Wu-Men                  

It’s reminiscent of the stories of photographer Ansel Adams who in the 1930s would take his 8X10 camera deep into Yosemite. Because he was limited on how much film he could take he would often camp out and just watch the sun one day as preparation for shooting the next day. There is a reason we still admire Adams work today.

And there is a reason I’m bringing up Brandenburg. His special project that was meant for just himself eventually became a National Geographic spread that showed every single shot making it the largest single photo essay in National Geographic history. 

(Side note: You can view all of Brandenburg photo from his journey on his website www.jimbrandenburg.com. Because of copyright issues I did not use a photo of his at the top of this post. But that photo was inspired by Brandenburg as I took my camera on an early morning bike ride yesterday after reviewing Brandenburg’s photos for this blog. Creative renewal is contagious.)

Brandenburg’s photo eventually became his best selling book and a DVD followed in which Brandenburg recounts the creative process and the struggles he had along the way. Chased by the Light; A Photographic Journey with Jim Brandenburg is a wonderful documentary full of insights into the creative process. Rarely do you find such an elegant exposition of the creative process and I think there is something here that all writers and artists can gleam from.

 

On the DVD Brandenburg talks about some of the experiences of his self-assigned experiment that was never intended to be seen by others. Some times he would set out before dark and walk many miles. At day 23 he thought about abandoning the project because he thought he had failed. But he remembered the old saying, “There are no rewards without risks.”

Day after day he waited for the right moment to that that one picture of an eagle, wolves, deer, ravens, loons, trees or whatever else captured his imagination. 

His last photograph was December 31, 1994 at 1:40 AM. The photos then sat in a drawer for two years until National Geographic Senior Editor John Echave saw them and then published them in November 1997 as a 90 photo feature. 

Brandenburg continues to shoot. He has also taken steps to protect the land “that nurtured and renewed” his creative spirit  Brandenburg and his wife Judy have set aside with The Trust for Public Land 640 arces of Ravenwood forest to be preserved in perpetuity. 

The Brandenburg’s are also involved with preserving the tallgrass prairies of Jim’s youth at Touch the Sky Prairie Preserve in Rock Country, Minnesota.

If you’re ever in the Lavern or Ely, Minnesota be sure to check out the Brandenburg Gallery or see more of his work online at www.jimbrandenburg.com.

There are other ways to seek creative renewal. Tom Peters says that some times you need to move another country or climate to rejuvenate yourself. No one said creative renewal would be easy or practical. (Heck, how do you think I ended up living in Iowa?) Let me tell you another story of renewal.  

When I was in film school back in Los Angeles in the 80s I sometimes assisted fashion photographer Art Pasquali.  Art not only had the coolest last name but lived in his studio in downtown LA with two doberman pinschers and flew gliders in his downtime from shooting beautiful people. 

After shooting for 20 years Pasquali bought a sailboat and sailed away from LA-LA land, down to Mexico, through the Panama Canal and eventually found his way to the Cayman Islands where he stopped for a Corona and has called it home ever since.  

Brandenburg and Pasquali’s stories are exceptional which is why I bring them up. Deep down change and renewal is going to take more than turning off the TV for a week. If you’re a writer it may be taking up photography or writing in a genre or style that you’ve never tried. If you’ve never written a screenplay maybe that’s what you do in the next 90 days. (All you have to do is average a page a day.) 

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings didn’t hit her stride as a writer (or publish a novel) until she moved to rural Florida which would provide her inspiration for her novel The Yearling for which she won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into a movie staring Gregory Peck. Martin Ritt directed the excellent Cross Creek that tells the unusual life story of Rawlings.

Perhaps you just need to take a small step in your creative renewal. Here is Julia Cameron’s suggestion in her book The Artist’s Way:

“Spending time in solitude with your artist child is essential to self-nurturing. A long country walk, a solitary expedition to the beach for a sunset or a sunrise, a sortie out to a strange church to hear gospel music, to an ethnic neighborhood to taste foreign sights and sounds–your artist might enjoy any of these. Or your artist might like to go bowling.”

I hope these stories and ideas provide some inspiration for you as fall starts. When is the best time to start your creative renewal? I’ll defer to Karen Lamb; “A year from now you may wish you had started today.”

 

Photo & Text Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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“Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.”
                                                                           Clay P. Bedford 

“There’s really no way around it. Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau somewhat higher in most cases than that which preceded it.”
                                                                            George Leonard
                                                                            Mastery 

 

Can you imagine being a student in Hong Kong and taking a class where you watch a live video feed online from the United States? Last year I produced a video for a client that is using that technology and I was blown away. Think of the money saved by the fellow in Hong Kong who is willing to wake up at 3AM instead of uprooting his life to attend college here in the states. 

Over a decade ago as the Internet began to make serious inroads into the mainstream some proclaimed that eventually there would be little need for college as we traditionally know it. If that day is coming it’s still a long way off. But online education is exploding and I want to tell you about one company that I think is the single best site for creatives trying to keep up with the technology.

When I moved to Iowa back in ’03 it became clear that the overall media industry was changing. What wasn’t clear was how creative professionals would adjust to the changes. In film school we were told that you didn’t want to be a “jack-of-all trades and a master-of-none.”

But today If you go to Monster or Mandy you might see a job like this: “We’re looking for a producer/director/writer/cameraman/editor who knows AVID/FCP Suite/After Effects/Photoshop/Illustrator/Pro Tools/web compression/music composition, and a basic understanding of JAVA and open heart surgery are helpful. MBA preferred. Must be able to bench press 376 pounds. I exaggerate–slightly.

Who does all of this you ask. Every other kid coming out of college, that’s who. The mindset now is you are expected to be a master-of-all trades. While not being masters I have been amazed at the versatility of some of the young people in or just out of college that I’ve worked with. (Heck, an eighth grader came by last year to show me a documentary he did on Buddy Holly.) So where does that leave all of us who have been out of college a while (or never even went to college)? 

Which brings me to reason I have become an evangelist for Lynda.com

Tom Peters says that if you want to rejuvenate yourself move to another climate or culture than you are used to–just to shake your life up a bit. Moving to Iowa from Florida fit both of those parameters for me. And one thing I found here was because the production budgets weren’t as high as the big cities that creative people here had to wear many hats.

I realized to survive and compete I had to put on a few more hats. That’s what led me to Lynda.com. First I looked a one-day workshop in Chicago and all the expenses related to it and figured it would cost me around $500. And how much would I retain in that one-day blast? That led me to a company where I bought 36 hours of Final Cut Pro DVD instructions for around $350. Saved a little money from the one day seminar and got a lot more instruction plus I could learn at my own pace. What could be better?

Then I found out about Lynda.com’s online tutorials. Very user friendly and packed with more than 29,000 video tutorials of online training in 445 courses. You can watch thousands of segments free but if you dive into a subscription (which I recommend) it’s only $25. a month or $250 a year. (If you’d like download the exercise files to work on it’s $375. a year.)  

This is an unpaid and unsolicited endorsement of a website that can change your life. I have benefited from other training places (Creative Cow, Ripple Training, LAFCPUG, DMTS DVX User) and enjoy a trip to the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport like anyone else (I once ate a table with legendary photographers Arnold Newman and Mary Ellen Mark), but I find Lynda.com the best place to learn how to use creative software. Which is why I return to it again and again.

They kind of redefine learning for creative people. The instructions are broken down into small chucks usually between 2 and 10 minutes so you don’t feel like you have to spend an hour or two straight on a tutorial. 

I’ve done lynda.com tutorials in airports and hotels, late at night and early in the morning–it’s simply a solid and convenient way to learn. If have trouble grasping some of the technology as I do you just play the segment again. 

Sometimes it will help you out of a jam. Last year I had a friend working on a DVD for a national client and he called me at night asking where that place was that did online tutorials that I was always talking about. He found what he was looking for at Lynda.com.

Once 14 year olds realize they can get this training online they can begin to redeem time spent playing video games. They won’t have time for college because they’ll already be working pros who, at least in technical knowledge, surpass most college professors with a Ph.D.

Lynda.com is also perfect for aging boomers and retirees who feel like they’ve missed the technological boat but still have the urge to create. In fact, if you’re in that category you have to check out Lynda.com’s creative inspiration segments with photographer 70-something Douglas Kirkland. (Yes, I am aware that people still create with pen and paper, typewriters, and paint–but work with me here.)

Douglas photographed Marilyn Monroe when he was 25 and went on to shoot a who’s who list of celebrities including Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola and Orson Wells. He’s in his early seventies now and still working and reinventing himself. He was in his 50’s before he embraced digital photography thanks in part to Lynda Weinman herself. In an interview he spoke about people his age saying they were glad they were retiring before they had to learn all this digital stuff. But Douglas didn’t understand that mentality and embraced the new world and all that it offered him creatively. After all Douglas says, “You can’t live on what you did yesterday.”

I remember reading an Ansel Adams quote from later in his life where he said that the one regret that he had was that he wasn’t going to be around to see the digital changes.

If you believe in “the rise of the creative class” and that there is a “war for talent” you will embrace the changes around you. Have a passion for what you do and learn the tools that will free you to create more boldly.

I tell my editor friends to start shooting (even if it’s just their kids), I tell my cameramen friends to start editing (even if it’s just their demo reel), and I’m telling you (Mr. or Mrs. Screenwriter) that if you pick up a camera and start editing you can begin to make steps to seeing whole new possibilites for your writing.

You won’t be multi-talented Robert Rodrigez out of the gate (or perhaps ever) but remember the famous John Wooden quote, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere you from doing what you can do.” Think in terms small steps. Lynda.com can help you with many of those steps.

Will it replace college? I don’t think so. We need football teams to root for, a place where students can escape their parents who pay tens of thousands of dollars so they can party, and places where successful alumni can donate money to have buildings named after them. So, no, Lynda.com will not replace college–but it’s well on its way to replace how we learn.

You don’t have to move to Iowa to shake your life up. Just try Lynda.com for a month.

P.S. Just to prove my point here is the word by word ad for a group in St. Louis that is looking for a “writer with shooting and editing skills:” 

The duties for this position include (but are not limited to):

* Script writing
* Producing
* Directing
* Editing (rough-cutting on long form projects and complete editing on shorter videos)
* Some Graphics work
* Production work – running camera, recording audio
* Building and organizing sets
* Anything else required that goes into creating high quality productions from start to finish.

You do not need to know how to do everything, but you must have some sort of background in film or video and the ability to learn new skills extremely quickly. If you already think of yourself as a Swiss army knife, you may be the right person for this job.
 

Copyright ©2008 Scott W. Smith

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“Everybody lives by selling something.”      Robert Louis Stevenson

“Tell stories! Great Speechifying = Great Storytelling. Period.”    Tom Peters

Stephanie Palmer’s Q&A on her book “Good in a Room” generated the second highest views to this site. (Right behind “The Juno-Iowa Connection” after Diablo Cody won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.) So I thought it would be worth exploring a little more in detail.

According to Stephanie (a former MGM executive):  “Good in a room” is a Hollywood term referring to creative people who excel pitching at high-stakes meeting. 

 

Outside of Hollywood being “good in a room” may be pitching an investor in your project. In advertising circles around the world it may be trying to get a client excited about your creative ideas.

Let’s not kid ourselves, public speaking is part of being good in a room. The thing that many people list as their #1 fear. If you’re a writer who pumps out great thoughts and people send you a check without you having to get out of your bathrobe then you can probably afford to skip learning to be a public speaker.

For everyone else it’s a great skill to learn. But can one to learn to be a good speaker? Some of the answers found in the post “Can Writing Be Taught?” apply here.

First speaking is like writing, the more you do it the better you will become. A friend who is a fitness instructor told me years ago that the key to staying is shape is, “It has to be a lifestyle.” The results aren’t pretty when we try to jog a mile after a year or two layoff. But how can you practice public speaking?

One of the best places to go to learn and practice public speaking is joining Toastmasters International. I moved to L.A. when I was 21 and the first thing I did was follow everyone’s advice and buy a Thomas Bros Road guide for LA and Orange counties. (I used to drive 30,000 miles a year in those days and those spiral bound detailed map books were gold. I imagine these days in an GPS/Mapquest age those books are less in demand.)

But the first thing I wish someone would have told me to do was to join Toastmasters. It took years of prompting in Tom Peters books before I finally visited a club Toastmasters meeting and then (after a couple of years on the sideline) to join. I now have been a member of a Toastmaster group for two years and it has been a wonderful experience and I recently received my Competent Communicator certificate for completing ten 5-10 minute talks.

Here’s what Peters’ writes in his book Brand you 50 (50 Ways to Transform Yourself):
Join Toastmasters. You are your own P.R. “Agency.” 

Building a local reputation is part and parcel of building Brand You. That means using any opportunity to…Tell Your Story.

 

Tame your (v-e-r-y natural!) fear of public speaking. There are doubtless lots of strategies for this. I am an unabashed Toastmaster fan. Toastmasters is a bit too structured for me, but that’s the smallest annoyance. It is the premier self-help organization  that has led hundreds of thousands to master Self-Presentation.

Toastmasters is a safe place to begin improving your speaking skills and with dues under $30. a year it’s one great investment. I am amazed to watch how people improve in just a couple of weeks. There are Toastmaster groups around the world…even in Iowa. There are probably several groups in your area that meet at all different times to fit into your schedule.

(Just learned from writer Lisa Klink’s blog that there is a Toastmaster flyer on display up at the WGA offices in Los Angeles. Could be an excellent networking opportunity for those in L.A.)

But Stephanie points out that being good in a room is more than just being a good speaker and pitching your ideas. It’s about building rapport. She says that in her experience as a studio executive the buyers are asking themselves if they want to spend a couple of years of their life working with you on a project.

“The Ultimate goal of ANY pitch is to establish an ongoing relationship with the person you are pitching…when I hear a two-minute pitch, I’m also checking out if this is the kind of person I’d like to do business with.”
Shelia Hanahan Taylor, Practical Pictures

Obviously your story must be solid but it helps if you’re likable as well. Stephanie lists three secrets for building rapport:

Secret 1: Allow yourself to really care about the other person and to be curious about who he or she is. Empathic interest creates trust.

Secret 2: Common ground cannot be faked or fudged. Rapport requires honesty.

Secret 3: The warmth that signifies true rapport is not something you can force. 

She unpacks these more in detail in her book so make sure you pick up a copy “Good in Room” and join Toastmasters as well. And embrace the fact that you are a salesperson. If you want to see a novice screenwriter be brilliant in a room find a DVD of the first season of Project Greenlight and watch how first time director Pete Jones does a master sales job on Ben Afflack, Matt Damon and Chris Moore as he pitched his story Stolen Summer which they did produce.

Where did Pete learn to be a salesman? He sold insurance in Chicago. (Always pushing for that Midwest angle, aren’t I?)

Speaking of Midwest angles —  in the latest Script Magazine (Vol. 14/Number 2) there is a photo of Kevin Costner from Field of Dreams.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“IS THIS HEAVEN?”

 

 

(That movie was filmed about an hour away from where I’m typing this blog and you can tour the Field of Dreams Movie Site from April through December.) Anyway, the photo of Costner in a baseball pitcher’s windup is in an article by Lee Zahavi-Jessup titled Perfect Pitch. It’s a solid article and a good read.

Zahavi-Jessup writes, “With a strong pitch, the writer is allowed an opportunity to display the brilliance, efficiency and creative prevalent in his 120-page screenplay in a focused and concise fashion.”  That takes practice.

I’ve also noticed online pitches starting to pop up and I don’t think that’s a trend that will fade away. I believe it will open the door for more writers outside LA to be able to pitch their stories. If all this seems too much to grasp remember the Milton Glazer quote, “Art is work.”

 

“A lot of the time it’s essential that you have some P.T. Barnum in your personality. That is, you have to know how to sell.

                                                        Andrew Marlow (screenwriter, Air Force One)

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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