Holding On to An Idea

We all forget things often and risk losing good ideas. As soon as a brilliant idea comes to you, there are two things you can do to preserve it. First, you can record it – in writing, picture, drawing or video – and put it in a place where you will never lose it. The alternative, I’m afraid, is to let the idea linger in mental space and see if it can stand the test of time. The best ideas are not easily forgotten and won’t leave you alone. If you truly want to test the relative strength your idea, see whether you forget it after a while. If you fail to write it down and never forget it, chances are pretty good that your idea counts for something and isn’t going to run away from you.

Don’t Hate the Copy Cat

I’ve struggled over the years with artists who steal from other artists and purport to call their work original. I will never endorse people who steal ideas from other people and turn a profit. The age of piracy and duplication concerns me.

As the original author of a piece of work, you feel robbed. And you should. But that’s the glass half empty view. If people are copying you, that means you’re worth copying. Take pride in that. Many of my wisest mentors always carried a delicate smile when they declared piracy of their IP because it affirmed that people care. If your work is being stolen, find a way to take advantage of that. Other people are marketing your work for you. That’s a good thing. Use it.

The Stakes of Live Performance

In a world showered with readily accessible recorded content, the cost and inconvenience of a live show leave many audiences at home. We often forget that live shows open a far greater threshold for surprise and magnetic energy than the recorded medium. Why? Because something might go wrong. The risk of failure is much greater on stage than in a recording. You cannot edit a live performance. If something breaks, thousands of people will be there to see it. As a live audience participant, you share in an exclusive opportunity to witness this single autonomous performance – never to be experienced the same way again. The pride in exclusivity, tension behind the stakes at hand, and energy through sharing it all with others make live performance more engaging, valuable, and expensive. More often than not, it’s worth it. And it may be the only thing that can keep the arts lucrative. But that’s another story.

Is New Media For You? [Film Friday]

This is my fifth and final post in my series, “Understanding New Media.”

Last week, I resolved a “New Media” definition that I am happy with: “content financed, produced for, and released exclusively on active viewership platforms that autonomously drive traffic or revenue online.” The key here is the distinction between passive and active viewership.

It is important to contemplate the best way to tell your story. Ask yourself: how long should the story be? How many people should watch it together? How involved should your audience be? As I have said before, we need to knock down the silos of Hollywood. They have no worldly business dictating our storytelling needs anymore. We should choose the format that best suits our characters.

Many people are distracted by the pizzazz of the Internet. Do not get carried away. Before you produce video for the web, ask yourself why. Is your story better told at an audience’s fingertips? Think hard about what role your story can play on the web. Does it belong there? Or does it really belong on a bigger screen?

New Media: Content Autonomy? [Film Friday]

This is the second post in my series, “Understanding New Media.”

Last week, I differentiated between “Casual Video” and “New Media.” We left off with the assumption that any content financed, produced for, and released exclusively on the web that only ever lives on the web could be dubbed “New Media.” But there are two big curve balls that sidetrack this definition: marketing content and spin-offs.

Releasing promotional content on the web is considerably cheaper nowadays than launching a campaign on television or billboards nationwide. Therefore, more and more companies are generating content tailored specifically for the web to promote their products. Commercials, movie trailers, and sponsored skits litter YouTube and the Internet beyond. These pieces are “financed, produced for, and released exclusively on the web.” So are they “New Media?” Or just advertisements released on the web? If you chose the ladder, you sit in the popular majority. Most would still call this “advertising.”

So, then, one would be inclined to append “narrative content” to my definition above. But we cannot be that myopic. There is plenty of non-narrative content online financed and produced for the web that drives considerable revenue. And some promotional skits or spots otherwise considered “marketing” are themselves “narrative,” so it would be far too general to affix a “New Media” definition with the word “narrative.”

What about spinoffs? Recently, several television shows and feature films have produced content for the web to build community, expand the scope of programming, and promote the source content. Ghost Whisperer is famous for this. Do these episodes constitute “New Media” or do they serve a greater marketing purpose? Very wide gray area. Expanding the canon of a larger body of work has been in practice for ages. I suppose it depends on, again, the producer’s original intent: was the content produced primarily to drive traffic to another program? Or was the content produced to expand the story or characters in a structure better-suited for the web?

I suppose one clear distinction between marketing or spin-offs and “New Media” is “autonomy” – whether or not the content online acts on its own, or serves a bigger product. The web series we produce are original intellectual property and do not play a role outside the web browser sandbox. They serve their own needs independently and do not require or serve content on other platforms. A movie trailer or blooper reel may air online, but they serve a bigger purpose beyond the Internet. Same could apply to a spin-off. What greater purpose does your content serve?

As it stands, our “New Media” definition goes a little something like this: “content financed, produced for, and released exclusively on the web that serves itself and no other.”

Next week, we’ll explore an industry-seeded counterpoint to content autonomy: what happens when a marketing promo or referential spin-off generates its own revenue online?

Understanding New Media [Film Friday]

Few people inside or outside the movie business can really explain the “New Media” trend. The term “web series” has developed an underestimated connotation, suggesting handicam YouTube videos, goofball kids, and poor craft. While a large share of the 3 billion videos uploaded daily are casual video, the professional web video industry has exploded. Many companies (including the one I work for) are spending millions and millions of dollars to produce for the Internet, embracing gear and talent normally resident to major motion pictures. The web is the new frontier and everyone is boarding the train.

Producing video for the web does not necessarily make it “New Media.” If that were true, all movie trailers, skits, and press material released online would qualify. But we often separate this type of material into “marketing” or “publicity.” So where do you draw the line? Having worked in “New Media” for over a year now, I feel safe taking a crack at it.

I am going to spend the next several Fridays exploring this topic. I will take cases I have heard and wrestle with them. With any luck, we will come up with a suitable definition for “New Media” in a few weeks.

Tune in next week for a debate about “producer’s intent.”

Table of Contents for this series:

5 Reasons to Leave Your Industry Hub and Move Elsewhere

Westward Expansion

Every industry has a central hub. New York for finance and marketing, Silicon Valley for tech, Hollywood for entertainment, etc. These “capitals” boast concentrated resources invaluable to companies on every level. While centralized talent and cash may be great for growing companies, it is not always beneficial for employees or startups. Competition can be fierce, even deadly. And you may be compromising your ideal quality of life by living there.

Friends know I am not a big proponent of the Hollywood community or life in Los Angeles. In fact, I would be happy to see Los Angeles crash and burn (but that’s a post for another day). Nevertheless, I appreciate the things I’ve learned, connections I’ve made and resources I have access to here. But while I support studying in the belly of the beast (I did so through USC Film School and continued employment in Hollywood), I think it may be to your advantage to take that knowledge elsewhere.

Below are five reasons why you should consider moving away and doing your own thing in another city:

  1. Less Competition. Fewer companies competing for business. Fewer qualifiers poaching jobs. Depending on the scope of your business or skill set, it will be far less difficult and expensive to stake a claim with your great idea or robust resume. There may be a smaller talent pool to recruit from and fewer jobs to step into, but you have a greater chance of standing out.
  1. Easier Press Attention. In fresh locales with less competition, you are the cool kid on the block. Almost everything you do can be newsworthy. It is exponentially easier to promote yourself and rise above the noise outside your industry hub. Do you think the Los Angeles Times gives a damn about film shoots anymore?
  1. Quality of Living. If you are liberated to live anywhere, live where you want to. The cost of living could be cheaper, the pursuit of recreation easier, the commute shorter, the schools better, the communities safer and the environment cleaner. Way waste your life accepting surroundings or a lifestyle that fails to enrich your soul?
  1. The Local Hook. You can sell your support for the community as well or better than you can sell your products or skills themselves. Every city is packed with patriots who will gladly help you out if you promote the local angle of your ambition. You may even be able to secure local investment from financiers who simply adore their home town, even if you are situated in a sector outside their expertise. And to differentiate yourself in the national and international market, you can embrace local themes and regional advantages through your marketing, sales and products (Denver is healthy, Detroit is rebooting, Hawaii is beautiful, etc.).
  1. Room for Growth. Industry hubs are wrought with history, tradition, bureaucracy and rules. Moving elsewhere makes it possible to start anew, break rules and bend the future as you see fit. Becoming a local industry expert or thought leader is much easier with less competition and accessible press. By earning that respect, you are better situated to shape the direction of the community at large and make a name for yourself. There is less ladder climbing and more real work being done.

Mark Suster wrote an insightful post this week about building tech communities outside Silicon Valley. For anyone interested in skipping town, I encourage you to read it (even if you are not in the tech industry).