Creator Buddy System

Before you earn an audience, users, paying customers, investors, shareholders or employees holding you accountable to your work, you often find yourself alone and unmotivated. Unless you popped into this world as a self-starting anomaly, waking up and getting to work on something that doesn’t exist yet and that no one else cares about can feel like forcing children to eat broccoli. It helps to have business or creative partners on the project with equal or greater investment in the outcome – and sometimes that’s all you need. But even partnerships lose steam and it helps to have someone else on the outside to push you.

You may need a creator buddy: someone you never want to disappoint and who also has his or her own personal projects in infancy. Someone outside your field with whom you can learn from each other. Between the two of you, schedule regular check-ins to set goals and debrief accomplishments or failures on a regular basis. Weekly or bi-weekly works best, nothing too involved. Encourage each other to set goals you both can realistically achieve in that time and hold each other accountable. Send text messages to touch base in between. Whatever helps to keep you both on the tracks and moving forward. Before long, you’ll find yourself accomplishing more – if only in fear of disappointing your buddy if you fail.

Sounds too simple, but the work you need to do today is difficult enough. Avoid overcomplicating it with crazy motivational regimens. Find a buddy that can pull you out of isolation and give you the push that you need. He or she will appreciate it as well.

Advice for a High School Filmmaker

An eighth-grader approached me for advice on making movies and getting started at his age. Here’s what I shared with him:

The first and most important thing to do is get started. Pick up a camera, any camera, and practice. An iPhone is way better than the first camera I started with, so use whatever you can and never be ashamed. It’s about storytelling more than the lights or gear you use, so focus on telling great stories. Pick editing software you are comfortable with and learn (I started with Adobe Premiere and use it to this day). There are many helpful tutorials online. The more movies you edit, the better you will understand the software.

Find friends you like hanging out with, can rely on and who like making movies. Beyond the core group with whom I always made movies, filmmaking helped me become friends with hot girls, nerds who knew how to animate 3D models, shady stoner kids who owned fake realistic looking weapons that looked great on camera, class clowns, incredible artists and everyone in between. It was amazing who I was able to connect with by just asking, “Hey, do you want to be in my movie?” It helped high school be a great experience for me.

Start simple with your first movie, then make it more complicated as you go. My first film ever was 1 minute long in my backyard. By the time I graduated high school, I was making 30 minute films with action and visual effects. You’re capable of this and so much more, especially with the tools available these days. But again, start small. It’s incredibly motivating to see your finished work – and then want to do better the next time.

It also helped a lot to find teachers who supported my interest. I made sure to get into every media, theater or film class I could and made friends with those teachers. Sometimes, I got away with making movies for classes instead of writing papers – it can never hurt to ask! To this day, I still hang out with some of my teachers who supported me ten years ago. It may not be cool in high school to be a “teacher’s pet,” but you’ll be laughing at your peers later when you get farther in the world than they did. For example, I got a job right out of college working for one of my professors who enjoyed having me in class. You never know!

Most importantly, have fun with it. You will make a ton of mistakes and learn a lot. None of your films in high school will go to film festivals (no offense, but it’s true), so don’t stress about any of it. Keep your head on your shoulders, keep an open mind. The more fun you have, the more you will learn and the better your movies will be.

Oh, and needless to say, watch a lot of movies. Television is cool these days, too. I spent an entire summer watching all the best picture academy award winners and many more. I wish I had Netflix back then – take advantage of it! I also took notes on what I liked or didn’t like about each movie, which helped inform choices I made when I made movies.

Long story short, go out today and make a movie! Good luck.

Day 59: Embarking on Tour 2

Spent the last 10 days in Abu Dhabi editing our first three episodes and planning our second tour of four cities: Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok and Melbourne. We leave tonight for South Korea. It will be another whirlwind tour and we’re slightly less prepared than the first tour due to less prep time and more distractions in post, but I have no doubt it will be a blast. I love Japan and Australia. I expect to love Thailand and Korea as well.

As a side note, Google has been a great assistant to me on this trip. In fact, Google’s my only friend on this trip offering me logistical travel support. Google Now is an app that predicts what useful information you might want on hand and prepares it for you. For example, it plucked our flight reservation out of my email inbox and returned our flight status without me prompting a thing. So helpful!

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Wish us safe travels and luck shooting! I’ll try to stay in touch.

Day 42: All Business

Dear friends – I am sorry I have failed to blog so far. Finally found a minute on our Aer Lingus flight to Dublin (no private televisions, otherwise I’d likely be watching a movie and relaxing my brain instead). Since day one, my journey has been 100% nonstop whirlwind business. I have not had a weekend, day or single hour free from taskmastering this television series. We are wildly understaffed, under-budgeted and under-scheduled. When people regard my trip with envy, I shrug because this has been all grind and no play – perhaps the most difficult job I have ever had. I have not been able to engage in the places traveled because I spend nearly 60% of my waking hours buried in a device. All things considered, I have been to some pretty incredible locations. I fancy it a sampler platter of countries and have every intention of visiting many of them again.

After a stressful prep period in Dubai (which I shall revisit in a later post), we started filming in Singapore. Definitely an awkward first date for the crew, network and show but I anticipate a strong first episode. You can see a video recap of our trip below. Singapore was incredibly friendly to startups and foreigners. Many people we met in the city were not native and moved there for a change of pace. Everything was pretty clean and tidy, not much stress or chaos as far as cities go. We were there during Chinese New Year which meant that many businesses were closed and costs for everything else were much higher. If you ever get a chance to eat stingray, please do – absolutely delicious. Special thanks to Ken, our local production manager and guide, for taking care of us so well.

From Singapore, we ventured to Istanbul. Dear lord, amazing city. So much history, such ripe culture. Video below as well. I’ve never been to a place that’s so ancient. My inner architecture nerd couldn’t contain itself. We spent almost all of our time on the European side of the city in a district known for nightlife and trendy youth. We met some very talented people and shared several evenings with them. There’s a lot of incredible opportunity in Istanbul, but it’s clear that history and tradition stand in the way of an otherwise progressive mentality sometimes. Many of the entrepreneurs we met were looking elsewhere to start businesses. We ate a lot of street food and drank the absolute best Turkish coffee. Smoke everywhere – everyone smokes and every restaurant or bar we went to was filled with it. Until ten years ago, most of the city was still heated by coal, so you can imagine how polluted it might still be. With ancient urban planning, traffic was untenable the entire time. Our local production fixer, Berk, was an outstanding gentleman and an absolute blast to hang out with. We were very well taken care of in Istanbul and I look forward to returning.

Our next episode to film would have been Stockholm, but drama ensued – our shows hosts, Emiratis from Dubai, secured the wrong visas and were not allowed to board our flight. We discovered this when the rest of the crew landed in Sweden. A damn shame we couldn’t film the episode because Stockholm is a remarkable city. Packed with gorgeous people, flawless urban planning, and a selection of the world’s best cuisine, whiskey and beer. Outrageously expensive, so it’s probably good for our budget that we couldn’t stay the whole time scheduled. Partly from the smoke of Istanbul and partly from stress, I got wildly ill and spent half our stay in my hotel room. Blessing in disguise that we didn’t film. The rest of our time there was spent in uber trendy coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Every detail of Stockholm is painstakingly designed. Interior decor junkies would cry everywhere they go – even fast food joints were ornamental and carried world class brews. I’ll be damned if I don’t spend a lot more time in Stockholm before I die.

We reached Dublin yesterday two days early to regroup. We will film the Ireland episode this week and plan ahead for our future tours of travel. We will head back to Dubai and Abu Dhabi after we wrap Dublin March 7 to edit and prep our second tour of four countries in Asia. With the Stockholm error, we will have to reschedule the rest of our show – and milk an extra country out of the deal to replace Sweden (which I personally cannot complain about). We’re reevaluating difficult countries to enter and film like India and Brazil. If all goes well, we may get the chance to visit countries on all 6 continents which would be wild.

I will do my best to keep you posted along the way. The closer we get to the end, the less planning I will have to do and hopefully be able to win some minutes back to write you. No promises of course.  But please know that I love you.

My Ten Favorite Films of 2012

It’s that time of year again. Without further adieu, my top ten list for 2012:

1. Lincoln

2. Argo

3. Killing Them Softly

4. Moonrise Kingdom

5. Skyfall

6. Zero Dark Thirty

7. Les Misérables

8. Samsara

9. Looper

10. Ruby Sparks

Five Honorable Mentions:

Five Worst Movies:

Here are the 36 movies I’ve seen to date with 2012 release dates:

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.

30 “Breaking Bad” Soundtrack Selects

Perhaps the most stunning slice of entertainment to grace any screen in the last five years, Breaking Bad continues to grip, shock and awe. While lost in the drama at the edge of your seat, you seldom notice a major element that contributes to this show’s brilliance: the soundtrack. Blessed by the talents of ZZ Top, Norah Jones, Beastie Boys, Nancy Sinatra and many, many more, the tracks the music supervisors were able to lock for the show are themselves an impressive feat and well worth a listen on their own. To celebrate the premiere of the fifth and final season of the show this upcoming Sunday, I listened to every song used in every episode to date (156 in total) and selected my top 30 for your listening pleasure (iTunes and Amazon links below). In order of my play counts:

  1. BlackDanger Mouse & Daniele Luppi (feat. Norah Jones) [S4, Ep13] Amazon
  2. Horse With No NameAmerica [S3, Ep2] Amazon
  3. Waiting Around To DieThe Be Good Tanyas [S2, Ep3] Amazon
  4. GoodbyeApparat (feat. Soap & Skin) [S4, Ep13] Amazon
  5. Catch Yer Own TrainThe Silver Seas [S1, Ep6] Amazon
  6. If I Had a HeartFever Ray [S4, Ep3] Amazon
  7. The HoleGlen Phillips [S1, Ep2] Amazon n/a
  8. TruthAlexander Ebert [S4, Ep1] Amazon
  9. We Are Born When We DieApollo Sunshine [S4, Ep12] Amazon n/a
  10. TushZZ Top [S3, Ep3] Amazon
  11. WindyThe Association [S3, Ep12] Amazon
  12. Out Of Time ManMick Harvey [S1, Ep1] Amazon
  13. Magic ArrowTimber Timbre [S3, Ep2] Amazon
  14. Who’s Gonna Save My SoulGnarls Barkley [S1, Ep7] Amazon
  15. Into the NightBenny Mardones [S2, Ep4] Amazon
  16. DLZTV On The Radio [S2, Ep10] Amazon
  17. Boots Of Chinese PlasticThe Pretenders [S4, Ep7] Amazon
  18. Rocket ScientistTeddybears (feat. Eve) [S3, Ep5] Amazon
  19. Good Morning Freedom Blue Mink [S2, Ep9] Amazon
  20. EnchantedThe Platters [S2, Ep11] Amazon
  21. Didn’t IDarondo [S1, Ep4] Amazon
  22. UhFujiya & Miyagi [S1, Ep5] Amazon
  23. ShambalaBeastie Boys [S3, Ep13] Amazon
  24. Crapa PeladaQuartetto Cetra [S3, Ep13] Amazon
  25. The Peanut VendorAlvin “Red” Tyler [S2, Ep5] Amazon
  26. Sabado en el ParqueGrupo Fantasma [S3, Ep11] Amazon n/a
  27. It’s Such A Pretty World TodayNancy Sinatra [S2, Ep4] Amazon
  28. Dead Fingers TalkingWorking For A Nuclear Free City [S1, Ep1] Amazon n/a
  29. Without YouSasha Dobson [S1, Ep3] Amazon
  30. Negro y Azul: The Ballad of HeisenbergLos Cuates de Sinaloa [S2 Episode 7] Amazon

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.

10 Worst Movies I’ve Ever Seen

Spent some time cleaning up my movie lists today and thought I’d share the ten movies I’ve seen in the past decade that made me scratch my head. Ever since Rotten Tomatoes came out, I’ve had better judgement. In no particular order:

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Bitch Slap
Atlas Shrugged: Part I
Jennifer’s Body
Crank: High Voltage
You Don’t Mess With the Zohan
The Brothers Grimm
Hannibal
The Mexican
Wild Things

Broadcast Contracts Will Kill Hollywood

It does not surprise me that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show on television. Without cable, I have no way to watch it. I’d happily pay $20 per month if HBO GO was open to people without cable subscriptions. Unfortunately, that’s not that case. None of HBO’s shows are available on iTunes, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. I have no way to watch any of HBO’s shows except pay a $75 per month cable subscription for a television I don’t have, wait for them to come out on DVD, or pirate them. I’m a good boy with little expendable time, so I avoid Game of Thrones altogether. But 25 million people have not been angels and found the show through whatever means necessary. Who knows how many more people opt out entirely and forever pass the show by?

I’ve said before that Hollywood should concern themselves less with piracy and more with audience access. Simple supply and demand metrics – audiences demand content and providers are failing to supply to increasingly popular internet channels. It’s the whole industry’s fault for inciting piracy. They are missing out on an expanding margin of customers. In defense of HBO and others, production companies have entangled themselves in lucrative and restricting contracts with cable partners. To offer direct-to-consumer digital distribution would breach their contracts and deprive them of their single strongest revenue source. For most companies like HBO, that may never happen – at least not until everyone has internet televisions or the cable providers themselves die.

Broadcast contracts may be a reasonable excuse for holding content back from web distribution. But if companies plan to stand behind that excuse, they need to stop making such a big deal about piracy. By threatening or incriminating millions of people who cannot access your primary distribution method, you are alienating potential evangelists of your content and failing to understand the trajectory of your market. Web television is not a trend. In five years, most motion picture content will be consumed online – on connected televisions, game consoles, mobile devices or computers. To fight or deny this is foolish and egoistic.

I left Hollywood because no companies were willing to put the engineering muscle behind personal distribution channels. Beyond sheer web design and database builds, online services require customer service and billing infrastructure that can cost a lot of money. Fortunately, these things are getting easier and cheaper. An independent production company with enough content to leverage could easily set up shop on the web with a very controllable investment and small handful of people on the tech side.

If you want a sustainable career in the movie business, start or work for a company with full digital rights. Careful signing onto productions with traditional broadcast contracts and no digital rights – these opportunities, no matter how lucrative, are sinking ships. If they cannot find a way to breach contracts soon, they may not survive the next wave of liberated web-savvy competitors.