You Have A Voice. Use It.

Two or three decades ago, it was not easy to speak your mind – and nearly impossible to be heard. That’s not the case anymore. With the internet, we have an opportunity to share our thoughts, opinions and work on a global scale. We can express ourselves publicly, anonymously or under a pseudonym. While it’s not always easy to be heard online, it’s easier than ever to express yourself. I will never encourage you to add to the noise just for the sake of adding to the noise. But I do encourage you to use the web as a platform to let your mind and heart run free.

I know far too many closet writers, actors, film directors and artists who have great voices that need to be heard. Many of them are too lazy, shy or proud to share directly with the world. I know ten times more people who want to hone their voices and fear an audience. Keeping your mouth shut will not help you advertise. If you don’t put yourself out there, no one will know that you exist. Ever.

If you are concerned about operating online under your real name, simply make up another. Nine times out of ten, quality content online takes precedence over name or brand power anyway. If you can engage audiences with your voice through genuine content, you will win.

Say what you need to say. Don’t be afraid. What’s the worst that could happen?

Service Beats the Hunt

We now live in a world where we can expect things to come to us directly. News, messages, deals, and ideas push their way to us instantaneously. To compete in today’s innovative world, you must play this game. You can no longer expect customers or users to come to you; you must find ways to reach them directly. In many ways, this has always been an issue for businesses. The challenge is not just getting people to come through your door, but to keep them coming back. In an era where infinite options compete for our attention, you must fight harder to stay relevant. The 24-hour news cycle is shriveling up. Windows for theatrical film releases are collapsing. Tweet trends often last less than an hour. Before long, consumers will miss you entirely.

If you want your brand or product to have a presence in your audience’s lives, you must find a way to remind them you exist. You must continuously roll out useful content to keep things fresh. And you must go out of your way to deliver it to them directly as soon as it becomes available. From here on out, most people will prefer services that bring to them what other services would expect them to hunt. If you want to stay alive in this feeding frenzy of a world, you must become your own paper boy.

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.

Reputation

It takes a lot of work and time to build a reputation. Making an impression is one thing (and certainly an important part of the battle). But the real challenge lies in being what you claim to be. If you want to have the reputation of a genius or comedian, then you actually need to be smart or funny. The shell of a person is only so thick and easily shattered. At the core, you must be everything you want to be and more. Until you are who you want to be on the inside, there’s no way you’ll ever be the person you want to be on the outside. Never waiver in your character or dreams; that’s where reputation comes from.

Do Not Charge Fans You Haven’t Earned Yet

I will not pay for your album without hearing it first. I will not buy your book without reading a good chunk of it. I will not spend a dime until I know that it will be a good use of my time. And I’m not alone in this anymore. There’s far too much noise fighting for audience money these days. To stand out, you need to be really talented and really clever. Reviews and popular consensus can help you reach the top. But you have to catch the attention of the people first.

The loyalty of fans goes a long way. I will, however, support artists and brands that have earned my trust over time. I do not think twice before paying for a Sam Mendes film, a Black Keys album, or a Legend of Zelda video game. Over the years, these names have consistently won my affection. But I didn’t pay for them at first. I saw my first Sam Mendes film in a class, heard my first Black Keys song in my brother’s car, and played my first Zelda game in a friend’s basement. Their talent and quality converted me alone. I became a loyal fan for life. The idea of curating loyal fans is not new or revolutionary. Brands as strong as Apple, In-N-Out Burger, and Pixar learned this very early on.

Creating brilliant products is not enough. The challenge is to convert freeloading bystanders into fans willing to pay. The trick is to acknowledge that fans won’t pay for you until you earn their trust. Therefore, the most effective way to develop a following early on is to share your work far and wide for free. Give great content away and audiences will thank you for it. When you have enough fans to scale your brand, start monetizing. Watch the loyalty role in.

Involve Your Audience

Building an audience can be a long and humbling process. Extreme networking in disguise. Every little thing counts. Every smile, every gift, every anecdote. It all builds to a greater public image with richer public value. As if offering something of value isn’t hard enough, you must befriend hundreds of thousands of random strangers along the way.

Successful performers form an intimate relationship with their audience. Like building trust with a friend, an entertainer must build rapport and loyalty with his or her fans. Something as big as inviting a fan to guest star or as small as retweeting a post can win you a fan for life. Even little acknowledgements can make a person’s day. Invite fans to be a part of what you’re trying to accomplish. Encourage them to join the conversation – and be sure to respond. Never be too proud to ask your audience questions, for feedback, or to help you out. Encourage a two-way street between you and them – and hold up your end of the bargain.

Regular Programming [Film Friday]

I’ve learned from blogging and observed the same results from others: releasing content daily dramatically increases your chances of attracting new and returning audience members. How do you think television and radio built so much traction in the first place? When audiences can expect to find you at a certain time or place, it lubricates the exhibition of your content and dramatically reduces marketing costs. You build a relationship with your audience over time, and keep them coming back for more.

By committing to releasing content regularly, you also dramatically increase your chances of producing a hit. 5 Second Films have produced so many short films and told so many jokes that the handful of hits they’ve had propelled the group into web virility.

If you cannot produce enough content to release daily, then commit to releasing content “regularly” – and publicly define the recurring time frame through which they should expect new content (weekly, monthly, every third Tuesday, etc.). At least some level of audience expectation makes a huge difference for audience retention.

Random splashes are risky and expensive to promote. Arbitrary releases rarely build traction. Do not bet on it. Consider curating an audience and regular programming instead.

How to Tell a Great Story

Character first, plot second. People do not connect with events; they connect with real human beings. Make sure you know your story’s character first before putting him or her through the ropes. Where does he come from? What does she fear? Who does he idealize? Why does she dress a certain way? When does he prefer to go to bed? How does she tie her shoes?

Take some time and ask a lot questions. Pretend like you are dating him or her. Learn everything you want to know about the person. Know him or her so well that you’d accurately guess how he or she would react to random situations. Before long, your character will tell the story for you.

Film Friday: Bring Down the Silos

Hollywood is divided by motion picture form: feature films, television, interactive and new media. These “divisions” can be further split into narrative and non-narrative, scripted or reality, short and long-form, franchise or micro-budget, professional or prosumer, etc. Some companies even divide content departments by genre. All of these worlds are segregated into silos, and it is very difficult for filmmakers and executives alike to migrate between them.

 I find the rigidity amusing; while aesthetic sensibilities may be slightly different, the gear and roleplaying needed to produce each are now essentially the same. Aside from budget, which varies widely from project to project (not necessarily from format to format), there is only one relevant fundamental difference between each of these production types: story structure.

Some stories play better in the short form; others over hundreds of hours. Some can be broken into episodic pieces and spread out; others should be consumed in one sitting. Some play better on the big screen with large audiences; others on small screens alone in your living room. Some should be passively consumed and others interactively. It all depends on the characters, the situation and the journey at hand. Unfortunately, most companies in the industry approach storytelling backasswards: choose the form first and try to build a narrative for it. Squeezing a square peg into a round hole. Unnatural. It should be the other way around – develop characters first and then pick a format that best tells their story.

Major studios have mobility between formats to a degree, but only make the effort with franchises. To make matters worse, studios regularly attempt to spread each franchise thinly across ALL formats and mediums simultaneously to milk the cow dry. Moreover, the golden goose sits in the theatrical box office – most production companies aspire to author 90-page scripts to entertain large audiences through feature-length events in multiplexes worldwide. I can appreciate the spiritual power of consuming content beside large audiences in the theater space; I do not think the industry or exhibitors need to be so myopic as to distribute features exclusively in this space. 

I contend that there is a healthy market for episodic content in the theatrical space. I am one of the few people who think Harry Potter would have played better as an episodic television show (with each season framed by a school year). The films themselves omitted far too much to satisfy audiences thoroughly. By stretching the 2 hour format to 15 or 20 hours, there would have been much more room to explore the characters and lore of the world J.K. Rowling created on page. And with select or all episodes being streamed into theaters weekly for supplemental revenue, the box office could have collected as many as 100 movie tickets per audience member throughout the weekly run of the seven year show. A wild idea, but why not? Expensive? Yes. Risky? Maybe, but less so with a loyal, young and international fanbase. Profitable? Hell yes. Open your mind, Hollywood. There is a lot more money to be made with creative mobility.

Motion picture formats are homogenizing, both on a technical and talent level. The movie industry should experiment with form, untangle from the guild restrictions, break down the silos and be a little more anarchistic about formats. Hollywood needs to be honest with itself and its audiences.

Let your characters tell you how long your story should be and then budget accordingly.

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Tips for Blogging Daily

  • Never miss a day.
  • Keep it short. Easier to write, easier to read.
  • Identify problems and propose solutions.
  • Keep a Google Doc and/or mobile notepad full of ideas for posts.
  • Save emergency posts for days you don’t have time to write.
  • Make it easy for readers to find old posts. Archives, “Older Posts” link, etc.
  • Know your audience. Figure out who is reading your writing.
  • Track traffic. Google Analytics, baby.

More in the future as I learn more.