The Official Craig Ormiston Update

This entry marks my 100th blog post on www.craigormiston.com. Three months, 22,845 words, 10,295 readers, all 50 states, 116 countries, and 164 hours of writing later (according to Google Docs), I am well on my way to posting every day until the end of the year. But, as good friend David Fox pointed out in an email, I have penciled very little on the topic to which my blog is actually named: myself. Craig Ormiston.

On the whole, web analytics have suggested that the majority of my audience cares less about personal posts than posts with general interest or advice. Therefore, I have written little about me and instead use my life only for appropriate context and examples. That said, I forget sometimes that many of you are close friends and family. And I also forget that some of you know next to nothing about me. So here it is. To celebrate this milestone for my blog, here is an update on my life:

Enter Craig Ormiston:

First, my background. My name is Craig Ormiston, and I grew up in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. I was born and raised in the same house where I lived until I left for college. With a fierce determination to direct and produce motion pictures, I pursued the film industry in Hollywood by first attending the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. I milked my education for all it was worth: I attended inspiring classes, produced a dozen films, built long-lasting friendships, networked with countless professionals, and helped engineer the future of the movie business. While it was extremely expensive, I am thankful for my days at USC. I learned a lot and met great people. To save money and get a head start, I graduated one semester early in the Fall of 2009.

I never wanted a normal day job. I spent six months after graduation trying to package feature films, engineer products, start businesses, and avoid employment. I’ve always wanted to do my own thing and change the world. But after six months with little progress, I resolved to meet with a few people and expand my options. One of my USC directing teachers, Tripp Reed, tabled for me an opportunity I could not refuse: helping him launch the New Media division of Alloy Entertainment (producers of Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and more in the teenage girl niche). Charged with producing television-quality pilots for the web, we have successfully launched four original shows and are well on our way to making several more. It has been one year this week since I started working with Tripp for Alloy. I have learned a lot about producing, the Internet, leadership, and about myself. While it may be the day job I promised myself I would never have, I count my blessings for the opportunity and experience. I have interviewed for and been offered a handful of jobs since, and none of them could rival the freedom, responsibility, respect, and pay I have been awarded here. I share a spacious apartment with two USC friends three blocks away from my office in Hollywood on Sunset & Highland and walk to work almost everyday (unheard of in Southern California). As much as I despise the Los Angeles urban space, I enjoy the pedestrian nature of the Hollywood area and walk almost everywhere I need to go.

What little free time I have after a hard day’s work is spent doing four key things. First (and most important), I eat. For those of you who know me, I am obsessed with food. Cooking, dining out, experimenting, sampling, you name it. I spend far too much money on nice restaurants, fancy cocktails, and crazy dishes. Eating out with friends is my favorite pastime. Fortunately, I do not yet have the pounds to show for it. The best part of Los Angeles for me is the range of authentic cuisines. With Thai Town, Koreatown, and Little Tokyo less than 10 minutes away, I am never far from the best. And as crazy as it can be, living blocks away from downtown Hollywood helps keep me young with swanky tasty spots open until wee hours of the night. My gluttony knows no bounds here.

Beyond eating, I have rediscovered two very important things: reading and sleep. I never read growing up (probably because I had to for class and hated it). Now, I can’t go a day without scraping the news, catching every blog post, and putting big dents in books on my Kindle. I read between 90 and 180 minutes per day and cannot stop. Mostly nonfiction. I am constantly studying the Internet, technology, marketing, business, politics, and science. In the past year, I feel like I have thoroughly covered the first chapters of an MBA and Computer Science degree alone. I continue to learn crazy new things every single day and cannot stop. I’m obsessed. The third pastime (and perhaps my healthiest) is sleep. I was notorious in high school and college for not sleeping at all. I’ve gone four days without a single wink of sleep before. Not healthy at all. And I pay for it to this day, suffering noticeable signs of memory retention loss. Without question, I get my eight hours per night now and even track it to make improvements.

My final pastime is much more broad and complex. Readers of this blog know I am not happy with the current state of the movie industry. As Sunday’s post alludes to, I am becoming impatient with movie studios recycling old crap and idling by as consumers rip the whole charade apart the way of the music business. My sights have realigned toward technology and the web. Therein lie companies that need to stay one step ahead to compete and that cannot survive by recycling ideas. I am in awe by daily news from the tech sector and am very interested in making a career shift that direction. I spend a great deal of free time designing and collaborating on web-based projects with hopes to launch them as legitimate businesses. With little background in computer science, it has been extremely difficult to land interviews with these companies. It seems I will need to build my way in from scratch. A challenge? Yes please!

I have no intention of living in Los Angeles much longer. Be it to Denver, the Bay Area, or New York, I need to make a big change sometime soon. I have been saving up to buy myself the time to build things and aim to be gainfully unemployed in no more than two years’ time. Feasible goal? We’ll see. Here’s to the future!

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Film Friday: Power to the Theaters

A Certified Fresh logo.In the good ol’ days, content was king. Producers and publishers thrived off of the complexity, scarcity, and cost of generating and distributing entertainment. Very few people could publish a book, record an album, or produce a theatrical feature film. Times have changed. Through the commodification of consumer production tools and publishing platforms, content generation and distribution are easier than ever. The result? Far too much noise. Public discourse is completely cluttered by personal voice. To whom should you listen?

Ears and eyeballs are in high demand. Seth Godin said, “We don’t have an information shortage; we have an attention shortage.” Content is no longer king. Attention is king. Those who command the respect of the masses command the value of entertainment product. Content Producers are less powerful than ever. Content Curators, like companies and critics who drive discoverability and promote entertainment traffic, are taking the cake. Warner Bros. demonstrated a progressive value in discovery platforms through the purchase of Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes. Systems like Netflix, Pandora and YouTube that navigate consumers through targeted entertainment are dominating the market. As the library of public content continues to grow, so too will the value proposition of these companies.

Platforms are the near future. Traditional theaters need to wake up and smell the opportunity. As it stands, film exhibitors are little more than the leashed pets of the movie business – completely at the whim of their masters. If theaters take liberties to curate, program, and leverage alternative product against the studios, their value to the average consumer will increase tenfold. The quality of entertainment will increase, revenues will increase, and cultural sophistication will increase. Theater owners know their communities well and should play an active role in curating entertainment. Curator Exhibitors (theaters) need to earn the respect of local audiences by consistently screening top-notch entertainment and communitizing outside Hollywood.

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).

Big Idea, Huh?

We all have great ideas. Wonderful. Can you communicate them? Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Steven Spielberg tapped into this notion when he encouraged movie pitches to be 25 words or less. While Spielberg’s suggestion had a lot to do with the marketability of a film, the 25-word exercise forces you to boil your idea down to its core and communicate it. The exercise forces you to understand your idea more clearly.

Ideas do not need to be simple. In fact, they shouldn’t be. But they will get nowhere if they cannot be communicated simply enough to share with others.

Film Friday: Production Value Can Go To Hell

I talk to a lot of filmmakers, artists and business people who dissuade themselves from a venture or project simply because they lack the resources necessary to create a product with “high production value.” I cannot tell you how many films have not been made because producers and directors could not secure the equipment or style they wanted. “It wouldn’t be professional enough!” “It wouldn’t look like a real movie!”

Well, let me tell you something – who gives a damn? Do you think YouTube has become the entertainment monstrosity it has because of high Hollywood-class production value? Hell no. YouTube has exploded because it highlights genuine, human entertainment. Raw, real, honest. Not polished, impersonal shlock.

Pick up a camera (any camera, your cell phone counts) and go tell a personal human story. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t matter how much money or production value you have because NO ONE WILL CARE. Production value is just a cover-up for fear or undeserved elitism. Sure, quality can be important. But story is more important. Get off your ass and go tell your story.

Do not let production value get in the way of your creative expression.

Film Friday: The Mercenary Model

Like recruiting a band of freedom fighters, a company can commission a handful of different filmmakers to generate original content for a single narrative or non-narrative campaign unified by theme, message, dialogue or genre. By recruiting several auteurs to produce independent work, the company reduces brand risk by investing in multiple creative visions to satisfy one campaign. Odds are much higher that at least one of the dissimilar campaign videos will be successful online.  As an added bonus, mercenary campaigns serve as strong breeding pools for discovering fresh directorial talent.

When pitting filmmakers against each other, it is much easier to negotiate competitive production budgets. Depending on the complexity of the campaign and nature of material, a brand could easily generate five pieces of content for the going price of one 30-second industry commercial. If your filmmakers are chosen through film school or a public competition online, you can offer as little as $1,000 budgets to each. Run productions concurrently and you can collect all of that content very quickly.

Coca-Cola has been doing this for 13 years through their Refreshing Filmmaker Awards. As another legitimate example, Philips commissioned RSA (Ridley Scott Associates filmmaker group) to shoot five short films using the same dialogue to promote their Ambilight Cinema Television. Five different directors produced radically different content and drove strong traffic to the brand.  Carl Erik Rinsch’s film, “The Gift,” even sparked a studio bidding war.

As with crowdsourcing, trusting outsiders to produce video content could potentially compromise your company image. Thankfully, you are in control of your own brand – do not release the videos if they fail to satisfy your needs. Either way, it’s worth the experiment. Young, ambitious filmmakers like 5 Second Films could bring a lot to your campaign if you award them the freedom to do so.

Film Friday: Making Money on YouTube

To start making money on YouTube, you need to become a YouTube Partner.  To qualify, you need to consistently add content, build a subscriber base and drive a large volume of traffic. If you do not already, good luck.

While actual partner revenue statistics are kept private, you can roughly estimate that content creators are only making $1 per every thousand views on YouTube. At best, Rebecca Black has made $90,000 on “Friday” (not bad, but you can never expect to drive 90 million views to your videos – and you usually have overhead costs to cover like production gear and talent). But even that $1 per thousand estimate is high and often unrealistic depending on which adds are associated with your content, how often your visitors click on them, and how viral your content is.

The short answer is that your prime source of revenue will NOT come from YouTube itself. Major online video players are getting clever with product integrations, partnerships, freemium models, and much more to help print the bacon. Our entire new media division currently lives on front-end agreements with large brands.

Plan to make money with online video? Get creative.

Talent

Today, I am taking a break from our regular programming to announce the launch of our latest web series, Talent. For those who do not know, I currently produce and supervise post production for the New Media division of Alloy Entertainment. We have been charged with tackling large scale narrative form on the Internet.
 
Talent is our latest and greatest, little over four months of hard work in the can. We wrapped production in February and have been busy cutting ever since. Below, you can find Episode 1 of a ten episode series. New episodes will launch every Tuesday and Thursday for the next four weeks. Enjoy!

Film Friday: The Key to Becoming a Successful Director

Writing a screenplay, filming shorts, building a reel, exhibiting talent and advertising yourself as a “director” are NOT enough. Film is a collaborative art and it takes a strong core team. The key to becoming a successful film director (or any key-level position) is to surround yourself with talented people who can only see you as a director.

True for any profession – surround yourself with people who believe in your dreams. Family and significant others are a good start, but you need professionals who can support you and your vision. Convince the industry you are best at doing one thing above all else.

I have mentioned this before, but it has to do with portrayal. If people see you as a good assistant, they will only see you as a good assistant. Best camera operator in town? Good luck getting calls for anything else. If your agent values you as a writer, hard chance earning a push toward the big chair. Show everyone you are a good director, and they will only see you as a good director.

Start on your level. It is far easier and more effective to prove it to peers who will recommend you than to a studio executive with your reel or a script. Your network is your net worth. A friend’s “I know this great director” is far more accelerating than “I know this talented guy who is working at an agency.” If your friends don’t title you a director, no one will.

Best to build your team on level, too. You need at bare minimum a producer, director of photography, production designer, sound designer and editor who can vouch for you. Part of your marketability as a director are the talented chaps you have in tow.

If you are not building relationships with collaborators, getting constant practice or stuck working a 60-hour week, I strongly encourage you to quit your mediocre day job and get busy because you are wasting time. Don’t tell people you are a director, be a director. The only person who will believe your lie is you, unless of course your lie comes true.

Share this with peers you believe in and encourage them with your vote of confidence. Success in collaboration is a two-way street.

The 90-Minute Rule

Coffee

90 minutes is the optimal duration for achieving certain types of immersion: social, narrative, health, entertainment, and more. Any shorter than 90 minutes, you cannot cover all the bases. Any longer, the brain may lose focus.

Generally, I set aside 90 minutes for coffee or meal get-togethers and tend to hit that mark without keeping track of time. All of the bases have been covered and the situation has turned cognitively stale. 

While being a conceptual and social theory, the 90-minute rule may be naturally linked to the circadian rhythm of our bodies (a sleep cycle lasts roughly 90 minutes, for example).

I have found the following to be most effective when conformed to a 90-minute window of time:

  • Revisiting with an old friend
  • Business meetings
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Feature films
  • Home dining experiences
  • Concerts
  • Board games

With enough arcs and nuances to an activity, the 90-minute rule can be broken and expanded to achieve longer sustained immersion. Hikes, conventions, recreational sports, and several forms of entertainment can all present enough twists and turns to keep you invested longer than 90 minutes. The average duration of my ten favorite films, for example, is 131 minutes. Rich and fulfilling content or activities can transcend time (and your day calendar).

Can you think of any other activities that fit a 90-minute profile?