Film School: The Super Degree

When I tell people I might take a break from the film industry to study the web, the first thing I’m asked is, “Didn’t you got to school for that? Why leave the business?”

I learned a hell of a lot more than just camerawork at film school. In what other degree do you learn to actively lead teams, coordinate logistics, start businesses, tell stories, embrace technology, manage budgets, engage in philosophy, write both fiction and non-fiction, design advertising campaigns, engineer software, study history, direct talent, interface with contemporary culture, carpenter sets, raise money, play with toys, draw pictures, play music, review law briefs, curate content, and express yourself? That’s right, I can’t think of another degree either.

Film school is an all-inclusive wrapper for a cumulative degree in storytelling, business, marketing, management, design, communication, technology, law, twentieth-century history, and cultural studies. In even the smallest film trade schools, you must learn to lead teams through creative and technical projects while coordinating schedules and money to do so. Few MBA programs I’ve heard of are half as hands-on.

At the University of Southern California‘s School of Cinematic Arts, I had the pleasure of studying under studio executives, A-list producers, active professionals, and trendsetting innovators; I produced over 280 minutes of content and coordinated more than a cumulative 200 students and professionals to do so; and I interfaced directly with current and impending trends in the film industry. I moved to Hollywood to study from within the belly of the beast and learned more than I could have ever imagined.

Am I bastardizing my cinema degree by jumping industries? Absolutely not. If anything, I am honoring it. And I would recommend it to absolutely anyone looking to master important entrepreneurial skills, engage his or her creative side, solve complicated human puzzles, and have some fun.

Sincere Creation

What’s the motivation behind your project? Capital gain? Attention? A greater noble effort? What do you have to prove? And to whom?

I know from my experiences in Hollywood that projects produced through a climate of unrestrained and unadulterated love for the material have a far better chance at sweeping audiences. With pure and simple love of filmmaking at the helm, a movie’s voice can be authentic, formalistic craft more cohesive, and overall execution more successful than, say, a franchise picture riddled by ambitions for ancillary market spin-offs and merchandising. Too many cooks in the kitchen, too many goals, and too many interests can shred a project into a million pieces.

How do you create great products? Simple. Make things because you love making things, not because you love the idea of making things.

Most people hear an idea and let their minds run wild. Before long, the fantasy overshadows the outstanding work that needs to be done. If you are busy thinking about the idea, rather than feeling or experiencing the idea, you’re on the wrong track.

Success will come when affection for your project is sincere.

Do not love your work. Love doing your work.

Dangerous City, Lost Angels

In what kind of place does a man wake to sirens and screams, gaze upon his neighbors’ house engulfed in flames, close the glass slider to cut the sound, and return to bed having done nothing? Within minutes of waking, I fell back to sleep in spite of the bright flicker on my wall and common urban murmur outside. A mere annoyance, nothing more.

The morning after, I reflected on my apathy. It made me sick to think of all the similar experiences I have had in Los Angeles. I realized how cold I had become.

I have resided here for five years and seen things I hope you never see. A car on fire riddled with bullet holes in South Central; a woman mugged across the street in Venice Beach; a bank evacuated on bomb threat by USC; a motorcyclist flipped and crushed at 65 mph on the 5 Interstate; the corpse of a homeless woman lifted from a gutter downtown; a tanker truck explosion on the 105-110 overpass; prostitutes fighting over a fare in Hollywood; a SWAT-grade drug bust in Koreatown; and far too much more. My heart froze over long ago to endure such things. I am not proud of the man this city numbed me to be.

It takes a thick skin to survive in Los Angeles.

Hollywood Is like the Army [Film Friday]

Only without honor and push-ups. There’s a high level of discipline (though not necessarily the same caliber of punishment). There’s a system of rank and rigid hierarchy, especially on set. There’s a delicate network of specialized soldiers – and the brigade is only as strong as its weakest link. But unlike the army, Hollywood uses ego and opinions instead of bullets to survive.

Dry Spells [Film Friday]

People working in Hollywood are looking for work regularly: when a show wraps, it’s time to find a new job. Like all freelancing, entertainment industry folks run the risk of suffering weeks or months between projects. Even people who make as much as $10,000 per week file for unemployment between jobs. It’s crazy. Having had a steady paycheck for the last 14 months, I cannot imagine the day-to-day challenge of finding work. It’s a whole different world. For the people who work regularly, it can be great. For those who don’t, it can be hell. All you can do is get out, enjoy the California sunshine, chase personal projects, and keep busy. Learn to appreciate the dry spells. After all – the second you learn to love them, they’ll end, and you’ll be buried with work again.

Running a Studio vs. Production Company [Film Friday]

Most businessmen and women in Hollywood think they have what it takes to build the next big label. Most producers think they know better than the studios and can do one better. But there are fundamental differences between building a studio and building a production company.

Production companies see life picture to picture and rarely lock their future in place. Some production company heads have long-term goals, but most are contingent on the success of the company’s material slate. That’s true for all content creators, but production companies fall short by investing all eggs in the movie basket.

Studios take a bigger piece of the pie. The difference between production companies and studios? Studios have assets and scope. Successful studios operate more like landlords and parents than artists or producers. They own backlots, prop houses, sound stages, post production facilities, restaurants, libraries, other companies, equipment, hardware, software, websites, networks, satellites, and more. A sizable portion of the sustainable revenue comes from operating and renting out these assets. Furthermore, most studio executives speak in slates and four year periods. They work hard to see into the future and see past the big fat movie release in front of them. Strong studios invest in things other artists use to tell stories, and they also invest in long-term strategy.

Are you in it for the movie game alone? Or are you in it for the big picture? The long haul? Decide what you want to build. Do not lie to yourself about what you care about.

Life in Hollywood

I walked three blocks from my office to my apartment today. Here’s a list of the things I saw:

  • Two hovering helicopters
  • Two police cars pulling a man over during rush hour
  • Silver Lamborghini
  • A handful of Priuses
  • The Goodyear Blimp
  • A Tattooed Mohawk Man walking four Pomeranians
  • An elder Serbian neighbor walking her granddaughter on a leash
  • An overweight crossdresser in an orange wig riding a bicycle
  • A family of Japanese tourists in Hawaiian shirts
  • Group of high schoolers smoking pot
  • Food truck serving waffle sandwiches

In three blocks, I’ve experienced a lifetime of interesting.

Inspiring Your Team to Do Well [Film Friday]

Leading a film is a lot like leading an army, except without the discipline. Hollywood is loaded with egos, agendas, and hard drugs. Everyone wants to make their rate, see his or her name in lights, eat well, and live the good life. It is extremely difficult to wrangle all the different personalities and angles. Getting everyone on board is very difficult most of the time, especially in low budget or strenuous circumstances. Even with genuine people, it is challenging to arrest their full attention.

There is one tried and true tactic for getting everyone on the same page. The same tactic will inspire people to work day and night to get the job done. The same tactic may even convince your team to cut, defer, or waive their rate entirely. Very straightforward: tell a great story.

If your team believes in the project, they will fight to the ends of the earth for it. A great story helps make a 20-hour day okay. A great story helps you accept the low pay or terrible catering. Of course, telling a great story is easier said than done. The best way to tell a story is to believe in it first. If you do not believe in it, no one else will. When you do, find a way to communicate to everyone why and convince them to believe in it, too. With enough love and passion, you can inspire others to help you bring the story to life. Perhaps they will fall in love with it, too.

Gluttony

Jeonju bibimbap

The only redeeming quality of Los Angeles for me is the food. To commemorate great friend & culinary buddy Allison Walsh’s escape from Los Angeles, we embarked on a dining campaign this weekend to hit as many local favorites as possible before she moves to Washington DC. In 36 hours, we experienced swanky fusion street food, pub-style dessert, home-style Korean, Middle Eastern ice cream, and a Chinese Dim Sum breakfast. Below is a list of our samplings:
 
Alibi Room (Kogi BBQ)


Stout (Hollywood Burgers and Beer)


Western Doma Noodle (Korean)


Mashti Malone (Exotic Ice Cream)


Elite Chinese Restaurant

The Difference Between Evolutionary and Revolutionary

There is a general cynicism lately about human progress in the cultural, commercial, physical, and spiritual realm. This week’s South Park had a brilliant (albeit gruesome and disgusting) commentary on contracting the disease, “cynicism,” where everything starts looking and sounding like “shit.” Many individuals (not just me) watch in angst as large companies roll out recycled shlock and menial improvements. A lot of the criticism directed at all companies showcasing video games at the E3 gaming conference this week sang to the beat of “It seemed more like a catch-up game than something completely different.” Nintendo and Playstation announced entirely new gaming consoles, and yet they came off as incremental and uninspired updates in struggle to catch up to the aggressively expanding mobile games market. Only sequels gained traction at the conference, no original game-changing titles. I hold the same criticism of Apple’s latest products: iPad 2, iCloud, OS X Lion, and iOS 5 boast only minor improvements to the user experience that update on and catch up to some superior features of competitors in the computing space. We live in a world farming updates, too distracted by the noise around us to make meaningful, poignant change.

Our world is evolving quickly, but do not mistake evolution for revolution. Evolution is a slow, gradual, step-by-step process that takes time and energy. Revolution is a leap, a blindside, a change that catches us all by surprise. Evolution is differentiation. Revolution is different. Evolution is a hybrid transition between new and old. Revolution does not look back. Evolution is missing the letter ‘R’ at the front, and that letter ‘R’ means business. I have not seen a revolution in the cultural, commercial, physical, and spiritual realm for some time.

Revolution is a modern virtue. How can you build something revolutionary? Use the Reference Test: can you or anyone else compare your creation directly to another creation already existing?

Hollywood pitch culture is a perfect example. Somewhere in the early nineties, producers made the habit of pitching movies as “this” meets “that.” “Terminator” meets “Home Alone.” “Cool Runnings” meets “Blade Runner.” “Veggie Tales” meets “Godzilla.” The problem? Mixing old shit together does not make it new. It simply makes it old shit mixed together. Can anyone compare your movie idea directly to other films already in existence?

If your work comes off as a hybrid between this and that, or an update to something already in existence, then you have not pushed the button hard enough. Push harder. Twist your perspective. See the light. Open your mind. Forget the world around you. Look deep inside. Be true to yourself. Be human. Be real. You are capable of inventing something the world has never seen.

Stop at nothing to change the world. Start a revolution.