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.
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10 Verbs for Leading a Healthy Film Production

1. Inspire. Arouse in your crew an eager want. Remind them that they’re not at a desk. They have the best job in the world. Make them happy about doing what you suggest.

2. Anticipate. Production is like doing a jigsaw puzzle on a waterbed – plan for the worst. Identify at least five things that could go wrong during each scene and plan for them. No shoot is impregnable.

3. Name. A person’s name is the sweetest sound to them in the world. Know everyone’s name. Say it to him or her often and always embed it in every request.

4. Smile. From the bottom of your heart. It’s contagious. A happy set is an efficient set.

5. Listen. Let each person do the talking. Collect as much information as possible. Know everything.

6. Forgive. Never criticize, condemn or complain. If someone made a mistake, he or she already knows and should not have to hear it again. If he or she doesn’t know or makes the mistake a second time, call attention to it indirectly.

7. Assure. Encourage crew by making every fault or mishap seem easy to correct. Be confident. If you are not confident, be confident about not being confident. Get people to feel confident about you.

8. Request. Ask questions instead of directly giving orders. Let the other person feel like the idea is his or hers. Nobody likes being told what to do. And nobody likes being yelled at. Do you?

9. Pacify. Avoid arguments. Never tell someone he or she is wrong. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. If you cannot avoid an argument (or cannot resolve other people’s arguments), do not let the crew see it – move ugly out of the way.

10. Praise. Make each person feel important and necessary. Reward good work with honest and sincere appreciation. Acknowledge what each person is doing right. Commend every improvement.

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.

New Media: Producer’s Intent? [Film Friday]

This is the first in a series of posts I announced last week called “Understanding New Media.”

One argument I’ve heard from filmmakers trying to define “new media” favors a producer’s original intent for the material. If the story being told was meant for web and first launches online, then it (by definition of producer’s intent) should be considered “New Media.” I suppose that’s fair – if it was made for web and only ever lives on the web, what else do you call it? Well, I call 99% of it “Casual Video.”

YouTube is the biggest marketplace for “Casual Video,” where users upload literally anything they can capture. Most YouTube videos have no revenue agenda, are authored by individuals arbitrarily, and lack front-end logistics or financing. For a video to transcend “casual” status, I think it must first have at least a little foresight, structure, and craft tied into its execution. “New Media” is a film industry term, so there should be a certain level of “industry” to the content being produced. There is really no “industry” to my friend Jim skateboarding off of a cliff. It’s merely pure, casual fun.

So I’ve raised a little money and produced something for the web. “New Media,” right? What happens when that content syndicates on television? Or premieres on the big screen? Is it still “New Media?” Or has it become more than that? On the flip side, what happens when a feature film, originally intended for the big screen, first ends up online out of failure to platform in theaters? Is it still a “Feature Film” or has it become “New Media” in spite of the producer’s original intent? Tough call.

Moreover, what happens when our televisions and movie theaters are networked through the web? Is a cable show broadcast on Google TV “New Media” or “Television?” I stream Netflix and South Park the same way I stream YouTube antics. Don’t you? So what’s the difference? Well, there is no difference to the consumer, except perhaps the quality and duration of content. The lines between web and other platforms are blurring. Just because something plays online does not necessarily make it “New Media.”

I suppose the “original intent” argument can stand for now concerning content that was financed, produced, and distributed exclusively for the web. But there’s much more to it than that. Does the content play as part of a greater whole? Is it a spinoff or tie-in to another intellectual property on another distribution platform? Should the content then be called “Bonus Material” or “Marketing” instead?

Tune in next week for a discussion on web content’s autonomy.