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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12 Tips for a Successful Film Reel

We’re hiring right now and I’ve spent more than half my life watching film reels. Mildly put, I’ve seen a lot of donkey crap. For those of you looking to solicit work in the film or media industry, here are 12 tips to consider when editing your reel:

1. Make it short. Like one to two minutes short. I don’t have 8 minutes in my day for a hundred different people I don’t know. Convince me in less than two minutes to beg you for more. A reel 15 minutes or longer is borderline insulting.

2. Cut everything together. I will only watch one video per person (unless you impress me). A list of separate clips does not count as a reel. If you are interviewing as a director or editor, I will specifically request longer clips to see how you structure scenes.

3. Use your own voice. Do not imitate or parody movie trailers or other popular videos. No matter how flashy or technically proficient the reel may be, a ripoff reel proves only one thing to me: you are a ripoff.

4. Focus the viewer. Title your reel with the skill you wish to highlight (e.g. “camera operating,” “hair styling,” “lighting,” “visual effects,” etc.). I may enjoy qualities of the production you had nothing to do with – a recipe for awkwardness in interviews. Tell me what to pay attention to in advance.

5. No repetition. Don’t show me the same shot over and over. Don’t even show it to me twice. I will start thinking that’s all you’ve done.

6. Not overly dramatic. You don’t have time to be taken seriously in two minutes. Watching a grown man cry or woman getting raped while I drink tea and check my morning office email is simply uncomfortable.

7. Keep it current. If your reel is from a VHS transfer, unlit basement production or freehand miniDV, I will assume you failed film school or predate colored television. Show me only the latest and greatest. Your sentimental first film means nothing to me.

8. No movie scores. I don’t care how obscure you think the piece of music is. I am a film score connoisseur by trade (and so are most producers in the business); misusing a recognizable piece of music may distract or offend me. If I hear Clint Mansell in a reel one more time, I will adopt heroin and blame you.

9. No popular songs. Unless you worked with Led Zeppelin or Coldplay personally, your reel does not deserve to be tracked with their music. If you try to get away with it, viewers may stop paying attention when your music selection brings them back to high school slumber parties or the junior prom.

10. Easily accessible. Broken links are dead ends. Always make your reel available and never make me ask for it (“upon request” is not considerate, it’s lazy). Make sure your link is easy to find in your email and at the top of your résumé.

11. Stream it. Do not ask me to download a file. That will add at least two unnecessary steps and pollute my hard drive.

12. Vimeo. A poorly designed personal website will distract me and hurt you. Unless your site is a work of art, let Vimeo or YouTube make the first impression. If you feel compelled to host your work on your own site, enable the compression setting “fast start” or “compressed header” so I do not have to wait for the entire clip to buffer before playing (this is one of my biggest and most repairable pet peeves).

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.

Production Sucks [Film Friday]

After five long shooting days, only 16 total hours of sleep, editorial madness, 1.9 terabytes of footage, and three dozen script pages, we’ve finally wrapped the sixth original series I’ve produced in little over a year. Absolute madness.

I haven’t slept in 38 hours. Before I say something about filmmaking I might regret, it’s time for bed.

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 Project Triangle

Project TriangleThe Project Triangle concept was first conceived in the engineering world and has helped me navigate countless managerial decisions in Hollywood. For those not familiar, the Project Triangle rules that you can only pick two of the three: Good, Fast or Cheap.

The logic makes sense and can help you rapidly prioritize through difficult, urgent decisions. In film, there are many – especially as a studio executive, producer, or coordinator.

If you want quality work done quickly, you cannot expect things to be cheap. Talented artists who can move fast without missing a beat are extremely rare and therefore extremely expensive. Want a Director of Photography who can make 45 setups a day look like Leibovitz? Start at $3,000 per day. 3D conversion of a feature film in 45 days? $12-15 Million base.

If you want the project resolved promptly and to cut costs, do not expect top-notch work. Running and gunning a show with cheap labor opens the door for creative and technical mistakes. Many independent films do not gain traction because they simply lack the resources and time to reach distributable or marketable quality. Entire companies like The Asylum have embraced mediocre output to sustain business and cut substantial costs.

If you want to win awards and save money, be prepared to wait a very long time. If you are lucky, the material is strong enough to inspire great talent for scale cost – but you have to work around their schedules. Everyone needs to pay the bills – and my pro bono contribution to your breakout short will take the back seat to my full-time job. Sorry.

I think you can accomplish all three triangle points in one project, but most likely as a weekend passion project or a random conceptual twist of genius. Very rarely, great work is created in little time with no money. As an administrator or producer, you cannot bank on that roll of the dice.

Be prepared for only two of the three; hope for the third.