Category Archives: failure

This, this, all the this!

If you are a creative, this video will sounds very familiar – but it’s a universal message. Lord knows I’ve been down this road a few times. Determination, persistence and touch of naivete is usually enough to win the day – it’s just the “day” in question usually lasts for years.

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Am I a Startup? Part 2: The “Don’ts”

Startup Post Art

In part 1 we covered what a startup is and the four best practices to help get that startup moving, with definitions tweaked to work for the entertainment industry (although those tweaks may work for other industries as well). Having an idea of what to do is important and positive and helps get all the work off on the right foot. That being said, it is nice to also know what pitfalls to avoid so you can do your best not to fail on accident. Just like articles on what to do to help your startup succeed there are as many, if not more, articles about what makes a startup fail.

Thinking about it, that makes sense since, by definition, a startup has no guarantee of success so many of them (most of them even) fail. Entertainment careers are no different. In this life you hear “no” a lot more than “yes.” You can have a series go to pilot and then not get picked up. You can be edited out of a commercial after you’ve already shot it. For resilience we all say that it’s, “just part of the biz” but, part of the biz or not, that much rejection can be draining. So the following are four mistakes that can kill your startup inspired by and paraphrased from this article: The 18 Mistakes That Kill Startups. Why are there not 18? Because not all of the mistakes really apply to my topic. Sure, I could shoehorn in a few descriptions and get all symbolic with the language, but that isn’t the goal. The goal is to have strong points that are easy to identify and avoid to keep things moving in a positive career direction. But if you want to read all 18, and I suggest you do, go to the link.

Before we get started with the actual four mistakes, I’d like to point out a overarching general mistake that the author Paul Graham points out that also makes very good sense in an entertainment career:

“In a sense there’s just one mistake that kills startups: not making something users want. If you make something users want, you’ll probably be fine, whatever else you do or don’t do. And if you don’t make something users want, then you’re dead, whatever else you do or don’t do. So really this is a list of (sic) things that cause startups not to make something users want. Nearly all failure funnels through that.”

In his explanation let’s trade out the word “user” for “audience.” Entertainment exists to be experienced by people, there isn’t any way around that. As a general rule of thumb: make and do the things you believe in and have passion for. Those are the things that have the best chance of taking off and if they don’t you can at least feel good about the attempt.

Now on to the mistakes:

  1. Bad Location. The internet and prosumer equipment have really allowed people to make high quality content just about anywhere, but if you want to work on the bigger shows and films (hell even the big online stuff) you need to be in one of the major entertainment hubs: Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta or New Orleans. Although theres also North Carolina, Chicago, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon and the occasional shoot in Hawaii. And Canada. Puerto Rico is offering some really nice tax incentives so some productions are moving over there… All kidding aside, even with this expansive list there are still very few cities that can actually handle and support a large amount of filming. If you are ok just shooting with your friends and putting it up online then more power to you. Hollywood is decentralizing and I predict that we’re going to see more migration away from Southern California over the next five to ten years, but there will still be industry hubs where the camera crews live and where you can find a guy who can record decent sound. You want those people so you should be where they are.
  2. Derivative Ideas. Don’t just copy. I know Hollywood does it all the time, but those are the things people make fun of Hollywood for doing. I’m not saying that you can’t have your own spin on an existing idea, but don’t just straight up copy. Here’s an example: Zombies have been the dominate movie monster for over a decade now. There has been zombie everything, but the ones I remember: The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, and Shaun of the Dead all had unique takes on the genre. You don’t need to be the first person with an idea, but you do need to have a way to make it your own.
  3. Choosing the wrong platform. This literally came up in conversation today and it seems like something that I talk about with people all the time. There is both a literal and a figurative meaning to “platform.” The literal has to do with distribution of content that you and your team may be creating. When you decide how to get it out to the audience you either need to build to the distribution you have access to or hustle to get the distribution you feel the content requires. For example: I spoke to a buddy just today about their new project that, in my opinion (which happened to be an opinion he shared), needs to be a web release. It is built in tight little vignettes that are great for online audiences and the pieces all combine together into one big narrative that he could release as a stand-alone product and/or send to film festivals. But there is talk about converting it to feature length and trying to get the funding to do a movie version. In my head, at this time with the options available to them, online seems like the no brainer. Doing this project as a television show wouldn’t work, the premise wouldn’t last beyond a season. Doing it as a movie might work, but it would require a heavy rewrite and a massive investment. Right now they have a completed product ready to launch and it would be a shame not to release it. The figurative meaning of “platform” is for the actor. We can trade out “platform” for “type.” One of the biggest complaints that I hear from my casting director friends is that people submit for things that they have no chance of getting. As an responsible auditioning actor you need to be honest with yourself about your type. If you happen to be a strawberry blond skinny guy who does prat falls and makes faces you should not submit yourself for roles where they usually cast Ian Somerhalder. I promise you, Ian Somerhalder is going to get that part. Overall I think the lesson here is to play to your strengths. Swinging for the fences is great and all,  but you still need to be smart about it.
  4. Not wanting to get your hands dirty. This is probably the biggest crime in all of the entertainment business, especially for people new to it. As great as this job is, there is nothing easy about it. If it were easy everyone would do it because it’s awesome. A lot more people could do it, but most are not willing to put in the amount of work that it takes to do it right. Hell, even thirty years later I’m still finding ways that I’m deficient in my efforts. It’s an ever changing business that requires constant effort. If you’re not up for that find something else to do with your time.

Did I miss anything? Are there any best practices that I could have added to part 1? Let me know in the comments.

See you next time.

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52 in 52 Story 4 “Super-Beings and the Fall of the United States: An Oral History”

This story marks my first incomplete story of the challenge. Posting this was a tough decision for me to come to. I had an idea in my head about using super-heroes as a cipher for multinational corporations. Originally it was going to be a first person story re-telling the history of the rise of the super-heroes, how they helped to build up the country, and then describe their downfall and turn to villainy using the Great Recession as a cataclysm akin to DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Very epic in scope and requiring a good deal of research to get the broad facts correct.

I was really excited about it.

But it was a tough write, especially on a deadline. Things weren’t going as well as I hoped. But then I had a stroke of genius: make it an oral history so that some of the disparate ideas can be brought together in different voices that make sense to the facts! A general, a banker, a history professor, a personal assistant and a blue collar guy. These voices would be able to tell the story from a variety of angles and it would help broaden the scope of the story. That worked a lot better.

But then it was Saturday…

I said “screw the deadlines!”

Then Sunday…

Then on Monday and Tuesday I had no time due to schedule (it’s part of the reason why Monday is my post day).

So here we are, Wednesday, and the story isn’t finished and another is due in just a few days. I had to call it. I’m not ready to fall behind on all of my deadlines yet.

I’m taking a lesson from this about deadlines and how it’s important to find a way to work within them. This story was a bit too ambitious for the week that I had. It would have been better saved for when I had more free time – and maybe I’ll revisit it when I have that time – and I should have done something a bit smaller for a week that I knew ahead of time would be short.

All that being said, here is what there is of the story and, as usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

– Curtis

Super-Beings and the Fall of the United States: An Oral History
Dr. Robert Lanager, Professor of History, Harvard University –
It was the downfall of America. Sure, the rest of the world felt it, especially the Euro Zone, but the U.S. was hit hardest of all. They had the most sway here, most were headquartered here and those that were headquartered in other parts of the world made regular trips to the United States. It’s like the U.S. was the eye of the storm, so when the damage and destruction started we noticed it too late to do anything about it. They were super-beings with far more power and almost inexhaustible resources which allowed them to do just about anything they wanted and we, wanting to benefit from what they did, allowed them to doalmost anything they wanted. Oh, God, how foolish we were! I look back on the early days now and I get so angry at myself and at the country as a whole. In hindsight it’s so clear what was happening, where the road would lead and yet we didn’t listen to the people who warned us. They were derided and laughed off; completely dismissed by people, who thought they knew better, but none of us really knew and now it’s too late. The damage is done and, frankly, I have no idea how we’re going to get out of this one.
Walter Smith, Retired Banker –
I’ve been around since the beginning; I remember when they first started to show themselves. Bear in mind that we know now that they were always around, but they obviously they weren’t operating as publically. Actually, I take that back, there were a few that were active in the late 19th into the 20th century, I remember my father telling me about them. The beings helped build the infrastructure of the country. They had their hands in the railroads, minerals and energy. In some cases they even helped to report the news of the time. For the most part things were fine, but a few of the beings got a bit big for their britches and some started to consolidate power, keeping everyone they could under their watch. The fall could have come then, but the government put together legislation that seemed to bring them under control and, with those controls in place, most of them started going about normal, proactive lives – generally contributing to society without attracting attention – and then just fading away into the background.
Gen. Thomas Black, Retired Army General –
At first we called them super-heroes. Here they were these amazing beings with amazing powers that could defend us from enemies thousands of miles away. With the help of hundreds of thousands of human soldiers, they fought in every major combat through history: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Afghanistan, The Gulf Wars, all of them! And, in most cases, we won those fights and we couldn’t have done it without them. But that was part of the problem; really, we truly couldn’t do it without them. We knew it, they knew it and for while it was actually ok, a mutual appreciation society. They’d work for us and we’d work for them, building things together to keep this nation great.
Leslie Howard, Office Assistant-
                When they first started to appear, at least when I was growing up, people weren’t ready to believe it. I mean, who would? Suddenly, as if from nowhere, you had these magnanimous beings coming down from the sky to save us. It wasn’t even the powers they showed, movies prepared me for that, hell I expected it… but in real life, seeing people fly and having energy flowing out of their bodies… Sometimes it was too much to take.
Gen. Thomas Black-

If you look at it, the whole thing is kind of generational. We had our heroes start off loyal and patriotic. They believed in the people and what they could do. These were the folks that helped build the America that we call “The Good Old Days.” But as the heroes got older they were replaced by newer heroes, super-beings with different ideas about their contribution to society should be. Now, I want to be clear, these were not villains. While there were always a few of them that worked against society, by and large the heroes were no worse than anyone else. And I guess that’s the rub, they were like us. As the modern times made the world smaller, suddenly our heroes were branching out. They would go to foreign countries, establish headquarters there, and make alliances with the beings that were there. Were we worried in National Defense? A little, but frankly they were still something that we relied on so much that as long as we were the ones getting their “A” game we chose to turn a blind eye. I think that carte blanche may have hurt more than we realized. 

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