Common Stocks, Uncommon Profits – 15 point to measure your business

common-stocks-and-uncommon-profits

I just finished reading Philip Fisher’s seminal investment book ‘Common Stocks, Uncommon Profits’. The book tells you how to truly evaluate a company that you want to invest in (or buy stock of).

The book is a little dated, first coming out in 1960. Some things certainly don’t apply to today’s world (I don’t think you or I could go and meet anyone in management of any listed company!), but a lot of the points are valid and can (and should) be done.

With books like this I like to turn them on their head and say “is my company worth investing in” or how to make it so.

Luckily, Fisher was kind enough to list the 15 criteria that a company should satisfy (or as many as possible). This is a perfect tool for measuring my business and I hope you’ll use it for your company too. Making ourselves and our companies outstanding and outstanding investment opportunities is a key goal!

Here’s his list

  1. Does the company have products or services with sufficient market potential to make possible a sizable increase in sales for at least several years?
  2. Does the management have a determination to continue to develop products or processes that will still further increase total sales potentials when the growth potentials of currently attractive product lines have largely been exploited?
  3. How effective are the company’s research-and-development efforts in relation to its size?
  4. Does the company have an above-average sales organization? (ouch!)
  5. Does the company have a worthwhile profit margin?
  6. What is the company doing to maintain or improve profit margins?
  7. Does the company have outstanding labor and personnel relations?
  8. Does the company have outstanding executive relations?
  9. Does the company have depth to its management?
  10. How good are the company’s cost analysis and accounting controls?
  11. Are there other aspects of the business, somewhat peculiar to the industry involved, which will give the investor important clues as to how outstanding the company may be in relation to its competition?
  12. Does the company have a short-range or long-range outlook in regard to profits?
  13. In the foreseeable future will the growth of the company require sufficient equity financing so that the larger number of shares then outstanding will largely cancel the existing stockholders’ benefit from this anticipated growth?
  14. Does management talk freely to investors about its affairs when things are going well but “clam up” when troubles and disappointments occur?
  15. Does the company have a management of unquestionable integrity?

How well did your company do? I can clearly see some areas where my company needs to improve.

The book is an amazing read. Pick it up if you can. I’m not going to include a link to it, I’m sure you know where to find it!

My Improvised Life – Toastmasters Speech #4

general-saxophone-love-jazz-music-wallpaper-1920x1080-hot-hd-wallpaper-saxophone-wallpaper
When I was 13 I entered high school. In my part of Canada we didn’t have junior high school, so we went from elementary school to high school. My high school had a fantastic music program and at 13 I was starting to get serious about music. On my first few days at the school I heard the incredible big band we had and I knew i had to be a part of it. I would need to audition to get in of course. So I spent 4 months locked in my bedroom immersing myself in a music that would change not just the way I played  but I believe it changed the way my brain is wired and how I look on life.
That music was Jazz.
When I say Jazz it frightens a lot of people. They often think they don’t like it. But most of all, I think they don’t understand it. I can’t possibly convince you in 5 minutes about the history and merits of Jazz as a music. But I can relate how Jazz has changed me.
The foundation of Jazz is improvisation. I believe this is the key difference between it and classical music. In classical music you have a ‘score’. It will tell you exactly how to reproduce that piece of music. In Jazz you don’t have a score. You have a ‘chart’. Like on a ship. The chart in Jazz is a guide to the basic features of the piece of music. It might detail the simplified version of the chords or melody. But just like sailing a ship, as a Jazz musician your goal is to find your own way, using that chart as a guide.
Of course, you can’t just jump in and start playing whatever you like.
I liken playing music to cooking.
Music is a broad term. Like ‘food’. Jazz music is also a broad term. Like ‘japanese food’. Is it ramen? Sushi? Is it Gyutan? Jazz also has as many flavours. But at the center of all of them – like cooking – is the understanding of the rules. The rules of combining certain flavours together. It’s the skill of being able to open the refrigerator and knowing how to combine whatever is there into a great meal.
You have to follow your own taste. Some like it spicy, some like it smooth.
And this idea of improvisation, of taking what life gives you as a chart to be interpreted and not a score to be strictly followed, that has affected me most. I took the skills that I learned as a musician, a software developer, a writer and a filmmaker and combined them and applied them in a way that suited my taste.
It led me around the world.
But perhaps a problem with Jazz is that, because it is so dependent on personal taste, measuring success is difficult. You can’t look outside, to the world at large and say “is this good music”. And I think the same is true of life. You should not measure the success of your life by outside metrics. When playing music, at the end of the night you have to look back and say “I played well” or “I could have done better”. I think life’s a little bit like that, whether you believe it now or not.
When I was 16 I started a jazz sextet with 5 of my fellow musicians from the big band. All of us loved Jazz. And all of us took to the concept of an improvised life.
30 years later, from those 5 people, one is a university music instructor, another is involved in Canadian wildlife conservation in British Columbia, another is an Engineer and another is the senior political editor of Canada’s largest national news magazine.
Jazz of course is not responsible for all of our career paths, but, I believe that this rewiring of our brains that a dedication to jazz at an early age accomplished let each of us see how to apply the rules we learned and to combine them and interpret them into a life that was made from our own tastes.
So, my fellow toastmasters, I cannot convince you to go home and listen to Charlie Parker or Miles Davis, but, I hope I can send you on your way with a fresh look at how to interpret the chart of your life.

Raindance MA in Film: Learning Contract

I’ve always said that I want to be as transparent – warts and all – about my progress through the Raindance MA in Film. This includes doing my bi-weekly or so video blog “I Wanna Be A Producer” (available on YouTube) and posting my assignments.

Below you will find my complete ‘Learning Contract’. We write this thing to say what it is we will be doing over the course of our masters. It is incredible painful to write, but at the same time incredibly helpful. I try to refer back to it often and when I do I go ‘oh yeah, THAT’S what I’m supposed to be doing’.

I’m putting this up here because there aren’t examples available from the school and of all the pain we have in this course finding the format of the Learning Contract shouldn’t be one!

— Phil Smy

THE PRODUCTION COMPANY v2.0

Raindance MA/MSc Film by Negotiated Learning

Learning Contract

1. Personal Information

omitted

2. Key Research Question

The Production Company v2.0

I hope to combine my Tech Startup Company experience and my interest and experience in film and film production. My personal background is nearly 20 years in the software, website and internet marketing and management business. I want to combine that with my lifelong creative pursuits of music and moviemaking.

To that end my Key Research Question is as follows:

How can the production company be re-imagined to take advantage of the latest thinking in ‘startup innovation’ and the changing landscape of distribution? In addition to creating a sustainable production company focused on low budget content, I want to evolve not only my understanding of the business side of film production but also increase my skills as a producer.

3. Research Methods (AM99995-7)

3.1 Title

How are some producers of low budget (films with an operating budget under $1,000,000) content distributing their product online? I’m investigating this in order to determine what the popular choices are amongst the filmmakers I talk to and if their experiences can help me in my choice of distribution method later.

3.2 Rationale

There are currently many options for the low budget producers as far as distribution is concerned. NoFilmSchool.com – a leading online independent film resource – enumerated top platforms in March 2014, and came up with 29 (Hove, M 2014). I feel that when it comes time – in NP2 – to start experimenting in the marketplace I will need a strong grasp of which platforms are currently being used by other low budget producers. Their experiences will help guide me in a choice of platform at that stage, based on ease of use and audience acceptance.

3.3 Methodology

  • Reading about creating and doing surveys.
  • Find filmmakers using personal connections and online communities I am active in and find some who will participate in a survey.
  • Survey as many film makers as possible with regard to a specific production they have distributed
    • Questions:
    • budget
    • number of previous productions, to get a sense of experience level
    • where did you distribute
    • what financial returns
    • what were the audience numbers

Combine filmmaker surveys with statistics from the platforms they reference to directly. Specifically audience numbers and views. By applying accepted norms for advertising click throughs, etc, I can attempt to determine if there was any financial success independently of the filmmakers response.
Do more in depth interviews with (at least) two filmmakers about the distribution process and their experience with it.

3.4 Theoretical Context

Filmmakers are struggling to get noticed in the shifting landscape for self and indie releasing. (Dargis M, 2014). By examining the efforts of other filmmakers, and also trying to confirm their success in attracting customers, I hope to spot some trends that can either be followed or avoided.
New models of distribution are available (Schreder S, 2014) but are production companies taking advantage of changing distribution models? If not, is it because of lack of awareness or understanding of the platforms or something more deep seated in the attitude and structure of the production company itself?
In a later module – NP2 – I will examine applying different business structure models to the production company, but a basis in existing actions with regard to distribution, will give me insight into what is and isn’t working for others.

3.5 Deliverables

4,000 word research paper; Appendices containing survey data

3.6 Bibliography

Carter, M, Media moving online: in search of profit, TheGuardian.com, Available At: http://www.theguardian.com/digital-tribes/media-moving-online

Smith, M & Telang, R (2012), Why Digital Media Require a Strategic Rethink, Harvard Business Review, Oct 2012

Friendman, A, 3 trends in media consumption you need to know, iMediaConnection, Available At: http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/35476.asp

Millward Brown, Digital Predictions 2014, Available At: http://www.millwardbrown.com/digitalpredictions/2013/index.html

3.7 Learning Outcomes

3.7.1 Knowledge & Understanding

By doing an overview survey of a few low-medium budget filmmakers, and two to three in depth interviews with a couple more, I hope to learn what options are currently in use by low-medium budget filmmakers, what their experiences are and filter out the marginal players.

3.7.2 Learning

I will learn more completely the research and referencing process needed for the rest of my masters

3.7.3 Reflection

I will reflect on the impact, benefits, drawbacks to filmmakers like myself using these platforms. By interviewing some active filmmakers I hope to further understand my direction

3.7.4 Problem Solving

I anticipate issues with getting ‘real data’ and believe I will have to make significant personal contacts to get access to personal data.

3.8 Time Allocation

Faculty Contact 10
Web Research 60
Literature Research 20
Conduct Interviews 15
Transcription 15
Writing 30

Total Hours 150

4. [updated] NEGOTIATED PROJECT 1 (AM99996-7)

4.1 Title

Proof of Concept Web series Development and Pre-Production

4.2 Rationale

With greater emphasis on online distribution, and shorter content, a web series seems the optimum format to develop for the later stages (NP2 and NMP) of this degree program. By developing a web series I will get more exposure to the hands on aspects of film production – from script development, through to budgeting, casting, scheduling and finding investment. In addition, at the end of this module, I will have some assets – concept art, script readings, storyboards, etc – that can be used as source material for NP2.

Update:
Initially the contents of this module were to be for my Negotiated Film Production module (AM99997-7) but I have advanced it for a few reasons.
First of all, I feel that I have underestimated the amount of time required to adequately develop this webseries. Finding talent in Japan is proving to be a significant challenge that I had not anticipated and is requiring a lot more time investment in networking and discovering communities that I had previously expected.
Second, my original NP1 – investigating consumer activity in finding online content – revolved around a similar process as my RM module. Namely, surveying. My attempts at surveying for my RM was not successful, and in that case I believed I had direct access to a community – other independent filmmakers – that would be helpful. This turned out to not materialise. In my previously proposed NP1 I suggested attempting the same strategy, but for the public at large, a significantly less motivated and less approachable group! Rather than position myself for more frustration and failure I thought it best to advance and extend my NFP module.
Thirdly, I am discovering that to attempt to perform the ‘experimentation’ that I lay out in NP2 I need more and more varied source material.

4.3 Methodology

  • Find scriptwriter to co-develop web series idea through local industry contacts. The script will be developed in English and Japanese, but if shot the dialogue will be entirely in Japanese.
  • Ensure script ideas developed to budget by keeping locations and number of onscreen actors in check.
  • Investigate finding talent and production staff and locations by getting involved with the local industry.
  • Secure talent for the filming of a pilot episode

4.4 Theoretical Context

In the NP2 module I will pursue audience testing and content development – making minor content and concept changes in through repeated rounds of audience acceptance testing. To adequately pursue these tests I first have to have a original concept developed to a clear enough point – i.e past the idea stage and into the script development and pre-production stages – to be able to place something before an audience.
In this module I will also develop the practical aspects of my production knowledge – that is the actual planning of a film (or content).
Because I intended to make a web series in Japanese I will work closely with a local writer to ensure that dialect and tone are appropriate, but similarly my personal goal is to develop something that draws on ‘western dramatic sensibilities’ as opposed to conventional Japanese serials.

4.5 Supporting Activities

Attend or review, either in person or online, the Raindance course Create & Market Your Web Series (http://www.raindance.org/course/create-market-your-web-series/)
Review the materials from the Raindance course Web Series Foundation Certificate (http://www.raindance.org/toronto/course/web-series-foundation-certificate/)
Review MakingWebShows.com, a leading website dedicated to the development of web series (http://makingwebshows.com/web-series-development-part-1/)

4.6 Deliverables

First draft of pilot episode; production and budget documents; reflective report outlining learned conclusions.

4.7 Bibliography

Morgan, Elize (2012) How to Make a Web Series

4.8 Learning Outcomes

4.8.1 Knowledge & Understanding

I will learn how to develop an idea from a basic high-level concept into an initial script, taking into account budget, location and casting limitations.

4.8.2 Learning

I will learn the techniques for budget analysis of a script, how to create a shooting schedule and how to approach outside investors.

4.8.3 Reflection

What did I learn about the process of idea to script to finalised pre-production schedules?

4.8.4 Problem Solving

Finding solutions to location desires versus available locations, and similar constraints with casting and equipment, will prove to be challenging. Especially given my location (Japan).

4.9 Time Allocation

Faculty Contact 5
Supporting Activities 80
Writing 80
Content Creation 60
Web Research 30
Literature Research 20
Reflective Report 25

Total Hours 300

5. [updated] NEGOTIATED FILM PRODUCTION (AM99997-7)

5.1 Title

Coordinate and produce a single episode of webseries content.

5.2 Rationale

Updated
In this updated module I will create basic elements for the web series developed in NP1.

After developing the webseries, and preparing for production, in NP1, in this module I will create basic webseries content for use in NP2. I believe that, in part due to my situation of living in Japan, the whole process of development and creation of my webseries will take significantly longer, and require significantly more effort, than I previously expected.
For the purposes of the experimentation outlined in NP2 I would like to have as much ‘base material’ as possible. That now extends to at least one episode ‘filmed’. With that completed things like live action trailers, music videos, etc, can be more easily created that fit into the overall theme and presentation of the webseries.

5.3 Methodology

  • Coordinate all on-set production aspects (equipment, location, talent, production staff)
  • Direct or supervise the directing of, principal photography for pilot episode
  • Perform or supervise initial post-production of pilot episode

5.4 Theoretical Context

5.5 Supporting Activities

Research and prepare paperwork for shooting permits and actor’s in Japan.

5.6 Deliverables

Raw footage of pilot episode, first edit of pilot episode, first trailer and music video based on pilot episode footage, shooting logs, production notes.

5.7 Bibliography

Morgan, Elize (2012) How to Make a Web Series

Kenworthy, Christopher (2012) Master Shots Series (Vol 1 – 3)

5.8 Learning Outcomes

5.8.1 Knowledge & Understanding

Come to a greater understanding of the legal and logistical aspects of independent filmmaking in Japan. This is not something that has been written about in any detail (that I can find) in English.

5.8.2 Learning

Learn specific production skills, from arranging personnel and catering to securing location permits.

5.8.3 Reflection

How will my actions on this short, low-budget production scale out to larger productions?

5.8.4 Problem Solving

I anticipate many issues to arise due to the unusual nature of what I am doing. Shooting a film in small town Japan, with a foreigner at the helm, will cause great consternation amongst the locals! Getting cooperation might be difficult. That coupled with the ‘usual’ production problems like last minute cancellations of people and equipment will test my abilities to succeed.

5.9 Time Allocation

Faculty Contact 5
Supporting Activities 30
Logistics & Organisation 50
Preparation & Shooting 60
Editing 30
Post production 20
Reflective Report 25

Total Hours 300

6. NEGOTIATED PROJECT 2 (AM99998-7)

6.1 Title

Marketplace experimentation – putting content through a series of audience tests

6.2 Rationale

Having developed a proof of concept outline, script and pre-production documents for a webseries (NFP), the next step is to perform ‘experiments’ in the marketplace. ‘Experiments’ in this case refers to the methodology of doing small, frequent ‘releases’ of content into the market and testing reaction (Ries, 2011). By doing this I should have more understanding as to whether this is a viable process for content creation.

6.3 Methodology

  • Develop some assets – storyboards, concept art, theme music – and variations
  • Release these into the marketplace via YouTube channel
  • Drive traffic to the experiments by using a combination of targeted social media postings and limited advertising.
  • Create a ‘Customer Avatar’ – model an ideal customer to give a foundation for marketing approaches.
  • Measure audience reaction – views, sharing, comments – to different variations

6.4 Theoretical Context

This concept of marketplace experimentation is becoming commonplace in the software industry, and it has been (arguably) proven that the methods of Minimum Viable Product, Continuous Development and Split Testing increase both quality and customer satisfaction. (Ries, 2014). See Section 9, Definitions, for an overview of these concepts.
These concepts are occasionally applied to content marketing – teaser and trailer variations for example – but rarely to the actual content development, and usually not at the low-budget level as it is incorrectly perceived to be expensive. (Bachmann, C 2009)
By performing these experiments and analysing not just the results but also the methods, I hope to determine how applicable the methods are in this situation.

6.5 Supporting Activities

Review the following web resources:
http://www.youtube.com/yt/creators/
http://tangledwebwewatch.com/original-content-producers/
https://creatorup.com
http://www.tomcruise.com/blog/2012/03/27/12551/

6.6 Deliverables

Detailed report on experiments performed and data acquired
Reflective report on the impact of the experiments and changes made to the content because of them

6.7 Bibliography

6.8 Learning Outcomes

6.8.1 Knowledge & Understanding

I will gain knowledge and understanding of how much relevant feedback can be retrieved from consumers and how the content can be tailored to that feedback.

6.8.2 Learning

I will learn how to measure feedback and promote new content to consumers. I will learn how to manage or do the creation of variations on content.

6.8.3 Reflection

Is it possible to use a build-measure-learn (Lean Startup) loop for something like content creation without losing site of the initial creative vision?

6.8.4 Problem Solving

Getting a large enough sample – and active participation – will be challenging. If necessary I can harness other websites I have influence in to drive traffic, or, run a paid advertising campaign.

6.9 Time Allocation

Faculty Contact 5
Web Research 100
Literature Research 40
Supporting Activities 55
Writing 100

Total Hours 300

7. NEGOTIATED MASTERS PROJECT (AM99999-7)

7.1 Title

Bringing it all together – Operating Principles and Formation of a Reimagined Production Company

7.2 Rationale

This masters has been a series of evolving projects. Having gone from market research to consumer research to proof of concept content development and finally on to content experimentation it is now time to brings these findings together and to outline the operating principles for a new production company, and to pursue it’s formation.

7.3 Methodology

  • evaluate and enumerate steps to company formation in Japan
  • define minimal roles needed for production company using industry standard roles compared with new business methods ideals
  • iterate through business model canvas to fine tune consumer and content focus
  • write business plan and SWOT analysis
  • draft mission and vision statements
  • approach industry peers for feedback
  • evaluate and approach potential financial investors
  • structure a board of directors

7.4 Theoretical Context

There are two significant growing trends in small business – the Lean Startup model and the Blue Ocean Strategy Model. (Blank S, 2014)
The Lean Startup – developed by software entrepreneur Eric Ries – deals with a different form of company structure to instill rapid, customer driven development, through experimentation phases (Ries, 2011) similar to those I will have attempted in NP2.
Blue Ocean Strategy is a complementary startup ethos aimed at creating a distinctive product and product space, thereby reducing competition, through an examination of the core values of any business. (Kim & Mauborgne, 2005)
I hope to follow these two complementary schools in structuring the internal and external workings of a new production company.
Existing production companies have an inherent structure with defined roles. How do these roles fit into a company structured on the aforementioned new principles?

7.5 Deliverables

  • Business plan
  • Business Model Canvas
  • SWOT Analysis of company position
  • Mission Statement
  • Reflective report covering peer and industry feedback

7.6 Bibliography

Ries, Eric (2011). The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.

Kim, W.C., Mauborgne, R. (2005). Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant

Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO)

7.7 Learning Outcomes

7.7.1 Knowledge & Understanding

By going through the steps of company formation I will gain a deeper understanding of the corporate aspects of running a company. I will gain understand of the business requirements for company operation in Japan. Gain knowledge of tax and other incentives for media companies and companies operating with the ‘disaster zone’.

7.7.2 Learning

I will learn the process for company registration in Japan. More formal learning of the business plan development process.

7.7.3 Reflection

How am I suited to the role of business person and how will this new company be situated in the marketplace.

7.7.4 Problem Solving

I anticipate great difficulty in finding all the requirements to form a company and to attract investors. I hope to overcome these by consulting with experienced business people here in Japan.

7.7.5 Communication

I will have to prepare and give presentations to potential investors and industry leaders. Also prepare documents in Japanese with the use of business partners and partnering agencies (eg Japanese External Trade Organisation) for governmental approval for incorporation.

APPENDIX A

Brachmann, C. (2009). Automatic Movie Trailer Generation Based on Semantic Video Patterns, In: Digital Tools in Media Studies, University of Siegen, Germany.

Blank S (2013). Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything, Harvard Business Review, (May 2013) p. 64

Dargis, M (2014), As Indies Explode, an Appeal for Sanity, New York Times, Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/12/movies/flooding-theaters-isnt-good-for-filmmakers-or-filmgoers.html, (Accessed 8 August 2014)

Hove, M (2014), Direct Distribution & Marketing Roundup: A Who’s Who of Today’s Digital Tools, NoFilmSchool, Available at: http://nofilmschool.com/2013/09/direct-distribution-roundup-whos-todays-digital-tools/, (Accessed 8 August 2014)

Kim, W.C., Mauborgne, R. (2005). Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant, Boston: Harvard Business School Press

Lockard, L (2012), Ask the Experts: Where do you find customers online?, LizLockard.com, Available at: http://www.lizlockard.com/where-to-find-your-customers-online/ (Accessed 8 August 2014)

Ries, Eric (2011). The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, New York: Crown Business

Schreder, S (2014), How to Save Indie Distribution in 5 Easy Steps, IndieWire.com, Available at: http://www.indiewire.com/article/how-to-save-indie-film-distribution-20140618, (Accessed 8 August 2014)

APPENDIX B

Minimum Viable Product – The term minimum viable product has been in use since at least 2000 as part of various approaches to product development. See “The Dynamic Balance Between Cost, Schedule, Features, and Quality in Software Development Projects”, Junk, W, 2000, Computer Science Department, University of Idaho.
The term refers to any product (initially any software) in a basic state that can be presented to consumers. As defined by Eric Ries in the Lean Startup, a Minimum Viable Product “is a learning vehicle. It allows you to test an idea by exposing an early version of your product to the target users and customers, to collect the relevant data, and to learn from it.”
See also: “Minimum Viable Product: a guide”, Eric Ries, 2009. http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2009/08/minimum-viable-product-guide.html

Continuous Development – The process whereby products are altered frequently and released to the marketplace in an aggressive – often weekly – schedule.

Split Testing – Simultaneously releasing 2 or more variations of the same product into the marketplace, obtaining some sort of metrics to test customer approval or interest, and comparing the results, choosing a ‘winner’.

APPENDIX C

This following are articles, blog entries and general reference materials that I feel will be beneficial during the course of my degree program

Adler, T (2006) The Producers: Money, Movies and Who Calls the Shots, Methuen Drama

Bernstein, P, Crowdfunding is a Full-Time Job, Indiewire.com, Available At: http://www.indiewire.com/article/crowdfunding-is-a-full-time-job-tips-from-the-directors-of-the-dog-20140811?utm_campaign=crowdfunding-is-a-full-time-job-tips-from-the-directors-of-the-dog-20140811

Fogelson, M, How to Identify an Online Community for Your Business, Moz.com, Available At: http://moz.com/blog/identifying-online-community

Grove, E (2013) Lo To No Budget Filmmaking, Focal Press

Hirschhorn, J, If Video is Booming, Why are Revenues Evaporating?, MediaRedefined.com, Available At: http://www.mediaredefined.com/a-redef-original-if-video-is-b-668292818.html

Jolliffe, G & Jones, C (2000) The Guerrilla Film Makers Handbook & Movie Blueprint, Cassel

Lynch, J, How Amazon built a TV studio that’s finally challenging Netflix, Quartz.com, Available At: http://qz.com/246925/how-amazon-built-a-tv-studio-thats-finally-challenging-netflix/

Puttnam, D (1997) The Undeclared War: Struggle for Control of the World’s Film Industry, HarperCollins

Munarriz, R. A., Why Your Local Redbox Kiosk Just Disappeared, DailyFinance.com, Available At: http://www.dailyfinance.com/on/redbox-kiosk-numbers-shrinking-outerwall/

Ng, D, How to Find Thriving Online Communities, Dummies.com, Available At: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-to-find-thriving-online-communities.html

Sillesen, L, Do documentary filmmakers need data about their audiences?, Columbia Journalism Review, Available At: http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/do_documentary_filmmakers_need_audience_data.php

Szalai, G, Netflix Has Reached 3 Million U.K. Subscribers, Analyst Estimates, HollywoodReporter.com, Available At: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/netflix-3-million-uk-subscribers-724558

Wigon, Z, Indie Filmmakers Should Act Like Entrepreneurs, TribecaFilm.com, Available At: http://tribecafilm.com/stories/racking-focus-indie-filmmakers-should-act-like-entrepreneurs

Every Story Ever Told – My take on the Hero’s Journey

[ What follows is the script for my Toastmasters Speech #2, given in Sendai, Japan]

Introduction

What if I told you that stories as diverse as the ancient Chinese fable ‘Journey to the West’, the life of Jesus as written in the New Testament, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the 12th Century Japanese work Heike Monogatari, the Harry Potter books and almost every action and fantasy work ever filmed or written all followed the same pattern?

I want to expose that pattern to you. It will give you insight into movies and stories, and quite possibly change the way you watch and read them for the rest of your life.

Back in 1949 a man named Joseph Campbell first published a book called ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’, where he broke story characters down into a series of archetypes or character patterns. Campbell travelled the world, including a stay in Japan studying folklore and Noh theatre, and honed his theories into something called the Monomyth.

I want to cover archetypes in another speech, because today I want to focus on the Monomyth, or as we often call it – The Hero’s Journey.

 

My simplified Hero's Journey Diagram

Body

The Hero’s Journey is broken down into 12 basic stages.

Stage 1 – The Ordinary World Whether you are a carpenter or a spaceman or a boy who will be king of the wizards, you inhabit a world that is ordinary to you. Every story needs to show the ordinary world of the hero before it can explain the ‘extra-ordinary’ world he is about to enter.

Stage 2 – The Call To Adventure This is where our main character, our hero, has his world changed. Either externally or internally. Maybe an old wizard shows up and invites him to join a quest – as in Lord of the Rings, or a princess appears in a hologram as in Star Wars.

Stage 3 – Refusal of the Call Our hero says “no, I don’t think so” to the adventure before him. Indiana Jones thinks it’s impossible to find the Ark.

Stage 4 – Meeting with the Mentor Our hero meets someone who is well versed in the tools of the new world, who can guide or train our hero at the start of his journey into the unknown. Think that scene where James Bond meets Q, the person who gives him all those great weapons, or when Hagrid tells Harry Potter who his parents were.

Stage 5 – Crossing the Threshold Finally our hero is ready and can plunge headlong into the story and the world before him, one with different rules and values than his own. Frodo leaves the Shire, Luke Skywalker leaves Tatooine, Alice goes down the rabbit hole, Sherlock Holmes steps out onto the streets to solve a crime

Stage 6 – Tests, Allies and Enemies Our hero is tested, finds new friends, and finds new foes. Story is struggle – in his tests these cases our heroes find out who is friend and who is not. And we, the audience, learn what kind of skills and values our hero really has.

Stage 7 – Approach The hero and his allies prepare for the major challenge in this new world – to get the thing he came for. Usually this is physically a cave or enclosed space that the hero approaches. Dorothy and her friends finally get inside Oz.

Stage 8 – The Ordeal This is the darkest moment for our hero, where we, the audience, fear for his life and root for his success. Our hero enters battle and confronts death, maybe even dies. Out of the moment of death his reborn with greater strength.

Stage 9 – The Reward The hero gets the thing he wanted. Campbell called it ‘the elixir’, others call it ‘the sword’, but it is something that could be taken back with the hero. There is celebration, but still the risk of losing what he has won.

Stage 10 – The Road Back Now that he has what he came for our hero has to fight his way back. He is usually chased by those that protected the thing he came for.

Stage 11 – The Resurrection The ultimate fight as our hero breaks out of the special world. The hero returns home, bringing with him the treasure that can change his ordinary world.

Stage 12 – New Life Back to the same old life as stage 1. Sherlock Holmes goes back to 221b Baker Street, Frodo is back in the Shire, Dorothy is back in Kansas. But things are different. Life is never the same when you’re a hero.

It’s easy to apply this structure to action movies, as any good action movie made now uses this as it’s template. Any Role Playing video game, like the Final Fantasy series or the ones where you have to get league points, also relies heavily on this theory.
New sensation the Hunger Games blatantly follows it. And so does famous anime like ‘One Piece’. Each ‘Voyage’ of ‘One Piece’ puts Monkey D Luffy through the Hero’s Journey.

Conclusion

I hope you’ll leave here tonight and start to see the Journey in books and movies.

But, it’s not just fiction that follows the Hero’s Journey. It is also in our own lives. We may not slay dragons or enter a magical world, but I bet that each of us needs to learn, overcome obstacles and return with a treasure that will make our lives better.

Joseph Campbell said

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

Maybe this room is your cave, and speaking is your fear. But if you conquer it, you’re a kind of hero, don’t you think?

What I learned from writing my presentation

I just wanted to go through some points about doing my presentation of my learning contract.

  1. Doing the presentation clarified my mind! This is the most important, for me. Having to distill my learning contract down into a presentation really showed some holes in my learning contract. It got me thinking about the overall ‘arch’ of the masters.
  2. It’s show AND tell. I didn’t want my presentation to be just slides of what I was saying, so, I went to the other end of the spectrum – my slides have almost no words on them and are simply an accompaniment to my talking.
  3. Google Presentation tool rocks! For the first time I used the Presentation Tool in Google Apps. I knew that I would have to be showing this in Hangouts, so I hoped there was some simpatico between the two (there really isn’t). But, it is a very easy to use tool and certainly the lack of features (that I wouldn’t have used) made the learning curve easy.
  4. Write a script. Trying to remember all the salient points in each slide at the time of the presentation is going to be tough. Read: impossible. I wrote script notes.
  5. Read it. Then rewrite to what you actually said. I think like most people when I write it is not in the same ‘tone’ as when I talk. So, I went over my script reading it aloud (many times!) and then rewrote the script to match how I actually would say what I wrote.
  6. Clip art is a beautiful thing. My presentation is not ever going to be seen outside of my cohort/tutors, so, I can use any clip art I wanted. When searching for clip art I recommend
    1. use google image search
    2. if you are looking for illustrations (not photos) add ‘png’ to the search string (eg ‘house png’ or ‘arrow png’)
    3. Find the biggest possible pic so it will scale down better
    4. Don’t waste too much time. Pick the first thing that works.
  7. Your dog is not a person. Giving your presentation to your dog, or cat or gerbil, even a dozen times, does not prepare you for talking to a human. Giving it to a person is unnerving, so do it once before the big day.
  8. Don’t BS too much. This is more about the Learning Contract. Yes, I know we all have no real clue as to how it is going to play out, so to a certain extent of course the is a work of Fantasy (without the Unicorns and Elves) but don’t reach for the impossible. You are not going to interview Steve Spielberg. You’re going to have a difficult enough time interviewing Manny Spielberg who runs the Deli around the corner!
  9. Conversely, Dream Big. You’re spending a chunk of change on this masters and maybe this is your one shot to use the clout (?!) of Raindance, or of doing a Masters, to get something exciting done.  What have you always wanted to do in the film business. Try to do it.
  10. Dammit, Tiska is right. Your Masters is like making a movie. And so, like making a movie….
    1. You need to brainstorm.
    2. You need to approach things from different angles and get yourself out of your comfort zone.
    3. You need to be able to admit you are wrong and that other people are right.
    4. You need to keep the end in mind.
    5. You need to not get caught up in the technology.
    6. You need to get the help of others.
    7. You will learn that your ideas are not unique – but how you PRESENT your ideas can be.
    8. Your learning contract is the blueprint (the script). You can/will/must do rewrites based on changing situations.
    9. Hire a cinematographer. Preferably from Eastern Europe or Scandinavia, or with a name that sounds like it. (this means: look through someone else’s eyes at your plans)
    10. Sound is as important as picture.
    11. Zoom in on the gun. If something is going to make an impact, SHOW IT.

But…what do I know!? There is every possibility that my presentation and learning contract suck. These are just the things I think I learned.

Favourite Film Book(s)

We all know the situation. Someone asks you to recommend your favourite xyz… movie, book, song, band, vacation spot, etc etc. It’s impossible.

So, when we were asked to write about our favourite book on filmmaking, I knew that it too was impossible. Filmmaking is such a wide term, that the best I could do was narrow it down into ‘best in group’. I mean really. How can you compare the best terrier to the best gun dog?!

Screenwriting

At heart I still think of myself as a creator, and for me in the movie business that means the screenwriter. If it ain’t on the page there’s no way it’s hitting the back of the CMOS sensor! I’ve taken all the big courses (McKee, Truby, etc) and read all the big books (Sid Fields, McKee, etc), but for me the one that really gave me the ‘aha’ moment was this one.
The ‘Writer’s Journey’ unlocked – read: spoiled – movie watching for me for a very long time after I read it. It felt ‘right’ and seemed to definitely mimic what I was seeing on screen in movies that I loved.

Is it easy? No. It is still tough to follow Vogler’s map with enough creativity to make something unique and compelling, but, it does give you the signposts along the way.

When I am developing a story I try to run it through a few templates, or story engines, to first give me a deeper understanding of the story I am trying to write and second to hopefully find a template that matches to make writing the script even 1% easier! I still use other templates and engines, but, my master template, the one I overlay onto any story where there is a central character, is the one outlined in Vogler’s book.

The ‘Writer’s Journey’ takes us through two significant structures. The first is ‘The Hero’s Journey’, where our central character goes through 12 steps (no addiction required!) that covers the entire script, in order, from start to finish (Vogler, 1996 : 18). (Interesting to note that these points are in script order, which may not match the unwrapped timeline of the character – i.e something may happen 20 pages in that is a flashback, but it is still 20 pages into the structure and therefore should be along that path).

The second structure Vogler covers is the hero’s ‘Inner Journey’, a further 12 steps that cover the same timeline, but delve into character emotion (as opposed to character motion). (Vogler 1996: 82)

Ah, read the book!

Vogler also has a great website that gives you a great introduction to the material. You can find that here.

Shooting

Film is a language. And what I find is that in the throws of production you can sometimes forget how to speak. My next book is again invaluable. It’s actually 3 books.

The ‘Master Shots’ series by Christopher Kenworthy is like the greatest directing assistant ever. Over the three volumes Kenworthy outlines shot setups for nearly every scenario. When you are going through your script and storyboarding ideas, Kenworthy’s volumes are an amazing starting point. They cover what the audience is expecting, after a lifetime of media ingesting.

The shot list is pretty impressive, from Fight Scenes, to Dialogue, to Love Scenes (and that’s just volume 1!). The latest edition covers blocking and camera movement and even gives tips on cutting to different takes together.

I know there will be some eye rolling from the ‘serious directors’ in the audience. They want to learn and hone their craft and give and original spin on things. But, in my opinion, at least 80% of any movie that hopes to find an audience has to speak in accepted visual terms. And I feel the Kenworthy series gives that to a director.

Of course, film directing can’t be learned from a book. Sitting with this on your lap will not get over the fact that your film, your script, is different (hopefully) and will have situations and settings that are of course not covered. But it is a good starting point. If you didn’t spend $50,000 on going to film school this will still put you in very good company.

Gosh, after writing this I want to go back and read it again!

Producing

My favourite book on producing is actually one I just read. It’s one of the few books I’ve read on the subject that talks about the whole tip to tail job, not just line producing (the work done during the few weeks of production).
‘The Producers’ by Tim Adler is in essence a series of profiles covering 7 different independent producers and their styles. The book is fairly recent (2006, but I believe written in 2001/2002) and thereby gives a somewhat modern approach to the subject (though there is little talk of low budget or the internet). It is also nice that the subjects are ‘independent’ filmmakers. It puts it into the realm of the likes of ‘us’.

Adler manages to really cover a wide range – from Michael Douglas’s early days with ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ to Duncan Kenworthy and Andrew Macdonald’s work with Richard Curtis to Marin Karmitz producing Kieślowski’s ‘Three Colors Trilogy’.

Throughout each interview you get a warts and all look at the role of producer. The lengthy process of getting a film produced (Douglas quotes it as being on average 5 years (Adler, 2006; 62)) comes up again and again. Again and again we hear how the producer drives the production from concept, and often script creation and development, through actual production and onwards to distribution.

Each subject has a slightly different take on it. But, despite it all, I came away inspired. Producing is not for everyone. Maybe it’s not even for me, but, with every chapter I felt more and more like it was an exciting, stressful, wide ranging discipline. Quite simply, this book solidified my desire to become a producer.

What Started It All

Back in 2001 I was living in Spain and was a little bored and frustrated with my situation – personal and professional. I felt like I was missing some creative challenge or output. I surfed the internet and stumbled across Rick Schmidt, his book, and his ‘Feature Workshop’ program.
I bought Rick’s book ‘Feature Filmmaking at Used-Car Prices’ and my mind was blown. Making movies was something I’d always dreamed of doing but also thought was beyond my reach. Rick changed all that. Rick inspired a whole generation of filmmakers in the US (including Robert Rodriquez, director of Sin City). Rick covered all the things we now take a standard in the low budget film world – getting permissions, raising money, finding cheap alternatives, getting production value, etc. He was a maverick.

I signed on to go to one of Rick’s insane Feature Workshops. A dozen strangers get together and write, shoot and edit a feature film in about 10 days. It is madness, and of course rarely is the output watchable but it is meant to give you a taste of what is needed to get the job done, and, to show you it CAN be done!

It, quite simply, changed my life.

And, not for the least of which that it was Rick that told me about Raindance. If I remember correctly he said something like ‘there’s a guy in London who has a cross between a film school and an adult education program’. It was Rick that pointed me to my first Raindance experience in 2002.

The book now seems obvious, but, there are still thousands out there who will be inspired by it.

Bibliography

Vogler, C. (1992) The Writer’s Journey, London: BoxTree

Kenworthy, C. (2011) Master Shots Vol 1, 2nd edition: 100 Advanced Camera Techniques to Get an Expensive Look on Your Low-Budget Movie, London: Michael Wiese Productions

Adler, T (2006) The Producers: Money, Movies and Who Calls the Shots (Screen and Cinema), London: Methuen

Schmidt, R. (1995) Feature Filmmaking at Used-Car Prices: Revised Edition, 2nd Edition: 2000, Penguin Books

Woody Allen: Director

I remember sitting in the basement, what must have been late at night, in the early/mid 1970s. The TV was on, I was alone, and enthralled in the work of a man who’s career now spans 50 years and an incredible 60+ films: Woody Allen.

The movies of Woody Allen have always spoken to me.  I think it is the self-deprecation and the erudite humour that has always appealed to me. To paraphrase one of the Pythons, its him looking in the mirror with a dictionary and insulting himself. I’ve always believed in the addage that comedy comes from putting an exceptional person in unexceptional circumstances (and drama vice versa) and in Allen’s case, he is the exceptional man… which is such a contradiction I can’t help but be seduced by it.

I realise that tackling a prolific director such as Allen is beyond both my time and my ability, so I’m going to limit my scope. One of Allen’s first transitions as a film maker came in the jump from his ‘Slapstick’ Period spanning from 1969’s ‘Take the Money And Run’ (that film I was watching in the basement in the early 70s) to 1975’s pseudo-intellectual-bashing masterpiece ‘Love And Death’.

Then came ‘Annie Hall’ (1977) and all of a sudden Woody Allen was a grown up film director.

I’d like to look at those two films – ‘Love and Death’ and ‘Annie Hall’ – in closer detail.

Love And Death

I was walking through the woods, thinking about Christ. If he was a carpenter, I wondered what he charged for bookshelves.

‘Love and Death’ tells the story of Boris Grushenko (Allen), a coward…and well… Woody Allen. Forced to enlist in the Russian Army, he accidentally becomes a hero of the Napoleonic Wars. Returning a war hero, he tricks Sonja into marriage when she believes he will die in a duel. When Napoleon invades Mother Russia, Sonja convinces Boris to attempt to assassinate him. All of this is a pre-tense for philosophical double-talk and slapstick humour, with homages to Eisenstein, Bergman and the Marx Brothers thrown in for good measure.

As with all of Allen’s work, the central focus is on the script, not the camera. ‘Love and Death’ has a very 1970s feature feel about it. Most scenes run over 3 minutes, with the standard, workman-like approach of master, two-shot and medium being intercut. This being a comedy often the ‘punch line’ of a scene, or joke, is done in close up. As I say, most of the scenes are shot like this. Most… but not all!

The battlefield scenes evoke ‘War and Peace’. Allen’s use of Russian classical music – especially Prokofiev – mimicked Sergei Eisenstein (who used the same music).

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Death, from Bergman’s ‘Seventh Seal’ turns up in a comedic role. Bergman is present again in the final scene, an obvious nod to Persona (which would be used again, without the humour, in Allen’s Interiors).

Untitled 10Untitled 11‘Love and Death’ is a satire on Russian literature and the motion picture epic – and it contains elements of both. Allen’s often surreal humour allows him to pull in references across the ages – from a Marx Brother’s physical slapstick piece set in a Russian boudoir, to a black drill Sergeant reminiscent of the Vietnam era war films of the time.

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Allen also talks directly to camera in passages that could be interpreted as inner dialog. On one occasional both Boris and Sonja talk their inner dialogs to the camera while sitting side by side.

Above all else, ‘Love and Death’ is a comedy, perhaps the funniest of Allen’s early work, and one that solidified both his writing and on-screen persona as a pseudo-intellectual,neurotic, smart-ass. It’s classic Allen.

The Transition

But the problem is this: it’s easy for me because it’s flamboyant; it’s not real at all [Lax, pg 68]

One of the reasons Allen can be so prolific  is his speed. He has infamously said he can finish a screenplay in four to six weeks. Writing is part of the process of film making, and his judicious use of time gives him options.

In his June 1974 interview with Eric Lax, right at the time he was deciding whether to make ‘Love and Death’ or another unnamed project, he talks about a move in direction, that would most definitely end up in ‘Annie Hall’: a move to ‘the real’.

I’d love to get to the real thing, because that would be the biggest departure for me [ibid]

And get real he did

Annie Hall

You know how you’re always trying to get things to come out perfect in art because it’s real difficult in life

Annie Hall, Allen’s most financially successful film until 2011’s ‘Midnight in Paris’, straddles a period in his film making between farce and trying to pull more ‘reality’ into his work. Watching the film back to write this posting, I was struck by not only the differences between Allen’s previous film (‘Love and Death’, see above) but also by the similarities! Both films start with Voice Over. Both films start with childhood to frame the following story. Both films deal with dealing with unrequited love.

The differences are in essence fewer. Annie Hall substitutes ‘Love and Death’s satiric Russian tragedy backdrop from current day New York City. It’s as if Allen finally feels comfortable enough as a film maker to be able to capture ‘real life’ on screen.

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The other difference is the editing.

Allen is known for keeping a tight crew around him and using it on every production. His first editor, his ‘editing teacher’ as he once called him, was Ralph Rosenblum. Rosenblum worked with Sidney Lumet and William Friedkin before settling in next to Allen in the editing suite for six films, starting in 1969 with ‘Take the Money and Run’ and ending in 1978 with ‘Interiors’ (Rosenblum declined to edit 1979’s ‘Manhattan’ and for the next 20 years Allen worked with Susan Morse, Rosenblum’s assistant editor). Rosenblum was known for his French New Wave-like style and Allen openly admits that he learned a lot not just about editing, but about crafting a story in the editing room, from Rosenblum. Incredibly, ‘Annie Hall’ was not focused on the Allen/Keaton character’s relationship, but was originally about Allen’s internal dialog. It was Rosenblum who recut the film, hi lighting the Annie Hall character. Rosenblum won the BAFTA for his work on Annie Hall.

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The editing in Annie Hall keeps us at a distance. Gone are the close ups on the punch lines. In fact, gone are many of the cuts. There’s an outstanding seen where the Singer (Allen) is in the bedroom with his first wife (Carol Kane) where the camera tracks around the bed and the characters move in and out of frame. The scene ends with Singer talking to the camera, commenting reflectively, from the future as it were, on what we’ve just seen.

Nothing like that had been seen in a Woody Allen film before, but it became a staple of Allen’s cinema after Annie Hall.

There are more scenes shot in master, as if we were watching them ourselves. To quote British producer Duncan Kenworthy (Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral) “for comedy to work properly, you must believe in the characters and let the humour shine through. At the end of the film the audience should feel it has just watched a documentary”. This is the approach taken, perhaps pioneered in screen comedy, by Allen.

Annie Hall won 4 Academy Awards in 1977 – Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Leading Actress (Keaton) and Best Picture – beating out ‘Star Wars’.

In Conclusion

It was fascinating for me to watch these two films back to back – in essence, watch them as Allen made them – and note the astonishing differences, and equally astonishing similarities between them. To see Allen grow as a film maker – before your very eyes as it were – is also an incredible experience. It is like Allen ended a chapter, knowing that he had done all he could, or wanted to do, with the slapstick genre and moved on to a more introspective work. In future years, of course, he would move further in to more serious films and then start investigating other dramas and periods.

These two films represent high points of two of Allen’s many genres. Picking ‘the best’ Allen films has always been impossible for me. The list is too long. But these are a great, educational, introduction that can be used as a jumping off point for moving forwards and backwards through his career. I still watch these films every few years. They are now like good friends that still make me laugh and think.

References:

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_and_Death
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woody_Allen
  • Eric Lax, Conversations with Woody Allen: His Films, the Movies, and Moviemaking , Vintage, 2009
  • http://www.everywoodyallenmovie.com
  • Tim Adler, The Producers, Methuen Publishing, 2004
  • Robert B. Weide, Woody Allen – A Documentary, 2012

What goes around, comes around – life lessons and comedy in Groundhog Day

Yes. ‘Groundhog Day’. It is perhaps not the coolest, hippest film choice I could have made, but, in all honesty, it is a film that has rarely been equalled in it’s combination of profundity and humour.

The Story

I am sure I don’t need to tell you the basic outline of this plot, as the film has woven itself into the lexicon of western culture, but, here goes.

Groundhog Day tells the tale of jaded TV weatherman Phil Connors who goes to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to report on the annual Groundhog Day festivities. He then gets stuck in a time loop and repeats the same day over and over. As he reruns the day over and over – we never find out how many times, but it is implied it is in the tens of thousands of days – he goes through many stages. First disbelief, then fun, then boredom, then despair and then finally an awakening.

My Significant Film

I love the film because of it’s natural simplicity. In fact, it’s so simple that at first viewing you can easily miss – as even influential film critic Roger Ebert admitted he did – the film’s deeply profound and spiritual meaning. The film shines after repeated viewings. It has touched and inspired thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people from all walks of life around the planet. It has influenced popular culture. It has been praised by Buddhist and Christians.

And it’s funny.

But it has darkness, not black comedy. That is also very appealing to me. Life is full of humour and tragedy, and the combination of this also adds to the film’s natural, unpretentious feel.

It’s a film I would love to make. It embodies pretty much everything I like about story-telling and filmmaking. It’s simple on the surface, the story is laden with reveals and understated philosophy. The directing is solid, and minimal. It has some rom-com schmaltz that actually serves the purpose of pulling the film out of a very dark place.

The Script

From a (unproduced) screenwriter’s perspective the script is tight and clever. With a celebrated comedian in the starring role, and a very experienced comedic writer-director, without a doubt some scenes were improvised, but even taking that away there is a polished aspect that can only come from many revisions.

The script combines comedy and fantasy, but does so without any pre tense or edifice. In fact, this is the film’s charm – the absolutely natural way that Phil Connors reacts to his situation.

The script is a perfect example of seed planting and foreshadowing. Right from the opening line, the script tells you exactly where you are going to go. The opening line is this:

‘Someone asked me, if you could be anywhere in the world, where would you like to be?’

Throughout the setup of the film – the first 20 minutes before Phil gets stuck in the loop – many characters talk about being stuck, and planning for their future.

The Production

The film had a budget of $15 million. For the early 1990’s, that was not a small budget, but looking at the film you can see that there are many large set pieces involving lots of extras. But, for the rest of the film, it is small and intimate. For a ‘fantasy’ film (actually on AFI’s top 10 fantasy films) there are no special effects (don’t count the Groundhog!). It is just straight filmmaking. The film was shot over the course of less than a month.

The Money

On initial theatrical release the film did very well – grossing over $70 million in the US, with a further few millions in other major markets – but in the 20 years since its release it must been in the hundreds of millions of dollar around the world. It still ranks as a popular online sale and rental, when most other comedies from that time have been left behind.

Recognition

The film has been recognised by the AFI and designated a national treasure by the Library of Congress. Not bad for a rom-com fantasy.

References

The state of Canadian race mentality

Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.
Pierre Burton

I never, ever thought that I would be in a position to write such a post as this. I am, after all, on what is normally the privileged end of the equation – white male, successful, English speaking, Canadian born. ie. safe, boring and probably as close to the definition of a white bread male as you can get.

As some of you may know I run LotteryCanada.com – Canada’s leading lottery results website. But I also have a company based in Hong Kong. I use this company for various and sundry computer consulting tasks – one of which is sending out the daily emails to thousands of LotteryCanada subscribers.

All seemed normal, until I got this email yesterday (from someone who proudly calls themselves ‘X X’):

Your office is in Hong Kong – what business do you have listing yourselves as Lottery Canada

I JUST UNSUBSCRIBED – YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS BEING HERE IN CANADA!!!

I see. Canada, the home to the cultural mosaic, the birthplace of the League of Nations ideal. And I am a Canadian.

I thought maybe X was wrapped up in this whole ‘my god everything comes from China’ thing. So I thought I would reply:

Normally I wouldn’t answer an email like this, but, for what it is worth LotteryCanada was started 12 years ago in Canada by two born and raised Canadians (white, English speaking Canadians, if you must make a distinction) – I am one of them! For all of this time we have been offering the most comprehensive lottery results service for Canadians. Free of charge, I might add.

The fact that 5 years ago I moved to Asia and have started using my own company (100% Canadian owned!) to provide auxiliary information services (mailing, etc) to Lottery Canada does not change the fact that we are Canadians, our staff are Canadians and of our half million monthly readers 95% are living in Canada.

If you wish to live in an all Canadian island I salute you, but also note that you will find it impossible to buy groceries, clothe yourself, drive a car or do pretty much anything else.

Ok – I was in a mood last night, so I sent the email. I know, never get involved in a flame war with a raving nut job, but, I did.

Here is X’s response:

Really, I’ve been alive 60 years and as I recall Canadians did just fine before foreign trade flooded our market with cheap, counterfeit products. orientals cheat lie and steal…. consider Tibet – chinese swarmed in killed the monks and overwhelmed the country. This is happening right now in Vancouver – a big slow ugly infestation. Oh and why does your site not say it’s already in china – huh! What a phony you are.

No way I’ll ever do business with you – or ever visit your site. I don’t buy anything sourced or fouled by orientals. Look what you’ve all done to your air – disgusting! You cannot be trusted.

so take your indignation and shove it!

X clearly missed the salient points of my email

  • I am not oriental. Stop saying ‘you’.
  • Canada has forever been a welcomer of foreigners and indeed was built by them! (CP Rail anyone?!)
  • How many Canadian-grown oranges have you eaten in your life?

Furthermore:

  • Not all products from Asia are cheap and counterfeit. Ironically, I would imagine that whatever device this flag waving ignoramus is using to write his manifestos if probably made there! He should quickly throw it away.
  • I don’t think Orientals (really? we still use that word?!) cheat and lie to a higher degree than anyone else.
  • Yes, Chinese politics is a not nice thing. Nothing like Stephen Harper.
  • I don’t really think that what is happening in Vancouver can be compared to Tibet!
  • ‘Fouled by orientals’. sigh

I see no point in replying to this racist old bastard.

But I am saddened to get this kind of thing from my homeland – the nation that prides itself as being kinder and gentler. A nation where everyone gets to keep their identity and their language and if they are lucky even gets streets signs in their language!

I don’t know much about ‘X X’ – apart from the fact that he is 60 and lives in BC. Maybe he’s not even a ‘he’. But I feel sorry for him. And for Canada.

Death By Perfection

 

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.
Salvador Dali

Perfection is one of the great things about Japan. Its something that, as a foreigner here I really admire. But, perfection is also stifling the Japanese.

Not Everything Can Be Done Perfectly

One of the great things about Japanese culture is the survival of the apprentice system. Young – and not so young – people still have to work up through the ranks under a ‘master’. This is true in traditional arts and crafts and traditional culinary techniques but also in more modern pursuits like some aspects of construction, and even some of the fast food chains employ this idea (especially ‘fast food’ ramen restaurants).

And in these cases perfection is, if not attainable, certainly worth striving for.

When I go to lunch I know that the food will taste great (has anyone ever had a bad meal in Japan??!) and be wonderfully presented. Each dish will be presented as it was intended. A uniformity will come through that has been evolved over time.

Perfect!

But, not everything can be done perfectly. And not everyone can do everything perfectly.

There is such a high expectation here that it is literally killing some people. I believe that a certain percentage of the high suicide rate can be attributed to this striving for perfection.

If you are failing your tests in school, you are not perfect. If you are not perfect in high school your chances of employment or getting into college greatly narrow.

If you are not outperforming at your job, you are not perfect.

If you are not working as much and as long as the company asks, you are not perfect.

I don’t have kids, nor did I go to school here, so I haven’t experienced the first point, and I don’t work in a Japanese company, so I don’t personally experience the others. But certainly people are killing themselves here because of these perceived failings.

 No one speaks English perfect(ly)

Where I have experienced it is in the Japanese reluctance to speak English. Most or at least many Japanese study English for years both in high school and in cram schools. But they are told not to speak it until they learn it perfectly. I mean, the teacher literally said that!

The flaw in the logic is that no one speaks English perfectly. And there are many kinds of English. From American to Canadian to British to Jamaican to Indian, there are many native English speakers.

Which of these is the bar to hold yourself to?

And then you look at all the people who speak English as a second language! There are more people in China speaking English than in Canada. Think about THAT for a minute!

So the Japanese remain terrified of making a mistake.

And how does this relate to business?

There is no way to start or run a business perfectly. The best businesses try and fail. The best creators of anything try and fail. And fail many more times than they succeed. But they don’t stop, go and sit in a cave until they have perfected something and then come out. Because in business we will never be perfect without including the customer in the loop. It is literally impossible. And always has been.

That is why I am surprised at people who think concepts like the Lean Startup are something new. They are not. They may be newly worded or detailed but it has always been our job as commercial creators of anything to find out what the customer wants and make sure we deliver.

Fail fast, fail often

In business, in language, in life, keep failing until you find the thing that works. Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes and move on. I’m not saying anything new here. You’ve heard it before. But maybe you need to keep hearing it! I know I do.