altMBA, film

The Rules of altMBA

July 2, 2015
The first rule is...

The two FUNDAMENTAL principles of altMBA*

  1. Make Good Decisions
  2. Make Change Happen

What you do with these rules is up to you.

*Note: The rules allow you to tell other people about altMBA

altMBA, film, Origin Story

To get Hollywood’s attention, talk to its assistants

July 1, 2015
pile-of-scripts

Every assistant in Hollywood is an agent, producer, manager, or film exec in-waiting, and Literary and Talent Agents’ assistants, in particular, are known for being extremely ambitious. In effect, they’re almost all individual entrepreneurs with ‘deal radar’ running 24 hours a day.

Even though their sole purpose is to serve the needs of Agents and Junior Agents, assistants are often on the lookout to advance their own careers by finding talent and literary work suitable for representation – whether by their boss(es) or as their own first clients.

CAA

From 2006-2007, I freelanced for Creative Artists Agency‘s (CAA) Literary Department, reviewing scripts, novels, plays, treatments, and other literary works, and then writing detailed coverage (feedback) about the market potential, commercial opportunities, artistic items of note, financial impression, suggested talent (movie stars), and other factors that could be relevant to CAA’s potential representation of either the work, their author(s), or both.

caa_logoAt that time, CAA used over 100 of us freelance coverage readers to sift and sieve through the vast amounts of literary material submitted to the agency, which they had pre-sorted into “circle file” (trash it) and “reviewable for consideration” piles. Many of the projects I covered for CAA were later released as feature films or published books; here are a few of my favorites:

echoparkdoctorow_littlebrother

While agents’ assistants are close to the bottom of the agency totem, while they often start in the mailroom with degrees like JDs and MBAs, and while they often take significant pay cuts for the privilege of working under (and sometimes taking the abuse of) their agent and junior agent counterparts, the potential rewards are often considered incalculable:

  • being ‘the one’ who discovered the ‘next big thing’
  • receiving a promotion to Agent
  • possibly even landing and participating in deals worth millions of dollars

CAA LITERARY DEPARTMENT ORGANIZATION CHART (c. 2007)

CAA script review process 1

The image above represents 1) the (ahem…rough) traditional org chart of the 2007 CAA Literary Department (left), 2) a visual representation of the volume of literary material reviewed for potential deals by organizational unit (hand-drawn scripts decrease in size as we move up the chart), and 3) the worldviews of each player at CAA involved in the process of reviewing literary material (notes in blue), the degree of influence each possesses (notes in red), and the flow of influence  (blue arrows).

  • CAA’s Lit Dept org chart shows a large number of freelance coverage readers (dotted line indicates no employee relationship) reporting to a smaller number of agents’ assistants and even fewer junior agents.
  • Assistants and junior agents outnumber and report to literary agents
  • Some assistants work directly for and report to junior agents
  • Occasionally an exceptional junior agent reports directly to the department VP
  • Agent Assistants are promoted to Junior Agents, who are in the process of ‘practicing their trade’ before being promoted to Agent
  • Agents generally report directly to the department head, who in turn reports to the agency’s partners (and possibly also to the Board of Directors and shareholders)
  • Some agents eventually manage departments and some even become partners.

While the org chart seems fairly straightforward, the process of getting a script covered, reviewed, vetted, and approved for representation; getting a deal inked; and getting a project greenlit involves many decisions and influences of various magnitude, sometimes from the bottom of the chart all the way to the department chair.

A SEA OF POSSIBILITIES

Here are three of the top ways agencies such as CAA discover “cream of the crop” film projects which are then reviewed and considered for representation:

  1. Film Festivals: Unrepresented films or scripts are often discovered when entered into film festival competition.
  2. Online Traction: Unrepresented filmmakers continuously post pitch trailers and short films on Vimeo and YouTube. Sometimes pitch materials are high-quality, causing them to gain notoriety very rapidly, and often shortly thereafter leading to interest from agencies
  3. Word-of-mouth: Hollywood is a town where everyone loves a good story, and where even the grocery clerks and butchers are screenwriters and filmmakers in disguise. A film project that’s really good gets discussed, and eventually most good film projects and filmmakers get interest from agents.

CAA finds much of the literary work it reviews, but a lot of material also comes in from trusted referrals, established authors and their agents and managers, as favors, or as proposed deals from other studios, agencies or producers. All literary material by policy flows through the Literary Department, being initially dispensed out to freelance readers for coverage and feedback by agent assistants.

The large hand-drawn script (“Marketing Wars” by Seth Godin) represents the estimated comparative volume of literary material reviewed by freelance coverage writers, as compared with the diminishing volume of material reviewed by each sequential business unit above them, starting with agents’ assistants and ending with agents and sometimes department heads.

While most of the literary works are weeded out and rejected by coverage readers, agent assistants also review scripts for coverage when their schedules permit. (But a quiet desk is a bad sign that you might not have a job for long). The works that remain are, in theory, first routed to assistants for secondary coverage.

Works given a “thumbs up” by assistants are then routed directly to agents for consideration, who schedule meetings with filmmakers of the most promising works to size them up, and occasionally pass projects back down to junior agents when appropriate. If an agent feels strongly enough about the profitability of a agency relationship, he or she will offer a deal. If not, a literary work is discarded (or saved for later reference).

Department heads may sometimes be involved in deciding to greenlight a deal, such as in cases where a large amount of money rides on a deal decision, a tie-breaking vote needs to be cast, or an agent just wants a valuable and experienced second opinion.

HOW THE SCRIPT REVIEW PROCESS REALLY WORKS

CAA script review process 3x

Who at CAA discovers talented filmmakers and amazing film projects? This might surprise you, but more often than not, it’s not the agents themselves, but their assistants. Agent assistants are often the ones proactively scouring screenwriting competitions, surfing online, screening films at genre or obscure film festivals, and networking at writers groups in their spare time. (Do you get the impression yet that agent assistants LIVE their jobs?)

They’re also usually the first to hear about a project whose script option just became available again, to know about the director or actor who is rumored to be looking for an agent, or the ones who hear about the hottest new local stage actor or bartender/actor who could be the next Hugh Jackman or Bruce Willis.

Agent assistants are also often quite hawkish about how they guard the interests of the agent (and “their desk”), and will often screen contact to the agent, including blocking both people and scripts who they deem unworthy. In short, if you want to get to an agent, and you want to get repped, chances are you’ll need to go through one or more of their assistants, and you would be wise to charm the pants off of them, as they are the gatekeepers.

Let’s take a look at how a real film producer with a great film project got a film deal made at CAA.

When I was interviewed by CAA for the coverage position, I was lucky enough to be referred by a friend directly to the Literary Department Director at the time, Cathy Tarr. During the interview, when Cathy asked why I wanted to work in Hollywood and especially for CAA, I told her about a meeting I had taken the week before with a producer named Steven Schneider in order to gain insight into how he became a producer. I admitted that my ambition is to be a producer, and to do that I know I need to 1) learn from other producers and 2) know a good script when I see one.

Steven was making a transition from teaching film theory at Harvard to producing horror in Hollywood, and had optioned the rights to a few properties at that time, including a completed horror film called Paranormal Activity that was shot in one week in 2006 for a budget of $15K.

When an assistant at CAA saw the movie in 2007’s Screamfest Film Festival, Steven was already attached to the project, which he went on to executive produce when it was released by Paramount. He later produced other films like Insidious and has many currently in development. (If you read this Steven, I hope you’re well. I’d love to interview you again for Origin Story.)

When I met Cathy Tarr, Steven hadn’t yet hit it big, but just coincidentally, she had taken a meeting with him only a short time before meeting with me. Lucky for me – the unintended name drop might have helped me get the job. More lucky for Steven was that an enterprising agent’s assistant (possibly even Cathy’s assistant) had also discovered Paranormal Activity, and had the authority to help usher the project, director, and Steven through the doors of CAA.

“Hollywood is a very small world.” – Helen Mirren, actress

Agents Assistants aren’t agents, but they often influence the process of a film project getting made just as much, if not more, than the agents who ultimately have the ability to say “yes” and greenlight the film. More often than not, entrepreneurial assistants want to be agents like their bosses, and they therefore want success and notoriety for your cool projects as badly you do – because if you succeed, they do as well.

If you’re a filmmaker with a great project, increase your chances of getting discovered – find out who reps projects like yours, then figure out who their assistants are. To get Hollywood’s attention, all you have to do is talk to its assistants.

altMBA, film, Kickstarter, Origin Story

What’s Your Origin Story?

June 26, 2015
Processed with VSCOcam with 2 preset

Is your dream to be a Hollywood filmmaker? Do you long to see your name up on the big screen when the lights fade more than anything in the whole world, but don’t know where to start? If so, YOU NEED TO READ THIS. Origin Story could change your world by helping you launch your film career and showcase your talent to Hollywood execs.

“That’s what we do – we make change happen.” – Seth Godin

ORIGINALITY AND MONEY IN HOLLYWOOD

While Hollywood always welcomes the next brilliant creative mind, there is a fear in the film industry that original material is not profitable enough to float film studios. Because of this fear, studio execs, production companies (prodcos) and producers have in large part side-stepped the development and production of original film material, choosing instead to focus primarily on what has been vetted previously, and those film projects that Hollywood knows will reliably make money: sequels, prequels, spinoffs, etc.

Making movies is a business, and film studios fear losing money just like any business owner. In fact, most films lose money, and as a general rule, a movie needs to earn at least three times — 3X — its production budget (a number which does not include marketing expenses) to turn a profit.

In 2009, when the MPAA stopped disclosing the average cost of making and marketing films, the average cost of a studio film was more than $106M, which is spent over on average two years, and literally pays thousands of people to plan the production, shoot the film, edit the results, and market the movie around the world. That’s a LOT of money and a HUGE risk for any one film.

What if Hollywood film execs could quickly:

+ Visualize a project before investing in it or passing?

+ Watch a film pitch in visual form, and know immediately whether a filmmaker has the style and creative talent sufficient to justify some investment?

+ Watch a pitch trailer or short film, immediately understand the film’s concept, and know if they want to option the screenplay (and maybe even hire the filmmaker)?

What if Origin Story could show you what has already succeeded in getting the attention of Hollywood execs, starting film careers, and landing studio deals?

What if we showed you how to do the same thing, and helped you launch and realize your own film career dreams?

THE PURPOSE OF ORIGIN STORY

Call us DIY-ers, but we believe there are other ways to become a filmmaker and make it in Hollywood than being born into a film family or going to film school. One strategically successful, yet seemingly under-utilized tool is the pitch trailer, which when done right, demonstrates a filmmaker’s ability to create the salable vision they that could create a feature film if given the budget. We want to feature awesome examples, break them down, and show you how to make your own.

One example of how a pitch trailer can be used successfully is in the story of the film Blue Ruin:
blue-ruin_650-620x366

In January 2012, filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier wrote a script he referred to as a “revenge film equally suited for art house cinephiles and die-hard genre fans” – and NO ONE wanted to fund it. Jeremy’s wife emptied her retirement fund, they both sunk their entire net worth into the film, he borrowed another $25K from family, and was still short of the last $35K to meet the script’s budget.

Jeremy turned to Kickstarter, and started a campaign to raise the money at the end of July 2012. He shot test footage, which he spliced into his Kickstarter pitch trailer, and then successfully raised almost $38K to fund the remaining budget of Blue Ruin, which later was acquired and can now be viewed on Netflix and elsewhere. Here’s the official trailer created for theatrical distribution:

While Jeremy created a film pitch trailer to convince crowdfunding backers to help him raise funds, other filmmakers shoot higher up the Hollywood ladder. Irish filmmaker Ruairi Robinson, an established filmmaker who previously directed The Last Days On Mars, used an amazing pitch trailer for his concept The Leviathan to convince X-Men writer and producer Simon Kinberg to join as producer, and Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Chappie) as exec producer, and Jim Uhls (Fight Club) to write the screenplay.

the-leviathan_05

Still from Ruairi Robinson’s sci-fi pitch trailer for “The Leviathan”

ORIGIN STORIES

In order to help ambitious and talented filmmakers launch careers in Hollywood and define the next generation of voices in filmmaking, Origin Story will:

+  showcase the coolest, most impactful, unproduced visual pitch material created by unknown filmmakers, such as pitch trailers, short films, single scenes, and more

+  consolidate filmmakers’ original film pitch materials in one place, making it easy for

1.  filmmakers to showcase their talents and grow a fan base;
2.  the general film-going public to vote on projects THEY would pay to watch, whether in the theater, on VOD, or via streaming/rentals; and
3.  Hollywood studio execs and producers to browse film projects for potential investment consideration at a lower risk of entry.

+  interview, learn from, and tell the film career origin stories of

+  filmmakers on the rise who are using pitch trailers and other visual pitch materials to break into Hollywood
+  successful filmmakers who used visual pitch material to launch their Hollywood films and/or careers

+  discover what film pitch approaches have worked, and which have failed in getting a Hollywood film funded, shot, and released

+  inspire, entertain, and enable YOU, the filmmaker!

WHAT’S YOUR ORIGIN STORY?

Origin Story’s blog launches next month in July, and the Origin Story podcast will follow shortly thereafter, launching in September. We (Origin Story’s creators Marty Martin and Ryon Lane) designed the concept because we’re filmmakers just like you, who have an undying goal to make a feature film, see our names on the screen as a representation of our passion and commitment, and live the lives of creative filmmakers, just like you.

Marty is a Director, DP, Creative Director and Composer who lives in Los Angeles, and I’m an entrepreneur and attorney with a Hollywood Business & Legal Affairs and commercial production background who lives in the Bay Area.

While all filmmakers are entrepreneurs, we’re also entrepreneurs who are filmmakers, and we want you to join us behind the scenes as we use ourselves as guinea pigs, create our own original film pitch materials, and travel on the journey to launch our own film careers, Marty as a feature film director, and I as a feature film producer.

With knowledge of how to use affordable prosumer-quality cameras, green screen technology, and video editing / special effects software, it’s now possible for those with enough drive and talent to create Hollywood-quality media in their garage, and Origin Story will show you how real filmmakers like you did it.

We believe that launching a pitch trailer or short film that is representative of the story, vision, look and feel of a Hollywood feature will get you a job as a filmmaker in Hollywood. We believe visual pitch media is the best way to get the attention of film financiers and is the most cost- and time-effective first step to launching a Hollywood film career.

But you don’t have to take our word for it: We’ll also show you great examples of how filmmakers have made it (and probably some who have failed miserably!).

Not only will we feature the best visual pitch material for both unknown film projects and Hollywood films, including pitch trailers, short films, single scenes, concept art, storyboards and more, we’ll also provide insights you can learn from and use to prepare for the next steps in your own journey toward Hollywood. And maybe – just maybe – we’ll feature your Origin Story next.

Did we mention we’ll also have a ton of fun doing it?

“If we want to subvert the dominant paradigm, we need to have more fun than they are [having], and let them know while we’re doing it.” – Ed Gillespie, Co-Founder Futerra

WHY ORIGIN STORY WILL LAUNCH CAREERS AND INFLUENCE HOLLYWOOD

Film blogs generally focus on the best news about the film industry, reviewing already-released or soon-to-be-released movies, trailers for movies, or gossip about filmmakers and actors. While Origin Story will definitely feature some of the best and breaking news about new film projects and films in development, that’s just where it starts.

There’s an often-overlooked story behind every movie about the filmmakers who made the film, and why and how it was made. Who were the filmmakers behind the film? Why were they driven to make the movie? How did the idea + money + talent = a completed film?

While most of those origin stories start with pitch decks and other materials designed to convince a financier to invest their money in the idea of a conceptual film, many start with visual pitch materials, and Origin Story will explain the equation for films that have successfully used them, as well as highlight film projects and filmmakers who are in the process of writing their own origin stories.

+  If you are an aspiring filmmaker, Origin Story’s goal is to inspire you to greatness, so that we can feature your project soon, and hail you on your way to Hollywood success.

+  If you’re a lover of film, you won’t want to miss some of the most exclusive and fantastic early works of films you know – and films you will know.

+  Finally, if you’re a Hollywood exec, we hope you’ll join us as Origin Story becomes the premier location to find the best and brightest new unknown filmmakers and unproduced film projects from around the globe. (We hope to inspire you to invest in and bring more original material and voices to Hollywood).

altMBA, film

How Tyler Perry Uses Cognitive Biases

June 24, 2015
Tyler-Perry-Transition-into-Film

kahneman-randomness

Prompt 4 of the altMBA, titled “We are all irrational,” asks us to assume the perspective of someone with whom we disagree, and to logically explain the rationale behind their decision-making and position. It intrigued me that one of my classmates had taken issue with the word “irrational” being used in the title of this project – without the preceding qualifier verb “appear.”

In the last week, I’ve witnessed the careful precision with which Seth Godin and his team have structured this altMBA program – and I think the title is purposefully ironic and hints at something more. The verb “appear” is conspicuously missing to make a point: As seen through their own eyes, everyone* is rational from their own perspective. The project title doesn’t take itself seriously, and neither does altProfessor Seth Godin, explaining from his Vimeo classroom that, “we’re ALL IRRATIONAL, but we’re just measuring the wrong stuff.”

*who isn’t clinically insane

Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘Science‘ as “knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.” When we discuss ‘Economics,’ we refer to economic theories because Economics is not a science. Sure, at the macro-economic level the Law of Large Numbers dictates that Expected Values appear to behave consistently as the number of measurements in time extends to infinity. But there are no “laws” of Economics, and this is no more obvious than when we zoom in to the individual decision-making level.

While Thomas Carlyle called Economics the “dismal science,” and the Economist says that the “most concise, non-abusive, definition” for Economics is the “study of how society uses its scarce resources,” the Oxford Dictionary defines Economics as “The branch of knowledge concerned with the production, consumption, and transfer of wealth.”

While the spectrum of individual human choice is broad, for a long time the prevailing theory in Economics was that, given access to the information needed to make an informed decision, individuals will make smart choices to maximize their own economic benefits. Under this theory it was believed that in a free market, you can rely on an individual to make a smart decision.

While rational has come to connote in the best economic interest of the person in Economic terms, almost no one on Earth acts in a way to maximize the amount of money they will make over time. Why is this? If we are all irrational, does that means that none of us are irrational?

We were asked to consider the following well-known hypothetical scenario posed by Tversky & Kahneman:

Imagine that the U.S. is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual Asian disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. Two alternative programs to combat the disease have been proposed. Assume that the exact scientific estimates of the consequences of the programs are as follows:

– If Program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved.

– If Program B is adopted, there is a one-third probability that 600 people will be saved and a two-thirds probability that no people will be saved.

Which program would you choose? Most people choose A. (even though the odds are identical)

Then, the same question is restated:

– If Program A is adopted, 400 people will die.

– If Program B is adopted, there is a one-third probability that nobody will die and a two-thirds probability that 600 people will die.

Which would you choose this time? In this identical situation, most people choose B.

Notice anything different about the about two questions? If you said “emotional framing,” congratulations! Give yourself a pat on the back! This is the Framing Effect at work. The framing effect is an example of cognitive bias, in which people react to a particular choice in different ways depending on how it is presented; e.g. as a loss or as a gain. Prospect Theory even shows that if a decision is taken to avoid a loss, it will be a bolder, more aggressive decision than one taken to merely achieve a gain.

Cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation in judgment, whereby presumptions about other people, things and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion, leading to “irrational” behavior as perceived by others. Everyone is influenced by their own personal set of biases, which while arising from various sources that are sometimes difficult to distinguish, are usually somewhat relatable:

  • emotional motivations
  • moral motivations
    • goodwill (Giving money to a musician busking on the street)
    • charity (Doing extra work for free, for a cause or a community we believe in, but refusing to do it well if we get paid a little, but not enough)
  • social influence
    • anchoring a perceived value (You accept that a Starbucks Iced Frappacino is worth $5.45 based upon what they tell you the price is, not market value)
    • discrimination (on basis of gender or race)
    • status (Paying more for a car stereo in an expensive car than a cheap one)
  • mental noise
  • the mind’s limited information processing capacity
    • spacial recognition (ever been in a car accident?)

The list above is certainly non-exclusive. People are influenced to make “irrational” decisions not in their best economic interest all the time – and for many reasons – and especially when motivated by emotion. In the disease outbreak framing question above, the choices appeared to change as the question’s language changed from the number of people saved to the number of people who will die. Cognitive bias demonstrates that emotionally-framed phrasing can effect perception of the best choice – even when the odds are the same.

the_dude_cognitive_bias

When scientists study the brain in the active process of making decisions, in every single case it is the emotional center of the brain, the Amygdala, which guides decision making. All humans process this emotion stream, but some exhibit control their initial emotional responses, with associated fireworks visible in their Frontal Lobe. For these “rational” people, higher levels of Frontal Lobe activity keep the Amygdala’s emotional response in check, guiding the person towards approximating a much more ‘rational’ and ‘consistent’ behavior.

If we all think with our emotional brains when making decisions (and some of us filter the stream with a Frontal Lobe), then perhaps it’s worth reexamining whether “irrational” should be the label given to the majority. If this is the case, then we can logically predict that people make decisions with emotional context and bias.

Seth Godin put forth the idea that “we can’t denigrate and dismiss someone because their decision is different than ours.” The challenge, therefore, is to understand WHY people make decisions in order to relate to HOW people make decisions.

As mentioned previously, for this project we are to assume the perspective of someone with whom we disagree, and to logically explain the rationale behind their decision-making and position. I love film, but I’m not a huge fan of Tyler Perry‘s movies.

Tyler-Perry-Transition-into-Film

Even when I worked at Lionsgate, watching one Tyler Perry movie be released after another, I honestly couldn’t understand how they consistently grossed so much money, and how anyone could be a fan. In fact, just as a director of 16 films (excluding his acting roles), Tyler Perry can claim a staggering $746,128,121 in worldwide aggregate box office.

With that in mind, and on the eve of the Oprah Winfrey Network’s second season premier of his show “The Haves and The Have Nots,” let’s take a look at why someone might be a HUGE Tyler Perry fan.

While Tyler Perry humbly attributes his success to “the Grace of God,” when you listen a little closer, you’ll hear the real reason: he’s very good at framing relatable, emotional storytelling, and he refused to give up using plays to tell those stories, and later hustled until he became a filmmakertouching more people with his films.

In Hollywood, Perry has gained a reputation for perfecting the recipe of morality-driven movies aimed at a young, hip, African American demographic. In fact, his blueprint has been so successful that many are now trying to copy it. Perry has learned to understand the cultural lens through which his audience relates to media, how they make choices to view and consume media, and he plays to viewers’ collective emotional and cultural cognitive biases.

Rhode Island College Sociology Professor Roderick Graham confirms that Tyler Perry’s movies (are) an accurate depiction of black people/culture, and family-relationship dynamics. Graham asserts that while detractors common claim that “Perry presents a series of stereotypes and does not do justice to the complexity of family life,” they are not the ones who actually watch his movies.

Graham argues that the people who tend to dismiss Perry’s work as stereotypical tend to fall into one of two groups: “(1) well-educated black people who are rightly keen on combating stereotypes about black life, and (2) well educated liberals (this time black and white) who don’t like any type of, for lack of a better word, lowbrow cultural products that do not thrive in the moral ambiguity one sees in shows like The Wire or Breaking Bad.”

The people who watch Perry’s movies, the millions of blacks and people of religious and working class backgrounds, clearly connect Perry’s movies with the reality of the black experience, because it’s the same life they’re living, and composed of the same emotions, struggles and successes as their own lives:

  • Black families often have a matriarchal structure (40-45% of black families are headed by mothers), and the “Madea” character is a hyped up version of what is a reality in black homes. What’s more, the common black, single mother seen in Perry’s films is a common experience in reality.
  • Blacks are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, and many of Perry’s characters reflect this phenomena with either personal experience or family members in jail.
  • The blue collar male present in Perry’s film reflects the reality of black men’s involvement in the occupational structure. Most black men are gainfully employed, and most are working- and lower-middle class. The men in Perry’s films tend to be mechanics, firemen, and the like – and are a more accurate representation of black men’s experience than the gangsters in The Wire.
  • Finally, black people tend to be very religiousPerry’s constant use of religion and religious overtones is again a fair representation of black life.

kahneman-religion

Graham concludes, “I would say that Perry’s movies are a more accurate representation of black life than almost anything you can get on television or in the movies.”

Tyler Perry has tapped into the emotional, cultural, religious and social values of his film audience, and they in turn relate to both Perry (as a filmmaker and person), and to the characters he develops in his films. In many ways, Perry is vulnerable, emotional, real and relatable, and he publicly shares many of the same conflicts, pain and passion as his viewers. The characters he creates translate the same traits, and people love him for it.

Perry has masterfully formulated a way to turn cognitive bias into ticket sales by framing a cultural experience, by guiding people’s viewing decisions with the same emotional, religious, and socio-economic triggers that cause deviation of logical judgment. People who love Tyler Perry’s movies are ‘right in doing so’ because they personally identify with the films and enjoy watching them for this reason.

Viewers’ own cognitive biases (how they identify with cultural backgrounds, beliefs, morals, values and experiences) often directly align with those of the characters and scenarios in Perry’s movies, which in turn allows viewers to easily relate Perry’s movies to their own lives and identify compelling reasons to watch (gains).

Because I don’t share the same perceptions and cognitive biases as many of Perry’s viewers, and don’t identify with and enjoy Perry’s movies for the same reasons they might, it makes sense to have therefore viewed the prospect of purchasing a ticket to and watching a Tyler Perry move as a potential loss of both money and time.

POST SCRIPT

I have been writing in a vacuum, watching some of my classmates brilliantly weave experience, emotion and ambition into beautiful overarching samples of literature. I’ve already witnessed profound leaps by some of my classmates who have a plan, know how to execute it, and have now used subsequent pieces to lay down more yellow bricks to reach their goal.

Because I attach little passion to my professional identity and skills (and am therefore moving in a different direction), I’ve avoided allowing my writing to venture into the realm of eDiscovery and Information Governance. However, when it comes to writing, in the last week I’ve observed that I haven’t left the legal world behind – I am still writing like the last thing I practiced writing many years ago: Bar Exam essay writing. I’ve sought perfection in all of the pieces I’ve posted publicly, afraid to create something in front of others that is less than ideal.

In reading the prompts before starting to write, I’ve examined every line, analyzed every sentence searching for meaning, watched Seth’s videos multiple times looking for insight, researched extensively, and taken copious notes before even typing my first word, which inevitably leaves me feeling like I don’t have enough time to write.

bruce-lee-quote

The two creative aspects of writing that I’ve allowed myself to enjoy in the first four prompts are 1) free-form writing after massive preparation and thinking (no outline); and 2) making the pieces remotely related to film and in line with my desire to produce feature films. Unfortunately I’ve neither left enough time to write the pieces to my satisfaction, nor allowed my own unique voice to shine through. The loose, rough edges of my writing hint at and sometimes display brief flashes of it, but my voice is usually immediately drown by waves of analytical structure and ensured grammatical flawlessness.

This prompt was no exception, and because I was unable to spend as much time with the piece as I might like, I didn’t feel I sufficiently explored my own feelings about Tyler Perry’s films, both good and bad, nor the ways in which I actually relate to them.

The feedback I received for the piece revealed that others felt the same way: my analysis was thorough, but the transition to discussing Perry’s films and the discussion of why people like them didn’t lead to a juxtaposition of my empathy with those who like Perry’s films, my own feelings about them, nor my own possible cognitive biases.

What I gained (and what you might infer here and there) from writing the piece is a newly found respect for Tyler Perry – for the way he has overcome adversity, for the way he has tenaciously pursued bringing his own voice to the stage, to film, and now TV, and for the way that he is able to empathize with so many viewers, creating media to which they relate and identify.

Truth be told, I did watch quite a bit of film and stage clips from Perry’s collection of productions, and while most of it is very well executed, and I still am not a huge fan. I think it’s mostly the religious references (I don’t identify as a Christian) and unfamiliar comedic references.

I must admit that whereas Madea used to really rub me the wrong way, this time around I found myself laughing quite a few times.

And, I answered my question: I now understand how his films consistently gross so much money, and how his work could have millions of fans. Tyler Perry speaks to his audience by telling funny, dramatic, and ultimately feel-good stories about their lives. Who doesn’t like to laugh, feel the grip of suspense, and have a happy ending when they’re looking for entertainment?

One last note:

I originally wrote, “Perry has masterfully formulated a way to turn cognitive bias into ticket sales by framing a cultural experience, by guiding people’s viewing decisions with the same emotional, religious, and socio-economic triggers that cause deviation of logical judgment.”

When examined in light of this post script, I may have used the phrase “cognitive bias” in a way that could have offended some, and given them the impression that I might look down on Tyler Perry fans. We were asked in this project to assume the perspective of someone with whom we disagree, and I never clearly defined who I disagreed with and with what I disagreed.

For the purposes of the project, I disagreed with people who are Tyler Perry fans that his films are worth paying to watch in theaters. I assume the role, as Professor Graham put it, of the “well-educated liberal (white) who doesn’t like any type of lowbrow cultural products that do not thrive in the moral ambiguity one sees in shows like The Wire or Breaking Bad.”

In fact, I don’t generally like culturally-focused comedies of any kind, whether black, Canadian, British or otherwise. Except Monty Python, which is always an exception.

Therefore, the cognitive bias(es) that Perry plays off to convince so many people to part with their money in exchange for tickets to his films, as opposed to spending it on another genre or film, is the socially- and culturally-reinforced humor with which his fans identify.

film, Lessons learned

No More Fish

June 22, 2015
John Laroche used to love fish - now it's the Ghost Orchid.

When something no longer serves you, it’s probably time to go cold turkey, or cold ‘fish.’ Character John Laroche (played by Chris Cooper) drops some knowledge about ‘moving on’ in the movie Adaptation.

John Laroche: “Then one morning, I woke up and said, ‘Fuck fish.’ I renounce fish, I will never set foot in that ocean again. That’s how much ‘fuck fish.’ That was 17 years ago and I have never stuck so much as a toe in that ocean. And I love the ocean.”

Susan Orlean: “But why?”

John Laroche: “Done with fish.”

Why? Making space in your life for new things sometimes means appreciating as memories those things for which you previously made space. There are only so many hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the year, and it’s good to remember you don’t get that many of any of them, and you never get to do them again.

So f*ck fish.

altMBA, Lessons learned, Origin Story

altMBA: Accelerated Self-Improvement

June 22, 2015

PossibilitiesPost

Note: This post also sent via letter to altMBA, P.O. Box 305, Irvington, NY 10533.

Dear Future altMBA-graduated Self,

The older I get, the more affection and importance I lend to the lines developing in my face, to the scars that will remain part of me until I’m gone, to the ink I put in my skin, because those marks trace my story and provide proof that I was here. The passing of time has come to be a gift in many ways, of growing wiser by learning lessons that enrich and improve my life, albeit often at sometimes short, but significant discomfort or pain.

While sometimes it can take months or years to learn some of those lessons, when it comes to self-improvement, with the help of a change agent like the altMBA program, sometimes that time can be reduced to weeks or less. As a single parent and full-time consultant and entrepreneur, the trade-off for self-improvement generally comes at the cost of lost sleep, and the first week of the altMBA program was no exception.

possibilities1

This week was full of insights that may never leave my conscious brain:

– There is possibility in every situation. You just have to reframe your perspective if at first you don’t see it.

– Widen your field of vision in approaching a decision, and ask WHY questions when you want to further develop your options. This is an extremely valuable frame of mind for an entrepreneur.

– After considering the perspective of someone with completely different values than mine, the perspective of someone I had honestly never personally taken interest in considering, and actually walking a mile in her shoes, I have a new respect for Caitlyn Jenner, regardless of her motives for her choice.

– It feels REALLY nerve-wracking to consciously decide to make the leap and commit to a BIG goal, regardless of how much you’ve prepared for that choice, no matter how close you’ve inched toward the goal.

– I’ve learned how valuable feedback is to me – and to each of the projects on which I will ever work. I gained more insight in two days of public feedback from altMBA classmates on my startup Origin Story than I have in months of personal work with my business partner. Vetting a business idea may be one the only ways to predict market reception well when you try to bring it to market.

– I will produce feature films – but only if with a decision to pursue that goal, you are relentless in taking measurable actions to get there. 1) Map course; 2) Follow course; 3) Arrive at destination.

– I love Business Model Generation. New Top 10 Favorite Reference Books.

– I can benefit greatly by practicing non-attachment to my writing, from letting go of perfectionism, and just shipping it.

– It still takes discipline to get enough sleep.

What an amazing experience so far. I can’t wait to see what the next 3 weeks hold.

Best Regards,
Ryon

altMBA, dad life

The Value of Brain Writing and Shotgun Ideation

June 22, 2015

post-its wall

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and I woke up at 6am – earlier than I usually do – because the altMBA program is a driving force of creativity, and because all I’ve had to do so far is collaborate with awesome people, get inspired, witness the flow, and enjoy the ride. And sometimes the stream becomes choppier riffles.

I set my alarm, despite genuinely needing more sleep, both because it’s easier to convince yourself to rise when you’re closer to 40 than 30 and tired as hell, but also because you hopefully have more purpose at that point in your life – and if you’re lucky you sometimes glimpse the edge of inspiration creeping into your periphery, or you even put your arm around it for a lustful creative session now and then.

I digested the idea of Brain Writing as a more effective ideation tool than Brain Storming, and honestly I love the idea. The index card process seemed familiar, and I later recalled doing a similar exercise at a corporate team building event in the past. For some reason, I still can’t stand the word ideation:

Prompt #3 of the Inaugural altMBA course tasked us with generating, on the fly, a quick list of unfiltered business model ideas in writing (99 business model ideas, or ~20 per team member).

Brainwriting 20 new business ideas by myself (complete with micro business plans) was fun. I think of and write down new business ideas at least a few times a week, and the new tools I found in Business Model Generation are extremely insightful to examining the viability of business ideas, such as considering Available Resources and micro business plans, including questions like:

1. What problem are we solving?

2. For whom?

3. How?

4. How do we make money?

In writing down the ideas on index cards, you’re forced to focus for very little time on each and move on quickly. This process works just as well in person as it does remotely – either way the team generates 99 business ideas for review by another team of 4 or 5.

“[T]here’s not a single published study in which a face-to-face brainstorming group outperforms a brainwriting group,” explains Leigh Thompson, a management professor at the Kellogg School. In this valuable process, no one team member’s voice outweighs the others, and each idea is treated with equal potential value and evaluated with thoughtful feedback. Fastco has a great video describing the brain writing process.

What became obvious immediately in this assignment, and later communicated between my teammates and I, was that we wished we could be looking at the same wall together, looking at index cards taped to it and giving critiques collectively – reviewing the results as a group experience. Sometimes the riffles become white water rapids.

Our team managed to complete 99 ideas by early afternoon, and I even managed to type out and upload my 21 business ideas remotely on my iPad, while attending a Father’s Day presentation of Peter Pan in a wooded high mountain amphitheater. More on this later.

Aside: It wasn’t until after this exercise was complete that I discovered a little app called Tsopit (or ‘Post’-it backwards). It appears useful for future brain writing sessions on a ‘virtual wall’ with remote teammates.

While reviewing my team’s own list of 99 business ideas before we turned them over to another team for review, I realized much of my own work had not been copied from the document containing my own 21 original business ideas. I checked the document in Google Docs – parts of it were not saved from when I had completed it while at the play. No problem – I’ll just check my iPad. Google Docs is refreshing…and…Oh. No. And just like that, somehow I had lost about 2 hours of work. Sometimes the rapids become class 5 rapids.

Deflated, I started the work again, a permanent scowl working against me. After an hour of frustration I turned to the other team’s work. We received the list of 99 business ideas for review from the other team after 6pm, and upon receipt, the real conundrum became apparent: How do we sufficiently give feedback to these 99 ideas as a team?

Do we each review ALL 99 ideas with 3-5 sentences of analysis and thoughts? (If we do this, each of their ideas will get 5 pieces of feedback, which will be SUPER valuable to the team.) Do we divide the 99 between the 5 of us, each only commenting on 20? (If we do this, each of their ideas will receive only 1 piece of feedback.) I believe feedback is VALUABLE BEYOND MEASURE. Despite the obvious labor involved, I convinced my team that we should each individually review all 99 business ideas. a waterfall ahead

If my altMBA teammates and I had collaborated in a hypothetical room while staring at the same 99 index cards on its wall, we would have had generated great collective feedback for the other group, which we would have accomplished as a group, and probably in far less time than we spent reviewing individually. While in-person vs. remote working is no longer a real question with technology available today, what I felt was missing from this assignment was the spirit behind the second step of brainwriting, which is collective evaluation.

My teammates and I could have reviewed the 99 business ideas together via a Zoom meeting, with one of us sharing the document. But on Father’s Day, with each of us either spending time as a father with our families, or spending time with our fathers, coordinating this was not reasonably possible. So we each spent hours giving individual feedback. After 3 hours and 40+ comments written, I took a break, and shortly thereafter, with my teammates having all given similar efforts, we decided to ship: it was simply not feasible for each of us to give a detailed comment to each idea.

One suggestion to the altMBA powers that be: performing this assignment with 50 original business ideas would have resulted in more value for me than 100, but the value of this exercise is well-received.

Perspectives gained through this journey:

1. The brainwriting process has serious merit and I’ll be using it in the future.

2. The Business Model Canvas holds astronomical value as an entrepreneur. The more frequently I play with applying original business ideas to the Business Model Canvas or Business Model Generation process, then easier it becomes to consider those ideas with clarity in light of their unique value propositions, competitive advantages, cost structures, revenue models, etc.

3. My teammates, each of whose articles on this process are linked below, are creative and driven badasses, and I hope to work with them again in the future, whether via altMBA or in the real world:

– Jennifer Kem

– Kayvon Khalilzadeh (a/k/a “Special K”)

– Luke Miner

– Rohit Gandhi

4. Both brainwriting and writing require enough sleep, and sometimes sleeping on a challenge can help you gain more insight and perspective on it. Rather than attempting to will yourself into finishing the piece you’re writing at 2am, while you stare at your screen with frustration, sometimes the best creative idea is to get some sleep and finish writing tomorrow with a refreshed brain.

5. Even when you feel overwhelmed with obligations in life, all you need is a little perspective, like your child saying, “Happy Father’s Day,” in person, or being able to tell your parent you love them over the phone.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I’m glad we had a chance to talk.

altMBA, film, Kickstarter, Origin Story

I Just Launched a Startup Using the altMBA Program

June 19, 2015

I’m sitting in a hotel room right now in Washington, D.C., listening to one of my favorite composers – Clint Mansell – masterfully set the frenetic pace and tone of Sam Rockwell’s fragile moon base-bound character in the film Moon:

This same film soundtrack played on repeat for hours and countless hours – for perhaps weeks – as I worked on my very first business plan for my first company, YOGO. It has a driving, busy sound, one that excites me to keep moving, keep working toward the edge of the known. To leap.

As far back as I can remember, film has been a presence and a passion in my life. I’ve probably bought over 2500 movie tickets in my lifetime, and I remember my very first like it was my first kiss. When I was 8 years old, I proudly presented the $1.25 I had earned by way of my own labor (sweeping our garage) in exchange for a Saturday matinee ticket to see Fantasia at my childhood theater, the Cinema Showcase, now just a memory. This is my first memory that ties together film, passion, and purpose.

I deleted the first three drafts of this post, feeling strangely paralyzed by the prospect of choosing a goal or goals that would define my path for the next 26 (gulp) days of the altMBA program. This draft is completely different than any I’ve written previously, and is strongly influenced by the wisdom and perspectives of my Fantastic Four group members, with whom I just counseled, as well as a bit of meditation and a little yoga.

If you’re reading this right now, I guess that means I kept this draft, and I’ll leave this sentence here to later laugh at myself.

Project 2 of the altMBA tasks us, by way of a little advice on choosing to set goals from one of my favorite salespeople of all time, to commit in writing to a goal or goals, to follow Rule #2 of altMBA, to Make Change Happen. “Holy Jesus!,” you might think to yourself. “That could mean any number of frightening things.” And you’d be right, which is why I’m still telling you about my fears instead of just typing my goal. Which is silly, because I already know what I’m going to type. It’s already real.

On our Zoom call earlier, I tried to explain to my altMBA team why I was experiencing a block in articulating my goal(s). One of my teammates asked, “Are you afraid of failing?” Without hesitation, I thought out loud, “No, not at all. The only way I’ve ever succeeded in most anything is through repeated failure and refinement.”

This is mostly true. While I have a pattern of failing pretty spectacularly before ultimately meeting goals, I do accomplish big goals I set for myself, like passing a bar exam (thank goodness those are days past). When I’m new to something, I rarely do it well the 1st or often even 50th time I try it. Failing on a big stage, failing publicly, is actually a little frightening to me.

This altMBA program is important to me, and I am committed to fulfilling the goal I define today. What I type here has to be realistic and possible to accomplish, but also sufficiently frightening (check) to drive me to creative places beyond my comfort zone. Creative projects like this gem from Cinematic Orchestra, pairing one of the earliest (Russian) films with modern composition, are often the vehicle of inspiration:

I realized after speaking with my team that I’ve been giving too much credit to the word “fail.” I had subconsciously framed the choices available to accomplish my goal as the binary (and unimaginative) “yes” and “no.” I need to reframe the word to fit the meaning I’ve come to know: “adventure” and “risk” and “prototyping” and “nervous excitement.” I haven’t been taking my own advice to succeed through repetitious failure.

I’m about to kick my fear’s ass, and press “Publish” on this post in less than 60 minutes, having set a goal that also lays before me an entirely new path. But I’m a polisher, an often fastidious editor and designer, and I love to refine until I can’t make something look any better. Which leads me to a my point.

I have a long-term goal to produce Hollywood feature films. There are various roads that lead to this path, and every one is different. I dreamt about the possibility when I lived in Los Angeles, worked in Business & Legal Affairs for companies like Lionsgate and Intermedia Films, and worked on movies like The Hunting Party and TV shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians (way before writing this).

About a decade ago I researched and began writing a book about women film producers. I even interviewed a well-known producer or two, but somehow that fell by the wayside while I focused on ways to pay my bills. Life has drawn me back to the magic of film, and this time the desire to play is stronger than ever. However, before I can produce features, I need to learn a few things about being a producer. I have a plan for that.

A NEED

Every fire starts with a spark. My business partner, film director Marty Martin, and I have toiled for months to create the framework for something that could be big, something different that could influence the way films are created. We want to feature a new voice that drives the creation of visual content: The Public’s Voice.

Hollywood screen tests films all of the time, gaining feedback about finished pictures – at which point viewer feedback is almost always too late to prevent bad film investments from becoming painful and expensive mistakes for producers and studios.

Marty and I both share a love for film and entrepreneurism, we want to help talented unknown filmmakers get original films produced, and we want to find a way to help mitigate the risk of investing in unknown film properties faced by Hollywood producers and studios.

THE PROBLEM

Making movies is a business first and a creative expression second. When we’re lucky the two meet, and you get something amazing:

There is a fear of originality in the film industry, namely in the studio system – a fear that original material cannot make enough money to sustain business. Studios and film producers face a palpable fear that unknown film projects won’t make any money, and are therefore risk averse to investing much in the development and production of original material.

There is an endless stream of derivative film properties (sequels, prequels, spinoffs, etc.) with somewhat predictable returns flooding through studio gates at an unprecedented rate. In 2014, only 1 of the 13 films that domestically grossed more than $200MM was an original property (U.S. and Canada). Theater attendance in the U.S. is now at a record low, while revenues are held afloat by thirty years of steadily increasing ticket prices.

The development of affordable prosumer-quality cameras, green screen technology, and video editing and special effects software has made it possible for those with enough drive and talent to create Hollywood-quality media in their garage. While all filmmakers are entrepreneurs, this is the Age of the Self-Determined Filmmaker. There are more talented filmmakers than ever, creating more amazing original content than ever, and when done right, that content grabs the attention of Hollywood:

PITCH TRAILERS

The pitch trailer is a tool sometimes strategically used to demonstrate a filmmaker’s ability to create a salable vision – something bigger and more amazing – if given the budget for a feature film. A recent brilliant example is Kung Fury, a badass crowdfunded trailer that landed the talented young Swedish filmmaker a Hollywood deal:

Initially, the trailer helped David Sandberg raise enough money on Kickstarter to finish his movie, which you can watch here:

Then, believe it or not, Kung Fury seductively beckoned The Hoff to fly to Stockholm, where the following amazing history was made:

ORIGIN STORY

We’re starting our journey with a blog and podcast called Origin Story, where we’ll feature the best new pitch materials for unknown film projects, including pitch trailers, short films, single scenes, concept art, storyboards and more.

Processed with VSCOcam with 2 preset

Viewer feedback on film pitch videos will be captured and measured, placing the power to influence whether certain film projects should be produced in the hands of the movie fan. It makes sense to us that the same film fans who vote when they buy movie tickets, download or rent movies online through a service like iTunes Store, stream movies from Netflix and Amazon Prime, rent DVDs from services like RedBox, and more, should be the same influencers voicing to film producers and studios what they want to see.

Origin Story will also feature the pitch materials that led to successfully-produced Hollywood films, as well as the stories behind them. For those filmmakers who want to know where to start, we’ll also feature ‘how to’s on developing original pitch materials, using as reference original pitch material for a film property Marty and I will develop.

OUR GOALS

The Origin Story blog will soft release July 15, with a full launch August 1, at which time Marty and I will have composed and compiled over 30 articles (enough to last until early September). Our first podcast is slated for September, and we’ve already started confirming interviews with filmmakers and industry professionals who have succeeded in using pitch materials to get their films made. Podcast content and interviews will be featured on our blog when launched.

Our primary goal is to enable and inspire filmmakers to create original proof-of-concept film pitch materials, and to help them promote that content to potential investors.

y-combinator_mantraMy personal goal is to gain sufficient knowledge and contacts through development of Origin Story to produce a feature film – to create an origin story of my own. It’s been my goal to be a film producer for more than a decade. I can’t think of a better way to prepare and learn about what makes a great Producer than to meet, interview, and promote successful filmmakers and their projects.

Y Combinator reminds us to “Make something people want.” We intend to try.

 

Uncategorized

QOTD: How to Live Well

June 18, 2015

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and well preserved piece, but to skid across the line broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, leaking oil, shouting GERONIMO!”

Bill McKenna
Professional motorcycle racer
Cycle magazine, Feb. 1982