Category Archives: books

The Power Of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change

Initially Appreciative Inquiry (AI) seemed a little too positive for me. I think there is a lot to learn from negative experiences. It seems that a lot of filmmakers are trying new marketing techniques, and many of them are not working, and to know what does not work would save a lot of valuable time and money for other filmmakers. But I am also beginning to see the value of AI. Though some people tend to like to gripe about what is wrong with the system, the ones who are moving forward are the ones who are focusing on the positive. Seeing what is working well, what is working a bit, and seeing how that information can be used to move forward.

In this book it is claimed that AI works because it liberates power, unleashes individual and organizational power, brings out the best in people, encourages them to see and support the best in others, and encourages cooperation and innovation. All of which seems kinda good.

They describe the process as follows:
(I recognise that the DREAM and DESTINY headings seem a bit corny, I’m going to assume they felt it was important to have them all start with D)

Appreciative Inquiry utilizes a cycle of 4 processes focusing on:

  • DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well.
  • DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
  • DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.
  • DESTINY (or DELIVER): The implementation (execution) of the proposed design.

AIImage

Basically you focus on what works rather than ‘problem solving’. Build on strengths rather than focusing on faults and weaknesses. It also doesn’t stop when things are working well, but rather continues to strive to be even better.

Certainly new technologies are bringing a lot of positive options to independent filmmaking, opening up a range of doors that may help level the playing field between large productions and independent films. Focusing on the doors that are closing doesn’t help indie filmmakers move forward.

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Producing Great Sound for Digital Video – Jay Rose

So I decided this year to learn how to do sound, well. It seems on every no-budget set the last crew member we think about is the soundie, and oftentimes it will end up being an actor whose not in the scene, or a crew member’s girlfriend who happened to drop by, and then we pay for it in post with a ton of ADR and a soundtrack as outstanding as your average infomercial. So I nominated myself as the person who will learn how to do it well, and picked up a copy of this book.

There’s a lot of technical stuff that made my brain feel like it was melting, but there’s also a lot of ideas that can quickly and easily improve your soundtrack.

  • Have someone on set whose responsibility is to concentrate on audio on the shoot. If they aren’t trained then give them this book and half a day with the sound equipment they’ll be using and let them practice.
  • Try to avoid shooting dialogue over noisy actions – having the character stop talking when they slam down the phone.
  • Record a minute of room tone in each location, you’ll need it in post, and it lets the crew take a minute to relax, too.
  • Try to grab the sounds you need on set rather than depending on sound libraries, (this one is especially for my students).
  • Record vocal and sound effects on different tracks, you’ll need this in post, too.
  • Practice using a boom mic by taping a flashlight onto the end where your shotgun mic will go, and aiming the light at the mouth of the actor. That’s where’ you’ll hold it to get the best recording from a boom/shotgun mic.
  • Get the boom mic as close to the actors mouth as possible. Start with the mic in the shot and raise it til it can’t be seen.
  • Even if you aren’t planning to use the sound from a take, at least record it using the camera-mic. You might pick up something you can use, you might need it as a guide track, and it doesn’t cost anything.
  • If you can’t record good dialogue for a scene remember long shots are easier to loop than close-ups, quick phrases/cuts are easier than long takes/phrases.
  • Sound may need a reference – if you can hear a neon sign bzzap in the background, show the sign in an establishing shot.
  • If you’re turning off the refrigerator put your car keys on it so you remember to turn it back on when you leave.
This is a great book (though I’d kinda like one that only has the technical stuff I really need to know…) and you’ll get a ton more info than the hints I’ve listed above. And you’ll get some great ideas for foley, like slamming a head of cabbage against a table for a really gory fall…

Digital filmmaking 101 – Dale Newton and John Gaspard

I didn’t think I’d like this book. I bought it months ago, put it on my shelf and promptly forgot what it was about. I picked it up again based on the title as I kinda thought it was about the nuts and bolts of what you teach film students, and since I’m tutoring a video production paper again I thought I’d flick through it for ideas.

It’s not that kind of book. At all. It’s better.

What it IS is a really great guide to producing low budget movies. These guys have been there and done it, right and wrong, and they still love the process. And they love to share their knowledge and experience.

They discuss scripts including ideas for how to write low budget films. They show you how it’s possible to make a feature for around $8k (US$), what that includes, where to spend more money if you have it, and where to pinch pennies. They even tell you exactly what gear you’re going to need. They make suggestions for how to raise funds, breakdown your script, cast and crew up, and how to make it through production. They even have a section for special effects on a low budget, with lots of anecdotes about their own indie effects.

I was surprised that they went into great detail (and books usually lose me at this point) and it was still interesting, readable, and on every page I found hints and ideas that I will utilise on my next ultra-low budget film. And though they are very realistic in their expectations for their movies, their excitement is infectious.

Now excuse me, I have to go work on my application for Escalator!

Good luck with yours 🙂


Unleashing the Idea Virus – Seth Godin

I really like a lot of Seth’s ideas. I’ve reviewed his book Linchpin (hate that word though), but what I find is he’s very wordy, and repetitive, which is great for retention, but not good when you have limited time. So here’s the Cliff Notes for Unleashing the Idea Virus, which is actually free to read online. And I’m passing it on to you, which makes it an idea virus…

People used to get rich owning farms, then factories… now is the age of the idea. Which is cool. Because we’re full of good ideas 🙂 “If something is new and different and exciting and getting buzzed about, we want to knowabout it, be part of it. The fashion is now to be in fashion, and ideas are the way we keep up”

Basically the gist is that in the past advertising has been about interrupting a customer from what they are doing, to give them a message they don’t want to hear, about a product they don’t want to buy. And though for the last 100 years this may have been the best/only way to inform a customer about a product, it’s not the best way now, and it doesn’t really work. Instead of talking TO customers, we need to help customers to talk to each other.

A better way to advertise is to find people who ARE interested in your product (movie, short, whatever) and GIVE it to them, and then they will LOVE it, and tell people about it, and there’s your marketing. And it cost a lot less than traditional advertising. It does take a bit of work though. If your product is a movie, giving copies to everyone you know may not be the best way. Your Mum might rave about it to all her friends, but her friends know she’s being a proud Mum and it isn’t an indication of the quality of the movie. But if you make a movie about a Tattoo artist, and you give copies to the top Tattoo artists, and THEY love it, and THEY tell other artists… who tell their customers… who tell their friends…

The key is to find the people who will spread your message. Seth calls them Sneezers. And Sneezers have different value. We all know people who pass on everything, whether it’s of value or not. And generally we block them on facebook, making their Sneezing ineffective. And then there’s the Promiscuous Sneezer who passes things on because they will gain from it somehow, which takes away their effectiveness. The Powerful Sneezers are the people who not only pass things on, but people believe them. They can’t be bought, and “they do it because it’s remarkable, thoughtprovoking, important, profitable, funny, horrible or beautiful”

Seth is not just talking about Viral Marketing that uses the internet as it’s medium of travel (remember he published this in 2000), but about all viral ideas (and he uses a heap of interesting examples). Basically, have an idea worth spreading, make it easy to pass on, create a group of supporters, be persistent.

Quick ideas:

  • Be the best, or the most, or the cheapest, or the fastest… this is news worthy and can be passed on.
  • Create something that people want, maybe didn’t even know they wanted, but when they see it they must have it.
  • People are hesitant to try something new, especailly if it costs. You have to let them know that your idea (film) has arrived. That’s it’s a done deal before you’ve even started shooting. That the water’s warm and the air is safe to breathe.
  • Don’t be afraid to give stuff away for free. Even if it’s your whole movie streaming free online for a limited time. The more people who know about your movie the more it’s worth.
  • Don’t make the mistake of marketing only to your arty film/theatre friends. They don’t necessarily push your marketing over into the mainstream, where about 90% of people are.
  • Make your idea (film) easy to remember, talk about, pass on.

Like Linchpin, I wish this book was available as a fold out brochure, or an 18 minute TED lecture, but I did find all the case studies interesting, and there’s a lot of food for thought.

Oh, and if you’d like more info on why people pass on ideas, there’s a great (though probably not exhaustive) list from Seth here.


Friends with Benefits – Darren Barefoot and Julie Szabo

A Social Media Marketing Handbook

I hate to think what the nice christian librarian thought about me borrowing this book, and to be honest I kind of hid the cover when I was reading it in public, but that aside it was actually quite a good read. Not my favorite out of the Social Medial Marketing books I’ve read (this could be in part because a lot of it is duplicating info I’ve already come across) but it certainly has some good ideas. And some contradictory notions that are good, in that it makes me think hard about which advice I follow instead of blindly following. A lot of the book was geared towards businesses, like companies rather than creative industries, so I kinda skim read a lot of it.

I did appreciate the thoughts on blogging, in particular thinking about if you should have a blog at all (generally, yes) and what its focus should be, and how to use it.

There were also hints on how to attract people to your blog, such as

  • Write a ‘top ten’ list, or any list. Top 31 films in 2010 would work, too.
  • Share stories about technology innovation. Easy in our business.
  • Teach something. This also covers video blogs, how to… stuff.
  • Be political.
  • Be controversial.
  • And post anything cute and cuddly. Which is very big online, apparently, but I just can not bring myself to do it. Ever.

It also suggests you become active on other people’s blogs, Boing Boing, Digg, etc, but don’t go around plastering advertising for your blog. I know I never follow those kinds of links, on principle really.

One point I found interesting is that it doesn’t matter how professional your youtube clips are. I generally strive to have them polished and high quality, but most people don’t seem to, and that’s become the norm. And keep it to around 2 minutes, which is hard for me, but I know I get bored with a lot of stuff after about this length of time. Except some of the TED stuff. That’s great.

Oh, and I knew this but I need reminding so it doesn’t get me down, only about 1% of people on an online community create content, that is to ‘like’ or comment on videos. The rest are lurkers who visit without interacting. Sometimes it feels like you’re writing into a void, but hey, maybe 99 people have passed through and you just haven’t had the 1 person who will comment yet. Or maybe you just need to rethink what you’re blogging about… 🙂

So, over all, Friends With Benefits is worth a look for filmmakers, but maybe borrow it from the library rather than purchasing it.


The Zen of Social Media Marketing – Shama Kabani

The Zen of Social Media Marketing: An Easier Way to Build Credibility, Generate Buzz, and Increase Revenue

The Zen of Social Media Marketing: An Easier Way to Build Credibility, Generate Buzz and Increase Revenue
This is an excellent book if you are entering into the world of Social Media Marketing, or if you really can’t see how Twitter and LinkedIn are advantageous to your marketing efforts (like me).

With social media it’s almost the polar opposite of traditional marketing, instead of ‘pushing’ information towards people you draw people to you with interesting content and then you interact with your readers/customers/clients. It’s not as simple as starting a blog, a facebook group, a twitter account, and waiting for people to come to you. Unless you already have a following, chances are, they won’t. It takes time, but seems to be worth the effort.

Of all the social networking sites it seems both Shama and the people she interviewed all agreed that the most important ones were

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

Even more important is having your own website and/or blog. Your social media presence should be mainly to lead people to your site, and to give you their email addresses in case the social site ever closes, or you get kicked out for breaching terms (advertising). Also key is that people aren’t really customers on facebook and blogs, they are consumers in that they take your gifts of information and advice, but they don’t pay you. You get money through your site. Shama is an advocate of video blogs because, apparently, the majority of people would rather watch and listen than read. I am not one of those people. My time is valuable and I’d rather skim read than have to sit though someone explaining something. Hints:

Facebook

Never push products or serviceson Facebook. Your goal on Facebook should always be to attract people to your website, build trust, and gain visibility—all things that inevitably lead to sales.

We create profiles that reflect who we are as human beings.We don’t ‘like’ a page or join a group if it doesn’t fit into the image of ourselves that we want people to see. You might join a page about Coke or Human Rights, but probably not your gynecologist’s.

When choosing between starting a group or a page Shana says “A group is a great way to build a closed community that you nurture over time, whereas a fan page is a public platform for reaching more people, and it provides more visibility for your brand.” If you are promoting a film then a page, if you’re building a community of filmmakers then a group.

Twitter

I never really understood Twitter, it always seemed a bit too one way for me, but Shana explains how you can go about meeting people, joining in relevant conversations, and boosting your followers. One way which may be obvious, but wasn’t to me, is to search for people talking about something you are interested in and respond to their tweets. Other recommendations are:

  1. Share valuable content.
  2. Ask genuine questions, and welcome feedback.
  3. Put a button on your blog or website inviting people to follow you.

LinkedIn

If I didn’t understand twitter I REALLY didn’t understand LinkedIn. When I first joined I though, wow, big deal, my resume is on the web,but since searching and adding some people, and then searching for groups that match my interests and projects I’m starting to buildup a real network. The jury is still out as to whether I can make it work for me, but I’m getting there.

Theses are just a few ideas I liked, there are a lot more in the book, and also in her blog and web site. You can check out Shama’s site here: http://shama.tv/

And she is on facebook with her blog in her notes.


Selling your story in 60 seconds – Michael Hauge

The guaranteed way to get your screenplay or novel read – Michael Hauge

Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read In New Zealand we often think of creating a pitch if we’re meeting the New Zealand Film Commission or a funding body, but the fact is that we need to pitch all the time. To friends, colleagues, potential actors and crew members, and we never know who is going to be excited about our idea and want to get onboard and help out. So it’s really important to have your pitch down so you can pull it out when you need it. Selling your story in 60 seconds is really helpful in focusing your pitch on the elements that will sell your story, and though some of it is geared towards the Hollywood scene it can easily be adapted. I’ll run through a few of the points that I felt were particularly important. If they seem at all confusing here, they are, of course, fully explained in the book.

The 8 R’s of Pitching (specifically for a pitch meeting)

  1. Review your story to determine its most powerful elements.
  2. Write – script your pitch
  3. Rehearse (in front of people. I like the idea of pitching to strangers in coffee shops)
  4. Research – select specific buyers (or funders, or sponsors…)
  5. Rapport – establish a personal relationship as soon as you meet or contact the buyer
  6. Reveal the most emotionally involving information about yourself and your project
  7. Request – for them to read your script
  8. Respond – to their questions

An important step is to identify the 10 Key Components of your Story

1. Who is your HERO

2. Why will the audience EMPHATHIZE with them

  • Are we Sympathetic for his cause?
  • Is the hero in jeopardy? Likable? Funny? Powerful?
  • Is the hero trying to win something? Stop something happening? Escape from something or retrieve something?
  • You want the ‘buyer’ to think there’s no way this hero can possibly win
  • What’s the hero’s inner journey?
  • Are there Political or social issues

3. What’s the SETUP? What happens before the hero’s journey to set the scene?

4. What’s the OPPORTUNITY that arises/inciting event

5. What’s the hero’s OUTER MOTIVATION? The obvious reason he wants to achieve this goal.

6. What’s the CONFLICT (antagonist, reason he can’t achieve his goals…)

7. Hero’s CHARACTER ARC

8. What are the deeper issues?  (eg. Hidden reasons he needs to achieve goals.)

9. What are the successful ANECEDENTS? Other films in this genre that have been successful.

10. And really importantly, why are you passionate about this story?

Designing your Pitch

Now work out which of the above elements are the most important in your story and design your pitch around them.

Always include Hero, Outer Motivation, Conflict and Passion.

You must make it clear what/who we are rooting for. You need a sense of who the protagonist is and what drives the story forward.

Since your primary goal is to elicit emotion, describing the major conflict – inner or outer – is critical.

Most desires are pretty familiar, love, stopping evil, getting rich.. but the obstacles are much more likely to be unique to your story.

Open Strong

One idea for beginning a pitch particularly appealed to me because it gets you talking about your passion for the project.

“I think the best way to tell you about my story is to tell you how I came up with this idea…”

Tell them what excited you enough to write it.

Another good tip to remember is what he refers to as the power of “What if…”

“It’s often been rumoured that The Graduate was based on a real famil in Pasadena. Well, what if a young woman discovered her mother and grandmother were the real life Elaine and Mrs. Robinson?”

Dropping in Antecedents

“Let me tell you how I came up with this idea. I’ve always been a huge fan of movies about that moment when a while passes into adolescence or adulthood – especially ‘odyssey’ stories like Stand By Me or adult/child relationship stories like About a Boy. Now when I was a kid, my father and I…”

The 60 second pitch

  • Biggest mistake is to try to tell the whole story (you just want to catch their attention at this stage, and leave them wanting more)
  • Remember the goal of every movie is to elicit emotion, so provide potential buyers with a positive emotional experience and convince them that the movie will create an even stronger emotional experience for the audience
  • 60 second pitch is much like a commercial, it doesn’t try to show every scene or character or plot element, you just select elements that excite

I think one of the most important things during a pitch, especially for kiwis who sometimes hide their emotions, is to show how excited you are about it. Excitement is contagious and people will want to be part of your project more if they think you absolutely LOVE the idea and feel you’ll make it whether they are onboard or not.

The strength of your script is obviously important, but I think being able to sell it is equally so. This book will definitely help you out.