It’s All About the Story

I’ve said it a million times “It’s all about the story”.  If you don’t have a good story to tell – and tell it – you’ve got nothing.

Last night I watched the documentary Sugarman“Searching for Sugar Man” and all I can say is WOW – it is probably the most incredible story I have ever heard in my life.  It’s the kind of story that’s almost to good to be true and yet it is.

It’s a story about Sixto Rodriguez, a Detroit folksinger who in the early 1970’s recorded a couple of records that were brilliant and “well received” but – they didn’t sell.  Rodriguez went on to live a simple life as a laborer, spending his time demolishing abandoned buildings in a city wracked by ruin and hard times.  Little did he know that on the other side of the world, in South Africa, he was a legendary music icon and an inspiration for generations who grew up with Apartheid. 

Back in the early ‘70’s, a young American woman went to South Africa to visit a friend and took with her one of Rodriguez’s records.  At that time, in South Africa, you could be put in jail for just listening to records like Rodriguez’s. It was a heavily censored society and ripe for rebellion.  He became a cult hero, bigger than Elvis.  Rumors grew up around this legend where it was said he committed suicide in front of his audience, at the end of a concert.  No one could find any information about him at all, because nothing had been written about him, unlike many of the popular rock musicians of his day.

Meanwhile, back in Detroit, Rodriguez had no idea his music had touched millions.  It wasn’t until the 1990’s, that a few die-hard fans tracked him down using cryptic clues from his lyrics and the Internet.  They finally found Rodriguez alive and well in the city of Detroit and brought him to South Africa.  What transpired was a series of concerts to sold out stadiums for this folksinger who had lost sight of his musical dreams.

It’s one of the most powerful inspiring stories I have ever heard.  Almost like parallel universes colliding to complete dreams across the divide.  Of course it took another 10 years for a filmmaker to bring awareness of this story in this incredible film.

When I was at the Traverse City Film Festival, I saw and met Rodriguez at the opening night outdoor party.  I couldn’t get into the screening because it was sold out and I had to wait until it was available on DVD.  It was worth the wait and it’s a film that you shouldn’t miss.

If you want to know what Rodriguez is doing now – well you’ll have to watch the movie.

PS I just bought his CD that was released in ’71. You couldn’t find in America before this film was released.  Like Orson Welles said “If  you want a happy ending that it depends on where you stop the story”.

Closing Thoughts and Best of Best

It’s been a very full year for me. I mean that in every sense of the word full – full of new experiences, full of hope, full of achievements – but also full of my share of rejections and disappointments. I’ve shared a lot of these experiences through this blog.

There have been times I haven’t written in a while because I didn’t feel like I’ve had anything worthwhile to say. And there have been times when I did write but I probably shouldn’t have because it wasn’t worth reading. I always told myself that when I didn’t feel like writing in my blog, that I just wouldn’t do it. So if there are long periods of time when I haven’t posted a new entry – it’s because for whatever reason, the desire may not be there. I have always appreciated the comments and feedback.

Here are the top 5 posts as far as number of hits:

My DSLR Kit for a Three-Month Road Trip

Gearing Up With HD DSLR’s


Standing on a 10-Foot Frozen Wave

Putting Together a DSLR Video Kit – and Why

Cultural Context and Photography

As you can see, the blogs about DSLR (for video) gear is where the interest was.  But I’d have to say that out of those 5 posts, “Standing on a 10 Foot Frozen Wave” was my favorite.  For me, it’s all about the story. And as Orson Welles once said “If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop the story”.

Happy New Year everyone.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

The Money Game

I’ve learned a lot about the “entertainment” industry in the process of creating our documentary Opening Our Eyes. But I was a bit surprised to learn how one show derives its content. I won’t mention specifics, because I don’t believe that this particular way of doing business is unique to this one show.

A couple of days ago, I received an email from one of the subjects in our film asking for my counsel about a high profile program that is syndicated on various cable channels. The show essentially does short segments on organizations and/or companies that have stories of educational value.

I looked through the electronic info kit that they had sent and it sounded great, because they guaranteed placement for the 5-6 minute piece within the program, which would run on a couple of large cable networks. They also guaranteed a 1- minute spot on CNN and Fox News. Plus the production company would deliver a file ready for web so that an organization could upload it to their site and/or deliver DVD’s to potential funders or clients.

I continued to read the attached PDF’s which listed the production requirements and workflow that would take place if “they” were selected to be profiled. But what stood out and surprised me was the line that stated that a payment of almost $30,000 would be required, if they were chosen to participate. Quite honestly, I was a bit shocked. Here was a production company that was creating a syndicated program and expecting the subjects to finance it.

I’m almost certain that this company also makes a hefty sum from the cable networks who in turn get money from their advertisers. That doesn’t surprise me a bit. But I didn’t know that it had become part of the game to make revenue off the subjects of the stories!

Perhaps that might not sound all that bad because it’s just business in a free economy, but quite honestly it has really changed my thinking about networks that run stories about people, organizations or institutions that have educational value. Now when I watch a show like this, I will question the credibility of the causes and organizations that are being profiled, because I know that this “door to distribution” is only open for those who can pay. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that the stories they run are about the most deserving subjects or even the most compelling stories. It simply means that the people behind these stories had the funds to “pay to play”.

I think back on all the extraordinary people that we met last summer while making our documentary. Most of them would be hard put to find this kind of money and if they did they would probably put it right back into their causes and the people they are trying to help – not a production company that is making money off both ends. I went in the “red” doing this documentary with the hopes that it will cause a shift in the way we think and that it will move people to action to make a difference in the world. I figured that’s the least I could do – use my skills as a storyteller to create a film that would raise awareness and help all our subjects and their programs.
Would I like to make money on this film? I’d be happy if I broke even. I’d be even happier if this film was seen by hundreds of thousands of people. But I wouldn’t dream of charging my subjects money.

Ronni Kahn of Oz Harvest told me “Just go out and do something – not for the money not for the recognition but for the sake of doing”. I suppose that’s exactly what Erin and I did. And that in itself has been the biggest reward of all.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Being Yourself

Yesterday, I gave a talk and showed a bit of my film, Opening Our Eyes,

Movie poster for Opening Our Eyes

at the PACA conference in New York City.  I had been asked by ASPP to speak about the making of the film and my plans for distribution.  To tell you the truth, even though I’m always thrilled to show and/or talk about the film, I was a bit nervous with this crowd.  PACA stands for the Picture Archive Council of America and its member include some of the biggest stock photo agencies in the world, including Getty, Corbis, Masterfile and Alamy. I was nervous because part of my message was that I no longer needed the validation or others to get my stories to market.

I thought my message would be somewhat threatening, because I was telling the audience that content creators no longer needed the traditional gatekeepers of the past, to get their stories “out there.”  That because of technology, it was possible for the individual to have a global reach and if one is willing to do the work – the prize is all theirs – meaning the monetary rewards.

I had a tough time slot to speak – right after lunch  –  I knew that I would be dimming the lights for the film and that is never a good thing to do in that time slot.  But, Tom Kennedy had given his very inspirational talk about new media and new opportunities in the  marketplace.  I had heard Tom’s talk  as part of ASMP’s SB 3 series this past year – and I knew that my presentation was a great follow up to his – and in fact it was almost like a case study example of what Tom was talking about.

My presentation went amazingly well and as I looked out into the dimly lit audience as the film was playing – I couldn’t see any closed eyes.  I felt that I made a connection, and that perhaps in some small way, I had made a difference.  Maybe, I just got people thinking about what they could do to make a difference in their own lives.  And maybe I had influence beyond that.  But, I know that I stayed true to myself.  My intent was not to come off as threatening  – but I did want to make people feel a tiny bit uncomfortable.  It’s when we get uncomfortable that we push ourselves to a better place.

My message was simple.  Someone doesn’t need to lose – in order for someone else to win.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Somebody Should Do Something

Have you ever been in a situation or with a group of people when something is being discussed and someone says “somebody should do something”? It could be anything from a local school with a bully problem to helping victims of conflicts happening on the other side of the world. I hear that phrase too frequently. I used to say it myself. But the fact is the “somebody” is each one of us.

It seems like everyone is waiting for someone else to do something. There are some days it seems like people are in a stalled mood – everyone kind of waiting to “fix” things. There’s a lot of talk – the pundits on TV – the politicians – the short term capitalists – but nothing seems to be getting done.

I think people are basically “stuck” right now because everyone seems to be looking for that “one” perfect solution. We are so accustomed to thinking that way in our “made for TV culture” we overlook the ordinary simple things we all could be doing.

I’ve had a bit of a shift in my life over the last couple of years where I’ve really started being more conscious of my own actions and how those actions can affect my circle of influence. Just little things – but I know that the way to achieve any big goal is to break it down into little steps. One little thing I recently did was to design a simple cardboard DVD jacket for my film, rather than the traditional plastic case that DVD’s are packaged in. Committed people in grass roots groups like the  Plastic Pollution Coalition, made me aware of the huge problem with plastics and our environment.

The thing I realize though is that “doing something” – anything – is better than waiting for someone else to make things right. It feels good and it’s addictive. It’s probably one of the few addictive things that are beneficial. And it’s empowering.

Go out and create your day.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine


It’s a humid, Saturday morning in the dog days of summer.  There’s a dozen things I should be doing – paying the bills, doing the laundry, filling out film festival submissions and catching up on the endless little details that have consumed me with my film.

And yet, I write.  I started writing about 7 years ago when I would wake up super early in the morning with my mind spinning with ideas and not allowing me to turn over and go back to sleep.  So, I ‘d get out of bed and write about whatever was running through my mind at the time and I would put those thoughts out there in my blog. Colleen Wainwright is running a whole series of interviews with writers on her blog as part of a fund raiser and I was honored to be included.

In the beginning, I got a lot of encouragement from a friend who gave me the confidence to write more and I did. Some days the words would just pour out of me and many times, I’d see them quoted later in other people’s blogs and I couldn’t believe that I had written them – almost like an out of body experience.   Now, writing has become a habit and a way for me to organize my thoughts and turn chaos into order and thus my dreams into realities.

Many people tell me that I’m incredibly open and honest.  I’ve always found that interesting – the fact that was something to comment on – but at the same time feeling very flattered.  If someone tells me that I’m the “real deal”, that’s about as high of a compliment that one can give me.

If “authenticity” comes across in my writing or in the visuals that I create, then I think that I’m must be doing something right, because I use my words and my images to connect with people and that really only happens when I’m being true to myself.  I think people can sense that – it’s not something you can fake.  You’re either genuine – or you’re not.

To be honest, because I am “genuine” and tend to “tell it like it is” – it has been a blessing and a curse – but I can’t seem to help myself.  I’m a sucker for a good cause and I’m one to always strive for consensus as opposed to “getting my way” or motivated by a personal agenda.  When, I’m on purpose and not driven by ego – good things happen – and like-minded people are “attracted” to me like little magnets in the universe.

Now, I’ll go do the laundry.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

More Stuff I Learned While Making a Movie

The day finally arrived – our first screening of Opening Our Eyes – a film that I have poured my heart and soul into over the last year and a half.  Sounds like a cliché, but this project has consumed me in every way imaginable – good and bad.

As I looked up at the marquee of the State Theater in Traverse City, MI last Sunday morning, it hit me – we had done it.  My daughter Erin and I had set out to make a film last Spring about people all over the world who were making it a better place – and we did it.

It was and will continue to be a lot of work – a lot more than I ever could have imagined.  There have been some of the lowest of lows and the highest of highs along the way.  There have been times of disappointment from unexpected sources and times of encouragement and support from remarkable people who came into my life because of this project.

I have learned so much since embarking on this journey – here are just a few things:

Believe in your dream.  Lots of us have dreams but most of us don’t really believe in them.  I think that makes all the difference as far as making your dream a reality – the ability to believe that your dream will happen.  I have felt that this would happen from the first moment that I conceived the idea – I saw it – I heard it – This idea picked me – not the other way around.

Trust – I knew all along that for this film to be what I had envisioned it to be – I couldn’t do it alone.  It could only succeed through the support  of all the people who have contributed to this project from the beginning, whether by supporting it financially or just by being there  for me to spring ideas off of.  I really had to open myself up and trust that would happen  – and it did.  That’s not to say that I haven’t had my share of disappointments along the way, but I had to get past them and then learn to trust – again.

Work with people who share your vision.  I used to think I could edit.  but after working with my brilliant editor, Erik Freeland – now I just think I’m a hack.  Finding Erik was a blessing.  It’s not all that hard to find a good editor,  but to find an editor who has the same drive and passion as I do for what this film is or can be – is a rare gift – and I know that. There have been a handful of times in my life, when this serendipity has happened and sometimes, I’ve been too busy to take notice – but this time, I not only took notice – I welcomed Erik’s vision.  Because I was open to what Erik could bring to the film – it’s so much stronger.

Friends – As much as I know that I should never do anything for the sake of other people’s approval, there is always a part of me (my ego) that surfaces and seeks that approval or validation.  Funny thing is that when you create something that is coming from such a sincere place in your own heart – a project that you’re so passionate about – people come into your life because of it.  They are drawn in by your own enthusiasm.  So when others, disappoint you or even take no notice at all – you realize their approval doesn’t really matter.
Chris Guillebeau has a wonderful blog post about this.

Feedback – One reason I had a couple of sneak previews this past week was to solicit feedback.  When I get consumed with the mechanics of making a movie, especially the editing of the movie, I often get caught up in the nit picky stuff, (which is very important) but I need to step back and digest it as the overall movie.  It’s tough when I’m so close to it, so I always solicit other’s input. I know I can’t accommodate everyone’s suggestions because I’d end up with a big mess if I tried.  Some comments ring true and I may take them to heart, while other comments aren’t really along the same line of my thinking,  so I discount them.  Some people’s comments are brutal and cut deep, but after I get past the initial hurt, I realize sometimes, that the comments that cut deepest are the one’s that strike closest to the heart of the matter – and my inner voice takes notice.

Overcoming resistance – The most important thing of all.  I did what I set out to do and that is to make a film that will motivate others and move them to action. During the first Q&A last week, a man stood up and thanked me for making the film.  He told me that he hadn’t even intended to see a movie that morning – he had been looking at the posters announcing the lineup for the TC film festival this week and saw the marquee and came in.  He told me that it changed his way of thinking – that it changed his life.  And then he told me that I needed to screen this film for as many people as possible.  That’s my ultimate goal – to share this film with others – and if one person in every audience reacts that way – well what more could I ask for?

This film may not be perfect and it may not be for everybody (certainly not the cynics), but I did something a lot of others never do – I executed my idea – rather than give myself lots of goods reasons why I couldn’t.   I could cite plenty of reasons right now that could have or should have stopped me in my tracks.  But I didn’t stop because I had such a strong belief in this dream – I saw it too clearly.

Whenever I pull back from my dreams and succumb to my own resistance, I stop and think about a line from a Joni Mitchell tune where she writes about old friends being “cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café”.  I stop and I think about that. I sure don’t want to end up being one of those people who piss away their own life by passing judgment about other people’s efforts or causes. And then, I get out and do something.  That’s how I’m making a difference.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine