May 22, 2013

Limitations: Recognition vs. Acceptance

"Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do." - John Wooden

Somebody once commented that Michael Jordan couldn't hit a curveball with an ironing board.  His .202 batting average during his one year stint in the minor leagues certainly doesn't press a wrinkle into that claim.

The greatest basketball player of all time failed as a professional baseball player.  He let something he couldn't do get in the way of what he could do (better than anybody else on the planet).

Or did he?

MJ had conquered the NBA, so who's to blame him for nurturing his inner Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? He couldn't have known definitively he wouldn't break into the bigs without giving it a try.  And, truth be told, hitting .202 in AA ball is better than 99% of the rest of the world could do.  But minor league baseball wasn't his goal.

The Michael Jordan that returned to basketball after his ill-fated MLB experiment was not the same Michael Jordan that left after his third NBA championship.  He still led the league in scoring three times, but he relied more on jump shots than high-flying, rim-attacking highlight reel plays that defined his younger-legged days.  He wasn't better or worse; just different.  He, as much as any player before and since, understood the difference between what he could do and what he couldn't do.

The creative world is no different from the athletic world in that limitation recognition is key to achieving success.

On the other hand, limitation acceptance is a sure way to fall short of your hopes and dreams.

The solution?

Operate in the present within your limitations with the goal of stretching those limitations in the future.

To paraphrase the late, great John Wooden, don't bog yourself down with your current limitations.  They don't have to be limitations forever.  Do what you can now; it may be more than what you could do in the past and less than what you'll be able to do in the future.  What seems impossible today may be routine tomorrow.

As for those limitations that are here to stay, use them as motivation to excel in other areas.

I struggle.  I want to be able to do everything now.  As I've written before, there are times I loathe myself for not pursuing acting right out of high school, for not moving to LA when I had the chance, for not quitting this crazy dream years ago when I nabbed my sensible bachelor's degree in elementary education.

But loathing myself is stupidly counterproductive.  I'm in a good place with too much for which to be thankful to second guess the path I've followed thus far.

The biggest limitation in my career is simply access.  Hollywood is a tough nut to crack and with so many crazy squirrels trying to get through the shell, it's no wonder the industry isn't welcoming outsiders with open arms, especially ones from flyover country.

I mentioned in my last entry that producer Gary W. Goldstein (Pretty Woman, Under Siege, The Mothman Prophecies) is running a Kickstarter campaign for a new guidebook for newbie film producers.  The campaign ends early Friday (May 24, 2013), so now is the time to jump in and take advantage of some of the cool rewards he is offering.

I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Goldstein what advice he would give to writers/directors/producers living outside of LA and he said, "Move."  He was kidding, but he went on to say, "If you choose to stay where you are to create a career, it is tougher [to break in].  This means you have to take each of your relationships very seriously because you can't simply walk around and make new ones.  You must keep in touch with your network and contribute to the relationship authentically and regularly even from a distance.

"Also, on a regular basis, fly to LA with a plan to network, almost like you'll be going on first dates with some and maintaining long distance relationships with others."

Living outside of LA certainly limits one's ability to network to the fullest, but with hard work and directed efforts, geographic limitations can be overcome.  It takes disciplined persistence and full commitment in researching and learning about the people you'll be reaching.

And thick skin.

An excerpt from Gary W. Goldstein's upcoming book reminds Hollywood outsiders that the path isn't paved with gumdrops, lollipops, and rainbows:

"My failures or obstacles have been a constant for as many years as I can remember.  I've become a black belt at failure, and that's paved the way for my successes.  It's up to you how you classify or view any moment or event.  Every film I've ever championed was a failure many times before I ultimately got it produced.  For every film I've produced, there are another six or ten films I failed to get produced; I invested years of my time, plenty of money, and a big piece of me in those as well.  There are films I worked on for years and years before it became absolutely impossible, legally or financially or practically, to get that particular film into production.  Until that moment I arrived, I never quit.  Never."

And despite my present limitations, neither will I.

May 16, 2013

Bent, Not Broken

"If I'd observed all the rules, I'd never have got anywhere." - Marilyn Monroe

I cheated.

Please don't judge me.

It's admirable that I am admitting it, isn't it?

Truth is, I'm pretty sure my wife would have done the same thing had she been in my shoes.  We are only human, after all.

I cheated and I don't regret it and I'll probably do it again!

Any parent who claims not to have cheated at Candy Land is lying.

My 3-year-old had reached the second to last square on the board and the chance of him not ending the game with his next draw was literally about 10%.  The game had already dragged on (as every game of Candy Land does), so it was time to be done.

It's not that I don't enjoy playing games with my kids.  I really do.  But I consider Candy Land only marginally a game with its mindless path crawling and sadistic redundancy.  A 3-year-old's attention span can barely handle a full game of Candy Land.  Neither can my son.

I sneaked a peek at the next two cards in the deck.  Sure enough, his next draw would have yielded him the gumdrop sending him back near the beginning of the game where I was still trudging along having drawn the gingerbread man almost immediately after drawing the coveted ice cream cone.  And the cycle would have continued.

Candy Land is a game that, statistically speaking, could continue in perpetuity without a little persuasion from time to time, so I was happy to manipulate the system a bit to reach the goal.

And there it is.  The phrase that transitions to the filmmaking industry.  Took me long enough to get there, huh?

To make it in Hollywood, you almost have to manipulate the system and bend the rules.  Once you've made it... well... you still have to bend the rules.  Call it cheating if you must, but it's more about adapting and manipulating the rules to best accommodate your own situation.

That sounds narcissistic, but it's less a reflection on the individual bending the rules and more an observation of the circumstances surrounding a person.

We Davids tend to defend our own rule bending as noble and resourceful while we abscond the Goliaths for doing the same.  The Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign raised nearly $6 million dollars in donations and Zach Braff's campaign is above $2.5 million with over a week left.

How dare they!  Kickstarter is for us little guys!  We are fighting tooth and nail to scrounge up whatever finances we can while the already rich and powerful take money that should have gone to us!


Who's to blame the 91,585 people who pitched in some money to fund a Veronica Mars project they'd love to see?  If Larry David put up a campaign to do a Seinfeld reunion, you bet I'd support him.  Not because he needs any financial support necessarily, but because I need me some more Seinfeld.

As a struggling David (not Larry) in the film industry, I'm less than thrilled to see established Hollywood Goliaths running Kickstarter campaigns, but I'm not crazy enough to believe they are taking any money away from me or other little folks.  Jealous?  Sure.  Resentful?  No.

Are they breaking any rules?  Of course not.  Breaking tradition?  I guess.  The filmmaking landscape is an evolving beast.  The rules that applied in days past don't necessarily apply today, so creativity is needed not only on the screen, but behind the scenes.

True, the rules of the motion picture industry are about as clear as the smog that blankets its major studios, but one must know and understand what has and hasn't worked for others in order to best establish themselves in this crazy business.

A forthcoming book by producer Gary W. Goldstein (Pretty WomanUnder Siege, The Mothman Prophecies) appears destined to become a cornerstone of any upstart producer's library.  The book is currently seeking publishing funds via Kickstarter.

Producer, Gary W. Goldstein
What?  Another Hollywood Goliath asking for money?

Oh. The. Humanity.

Here's the cool thing about Mr. Goldstein's campaign - for only $15 you get a digital copy of the book before it goes on sale to the public.  That's about what you'd pay for an already published book.  By contributing to the Kickstarter campaign, you're essentially buying a book and receiving it as fast as you possibly can.  It hardly seems like a donation.

Throw in a few more bucks and you can receive a number of career building opportunities from Mr. Goldstein or another from his team of Hollywood professionals.

And his goal is $12,000; not $2,000,000.

Mr. Goldstein seems committed to helping others achieve success similar to his own.  My interactions with him have been supremely pleasant and I get the impression he's a genuinely good guy.

I asked him why he went the Kickstarter route and he commented, "[Kickstarter] fascinates me with the amount of engagement that happens not by putting something up for sale but by asking a community to breathe life into a project.  I like the idea of actually being able to connect to each person, to provide things beyond the book that might not be readily available."

Gary W. Goldstein's approachability and cordiality has convinced me his heart is in the right place.  I'm happy to support people with heart, whether they are a David or a Goliath, a gingerbread man or an ice cream cone.  Truth is, Mr. Goldstein is too humble to claim to be a Goliath in this industry.