By his late forties, he was still a postal worker by day, writing a column for LA’s underground magazine Open City in his spare time and collaborating on a short-lived literary magazine with another poet.
In 1969, the year before Bukowski’s fiftieth birthday, he caught the attention of Black Sparrow Press publisher John Martin, who offered Buk a monthly stipend of $100 to quit his day job and dedicate himself fully to writing.
Look around and you will find greatness sitting in a soul-sucking job waiting for someone to believe in them.
My assistant is this 28-year-old female who was kind of cute and quite bubbly named Ady. I say this because it comes into play later in the story. One other thing I can tell you about her is that she was absolutely zero help in warning me that I was about to fly the quadcopter over the Chinese NSA and FBI buildings. That’s one of those things I would have liked to know.
Definitely would have been some good information.
Anyway, I went out to get my batteries and walked back. I saw Ady still standing by my quadcopter with a rather surly-looking female police officer. I was getting a bad vibe. As I approached, the surliness seemed to increase, and it was really harshin’ my mellow.
What happens next is totally worth the read. If you and your drone are planning upcoming travels to China, you should read this first.
Steven Soderbergh, acclaimed filmmaker and Oscar winning director of Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13 (before trilogies were standard fare) is down on Hollywood. In a long-form piece posted on Film Comment he shares his misgivings about the industry that in his opinion used to make great cinema, but now mostly churns out movies.
… the meetings have gotten pretty weird. There are fewer and fewer executives who are in the business because they love movies. There are fewer and fewer executives that know movies. So it can become a very strange situation. I mean, I know how to drive a car, but I wouldn’t presume to sit in a meeting with an engineer and tell him how to build one, and that’s kind of what you feel like when you’re in these meetings. You’ve got people who don’t know movies and don’t watch movies for pleasure deciding what movie you’re going to be allowed to make.
The Fox can’t help but feel his pain. Not from a filmmaking perspective, but from a web-making perspective. How many meetings are we in with people who love producing interactive web applications? How many surf the web not to read the news but to look for different interesting sites that just happen to deliver news? How many grew up drawing or doing graphic design or playing in Photoshop? How many can verbalize the difference between a mobile application and the mobile web, or spend a significant amount of time scouring the web looking for trends or creative ideas?
And like Soderbergh, it’s very easy for me to realize that I have driven a car every day for years, but that doesn’t qualify me to pop the hood and start fiddling with things. Or worse, pop into an engineer’s office at Toyota or Ford and start telling them how the dashboard should be arranged.
But the parallels to this metaphor are so hard to see in the digital space. Everybody uses the internet now, but that alone doesn’t qualify anyone to create web applications. Everyone uses a smart phone now, but that instantly train us to be mobile application designers. But these are the conversations I see teams struggling with over and over because organizations haven’t done a great job defining what qualifies anyone to create these
The web hasn’t been around nearly as long as filmmaking, so many people we are in meetings with didn’t grow up with the Internet, didn’t have opportunities to discover HTML, CSS or Photoshop in high school or college, and didn’t get into this business because they loved the power of digital communication and interactive design.
And you can literally feel it in meetings.
I’ve been in meetings where I can feel it slipping away, where I can feel that the ideas I’m tossing out, they’re too scary or too weird, and I can feel the thing. I can tell: it’s not going to happen, I’m not going to be able to convince them to do this the way I think it should be done. I want to jump up on the table and scream, “Do you know how lucky we are to be doing this? Do you understand that the only way to repay that karmic debt is to make something good, is to make something ambitious, something beautiful, something memorable?” But I didn’t do that. I just sat there, and I smiled.
And he’s right. You kind of know when it’s going to happen, when the team is capable of catching the vision, and when something special is going to be created. And you can definitely tell when it’s not. When the pressures of unwavering metrics, steadfast ideologies and decisions by committee are going to drive the quality of a thing firmly into the dusty soil of mediocrity – where ‘done’ is the only legitimate measure of success. And you’re just along for the ride.
So do we banish everyone over the age of 30 to a special island impervious to fiber optic cable? (For the record, the Fox is over 30 so I’d be on the “Words on Paper” island too.)
That’s clearly not the answer, because everyone has value they bring to the table, and all of us have the opportunity to evolve in our thinking and knowledge over time. The challenge we face, and I think the challenge Soderbergh recognizes, is that sometimes people don’t grow. It’s always easier to do things the same way we did them yesterday. And that makes change hard, because the old method actually works for a certain period of time, until one day it doesn’t.
And when it doesn’t, we all have a responsibility to each other to call it out. We all have a responsibility to each other to grow, to recognize the way of the world today, and realize it’s not the same as 2005, or even 2010. In some ways it’s marginally different, but in the digital space, and specifically the mobile space, it is almost light years different. Many of the ideas and methods we used to function in our organizations in 2010 aren’t even relevant anymore, yet many of our ideas, processes and mechanisms of control predate 2010. Heck, some predate the 21st century.
So why don’t we adapt? Why don’t we change the way we do things? Why don’t we innovate in our procedures?
Soderbergh provides one thought.
Now, I’m going to attempt to show how a certain kind of rodent might be smarter than a [Hollywood] studio when it comes to picking projects. If you give a certain kind of rodent the option of hitting two buttons, and one of the buttons, when you touch it, dispenses food 40% of the time, and one of the buttons when you touch it dispenses food 60% percent of the time, this certain kind of rodent very quickly figures out never to touch the 40% button ever again. So when a studio is attempting to determine on a project-by-project basis what will work, instead of backing a talented filmmaker over the long haul, they’re actually increasing their chances of choosing wrong. Because in my view, in this business which is totally talent-driven, it’s about horses, not races. I think if I were going to run a studio I’d just be gathering the best filmmakers I could find and sort of let them do their thing within certain economic parameters.
I don’t think inability to change is necessarily a product of laziness or ineptitude. It’s simply a product of not being given the decision making power (a.k.a. freedom) to change. Instead of being hired as talented professionals with a brain and an ability to figure things out, we are often hamstrung by past decisions made much higher on the food chain far from the battle going on in the trenches.
Former Secretary of State and retired four-star general Colin Powell was known to reiterate often that the best intelligence comes from the guys in front, not the back.
In filmmaking, Soderbergh is saying the team hired to make the film should be entrusted with the freedom and ability to, you know, make the film. Otherwise, why did you hire them? And he concedes that the process of backing talent over the long haul wouldn’t produce hits 100% of the time, but if you hire the most talented people and give them the freedom to do what they do best, then over the long run they will produce a string of hits more often than not.
And his theory isn’t too farfetched. You may have heard of a little film company called Pixar who has produced a few hits over the last 15 years. Their secret wasn’t making movies digitally. It wasn’t having Steve Jobs as their CEO. Their secret for creating wonderful films time and again was the collective talent of John Lassiter, Ed Catmull, Brad Bird, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton and a host of talented animators and storytellers who worked on every single Pixar film for nearly 10 years. From a pure management standpoint, Steve Jobs recognized talent when he saw it and proceeded to provide little more than money, encouragement and trust that his team was talented enough to do their jobs well.
But this presents another challenge entirely. To give a team the freedom to succeed means you also have to give them the freedom to fail. We’ve all failed at something, probably many things, in our lives. And we often learn so much more from our failures than our successes. Yet we all naturally gravitate towards hiding our failures because we’ve been trained that failure is an indictment. We can’t say we want a culture of innovation while at the same time our actions so severely punish failure. Innovation and failure live together and we can’t chose to love one and hate the other.
Soderbergh’s model, which is ultimately Pixar’s model, doesn’t eliminate the ability to fail. It just recognizes the value of failure to those who are talented enough to learn from it and keep moving forward. Over the long haul, those individuals and teams will succeed, regardless of occasional failures when trying new things.
A few years back, I got a call from an agent and he said, “Will you come see this film? It’s a small, independent film a client made. It’s been making the festival circuit and it’s getting a really good response but no distributor will pick it up, and I really want you to take a look at it and tell me what you think.” The film was called Memento. So the lights come up and I think: it’s over. It’s over. Nobody will buy this film? This is just insane. The movie business is over. It was really upsetting. Well, fortunately, the people who financed the movie loved the movie so much that they formed their own distribution company and put the movie out and made $25 million. So whenever I despair I think, okay, somebody out there somewhere, while we’re sitting right here, somebody out there somewhere is making something cool that we’re going to love, and that keeps me going.
Fox Tip: Trusting your peers to do their jobs means giving space to succeed and fail, and mutually growing from both.
Raise your hand if you enjoy rock climbing. Um…raise your hand if you have ever been rock climbing. Hmm…anyone heard of rock climbing? Have you ever said the word rock? Ok, I guess we’ll start from there.
Clearly rock climbing isn’t the most prolific sport that comes to mind for most people. In spite of that, we’re going to take a leap (figuratively, of course) into this niche hobby to better understand our perceptions of the impossible.
Our guide is Ben Yu of Svbtle, writing on his growing experience and understanding that rock climbing, like many things in life, is much more mental than physical.
My first and only outdoor climbing experience was what really blossomed my fascination with climbing. Two incredibly patient and generous veteran climbers offered another newcomer and me a ride into Connecticut or some other cold New Eastern place while I was at Harvard. We did several routes, and I’m fairly certain that I exhausted the bulk of my physical reserves by the time I was halfway up my first ascent.
But the veteran climbers kept encouraging us to continue and coached us patiently, and I’ll remain forever grateful that they did. The final ascent is the one I remember to this day. It was a dauntingly high route, up two separate rock faces in a corner and like nothing I had ever seen before.
As a culture we often think that the best and brightest are a product of some amazing genetics or simply gifted with a level of talent that us mere mortals will never posses. But the reality is that we have all been coached and trained, intentionally or otherwise, by a handful of folks who chose to give of their precious time to invest in our human capital.
According to one of the real climbers, this was a remarkably simple route – it involved stemming, or placing your feet directly on the two opposing walls. The friction is remarkably strong even on the sheer rock walls without any footholds and is enough to allow for a climb up. The real climber went up first with no trouble at all and thoroughly demonstrated how simple the ascent was.
Then it was my turn, and I found it incredibly difficult to wrap my mind around the notion that it was feasible, let alone simple and effortless to just place my feet on two sheer rock faces and expect that to hold me up. As a consequence, that route was particularly difficult for me and all I really remember about the actual specifics of the climb was how abjectly terrified I was (my fear of heights didn’t help much).
Let’s set aside for a moment the very intriguing fact that someone with a fear of heights chooses to pursue a hobby where success will always result in being a significant distance above the ground.
What’s more important is that even after seeing an experienced climber perform the stemming maneuver, Ben still struggled to believe that it was even possible. Seeing doesn’t always mean believing… immediately.
But gradually, as I returned to the bouldering wall at Harvard, I began to see how it was possible to ascend routes that I had never been able to even fathom climbing before. In fact, they became simple. Now, stemming is one of the techniques I enjoy most in climbing, and not only is it effortless but I actively seek out positions in which I’m allowed the opportunity to stem.
Something happened between that first moment when Ben discovered stemming and his own mastering of the technique. It wasn’t luck. And it certainly wasn’t some innate rock-climbing talent. It started with the very simple belief that it could be done. And that led to his trying it over and over again on the practice wall until his mind and his muscles simply understood the technique and when and how to use it.
The transition from pure disbelief to excitedly looking for opportunities to do something new doesn’t happen overnight. And it doesn’t happen in a vacuum alone at our desks. Yet how often are we presented with impossible challenges that we shrink from out of sheer disbelief that it can be done? And if we’re honest, how often have we taken on a challenge only to find ourselves stuck in our limited abilities and knowledge only to give up and deem the endeavor impossible?
That’s the thing about climbing – it constantly challenges my beliefs about what is possible. All these holds look ridiculously impressive and dangerously fragile, but in reality many of them are incredibly stable, even if it’s the smallest 2cm contact between a toe and a crack in a wall.
Problem solving (aka Design) and rock climbing are remarkably similar. They both require us to believe they can be done.
Fox Tip: Impossible is a relative term. If we don’t do it, someone else will.
A lot of people think it’s photos shot in a row, it is not. I film a scene and then freeze a frame that appeals to me.
The Fox fell in love with cinemagraphs back with one of my very first posts. It’s great to see Romain taking the medium to new places and sharing a bit of how he pulls off the magic.
There is a certain amount of latitude between what is good, what is elegant, and what is refined that can take many, many manifestations. It doesn’t have to be one style. We’re not talking about style, we’re talking about quality.
The world has lost a great designer.
70 years ago Operation Overlord (D-Day) involved 156,000 allied soldiers storming the beaches of France to rid the Nazi occupation. Peter Macdiarmid has taken photographs that match up with archived photos from that day to create this stunning interactive Then and Now piece. Very powerful.