News & Updates
February 15, 2017
Originally featured on Column Five.
If you’re in a field where either the people or the work you’re producing are labeled “creative,” you likely signed up to create meaningful, fulfilling experiences. And if you’re idealistic like me, you may even say you’re here to bring beauty into the world. Yet when it comes to creative work, we face the same occasional struggles: frustrating projects, tight timelines, vague asks, creative drain.
As Producer, then Senior Producer, Strategist, and now Director of Strategy at Column Five, I’ve faced these issues at many levels of our organization, both with our own team and with our partners. There is no magic fix for creative troubles, but over time I’ve learned a few lessons. Whether they were simple realizations or totally game-changing revelations, they’ve all helped me in one way or another. I think they can help you too.
If you want to improve the creative work you make and the way you work with others, here are 15 things that might help.
1) RESPOND RIGHT NOW
This habit has the highest impact-to-effort ratio imaginable. That’s strategist speak for making a huge impact with very little effort.
I used to think I couldn’t respond to client emails until I had an exhaustive response to every item the client detailed. That was until a custom music vendor, Score A Score, showed me that quick replies as simple as “We’re on it” or “Thanks—tied up for a few hours but will respond in full” can be an incredibly valuable service tactic. (As a company policy, Score A Score’s CEO demands a 10-minute response time for every email from his staff.)
Knowing an email has been read and is being handled puts your partner’s mind at ease. (This type of swift communication also aligns with happiness expert Gretchen Rubin’s 1-minute rule. If something takes less than a minute, do it now.)
2) REMEMBER YOUR CLIENT IS NEVER WRONG—OR STUPID
Your creative success ultimately depends not on how much your client paid you but how well your creative work helped them achieve their goal.
Belittling a client’s opinion or lack of expertise never helped a team get a better creative result. The people you work with are very smart people. They could run circles around you in their field of expertise; they just need you to help communicate their vision. Approach the job as their partner and internal spokesperson. Own that role.
Beyond being a partner, you will sometimes need to represent your client or act as their surrogate when dealing with a subcontractor or vendor. Always make decisions that you believe will best benefit the client.
ON PROFESSIONAL GROWTH
3) RESPECT AND PROTECT EVERYBODY’S TIME—INCLUDING YOUR OWN
I originally wanted to phrase this as “be aggressively anti-meeting,” but let’s go with a more positive take. Don’t use meetings as a crutch. Meetings are only valuable when they leverage the collective contributions of valuable people. If you’re getting bombarded by meeting invites, make sure you’re clear on why your presence is necessary; if it’s not, decline it.
When you set up meetings, include only relevant stakeholders. Set objectives, then release people as soon as you address those designated objectives. Just because a meeting is scheduled for an hour doesn’t mean you have to fill time until then. (See more of our tips on how to run a meeting like a boss to save your team’s sanity.)
4) BET ON YOURSELF
The biggest mistakes I’ve made weren’t because I made a creative decision that didn’t pan out. They happened when I didn’t trust my own instincts—or kept quiet about them. Lo and behold, in those instances, the exact issues I’d wanted to raise ended up being irreversible flaws in the project.
Believe in your convictions. Be willing to gamble, put yourself out there to experiment, push boundaries, and even fail. Betting on yourself isn’t a risk-free path, but trusting your instincts—and being ready to deal with their outcomes—is an important way to grow and do better creative work.
5) NEVER CREATE UNNECESSARY WORK FOR YOUR CLIENT
This golden rule is pretty easy to stick to if you’re organized. Before you ask your client for their brand style guide or audience personas, be certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that you and your team don’t have that info already.
Triple- and quadruple-check your files to make sure you aren’t asking the client to do something they’re paying you to do. There’s no greater *facepalm* moment than when a client re-forwards you a previous email or refers you back to your own team member for info.
6) KEEP A LIST OF IDEAS
No matter how random or disconnected your ideas may be from the project at hand, record any idea that is interesting to you. These notes can be invaluable for preparing for a brainstorm, addressing wide-open creative opportunities, or referencing down the line when you’re stuck.
I personally use the Notes app on my iPhone. Plenty of my creative projects have started there, including everything I wanted to share in this blog.
7) EMBRACE BOREDOM
Profound creativity can come from moments of absolute mental void. While keeping busy is a motivator for me, moments of boredom are when my mind is free to reflect, humor itself, and explore. I used to commute over an hour each way to the office, and while I don’t miss that drive, I do miss the daily meditative time it afforded me.
8) BE PERSISTENT IN UNDERSTANDING THE PROBLEM
Experienced creatives know there’s a visceral difference between ideating to solve a problem they understand versus one they don’t.
In creative work, we’re often asked to create a tangible piece of creative that connects to an intangible vision. A client might want you to make their brand “contemporary” or create an “emotional” video. But what does contemporary mean to them? What kind of emotion should your work elicit? If you want to find the right solution to a project, you need to know what problem you’re trying to solve.
Before you start on an endeavor, secure a firm understanding of the project and relationship goals. Call your contact if you need to iron out details or confirm what you’ve gathered. What is the vision? How does the client see it? The more assumptions you’re making, the less likely you’re aligned with your client.
Get to the why before you start worrying about the what. Remember: Even the most skilled dart-thrower can’t be effective if they don’t know the target.
9) KNOW YOUR VALUES
No matter your field of work, you have to know why you’re in it and what you want to do. Your mission and associated values will influence a lot of what you do—especially in cases where the answer isn’t cut and dried.
At our agency, we’re lucky to have a blueprint that influences our decision-making. It’s our Five Columns, the company values we use as our North Star:
10) DEBRIEF OFTEN
We all want the same things: to make great creative work that our clients are happy with. But in the rush to complete a project, sometimes things go unsaid or accountability slips, which can lead to unhealthy communication and unsettled nerves within your team. Having a frank and honest discussion about these issues—after the fact—helps you improve and learn to work better.
I recommend these after every project, especially if that project experienced a hiccup. I’d also encourage you to be the first to welcome feedback. There is amazing and energizing power in creating a forum of open, honest team reflection. It’s the best way to make sure your next project has good vibes.
11) BE TRANSPARENT
A new mantra for our team has been to “act with positive intent and assume positive intent in others.” But we also need to be on the same page. For me, that comes down to transparency. When you are evasive or put up a facade, you breed distrust. Conversely, showing honesty and compassion will breed confidence. Most importantly, it’ll breed goodwill for when you do make a mistake—which, trust me, you will.
12) SPEAK AND LISTEN FROM THE HEART
Be authentic in the way you communicate, both in how you speak and listen. I used to have trouble reconciling “real” me with “work” me. But eventually the two met, and I was able to find my own professional voice. This helps me maintain genuine communication.
I’ve also learned to prioritize listening. It’s a key part of being a good collaborator—and human being. Give people your full attention to hear them out. Even if you disagree, acknowledge that you hear them, show appreciation for their thinking, and walk them through your thinking.
Create conversations instead of conflict. It’s likely you both want the same thing from a project. Strive to work from that common place.
If all else fails, I’ve found there’s a mystical power in going on a walk with someone.
ON PROJECT MANAGEMENT
13) TREAT EVERYONE LIKE A CLIENT
The creative community is a small world where relationships are everything. Our reputation directly affects who we get to collaborate with, which, in turn, impacts the quality of our work.
Pay people what they’re due when they’re due it, show kindness courageously, be an internal advocate for freelancers, and be a helping hand to your partners—no matter who the payer is. Understand that healthy long-term relationships are in the agency’s best interest.
14) LEARN THE 4 MOST POWERFUL WORDS
Risk. Expectations. Value. Confidence. These words will influence the success of all your creative endeavors.
Risk: What is likely to go wrong—budgeting, creative execution, legal reviews? When something makes you nervous, listen to that feeling. Knowing your risks only empowers you to manage a project better. Counter-balance your risk tolerance with the knowledge that great content practices don’t happen without experimentation.
Expectations: What is the vision and outcome your various collaborators anticipate? Undoubtedly, part of mastering life is having a good read on who expects what, and why. The idea of success is wholly dependent on what expectations preceded it.
Value: What project factors are unique or different, and how will that benefit your audience? Steering a project correctly requires that you have a great handle on what made the original concept valuable. Challenge yourself and your teammates by questioning the value of certain design elements, plot devices, or formats.
Confidence: How can you demonstrate optimism about your team’s ability to deliver on an idea? Using language such as “We’re confident in…” instead of “We think…” will help crystallize your confidence, and others will be more likely to listen.
15) CONTAIN THE SURPRISE FACTOR
As Jane Austen said, “Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.” I think it’s safe to say that in creative work, surprises are rarely fun.
How I’ve learned to minimize surprises in creative work:
- Engage your uncertainty: Get the answers you need from the people who can accurately give them. Does the designer feel confident in executing on this style? Is the developer on board with the required tech stack? Know where things are the most and least likely to blow up on you, and temper expectations accordingly.
- Identify the risk areas of a project early: 80% of a project’s outcomes are decided in the first 20% of the work. Work aggressively upfront to spot and resolve issues that may affect you down the line. This can mean everything from solid outlines and sketches to securing film permits and wardrobe approval.
- Think through every implication before you make a change: One project variable can greatly affect other variables. You don’t want solving one problem to create new, bigger problems. Assess the domino effect that new information or decisions may have, and get all parties on board beforehand.
Above all, stay open and agile. You’ll never be fully prepared for every situation that comes up. But that’s the fun part, right? Pack some of these tips in your toolbelt, and approach the unexpected challenges as opportunities—not natural disasters.
Source: Visual News
February 15, 2017
<b>Facebook is to roll out an app that lets users watch the platform’s video content on television.</b><p>The move could allow it to eventually better compete with the likes of YouTube and traditional television channels for advertising revenue.<p>Users with Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV and Samsung’s Smart TVs …
Source: CW’s Flipboard Feed
February 14, 2017
When it comes to the immersive visuals virtual reality offers, the audio needs to be equally as compelling. That includes having the sound adapt to your movements as you navigate a scene or event. To show off what its PlayStation VR setup is capable of, Sony enlisted violinist Joshua Bell to record …
Source: CW’s Flipboard Feed
February 14, 2017
Disney and its subsidiary Maker Studios have dropped Swedish YouTube star Felix Kjellberg, AKA PewDiePie, from its roster one month after the gamer posted a video showing two men laughing as they held up a sign reading: “Death to all Jews.”
In a video from January 11, since removed, Kjellberg filmed his shocked reaction as the two men unfurled the sign, which he had paid them to do. The following week, Kjellberg posted an apology, repeating the hateful rhetoric and criticizing the media for not understanding that he was joking. In a January 22 video, also since removed, he reacts to a video of a Jesus character saying a popular alt-right trolling phrase, “Hitler did nothing wrong.” The Wall Street Journal has segments of the videos.
Maker Studios released the following statement yesterday: “Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate. Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward.”
Following the announcement by maker Studios, Google-owned YouTube canceled plans for a second season of the reality series “Scare PewDiePie.” It has also removed Kjellberg’s PewDiePie channel from Google Preferred, its premium advertising tier, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Since 2014, PewDiePie has been the most-viewed YouTube channel of all time. An early gaming channel, his 53 million subscribers tune in for his funny voices and provocative humor. Early in his career, he was criticized for making rape jokes in his videos. He signed with Maker Studios in 2012, one of the largest multi-channel networks, or MCNs. (An MCN manages channels for digital content creators in exchange for a share of the revenue.) The Walt Disney Company bought Maker Studios in 2014 for $500 million.
Kjellberg released a statement on Tumblr defending his recent actions: “I was trying to show how crazy the modern world is, specifically some of the services available online. I think it’s important to say something and I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes.”
With such a robust following, it’s difficult to predict how the separation will affect Kjellberg’s popularity or revenue stream. YouTubers make money through advertising and brand partnerships, which an MCN like Maker would help facilitate. However, PewDiePie will still be able to run his YouTube channel, he just lost his preferred status and his original show, as well as the contract with Maker Studios.
At a time when hate speech is seeping into media from the highest reaches of government, Disney’s decision to sever ties with such a mega-star speaks volumes. So does the fact that it took them a month to do it.
February 14, 11:19 am: Updated to include YouTube’s decision to cut ties with Kjellberg.
Source: IndieWire Digital TV
February 12, 2017
Apple’s CEO says the technology is ‘huge,’ with the potential to improve people’s lives.<p>For Apple, augmented reality is the next big thing.<p>How big? How about as big as the iPhone?<p>Tim Cook has expressed his interest in AR before, but now the Apple CEO is likening the technology to the revolutionary …
Source: CW’s Flipboard Feed
February 12, 2017
It’s super easy to crop in After Effects. This fast, helpful video tutorial will show you everything you need to know!<p><b>Cropping in After Effects</b> is …
Source: CW’s Flipboard Feed
February 12, 2017
From the Berlin Film Festival comes the news that two young actors who made big splashes a few years back are set to star in new films: Bel Powley (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”) will headline Marius A. Markevicius’ “Ashes in the Snow,” while Ellar Coltrane of “Boyhood” is co-starring alongside John Cusack in Lucky McKee’s thriller “Misfortune.” Avail yourself of a photo from the latter below.
Here’s the synopsis for “Ashes in the Snow”: “Based on the internationally best-selling novel ‘Between Shades of Gray’ by Ruta Sepetys, ‘Ashes in the Snow’ introduces us to Lina, a sixteen-year-old budding artist in 1941 Lithuania, who along with her mother and young brother are deported by the Soviets to a Siberian work camp. Faced with years of hard labor in an unforgiving climate, Lina finds that her self-expression through art and newfound love with a fellow prisoner are her key to survival.”
And “Misfortune”: “Sharp, quick-witted businessman Miller (Cusack) left everything behind, including his family, to start a new life after embezzling a client’s money. All had been going according to plan until he becomes separated from his cash in the middle of the wilderness. Three young friends happen upon the lost fortune, and a desperate and violent Miller will do anything to get his money back.”
Lisa Loven Kongsli (“Wonder Woman,” “Force Majeure”) and Tom Sweet (“The Childhood of a Leader”) co-star in “Ashes in the Snow,” while Willa Fitzgerald (“Scream: The TV Series”) and “Jacob Artist (“American Horror Story”) are featured in “Misfortune.” Both films are currently in post-production.
Source: IndieWire film
February 12, 2017
Taraji P. Henson took home two prizes from the 48th NAACP Image Awards, which took place in Los Angeles night: Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series (“Empire”) and Outstanding Actress in in a Motion Picture (“ ,” which also won Outstanding Motion Picture).
Anthony Anderson, who hosted the ceremony at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, earned a prize of his own for starring in “black-ish”; his co-star Tracee Ellis Ross repeated her Golden Globes victory, and the show itself won Outstanding Comedy Series. Full list of winners below.
Outstanding Comedy Series: “`black-ish”
Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series: Anthony Anderson, “`black-ish”
Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series: Tracee Ellis Ross, “`black-ish”
Outstanding Drama Series: “Queen Sugar”
Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series: Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”
Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series: Taraji P. Henson, “Empire”
David Lee/Paramount Pictures/REX/Shutterstock
Outstanding Motion Picture: “Hidden Figures”
Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture: Denzel Washington, “Fences”
Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture: Taraji P. Henson, “Hidden Figures”
Entertainer of the Year: Dwayne Johnson
Source: IndieWire film
February 12, 2017
Amma Asante Responds to Backlash Against Interracial World War II Love Story ‘Where Hands Touch’ — Exclusive
Late last week, Variety debuted a first look picture (see below) from “A United Kingdom” and “Belle” filmmaker Amma Asante’s latest feature, a World War II-set interracial romance titled “Where Hands Touch.” The film follows the romance between pair of German teenagers — Amandla Stenberg as the biracial Leyna and George MacKay as Lutz, the son of a prominent SS officer and a member of the Hitler Youth — and it unfolds against the backdrop of the war and the Holocaust.
The first look image was met with backlash across social media platforms, and various commenters loudly voiced their displeasure that, in crafting a story around a persecuted person and a Hitler Youth, Asante was “romanticizing” Nazis and otherwise diminishing the experience of those that suffered during World War II and the Holocaust.
— Lakshmi Gandhi (@LakshmiGandhi) February 10, 2017
Coming from the romance novel world, where Nazi romantic heroes is suddenly A Huge Fucking Problem, Where Hands Touch greatly concerns me.
— Kayleigh Anne (@Ceilidhann) February 12, 2017
In debuting this first look at the feature, Asante also addressed the difficult nature of the film’s subject matter. She told Variety: “It has been a passion of mine to tell this story for many years — to shine a light on the existence of German children of color who were forced to grow up under Hitler’s rule, labelled as ‘Rhineland bastards.’ Against this historical backdrop, Leyna and Lutz enter a rite of passage negotiating the path to true identity in a society that has turned in on itself and is eating its own tail. Completing this film brings together everything I am as filmmaker.”
Asante was soon compelled to respond on her own Instagram account, where the filmmaker emphasized her desire to shine a light on the atrocities committed against children during the war — not just young biracial and black Germans, but also the German youth who were forced to join Nazi groups — and how she hopes that story will be reflected in her newest film.
In an updated statement to IndieWire, Asante again emphasized her intentions and hopes for the film, and she also provided another exclusive image from the film (see above):
“This week, a First Look image of the film I have made starring Amandla Stenberg was released, and it revealed all sorts of concerns, questions and worries with fears on what this film will be about. My passion has been to shine a light on the existence of the children of colour who were born and raised under Hitler. These children were also persecuted and my wish has been to explore how Black and Bi-racial identity was perceived and experienced under Nazi facist rule. The young girl’s experience in ‘Where Hands Touch,’ sits alongside the Jewish experience and the experience of others who were persecuted. It looks at how Germany became Nazi Germany and ‘slept walked’ itself into a disgusting and murderous state that resulted in it killing its own people and those of other countries.
Leyna’s story (Amandla Stenberg) is told in this sad and terrifying context. My reasons for making this film sit around my concerns of the current climate but also a continued and growing intolerance of racial and religious difference, that we all have sensed for many years and which is becoming even worse now. As a filmmaker, my wish is to center on bringing attention to this through my work.
Amandla and I teamed together to shine a light on the hatred that Nazi Germany visited on Europe and to make a film that might contribute to the dialogue of how we fight this horrific racial and religious ignorance today, along with the intolerances visited on the many other marginalized groups and intersections.
Tantrum Films/Pinewood Pictures
With only a few lines and one image ever offered to a filmmaker to comment on when a First Look image is about to be released, and with the lead character in this film embarking on such a large rites of passage story, it is difficult to summarize all the things one might want to about a film in a brief article. Amandla’s role as a sixteen year old in this film brings attention to an, as yet, untold story in the arena of drama cinema, to the existence of the other ‘others’ who suffered during the holocaust. This does not mean that the Jewish experience is not also key to our story. It is.
When, as a 17 year old member of the Hitler Youth (compulsory since 1936), George MacKay’s character discovers exactly what his country is and what it stands for through learning the truth of what is happening to Jews and then to Leyna as she is thrown into a camp system, he rejects the doctrine and challenges his father’s belief system.
I hope that this at least clarifies concerns as you encounter the image of this German girl of color being raised in fascist Germany. I have all the respect in the world for those who have enjoyed my films thus far and i would never make a movie that glorified, glamorized or romanticized hatred and murder in any way. On the contrary, I want to explore the voices of the marginalized. By exploring the experiences of yesterday we can hopefully be better prepared when ugliness heads our way today. Sending you all, love and light.”
Two of Asante’s previous films, “Belle” and “A United Kingdom,” are historically-set dramas that focus on interracial relationships that unfold despite intense racism and persecution.
“Where Hands Touch” was shot last year in Belgium and the Isle of Man and is currently in post-production. Asante’s latest film, “A United Kingdom,” opened last week.
Source: IndieWire film
February 12, 2017
Three years after making his auspicious debut with “Dear White People” — and ahead of the upcoming TV adaptation coming to Netflix — writer/director Justin Simien has answered the question he’s been getting asked since before his film even hit theaters: Why did he name it that? “Had I made a terrible mis-calculation?” he recalls wondering after receiving harsh questions at early screenings of his film and being subjected to overt racism online. “Had I doomed my film and career to obscurity because I dared to put the words ‘white’ and ‘people’ next to one another in my title?”
Thankfully not — after winning a Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at Sundance, Simien went on to receive strong reviews for “Dear White People,” and is writing the first 10 episodes of the Netflix version. But a boycott of the show has been called for on some corners of the internet (you can probably guess which), and so now he feels compelled to respond.
In his Medium post, Simien reveals that the movie’s original title was “2%,” a reference to the percentage of black students at the fictional Ivy League university where his film is set. “Sending ‘Dear White America-isms’ back and forth had become a snarky but satisfying past time initiated by my friend,” he writes. “During such an exchange it dawned on me that ‘Dear White America’ would make a great name for the radio show hosted by firebrand Samantha White, a divisive fictional character in a screenplay I’d been writing called ‘2%.’”
“But the title had to go,” he continues. “‘Number titles’ never worked, I’d been told, assisting in the publicity department at Focus Features. ‘2%’ was too nondescript. This film needed something…louder.
As a sort of dry run, Simien made a Dear White People Twitter account. It did well, and the popularity of websites like Stuff White People Like and Shit White Girls say further emboldened the aspiring filmmaker. “It occurred to me that by naming the film itself Dear White People I could tap into the burgeoning meme culture as well as make a meta-commentary about the controversies within the film,” he recalls.
“As a title it felt right. It was a clutter buster, the kind of thing that made you sit up and go ‘What is THIS going to be?’” continues Simien. “Perhaps naively I assumed that most people would move quickly past their knee jerk reaction, whatever that may be, take a look at my little art film about the lives of black students, and either be surprised or validated by seeing themselves in characters mostly absent from popular culture.”
Simien offers more thoughts and insights in hist post, which can be read in full here.
Source: IndieWire film