Opportunities for Self-Initiated Projects

There seems to be a prevailing attitude of doom and gloom. We have an economy that can’t seem to turn itself around and we’re bombarded by change that technology continues to thrust upon us. We’re scared to death of the unknown and nobody seems to know what to do next and how to make any money doing it.

Yet, I’ve never been more hopeful in my life. Why? Key of Life, Temple of Abu Simbel, Egypt Because I no longer need someone else to validate my ideas – and that is a powerful notion.  Those of us in the communication business seem to be particularly fearful. Some believe that the “news” business is dying because print publications – newspapers and magazines are folding every week.  But the “news” business is not dying – it’s just being delivered  in another way – electronically and globally.  There are no longer just a few gatekeepers with a lock on the playing field.

Human beings are social animals and we will always have the need to communicate with each other.  These days we can communicate with one another globally.  An idea or creation can be shared around the world in a matter of minutes.  Think of the power in that and think of how we can use that power and the opportunities it presents.  I could digress into a discussion on the ethics of this thought but I’d like to focus more on the reach and influence that each one of us has in creating awareness.

Many of us get enamored with the latest devices that enable us to deliver and receive information with speed and ease. As technology’s exponential growth continues to change our lives in every way imaginable, we will constantly be incorporating and upgrading new gadgets and devices as part of our lives.  We need to be mindful that these “toys” are merely enablers and that each one of us can use these tools to create and distribute our words, images, designs and ideas across the planet.

I think that we as creative’s or journalists underestimate ourselves sometimes.  Perhaps because we chose professions that aren’t lucrative – at least in terms of money.  However, what one is paid doesn’t necessarily correlate with one’s worth. We live in a time now where we can use our creative skills to really make a difference and to tell the stories that we feel need to be told. Mass communication has been democratized. We no longer need the traditional gatekeepers to validate our ideas.

I never would have dreamed that I would be able to circumvent the globe, create a documentary with only one other person in my crew  – my daughter and then distribute it internationally. I never imagined that I would have the power to create awareness on a global level like I did when I uploaded my trailer to Vimeo.  In less than a month after it was uploaded, that trailer has been played in almost half the countries on the planet.  Staggering thought.

This was not a commissioned project by a network or a motion picture studio. If I had waited for that – it never would have happened. I assigned myself.  I was able to fund it by using my airline points, hotel rewards and doing trades with manufacturers for equipment.  I also successfully raised money via Kickstarter a crowd funding site  that made it possible for me to hire a professional editor. My daughter and I have been building an audience  since we started blogging about our journey. Our readers got more and more engaged as they followed us on our 99-day adventure around the world. They spread the word through Facebook and Twitter and via their own blogs and pretty soon word of our project spread virally. That was precisely our goal.  To use our tools and skills to create a film about the change makers of our world so that others would be inspired and motivated as to what they can do.

I often think about how things in my life and in history would have been different if we had the Internet when I was growing up.  For starters it would have had a huge effect on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and the Vietnam War.  But everything happens in its own time and when it is meant to happen.  Change can be scary or it can be embraced and sometimes both at the same time.

Never stop dreaming. Never stop learning. Always listen to that inner voice.  Then use the means and the tools of the day to do the dance you are meant to do.


Making a Movie With a DSLR and (crowd) Funding It

The first thing I will say is – I did it!  I successfully created a movie

State Theater, Traverse City, MI

– from soup to nuts – with the smallest of micro-budgets, a tiny crew and a lot of hard work.  We’ve had some nice awards at film festivals along with a slew of rejections, and it has been one of the richest experiences of my life.

I’ve written about the journey and the technical aspects of the making of this film, on this blog and the Opening Our Eyes blog.  One of the most popular posts on this blog (it continues to get dozens of hits each day) is the post I wrote about gearing up for this movie. I’ve written so much about this project that I decided to collate a lot of my material and produce a couple of ePubs.  One is available now and hopefully, the 2nd one will be online soon.

A good idea, hard work and a lot of determination are essential in pulling off something like this – and to be crazy enough and confident in yourself to think you can do it.  I can tell you one thing – the confidence factor had its ebbs and tides.  I found that many times my level of confidence changed with my “hits” and my “misses”.  That certainly came into play during both my crowd funding campaigns on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo.  I’ve been thinking a lot about crowd funding lately because it seems like just about everybody is doing it these days. It certainly has exploded since I reached my Kickstarter goal, a year and a half ago. Seth Godin announced today that he is launching a Kickstarter campaign to publish his ePubs – sounds like his traditional publisher doesn’t want to take the risk and finance it until he sees if “the people” are interested.

I have to tell you that I was somewhat bothered when I read Godin’s blog. Kickstarter doesn’t accept every project that gets pitched to them.  When I did it the acceptance rate was about 40-45%.  I don’t know what it is now, but it’s got to have dropped significantly.  And that’s the thing – when “publishers” won’t take the risk, and high profile writers turn to their readers to back them, it’s going to be harder for the true “indie” to get noticed.  The same thing has happened with a lot of film festivals.  Film festivals started out, as a place for indie’s to screen their movies.  Now, at many of the festivals, the “indies” are competing with the big indie studios.

Things are constantly changing.  It becomes harder for the “indie” to get funded and noticed but it’s also easier because of social media. If  you are thinking of embarking on a project – a film or a book – and you aren’t sure if you should do it or can afford it – you can either talk yourself into it – or out of it.  It’s kind of like looking at the glass, half full or half empty.  I can choose to muse on my losses and put myself in a funk, or I can reflect on my wins and the rewards that have come into my life with the making of this film, and feel good about myself.  Each day, I ask myself which way do I want to tip? it’s up to me to determine my value – not anyone else. And today, I think I will feel pretty good about what I was able to achieve.

New Opportunities for Photography

For this post, I’m going to use a very broad definition for “photography”.  I will define photography as any image still or motion shot by any camera – still camera, video camera, hybrid or even and iPhone.

The business of photography has changed with technology. To start with it demands more than just “still captures” in terms of content. These days, our clients are asking us to create stills and motion content and sometimes even 3D.  On top of that technology has made it possible for almost anyone to take a reasonably good picture or video.

So where does that leave us as far as new opportunities in the business of photography? While some look in their rear view mirror and lament the passing of the good old days, I for one have my eye on the possibilities that are open to anyone willing to do the work.

My top 5 pick of opportunities out there:

  • Once Magazine – An online photo magazine made for the iPad. Photographs and video look great on the iPad and Once, magazine shares subscription revenue 50/50 with each issue’s contributors. You no longer need an assignment to shoot those long run stories you love and monetize them.
  • Crowdfunding – With Kickstarter, RocketHub
  • DistributionFilm DIYDistribber
  • Funding and marketing  – Sokap
  • PR and Marketing ToolsTopspin Media
  • Portal for e-commerce (also integrated websites) – Photoshelter

That’s a start.  It’s never before been more possible than it is now to create, promote, market and monetize your “photography.”  Be smart.  Be authentic. Be courteous. Have a plan and be prepared to do the work.  Anything is possible. Validation for your project is no longer necessary.

If you appreciate what I have shared – here’s one last link, a shameless plug to our funding campaign on IndieGoGo for our film, Opening Our Eyes.  If you can, please contribute. If not, please pass along the link.

Marian Kramer, one of our subjects in the film says:
 “We all just have to shine each other up.”

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Crowd Funding and What I’ve Learned

There’s a scene at the end of my favorite holiday movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”

It's a Wonderful Life

where George Bailey, a character played by Jimmy Stewart is surrounded by his friends as they come to his aid and bail him out of his financial shortcomings, caused by his crazy Uncle Billy. I’ve seen this film at least a dozen times and ok – I admit it – I cry every time George Bailey’s little girl opens a book that mysteriously appears under the Christmas tree with the inscription “No man is a failure who has friends”.

I felt like George Bailey today when I saw the email from Kickstarter telling me that my daughter’s and my film project, Opening Our Eyes had been officially funded.  We actually exceeded our goal of $7500 and raised just over $10,000! What a feeling – what a triumph and all possible because of our “friends”. Through crowd funding – our friends had helped us reach our goal and made our film a reality.

This would not have been possible just two years ago.  But, Kickstarter and other crowd funding sites like it, provide other options for artists and entrepreneurs who are seeking funds to make their creative ideas come to life. Many times these ideas might not fit within the confines of what a traditional bank would finance, but there are some great ideas that have a chance now of becoming a reality –  and we all benefit by that.

Here are some things that I have learned through the process of getting our film funded on Kickstarter.

•    You have to do the work.  Once you launch your project page on Kickstarter, you need to let potential backers know about it, using social media or email blasts or word of mouth.  Just like getting traffic to your website, you can’t expect people to stumble upon your project and fund it.
•    You have to make it fun.  Have fun with the “rewards” that you offer your backers, and on Kickstarter every project must have rewards.  People love to give, but they also love to feel like they are part of something or that they have helped to make something happen.  If a backer contributed to my project at the $500 reward level, they will receive an Associate Producer credit in the film and on the project’s website, along with DVD’s of the film when it’s completed, as well as a signed print and an e-book from the project’s journey.
•    Keep your financial goal realistic.  Look at other projects that are similar to yours and see what the “market will bear”.  See what has been successful and ask yourself why. Remember that if you ask for too much money and don’t meet 100% of your goal by the time the funding period is over for your project, then you won’t receive anything.  Only projects that are successfully funded at 100%, will receive funds.
•    Use social media and email blasts with common sense – don’t be obnoxious.  If you do send emails – don’t send  an email again to someone who has already backed your project.  Ask people to share your project link on social media but don’t overdo it.
•    Post updates on your project to keep your backers and potential backers informed.  Use visuals if you have them,  both on your page site as well as in your updates. Photographs and videos really give a project presence and are a must have. You want to stand out from the crowd.
•    There is no such thing as a pledge too small.  They say the average pledge on Kickstarter is around $25 and I can attest to that.  Out of our 161 backers – 69 had made pledges of $25.  It all adds up.  And every time someone backs your project there is also the opportunity that they may share it with someone they know who may in turn make a contribution.
•    Be grateful and appreciative.  I made it a point to send each and every one of my backers a personal thank you note.
•    Have faith – because anything is truly possible these days.

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“Kickstarting” a Passion Project

For anyone who has been reading my blog, you know a few things about me – I love to dialog and share with others, my work and my pleasure are one in the same and I always have a passion project that I’m working on.

I can’t say that I’ve always been like this.  In the beginning of my career it was a lot harder to dialog and share with people – pre-social media and email.  And as my career took hold and I became busier with work, I didn’t have time for sharing or personal projects.  But for someone like me who is a dreamer, I was starting to burn out.

When I started exploring the video medium in the late 90’s, it triggered a spark in me.  I started thinking and dreaming about all the stories that I wanted to tell – that would be possible for me to tell – through this medium.  One of my first attempts at telling a story with video was a short documentary I did on my daughter’s youth symphony.  I couldn’t have picked a harder subject if I tried because it was all about sound, which I knew nothing about.  And anyone who has ever shot a musical concert knows that it’s almost impossible to do with only one camera.  But I naively pursued with this project and learned a lot in the process.

My next passion project was The Delta Blues Musicians that I envisioned as a multimedia project combining still environmental portraits of these musicians along with video interviews, capturing their life’s stories.  It was a lot of work and for the most part, I went it alone – doing everything myself.  For anyone who has ever tried to shoot both stills and video on the same job, you know it’s not an easy thing to do.  That project will always be near and dear to my heart and continues to reward me in ways that I never knew were possible.

There have been other passion projects since these first two and my head is usually full of ideas that are rumbling around, just waiting for the right time to surface. I am in the midst of a project now, Opening Our Eyes that is perhaps the most ambitious one I’ve ever dreamed up. This past weekend I launched the project on Kickstarter.  Kickstarter is a website that posts creative projects for the purposes of finding funds. It’s a perfect example of crowd funding where one can donate anywhere from $1 to $10,000 to the project of their choice, and in the process make someone’s idea come to life.

I launched Opening Our Eyes on Thursday and within 3 days we reached 30 % of our goal. We still have a long way to go and have another 71 days to get fully funded.  The way Kickstarter works is that if you don’t get funded 100%, then all bets are off and you don’t receive anything.  So, I’m doing my best to do what I like the least and that is make a pitch for pledges.  My intent is to secure enough funds so that I can collaborate with a professional editor and raise the bar on the film that my daughter and I shot this past summer on our 99-day adventure around the world, about people who are making a positive difference in the world.

It’s really a win/win for anyone who chooses to give – even a pledge of $25 will get us closer to our goal and you’ll receive a DVD of our film when it’s finished.  So please check out our project on Kickstarter and pass this link along to others.  Ultimately our goal is to inspire and motivate other change-makers through the power of our film. We know we can do it with everyone’s help and it will make you feel good to give – it always does.

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