Thoughts on ‘Agile’

Today’s economic shifts favor teams using agile approaches

The incremental cost of the digital sale of a song, web-series, e-book, or software, is zero. Small teams can produce billion-dollar intellectual property with very little overhead or working capital. Similarly, most business improvement ideas in traditional businesses require effort but little capital. However, aligning a team to the market is not a simple exercise. Pulling the best work and ideas out of each of your team members is neither easy nor intuitive. It is not a matter of hiring ‘top talent’, rather, structuring the work and daily interactions to ensure each team member delivers their best contribution. Studying why agile software development teams beat waterfall approaches in terms of speed, cost, and quality, gives some insight into the elements that drive improved performance.

The Mass Manufacturing Paradigm

Mass Manufacturing represented a paradigm shift from small owner-operators with few to no staff to large organizations with potentially hundreds of people contributing labor to a single item produced. When Henry Ford put assembly workers on a line he produced cars more quickly, but he also completely changed how other companies approached manufacturing, design, quality, engineering, and management. Forward-looking business owners outside of the auto industry took note of Ford’s methods and recognized how they could apply standardized work to their industries. These leaders quickly outclassed their competitors on unit costs and product quality.

Mass Manufacturing Management

I believe Mass Manufacturing was fundamentally a management innovation. A production line aligns the efforts of a huge group of people, all with different micro-perspectives, skills, and duties. However, assembly lines are not the only way to achieve alignment, agile software development teams extract a lot more skills, creativity, and innovation.

Is agile the manufacturing revolution of 2017?

Adopting agile approaches allows skilled teams to out-compete completion on cost, quality and speed. If you aren’t the first to go agile then you might not survive long enough to catch up. Remember, there were many cobblers, blacksmiths, etc. who looked at Ford and said ‘that’s fine for cars but my business is fundamentally different so I don’t need to worry.’

Drawing a line between ‘agile’ and ‘Agile’

Like many other management strategies before it, ‘agile’ has spawned an offshoot consulting industry offering to sell the secrets of the ‘Agile’ method. Training consultants have difficulty selling general theory & principles so they opt for rigid processes and recipes they can spell out in jargon-filled workbooks.

‘Agile’ Jargon: Acceptance test-driven development (ATDD), Backlogs (Product and Sprint), Behavior-driven development (BDD), Business analyst designer method (BADM), Continuous integration (CI), Domain-driven design (DDD) …

Here is the lower-case agile manifesto, agile approaches started life jargon-free:

· Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools

· Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation

· Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation, and

· Responding to Change over Following a Plan

The manifesto is a little abstract and software focused, here is my view of agile:

· Work with customers to prioritize and translate needs into SPECIFIC deliverables

· Team members volunteer to own individual deliverables creating COMMITMENT

· Publicly post individual deadlines to create ACCOUNTABILITY

Let’s look at what happens when you remove Specificity, Commitment or Accountability

S x C x (0)A = Agree on what & who BUT without Accountability deadlines slip

S x A x (0)C = Defined plan BUT without Commitment there is no ownership

C x A x (0)S = Who & when BUT the Specific work doesn’t meet the project’s needs

DNA for all recent management movements

This formula, Performance = SPECIFICITY x COMMITMENT x ACCOUNTABILITY, is actually embedded in a lot of other management movements. For example:

Case example: A consulting practice applying this abstract ‘agile’ formula around the world – Partners in Performance

Partners in Performance (PIP) is a consulting company that uses team alignment tools to improve their client’s operations. Its founder, Skipp Williamson is world leading expert Organisational Behaviour and is laser focused on extracting performance out of teams.

PIP does not do anything branded ‘Agile’ where the buzz words are more important than the delivery of results day in and day out. But they do rescue a lot of Agile projects and bring a performance edge to them. The key in everything they do, operations, sales, capital projects, etc. is helping teams focus intensely on Specificity x Commitment x Accountability.

PIP has delivered $10bn in EBIT uplift, and $40bn of capital reductions over the last 4 years. (results)

Some quick highlights from their founder’s individual work

– US$300m per year EBITDA uplift for a global nickel producer, US$100m per year improvement for a major back-office processing company across 20 countries in 15 months, US$20bn in capital design improvements, … 100m annual improvement… 100m cost reduction… 75m cost saving…

Partners in Performance publishes a lot of very insightful material on how they deliver these incredible results. Essentially every engagement comes down to creating Specificity x Commitment x Accountability in critical client roles.

Personal Experience

I used SxCxA to lead teams to deliver hugely profitable projects across legal teams, maintenance operations, procurement and chemical systems control. This formula helped extract great ideas and efforts from experts because they gained personal satisfaction from their ownership stake. I am a huge believer because I have witnessed the compelling results and happy team members who are reinvigorated and invested in their organization’s success.

Marketplace solution designed to encourage projects to follow the formula Specificity x Commitment x Accountability

Golio,, was designed to create a virtuous cycle where people following the agile work philosophy quickly advance to the top of the rankings. This platform connects task or story-driven project management to individuals’ public profiles and layers in a feedback system.

Individuals all self-optimize, this is human nature. Good incentive systems are designed so individual goals and overall goals are aligned, i.e. we bonus sales people on sales numbers and everyone wins. The system was designed so that through self-optimizing the overall project performance will improve. Golio is designed to

– reward leaders for creating Specificity through feedback scores

– contributors volunteer to complete tasks creating Commitment

– public deadlines & deliverables generate Accountability for leaders and teams

If you would like to try using the public or an in-house white-labeled version please contact the founder Ian Nichol,


Mass manufacturing started by putting a few people in a line which aligned everyone around a common goal. Today, teams applying agile approaches align their efforts to develop new solutions to open-ended problems. This alignment is driven by Specificity, Commitment, and Accountability rather than using a paced moving assembly line.

If you look around and you cannot put your hands on specific deliverables, if individuals are not committed to finding solutions, and there are no public highly-visible deadlines then there is definitely room for your team to improve. Someone following SxCxA may already be competing with you and beating you on quality, cost and speed.


Are you naturally agreeable?

I was on my way to a meeting today when my wife reminded me to try to project a sunny disposition. I like people, generally think good things about them but for many years my role was to spot problems. This is okay sometimes but not for example when you are talking to the host of a dinner party 😉  My goal today was to make a friendly first impression and sometimes it is important to be mindful of the situation.

Are you agreeable?
There are many different ways to describe people’s personalities, many different dimensions, for example introvert vs. extrovert. Recently I have been thinking about my own ‘agreeableness’.

Big Five personality traits

Spectrum of agreeableness
Researchers have developed some techniques for measuring agreeableness. One interesting but unsurprising finding is people in prison are very disagreeable. The world says the sky is blue and they will say ‘not really, it is more grey’. These people pathologically rail against everything and everyone.

At the other end of the spectrum is the person who seeks to make peace always. They mold their behavior and even their beliefs to the people around them; some will virtually agree 2+2=5 if everyone else does.

We need a spectrum
If we had only disagreeable people we would never settle on anything, language, social norms, everything would be in a constant state of debate.

If we only had agreeable people there would be no progress, no scientific advancement, no business innovation, no civil rights movement.

I expect Oprah tests as pretty agreeable.  This makes sense for a talk-show host.  Letterman might be a bit more disagreeable.  Most of the time Dave balanced his disagreeableness with zany humor but in some interviews he let the guest look pretty bad.  This ‘edginess’ suited his late-night slot.

Where do you fall?
If the team thinks things are going well but you see problems do you speak up?
Are you the last to give up your point when the team clearly wants to go in another direction?

Here is a lecture from UofT’s Prof Peterson (if you know who he is you know he has sparked some controversy)

Most exciting projects were a little uncomfortable.  I imagine some agreeable people really find themselves challenged when they are working on something that might go against what they think the crowd wants to hear.

Based on your Agreeableness – what should you watch out for?

Agreeable People

  • People letting you down because you “won’t mind” (apparently agreeable people often find themselves feeling neglected and ignored.)
  • Pursuing something that is familiar & comfortable but not particularly effective
  • Trying to recreate earlier successes (a lot of very talented artist end up rehashing things they think the audience likes and end up dated & irrelevant)
  • Seeking consensus and watering down their own vision
  • Let collaborators do whatever they want rather than what is right for the project

Disagreeable people

  • Battle over everything and exhaust their collaborators
  • Avoid and ignore input from others
  • Buck social conventions that may signal to others rudeness or arrogance

MyGolio’s Kudos system
We vouch for each other’s attitude on MyGolio. I personally think this is pretty important. For example, there aren’t any excuses for put-downs. I know many quite disagreeable people who can function very well working with collaborators. We don’t all need to agree to get along.

There are 6 hrs left today to get start an exciting project. This is a great time of year to do your planning and pre-production. Come NYE there will be a huge number of people who made resolutions that this year they will finally start pursing their creative dreams and out looking for new projects. Pull together your plan and post it, this world needs leaders (agreeable and disagreeable ones are both valued!)

Would Die Hard sell at TIFF?

During TIFF I spent some time with volunteers working the industry screenings and they tell me the process for selling a movie is really tight.

  • Buyers schedule their days to watch part of as many movies as possible (80+ over TIFF)
  • They show up, watch 5-10 min and decide if the movie is either a
    • ‘hard no’ – not at all suited for the buyers’ specific audience and platform
    • ‘maybe’ – the first bit of the movie was promising
  • Then they move on to the next screening
  • Later they circle back to a special buyer screening area at TIFF with a closed network on-demand system where they can watch movies on their ‘maybe’ list
  • They may decide to watch with an audience to gauge how the crowd reacts

Understanding buying is important!

Making something good doesn’t guarantee you can sell it.  The volume of content available continues to increase and we see this impacting the writing of films.  Think about the number of shows that open with a big action sequence, big gag, gruesome murder, etc.  This big opening wasn’t always the case.

Quality vs. Buying pattern – Consider Die Hard

I love Die Hard and I raise it to illustrate the problem of selling a movie of overall quality vs. a big showy opening 5 minutes.  [forgive me, I’m going a long way back to a time when studios developed big ‘new’ movies rather than remakes, comics, etc.]

Reading through the script of Die Hard not much happens at the opening…  John flies in to LA from NYC, he’s told to take off his shoes and to curl his toes to help with jet lag, he calls his kids, the party at the tower gets started… (couldn’t find a link to a clip of the opening)

Don’t get me wrong, it is skillful film making.  Here is a detailed breakdown –

Further note about selling movies – Star Power

I’m told there are pretty detailed financial projections built around who is in a movie -> essentially- Star A & Star B each sell a minimum of $15M separately so the film should be worth at least $30M. If your star value is less than the cost of the film you can find a buyer. However, agents know the value of their roster so costs increase in step with cast-based sales forecasts.

Star Power is a funny notion, Die Hard is an iconic role and I can’t imagine the movie with anyone else playing the lead.  However, Bruce Willis wasn’t a big star at the time; the posters didn’t even feature him prominently.  In fact through the development process the studio wanted a bigger actor to anchor the project & sell tickets but it was turned down by a whole collection of stars: Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Don Johnson, Richard Gere, Clint Eastwood, and Burt Reynolds.

What is the case for Die Hard?

Die Hard is pretty great film-making.  It presents a lot of ideas in the opening in cinematic ways:

  • The terrorists have a plan, seem organized & intelligent
  • There’s marriage tension: John flirting, Holly not using the name, being separated from the kids
  • Crass capitalism: drugs & deals
  • The paranoia & patriotism around Japan’s growing international dominance
  • Bruce Willis!  the term ‘breakout role’ exists because it is a real thing, the right film can make a career

Ultimately however, I don’t know if you could sell this at TIFF.  Its value does not tie neatly into any sales formula I know of.  At a minimum I think it would have been reworked to star someone ‘bankable’ and opened with a throw-away intro action scene showing this star chasing down a random bad guy and explosions.

Like selling at TIFF, MyGolio must nail how me make first impressions

As I look at the next stage of development for MyGolio I’ve learned an interesting statistic – 50-60% of growth is a user’s first time experience.  This determines if they will come back and if they will refer the platform.  To app users this isn’t surprising but when I think of the platforms I use daily it seems unrelated..  I use Word, Excel, Gmail, all are super powerful but not designed to wow a first-time user.  I’m like the filmmaker who is so close to the project they are thinking about the lighting in the third act twist BEFORE they nail the opening.

NAIL the opening first

  • Iterate until you find something compelling that instantly connects with the audience
  • so-so isn’t good enough
  • ‘but it must set up this other thing’ doesn’t matter if the audience never reaches that point

12 hrs left today to make something amazing.  It takes a great leader to set & execute on a priority (like nailing the opening scene or a user’s first experience).  Execution also requires a great team, pulling their weight and focusing on the same goal together.  MyGolio allows leaders to build a track-record and structures projects for success.  Find your team or join a team led by someone who has the skills and the plan to make something great. 


“What don’t you want?”

Black List scripts don’t always turn into amazing movies.  A script in only a component of a great movie.  It looks like the script for Hell or High Water, a 2012 winner, has turned into a hugely successful film project.

I say all the time that in a brief few min I can pretty accurately tell if I’ll like a movie.  This clip is quite short but it has me totally enthralled.

“What don’t you want” Hell or High Water

I’m into:

  • The dialog
  • This actress’s delivery kills me – the joke about “hot” but not the “good kind”
  • Acting in general
  • Jeff Bridges in Texas
  • look & feel of run-down small towns
  • bank robbers
  • t-bone steaks

I’ve tried to find what this movie cost to make.  From a few interviews I can infer it was pretty low budget ~$4M.  It has production value, stars, a bespoke soundtrack, etc.  This isn’t DIY.  BUT if you prove yourself by making great DIY features it isn’t inconceivable to make the jump to raise funds to make a film of this caliber yourself.

11 hrs left today.  Remember a project is anything with a plan and a finished product.  Script outline, look-book, etc. are all mini-projects.  Use your MyGolio track-record to find collaborators, finish some projects & build a portfolio of cool completed work.

Upstream Color – Netflix pick

A test I’ve started to apply to movies is watching the first 5-10 minutes.  Something should grab you.   Terminator opens in 2029 with flying death copters and great 80’s synthesizers.  Upstream Color is on Netflix, watch 5 min and you’ll be sucked in and trying figuring out what is going on.

I’ve written and rewritten drafts for 2 weeks trying to find an angle on this film.  Here is what I want to say in summary – this film is really worth watching & even worthwhile rewatching and if you break as many rules yourself you’re project is likely dead.

Primer followup
Upsteam Color is the second movie made by Shane Carruth, maker of Primer.  Primer was a fantastic time-travel based movie shot for only $7,000.  Where Primer was heavily dialog driven Upstream relies heavily on image, sound and context, it could be confused with Terrence Malick.

Primer is really challenging to follow – here is a 20min video breaking down the twisty turvey plot –  If you don’t have 20min here is a summary chart.PrimerTimeline

Primer was self-financed and incredibly successful.  Shane proved he could manage a budget & produce a film that people wanted to see.  Yet, it took 9 years to finish this follow-up and again he was self-financing.

[Remember when I wrote ‘the calvery is not coming’.  Yeah, not even for Shane]

I was discussing one of my movie ideas with a very smart film contact.  He argued that the idea was too process driven and my pitch lacked a strong concise character motivation & journey.  This got me thinking.. is this a hard rule or some useful heuristic?  Who else is using heuristics?

As I work on MyGolio I’m trying to build something new and I meet a lot of ‘Gatekeepers’.  These are the people who control access.  Often they aren’t the end decision makers, they never get to say ‘yes’ but they spend all day saying ‘no’.

Facing ‘no’ all the time can be exhausting.  You see other people gaining access and it can be disheartening.  Eventually you realize Gatekeepers are basically bouncers.  They control access.  And just like a club, there is a separate VIP line for the rich and connected.  School ties, family, friends, there are ways into the VIP but these paths are always hidden.

Treat Gatekeepers like you would bouncers.  They aren’t the pretty girl you want to chat up, but they can shut you out of the party.  Be polite and avoid giving them any reason to say no.  Recognize that it isn’t fair, their decisions can be arbitrary, their job is to hold people at bay and to make the club look hot & exclusive.  Gatekeepers’ processes may be a little more sophisticated but it is still based in heuristics, i.e. no ball caps, no sneakers.

Was this movie heuristic correct?
Generally yes, most successful movies are character driven but it isn’t always the case.  In fact people love process stories.  Consider the success of How it’s Made, Law and Order, CSI…  Look at Terminator, very famous heroine but much of the story explains Skynet, Terminators MO, the rules of time travel.  World building is a hugely important driver of many great films.

This character-focused heuristic would have bounced both Primer & Upstream Color.

Back to Upstream Color
The first third of the movie builds this incredible world, hidden right beside everyday life.  Warning, even though at first glance this takes place in a regular US neighborhood, this is science fiction bordering on horror.

In the second part we follow characters as they try to make sense of their new circumstances in this cinematic world.  The theme of this movie is almost a total rejection of film rules.  Shane focuses on what happens when you strip people of all their surface character traits.  This is nearly the opposite of the conventional romance: manic-pixie-artist and hard-nosed business person falling in love.

The last third follows our lead as she attempts to regain control in her life.  This sounds traditional but the film is almost abstract through most of this chunk.

The first time I saw this film I was left with more of a sensory perception of the story than a strong logical understanding.   If you like the film and want to learn more I suggest watching Shane talk about the movie.

Shane built the world and the theme first, then the character arcs and plot points.

Great projects sometimes break rules BUT if you break rules it might be difficult to leverage success to fund your next project.

$$$ funding doesn’t need to hold you back > DIY + Quality = legitimate strategy

11 hrs left today.  Do you have a project you’re trying to get off the ground?  What do the gate-keepers say?  If you can’t get past them you might be able to and end-run and find the team directly.  MyGolio connects great leaders with great teams.  Breakdown your project into manageable pieces, prove yourself & get people to buy-in to the idea.   Be clear with people when you create an ‘ask’ and make sure you exchange kudos with your collaborators.


South Park Pilot Do-Over

South Park Pilots

2 pretty different versions of the same premise  – Jesus vs Frosty & Jesus vs Santa
Newer –
First –


  • Script is hits similar beats but better
    • Kids still swear but the escalation works better, Cartman is already a total jerk
  • Up the irreverence – the figure skater Brian Boitano saves the day
  • Same punchline “xmas is about presents” but funnier delivery
  • Voices are show more characterization (basically South Park characters are fully formed by the second video)
  • Animation is still cheap but has a ‘style’ to it rather than simply cheap

Most first drafts will be garbage.  Accept that.  Your best plan of attack is to get it out as fast as possible, move through the pain, and then begin the process of turning the rough material into something great.

Pro writing tip
Don’t write but dictate.  Your natural speaking voice subconsciously paces pretty well.  Dictating keeps you moving forward.  The point of a draft is to get the whole story down, not to dither, rework, word-smith, etc.

Sadistic version
This app deletes your draft if you stop writing!!!  Heart pounding way to overcome procrastination.

Video drafts
With video (vs. costly film) there is no reason to not shoot drafts!  Going from the page to the screen is a huge jump.  Look at these versions of South Park, no money yet the potential for the show in the second version is very clear.

Early Mistakes = Cheap Mistakes -> Overcome your personal and team bias
It is better to make decisions earlier.  Shoot without locations, props, costumes, etc.  Shoot with zero budget and test the material.

Ever wonder what someone was thinking when they invested a lot of time and money into something that wasn’t great.  We all suffer from cognitive biases and these impact creative projects.

sunk costs – if you spend money you will keep something that doesn’t work because you want to get something out of the investment.  – delay spending the money!

confirmation bias – you’ll believe your idea is great because it is yours.  You need to honest feedback.  Share your work early and often.  Find people who’s opinion you trust.  Try to take action with their feedback.

Longer list –

8 hours left today to work on something great.  There are people out there right now working on projects that may turn into amazing & profitable creative content.  Work with people who have the right attitude, are constantly pushing themselves and each other to improve, who have a voice and a point of view that comes out in their work.  Small projects might not sound sexy but these teams have a much greater chance of eventual success if the team keeps working the good parts & iterate.  

Check out our platform MyGolio – join, create a profile, post your project (zero budget is okay – in fact we feel your first round should have zero budget until you have some successful tests), find a team or join someone else’s project.  Work on projects that have realistic goals (i.e. pilot version 1.0).  Get feedback, practice, polish.  

Clear Accountability – Who, What, When, Done/Not-Done

The most powerful tool you will ever use – the colour red.  People hate seeing red beside their name! 

Killer tool

When I lead anything I focus on clarifying who owns what and having an honest conversation with that person about what they will deliver an when.  Once we AGREE we note down in some public manner (a shared document, whiteboard, MyGolio, etc.).

Who – again, we agreed on this before this goes on a board, nothing is assigned to someone in their absence

What – we record the deliverable in a way where it is either done or not-done.  E.g. ‘investigate’ could drag on and on whereas ‘recommend’ has a final product.

Date – sometimes these move due to things out of our control.  However, without a date there is no urgency.  It is better to have a date and move it back than to have no date.

Status – status is either red or green, done or not done.  A good team has some aggressive timelines, if everything is always green you are padding your schedule too much.

CHALLENGE – write down some deadlines & track how many are blown

93% of indie film crews face significant schedule slippage (flagging tasks as RED quickly addresses this)

70% of indie film crews face preparation issues (failed to nail down who/what/when)

22% of indie film crews report significant leadership issues (if you can’t hold people to the fire, have them commit & then followup when things are missed the whole team and production falters)

(data taken from the infographic below)

11 hrs left today.  That is plenty of time to breakdown the next few steps in a project to individual accountabilities.  If you can’t hit this weeks deadlines a detailed master plan is just a distraction & waste of time.  Forget the giant project plan and focus on exactly who will complete what in the next couple weeks.  MyGolio was designed specifically for this purpose, as your project progresses keep adding tasks and give credit to everyone for their contributions.

Life In Indie Film (Collaborating) (short)

Evil Dead The Musical – Breaking all the rules

I have been thinking a lot lately about bootstrapping success.  Last week a friend was grilling me about who really loves MyGolio and how I can build on that.  Take the focus away from the end state and think tacitly about the next month.  I have focused my networking on creative entrepreneurs but maybe I should focus on another area of the creative industries…  Positive feedback does not necessarily lead to anything which makes it difficult to prioritize efforts.

My focus on the scrappy entrepreneurs might just be a long-time affinity.

Evil Dead 1 & 2 the Musical – Bootstrapped success
In 2003 the idea of making a play based on the Bruce Campbell / Sam Raimi horror movies Evil Dead & Evil Dead 2 was kind of bonkers.  Converting this into a musical was madness or brilliance.  Rather than sticking with one movie they combined them which upped the pace of the action & added to the WTF factor.  Since I have heard of other cross-over successes, 1-man Harry Potter shows, Star Wars, etc.  At the time it was pretty nuts.

The first performance of the show fell the day of the ‘blackout’.  Power was down for millions of people all over the east of Canada and the US.  The producers of Evil Dead had booked a short run of the show to be staged at a bar / venue space in the Annex called the Tranzac Club.  Even with the power outage some audience members showed up.  Hating to turn anyone away the cast and crew collected people in the parking lot and used acoustic instruments & car headlights improvised an alternative production.

History – Evil Dead The Musical

Wait, what?
I saw the show about a week after the parking lot performance and didn’t know what to expect.   Before the show started someone pointed out the bar would be open the entire time.  Wait – the bar is open?  Like, grab a drink in the middle of act 1?  Yep.  The crowd was pretty rowdy even before curtains.

No your average musical
When the show started going it was clear the tone was something I’d never witnessed before.  The transition into this song blew me away.

What the Fuck was That – Youtube – WTFWT

Good enough is good enough
Capital-A Artists hate when I say ‘good enough’ but I really believe at a certain point you need to put your work in front of an audience and to see if it works how you intend.  The current productions (it has run in NYC, Vegas, across Canada) changed up the show, scenes, songs, etc.  There is room to improve a production always.  The first production wasn’t perfect but the core was solid & it was worth polishing up.    Evil Dead was funny before there was a ‘splatter zone’ but I’m sure the blood spray adds to the experience.  (I wonder if it is warm..  blood should be warm right?)

I don’t have any idea how they did it but I was blown away when the cast turned into monsters using some kind of quick change makeup.  Amazing effect!  One second they are regular people and the next they are possessed by a demon.

Originality vs. Authenticity
The play is clearly not totally original.  However, the authentic love of the source material elevates the show.  In the movie the character Scott is kind of a dick.  This comes across as poor writing as opposed to some plot device or interesting character study.  The play does not rehabilitate Scott or play down his unattractive qualities.

Scott – “stupid bitch” – Youtube- Scott being a jerk

Leverage success
The first run of the show wasn’t super long or super profitable.  I’m sure they made some money but the tickets were cheap and the audience size was limited so the total box-office couldn’t have been huge.  The first run lead to another run a year later at the Just for Laughs show, this success led to further runs and more great reviews.  Over time this team has built up interest and created a very profitable creative asset.

I’m too lazy to do an exact count but this the show has literally played in hundreds of cities – Productions

10 hrs left today.  ComiCon just ended, this would have been a perfect opportunity to connect with people who share your creative interests.  (I’m dying for someone to stage an Akira rock opera.)  MyGolio will help you organize your project, assign tasks, set & share deadlines, exchange kudos.  Please save me a seat for Akira!

The cavalry is not coming

Okay, I know I keep coming back to Mark Duplass… This is another piece of advice from him – ‘the cavalry is not coming’, remove from your mind the notion that any sort of help on the way.  So you worked really hard, did it all by yourself, help must be coming right?  Nope.  No help is coming.  We make thing happen ourselves.  Rescue if it ever comes, comes too late.

alien ripley-and-jones-the-cat
Image of Ripley in Alien (the first one) -> No marines only a house cat.  You are in space, the science officer is secretly a robot and out to murder you and an alien wants to use your corpse as an nest for their babies.  Time to get real practical.

Know the odds and play them
You may have seen my writing on high-impact / easy efforts.  One way of looking at high-impact is the chance of success.  Viral videos seem high-impact and easy until you realize the chances of going viral are extremely small.  You can’t plan around a single big success, you won’t have a silver bullet or it won’t hit the mark.  You need ‘lead bullets’.  Keep making videos, working with new teams until you find something that really works.

No one is ‘discovered’ today
Old guys like me will remember the advice “No one gets fired for buying an IBM”.  People have a huge incentive to make safe decisions.  A track record is absolutely essential.  You want funding for a web series?  How many hits have you had on YouTube already?  That’s the number one predictor.  If you have 1M hits you might get the grant, now that you basically don’t need it.

Leverage your skills and figure out the rest – Act like there is no help coming
Business school case studies had this interesting rule – ‘no experts’.  In the case discussion there was this hard rule about suggesting ‘hiring an expert’.  If there is a tax issue, operations, finance, anything – you need to approach it as the leader.  You need to think like you are ultimately accountable for success or failure.  As a leader it is possible to ask people to do specific tasks but not to figure out what needs to be done.  You can’t wait for the right person to come along and have all the magic answers & skills.

Help example
I was talking with someone last week.  He worked with friends and finished a full feature film!  It is available for download for $1.99, you can see an extended teaser clip on YouTube for free.  [I am searching for the link]  His issue now, no one finds the YouTube clip, therefore there is no pipeline into the feature film.
Unlikely help – A major distributor, celebrity re-tweet, viral ground swell of support
Likely help – some friends to tweet for him, push links to film blogs, direct person-to-person marketing.  First get 100 people to watch, then build on that.

With no experts you need to adjust your plans
If you don’t know special effects you shouldn’t make plans around them.  You need to design your project around what you know, stuff  you know with perfect certainty you will be able to finish well.  Picture stand-up comedians – they don’t do a TV special with material they have never tested on an audience.  Those specials are all the A-material, road-tested and polished.

MyGolio is based on consulting work I’ve executed for years and years with many different teams.  I know what is required for users to be successful and the journey they will follow.  The business, as much as it is new, is very much like the stand-up’s act, I am taking my greatest hits to a different medium.

We all want help.. but few of us are really in a position to use it?
Okay so you want to be a director?  If I you were given a grant for $50k tomorrow, no strings attached, could you turn that into a career?

  • Have you put the hours in practicing your craft?  This is a huge task, will it be a struggle to even finish?
  • Do you have practice getting the most out of a budget? If you have made several features with $100 I imagine you’ll do fine with $50k.
  • Do you know how to get the best out of a team? Cash doesn’t guarantee a team will come together.

Time – focus on sure things
One area we all are guilty of wasting time on is seeking help.  We apply for crappy little grants, enter into long-shot contests.  I could spend 9 hours today trying to find a connection to the Dragon’s Den or I could go to a meetup tonight, meet some great people and add 5 new users.

Solution – make a list of your top priorities.  You can only chase a couple things at once.  You must be merciless in pruning your list.  Is 40 hrs spent writing a grant application a better use of time than collaborating with a passionate team?

Cut any costs that won’t add to the core value
Another area thing we are guilty of is taking are eye off the ball.  You want to make funny movies?  Why are you raising money for colour correction?

Solution 1 – Go back to your pitch for the project.  If you are hustling for money to spend on something that isn’t in your pitch you are worried about the wrong things.

Solution 2 – I wrote a while back about the movie Halloween.  John Carpenter designed every production around the budget, not the other way around.  He prioritized certain pieces and ignored what was industry standard practice.  This is how he ended up writing all the music, money was better spend on other things.

Meetings might lead to work but they are not work
“Don’t take meetings” is a difficult rule but easy principle.  Contacts can be super helpful.  However, the majority of ‘meetings’ go nowhere.  Focus on your top priorities first, if there is time left in the week book some meetings..  Make sure you get some real work done first.

Real help
So you heard of a not-for-profit that has the name ‘horror writers’ in the title, sounds cool!  Do they buy horror stories?  Edit for free?  Beware of the terms ‘training’ and ‘networking’.  Spend time with people who might purchase your product or actively get their hands dirty collaborating.

RACI – responsible, accountable, consulted and informed 
While working to build a company there are a million things you could spend effort on.  I have pursued famous influencers, strategic partners, charities that support my arts users, etc.  One thing I recognized pretty early is many of the people I’m talking to a) draw a salary or b) like being associated with cool things.  These are the ‘nice’ conversations but ultimately distracting conversations.  A surprising number of people exist in every industry basically serving a ‘consult’ or ‘inform’ function – these aren’t go to have a direct positive impact on your project.

Focus on responsible or accountable people – those that do things or make thing happen.

MyGolio update
Filmmakers’ Sandbox round 2 went well.  Like the first round, each project was very different.  The teams had very different levels of experience, professional & industry veterans and total beginners.

One development that I’m pretty excited about.  Following the first round one of the actors did not want to wait around for 4 weeks till the next Sandbox so he launched his own event.  He is making films weekly!  No budget, just building a team and shooting.

I am off to meet some people from Street Haven Productions, they have 5+ films in the works.  There is 7 hours left today for you to kick off a project or join in someone else’s team.  There are +300 local Toronto creatives on MyGolio who are all looking to make cool stuff.   Join, add some details to your profile – connect / collaborate / kudos.

Sandbox: 3 hrs, 3 teams, 3 scripts, 3 rough-cut films

This last weekend I helped Raindance launch a new training / networking / filmmaking session called Sandbox. I am honestly super excited to do it again at the end of the month.

Raindance Toronto – Sandbox

80/20 rule – 80 percent of the impact takes 20 percent of the effort. Shooting a rough-cut gives you a very good idea what the final product might turn into.

Mark Duplass SXSW$3 films every week

Rian Johnson’s Looper pitch

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia early pilots

Broad City webisodes

Structure of a session
– Prescreen scripts
– Collect a group of people who cross a range of interests (experience not required)
– Name someone as the ‘producer’
– Help this producer structure the team, break down the script into a plan, execute super-fast
– Take away the pieces to edit

The 3 sessions
Each team actually finished early – Goes to show that time constraints help teams focus and execute.

Negotiating roles – Some people were asked to take on new roles / stretch their skills. Other people needed to step back from their professional ambitions and take on secondary roles / assist with production. This process was pretty organic. The session length helped, in 3 hrs people will give you some leeway to learn & make mistakes. Also, 3 hrs is not a long time to for an actor to hold a sound boom.

Producers / Leaders are essential – Clear direction helps everyone get along & leads to success. The producers were very good at setting expectations and then stepping back and handing over execution. They watched the time, looked ahead to make sure props, set, lights, where on track, gave directors a sounding board, etc.

3 scripts were very different – The first moved very quickly, lots of overlapping dialog, inside jokes, characters. The second had almost no dialog and was open to a lot of interpretation. The third was very wordy with lots of monologue and only one set.

Union rules – It is pretty important to respect union rules. It is above board for union members to participate in not-for-sale films for training purposes. The examples above I reference all lead to budgets and professional quality productions but the original pieces themselves were not for sale, e.g. festival circuits. You will see disclaimers in the Sandbox pieces spell out how the films can be used & keep everyone on the good side of the unions.

Editors – We are all very impressed with the work the editors did on these 3 films. There were sound issues, continuity slips, and only a week to turn around a finished product.

DIY – The films were made with very little prep & gear. Some of the improvised solutions worked better than others. It is super interesting to see what worked, for example on team used an iphone for a second microphone, this worked quite well. If a production team used the Sandbox approach, shot demo material, DIY gear and iterated they will likely turn into quite a fast and cost-effective crew.

Your social circle isn’t big enough – A few people signed up together. Aside from them most people were several-degrees of Keven Bacon away from each other. Without Raindance organizing Sandbox there is zero chance these teams would end up meeting and making a film. At any given moment there are complete strangers interested in finding a team and making something. The trick is connecting.

3 Films – The final products are really interesting. None are perfect but each clearly demonstrates the strengths & weaknesses of the team and materials. They are like a theater dress-rehearsal, things could be addressed but the core of the production is plain to see.

What they look like on MyGolio – Sandbox film project 3 – ‘Distractions’ (must login to see)

The Films

Nashville of the North (scenes)

The Divorce


Final Thoughts
Raindance Toronto is holding another Sandbox the end of Feb! Submit a script, sign up for a session, get out there and get involved!

10 hrs left today to finish something creative. That is enough time to shoot 3 shorts, we’ve done it! If you want to lead your own project post it on MyGolio, there are great people looking to connect and make something. If you want to pitch in, glad to have you too, join MyGolio and volunteer to help someone with their project. Using MyGolio people collect kudos from collaborators, they could be strangers but they are strangers who other people like and will vouch for.