A Film Lovers Guide to Creating Stuff

I love movies. There is nothing more relaxing than finding a good flick on TV or Netflix, curling up, and enjoying it. Sometimes, I want something light-hearted and spend my weekend watching the Harry Potter series. I use my subscriptions to expose myself to movies that I used to love (Airplane!) and to find things that I can’t wait to watch again. What makes a film hold special places in your heart? How do the best filmmakers and directors speak in a way that sticks with you?

All creation starts in the same place – with an idea. No matter if we’re thinking of a new novel to write, a new piece of art, or a film, it’s all about the idea. What is it about a film that stays with us – that something we saw 20 years ago can make us feel just as amazing when we see it again? How do we apply the things that make films special to what we want to create?

Be Honest and Sincere

One of my favorite movies is Girl, Interrupted. I really enjoy the character study, but the film, for me, is sold at the end, when the main characters are finally having it out. (I know the film was made years ago but SPOILER ALERT ahead) When Winona’s character tells a young Angelina Jolie that she is “dead already” it is one of the most riveting moments of the film. It’s point blank honest where one character tells another exactly what the audience was thinking.

People tell stories at the beginning of presentations and webinars that are about the mistakes they have made along the way. The best characters that we encounter in books and movies are the ones that appear as a bit of a mess. Be honest in your creation – don’t be afraid to personally admit or create a character that is flawed. It’s the truth that people want to hear and enables you to be relatable.

Create to Entertain and Not to Sell

I watched this great documentary called Best Worst Film surrounding a little known 80’s flick known as Troll 2. Everyone, including the actors, freely admits that yes the movie was terrible, but the film still has this national cult following. People love both because and in spite of it being terrible. In the documentary the director was asked about how he felt about the critical review of his film and his response was that he wanted to entertain, and if he achieved that, he was happy.

Now I’m certain that the director of the “worst film ever made” didn’t set out to have that stigma on his film, but in the end, it made people happy, and he’s okay with that. When we start the creative process, I don’t think the primary of goal of making money should be where we begin; our goal should be to create things that entertain. When we start with the idea in our head that we’re going to be a best seller or a top grossing film I think we lose something in the creative process. We start to nit-pick our ideas when we see them through the lens of “well no one is going to buy this” when what we need to do is create something we can love, and if other people love it too, that’s great.

Emotional Reactions

I’ve often heard that when it comes to an audience’s reaction with a film, the filmmakers just want you to feel something. Obviously the preferred reaction would be for you to leave the theatre and say it was the “best film ever” but let’s be honest – the list of Oscar Winners is short. Movies like Schindler’s List do not create those kinds of happy emotions, but they do make you think, and for a film maker that’s a perfectly acceptable reaction.

When you start to create something, you should have an idea of what you want your audience to feel by the end of your creation. Do you want to write a book that will make people happy? Are you trying to create something that will stir controversy and conversation? Determine that in the beginning but don’t be afraid to let something change you along the way. Creation is kinetic.

Creativity begins in many of the same places and just because our end result isn’t that of the film maker, we can still learn a lot from the way they approach their craft, and apply it to the way we approach ours.

What We Are Reading

8 Bestsellers Started During NaNoWriMo
by Joel Cunningham, Barnes and Noble Book Blog
If you're brave enough to traverse NaNoWrimo, here are some best selling books that were born during November.


The Past in Color
by Feifei Sun, Time Magazine
Sanna Dullaway digitally colorized archival images of America's 16th president in hopes of bringing history to life. Here's a look back on the iconic images she's revisited.


Timelapse Transformation of Homeless Veteran
by Lacey Donohue, Gawker
Watch this amazing timelapse transformation of a homeless veteran.


Delivering Amazon on Sunday
by Tom Cheredar VentureBeat
Amazon forges new deal with USPS to deliver packages on Sundays


The Science Behind Why Breakups Suck
by Adam Dachis LifeHacker
The Science Behind Why Breakups Suck (and What You Can Do About It)


Angela Lansbury calls Murder She Wrote reboot a "mistake".

by AP Staff Writer The Guardian
Angela Lansbury speaks out against a reboot of the popular TV show.


Audy Kaufman is Alive, Says His Brother

by Mallika Rao Huffington Post
According to reports, Kaufman's brother, Michael Kaufman, brought down the house at last weeks Andy Kaufman Awards show with a winding tale involving a letter, a favorite restaurant, and this conclusion: Kaufman is alive.


A lot of us here spend hours reading each week. Whether it’s blogs, news articles, eBooks, or physical books, we like to indulge ourselves in the written word. Sometimes we want to share some of the things we've read. Here are some of our recent favorite reads, things we thought that were interesting, or that we just couldn’t keep to ourselves.

What We Are Reading

PD James Murder
by Liz Bury, The Guardian
Liz Bury: Crime writer declares 'absolute conviction' that she has identified real-life killer.

 
The Real Lesson of the NSA
by Zeynep Tufekci, Medium
It seems that, depending on the constituency, the never-ending trickle of NSA revelations should be either seen as either boring or shocking.

 
Does anger follow the laws of thermodynamics?
by Seth Godin, Seth's Blog
Anger can be contagious.

 
The Erroneous Map of the World
by Kai Krause, Dynamic Diagrams
We Have Been Misled By An Erroneous Map Of The World For 500 Years.

 

F.D.A. Ruling Would All but Eliminate Trans Fats
by Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed measures that would all but eliminate artificial trans fats, the artery clogging substance that is a major contributor to heart disease.

 

Why Tea Is So Healthy for You (and How to Get the Most from Every Cup)
by Melanie Pinola, Lifehacker
Here are all the ways drinking tea can lead to a healthier, longer life--and how to maximize both the enjoyment of the drink and its health benefits.


A lot of us here spend hours reading each week. Whether it’s blogs, news articles, eBooks, or physical books, we like to indulge ourselves in the written word. Sometimes we want to share some of the things we've read. Here are some of our recent favorite reads, things we thought that were interesting, or that we just couldn’t keep to ourselves.

What We Have Read

A lot of us here spend hours reading each week. Whether it’s blogs, news articles, eBooks, or physical books, we like to indulge ourselves in the written word. Sometimes we want to share some of the things we've read. Here are some of our recent favorite reads, things we thought that were interesting, or that we just couldn’t keep to ourselves.


Could reading 'Crime and Punishment' make you better at reading people?

by Adi Robertson, The Verge
This article from the Verge questions what do the arts mean to our lives? To at least some researchers, they're a way that we learn how the people around us think. 

 

Pinterest Is Seriously Valuable
by Lauren Bacon, Medium
Men in the male-dominated tech sector are blown away that Pinterest has become A Thing (and that they didn't see that coming).

 

Doing Your Job Right: Captain Mike and Lt. Norm
GeekoLogie
This is the online chat interaction between Netflix customer service representative Cap't Mike and Netflix streaming user Lt. Norm. Obviously, Cap't Mike really went the extra mile.

 

Reasons to Drink Coffee Everyday
by Renee Jacques, Huffington Post
There really can't be any adult in this great big world that has never tried coffee. It's consumed everywhere, and judging by the amount of Starbucks locations in the United States alone, we love coffee.

 

What Makes Us Happy?
by JOSHUA WOLF SHENK,The Atlantic
Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life?

 

Why 30 is not the new 20
by Meg Jay Video on TED.com
Clinical psychologist Meg Jay has a bold message for twentysomethings: Contrary to popular belief, your 20s are not a throwaway decade.

 

Canadian Family Lives Like It's the 80s
Blair McMillan  CBC.CA
A family of four from Guelph, Ont., has banished cell phones and computers, donned cut-off jeans and combed out their mullets, vowing to live the low-tech life for a year.

 

Lost to the Ages
by: Emily Yoshida  Grantland
Lost to the Ages Myst was supposed to change the face of gaming. What is its legacy 20 years later?

(Emily's post inspired our own debate on Myst and what happened to gaming.)

Writing a Meeting Agenda

An agenda is an important part of any large meeting running smoothly. When dealing with multiple speakers or parties on a conference call, assigning specific time increments to each speaker or Q&A session will keep everyone on track.

When I think of something that needs an agenda, I think of a large event that has multiple speakers and subject matters. An agenda, in my opinion, is to let me know who's speaking, how long they will have the floor, and give the main idea of what information they are going to present.

What makes an effective agenda?

Pick a type of agenda. Did you know there is more than one kind of agenda? I didn't until I started doing research for this post. The most popular agenda is called a "common agenda". This kind of agenda will call the meeting to order, offering a reading of the agenda, and then call for business matters to begin. The second most popular is a "priority agenda". This agenda places items of business in order of importance so that the highest priority items are sure to be addressed. Those are just two of the most popular ones, but there are a lot of different ways to arrange an agenda.

How detailed will your agenda need to be? First, consider if your agenda is going to be sent to just speakers or if all attendees will get a copy. You also need to decide just how deeply you will break out the agenda. Do you need to list every speaker or subject matter? A good rule is to break out the agenda when you will have two (or more) speakers and / or two (or more) subject matters. If you’re doing a town hall type of conference where multiple speakers will weigh in on one topic, listing the speakers should be sufficient.

Have someone else look at it. Get a second pair of eyes on the agenda to make sure you didn't leave anything out or get your timezones mixed up. Since you’ll be sending out your agenda with your invitation (right?) you don’t want to have to update this document multiple times. Limit changes as much as you can, and letting a second person read over it will help.

Like most things when it comes to having successful conference and webinar events, the amount of time you spend planning will have a great effect on how attendees respond before, during, and after your conference is over.

Are Your Emails Clear?

Email, texting, and chatting are very popular forms of communication but these written forms of communication do something that we weren't expecting when we embraced them with open arms.

They are hurting our ability to deliver clear messages

In our company, email is a very popular form of communication - we email customers and each other to get follow ups on accounts or answer inquiries. It's important that everyone in our company knows how to write a great email, but I've noticed lately that some messages are getting lost in translation. When you remove elements from communication like tone and non-verbal signs things become more open to emotional interpretation. Since how someone says something is just as important as what they actually say, email can cause more problems than it means to.

To make sure that you're communicating effectively when using email be sure to embrace these suggestions and start applying to your emails immediately.

When In Doubt...

Have you been emailing with a co-worker or customer a couple of times and there are still questions? Make your last email say something like Is there a good time that I can call you to go over this? Like I said we communicate with our customers through email and many times they need instructions on how to use some of our different features. If a customer has to email us twice to get the answers to their questions, we pick up the phone and give them a call. Simple as that.

Get a Second Opinion

There may be a chance that your email needs to send a stern message. Most often this occurs when you are the customer and you're trying to make your point clear. Just be sure to have a friend or someone else check the message over before you hit that send button. Being stern is one thing - being a jerk is another.

Ask for Confirmation

When setting up plans to meet or set up a conference call if you initiate the contact, be sure to ask the other party to confirm the date and time selected. A simple Just let me know if that works for you and I'll look forward to seeing / speaking with you then can cut down a lot of confusion on who is going to start the call or if it's even a good time for all the people involved.

Email is not a perfect form of communication and when you're communicating in writing, you lose a lot of the other clues in your communication strategy. Be sure you're writing clear and effective emails to your customers, co-workers, or even your friends. What are your must have rules for writing emails?

5 Keys to Gaining a New Perspective

The The Prop Comics Guide to Public Speaking

This post kicks off a series on what a prop comic can teach us about how to present to an audience. We hope you enjoy!

I’m assuming that most of you would recognize the name Carrot Top. No? Okay, I’m wrong. How about the name Gallagher? (Come on, even I know that one) Both are comedians, but not the typical kind of get up and spew jokes into a microphone type – these two are prop comics.

Prop comedians use everyday objects to create humor. Carrot Top and Gallagher are two of the better known names. For example, a prop comic will use a breakaway chair or a street sign as a visual representation of their joke. Sitting down in a chair and falling to the floor can be a little bit funnier than saying “he sat in the chair and he fell”.

Prop comics are (sometimes) funny because of the way they see the world. They have a completely different perspective on life than we do. This changes the way a joke is delivered and makes the old seem new again. Speaking on the same subject over and over again can start to feel the same way but if you take the prop comic’s stance and look at things from a new perspective.

Look at things from a new perspective is simply a fancy way of saying use your imagination. If you don’t feel like you’re very good at that – don’t fret, there are some things that you can do to rekindle that old spark in your brain.

  1. Talk to a child. Children see things in an incredible way. Talk to a child about different objects and watch their imaginations run wild.
  2. Drive a different way to work in the morning. This one was my boss’s suggestion and I loved it. A different perspective isn’t always a different way of thinking of things. Sometimes, it’s simply seeing the physical world from a change of direction.
  3. Take an art / writing / other creative class. There is very little that can open your mind like simply being educated. Classes like this help to teach you how to harness the imagination you had when you were a child and put it into practice.
  4. Go to the city / country. People in the country do things differently than people in the city. Everyone knows it but taking a little trip one way or the other will remind you that you are not alone. Visit the grocery store and observe how the local family owned grocery operates differently than the chain store you attend.
  5. Go people watch at the mall. Make up stories about the different couples and people you see. If you haven’t seen our post on how to spin a story from a moment, I urge you to go over there and follow these steps at the mall. Making up a simple “who, what, when, where, why” for people you don’t know will put your imagination into overdrive.

The reason a prop comic can be really popular is because they are looking at items that we see every single day in a new and exciting way. By doing this with your presentation topic you can breathe new life into an old discussion and get your audience moving in a different direction.

How to Spin a Story from a Moment

If you’ve been keeping up with me lately, you’ll know that I recently purchased my first house and have been getting settled for about a month. One of the things that I enjoy the most about my new home is that we are in the flight path of DFW International airport. Whenever I’m outside, I love to watch the planes fly overhead. I know it sounds silly, but I really enjoy watching the jets climb over the tree tops and then make the slow turn that brings them directly over my house.

Since I’m a creative person, and a writer, I find myself thinking of who is on the plane, where is the plane going, and why. The plane flying overhead only lasts a moment and there is a lot of compelling story that could be told. Stories are essential for driving your point home, especially when presenting. Stories give you context, they show the audience a way to see a different perspective, and they also set up the punch line to any jokes you might be trying to tell. But even the best writer can get writers block and creating stories can be that much harder if you don’t do it on a regular basis. In order to create stories you have to see the world in a different way. Here’s an exercise you can do to start to open your eyes to seeing those stories.

Ask one question about everything that makes you take pause. Seeing something that makes you look again is a great way to start to see the stories. Whenever you see something like that ask yourself one question about what you saw. Write down your question and a brief description of the scene so you don’t forget.

Example: The other day, there were men in the building wearing sombreros and when asked about them; the response was “That’s top secret”. I asked myself why they were wearing the sombreros.

Answer the question with one sentence. When you get home or back to the office, answer the question in one sentence. Take my sombrero question – “Why were these men wearing sombreros?” and answer it very simply. My answer to the question as “Because it was someone’s birthday”.

In three paragraphs describe the events leading up to the moment that made you take pause. Why would someone want everyone to wear sombreros on their birthday? Did the boss rent a margarita machine? Does someone really like salsa dancing? The reason to this is because if you can “make up” a story you should have an easier time seeing the stories that are always around you.

Doing this isn’t going to turn you into an author, but what it will do is get your mind open to what could be going on around you, and give you more of the ability to see the world through open eyes. You never know where the inspiration for your next blog post might come from.

Picking Up What You're Putting Down

I admit to loving the cliche I'm picking up what you're putting down. I think it’s hilarious – don’t judge me. But I heard it the other day and I wondered how we can apply a statement like this to things like writing. Writing a blog is all about catching someone’s attention and getting them to come back over and over again. What makes someone “pick up” what you’re “putting down”?

  1. Make it shiny. What makes you lean down and pick up a coin from the ground? The answer to that question is simple – because it’s metal and the light catches your eye. Natural curiosity has you stopping to study the item to see what it is. 1. For blogs you have to create the shiny effect by grabbing their attention right away. Many readers are “skimmers” so they’ll read the beginning and the end, so if those aren’t interesting, your readers are going to move on. You have to tell a story, or a joke, and create a moment that they will want to stick around for. Now, you’ve caught their eye, just like a shiny coin waiting on the sidewalk.
  2. Add some value. How many times has a penny grabbed your attention and you’ve walked right on by? Why? Because it’s a penny and many of us can’t see the value of a single penny. (Don’t try to tally up the number of times you have done this, it will only depress you – seriously.) If that penny magically becomes a dime, I know you’re going to pick it up and put it in your pocket. 1. You have to tell people how the heck they are supposed to take what you’re writing and make it work for them. It is one thing to say “hey this worked for me” but another to really show them. If you don’t want to give away your own secrets, that’s okay, but you need to show them how another company did something similar. This is so your readers will be inspired to do something about the idea you’re sharing.
  3. Save, save, save. That dime will end up in a change jar or hanging out in your purse with your lip gloss, until the day comes that you’ve had enough and you head down to turn that coin into cash and go shopping.
  4. It’s one thing to make your readers pick up the coin and it’s another to make them save it. When you’re writing you have to give them a reason to carry around the information. It’s not as simple as “great content” – it’s about showing readers how your post is going to affect their business or blog down the road. What happens in six months? What happens in twelve? Give them an idea so that they will put your post in their pocket and take it with them.

The next time you write a blog, plan a conference call, or start new campaigns think about how your attention is grabbed when you see that coin on the street. What makes you think it’s valuable and worth putting in your pocket? Ask yourself this – are your readers or atendees picking up what you’re putting down?