People that know my background from the rigid plastic packaging industry sometimes shake their heads trying to figure things out when I tell them my ‘day job’ in now in the feature film industry. (For those plastics nerds reading this, ‘film’ is not referring to flexible packaging — no, it means movies — as in entertainment) “Oh, so you got a new hobby,” some have said. Ah, no. Though I do not tell them directly my thought is to help build a bigger business than what I left behind in manufacturing. For those still listening the question that comes up almost all of the time is, “Do I miss it?” The answer I give comes with a pause — how do you describe something that you truly valued and are grateful for while at the same time not missing it?
The manufacturing business was not just a business I owned but rather a family business my father started and I took over after his passing. When it achieved a level of success I felt I could not take further it was time to leave. I am grateful for the people that became a part of my life along the journey and obviously for the resources it created to continue down a different path ahead.
If you are an assembly line worker and love your job then you probably do not understand what I am talking about. I cannot imagine doing the same thing day in, and day out. Yet, if I am brutally honest with myself there is a level of abstraction where I am probably doing just that. I may have had no love for plastic packaging but I certainly enjoyed building the business — finding the people, capital, and strategy needed to make it grow into something my own father would have never imagined. To a great degree I am still doing the same thing, just in different industries now with the film investment being the one I hold closest to my heart.
It’s more fun, in the most serious existential sense.
“Jack of all trades, master of none” is an artificial pairing.
In a world of dogmatic specialists, it’s the generalist who ends up running the show.
Boredom is failure.
Diversity of intellectual playgrounds breeds confidence instead of fear of the unknown.
Thus, is it really being a ‘Jack of All Trades’ in the end or just being a miserable failure of labeling what you are good at that is the real truth? In other words, if you think you are a specialist could you be missing out on a larger picture to which you fit in just as well? Either way, the push towards a ‘gig economy’ is here and it is growing. As terrible as the thought is of finding something new, after doing the same thing over and over again for literally an entire career’s time, it is also becoming easier. The challenge, as with many things in life, is usually more of a mental shift than a lack of ability. Take that challenge, conquer it, and you just might find — as I have — the thrill of being born someone new again.
“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” ― Confucius
If you talk with people who hate running, you’ll hear them say, “Ugh. First you have to get your running clothes, and get dressed. Then you have to put on your shoes, then lace them up just right. Then you have to stretch, and warm up. Then afterwards you need to cool down, then shower. It’s such a pain!”
But if you talk with people who love running, they’ll say, “You just pop out for a quick run.” If you ask them about the steps involved, they’ll say there’s only one: just run.
So knowing that we have this human nature to think of things we like as simple, and things we don’t as complicated, you can use this to deliberately simplify how you think of something you’re avoiding, making it more appealing.
An ultra-marathon is simple: you just run 100 miles to the end. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy!
Success in business can be simple: find a need that people are proving they are willing to pay for, then find a profitable way to solve that need for them. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy!
Notice (in your mind) when your complications are holding you back. Turn the dial towards simplicity, so you just jump out the door and start running.
Notice (in your results) when your simplified approach is holding you back. Perhaps you’re using only one tool in the toolbox, and need to learn others.
And as for all the business advice out there, well, if information was the answer then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs. So really you, yeah you listening to this, you need to shut that shit off, put your blinders on, get out the door and start running. (Metaphorically speaking, that is.)
So, how does this relate to Bulletproof coffee? If you are living under a rock and have not heard of it yet by brand name you might have at least heard about crazy people putting butter in their coffee. The concept of being bulletproof, however, goes far deeper than that. The key ingredients are four items:
You can talk about all of the benefits — why the specific oil, what makes grass fed important for the butter, what makes the branded coffee different (especially in the United States), and even get people to taste it and have them find it surprisingly good. You can go further to talk about the results — no brain fog, no crash, mycotoxin free. Then, however, when you talk about the process the look and the comment that comes back from most is, “Oh, I would never have time to do that!”
So, notice (in your mind) when your complications are holding you back. Turn the dial towards simplicity, so you just jump out the door and start — in this case — brewing. Notice (in your results) when your simplified approach is holding you back — in this case your body is crashing, you have brain fog, etc. Perhaps you’re using only one tool in the toolbox, and need to learn others.
Some of you, like me, might have been fans of a long ago, as in 1978, BBC series called Connections. It was a fascinating show that attempted to connect significant breakthroughs in the world to a chain reaction of events, be they intended or complete accidents, over long periods of time. For the purposes of this story, I am starting at a point in my life where my professional life became successful enough where it allowed me to support some charitable causes that were offering unique experiences that I had somehow found a passion for in my life…
As a fan of television and film it was intriguing to see something like a walk-on role offered to the winner of a charity auction. Thus, you can see me a few times on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” To the Bone (2006). After meeting some of the other backgrounders I actually thought it might be something I could look into for my spare time. That is, keeping my day job and hooking into casting calls, like the others were doing, and perhaps even getting a SAG card. Yes, for some reason those long boring days in ‘holding’ actually seemed like it would be fun to do as a small part of my future.
Being a science fiction fan, when an offer for lunch on the sets of Stargate SG-1 and Battlestar Galactica came up it was something that I could not pass up even without a walk-on role! Thus, my first, and what I thought would be my only trip to Bridge Studios in Burnaby, BC was during September of 2006 supporting the Waterkeeper Alliance.
Then, just over a year later, I won a Charityfolks auction in December of 2007 for “The Ultimate Sci-Fi Experience with this Walk-On Role and Lunch on the Set of Stargate Atlantis with Stars Joe Flanagan and Amanda Tapping!!!!”
On a side note: Charityfolks.com was one of the best online auction sites for celebrity related experiences. From start to finish I never had anything but a professional experience. Their business model has since changed from auctions to, “You email us with your dream experience and we try to make that dream a reality,” and I have no experience with them outside of auctions but it is my hope that they still do make dreams come true.
The writer’s strike, and afterward my own calendar, made the scheduling of the experience difficult to say the least, and then came the word, “The producers have advised that they can accommodate a walk on role in our last episode of the season.” — which was also the last episode of the series! So, in September of 2008 I was back to Bridge Studios in Burnaby, BC! This time not just for lunch but for one of those background roles I so enjoyed from my previous Law & Order experience.
To makeup, to set, on camera — it was all a bit of a whirlwind. In between there was lunch with Joe and, before I left, Amanda Tapping visited from her time on Sanctuary. She was there to prep for her day on set tomorrow, when I would not be around anymore, and to thankfully take the time to say hello to me while there.
Yes, I mentioned already I am a fan of television, film, science fiction, etc. I started watching Stargate SG-1 in the days of live TV. Okay, it was not literally live, but what I mean is that it started out on Showtime and moved to the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) in a time when TiVo did not exist yet, never mind digital streaming. On top of that it was actually a chore to continue watching it since the Sci-Fi Channel required a digital cable box, or some iteration of programming, beyond what was in the house at the time. The bottom line is it was a different time for television and one thing I know I did during my visits was to thank the people I met for providing that entertainment. It made life better. Not that life was at all bad — just that, at least for me, those stories being told were something I looked forward to. I am not one of those super fans that can recall the detail of every episode. In fact, I am quite the opposite — I am the kind of fan that gets lost in the story for that brief, and welcome, distraction then returns to the day at hand and promptly forgets most of what I just saw on the small screen!
While on set, after getting David Hewlett to sign an Atlantis publicity photo in the back of a Puddle Jumper, we starting talking about the digital SLR I had. It was a Canon 30D in the days when using an SLR for video was just starting to become a real “thing.” He ended up going down the dark side by getting a Nikon (hey, you can’t save everyone!) but after the set visit I traded emails with him pointing to the work of Vincent Laforet and others and talking about possible projects where I might even be able to help support in some way post his Dog’s Breakfast effort.
In helping make the post visit connection to David, the Unit Publicist knew I was talking to him about possibly working together on something and thus ended up asking me separately if it was okay to introduce me to someone else. Saying yes, I was introduced to Bernie Melanson in March of 2009. Well, from that connection a few days later I was reading my first script “Rock Bottom”. Never thought about financing a film before but here I am looking at a potential project with a role being written into it just for me! Yes, I was still coming off my high of thinking being a backgrounder might be in my future and here I am being scripted into something.
Well, as that project slipped for various reasons, something I would find out is seemingly mandatory in this business, I was introduced to a person named Aaron Gilbert in December of 2009 to talk about possible funding on a troubled project the same potential lead actor from Rock Bottom starred in.
I finally met Aaron in person in February of 2010 while he was out in New York City (New Jersey is my current home base) and, with the troubled project finding light of day without me, we talked about other opportunities. In May of 2010 my second script for a project called “Jabberwocky” was now in my hands. I made some script notes and it was surprisingly nice to see SyFy had all of my same concerns and more. (In other words it was nice to feel like someone who actually knew what they were doing) Moving forward with Jabberwock (somehow it lost its ‘y’) in August of 2010 I had my first iMDB credit of Executive Producer. Though I never made the adventure of visiting set in Bulgaria — background roles are fun, but not that fun — I did help bridge the financing for SyFy in bringing what I still believe today as one of their better ‘made for SyFy’ movies to the small screen. Yes, about a year later in September of 2011 it was fun to see my name appear for the first time in public — though I am sure few on the planet made notice of it!
Meanwhile, somewhere in between, near the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, I became more interested in what Aaron was building with Bron Studios than I was with the idea of supporting further individual projects. Then, in February of 2011, during a ferry ride over to Vancouver Island to the set of Foreverland, Aaron and I struck up a basic framework to become partners going forward in seeking world domination. (A term I am borrowing loosely from David Hewlett) In other words, from somehow getting to Burnaby, BC to visit sets and do a walk-on role I now am a partner in a new studio venture with an office address in that same town — 2,400 straight line miles from where I call home. The television and film industry might be new to me but the idea of building a business was not. So, a much as it may seem like I may have made a decision solely based on a fandom of what it was doing, the real excitement for me was being a part of something just starting out. It might not have been Facebook, Uber, or Twitter, but that little team coming together had a long term vision to build something special and that was one thing I knew how help make happen.
It seems like a lifetime has passed in the five years since the beginning of that partnership. Bernie, who introduced me to Aaron, was at the studio for only a short period of time. He has spent the bulk of his time since then out of the film business and now in the gambling industry — to which I also invested with him there but we can save that detour for another Medium story down the road. Film festivals, awards, and with each project behind we grow a little smarter for the ones in front of us. The story inside of Bron itself would make for many connections of fortunes and wrong turns but the single most important one to me is that of Aaron Gilbert himself. Of all the people I could have run into in the film business somehow I was lucky enough to have one of the most honest ones run into me.
Over those years my own IMDb list of credits expanded quite a bit and there are two projects on there that I actually did help make happen with David Hewlett. Haunter was a film David’s long time friend Vincenzo Natali was directing and Debug was a film David both wrote and directed himself. (Both films were produced by the amazing Steve Hoban of Copperheart Entertainment)
2015 was a great year for Bron Studios and it looks like 2016 will yet another significant leap forward — taking us into productions that make past efforts look like they happened a lot longer ago than they actually did. Here it is just January and we made history at Sundance with The Birth of a Nation. To put this ‘history’ into perspective one needs to compare it to other dealsand when attempting to take all of it in, that is why I left Park City, UT with tears of gratitude in my eyes. It was the biggest sale in the fest’s history and it also marks the largest sum ever paid for a finished movie at any festival, including Cannes, Berlin and Toronto.
‘I Saw the Light’, the story of the legendary country western singer Hank Williams, will be released by Sony Pictures Classics on March 25, 2016 to theaters. (You can catch a trailer for it as well as get the soundtrack on iTunes)
With obviously much, much more to come throughout the rest of the year and beyond…
So where does Carol Baldwin come into all of this?
The lunch on the Set of Stargate Atlantis was an auction item in support of the Carol Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund. When the fund coordinated that experience for a donation to their cause I am sure all they hoped for is some additional money and exposure to further their cause. What I am sure they still do not know about even today is that small effort also turned into a film studio business employing hundreds of people, across numerous productions, in the past, present and future, in all parts of the world.
…but the Baldwin story does not end there…
As I write this we are currently in production for “Drunk Parents” staring who else but Alec Baldwin in one of the lead roles. His appearance in the production is out of pure coincidence as no one involved in the process even knew about the story above as the project was coming together.
…but the Baldwin story still does not end there…
At a board of directors meeting in Burnaby one of the legal firms we use introduced a new partner to us, David Davoli. Finding out he lives in New York City, a stone’s throw from me as compared to Burnaby, I had to ask him about who he was and how he got into the film business. When he started to tell me the story of how becoming Alec Baldwin’s assistant was his introduction to the industry I had to laugh and comment that neither of would be on this Vancouver SkyTrain going back to our hotel without Carol Baldwin.
If you have read this far you might think it is an interesting story, but so what?
#1 Follow your passions — you can never know how far they will take you.
“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.” — Maya Angelou
In winning those experiences I had no intent of anything happening beyond the enjoyment of those moments they would bring. In talking with David Hewlett, Bernie Melanson, and later Aaron Gilbert I had no intent beyond helping out on some projects people happened to be working on. It was not until well down the road where everything clicked into place — matching the things I love doing with my abilities to do things well.
#2 On the flip side — you can never know how far your actions will change the lives of others.
As Carol Baldwin does not know how she changed my life, and the lives of so many others, with one simple action we all can be the catalyst for change in the lives of others. Ironically, the moments in between doing what we think is important seem to produce the most impact.
“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” — John Wooden
John Wooden is certainly correct in his statement and the deeper meaning is character is most visible when you speak or act without the intent of anyone actually hearing or seeing you. In the case of the Carol Baldwin Fund the intent was to raise money. It did so when the auction was won and the item was paid for. The everlasting affect outside of the organization, however, was in the moments that experience brought together. In my own personal life I can remember situations where people have mentioned things I have said to them that have changed their own lives in some way. I respectfully nod, thinking to myself, I have no memory of ever saying that to them. It is not that I did not say it. It is rather that the intent to change or advise someone was not there and therefore the memory was not either.
#3 It is a freakishly small world — the six degrees of Kevin Bacon always surround you.
On that same trip out for the board of directors meeting in Burnaby I was speaking with our VP of Production & Development for Bron Animation who casually mentioned he saw I was somehow involved with Dave Asprey of Bulletproof Digital via LinkedIn. When I affirmed the connection he went on to say his kids go to the same school Dave’s kids go to and that we should both visit Dave’s amazing Bulletproof Biohacking Lab by taking a hop over to the island the next time I come out Vancouver way.
As the rock finds trouble seeing the ripples it produces on a pond’s surface, while it continues its journey downward, so do our eyes have trouble seeing all of the connections around us as we move forward with our one immediate purpose.
This is not a story of striving for perfection. Perfection is a noble goal, however, things do get in the way. For the long term entropy is a bit of problem. For the shorter term there are flaws and faults in everything and in all of us. Mistakes are made, accidents happen, and in fact, problems themselves are a sign of life. The positive side of mistakes and wrong turns is learning wisdom and finding new ways to overcome old problems with better solutions — sometimes even by accident.
This is, however, a story I am sure we all have dealt with at some point in our lives. It is a story of the figurative turd in the corner that we make all kinds of justifications around to keep it there because we would lose too much time, money, or online abilities to get rid of it. It could be something about a product or service we are providing yet most of the time it is about a personnel problem.
Imagine a business, no matter how small or large, where someone on board seems to be providing work product in volumes others are not matching, or perhaps they have technical skills that seem to be well above everyone else around them, or more simply they seem have so much institutional knowledge that you are just afraid of even the thought of how to close the gaps when they are gone. Yet, while they are on deck you get complaints from staff and more troubling — complaints from clients. They are rude with their judgements, they do not share or teach, and if you were totally honest with assessment what they do is never completely polished in the end and always needs help bringing it to the state of ‘perfection’ that they claimed to deliver it in. Bottom line is they don’t play well with others.
Yes, these people have been called ‘a cancer’ for an organization but as unpolitical as it might seem a turd might be more appropriate for as someone who had nearly the same saying I had (that titles this story) went on to describe it like:
If there was a turd in your car no matter how many air fresheners you may try to hang on the window you are still going to know it is there.
Unlike a cancer — it is not going to change other people into doing the same, yet it will still make a lot of people unhappy. It probably will not kill the business, yet it will stop it from becoming either more successful or reaching its full potential. It might be located within your own ecosystem, yet others will know it is there without the need for specialized diagnostic tools.
The good news is when you wrap it in paper, throw it out, and clean the surface of the things it was in direct contact with the stink only stays around for a very short period of time. You will find that the volume of work it was churning out was more quantity than quality You will find that the technical skills it had and knowledge it hoarded was worth far less than people working together to find solutions and teach others how to do the same. Amazingly you will be surprised as to how many will thank you for getting rid of the source of the smell from both inside and outside the walls of your organization. As much as you might be relieved in finally making the decision you will also be a little embarrassed that it took you so long.
In summary, don’t fall into the reality distortion fields that these B or C players use to make them seem like A players. Yes, A players can, during brief glances of frustration, exhibit some of the same traits of the piles of poo but the key difference is they will either drag the organization higher or leave it to find higher ground somewhere else. Their reality distortion fields are the vision of where you need to be going and everything they do is attempt to bring people and systems around them to make that happen.
“Real men don’t dance to other people’s tune, instead, they play for others to dance.”― Michael Bassey Johnson
A while back I said goodbye to an organization I put a lot of time and effort into. At the time my mind was focused on the frustration of seemingly no one striving for excellence. Steve Jobs once said, “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” To make matters worse it was my observation that not many knew what was expected never mind knew what excellence looked like.
Yet, maybe the problem was not a lack of excellence. Maybe the problem was growing up where people forgot you could eat impossible for breakfast. A place where the future is defined by the past. A place where, “No, change takes time.” A place where, “No, you can’t do that.” A place where, “No, we don’t want to go there.” A place where, “No, we can never compete with the money they have.” A place where, “No, that does not work in a not for profit.” A place where, “No, this is not a business.”
When a place like this collides with the anomaly that says something different a choice of paths open up. Perhaps some might respond to see that “impossible” really means “I’m Possible.” Or maybe the anomaly gets eaten for breakfast instead by succumbing to the incredible static friction that a lack of movement instills. Or maybe it is just time to go. To go and find a place where your soul can soar and be pulled by others instead of being pushed back. A place where people forgot to grow up and actually look for the impossible to happen.
Striving for excellence is great, but not if you are just trying to do the wrong things well. Dare to think of a new level of excellence where all the rules are broken. Apple changed the world because it created products we did not even know we wanted. Maybe not all of us can put a dent in the universe like Steve Jobs. Ah, but then again, bet me I can’t and see what happens. You just might make yo mamma happy that she changed the world by bringing you into being.
Enjoy the video below. The performance was captured at the XPrize Radical Benefit for Humanity (which has since tuned into Adventure Trip experiences) event on October 20, 2011 and it inspired these words.
Looking back at the above, which I wrote some time ago, reminds of another important aspect of change — that is how it relates to personal self awareness. When things are not going well change is easier. However, what if things are going well? When is massive change still appropriate?
The answer comes down to brutal self awareness. It is not only about betting on your strengths but also accepting your shortcomings. This also means knowing when yours strengths run out of gas. When was it time for me to sell the family manufacturing business? When it got to a scale I could no longer understand and I could use the strengths learned along the way to radically add value to other things now within my touch.
Too many times I have seen people racing to run the department, or run the entire business, in a successful growing, or even troubled, environment only to then become way over their heads and drown with rarely a thought of resetting their goal to something within their core strengths.
Also, adding value is usually a two way street. When was it time for me to leave TEC (now called Vistage)? After being a member for eleven years I was fortunate to grow personally to a point where I needed something beyond what the group could offer and being in a wonderfully close relationship to the group chair it was actually he who helped me find my next step in further growth.
In the words of Nassim Nicholas Taleb:
A general convex (Anti-fragile) heuristic: In your hobbies, be under qualified; when it comes to work with others, and delivering services to them be overqualified.
(The Black Swan was written below the needed level, in words not math & there was the buffer of all these mathematical arguments to support the claims, so those who tried to fuck with it have been humiliated.)
In other words, be aggressive in private, be robust in your public work. You will sleep well at night.