Archive for November, 2010

Christmas Every Day

November 30th, 2010
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Father Christmas

Our Christmas edition of Career Changers TV premiers Thurs., Dec. 2 at 8:30 PM on OC16. On this month's program we feature Mike Ching, a professional magician who also performs as "classic" Santa Clause (modern American version), Father Christmas (Old World style pictured here) and Magic Santa (includes optional Magic Chimney effect). Mike's story is interesting on a couple of levels. For instance, he talks about how his magic business was booming in the 80s because companies were trying to outdo each other with the best holiday parties... then the "sexual harassment" lawsuits began to hit, no doubt related to the yuletide cheer that was being imbibed at some of those Christmas bashes. While Mike was never involved in any of those cases, he felt companies used it as another reason for them to cut back spending on parties.

The drop-off in demand for his magician services led to him marketing his Santa services more actively. He hired a professional theater costume designer to create his Father Christmas and classic Santa suits, which he says would cost thousands of dollars to replace. They're very heavy -- and yes, he sweats a lot, so the suits have to be aired out and cleaned regularly. But you can tell from the twinkle in Mike's eyes that he truly loves playing Santa. Although he's normally hired to perform at parties for children, he says he never breaks character even when interacting with adults. And it's the grown-ups who seem to get the biggest kick when he says he remembers grandmom or dad from when they were kids themselves. Here's his Santa website link.

When we were shooting the interview at his place, I noticed some familiar-looking nature paintings on the walls. They were done by his brother, Patrick Ching, whose art was used on the cover of a Hawaiian Tel phone book a few years back.  Coincidentally, his work has been on display at the Naturally Hawaiian Gallery, which is now part of the Sweet Home Waimanalo Cafe -- we just did a CCTV story on them last month! Small island, huh? Here's the link to Mike's website in case you'd like to hire him for a party.

We shot the introductions for the December show at Strictly Christmas in Kailua, which is also the Yarn & Needlecraft shop next to Agnes' Portugese Bake Shop. Sylvia Kruse, the owner of the Christmas/yarn shop, pointed out things such as the hundred year old Nativity display, plus some of the more unusual Christmas tree ornaments they sell. In addition to the Christmas village models for sale, they now carry Halloween-themed villages that were popular items this year. Since I live in Kailua, I love having small shops like this one in town where you can buy fresh, hot malasadas next door, then browse through Christmas decorations all year round, or look at her room full of yarn if you're into that sort of thing.

Anyhow, it reminded me of an old Heinrich Boll satire I remember reading in high school. I thought it was called "Christmas Every Day," but the actual title is "Christmas Not Just Once A Year" (translated from German) and it's an interesting take on the meaning of Christmas. In the story, a mentally unstable aunt causes her family to pretend it's Christmas every day because it comforts her. There are references to WWII, so some critics think it's a statement about Germans wishfully trying to block out memories of Nazi Germany and war. Others contend it's a commentary on commercialism and class warfare (the family must be wealthy since they can afford to hire actors to play family members who get tired of attending the daily Christmas activities). Eventually, wax dummies are purchased to replace children in the re-enactments. Ah, those fun-loving German authors!

Yet it does give one reason to pause and be thankful that Christmas only comes once a year -- except in Sylvia's Kailua shop, that is. Check out the new show Thurs. night or DVR it. You can find daily viewing times on our website and watch segments on our YouTube Channel (but it looks much better on widescreen television). Mele Kalikimaka!

Must. Stop. ZUMBA!

November 25th, 2010
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On the KGMB morning show yesterday, news anchor Tannya Joaquin and former Mixed Martial Arts fighter Egan Inoue became the latest on-camera Zumba victims. Tannya is taking over as the morning co-host, so doing these kind of lighthearted fun bits is to be expected of her (sort of like that new movie out, MORNING GLORY). But Egan? The guy used to pound opponents in the ring, and there he was doing what is essentially jazzercise with louder/faster music.

Every time I hear "Zumba," I think of zombies doing the rumba or samba. As it turns out, there are Zumba Zombies videos on YouTube. But what explains the virus-like spread of this desire to dance frantically with sweaty strangers indoors, when other exercise options exist? I have a sneaking suspicion that it's really a new version of the old "meet market" where guys check out women while they execute Shakira-ish moves to sexy music beats. Which is great if you're unattached and looking for a date. Not so hot though if you're a female who doesn't want to be ogled by the fellow behind you.

Anyhow, it just so happens that we did a Career Changers TV segment on Tannya's husband, Alan Joaquin, which you can see on OC16 at 8:30 PM, Thurs. (other times and days posted on our website if you want to DVR it). Alan is an airlines pilot with a background in landscaping and horticulture. When Aloha Airlines went out of biz, he decided to make his Wiki Garden invention a commercial enterprise. Basically, it's a mesh tube filled with an organic growing mixture that has a built-in watering system and automatic timer that you connect to a hose. You can set it up in garden boxes, put them on your lanai or even building rooftops -- just as they did at the Philip White Architects building on South School Street. Here's a link to that video segment on our YouTube Channel. In addition to his Wiki Garden business, Alan is now a pilot for Hawaiian Airlines.

Also, since my last post header in the front page Blog Box quickly vanished under a barrage of "Volleyshot" posts, you may have missed this entry about Amazon's new movie-making venture. I'm taking part in that experiment and have submitted two scripts to the site that you can download and read if you're interested. Click here for that post, which tells more about my projects and why I'm giving Amazon Studios a shot.

Above is from my LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE screenplay on Amazon.com.

Above is from my LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE screenplay on Amazon.com.

Amazon.com Enters Movie Biz

November 23rd, 2010
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Menehune project

Hollywood is a tough nut to crack for fledgling filmmakers and aspiring screenwriters like myself. There's the conventional approach -- move to L.A., take a job related to TV or films and work your way up, or go to film school and make connections there. But over the years I've seen people get their big break through screenwriting contests, movie pitch events, or through the Do-It-Yourself approach: make a short film or video and post in on YouTube.

The truth is most contests are money-making ventures that do little to advance a writer's career. A couple actually deliver the goods though, so you can't dismiss them entirely. The same is true of services that will send email query blasts out to thousands of agents, managers and producers for about $80 per pitch. Sometimes you have to take chances and think outside the box to get noticed by Hollywood. However, the latest "opportunity" being offered by Amazon Studios is drawing heavy flak from writers and filmmakers.

Basically, Amazon.com has created a crowd-sourcing approach to movie making. It allows anyone to "revise" the work of other writers and directors who have posted their stuff on the Amazon Studios site. They are giving out big prize money and winners could wind up with real movie deals. Here's the rub: by entering a script or film project, you give them an 18-month "option" on your work as well as licensing rights. In effect, you have to take your project off the market... or at least that's how most people interpret the legalese. Personally, I think there are so many problems with the way the agreement is written that I believe Amazon would have a hard time enforcing some of their terms.

Moreover, the reality is 95 percent of the scripts and films posted aren't very good so the entrants have no reason to worry about offers from legit producers. It's also highly unlikely that many will take the time to revise scripts written by other people and then post them as revised projects in the hopes that the "improved" version might win prize money (in which case the original author and reviser share the winnings). Could a good idea/bad script become better through random rewrites by strangers? Perhaps. But I just don't see that happening. There are already hundreds of scripts entered, and most are just sitting there unread.

Agents and produced screenwriters say it's a bad deal. They contend that if your project is good enough to win money, you should go the conventional route in trying to sell your work. Well, I've done all that and probably gotten closer to having my scripts produced than thousands of other wannabe writers out there. Keep in mind that over 40,000 new screenplays are registered with the Writers Guild each year... and the vast majority of them suck. Still, if just the top five percent are decent, you're competing with a couple of thousand scripts at the very least.

So I bit the bullet and entered two screenplays I wrote that won accolades and prize money. People have said I'm a fool to do it. The thing is, I've gotten read by a lot of Hollywood people who say nice things about my writing, and have even tried to set deals up for me... and years later, my scripts remain unproduced. I figure, why not put them on Amazon and see what happens? Project Greenlight was a similar idea, and for all its flaws, the fact is there were some lucky writers and filmmakers who got their shot at Hollywood because of that contest.

If you're curious about my projects, here's the links and a brief description. Don't feel obligated to read or review them, but downloading my scripts would be a big help in getting me noticed ("popularity" rankings are based on downloads). Click here for Amazon Studios home page.

INUGAMI -   http://studios.amazon.com/scripts/264

A dead fortune teller. A skeptical private eye. An ancient Japanese curse. The fear is real, but the terror is all in your mind... Think CHINATOWN with Shinto witchcraft. Inspired by the true life murder of a Japanese fortune teller in Honolulu years ago, and Glen Grant's "Obake" stories about inugami, which is sort of a Japanese version of the werewolf legend.

LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE -  http://studios.amazon.com/scripts/145

Big budget family/adventure about a Scrooge-like resort developer and group of misfit kids who discover the mythical little people of Hawaii are responsible for big problems at a Kauai resort. However, they wind up using lessons they learn from the Menehune to avert an environmental catastrophe caused by the developer's hasty resort expansion plans. Hollywood script readers have compared it to ET and GOONIES.

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We plan on doing future Career Changers TV shows about opportunities in the local film and TV business, so stay tuned for details on that! In the meantime, please watch our current episode which airs daily on OC16. For viewing info, visit our website or check out video segments on our YouTube Channel. And mahalo to all our viewers for your support!

Dear Mr. Governor...

November 17th, 2010
By



As you may know, Governor-Elect Neil Abercrombie's team is reviewing applications for jobs in the new administration that takes over next month. They have already received over 2,400 resumes, and according to their www.newdayhawaii.org website, they will continue to accept applications until all the positions are filled. It doesn't say how many people will be hired, but the site lists "areas of interest" by government departments and job level.

Since I'd like to see how the process works, I applied online (here's the link). It was relatively simple, although I didn't like that they want you to upload your cover letter and resume as a single Word document. To me, it would have made more sense to make the cover letter section a part of the online form and ask applicants to give a short one or two paragraph pitch on why they should be considered for an interview. Why? Because we need people who can effectively communicate with the public, and tell us in plain language what our government is doing.

More importantly, you can get a sense of what that person can bring to the table just by asking them to sell themselves in a concise statement. They might identify key problems facing our state and pose questions that they would seek to answer if given the opportunity. Or an applicant could give examples of their creative approach to problem-solving. Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how the process shakes out. I suspect there will be a high number of former newspaper reporters, out-of-work PR and advertising/marketing pros who will also be applying for communications-related positions... which could be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

Unless we have skilled creative people in government who can get relevant information out to the public about what they're doing, there will be the perception that our government isn't working. That's what happened to the Dems in the national elections. Despite the fact that Congress had helped avert a Great Depression and made taxes LOWER for everyone, the perception was taxes had gone up and Congress didn't do anything (while paradoxically, the same critics accused Obama and the Dems of doing too much). In short, they failed to sell their accomplishments.

But I worry that on a local level there's been too much cross-over between the news media and government public relations. The benefits of civil service are fairly obvious: job security and generous benefits if your boss stays in office long enough, plus saner working hours. Yet it makes you wonder if news reporters are less likely to challenge officials or ruffle feathers if they are thinking about their long-term career prospects in the public sector. It is a small island, after all.

However, with so much apathy and cynicism out there, we really do need the new Governor and his team to "sell" the citizenry on the idea that government can still do positive things that will impact us in tangible ways -- things we can see with our own eyes. And that will be a tough job in these skeptical times.

*****

Have you been watching the ABC News series this week on China? Wow. Talk about change. Their government seems to be encouraging more capitalism than our own in some regards. It starts with education, of course, and the Chinese are committing to it in a big way. Children are learning English at an early age and can carry on conversations by the time they're in the second or third grade. On average, they spend over 40 days more per year in class than American kids. What's more, they have changed their educational system to encourage more creative thinking and innovation.

Out of necessity, the Chinese are also investing billions in green technology and high speed rail -- while in this country we're killing mass transit and infrastructure projects. In China, that translates to increased productivity. The same commute that would take an Amtrak train over two hours to make, is about a 30-minute trip for workers on China's bullet trains.

So I had to laugh when I hear people applauding the New Jersey governor for blocking a tunnel project that was sorely needed for commuters who must go into New York City every day. I used to live in Jersey and commuted to Manhattan back in the 1980s. Even then it was clear to anyone who ever got stuck in a traffic jam that another tunnel was a necessity. So after years of study and planning, the new governor decides to kill a project that would have generated thousands of jobs while addressing a major problem for thousands of daily commuters. Welcome to Gridlock, USA.

*****

For more positive stories about local innovators and progressive thinkers, you can watch or DVR the latest Career Changers TV show Thursday night at 8:30 PM on OC16. For additional viewing times, show info and links to videos from past episodes, please visit our website. Mahalo!

'Undercover Boss' Lessons

November 12th, 2010
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I'm a sucker for reality TV shows, but it took me awhile to tune into Undercover Boss. The premise is simple: top exec or company owner dons a disguise and works in lower level jobs within their company to see what it's like, and find ways to improve their business. It's also a great example of creative marketing. The business gets national exposure on prime time TV, the execs humanize themselves by doing good deeds for their hard-working employees, and blue collar audiences get to chuckle at the powerful honchos as they struggle to perform routine tasks.

It got me to thinking about my own past work experiences as a peon and later, as a sales and marketing exec. In hindsight, I wasn't a very good boss -- mostly because I was young, inexperienced and heavily intoxicated for much of my non-working hours back in New York City. Before I job-hopped my way up the ladder though, I toiled as a hard-working marketing assistant who was passed over for promotion a couple of times... and man, did that make me angry. What made it worse was the company brought in an outsider to be my boss, and he relied heavily on me for everything he needed to do his job. Had he sat down with me at the start, talked things out and painted a picture in which I could see myself playing a key role in his plans, perhaps things would have been different. Instead, my co-workers and I conspired to make the boss look bad whenever the opportunity arose.

A smarter person would have learned what NOT to do when they became the outside person who was made boss. But I was just 26-years-old when I got hired to be marketing director for a pretty large legal publishing company in Manhattan. Suddenly, I had a big office, a couple of assistants, a telemarketing department, graphics artists and managers from other divisions, all reporting to me. My background in college was journalism and political science -- not business management. So I had to wing it. Somehow I got the job done, albeit in a haphazard style. Deep inside, however, I felt like a fraud who would eventually be "found out" and fired. That's why I moved to Hawaii. It's what us recovering alcoholics call a "geographic." You move on before you get called on the rug, and handed your walking papers for showing up hungover or taking too many liquid lunches.

My boss was the son of a powerful New York businessman, and was used to getting his way in negotiations. When I told him I was leaving for Hawaii, he tried to talk me out of it. In his best Jewish accent, he said: "Rich, why do you want to live in Hawaii? Beautiful beaches... perfect weather... exotic women running around in bikinis -- you'll get bored!" Even after I moved, he called me a month later and asked if I was ready to come back to NYC.

At the time, I had been hired as a sales account rep for Oahu Bindery, which had a direct mail operations in the 80s. They were the ones who sent out MidWeek and most of the other local bulk rate deliveries (Cardinal Mailing Services was our rival competitor). Since I was hapa-haole, many of the workers thought I was local... until I opened my mouth. Once they heard the Jersey and New York inflections, they'd laugh and say, "You look local -- but you no sound local, brah!"

And here's where I made my big mistake as the "outsider" coming into a new job. Although I had to rely on the workers in the hot, sweaty lettershop and bindery operations to take care of mailing jobs for my clients, I didn't make a real effort to learn what they had to do or get to know them on a personal level. I stayed in the air-conditioned office and only went back when there were problems or a rush job I needed.

By contrast, another new sales guy who just arrived from California, asked if he could spend his first week working in back with those people. He busted his butt, hung out with the workers at pau hana time, and when he was ready to start handling accounts, his clients' mailings always got priority from the crew in back. He also had a better understanding of the entire operations.

I'm not saying every new manager or exec needs to do entry level jobs at their company before they assume the role of boss. But at the very least, they should put themselves in the shoes -- or slippers -- of the front line workers who report to them and do the tough jobs that require real labor and sweat. Not only that, I wish more top management people would experience their own company's services the way the public does... for instance, make them try calling one of those automated phone systems that prompt you to choose 1-2-3 etc. over and over, with no option to speak to a human being -- then loses your call after you finally connect with someone!

So tell me, does your boss know what it's really like for his or her employees on a day-to-day basis? For you execs and managers, do you think it would be worthwhile to be your own Undercover Boss?

Today's relevant links:

The N.Y. Times has been running a series of enlightening interviews with CEOs in their "Corner Office" column. Here's one on lessons in leadership that suggests your management team should include four different types of personalities. Click here for article.

And here's a good interview with the CEO of Starbucks, who says insecurity is good for top execs. He also gives advice on start-ups for entrepreneurs, emphasizing the importance of HR in every company. Check it out.

Our sustainable island living theme Career Changers TV episode can be seen daily on OC16 (provided we aren't preempted by high school volleyball or football). For show times and other useful info, please visit the CCTV website and our YouTube Channel. Mahalo!