Archive for April, 2011

Local Filmmakers Opportunity

April 29th, 2011
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Awhile back, I posted an item about the new Amazon.com contest for screenwriters and filmmakers, and entered it myself because they have been giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes each month -- yes, month. My LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE script made their inaugural Top 50 Semifinals list in December (out of over 2,000 entries) but advanced no further. This month, I had an Amish horror script land in their Top 50 again, out of 4,000 submissions now posted on the site. SNALLYGASTER is about a half-bird/half-reptile monster out of Pennsylvania Dutch folklore that preys on wayward children (college kids and Amish teens on rumspringa, in this case). Alas, I did not win one of the two $20,000 prizes they gave out for best screenplays.

However, that's not why I'm tooting my own horn. Another writer I know through online screenwriting forums just won $100,000 yesterday for making the best "test movie" this month. What's a test movie? Amazon Studios says it can be anything from actual film footage to storyboards with voice-overs. They don't expect to see finished products -- in fact, they want to see projects developed from script pages to table reads, then storyboards and test movies on their site. They're even providing stock music that filmmakers can use without worrying about copyright infringement. Amazon Studios is actively encouraging collaboration between writers and filmmakers through their contest.

And yet, I don't know of many Hawaii filmmakers or writers who are taking advantage of this opportunity. Believe me, winning $100K is a game-changer. My friend, Gary, who just won is now planning on moving from Canada to L.A. so he can be closer to the action and cash in on the publicity from the Amazon Studios contest. To be honest, I haven't tried to make a test movie because I was worried it wouldn't be as "perfect" as I would like. I'd want it to look like a real Hollywood movie -- and that would cost money I don't have. Gary said he was basically "practicing" with his first test movie before tackling one of his better scripts. He was stunned that he won.

NOTE: Amazon is also giving an annual award prize of $1 million for best test movie. Deadline to enter is Dec. 31, 2011.

Too often, in life we don't do things because we're afraid they won't turn out as good as we want. I believe in the old adage: Better to try and fail, then not try at all. Don't use perfectionism as an excuse for not attempting something, like I did. Go for it. Put your craziest, wildest ideas out there and see what others think about it. What's the worst that could happen? They laugh or say, meh. But if one person says, "You know, that could work"... then perhaps you just might have a million dollar idea.

I think the main reason there haven't been more test movies entered is that most aspiring filmmakers start out working on shorts -- small films that are under 10 minutes usually. But to enter the Amazon contest, you have to submit a test movie that is at least 70 minutes long, and many filmmakers would have trouble expanding their short to feature-length or aren't screenwriters themselves. That's why, in theory, the AS site could be a nice marriage between writers and aspiring directors/producers/actors and cinematographers. In practice, the results have been mixed so far.

There ARE some drawbacks involving Amazon's "option" agreement, which entrants need to be aware of. Read all the rules first, by going to the AS website (click here). Anyhow, I would love to work with some local filmmakers on adapting one of my entered scripts as a test movie. Here's what I'm looking for: storyboard or comic book artist, actors for table reads and voice-overs, cinematographers, and aspiring producers.

Some pay is possible for the storyboard work, and those who are involved with making the test movie will receive a portion of the $100K prize if our project should win. Before contacting me though, please check out my Amazon Studios page and read the script that most interests you. Here's the link: http://studios.amazon.com/users/921

The one that I think would work best as a storyboard/test movie is INUGAMI, which is essentially a Japanese version of the werewolf legend, set in San Francisco. It has a neo-noir vibe -- think CHINATOWN with Shinto witchcraft. R-rated, some profanity and gore. Actor Cary Tagawa has been interested in developing it, but wasn't able to raise the financing. The meth-addicted/inugami-cursed murder suspect was written with Jason Scott Lee specifically in mind. Unfortunately, my ex-manager in Hollywood never got the script to him. Anyone know him?

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Speaking of movies with local connections, Star-Advertiser columnist Mike Gordon had an item about a former Kailua resident, who stars in a low budget indie film called WHEN HARRY TRIES TO MARRY. I live in Kailua, but I don't know Stefanie Estes -- however, I do know one of the screenwriters, Ralph Stein. He sent me his original HARRY draft about 10 years ago, and I thought it was a very good premise: young guy whose parents are from India decides American-style love marriages don't work, and opts for a traditional arranged marriage instead... then falls in love with a non-Indian woman.

But I thought the script had problems, and told Ralph honestly what I thought. The tone veered from sweet family comedy, sort of like MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, to raunchy R-rated sex jokes. That's what happens in collaborations sometimes. Different strokes for different folks. My advice was to pick one or the other genre, and stick with that tone. During the filming, he emailed me a couple of times and was upset because his writing partner -- who also directed and lined up the financing -- was going more in the G-rated direction, which Ralph didn't like. When it was released, the critics weren't kind to the movie. Many of the things the reviewers said echoed my concerns when I read the script.

Which goes to show that if you don't fix the problems at the idea/rough draft stage, it's likely the end results will be flawed as well. That's a lesson you can apply to any business plan or venture. Make sure you and your partners are literally on the same page before you start investing time and money in any project.

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Last chance to catch our Career Changer TV segments on kumu hula, who are performing at the Merrie Monarch Festival, and Dr. Rob Yonover's life-saving ocean rescue inventions. Daily viewing times and on-demand OC16 info are on our website. You can also watch videos from the show on the CCTV YouTube Channel. Our new episode begins airing Thursday, May 5 after the semifinals high school softball game.

Reader Request: Music Job Ideas

April 27th, 2011
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Just got this email from a reader with a dilemma: his passion is music and he's worked for both local and national record labels, but opportunities in that field have shrunk considerably. So what should he do? Let's take a look at what he wrote...

Hi Rich,

Hope this finds you doing well!  I enjoy your column in the Star-Advertiser and the Career Changers site. I've been using both to try and get some ideas of what I might like to do.  Wondering if I can pick your brain for a little advice...

I've done one thing my entire working career (Music Business, both retail and working for major labels like Sony and EMI along with numerous local labels), and it's the only thing I ever wanted to do since I was five years old.  Music is also my only real hobby --  just about anything I read is music history, I collect music and am a really bad guitarist.  The bad part is now that labels and record stores are for the most part gone, my place in the business is gone as well.  Everything I read is how you need to find something you really love to do... and unfortunately I can't do the one thing I love anymore.

Is it best to just dive into something and hope for the best?  I look at page after page of different occupations but nothing interests me (on paper), and I don't know if it's because of my singular interest all these years or that I'm desperately trying to hold on to something that just isn't there anymore.  What would be some of the first steps that you would recommend? Thanks for any advice you might be able to give.

Aloha,  Jim Williams

I liked his pitch. He's off to a good start with his job search by putting it out there that he's looking for help, and by going to the proper place to ask for advice. His brief email hits all the right notes: it shows he's done his homework since he's checked out my blog and website. The tone is courteous and friendly. He shares something personal that I immediately could relate to -- his love of music. Over the years, I've gotten to know a lot of people in the music biz who were international stars, and a few local musicians as well.

Then he succinctly presents his problem in a way that most of us can sympathize with. Times are changing, old ways of doing business are being phased out, and his options don't appear very promising. I wanted to help this guy, and I hope some of you might have leads or suggestions.

I followed up with an email to ask for a little more info about his strengths and salary requirements. Here's an excerpt from his prompt reply:

I have good managerial skills, am good at handling budgets, able to spot and capitalize on trends, also good at working with deadlines.  Would like a job starting at $45-50,000, but if I found something that interested me I would be willing to work my way up. Thanks, and I look forward to reading what you have to say!

His email contained no misspellings or horrible punctuation. He seems literate and is probably a good communicator. Someone who might be good at dealing with the public or business clients on a professional level. I like that he mentions working with deadlines and handling budgets too.

My first bit of advice is always the same: NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK. The more people you meet and talk to about your career aspirations, the more chances you'll have of making a connection that leads to an opportunity. As Judy Bishop of Bishop & Company has said in her segments for my Career Changers TV show, you should join different types of groups related to your interests or profession... but also tell everyone you know what you're looking for so they'll be keeping their eyes open for you too.

In fact, while interviewing an office manager for a CCTV segment, I felt like the person was over-qualified for what he was doing. So I asked about his education and background. He liked his job, but didn't love it. I mentioned to my wife that this person was looking for work in the architectural design field, and it just so happened one of her business clients had an opening that was perfect for him. He got the job and has been very happy ever since -- but it wouldn't have happened unless I asked him about his long-range goals because he was kind of quiet, and not the type that would bring it up himself. Rule number one for sales work and job searches: You don't ask, you don't get.

My second recommendation would be for Jim to broaden his search from the music biz to entertainment industry -- something creative in nature. That could be book or magazine publishing. Internet ventures related to the creative world. Local TV shows that deal with the music and entertainment scene on OC16 have pretty good followings, but need sales people who can bring in sponsors and advertisers. Maybe concert and event promoters in Hawaii could use someone with Jim's skills and connections to line up music acts and promote them. Make a list of companies he would like to work for, then pitch them on what he could do for them. Create his own job, in effect.

Anyone out there got a lead or idea? Post them below! Comments need to be moderated, so it may take awhile before they appear.

Bonus Links: Here's a couple of good articles that pertain to Jim's situation -- and perhaps yours.

How to Expand Your Career Potential

The Smarter Way to Change Careers

And of course, you should watch our show on OC16 to get more ideas and inspiration. Click here for daily viewing times, other useful resources, or check out videos from past programs on our CCTV YouTube Channel. Keep those email requests coming!

10,000 Hours

April 22nd, 2011
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The other morning while having my coffee, I was listening to Bobby Curran's sports talk radio show on 1420 AM, and he mentioned an article about a guy who quit his job to spend 10,000 hours practicing golf. I instantly knew where the idea came from: Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers book. Although I haven't read that one yet, I'm a big fan of his prior work, Blink and The Tipping Point. Those two books should be required reading for entrepreneurs and marketing professionals.

Outliers makes the connection between "genius" and perseverance, using a tangible measurement to achieve greatness: 10,000 hours or 10 years, which ever comes first. It's not a new theory. In Japan, for instance, one had to spend several years being an apprentice before they could become a sword maker or sushi chef. In China and the USSR, they would identify young children with athletic potential, then put them in a rigorous training system that would last for years before they competed in the Olympics. Artists and writers throughout time have also said it took years of effort before they excelled at their craft.

But can an average guy transform himself into a professional level golfer using the 10,000 hour theory? Bobby Curran and most of the callers didn't think so. They believe you need a certain amount of natural-born talent or physical skills to start with. That's probably true. What if he chose a different challenge that didn't involve athletic ability? Can someone become a great writer, artist or musician through sheer effort and perseverance?

The latter question is harder to answer. When I started screenwriting over 10 years ago, I had some initial success right off the bat... but I had been doing other kinds of writing before my first script. Then I read in a screenwriting book that it took most pro screenwriters around five years (or five to 10 scripts) before their big breakthrough. My guess is most were doing other types of writing for at least five years before they attempted a screenplay. Yet I know many writers who have been toiling away far longer, and their work just doesn't have that zing or spark you look for. In basketball they say, "You can't teach height." In art, you can't really teach creativity either. You have it or you don't.

But I do think you can improve your creative output through persistence and taking tips from successful professionals. One thing I discovered from reading screenwriter interviews is many of them said by forcing themselves to sit and work on a project for at least 2-3 hours per day, five days a week, at a certain point, their subconscious starts to take over. It's true. Characters and story lines come to life after three or four continuous days of writing. In sports, practice may not make you perfect, but if you stick to that same sort of schedule, your body develops muscle memory.

At work though, how many of us devote 2-3 hours per day to getting better at what we do for a living? I know, I know -- who has time for that. But that's what you need to do if you want to achieve something greater than what you're doing now. Ten thousand hours may seem daunting. The thing is you don't think about the end goal. You focus on the first step... the first words you write... the first putt you attempt like that aspiring golfer. One day at a time.

And then, if you stick with it, maybe you'll get a book or movie deal like that golf guy will be getting for coming up with a great gimmick. Gotta hand it to him -- I wish I thought of doing something like that! But he isn't the first either. Many people have written books or made films based on similar stunts: living according to Bible rules for a year; eating only food from McDonalds; "Paper Lion" and other non-athletes trying to make it in pro sports. Which just goes to show there's nothing new under the sun, as Ecclesiastes said.

Here's the link to the article about "The Dan Plan" golfer. Quite interesting.

Speaking of "borrowed" ideas, there's a blog link that is popping up on a number of writing-related sites called "How To Steal Like An Artist," which is actually pretty good. Click here (fast read, simple visual graphics).

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Please check out our current Career Changers TV show on OC16! I'm somewhat surprised we haven't gotten more orders for Dr. Rob Yonover's life-saving RescueStreamer® and Life/Float devices, which is featured in the program and on our website (click here). I'd appreciate any feedback you have on that. You can also view videos from past shows on our CCTV YouTube Channel. Mahalo for watching!

Support Your Local Hula Halau

April 18th, 2011
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There's a couple of reasons we did a feature segment on Na Kumu Hula Veto Baker and Michael Casupang, which you can see on the current episode of Career Changers TV airing on OC16. The Merrie Monarch Festival is next week, and I think that event really demonstrates the economic importance of preserving Hawaiian culture. Thousands of people will be attending the festival in Hilo and spending money all over the Big Island while visiting. There's also the boost it gives to sales of Hawaiian music, books and videos. But the reality is few can make a full-time living pursuing their passion for hula or Hawaiian music.

The other reason we did the story was personal. My co-producer, Robert "Aukai" Reynolds, is a member of  Veto's and Michael's Halau I Ka Wekiu. They put in hours and hours of practice in preparation for the festival. The halau has also made frequent trips to Japan, where hula continues to be immensely popular. There's even a Japanese movie called Hula Girl, which is supposedly based on the true story of how a group of plucky women put on a hula show to save their little town after the coal mining company announces it's shutting down operations. You can rent it on Netflix (click here for more on the movie). It's a charming film that my wife and I really enjoyed.

Having grown up on the Mainland, I can't say I know much about hula, so I asked Aukai a lot of questions. I learned that his kumu were talented vocalists and musicians as well, who record Hawaiian music under the name of KUmZ (pronounced "kooms") which is what their students affectionately call them. Aukai designed their latest CD cover and sings background vocals on a song he co-wrote with his teachers. Proceeds from sales of the CD goes to the halau. And that was another reason I featured them on the show. If we want Hawaii to continue to be "Hawaii" and not just another tropical resort, it's up to us to support things that perpetuate the Native Hawaiian culture and language, even if we don't fully understand it or appreciate the nuances.

Veto and Michael have devoted their lives to hula and Hawaiian music, as you'll see in our CCTV segment. But they still have regular day jobs in addition to their roles as kumu hula, which is a full-time job in itself. Veto is a mortgage loan officer for American Savings Bank. Michael teaches at Mid-Pacific Institute. The halau has grown from about 50 wahine when they started in 1998 to almost double that number after adding men, kupuna and keiki groups. It's an inspiring tale that deserves to be seen and heard. You can watch the video on our YouTube Channel by clicking here.

For more on their halau and sample clips of their latest CD, please visit their site.

Unsolicited Suggestion to KFVE producers: I wonder if more casual viewers would tune in to watch the Merrie Monarch televised performances if there were captions that translated the chants and movements into English. The dances tell stories. Opera performances have added captions to translate songs for audiences. Why not hula?

You can find daily viewing times and other useful links at www.CareerChangers.TV. Don't forget, you can also watch past and current shows anytime by going to the OC16 interactive on-demand channel (digital channel 96 or high-definition channel 951).

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Deficits and Job Creation

April 14th, 2011
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Remember when you were a kid, and you first heard about the magic of compound interest? The old trick question used to illustrate it was this: "Would you rather have $10,000 per day for 30 days, or a penny that doubled in value every day for 30 days?"

If you took $10k per day you'd wind up with $300,000 at the end of the month. But if you compounded a penny each day,  you'd have $5 million after 30 days. That logic used to be taught by parents and teachers to encourage kids to put away a little each month in savings accounts. However, most people couldn't leave those accumulated savings alone. Sooner or later you'd dip into that account and poof, the magic of compound interest was just another fairy tale.

In its place, arose the wizardry of investing in stocks and real estate. Over time, both have yielded pretty good returns -- provided you used common sense and restraint in what you bought. Somewhere along the way though, the American Dream shoved aside the virtues of patience and thrift. The New American Dream became greed-driven: More, more, more. Faster, faster, faster. Why wait 30 days for $5 million, when you can make that amount in one trade by betting on which way a particular commodity or derivative was going to go?

I'm guilty of it too. For awhile, I worked in the commodities options biz, which is basically legalized gambling. I saw clients who made a hundred, two hundred percent profits in mere hours without lifting a finger. I also saw them lose thousands of dollars too in a single day when the markets turned against them. In the early 90s, I was a real estate agent when local speculators jumped into the market to cash in on the frenzy of Japanese buying, and saw huis forming all over the island to flip properties that hadn't even been built yet.

Back then, nobody said: "Wait a second, we need to put aside money for an emergency. We should be putting a penny a day into investments that will bear fruit over the long haul -- we have to plan ahead, instead of making hasty, rash moves that will wind up costing more down the road." Nobody said it because let's face it, who wants to be a buzz-kill when things seem to be going well?

Now this is where I expect many of you will disagree with me. Republicans and conservatives are acting as if the deficit is something that just happened in the past two years, and if we don't immediately slash and burn everything but "essential" government services, we're doomed. Their solution is to cut programs and stop funding anything that they personally don't like. In other words, lay off more people while preserving tax breaks for wealthy people under the theory that rich folks will stop spending money if their taxes go up. Really? Bush did that for eight years, and there is no proof tax cuts for the rich benefited anyone other than the top two percent, who got even wealthier.

In truth, the pennies that compound daily is the money that goes into the pockets of lower and middle class Americans when they're able to work for decent wages, and have enough to set aside for their future -- the money that will go into buying homes they can afford, and for their children's college education, which will prepare them for careers that will be in demand... not dead-end service jobs that reduce them to being serfs for the affluent class, who have been using financial wizardry to build wealth without really doing much to earn it (other than vote for politicians who protect their interests).

Locally, I've seen too many examples of shortsightedness over the past two decades. I'm sure I'll get flak for this too, but here goes. When I moved here from New York City in 1985, I was surprised that there was no rail system whatsoever in Honolulu. In New Jersey, where I grew up, we had trains. In NYC, I used the subways and trains every day. At first, I thought The Bus was pretty good. But after a couple of months, I realized I had to get a car because it usually took an hour to get anywhere since you couldn't predict traffic on our streets -- and that was before thousands of more cars would be added to the roadways.

Although I was not a big fan of Mayor Fasi, I felt his proposal to build a rail system made a lot of sense. It didn't take a financial expert or engineering genius to figure out that Honolulu's population was going to continue to grow, land values would go up, costs to build more roads/add more bus service would increase, and that the environmental impact of more cars and traffic would eventually take a toll on the quality of life. So why didn't we do it 25 years ago? Because people said it would "cost too much" and it wasn't needed -- at that time. And now, thanks to the magic of negative compounding, all the reasons we should build rail still exist, but at an exponentially higher cost.

The thing is, NOT building it now will only add to the future cost of doing what is inevitable. Every major modern city and country has mass transit systems that include rail of some sort. Had we looked to the future ten, twenty years ago, the only argument we'd be having today is where we should be expanding the system to next. Instead, we're mired in crisis planning, which is based on past mistakes. Yes, rail is "too expensive" -- unless you put it in historical context, and consider the positive impact it will have on creating jobs and pumping money into our stagnant economy.

And yes, we will all have to share in the costs. Listen, I don't like the idea of paying more taxes either. But if we have to raise the GE tax a penny, I'm taking the long view: those are pennies that will be compounded, because they will become dollars that wind up in the wallets of people who are WORKING and building a mass transit system... a system that will be an alternative to being stuck in traffic jams in cars that pollute, while making us hostage to Middle Eastern oil cartels.

The biggest deficit we have in this country -- and our State -- isn't financial. It's the deficit of foresight at every level of the populace.

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Phew. Okay, got that out of my system. For less judgmental stuff, tune into the latest Career Changers TV show on OC16. You can find daily viewing times and other useful links on our website, or watch videos from the program on the CCTV YouTube Channel.