Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Deadlines and Routines

August 6th, 2014
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PROGRAM ALERT: The new August episode of Career Changers TV premieres Thurs., 7:30 PM on channel 12/high def 1012, and will feature the Pacific Aviation Museum -- plus a profile of Burl Burlingame, the former newspaper writer, who is also a book author, musician and now works as curator at the museum. There's also a preview of their upcoming Biggest Little Airshow on Aug. 16 and 17 at Ford Island! For daily viewing times, please visit www.CareerChangers.TV.

In my last blog post, I mentioned I'm a finalist in a national screenwriting competition that required the top 10 entries to complete a new script in about two months. Screenplays for feature movies average around 100 to 120 pages with each page representing about one minute of screen time. So cranking out 10-15 pages per week is pretty doable for most writers. The challenge though is writing good pages that will survive the inevitable edits, cuts, and rewriting that comes with producing a workable script. If you're writing a novel, you can wax poetic, spend time inside your characters' heads, describe locations in detail right down to the blades of grass or hue of the sky. Not so in screenplays, which have to move fast since Hollywood readers often make up their minds on whether they will read the script after just one or two pages. By page 10, many have already decided if it's a "pass" or "consider."

So I was churning out pages the first month, and thought they were pretty good. Except my story coach would pick apart scenes and prod me to develop the characters more in each of our weekly phone sessions, which is what makes this contest a unique experience for aspiring screenwriters. Script consultants like the one I'm working with charge as much as $75 per hour for their feedback (my sessions are free, courtesy of the contest); notes can range from a couple hundred bucks to a thousand or more. There are so many wannabe screenwriters/directors/filmmakers that a cottage industry has developed in L.A. to tap into that market, which generates 30,000 to 40,000 new scripts that are registered with the Writers Guild each year. Of those, less than five percent will even have a remote chance of being seriously looked at by industry players.

And this contest is one way to get to the top of the wannabes heap... if I win, that is. The problem is I was making up much of my new screenplay as I was going along, while dealing with the demands of producing my TV show and other video projects -- all on deadlines too. Then, after taking in what the story coach criticized or suggested, I'd go back and make changes that improved the script but put me behind schedule. My normal routines were thrown out of whack -- which can be a good thing. Sometimes we get stuck in ruts and do only as much as we're used to doing out of habit. We forget how much we're actually capable of accomplishing, unless we're pressed by outside forces.

With just one week left to turn in the first draft, I was at page 55 -- mid-point -- and had to write another 50 pages in seven days. To begin with, I'm not a fast writer by nature. Some of my prior scripts have taken years to complete or even start because I'd be carrying around ideas for a long time before the story kicked in. Also, I tend to procrastinate unless I'm faced with a deadline... which might be related to my early writing career as a news reporter back in New Jersey. Somewhere along the way, I got into a mindset that my normal routine was to do "x" amount of work per day to be finished on "y" to meet deadline "z" -- it's how I chunk out tasks and allot time to multiple projects I'm usually juggling.

But even for me, the prospect of crafting 50 plus script pages -- actually twice that since I know I'll delete half of what I write -- was daunting. Yet exciting too. Some days I woke at 4 AM to start work. My mind would keep writing even when I stopped to eat or watch TV before going to bed. I wasn't sure what direction the story was going in toward the end, and when I was stuck, my subconscious sometimes provided answers through the characters I had created. Somehow, I got the draft done and submitted it with a couple of hours to spare.

However, that was just the first deadline. A week later, I got back detailed notes from another reader/story analyst as part of the contest steps, and now have until Aug. 16 to turn in the final draft that will be possibly read by an A-list screenwriter and top management company in L.A. The notes were spot on and pinpointed story problems that were largely a result of making stuff up on the fly in the mad dash to the finish line for the first draft.

It's amazing how much we can do when we force ourselves to buckle down and deliver the best work we can do on a shorter timetable. Some people thrive on that kind of pressure. Others can't handle the stress of performing on demand. What's funny is when my wife and I are watching reality shows like Project Runway or Top Chef, there are always one or two competitors who seem so fragile and unable to cope with the time constraints, you wonder why they even wanted to be on the show in the first place! It's like that old saying, if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen -- but if you enjoy competing, seek out opportunities that will bring out the best in yourself.

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To see video segments from past and current Career Changers TV episodes, check out the CCTV YouTube Channel -- now at over half a million views worldwide, and climbing!

Waimea Valley Concert and More

July 18th, 2014
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Just a quick post to let folks know that Waimea Valley's scheduled concert for Sat., July 19 from 1 - 5 pm is still on, rain or shine! Sounds like the tropical storm heading our way will not begin to affect Oahu until tomorrow night, so conditions should be okay on the North Shore. Also, they put up tent canopies on the lawn to provide shade on sunny days, so if there are pop-up showers you'll stay dry.

My wife and I went to the June concert that opened this year's summer series, and it was just wonderful -- great line-up (Jerry Santos, Brother Noland, Led Kaapana), beautiful setting, warm vibes from the mostly-local audience. Even the performers got chicken skin and commented on how it touched them to perform in the valley. They also took note of how good the sound system was. That's another thing I loved about the concert: they talk story in between songs, tying the music into their personal stories of growing up in Hawaii,  the changes they've seen in the islands, and their relationships with other local musicians. You can't get that from listening to a CD or iPod.

There are still tickets available for the Saturday concert, which will feature ukulele virtuosos Eddie Kamae, Imua Garza, Kalei Gamiao and Brittni Paiva. For details, visit www.WaimeaValley.net. For the price, you cannot beat this deal -- well, you could go to a freebie concert in Waikiki, but I doubt you'll get very good seats or have the same kind of atmosphere you will find in Waimea. It's truly a special experience and worth a trip to the North Shore.

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One reason I haven't been blogging of late is I'm on deadline for a screenwriting project. It's tough to break into Hollywood, but there are reputable contests that have launched careers for aspiring writers and directors. Maybe you've seen the new Spielberg sci-fi series, EXTANT, which stars Halle Berry. That script was discovered through an online contest. Another movie in the works, THE DISCIPLE PROGRAM  starring Mark Wahlberg, was written by a guy who won the same contest as the EXTANT creator. Well, I'm one of 10 finalists chosen from about a thousand entries in the latest round of that very same contest (details here), which has a unique twist...

In most screenwriting contests, you submit original scripts in their entirety. But the Industry Insider competition takes a premise from an A-list screenwriter and entrants submit the first 15 pages based on that writer's idea. In my case, the logline/story idea was provided by Sheldon Turner, who wrote one of the X-Men movies and UP IN THE AIR, starring George Clooney (Sheldon's script adaptation was nominated for an Oscar). After I was selected as a finalist, they paired me with a story/script "coach" in L.A., who I consult with each week to go over new pages. The process and feedback has really helped me grow as a writer, while improving the script I've been working on. The first draft is due next Friday, so I've been working overtime to meet that deadline. The winner will be flown out to Hollywood for meetings with Sheldon Turner and a top management firm that reps many successful screenwriters.

It's an exciting opportunity for me as a writer. However, trying to juggle that challenge with my other job producing Career Changers TV and side video projects, has been a reminder of an old adage: Be careful what you wish for!

Now I just have to deliver the goods.

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For daily viewing times and info about the July episode of Career Changers TV, please visit our website. You can also see segments from past and current shows on the CCTV YouTube Channel. Have a great weekend!

 

Human Trafficking Videoconference June 25

June 20th, 2014
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Learn how you can help fight human trafficking in Hawaii by attending this statewide videoconference, co-sponsored by the 808HALT coalition through the federal Rescue & Restore Campaign at Pacific Gateway Center and the University of Hawaii School of Social Work.

WHEN: Wednesday, June 25, from 11 AM until noon, followed by discussion until 1 PM.

WHY: Hawaii is a hub for human trafficking because of our geographic location. Children, young women, domestic workers and foreign laborers are flown in from all over the world. Ships and fishing boats may also be carrying exploited workers. Men from impoverished countries are promised good paying jobs on Hawaii farms, then abandoned and left to fend for themselves, while separated from their families for years. In short, human trafficking is modern day slavery.

WHERE: (seating is limited so please RSVP as soon as possible!)

UH Manoa – Kuykendall Hall, Room 204 (seating capacity: 20) is the origination site where the presentation will be held. Below are the receiving sites

UH West Oahu – Library Room B-157 (seating capacity: 30)

Kauai Community College – Learning Resource Center, Room 122 (seating capacity: 20)

UH Maui College – Ka’aike Room 105A (seating capacity: 20)

• UHMC Lahaina Education Center – Room 104 (seating capacity: 12)

UH Hilo – Media Services Room (seating capacity: 20)

For further information about the Hawaii Interactive Television System (HITS) site locations, please visit www.hawaii.edu/dl/location/.

WHO SHOULD ATTEND: anyone who provides services to victims of sex trafficking or forced labor, i.e., social workers, health providers, people in the travel and transportation industry, immigration attorneys, law enforcement. To learn more, go to www.808HALT.com and click on the YouTube link to see videos, which have been translated into different languages.

WHAT WILL BE COVERED: Experts on human trafficking will provide an overview of the problem, tell you how to recognize signs of trafficking, and what you should do if you think someone could be a victim. Real life cases and examples will be used.

Please call Maya at 851-7010 or email maya@pacificgatewaycenter.org to reserve a seat!

 

Chinatown Tour - Part 4

June 10th, 2014
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Erdman cover

Took awhile to get to this final installment of my Chinatown tour series, but hopefully, you'll see how it all comes together. At the end of the Honolulu Exposed Red Light tour in mid-May, my wife wanted to pick up a copy of Hawaii Business magazine because an old friend of ours, Dave Erdman, was featured on the cover as their Small Business Person of the Year (click here for that article). Isabel worked with him in marketing at Tropical Rent A Car, back when I moved here in 1985.

Dave co-founded the Direct Response Advertising & Marketing Association of Hawaii (DRAMAH for short) and that's how I met Isabel -- my future wife. The guy I replaced at Oahu Bindery & Direct Mail had been talking to Dave about starting this direct marketing association, so I stepped in for him (Paul Hilker, who became a minister). Dave roped Isabel into it as well since she was assisting him at Tropical, which spawned a bunch of successful entrepreneurs before that company bit the dust. He went on to create the PacRim Marketing Group, which focused on the Japanese visitor market initially. Dave is fluent in Japanese, even though he came from the Philadelphia area. Isabel wound up starting her own small publishing company, which put out the very successful Japanese Guide to Hawaii (eventually sold to Duane Kurisu, who owns a number of Hawaii publications and businesses -- including Hawaii Business magazine). Another Tropical alumnus, Jeff Hendrix went into advertising, and formed his own award-winning agency (Hendrix Miyasaki Shin, which merged with Core Group One).

It was a fun gang to hang out with, especially since Tropical RAC had great company outer island trips because they had a lot of "trade" with travel-related partners and sponsors. I was meeting with Dave and Isabel regularly to plan our DRAMAH seminars, which brought in internationally-respected direct marketing experts through Dave's connections -- primarily his dad, the late great Ken Erdman, who was one of the best direct mail copywriters in the business. Ken's books, articles and seminar talks taught me just about everything I know in regards to copywriting. Plus, our post-DRAMAH meetings pau hana sessions at bars and business mixers Downtown, led to me getting romantically involved with Isabel. So I hold Dave largely responsible for my marriage, now going on 29 years.

DRAMAH was an important and influential development in the local advertising and marketing scene. You had the major ad agencies, smaller marketing/graphics outfits, a few independent consultants, all vying for limited advertising dollars. Direct marketing represented a major shift in thinking from mass "branding" type saturation ads (mainly print and TV commercials) to targeted data-based approaches that emphasized tailored ads and pitches. DM people really were the first to use computers and build databases that could identify markets by key demographics -- right down to income, education levels, interests and so on. Needless to say, traditional Mad Men type ad agency people were skeptical... even resistant to much of what was espoused in our DRAMAH seminars. Why, you ask?

Well, the core tenet of direct response marketing is called A/B testing. To see what message works best, you create alternate ads and in the old days, mailed out test packages to similar sample groups. For big companies, a small test mailing might be 5,000 out of a mailing list that could have hundreds of thousands of subscribers or product buyers... or donors. Ready, fire, aim. You analyze the results, fine tune, test again, and eventually do a roll-out to the entire list. But for traditional ad agencies that spend the bulk of the client's money on big ad buys in the newspaper or on TV, they really can't afford to produce multiple commercials or print ad campaigns and pass that cost along to the client. Instead, they may rely on smaller focus group testing or just present a couple of options to the client and let them guess which will work best.

Now here's where DM enters the modern age. Remember I mentioned donors lists? The man behind some of those early mailing lists, Richard Viguerie, became a major player in politics -- specifically the Republican Party. They were masters at the targeted message and building databases for fundraising, which gave them a huge edge over Democrats until the Obama campaign brought in people who understood A/B marketing. If you were on the Obama email list, you no doubt received a number of donation requests -- each one maybe slightly different in what the headline or subject line said. That's because with today's powerful database tools, they can do instantaneous testing to see which appeals generate the most response simply by tweaking a few words or images. More and more online advertisers are doing the same. And it all began with direct mail.

Anyhow, we couldn't find a single copy of that Hawaii Business magazine with Dave on the cover in Downtown Honolulu! The only magazine shop on Fort Street Mall that had it in their window was closed for the weekend. Longs didn't have it and it was just mid-month. In Kailua, we couldn't find it in Safeway or Foodland either. We had to drive to Ala Moana and get a copy from the Barnes & Noble bookstore there. When my wife used to publish her Japanese visitor guide, she would often check the street racks in Waikiki to make sure they were being kept in stock by her distribution person -- because that's what the advertisers are paying for.

So the business take-away from this simple walkabout in search of a magazine is that you can have the most sophisticated online computer tools at your disposal for market research and advertising... but if you don't get out of the office and check things with your own eyes and ears, chances are you may miss the real reason your business isn't doing better.

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For daily viewing schedules of the new July episode of Career Changers TV, please visit our website. You can also watch segments from past and current shows on the CCTV YouTube Channel, now approaching 350,000 total views for over 200 pieces we've produced. Contact me directly if you're interested in being a sponsor!

Chinatown Tour, Part 3

June 3rd, 2014
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PROGRAM ALERT: The new June episode of Career Changers TV premieres Thurs., 7:30 PM on OC16 (channel 12/high def 1012) and will feature segments on the Hawaiian Mission Houses, Cemetery Pupu Theater, Kakaako Farmers Market/Coffee Festival, and a positive story about human trafficking victims who are rebuilding their lives in Hawaii. For details and daily viewing times, please visit www.CareerChangers.TV. You can also watch segments from past and present shows on the CCTV YouTube Channel.

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Before I get to the final installment of my rambling, meandering blog trip through Downtown Honolulu's past via the Honolulu Exposed Red Light Tour, I wanted to comment on recent comments the past week or two in regards to present day Chinatown. It seems we have reached a tipping point. The local media, including the Star-Advertiser, have stepped up their coverage of the homeless problem. Mayor Kirk Caldwell has publicly gone on the offensive. Residents and tourists are writing letters to the editor, or posting online responses to news articles and op-ed pieces. All of which is a good start for a call to action.

However,  I need to get some things off my chest... things that probably bug some of you out there. First, let's not quibble over political correctness when referring to homeless people. I had a friend tell me he was shopping in Chinatown, and after being accosted by a homeless woman in front of the store, he mentioned to the sales person inside that the "homeless" person was bothering passersby outside. The clerk became indignant and told him, "She's not homeless -- she's houseless. I used to be one of them!" I'm happy this clerk found a job and got off the streets, but do we really need to get into arguments about what to call them? As a recovering alcoholic, I had to admit I was a drunk who needed help before I could get better. In rehab, addicts and alkys don't sugar-coat who we are by putting nicer labels on ourselves. So let's get real about the problem of poop and piss and stink on our streets, and in our public parks.

Secondly, stop bemoaning the "lack of leadership" by the Mayor. One person can only do so much, especially if they get no help from above -- where's the Governor in all this, or the State Legislature? -- or little support from the Honolulu City Council. They cut the Mayor's funding requests on the grounds that they disagree with specific priorities outlined by Caldwell, and worry there's not enough money in the budget to cover it. Really? Have they figured out the cost of NOT taking action? Have they calculated the loss of tax revenue from businesses that are hurting because residents and visitors alike steer clear of Chinatown or Waikiki because of the swelling homeless population?

We are talking about triage. Stop the bleeding now, do what it takes to show some tangible results as quickly as possible. When a hurricane hits or your house is on fire, you don't stop and say, well, given our current financial projections, let's calculate what we can afford to do to put out the fire or house those who were displaced by the flooding. You provide for the people who are impacted, and deal with the bills later. Nobody is telling the City Council to write a blank check. But they need to get off their butts, and do something NOW instead of dickering around with numbers while people are hurting, and our image as a world-famous visitor destination continues to suffer.

Lastly, no one owns the moral high ground on this. There are a lot of well-meaning folks who write letters and post blog comments that lambaste anyone who suggests some of the homeless are just lazy bums, drunks or drug addicts, or insolent rule-breakers who refuse to cooperate with authorities. The truth is many are homeless due to unfortunate circumstances. And many get there by making bad choices. God knows, had it not been for my company's health insurance plan, I might not have gotten into rehab and I could have wound up on the streets myself. I also know there are many people who are barely making ends meet, and are one or two paychecks away (or a single medical emergency) from facing the prospects of losing their home... so if they show little patience for those who put the blame on the high cost of housing in Hawaii, cut them some slack. We're all in that same boat.

It reminds me of a book I have mentioned before called "How To Be Good" by Nick Hornby. It's about decent people who begin to question just how "good" they really are as Christians and liberal-minded progressive types. The husband, who had been a cynical, cranky newspaper columnist, meets a New Age guru of sorts, and has an epiphany: instead of merely talking the talk, why don't they walk the walk and take in the homeless? Instead of being hypocrites, who look the other way and ignore the problem, why not share your house with these poor, down-on-their-luck souls? Maybe that's all they need -- a helping hand and support from caring people like yourself. Of course, his experiment in social engineering doesn't quite pan out as planned because the homeless have a myriad of issues, just as each and every one of us do.

So ask yourself, how far would you go to help the homeless? Online petitions, Facebook/Twitter reposts, letters to the editor, a donation here or there... nothing wrong with any of that. But unless you're literally willing to open your own home to the homeless, I'd say most of us fall far short of being the models of enlightened civility we like to imagine ourselves to be. At least, I know I do.