Innovating Through Artistry

Archive for the ‘Author: Gwydhar Bratton’ Category

Smiling as Loudly as We Can

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on November 14, 2009 at 2:50 am

“Don’t worry if you don’t hear the audience laughing during dress rehearsal. They’re old. They’re smiling as loudly as they can.”

-Tim Frawley,Theatre Director, Libertyville High School

The high school I attended had an ongoing tradition of inviting elderly citizens from the community to come see dress rehearsals so that they didn’t have to pay full price for tickets on performance nights. The laughter and applause of an elderly audience was never as loud or as enthusiastic as an audience full of our families and peers, but at least the house was full. As students and as artists, it was very easy to feel doubtful. Here we were in dress rehearsal on the verge of a production that we’d worked very hard on in front of an audience and the first time. We were projecting ourselves out into a darkened auditorium and hoping for some kind of response. We had no way of knowing whether all our hard work resulted in something we could be proud of unless we could hear the audience laugh at the jokes. And sometimes we didn’t even get that satisfaction.

In such unforgiving economic times it is easy to feel that dress-rehearsal doubt. We cross our fingers and tell ourselves to “break a leg” because we don’t even want to risk frightening away good luck. When we take risks, whether as an artist or as an entrepreneur, we put ourselves out on stage under bright lights staring out into a vast darkened empty space with no way of knowing whether anyone is watching. We have no way of knowing whether we are succeeding or failing except by the responses that we get from other people. And like in theatre, sometimes that response never comes.

If we’re wise, we carry on even in the face of apparent apathy. At times like this, when the auditorium in which we perform seems to be dark and empty and vast we may not be able to see our audience but we need to remember they are there. The audience is seeing us because we are there to be seen. And they are smiling as loudly as they can.

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How Much is Too Much?

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton on November 7, 2009 at 4:10 am

I got into an argument yesterday with one of my fellow Blue Damen team members about how many projects we should be scheduling for next year. We didn’t really resolve things straight out,  but it did get me thinking about where the line is between doing enough and doing too much.

The first part of this argument is where do you draw the line between projects from your personal life vs projects from your professional life? For instance, this coming year I will be planning a wedding. A wedding is a Big Deal that will take up a lot of time and resources. In fact producing a film and producing a wedding involve largely the same resources and the same kind of time commitment. The only difference is that a wedding is a personal project while a film is a professional project.

The problem is time. As C.S. Lewis says:  ” The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is. ”  There is only so much time in the day and only so many days in a year. Do I choose to commit that time to a personal project or to a professional one? If I choose to only work on a personal project such as a wedding I lose my professional momentum from having films in production or in the festival circuit. On the other hand, if I commit myself entirely to a film and neglect my personal life then who am I but a sum of my work?

Is it really too much to ask to have both? Are personal projects and professional projects mutually exclusive? At what point do you begin to sacrifice one for the other?  I don’t have answers for these questions. I would like to think that the line between professional and personal is not as distinct as we like to think that it is. I would like to think that my profession is part of who I am personally, not just something that I do during the 9 to 5. I would like to believe that my personal life is equally important to my professional work as the films I produce.

So how much is too much? To work in a creative industry is to reach deep down inside your personal self and to develop something expressive and innovative and sincere through hard work and collaboration.  To separate the personal from the professional is what makes work overwhelming.

A Rose and A Thorn

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Risk on October 26, 2009 at 9:00 am

Karma. Murphy’s Law. Tommyluck. There are lots of names for the concept of “When god closes the door he opens a window”. I’ve been experiencing this first hand this week and it has reminded me that no success can be earned without struggle.

The good news is, that Blue Damen Pictures’ film “The Visionary” recently won Best Experimental Short film at the Illinois International Film Festival! We couldn’t be more proud and are delighted to receive this recognition. I like to consider this my rose for the week- something special and rare and difficult to cultivate without investing a lot of work.

But like all gardeners know, you don’t get lovely roses without suffering some thorns and this week has been full of those as well. On Monday my apartment was broken into while I was at my day job, but nothing seemed to be stolen so while it was disruptive it wasn’t the end of the world. On Thursday, however, my apartment was broken into again and my computer, filmmaking tools, and emergency cash was taken. I’m trying very hard to avoid thinking that this was something personal- after all, it wasn’t ME they were after, just my stuff. On the other hand, they were very selective about what they took, and what they took were all my filmmaking tools, and it is hard to not take it personally when someone very carefully and specifically takes away the tools of your trade.

But this story does have a happy ending: everything was insured, after all, so now it’s just a matter of replacing the lost items with new and better ones. I was also able to save my data on an external hard drive which I had taken off the computer and taken into the office with me the day after the initial break in. So while I’ve lost my tools I haven’t lost my footage or the cuts of my previous two films or all of my archived artwork. I have never been so glad for my insurance until now. I have never been so grateful for all the tedious hours of backing up my work on a separate drive until now. My work has been disrupted but it hasn’t been stopped and while the thieves may have only been looking for a good score they have given me something much more valuable without even realizing it: the assurance that I am prepared even for this and the increased drive to now finish the work that was interrupted.

So the moral of the story is: pay for insurance even if it seems stupid because when you need it you’ll be glad you have it, and ALWAYS back up your work and records especially if they are digital. You may lose some of your work, but better to lose some of it than to lose all of it. Lastly, remember that roadblocks are a pain in the butt, but they will make your work better in the end, so don’t take them personally, just accept them and turn them into stepping stones and keep soldiering on.

Signs and Change

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Emotional Intelligence on October 16, 2009 at 9:00 am

The other day, in a bad mood, I went for a walk and asked the universe for a sign. I didn’t really have a particular sign in mind. I didn’t even have a question in mind that I needed an answer for. I just needed to know that there was something bigger than myself at work in the world that I could have faith in.

When it comes to signs, in the absence of religion any statistical improbability will do. On an empty street near a parked car I found eleven dollars on the ground- a $10 wrapped around a $1 and I took it to mean that the universe was listening. Being rather literal minded I took it to mean that what I was really looking for was change and that when I was ready for that change it would become available.

I decided that since I had gotten the sign that I had asked for (and since I hadn’t really asked for money) that it wouldn’t be right to keep the cash. I decided I would give the $11 to the next person to ask me for change, which turned out to be one of the ladies that I work with who was promoting a fundraising drive for the Off The Street Club to help get youths off the street in Garfield Park. For a low, low donation of just $10 I could get a kid Off The Streets. It just so happened that I had $10.

I gave them $11- I hope they didn’t mind.

Chicago Dramatists- Branching Out

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, Theater/Film, Writing on October 2, 2009 at 9:33 am

If you’ve always wanted to try screenwriting but never felt like you knew where to start, now is your opportunity! The Chicago Dramatists, an organization that supports playwrights and their creative process, is now offering a course on screenwriting. The listing for the course reads something like this:

SCREENWRITING FUNDAMENTALS – The Art & Science of the Screenplay

Like any medium, screenwriting has its own rhythm and flow, challenges and rewards. This course is designed for beginning-to-intermediate writers to learn the art and science of writing cinematically. Topics covered will include Structure, Character, Plot, Dialogue, Genre-Busting, The Genius of Rewriting, Formatting the Page, The Cost of Marketing, Math vs. Jazz, Studio vs. Indie, Contracts, and How to Be a Professional. Class time will entail lecture, discussion, DVD examples, and in-class writing projects. And because screenwriting is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, there will be one-on-one time geared for your particular project.

Piqued your interest? Just think of the possibilities! I hear through the grapevine that this course still has a few slots available, but they won’t last long. After all, Chicago is home to one of the largest film schools in the world, which means that every year more and more filmmakers are emerging in search of high quality scripts to produce and yours could be one of them.

In fact, while I’m at it I might as well mention that Blue Damen Pictures is going to be seeking a writer to help us put together a script for a 10 minute short film that we have a concept for. We are working on a series of short films called “The Insomniac Chronicles” that will eventually be put together to create a feature length film. The award winning short “The Visionary” (which just screened at Elgin Film Festival) is the first film that we produced in this series but we hope to do many more.

So get your pencils ready and jump in to the exciting world of screenwriting! For more information about the Chicago Dramatists course you can visit their website at: http://www.chicagodramatists.org/home/index.html

Don’t Walk, Run

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Current Events on September 29, 2009 at 1:52 am
 The Elgin Film Festival Trophy- Made by the same company that makes the Academy Awards.

The Elgin Film Festival Trophy- Made by the same company that makes the Academy Awards.

This past Saturday was the first annual Elgin Film Festival, and if you were unable to attend this year I recommend that you mark your calendars RIGHT NOW for next year because this is the film festival to attend.

When I decided, at the age of 12, that I wanted to be a filmmaker I was especially taken with the photographs in magazines of the gala film premiers with lots of glamourous celebrities and bright lights. Even when I learned the reality- that independent filmmaking is a lot of tedious paperwork and a collossal effort balanced on a dental floss budget- there was still some nugget of hope that if I stuck with it I would someday have the opportunity to stand in the bright lights and to make all of it worthwhile. This past Saturday I had that opportunity.

The first annual Elgin Film Festival, hosted by film critic Dean Richards of WGN was a little bit of Hollywood glitz right here in the midwest. The judges and the filmmakers of the five short films that had been chosen as finalists all arrived on a red carpet (my very first time doing so!) and were ushered into the Hemmens Cultural Center with great fanfare. The Hemmens Auditorium is a vast theatre space designed for large crowds and quickly filled up with over 800 guests, which alone was a thrill. To put this in persepective, the second largest audience we’ve ever screened any film for was a total of 75 people. The five short films that screened were:

“The Visionary”
“Crossing The Line”
“The Erogenous Zone”
“House of Cards”
“The Booby Trap”

All of these were excellent- at one point during the screening my Associate Producer leaned over to me and whispered “We have some real competition here!” and we did. “The Visionary” placed third out of the five after “Crossing the Line” (second) and “House of Cards” (first), but I found that I didn’t mind so much that we hadn’t taken first. It was an honor to be among such quality films to begin with and I felt that we held our ground and could stand tall with what we had done.

But the point I would like to make over all is that while every festival that we screen a film at is important to us THIS festival will stand out for months, maybe years to come as being something special. The feeling of having the film screened before an audience of hundreds reminded me why I wanted to do this in the first place and, even if it was just for one evening in Elgin, Illinois, we all genuinely felt like celebrities- like our work was worth celebrating and was being celebrated.

So next year when the time comes, don’t walk, Run! to the Elgin Film Festival and let it remind you too of the reason that you do what you do.

United We… Watch Movies

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Current Events on September 18, 2009 at 3:57 am

September is the month for film festivals, it seems, this year and I could not be more thrilled. Last weekend was the Chicago REEL Shorts film festival which was a hoot and my only regret was not being able to stay longer to see what other work they selected. “The Visionary” screened in a block with eight or nine other films and I’m pleased to say that it’s quality stood up well next to the group and that every film in the group was well put together.

Saturday September 19th
Sadly, the screening that we had scheduled for Friday the 11th, along with the play “Ekphrasis” didn’t go quite as well. With not enough audience members to fill the theatre we called off the show rather than perform to empty seats and rescheduled for this coming Saturday instead. Good news if you wanted to be in on the two-for-one goodness of our double feature!
Saturday September 19th at 7:15 PM at the Via Duct Theatre is going to be the place to go! And, I found out to my amusement, both the film and the play will be followed by a burlesque show on the same evening. In a strange twist of fate one of my friends is even performing in this show and I have been dying for a chance to see her work so I’m going to be making an evening of it!

Sunday September 20th
The film festival fun continues on Sunday with the Chicago United Film Festival at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. I’m excited to say that “The Visionary” has been selected to screen with the feature film “Bleacher Boys” which, I believe, is about baseball. The thing that I always enjoy about film festivals is that it is such an easy way to see films that don’t play in commercial theatres. With a day pass, all you have to do is sit in a cushy seat with a box of popcorn as dozens of films play one after another. And you can see shorts. I love shorts films- they’re about the right length for my attention span- and you NEVER see short films in a normal movie theatre unless you’re watching a Pixar movie (Go Pixar!).

Friday September 25, 2009
Ok here’s a plug for a film festival that I’m not even screening my film at: Chicago Horror Film Festival on September 25-27th at the Portage Theatre on the north side. Svengoolie’s going to be there! I haven’t done anything in the Horror Genre yet (I put that in caps because Horror Is Where The Money Is At when it comes to independent film) but I met scream queen Brooke Lewis earlier this year while promoting our last film “Persephone” out in Las Vegas. She promised to get in touch when she was next in Chicago and she was as good as her word and dropped me an email to let me know that her film “iMurders” was going to be screening on Friday. I’m very excited to see it. Horror films are so exciting because, if they’re good, they force you to have a real-life emotional response. And after all, isn’t that what we really want out of a movie? To really feel something while we’re watching it?

Saturday September 26, 2009
Little Gwydhar’s Very First Red Carpet!
Just this past week I learned that “The Visionary” had been accepted to the Elgin Film Festival and was selected as one of their 5 finalists. I then found out that the 5 finalist filmmakers all get to make a grand red carpet entrance at the beginning of the festival which starts at 6:30 PM (This festival is only one evening- don’t miss it if you can help it!) To me this is thrilling, I mean, even if it’s a red welcome mat I’ll probably be happy. As an aspiring filmmaker who has mostly come to terms with the fact that independent film garners about as much fame and fortune as working the drive thru it is little moments like these that make it just so cool. I’m doubly excited by this particular festival because it features (ahem) cash prizes. If we win, I’ll be able to pay the good folks who helped make it possible, and really what could be more exciting than that?

Luckily for me, we run out of September before we run out of film festivals. I know lives are busy and times are tight right now, but if you have a chance to come out to any of these events and check them out please be sure to give me a wave and say “Hi” so I can express my gratitude for you coming out. When everything else has dried up we turn to the fountain of our dreams to refresh us.

A Visionary at The Sideshow

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Current Events, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on September 4, 2009 at 12:16 am

Save this date:

Friday, September 11, 2009, 7:15 pm

You’ll be glad that you did and here’s why: Back when I was studying theatre in college we used to say “If you want to be famous then go to New York, but if you want to work, go to Chicago”. Chicago is home to dozens of boutique theatre companies that you may never have heard of, but if you haven’t heard of the Sideshow Theatre Company you’re truly missing out. Their motto says it best: “Familiar Stories. Unorthodox Methods. Perpetually Curious”, but their work really proves the point. Their current show “Ekphrasis: Cave Walls to Soup Cans” is a wonderfully creative and slightly condensed journey through the history of western art, on a mission to understand exactly where it comes from and what drives our desire to create.

Ekphrasis-poster-web

This show is a hoot, and it’s not too late to still see it. Running through September 20th there are still a number of performances available but if you need a little something extra for incentive to make the trip all the way into the city then you’ll want to come out on Friday September 11th, at 7:15 when the Sideshow Theatre company and Blue Damen Pictures will be doing a special double feature of “Ekphrasis” (the play) and “The Visionary” (the film).

This sounds like a pretty good deal but it gets better: tickets for “Ekphrasis” are normally $15 each and can be purchased in advance at http://www.ekphrasisplay.com/index2.html. On September 11th, not only will you get two shows for the price of one you can ALSO get a discount if you are part of the theatre or film industry by bringing two copies of your resume to the screening itself.

So remember:

“Ekphrasis: Cave Walls to Soup Cans” and “The Visionary”

Friday, September 11, 2009 7:15 PM

Viaduct Theatre 3111 N Western Avenue, Chicago, IL

Admission: $15

A REEL Short Post

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Current Events on August 29, 2009 at 5:09 am

Greetings Friends and Neighbors,

Sometimes it’s fun to have a blog to just be able to share some good news and today I’m pleased to announce that Blue Damen Pictures is honored to be presenting our newest film “The Visionary” at the Chicago REEL Short Film Festival.

September 10-13, 2009 at College Row Cinema, Chicago, IL

We submitted our previous short film “Persephone” to Chicago REEL Short Film Festival two years ago  but we weren’t selected at the time so it is very exciting to be a part of this year’s festivities.

If you haven’t heard of Chicago REEL Short Film Festival before now, this is your chance to get in on the action. About one hundred short films will be screened in three days. Now THAT is entertainment that should satisfly even the shortest attention span and it’s only $20 for a weekend pass ($7 for an event ticket) which, these days, isn’t much more than a normal commercial movie ticket except you’re getting a whole weekend’s entertainment out of it!

For more information on the festival you can visit www.projectchicago.com.

For more information on the film “The Visionary” you can visit www.bluedamen.com

Putting the Pro in Procrastination

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton on August 22, 2009 at 6:35 pm

Step 1. Make a to do list

Break big projects into little tasks and include some dumb items like “clear off work space” and “gather materials” so that you have some things that you can be sure to accomplish in one day. The point of this step is to show exactly what needs to be done and to give a sense of how much progress is made along the way.

Step 2. Set a time limit.

On bigger tasks that are going to take up several hours, rather than trying to do it all at once and losing focus, set a time limit for how long you will work on it. An hour is a good measure- long enough to accomplish something but not so long that you’ll pass out from hunger. The point of this step is to give yourself a goal unrelated to the project to help slog through the times when you feel like you’re not making much progress.

Step 3. Get started right now.

Not after dinner, not after a TV show, not once the sun goes down. Get started right now. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. It isn’t hard, you just have to do it. Be like Nike: Just do it.

Step 4. Don’t move your butt from your seat until time is up.

If you’re prone to procrastinating you’ll start work and begin to feel hungry. Or sleepy. Or like it is really important to alphabetize those DVD’s. That’s fine. The best way to fight the urge to procrastinate is to put it off. You can have a snack in an hour- you won’t die of hunger. You can take a nap when the clock says 6:00- you can stay awake that long. You can alphabetize those DVD’s fifteen minutes from now when you’re done working. (Be sure to go to the bathroom before getting started.) The point of this step is to keep the urge to procrastinate from becoming overwealming. Just like dieting; the more you tell yourself to avoid donuts the more you want one, but if you tell yourself you can have a donut in 15 minutes you can usually wait that long.

Step 5. When time is up, set a time limit for how long your break will be.

Ok you’ve worked for an hour. You deserve a break and you should take one- but figure out how long it is going to be and stick with it. 15 minutes for a snack? 20 minutes for a power nap? A quick half hour television show? Fine. Set a timer and put it WAAAAAY across the room so that you have to get up to turn it off. And while you’re up, now is the time to get back to your To Do list.

Step 6. Take a break.

All work and no play make everyone want to procrastinate. Take a break and don’t fill it up with work. In fact, put “take a break” on your to do list so you can cross it off. Getting away from the work helps you feel refreshed when you get back to it. The point of this step is to give in a little bit to those urges that otherwise cause you to procrastinate: eating/sleeping/relaxing.

Repeat as necessary.

Would You Eat A Pigeon?

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton on July 24, 2009 at 10:27 am

I was taking a tour in Scotland back in my traveling days and the tour guide in Edinburgh pointed out  a series of openings near the peak of a roof on one of the older buildings in the city.

“Do you know what those are for?” She asked everyone in general. No one did.

“Openings were built into the houses so that pigeons would come and nest in the rafters.” She explained. “If times were hard and there wasn’t much food, there was a ready supply of pigeons to be had.”

Meat that comes from a pigeon is called squab. If you’re like me, then “mmm, lunch,” is not the first thing to come to mind relating to the common pigeon, but I did have to admire the resourcefulness of those Scottish architects to consider the possibility of hard times when they were designing their buildings. When I think about eating a pigeon (alias: rat-with-wings) I have trouble trying not to turn my nose up at the very idea. It is as if eating a pigeon is “below” me, and while I may never be faced with the kind of hunger that would make squab look like a tasty dish it does make me wonder how many other things I consider “below” me that I might be missing out on.

No matter what you’re goals are in life, success is the result of turning resources into accomplishments. Doesn’t it make sense that the more resources that are at your disposal the more opportunities you will have to accomplish something that you hoped to? Thinking about squab made me start to think that maybe there were resources at my disposal that were right under my turned-up nose that I wasn’t taking into account and that maybe it wouldn’t hurt my pride too much to have a roost in the attic in case I needed it.

Paradigm’s Shifted While You Wait

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on July 14, 2009 at 11:11 pm

There’s a saying that many people are familiar with that goes: “A rolling stone gathers no moss”. It is understood to mean that constant activity will prevent you from stagnating in life.

There’s a saying that many people are familiar with that goes: “A rolling stone gathers no moss”. It is understood to mean that constant activity will prevent you from acquiring the important little things that need time to accumulate and patience to cultivate.

To roll, or not to roll. That is the question.

Box? What Box?

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Employees on June 27, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Allow me to play the devils advocate for a moment and ask “What’s wrong with thinking inside the box”? It’s dull, certainly, and not very rewarding, and usually quite a tedious process, but other than that, what is the harm? When did “thinking inside the box” become such a social stigma? When did it become something to scorn and malign instead of something to build upon? It occured to me today, as I was trying to describe what qualities I found most valuable when I was looking to hire someone, that the qualities I prize the most highly in someone that I plan to work with are very much “inside the box” qualities. They are as follows: – Show up. (On time). -Meet your deadlines. – Don’t complain too much in between. They sound obvious because they are. They are quintessential “inside the box” qualities that require no skill or special training to achieve. They are dull, tedious, and unrewarding to the extreme; surely they are worthy of our scorn and ridicule? Or are they? I happen to think that these are invaluable qualities, whether they’re boring or not. In fact I might even go so far as to say that the ability to show up, to get things done, and to do it with a pleasant disposition are the key elements to success. Showing Up Don’t you hate it when you’re sitting at home minding your own business and someone knocks at the door and offers you a job with full benefits and a nice plump starting salary with flexible hours and a company car and a generous annual bonus? What’s that you say? You say this has never happened to you? Oh, right. This is reality. The expression “opportunity knocking” I think is very misleading. Opportunity never knocks. It walks in without asking and if no one is around when it gets there then it walks out again. Showing up may sound like a stupid piece of advice, but sometimes that’s all it takes. It is the easiest way to get noticed. For example, I was casting a short film a few years ago and a gentleman showed up for the audition. Since the film was silent, and since he was a voice actor, he decided that it probably wasn’t the right role for him but he left a headshot and resume and I added him to my mailing list. Several weeks later we had a fundraising event and I sent out email announcements to my mailing list. He came to the event and reintroduced himself and I was very pleased and impressed that he had chosen to take the time to come all the way out for an event to fund a film that he wasn’t even a part of. When it came time to cast our second film I made sure to send him an email to invite him to the audition and when it came down to the final three actors and I was trying to decide between them I said to myself: “These three actors are all very talented, but I know that THIS one will show up.” And that was the deciding factor. Meet Your Deadlines Henry Ford invented the assembly line to speed up the manufacturing process; a team of individuals each with a specific task that needed to be completed before the item being built could pass to the next person. One worker would tighten a bolt, the next would pull a lever, the next would add a spring and so on until a Model T rolled off at the far end. Now imagine if the first worker didn’t tighten his bolt. The next worker couldn’t pull his lever, the fellow after him couldn’t add his spring, and no cars would roll off the end of the line. The entire team would be held up waiting for one person to do their damn job, and in the end nothing would be accomplished. This is an exaggeration of the importance of deadlines but only a small one. Filmmaking is, like many activities, a team effort. It takes an incredible amount of effort to get a production rolling and only one small grain of sand in the works to bring it to a standstill. If a costumer doesn’t have a costume ready in time then the actors, the cameraman, the gaffer (that’s the lighting guy), the director, the sound engineer and so on all have to wait for it to be finished and production grinds to a halt. I’m unfairly picking on costumers here, but really it could be any member of the team holding up production; an actor without lines memorized, a sound engineer without the proper equipment, the cameraman with dirty lenses, etc. The point is, if you’re part of a team (and we all are, in some way or another) other people depend on you to get your work DONE before they can do their part. I’ve worked with some people who were innovative, creative, masterful, geniuses in their field, but who couldn’t get a single thing finished in time. I always think twice about working with them a second time- is the quality of their work worth the time and expense of having to wait for them to finish it? Sadly, the answer is often “no”. I’d rather have a functional Model T roll off the end of the line than to hire a virtuoso bolt-tightener who is going to hold up the line. Don’t Complain Too Much There are two schools of thought on this: One is “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” and the other is “The squeaky wheel gets replaced”. At times, it is appropriate to bellyache a little bit about any job. The hours are long. The pay is bad. The expectations are unreasonable. I worked one summer in a Summerstock repertory theatre in the costume department. Summerstock theatre is incredibly intensive. We would work twelve hour days, in the basement of a theatre, six days a week, for three weeks until the main show went up. I would see the sun for 15 minutes in the morning and for a few minutes at lunch and dinner breaks. Complaining was something we all did exceptionally well and with great abundance to blow off steam and to comiserate. The point is that even though we whined a lot, we still did the work and put in the hours. Complaining is natural when things suck, but when complaining becomes more important than getting the work done it becomes a problem. I intensely dislike working with the kind of person who complains about the work they have while doing nothing. It takes a supreme effort to motivate them to do anything which invariably leads to the rest of the team needing to do more work to compensate. The more the rest of the team has to work the more dissatisfied they get and the less they want to work and the more motivation it takes to get them going. Give me someone who will work in spite of their complaints any day. So maybe the point of all this is that we should think of The Box as a toolbox, instead of as a trap. The tools we keep in it are pretty basic: a hammer, a screwdriver, a tape measure, etc but we wouldn’t try to build our dream house without them. Why would we try to build our dream job without basic tools like showing up, meeting deadlines, and not complaining too much? And who knows, The Box could be handy as a step ladder for reaching those lofty goals or as an ballast when we need to steady ourselves in troubled economic tides. Maybe The Box iteslf is our most important tool whether we’re thinking inside it or thinking outside of it.

How To Not Get Screwed

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Money on June 14, 2009 at 2:44 am

A few days ago, one of the artists that I work with sent me a link to this video:

You know those tingles that you get when you realize something is true and you wish that it weren’t? I was getting those. By day I work as a sales rep for a commercial art studio called Steven Edsey and Sons and I have heard every single one of  these lines. It’s just part of the job. Sadly it has been especially prevalent lately with budgets being so tight. Everyone is looking for work- at any price- and the people handing out the jobs know it. There is always the veiled (and sometimes not-so-veiled) threat of “if you won’t do it for this price then I’m sure there are dozens of other artists who will” that hovers in the back of every negotiation like an optomist at a pity party. Invariably I find myself caught between a rock and a hard place: do I take the job because any work is good work? Or do I stand my ground and protect the interests of the artists I work for. Here is what I’ve learned to do:

*  *  *

The Line: “We need [filet mignon] done but we only have [taco hut] budget.

Money is tight all around- and there is no shame in working with a budget. This is one of those “work is work” situations where you don’t want to say no outright but you’re not sure it’ll be worth the trouble. Never say “No” straight out. Even if you’re not sure you want to take the job, make an effort to work something out. Find out what their budget is and quote them a price slightly higher than it. They won’t always go for it, but if they do, it’s a good sign that they want to work with you enough that they’re willing to meet you in the middle. Defer them (but not too long) and check your schedule. If there is nothing else going on then I tend to err on the side of taking the work. Sometimes you’re doing them a favor and they’ll remember it and come back- but we’ll get to that later.

The Response: “Let me see if [the artist] is willing to work for that.” (Or alternatively) “Let me see what you are looking for and I will let you know if I can accomodate you in my schedule.”

*  *  *

The Line: “But it only took [the artist] fifteen minutes to do”

I love this line: it says “well if time is money and you didn’t spend much time, then I don’t owe you much money”. Patently untrue and here is why: a professional artist can make artwork in a short amount of time because they spent YEARS practicing. Professionals are professionals because they work well and more importantly work well with a deadline.

The Response: “It took 15 minutes to do, but 15 years to be able to do it that quickly”

*  *  *

The Line: “We don’t have much money for this project but we’ll send you more work down the line.”

It’s easy to buy the present at the expense of the future so I usually take this line with a heaping helping of salt. If this is coming from someone who has called regularly in the past, or someone who I’ve worked with on a job with a decent budget in the past then I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. If you give them a deal and you’ve never worked with them before then be sure to tell them that it is a special rate because of their budget, and be sure to tell them what the normal rate would be. Don’t let them go away thinking they can always get your work for that price.

The Response: “Well since you’re on a tight budget we can give you a special rate this time of [$$], but our normal rate is usually [$$$$].

*  *  *

Final Thoughts:

If you decide that you can’t take the job because there isn’t enough money to make it worth your while, then quote your lowest price and stick with it with the line: “I’m sorry, I really don’t think I could deliver quality work for less than [$$$].” It’s a polite way to stand your ground. I’ve worked with people who have cut me deals and still stood their ground and I respect them for it. I can’t always afford to hire them, but I always know that if I had the money it would be well spent.

If they don’t pay their bills, be persistent. I had a client wait over a year to pay for some artwork that we did and we sent them a notice every week. Be a polite pest. Sooner or later they’ll pay you to make you go away. This also works if you’re trying to get a settlement from an insurance claim. (Trust me I know).

Creativity is a difficult thing to put a price on, but don’t be afraid to ask for what you think your work is worth and to expect to be paid for it. You wouldn’t expect to get a filet, a hairstyle, or a video for less than it was worth, would you? Creativity is your product and if your product is good then people will pay for it.

You’ll Never Work In This Town Again

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Outside Your Comfort Zone, Risk on May 30, 2009 at 9:29 am

I was thinking about failure not too long ago. This is something that I do with a fair amount of regularity considering that I am an independent filmmaker during a recession. It occurred to me that failure should probably be on that list along with death and taxes as one of life’s inevitabilities. But if failure is inevitable, then why have I not embraced it? Why do I not fail with the same gung-ho commitment that I embrace success with?

Don’t answer that.

There are times when I wonder if I’ve failed enough to be a success. Edison invented how many lightbulbs before getting one that worked? “Harry Potter” was rejected from how many publishers? The Beatles had how many doors slammed in their faces? No one has ever told me “You’ll never work in this town again!” and sometimes deep down I wonder whether its because I’m not trying hard enough. Because no one makes a threat like that against mediocrity. Mediocrity inspires form letters and apathy.  Then I remember that in order to fail with such you have to have courage, commitment, and a belief that you are doing the right thing. It sounds easy, but it’s not. The only way to get these things is to sacrifice something else for them.

For Example: Last year I was collaborating with a guy I’ll call Jeremy that I met through Craigslist. I’ve met a lot of good people through Craigslist and I thought Jeremy was one of them. We got along great except that Jeremy always had to be in control. When we tried to mount a joint project he insisted that I do everything His way. In a rare moment of creative integrity (this is that “Courage” I was talking about) I took a stand. Things went downhill from there.

Jeremy felt, I think, affronted that I didn’t agree with him about how the film should be presented and that I had made my disagreement generally known rather than just saying something to him directly. I took a few anxious, sleepless days to consider whether I had been wrong. I didn’t think that I was. (Belief that what you’re doing is right). It began as a creative dispute but by the end it was all about power. The longer I stood my ground (Commitment) the more Jeremy tried to exert his dominance. The project fell apart, obviously and regrettably. We parted ways and I found a new collaborator and a new project and Jeremy moved west and by all accounts, is doing well.

In retrospect I feel bad that it ended the way it did. There’s always a price to pay. Our project was sacrificed over our respective beliefs; my belief that my opinions were just as valid as his and his belief that he knew best. The price of the courage to stand my ground came at the expense of our comeraderie. Because I committed to my position I lost Jeremy’s good opinion of me. It is very difficult for me to know that someone has a poor opinion of me. For one thing, it is a very small world, and frankly we all need as much help as we can get. But on the other hand there comes a point where you can have someone else think poorly of you or you can think poorly of yourself. You can fail, or you can be a failure.

To fail is a very personal and selfish thing. Inevitably it occurs when you look inward and are forced to choose between what you believe in absolutely and what you want out of life. One of them always gets sacrificed and it always hurts. But you know you’ve failed successfully when you know that if you were given the chance to do it over again that you would do the same thing.

Is Creativity Really The Answer?

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Entrepreneurial Evolution, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, The Idea on May 16, 2009 at 1:35 pm

As much as I hate to admit it, I am not convinced that Creativity is The Answer. This is heresy, I know, but when you get right down to it just how useful is creativity anyway? Creativity is like gunpowder; incredibly powerful- and dangerous- stuff, but largely  useless without a structure to contain it, a system to measure it, and a culture that respects it.

Structure

I didn’t learn me no grammar in grammar school. There was a movement during my grammar school years in which creativity was emphasized over structure.  In essence, we were taught that it was more important for us to write creatively than it was for us to write well. I didn’t know what a participle was until high school when I elected to take college grammar. It wasn’t the most boring, tedious, mind-numbing class on the electives list and the books we used were so old they were out of print. (When the class was over we had the option to buy them. I did.) Of all the classes I took in high school, College Grammar was, without a exception, the most valuable.  I have always enjoyed creative writing but it wasn’t until I took a grammar class that I learned how much my writing sucked. No one cares what you have to say if you can’t structure a proper sentence. Creativity is all about content, but content needs to be contained. The rarest and most exquisitely complex wine in the world is useless without a glass.

Measurement

In the real world what we really care about is how much we produce, not how creatively we produce it. When it gets right down to it we care more about quantity than quality. Given $100 for food we’d rather eat three square meals a day of boring cafeteria food than eat one five star meal once a month. As a natural extension of this we measure our success by our productivity. We ask “what have I done with my life” much more than we ask “did I do it well”. What does Creativity produce? In itself, not much. Can we quantify it? Not really. How do we prove that Creativity is useful if we can’t quantify its usefulness? Creativity is useful when we apply it to how we work; a creative workspace can make a job easier, faster, or more pleasant  even though the product remains unchanged. A prime example is the assembly line: the model T that was produced on an assembly line was no different from the model T produced  by hand except that now it could be produced faster, more easily, and became so affordable that even the workers on the line could eventually buy one.

Culture

In the end, though, it isn’t about money, it’s about culture. Returning to the gunpowder analogy, where one culture sees it as a weapon another culture sees it as a tool and another sees it as festive entertainment. Largely, Americans tend to see creativity as festive entertainment; a luxury rather than a necessity. As an artist I have lamented that no one buys artwork unless it “matches the couch”. When I use my creativity to produce fine art (because production = key to success) I create a pretty commodity. Fine art, like entertainment, is not considered a necessity. So is all creativity doomed to uselessness? Not necessarily: even our western culture recognizes that creativity can be an effective tool when trying to communicate (ex: a commercial illustrator creates drawings to illustrate an art director’s concepts to a client) and is useful problem solving (ahem, Henry Ford).

In the end, the question remains: is Creativity “The Answer” to becoming successful? No. Not by itself. Creativity has the potential to make life easier, richer, and more successful but it is only a tool. Like all tools, the key is how you use it.

On Apologies

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Emotional Intelligence, Entrepreneurial Tool Box, Risk on May 12, 2009 at 7:21 pm

The second most important thing that I have learned in life is how to apologize, and it’s the kind of thing that is so important that I wish they taught it in schools. Life is a risky business, and with all risk there is as much potential for mistakes as there is for success and sometimes more. The greater the possible success, the correspondingly huge the potential failure. So for this blog I am offering a quick “how to” on apologizing.

The first part to apologizing is recognizing when one is needed and being clear about what you are apologizing for. Sometimes this is easy, especially when I realize that I have done something wrong, and sometimes it is difficult, as when I can see that someone feels they have been wronged, but I am unable to take the steps to make that wrong right. To my mind, it is always appropriate to apologize to someone who feels they have been wronged, whether or not you agree with them. Now I’ve been told that a simple “how-to” isn’t effective unless I can show a personal example of how it actually applies, so by way of example: I once was working with a woman on a project when we had a misunderstanding about a contract and when payment was due. It turns out that she expected payment at the time we were working together instead of as a deferred payment which was written in the contract. She felt wronged because she wasn’t able to get money in hand and I felt badly, but couldn’t legally offer her payment sooner than was written in the contract. It was one of those times when an apology needed to be made even though I couldn’t make right what had gone wrong.

The second part to apologizing is to recognize the wronged party’s feelings without getting your own feelings involved. An apology is not the time to lash out or to point fingers. It is not the time to make excuses. It is not the time to make accusations. An apology is not about you it is all about them. An apology is a way of saying that even though things did not go well that you still respect and care about the other person and their feelings and that you are sacrificing a portion of your own pride to say so. So back to the story of my coworker and I and the contract misunderstanding; she felt she had been wronged because her expectations were broken. I could have written “Well, if you’d read the contract thoroughly then you’d know the payment was deferred”, but that would have been counter productive. The last thing I wanted to do was to add insult to injury. She’d made a mistake by not reading carefully and I’d made a mistake by not emphasizing that payment was deferred and while we were both upset, neither of us needed to hear that we were to blame.

The third part to apologizing is doing it. This is the hardest part because invariably it needs to happen during or after a moment of conflict, when the only thing that you want to do is to run away from the problem and to hope it will go away on its own. For myself, I find it is best to apologize as quickly and early and sincerely as possible. In the co-worker incident I sat down and wrote an email to her that very night. Conflict makes me agitated and anxious and the only thing that reliably calms me down is taking action even if that action is just typing an email to say what needs to be said.

The last part to apologizing is up to the recipient: whether or not to accept the apology and whether or not to forgive the person who is doing the apologizing. Some people accept apologies with supreme grace and move on quickly. Some people refuse to accept the apology until they feel they are “even” with the other person. Some people never accept the apology at all. This is up to the wronged party in the situation. When you are receiving an apology it is important to remember that someday you will be the one apologizing to someone else and it is important to respond in the way that you would want your own apology responded to. It turns out the episode with my coworker ended up with her leaving and us letting her go. It wasn’t an ideal situation but we both preferred to part company rather try to work with that kind of tension between us.

Once you’ve apologized, all you can do is wait, but you can wait knowing that you’ve done everything possible. The proverbial ball is now in their court and they will either accept the apology or they won’t. Apologizing is a humbling experience, but it is so for a reason: to remind both yourself and the person to whom you are apologizing that with risks comes mistakes and that no one is perfect. It is a way to recognize that other people are human beings even though you differ from them. And it is a way to work through differences in order to build a stronger whole.

You Can’t Say That!

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Creative Support, Emotional Intelligence, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Risk on April 25, 2009 at 4:57 am

Last week I was told to lose the screenplay format for my blogs. It turns out that they were “too different” and that no one was “getting” them. So much for writing in a distinctively film-related style. No one had told me that I was supposed to write prose. Frankly I felt (and still do) quite censored by the whole thing so for my first “normal” blog is on the subject of CENSORSHIP.

Censorship, like gravity, exists as a natural law and will eventually try to pull you down. It is fair to say that every single person will deal with censorship at some point in their life and that creatives will deal with it slightly more often than average because of the subjective nature of art. There are two conflicting facts about censorship which make it so tricky: on one hand, censorship is necessary for the maintenence of society and without it society would not exist. On the other hand, censorship at it’s most basic level prevents innovation, creativity, or variant thinking and prevents society from  evolving. As an Artist (used here to include anyone whose work is creative in nature) how does one find balance between thinking outside the box and respecting the needs of society?

It is easy, but incorrect, to say that censorship comes from external sources. Censorship takes place naturally and subconsciously in the part of the brain called the corpus striatum. When you get an impulse to do something it goes to the striatum which evaluates whether the impulse is  worth pursuing. If it is, then the striatum allows the impulse to travel through to be turned into motor function. This is called “executive function” and if too many impulses are allowed past the striatum a person may develop compulsive behaviors like  kleptomania. Censorship also plays a basic role in society when the individual censors his or her own needs or wants in an effort to conform to a societal norm and to be accepted as part of that society. This happens on the individual level (choosing not to swear in front of children) on the economical level ( forgoing a luxury vacation for themselves in favor of getting health insurance for the family) and on the moral level (choosing not to kill someone because it is “wrong”). Self censorship is the expression of an individual making an effort to be aware of and cater to the needs  of others. In a perfect society, all individuals would behave selflessly in order to meet the needs of all others.

Fortunately, we do not live in a perfect society. Perfection only exists when forces are in balance and when forces are in balance, there is nothing dynamic to cause change. The nature of creativity is to be dynamic- to express what has not already been expressed and to do it in a way that has never been done before. Very often, artists will find that their creativity is encouraged only so far as it fits within the existing status quo and that anything that genuinely breaks the norm is repressed. A good example of this might be the Impressionists- classically trained artists painting classically acceptable scenes but doing it in a wholly innovative way to express the fleeting “impression” of the moment. In their own time, the Impressionists were ridiculed and their paintings were considered “unfinished”, but they opened up the fine art world to the possibility of alternative styles of expression and touched off the expressionists, the futurists, the surrealists, and so on allowing art to evolve into unexplored areas of style.  In their own time, society did not know how to incorporate the Impressionists and so they were rejected in an effort to maintain the status quo but the very fact that the Impressionists did not succumb to this censorship allowed the modern art movement to evolve and forced society to find new ways to understand what “art” meant.

So how does the Artist know when it is best to stand tall in the face of censorship and when it is best to bend to the will of society? This is a question for the individual Artist, so I pose the question to you: If you were told that your work was being done “wrong” because it was different, that the style was ineffective and that “no one would get it”, what would you do? Where would you draw the line between accomodating the needs of others and staying true to your own beliefs?

Work Is Not A Four Letter Word

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on April 14, 2009 at 6:28 pm

EXT. SIDEWALK.DAY

GWYDHAR and BLUE DAMEN, the manifestation of her conscience, walk home from work.

BLUE DAMEN
You’re an idiot.

GWYDHAR
Why is that?

BLUE DAMEN
You say that “Work” is not a four letter word. It totally is.

GWYDHAR
I meant that people say “work” like it’s a bad thing and they’re not allowed to enjoy it. Like it’s something that they have to do as a means to an end instead of as an end in itself.

BLUE DAMEN
Work is the amount of force needed to move an object a given distance.

GWYDHAR
Sure in physics class.

BLUE DAMEN
It applies to jobs to: the amount of ambition you have multiplied by how far you want to go equals the amount of work you need to do to get there.

GWYDHAR
So how come people are always complaining about their jobs, smartass?

BLUE DAMEN
Because they don’t feel like their getting anywhere. Or they don’t have the ambition to go anywhere. Or they don’t feel like the amount of work they’re doing is worth the distance they’ve gone.

GWYDHAR
So it’s about accomplishment.

BLUE DAMEN
And novelty, yeah. Work is a lot of repetition.

GWYDHAR
I guess I can understand that. I appreciate my day job, but I go home feeling tired and like I haven’t accomplished anything. I keep long To Do lists that include lines like “get up” and “eat breakfast” so that I can cross something off each day.

BLUE DAMEN
Whine, whine, whine. You’ve got a n easy job. You make a few phone calls and deliver a few samples and take home a weekly paycheck.

GWYDHAR
I know, I know. Here I am whining ungratefully about such undeserved luxury, but I do so to make a point. The point is that many people like myself- artists with a bit of education and a cushy day job- often feel like the work that we do for someone else is somehow less valuable or important than the work that we do for ourselves.

BLUE DAMEN
It becomes just a job.

GWYDHAR
Yeah, and it’s so easy to feel entitled to a “good” job that none of us ever stop to consider what a “good” job is. A friend of mine forwarded me this video of Mike Rowe from “Dirty Jobs” giving a speech on work that got me thinking about all this.

BLUE DAMEN
Well it’s way easier to do a job that you actually want to do. Like if I actually wanted to walk all the way home I wouldn’t need a rest now.

They pass a bench by a bus stop and BLUE DAMEN sits. GWYDHAR takes a few steps before realizing this.

GWYDHAR
Why’re you stopping?

BLUE DAMEN
Physics.

GWYDHAR
What does physics have to do with anything?

BLUE DAMEN
Are you kidding? Physics apply to everything: A body in motion will remain in motion until acted upon by the need to rest, and a body at rest will remain at rest until acted upon by the need for beer.

Truth, Success, Etc.

In Author: Gwydhar Bratton, Creativity and Innovation, Emotional Intelligence, ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Entrepreneurial Evolution, Theater/Film on April 3, 2009 at 6:43 pm

INT. SCREENING ROOM. DAY

GWYDHAR, a young film director sits in a workshop at the Kent Independent Film Festival in Kent, CT. She is hoping to glean some tips on how to make contacts in the industry. Her notebook is blank except for the date. Slowly a quote bubbles up in her memory:

J. MICHAEL STRYCZNSKI (Voiceover)

Never follow somebody elses path: it doesn’t work the same way twice for anyone… The path follows you and rolls up behind you as you walk forcing the next person to find their own way.

GWYDHAR makes note of this and tries to think of a way to incorporate it in the blog that she is supposed to write before Wednesday.

EXT. CHICAGO SIDEWALK. DAY

GWYDHAR and BLUE DAMEN, a manifestation of her conscience, walk side by side on the way to GWYDHAR’S day job.

BLUE DAMEN

So did you find what you were looking for?

GWYDHAR
Yes and No.

BLUE DAMEN
What do you mean?

GWYDHAR
I was looking for an answer about what the next step towards success should be and I didn’t get one, but maybe that was the answer after all: that trying to figure out what the next step should be isn’t a problem that you are ever supposed to solve.

BLUE DAMEN
Give me an example.

GWYDHAR
OK, So I submitted our film “Persephone” to the Kent Film Festival and it was accepted.

BLUE DAMEN
So that makes you a success.

GWYDHAR
But hardly anyone came to see it- I think maybe a total of 17 people in two showings. And 3 walked out.

BLUE DAMEN
So it was a bust.

GWYDHAR
But it did win an award for Best Experimental Short.

BLUE DAMEN
So it was a success.

GWYDHAR
But no one bought any copies so we didn’t make any money off of showing it.

BLUE DAMEN
So what are you trying to say?

GWYDHAR
I’m trying to say that as an artist there are two kinds of success: the kind that makes money and the kind that wins awards.

BLUE DAMEN
And you need both.

GWYDHAR
Everyone needs a little bit of both but the proportions are different from person to person. Some people need more financial success and some people need more artistic success. The thing about filmmaking that is so discouraging is that there is no “right” way to do it. There is no single path to success and the people who are successful at it are just as mystified about how they got there as the rest of us.

They arrive outside GWYDHAR’s day job and GWYDHAR fumbles for her keys hoping that she didn’t forget them, again.

BLUE DAMEN
No mystery how we got here- we walked. All 17 blocks.

GWYDHAR
Well, hard work is the first step…

BLUE DAMEN
And the first step is hard work. Yuk yuk yuk.