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Impact

Making a movie has never been easier.

Making a movie has never been easier.

The year was 2006. I didn’t have a smartphone. iPhones hadn’t even been invented yet. But I had a story I wanted to tell. I watched as a Green Party candidate got slaughtered, illegally, by the Democrats, for standing up for his right to run in an election. I learned that politics is a dirty sport and Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli was a persona non grata in the US Senate race. So I made a film about it. I had just turned 21 years old. I’d never picked up a video camera before in my life. The camera work is rather clunky. The film today looks dated. But I am so proud of this work, because A. It tells a great story and B. It’s still relevant 10 years later.

Watch Ain’t Easy Being Green for FREE here.

Yet today, a decade later, there are even easier ways to tell stories. If you own a smartphone, you can tell a story with a beginning a middle and an end. Stop making excuses. Get off your butt. Get out there. 10 years ago, dozens upon dozens of students and young people would have killed for a machine like a smartphone. And today, you have one. But remember: you need a great story to tell first.

Koch Brothers Project Announced!

Koch Brothers Project Announced!

I’ve long been fascinated by one of America’s wealthiest family dynasties: The Kochs (pronounced like Coke!)

Proud to report the following news, first reported by Variety:

“Amanda Knox” producer Stephen Robert Morse is launching development of projects based on the book “Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty.”

Morse has teamed with veteran producer Max Peltz to option the rights to create both fiction and non-fiction projects based on Daniel Schulman’s 2014 book about David and Charles Koch, the owners of Koch Industries. Morse is producing through Observatory LLC and Peltz through Cavendish Pictures Ltd.”

Additionally, as Deadline added:

“This is the most definitive story of a true American dynasty, and with so many potent political issues at the forefront, it is as relevant today as ever before,” said Morse, adding “I worked with Daniel Schulman over a decade ago at Mother Jones magazine. I knew he was talented then, and I’d read his book a while ago. I asked my trusted partner Max Peltz to read it, as the Koch brothers were on my mind again and again. Max was absolutely floored.”

“We learned that the rights were set to expire from the hands of an A-list director who has five Oscar nominations,” Peltz explained. “We quietly waited in the wings for months to option the material as soon as the rights became available.”

The Chicken and Egg of  Finding The Money To Market Your Documentary

The Chicken and Egg of Finding The Money To Market Your Documentary

In Documentaryland, there is rarely ever enough money to make your film. Therefore, to think about investing money into marketing it would be absurd because until you have an excellent film, nobody should or would want to market it. You can’t put the proverbial cart before the horse.

Once we understand this premise that independent films are (relatively) expensive endeavors and that crews are generally underpaid to make them (because they're oftentimes passion projects), why then do film funds and grants frequently require you to answer detailed questions about how you plan to market your film — even when you’re applying for production funding? The answer is simple: THIS MAKES NO SENSE.

If you had enough money to make and market your film, you wouldn’t be applying for film funds and grants. Enough said.

But alas, if you do have to market your film to take it to film festivals, it is expensive. Here’s a breakdown of some costs — none of which most teams will ever be able to pay for without a generous sponsor, philanthropist, non-profit, or or impact producer attached to the project:

  1. $2,500 to apply for film festivals — assuming you apply to 25 and they cost $100 each.

  2. $10,000 for a festival publicist to ensure your film is seen by critics who attend festivals.

  3. $1,000 to $2,000 per film festival for travel, depending on festival location relative to you.

  4. $3,000 to design and print posters, flyers, and other materials.

  5. The costs of creating an impact campaign ranging from a web site to actions that must be taken — that start with getting the festival seats filled.

Alas, you shouldn’t think about marketing your film until it is a film. Your focus as a filmmaker has to be laser- focused on making the best film possible. Sales and marketing is a very important side of the coin, but until your film is made properly, you shouldn’t be thinking about this coin. I’ll explain more on this in future posts.

Then, there’s the Hail Mary commercial option: Yes, if you make a commercially viable film and then sell your film to, say, Netflix, they will happily pay for you to attend a few festivals as it’s good publicity that their publicity teams can support in big ways, e.g. my film AMANDA KNOX launching at TIFF in Toronto in 2016 or Icarcus playing at the 2017 Sheffield International Documentary Festival. But again, this is a BEST CASE SCENARIO and likely won’t happen with most film projects.

I’ll repeat my mantra again and again: MAKE THE BEST FILM POSSIBLE AND THEN YOU CAN FIND THE MONEY TO MARKET IT.

Review of Ed Catmull's Creativity Inc.

Review of Ed Catmull's Creativity Inc.

I’m probably five years too late to this party, but it isn’t often that I read a book that profoundly affects me for good or for bad. In this case, this book, Creativity Inc. affected me negatively, in part because I had some inside knowledge that the author doesn’t know that I have.

Background: Ed Catmull is one of the founders of Pixar. He comes from a computer science background and I have no doubt he is very smart. But, because of my insider knowledge I know he can’t be trusted. Why? Because when you look at the Oscar Nominations for 1995, you’ll see that four people were nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Their names: Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, Joss Whedon, and Andrew Stanton. Yet only one person, Stanton, who has had a long career at Pixar is named in the book. Even Whedon, a talented celebrity in his own right, is not mentioned a single time.

In Catmull’s either deliberately schlocky or straight up lazy retelling of the story, he made it seem that Toy Story was his brainchild and John Lasseter’s. Catmull has the balls to not mention 3/4 of the team that created this project that took Pixar from a failing film studio to the global behemoth it is today.

My inside knowledge comes from Alec, as I was lucky enough to have him, a talented and kind working writer, as my screenwriting teacher over a decade ago at the University of Pennsylvania. Alec taught our Advanced Screenwriting class many valuable tips about the practical ins and outs of the trade, from story to character arcs to act structure, and he did this with complete humility. And, among his other stories, he told us how he and Joel Cohen, his long-time writing partner, came up with the original characters and concept for Toy Story — the same characters that have grossed Pixar billions of dollars in the past two decades.

Here’s the nitty gritty of this book; there are precisely 4 pages worth reading, and these are the tips and tricks for managing creatives on the last 4 pages of the book. The rest is a myopic retelling of stories, in 2020 hindsight (a term that, ironically, Catmull claims he loathes), that details nothing more than Catmull’s version of events of how Pixar became great. But I suspect Pixar, like Apple, became great because of Steve Jobs’ sometimes questionable leadership decisions. Jobs knew when to gamble and how to fight. Pixar could’ve been closed or sold many times in the decade prior to Toy Story, but it wasn’t. This book, save for its last 4 pages, is nothing more than a history of Pixar from one person’s perspective. It doesn’t say a thing about how to be creative if you’re a normal reader — it says things about how to be creative when you are bankrolled with hundreds of millions of dollars. Thus, young and/or aspiring creatives won’t get a thing out of reading this book.

EUROTRUMP called "an intimate documentary biopic" by The Hollywood Reporter

EUROTRUMP called "an intimate documentary biopic" by The Hollywood Reporter

Americans, please watch #EuroTrump, now on Hulu.  If you would like to watch "an intimate documentary biopic" as The Hollywood Reporter just called it, you've come to the right place. Here's a sample from the review: 

Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders gets a chance to defend himself in this feature documentary from Nicholas Hampson and Stephen Robert Morse.

Controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders makes for an affable commentator on his own life in EuroTrump, a studiously evenhanded look at the anti-Islam populist and the rising nationalism that is his stock in trade. Following Wilders in the run-up to 2017's Dutch election, the film hops between interviews with the man himself and with a series of pundits, most of them skeptical of his agenda. The latter's criticisms are never directly put to Wilders, who instead gets lobbed a series of softballs and word association games by the filmmakers. Nicholas Hampson and Stephen Robert Morse's conventional but snappily engaging documentary should nevertheless prove catnip for political junkies when it arrives on Hulu June 30, after premiering at DOC NYC last year.

Appropriately enough for a feature that's partly about the power of technology, specifically Twitter, the pic opens with direct messages from the filmmakers flung up on the screen, soliciting Wilders' participation. The directors and their subject go on to exhibit a relaxed enjoyment in each other's company, with the Party for Freedom leader narrating a potted history of his political formation and rise. Living in Israel as an 18-year-old, the young national serviceman was struck by the hatred directed at the country by its enemies, which he clearly attributes, then and now, to extremist Islamic beliefs. One of a series of photographs the filmmakers present to him sees the imperious teen getting his trainers polished by an Arab shoeshine. The photo is politically incorrect, the adult Wilders admits, but he still likes it.

Berlinale 2018: Why the Blockchain Could Fundamentally Change How Business is Done in the Film Industry

Berlinale 2018: Why the Blockchain Could Fundamentally Change How Business is Done in the Film Industry

I recently wrote this piece for the film community at NoFilmSchool.com.

A new company is using the blockchain to help eliminate waste (and shady people) in the film industry.

[Author’s note: Prior to reading this article, it is advisable for readers to peruse the Wikipedia “Blockchain” entry or the briefer definition of Blockchain in Investopedia.]

Technology and the film industry have had a historically rocky relationship. 20 years ago, Blockbuster ruled the at-home video market and famously (or infamously) rejected the opportunity to purchase Netflix for a mere $50 million. Today, Netflix has a $120 billion market cap and is poised to dominate the film industry for years to come.

Yes, market leaders like Netflix and Amazon are surely experimenting with algorithmic programming and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in attempts to take humans out of the screenwriting equation to give viewers what the companies think they want. But there are other forms of technology that can help improve the independent film business and even have the possibility to revolutionize how films are made—and more importantly, how production staff from actors to directors to below the line crew are paid. 

Enter FilmChain, a project started by BigCouch co-founders Irina Albita and Maria Tanjala. The goal of FilmChain is to increase accountability and transparency in the murky independent film financing world by using blockchain, the underlying technology behind Bitcoin. However, during their presentation at the Berlinale’s European Film Market startup pitch event, the pair were quick to debunk the myth that blockchain and Bitcoin are one and the same. Let it be known, they aren’t! As an oversimplified way to distinguish them, Bitcoin is a digital cryptocurrency, and the blockchain was developed as a decentralized way to record and account for Bitcoin transactions which has now expanded to use for a variety of commercial applications.

FilmChain is a revenue collection and allocation platform operating on blockchain technology that aims to service film and digital content creators by collecting revenues and automatically distributing them to stakeholders. If successful, FilmChain will mean that one can say goodbye to loads of middlemen who take a piece of the pie during the filmmaking process. 

The benefits of the blockchain to help film distribution processes are many: global transactions are typically costly, frequently people don’t get paid for the work they do, and the accounting books on numerous independent productions either is non-existent or riddled with errors.

Manuel Badel of Badel Media in Canada discussed other strong points of how blockchain technology can improve the film business:

  • IP protection - proof of ownership
  • Digital rights management - registration, tracking, royalties
  • Contracting - automation and smart contracts between stakeholders
  • Collaboration - scriptwriting and product design
  • Micropayments - tokens, crypto, crowdfunding, royalties, recoupment
  • Content distribution - decentralization, trust, and disrupted distribution. 

Who will gain?

Who stands to benefit from this FilmChain technology? Anyone who works on a production!

What makes “smart contracts” revolutionary is that they are triggered automatically. For example, say you are a screenwriter based in America and your contract says you will get paid $10,000 on the first day of production of a film produced and set in China. Once that first day of production happens, your $10,000 will automatically be triggered and you will get paid. Contracts could be set up such that, for instance, three individuals confirming that production started on a specific day would be all that is necessary to send an instant payment halfway around the world. 

Who will lose?

And who stands to lose from blockchain technology being implemented in the film business? Shady film financiers who don’t make good on the payouts they owe, therefore stealing money from others who rightfully deserve it.

Of course, shady film financiers may never voluntarily utilize a system such as this one, but if FilmChain (or similar platforms) become the norm, then staff members on productions that do use this technology would stand to benefit. Film financiers would benefit too as the myriad bank transfers and other international payments they send would become much less expensive as the systems become automatic and tech-enabled.

FilmChain won’t be implemented overnight. But it and similar projects surely present a hopeful future. Anyone who has ever been screwed over by a shady financier or producer, or even has just waited far too long to get paid for freelance work, stands to gain if blockchain technology is implemented into the film business. 

 

 

Case Study Puerto Rico: The role of the documentary filmmaker in a natural disaster situation

Case Study Puerto Rico: The role of the documentary filmmaker in a natural disaster situation

I just returned from a 10-day trip to Puerto Rico. It was one of the craziest trips I've ever been on, and I've been to some pretty crazy places! At the behest of Sarena Snider, a long-time collaborator and business partner, I packed my bags two weeks ago today. I set off for San Juan. When I arrived, the hotel we'd booked was dark -- I couldn't even check in. Everything was dark. It had been 40 days after Hurricane Maria had hit the island, and the capital city was still without power. The handful of lights I saw came from diesel-powered generators.  

Puerto Rico remains a mess. Most of the country still does not have power some 50 days after Hurricane Maria. The place went from developed to developing world overnight. And when you don't have power it means that anyone with diabetes, for example, can't get their insulin that must be refrigerated. People are now dying at alarming rates and it seems like most of the media has moved on. Donald Trump gave himself a 10 out of 10 for his Puerto Rico performance, but I give him a 1 out of 10. But more of this later. Let's get down to the nitty gritty... During these 10-days, I learned a ton about making films in hostile environments. Here are some of them: 

1. Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Always have a plan and always have a backup plan. For example, I went to Puerto Rico with a ton of canned fish to eat for the week and water purification tablets in the event I couldn't procure food or clean water. Though I didn't need these, it was smart to prepare for the worst. Luckily, I had a backup plan for my place to stay too: Chris, a friend of Sarena's, lived a few blocks away from the hotel that was shuttered. At 10pm, in the pitch black, I called Chris and was able to procure a last-minute place to stay. If I didn't have Chris, I'd be screwed. Your safety and security (and your team's safety and security too) should always come first. In a world without electricity, crime skyrockets. For example, Chris and I, two athletic guys in our 30s, were mugged on my second night in town during our 300 foot walk back to his house from a nearby hotel!

2. You can make a film AND help out simultaneously.

My first mission in Puerto Rico was to make an investigative doc about the relief efforts. But my second mission, as a human being, was to help out as much as possible.

To make a documentary you have to interview multiple people. This allowed me to meet people from multiple sectors of Puerto Rican society and other volunteers (who were American). What I realized was without power, communications became difficult. I also realized that my network of people, made in a few days, was vast. Soon, I started matching people who had successfully acquired supplies with people who needed to take supplies to areas  of the mountains where people were hardest hit and the US government, military, and FEMA are nowhere to be found.

3. You don't always need a fixer, because you must think well beyond the news cycle.  

On my first day in town, I interviewed two fixers who were highly recommended to me. However, I didn't feel like either of them understood what I was trying to do or had a vested interest in my project going well. They wanted to tell smaller stories that could fit into the news cycle. When you make a documentary you have to think well beyond the news cycle. They were also expensive, asking for $350 per day. This seemed like a rip-off. I figured I realized I could find other people to tag along with and still record everything that I wanted to. And that was just what I did. In disaster environments, the normal rules of society are dropped. Most people will let you hitch a ride with them for free! 

 

3 Ways You Can Increase The Value of Your Issue Documentary

3 Ways You Can Increase The Value of Your Issue Documentary

There are many documentary genres that are worth discussing: true crime, music, political, and family melodrama to name a few, but today I'd like to put the focus on the "issue documentary." 

If you haven't seen the Netflix Original "The 13th" yet, you must do so immediately, for two reasons: 1. It is a fantastic film. 2. It is what I will refer to as the quintessential "issue documentary" of the 2010s.  The issue in this film is the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution that freed the slaves but also created a plethora of systems from Jim Crow to lynchings to mass incarceration that have made life a living hell for millions of black Americans. The filmmaker, Ava DuVernay, takes a harsh stand against injustices by the American government, putting numerous policies under the microscope. For this, The 13th won the 2017 Emmy Award for Best Documentary. (I'm proud to have lost to this fine film!) 

Al Gore's 2006 "An Inconvenient Truth" and his 2017 follow-up "An Inconvenient Sequel" are two further examples of issue documentaries that have attracted large audiences and potentially earned profits for their producers: The first film was made for $1 million and earned $50 million at the box office. The second was also made for $1 million and earned $4.5 million at the box office. (The reason I say potentially earned profits for the producers is there's no way to determine the marketing budget for these films, as they may or may not come out of the listed production budgets.) 

Many documentary ideas I hear about are issue documentaries. But here's the big difference between Al Gore's issue documentaries and yours: You weren't Vice President of the United States and don't have millions of dollars from Participant Media's marketing department behind you. Furthermore, you aren't Ava DuVernay and don't have a Best Director Prize from Sundance, a Golden Globe nomination, or the power of Netflix's powerful marketing and public relations departments behind you. This is a harsh reality, but let it sink in for a second, because it is true.

No film is going to be an indie smashing success without millions of dollars of marketing behind it. Of course there are studio films that spend the GDP of small countries on marketing and still flop, but in the indie world, you'll likely only get a mega marketing budget if you're film is awesome.This said, there are many things you can do togreatly increase the value of your indie issue documentary

1. Get celebrities involved: Let's say you're making an issue documentary about colon cancer, and some new treatments for it. Well, simply Googling "colon cancer celebrity" reveals a dozen celebrities who have either had colon cancer themselves or are strong advocates for colon cancer research. Such people include Katie Couric (whose husband passed away from the disease) and former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (whose grandfather also passed away from the disease). Why not reach out to these people to see if they'd be interested in narrating your film or being interviewed for it? That would be one way to inherently boost the value of your production and would make it way easier for you to get distribution down the line. 

2. Target people who care: The goal of your issue documentary might not be for it to reach every eyeball on earth; the goal might be to reach specific eyeballs, namely those people who are deeply affected by the issue you have created your film about. So, using the example above, you could organize screenings in major cities and target colorectal cancer patients to tell them about amazing new treatments that they may be able to use. This would be measurable impact. 

3. Create an issue related blog to build a community, and brand yourself as an expert. Chances are, if you are making an issue documentary, it is because you or someone you know is adversely affected by the issue. Furthermore, from your filmmaking you likely know quite a bit about your subject. Thus, creating a resource where people can go to discover more relevant information about the issue at hand is a natural way for you to build a solid, caring audience for your film.

Our bold attempt to create an asset class of documentary films

Our bold attempt to create an asset class of documentary films

A year ago, my business partner Maria Springer and I wanted to do something revolutionary: we wanted to turn non-fiction filmmaking into an asset class. Of course, when you are attempting to create an asset class, there should be reasons why one doesn't exist already.

But we remained bullish that the time was right for such an asset class to be born: with Netflix spending $6 billion on content this year and up to $8 billion on content next year, one could argue that there is a gold rush now taking place as Netflix, Amazon, Youtube Red, Apple, Hulu, VICE, HBO, and traditional TV networks all compete for similar wonderful content.

However, Maria and I made assumptions in our initial analysis that were incorrect: 

1. We felt that we could drastically reduce the amount of time it took to make or finish and distribute products from years down to six months.

Yes, we made EUROTRUMP and had it air within 9 months. But for one big reason this didn't happen faster: summer vacations. It seems like the entirety of the television and film industry (especially in Europe!) is on vacation for the summer months. We would frequently call and email people and discovered so many vacation responders. This isn't a critique of the entertainment industry: when I used to work in startups, people would also say things like you have two seasons to raise money, spring and autumn, but I didn't realize howmuch this effects film/TV projects. 

What's the fix for this? Plan in autumn. Shoot in spring. And, if possible, spend your summer months editing. Many people do this as they want to hit the Sundance Film Festival deadline anyway which is in autumn. However, this likely may mean way more competition for your film projects if they fall on a similar timeline to everyone else's. The real reason this isn't a proper fix though is that documentaries frequently take more time than this to shoot. Only very specific, niche projects with clear start and end points can be completed in this strict timeline. 

2. We also assumed that when we invested to finish the projects others had created that they would be used to our grueling pace and also want to get projects out there and into the world quickly.

Unfortunately, the traditional path for independent films to get aired relies on them going on tour through festivals. Many filmmakers like getting respect in the film industry by attending these festivals, but this is a process that takes a year or more. (Again, there are few credible festivals between June and September, so this is yet another reason why summer is wiped off the filmmaking map.)

What's the fix for this? My approach has been multi-pronged. While film festivals are a lovely way to reach generally elite, liberal audiences in cities, they don't necessarily equal $$$$$. Yes, a victory at a film festival or two might boost the prospect that your film gets sold, but some films like EUROTRUMP, about a controversial politician, are going to be way too divisive to win film festival awards. Yes, my interest is in making money on film sales after films are made, because I have never been the recipient of a filmmaking grant. (Maybe one day that will change, but at this point, I've had to hustle my way through the filmmaking world!) Thus, a fix for this problem is to be selling your film while it is going to film festivals. The two are not mutually exclusive, so long as your sales agent and/or distributor is amenable to this. 

3. We didn't factor in all of the personal and personnel risks involved in filmmaking.

Any film project is going to have major risks. Even if principal photography has been completed, there are still so many decisions from who to hire as an editor, what time frame the team will complete the project in, and how the film will be prepped for sale. 

What's the fix for this? This question, I really don't have an answer to. I wonder frequently, why do some feature documentary projects get completed while others don't? Yes, I presume films that have received mega-funding from grants or donors will get finished, but there are truly a plethora of risk factors. 

What risk factors can we mitigate against? First, we can make sure a team has a strong track record of working together. Second, we can make sure the film is far along its road to being finished before we invest in it. Or, as we learned by doing, we can just create a film from start to finish ourselves. Ultimately, this latter option was the most effective way for us to fight against the team-related risks.

Conclusions

After a year of trial and error, we determined that creating a proper documentary film fund, that would get investors profitable returns, like investing in real estate, the stock market, startups, or other endeavors does not make sense for the non-fiction film industry.

Though I am happy to report that we are in the black on our film EUROTRUMP, there are, quite simply, too many risks to guarantee profits. And the dozens of potential investors we spoke to about our ideas wanted to believe in our projections, but had trouble doing so. This is fair. (And the last thing I'd ever want to do is lose an investors' money!)

This said, like in venture capital, you don't need every film you make to be a runaway success. If you make 10 films, one can be a huge success, two can pay back their costs and then some, and if you have kept your costs under control, the remaining 7 projects can be utter duds. Yes, the above information took us a year to figure out (as we felt that we had to experiment and conduct our own practical due diligence before asking others for money), but we are extremely glad we didn't raise a proper fund on the wrong terms. 

This led us to our next big idea: impact investing in non-fiction films. More on that soon. 

 

A Year in Review: Adventures in Start to Finish Filmmaking

A Year in Review: Adventures in Start to Finish Filmmaking

I cannot believe how quickly the past year has flown by. Just over a year ago, my business partner Maria Springer and I graduated from the University of Oxford with our MBAs. We felt that the staid, old, complex film industry, especially documentaries, needed further disruption, beyond what Netflix and Amazon were already doing.

Armed with the lean principles we were taught in our technology and operations course at Oxford, we set out to make films at record speeds on record low budgets. And, as we learned in business school, it gets faster to make a film every time you do it. You will learn tricks left and right.

It took over 5.5 years from the time I landed in Perugia, Italy to start doing research for AMANDA KNOX until the film was released on Netflix. For our first OBSERVATORY project, EUROTRUMP, it took 9 months from the time we conceived the project until it aired on television on VICELAND in the Netherlands and Belgium and on the Dutch national broadcaster. This is a substantial improvement but there is more work to be done. If not for minor mess-ups along the way, we could've had this film ready three months earlier. But we will live and we will learn. We will make process improvements, And we will help others along the way.

Here are the key lessons we learned from making EUROTRUMP in 9 months: 

1. Run simultaneous processes: At its simplest level, this means if you are shooting a film you should also be gearing up to sell that film at the same time. This means start making trailers for your film while you are shooting it. It might be a pain, but as they say, "Show don't tell." 

2 . No deal is a deal until it is a deal. The BBC gave us a contract for this project a few months in. We thought we were set. We thought all was good. Then, the executive we dealt with over there went on vacation and all hell seemingly broke loose inside their headquarters. Our project became too controversial for them. And ultimately it was dropped. This was BY FAR the most stressful month for us over the past year. We didn't know this rule at the time, so we started coasting, thinking the BBC was a done deal and all was good. It didn't happen that way. 

3. ALWAYS BE CLOSING. As an independent filmmaker, your job is to sell as much as it is to create. If you don't sell your project, nobody will see it. And then you'll have an audience of 1. 

4. If you make something for $100,000 and sell it for $200,000 you've made a profit. If you make something for $600,000 and sell it for $200,000 you're very deep in the hole. This sounds logical, but too often I see filmmakers who want to raise loads of money, especially for non-fiction projects. If I can make a film for well less than $100,000, then you can too.  

5. Hire slow, fire fast. During the past year, we've had hundreds of personnel working for us on different projects at OBSERVATORY. It's been a major ride. I'm grateful that so many of the people who have helped us out are super competent at their jobs. However, we have also had to get rid of a number of people throughout the year, including interns, producers, and edit staff. It is painful when a bad apple, intentionally or unintentionally, ruins the whole bunch. There were many moments when I blamed myself or other people for someone's incompetence. (For example, if you start fighting with someone you previously worked well with, you have to look around you.) I hate to say this because it lacks scientific proof, but at some point, you have to GO WITH YOUR GUT. If you feel that a person is hurting your team or your efforts to move your project forward, you've got to get rid of them. This is the most difficult but also the most necessary part of being a manager. Once you are rid of your burden, you will immediately feel free. Having nobody working for you is better than having someone work for you who is incompetent and will waste all of your time. 

More observations coming soon...