What’s up, Doc? – First 2016 Journal

As three months passed since 2016 started, I think we may say without consequences that a trimester went by. So I thought about taking the chance to recap a bit about what happened and what is going to happen to me – and consequently to this site – in the close future.

I decided that, every week, my articles will come together with a video in Italian about the same subject, in order to keep my Youtube channel active and to help those Italian readers who might find difficulties in reading my written English. Here is the first example.

Since January I have been working with schools. I plan, organize and host film laboratories for students from four to fourteen years old. I am planning to do even more courses, because I found out that I really like teaching, especially young people, who are an  unlimited source of creative and human stimulation. Consequently, sometimes my articles will be centered around teaching creative subjects.

I am currently working on several personal projects that involve writing. I am working on web-series, sketches, a stage play and, ultimately, a feature film. Those projects will take long before being decent to show, but working on them will surely give me plenty of subjects to talk about.

Among these writing projects there are some collaborations. First to mention is my partnership with famous Italian youtuber La Vergine D’Orecchie, with whom I just started a series of satirical skit called Lobby Gay, to criticize some Italian political measures against civil rights. Here you may find the first episode.

I will also do some projects with singer/writer Fabrizio “Eric” Florio, who recently made his first appearance on Italian television singing his rendition of Part of your world from Disney’s The Little Mermaid on Italia’s Got Talent. Next week my article will be an interview with him about his self branding decisions and difficulties.

So, thank you for following, stay tuned and enjoy Spring!

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Researching: pain and bliss

There are three types of people in the world. Those who jump into the water without learning how to swim and that try to figure it out once drowning. Those that don’t put a finger inside the pool until they have read the magnum opera about swimming. And those that find their way in the middle.

While in real life matters we tend to pursue the third way, when it comes to researching for a creative project we might find ourself indulging more in the first or second possibility. Or we don’t start until we are sure to know everything on the subject – and that sounds like an excuse not to start, doesn’t it? – or we write without doing any kind of research.

Your idea is to write a medical series? There is no need to become a doctor but sure, if you write and you have no notion on the concept, this will surely show at some point. The faith your audience have in you will fade and nobody  would watch your series again.

So, how to balance researching and creative work?

There are many ways, it depends on the person. Famous screenwriter Steven de Souza, for example, doesn’t like research to interfere with his creative flow, so he first writes an emotionally driven draft, and then does the research it needs. Michael Schiffer likes to live and breath what is writing about, so he not only buys DVDs and books on what he is writing, but also tries to travel to the locations he wants to describe and to stay with the people that inspire his characters.

Of course, everyone will have their own method. But, since doing a great project might take a while, I think that is important for you to do your research in a way that it enforces your creativity.

One of the best examples I could think of is my best friend writing her first novel. As she started what was going to be the first volume of a trilogy, my friend didn’t know she would have gone that far. Everything had started from a glimpse, a sparkle of an idea she had when she discovered the historical figure of who was going to be her main character. She had started working on the main storyline and the characters but, because she was writing a period novel, she soon found herself in need of learning more about historical and geographical settings. So she started a two way journey. On one hand she was structuring characters and drama, on the other she was researching historical events, cultural details and other elements she would have needed for her story to be credible for her audience.

One might think this work to be very hard and boring. Maybe, but more than once I saw my friend enthusiastic because the knowledge she gained on the subject she was writing gave her not only the ability to solve problems that might have sorted in the continuity, but also to find new ideas for her drama.

If you think about it, it’s normal for us to create in relations of what is close to us. Unless you are some sort of genius, your creativity will in some way be related to what you live and experience everyday. Not to mention all the films, books and art you have encountered in your life. So, the more you would try to immerge yourself in the world, characters and story of your project, the more you and your creativity would be influenced but them.

Why don’t you give it a try? Just remember not to go to far. If you are writing a story about a psycho killer and you go berserk, I don’t want police to check on me for suggesting you to do that. 😉

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(This image is property of Tracy J. Butler – check her awesome comic)

What’s to do with envy and regret?

 

On Monday night I decided to attend to a book presentation where many great screenwriters were going to partecipate. I expected to go there, listen to some brilliant words and then get home for dinner. What happened, instead, was a great chance for me to meet both new contacts and to confront with other two characteristic elements of mine: envy and regret.

These two are feelings connected to insecurity and low self-esteem. You are more prone to feel them if you are in a moment of your life where you feel you don’t have accomplished so much. You tend to confront with others and with your past, you are envious and wish you had done things differently.

I felt envious because I met people who managed to accomplish what I am still struggling to obtain. And I felt regret, because I thought (like it always happens when I feel envious) that if I had done things differently, that if I had chosen another path some years ago, maybe today I would be where these people that I admire are.

Luckily for me, I am not a person who indulges in these kind of emotions anymore. Being aware of who I am, of what kind of path led me – both psychologically and physically – where I am now, helped me overcome envy and regret and focus on what I can do to make things be what I want them to be. Now and given what are my true resources, not what I wish them to be.

Yes, I haven’t gone to a full time screenwriting school, and it was because it took me all my 26 years to fully understand and accept what I wanted to be. And there is nothing wrong with that. Knowing exactly what you want to do with your life at 19 years old is something society want you to do every time, but people are different, we get things differently. Yes, I am not a screenwriter nor a story editor nor a storyteller yet, but there is no one out there who could say that I don’t try my best to become one every single day of my life.

The best way to overcome envy and regret is to focus on what you want to do and to act. Don’t care about what others did, think about what you could do, now! 

So, I took the courage and spoke to a couple of screenwriters there. They have been both kind and helpful and, even if they reminded me of how hard this choice of life is, I felt encouraged. One of them actually offered to read and value some of my works, I couldn’t be more happy.

Besides, this encounter was also an occasion for me to meet again with some of my former colleagues from LUISS Business School and to start talking about some collaborations we could make.

So, in the end, being envious and regretful was totally pointless, don’t you think?

Ah, there is a final annotation to this story. Today, in a store, I met a former university colleague of mine, whose work I had always admired. We chatted a bit, since we hadn’t seen each other for years. As he spoke, he kept telling my sweetheart how much he used to admire me because of my determination.

You see? No matter how low you might value yourself, somewhere there is at least one person who can see things in you that you’re not even able to consider.

 

 

How much is right to be paid?

One of the first issues I had to face when I started to work independently in the freelancing market was: how much do I value? How much is right to ask in exchange of my creative and professional services? As I talked to those friends of mine who similarly live on the income they get from their newborn self-employed jobs, I realized that they are asking themselves the same questions I do.

If you are a creative worker it will be very hard to put a price tag onto your works, especially if you care very much about them (thus valuing them excessively) or if you are still too insecure about the quality (not to valuing them enough).

But to give yourself the right value in the market is important not only for you as a professional but to the whole system as well. Since the creative industry is now the most fluid and changeable, not to say the least structured, it is important to remember our partners and clients that what we do is a job no different from all the others.

Just because you work with creativity, it doesn’t mean you don’t work at all. Probably, many people out there are not capable to look behind the complete work or service you give them. They don’t see the time, struggle and study it required. If they think creativity is a sparkle, that your job is something everyone could do, is your duty to help them change their mind.

First, by showing them the process that led you to a level of quality no amateur could ever have. And second, by giving your services a price. Like any other professionals would do.

Now, the question is: “yes, but how”?

Here, now is the right time to compare with others. Check the market, figure out how much your “colleagues” out there would be paid for their works. But don’t stop there. Consider you qualifications, the type of service you offer. Do you help elementary school kids do their home work or do you help teenagers preparing for their high-school diploma? Do you make a pencil art work or a painting? Do you write a sketch or a film? The price, of course, changes.

And, ultimately, it would change according on who your client is. This is new, isn’t it?

This suggestion was given me by my wise coach, Sonja. Again she was able to see it right. I know that in usual economy the price of a piece of bread is the same, bought by a prince or by an accountant. But if you are starting today your self-employed job, wanting creativity to be the core of your work, I don’t think that you would go very far if you think you should ask the same price to every client.

Could sound in contrast to what I wrote earlier, but trust me it is not. In this kind of industry I firmly believe that, as is important to be able to provide quality and efficacy, is also important to keep in mind that what you are providing is not a physical object, yet an experience, a lesson, a strategy. While bread would be bread for everyone to eat, your products would inevitably be influence by who your audience and clients are.

You work with them, create for them, you know who they are and what they want. Consequently you would know how much they can give you. As Sonja doesn’t ask me to pay as much she would ask a CEO of a big company, so I ask accordingly, yes, to how much I value my work, but also to how much my client can give me.

This way we create a relationship, based on quality, experience, knowledge and trust, a relationship that can progress in the future.

As soon as I get paid I’ll let you know if it works. 😉

 

You shall not rest on your laurels

(Not that I have any laurel to rest onto, but… )

Since I started my non-retributed freelancing experiences in the entertainment world, there isn’t a day where I don’t ask myself: “what should I do more?”.

Every morning I wake up with a perennial state of excitement and frustration for the many things I don’t know but want to know, the many areas of the market that are strangers to me and the many strategies I could try to become what I want to become. While I work on my several projects my heart races and the concentration lacks. I go to sleep feeling unsatisfied, like I wasn’t able to fully comprehend all the possibilities I could pursue to fulfill my dream.

Worst of all is comparing with others. There is always someone who did better than me, someone who got the system while I am still trying to learn how to tide my shoes. My stomach hurts with jealousy and insecurity flows.

I am writing this because I want to put down the truth: all of this shit is a waste of time.

Looking at the others’ work is useful, yes, but only if you could find inspiration for what you want and can do. It’s ok to compare to others only if you know who are you. There is no point in comparing to someone just for the sake of jealousy and self-indulgence. It’s by observing those that could be your mentors that you would find what roads could be suitable for what you want and those that may be not. You are a different person from the those that succeeded, even just because now they are there and you are still here. Time has passed and things are changed.

Speaking of time, I think is really there that you should look for reference.

Have you ever tried to watch, read or take a look at something you’ve done in the past and think: “Ugh, did I really do that? Man, if I am improved!”?

Here and there I go take a look at shorts I did during university or things I wrote in the past. Sometimes I find there has been a great improvement, sometimes I don’t. On both occasions there is the change to think about it. Why did I improve? Why did I not? Did I learn some new techniques? Has my languages or contents changed?

Maybe if you haven’t changed a bit, nor in content nor in technique, is because you rested too much on your laurels, because at some point in your life you felt it was safer than trying new things. But unfortunately, that attitude is not going to help you moving forward and, eventually, you’d be obsolete.

Sounds bad, maybe, but I think is the best you could do to take a look from the outside of what you have achieved and how, so to plan better your next step into your path.

I can’t guarantee it will work, but at least some of us will get some sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

Making the difference – The “Zootopia” case

This week I would like to take a look at the new Disney filmZootopia, released in Italy last Thursday under the name of Zootropolis. Not intending to do a review, I am going to use it as an example for this week argument, a.k.a. “how to use your company’s power to make a difference in your audience’s life“.

Zootopia tells the story of Judy Hopps, a female anthropomorphic rabbit willing to be a police officer in a giant metropolis where all mammals live together despite their differences. Even if everyone tries to persuade Judy of her genetic inadequacy, she does more than her best to prove them wrong.

This theme – an outcast trying to overcome a destiny imposed by society and to find their own path – is so popular in Disney films to have become a true trademark for the American film company. Cinderella wanted to be more than just a housemaid, Aladdin had to prove his value beyond his social and economical condition and Mulan had to save China despite her gender and social expectations dictated differently. Several generations of children grew with the strong message that they should not give up their dreams just because everybody tells them to, but to trust their inner self and fight for happiness.

Channeling such powerful messages through engaging stories and characters was the ultimate way for Disney to conquer their audience’s hearts forever.

Growing up, probably some of those children found difficult to fulfill all the expectations young age and Disney movies contributed to create in their minds, and complained. Disney/Pixar’s Monster University (2013) was probably conceived as an answer to those complaints. Yes, you have to keep dreaming, yes, you don’t have to give up, but also you have to know you, who you are and what you can do, and do your best with it. I think it is a great message. It teaches you not only to dream, but also to ask you the right questions for your dreams to become realistic projects.

That’s why Judy Hopps is a great officer not despite her size and nature but because she knows how to apply them to what she wants to achieve. She is modern, brave, funny, like all the characters of this outstanding film. And yet I have to say why this film si different from any Disney movie ever made.

If Disney messages were always directed to individuals, well exploiting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (see below),

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Zootopia is the first Disney film talking to entire societies regarding subjects concerning today’s world: integration, tolerance and xenophobia.

While western world has to face integration with new unknown populations, many political leaders don’t lose a chance to exploit natural human fear of diversity (given by a genetic tendency toward self-preservation) to raise people’s barriers toward these new citizens, creating tension and separation. In Zootopia live two kinds of mammals: preys and predators. Even if animals gave up their bestial instincts thousands years ago, some preys, deep down, are still afraid of predators, still thinking that their striking nature could prevale on their rationality. This irrational fear creates prejudices leading to social conflicts.

I loved how Disney managed to understand that what is at the bottom of today’s intolerance and xenophobia is not the conviction of a population to be better than an other (like happened for black people or jews in the past) but an irrational fear given by the incapability to understand the many changes our society is living, to accept that the world how we used to know it is not going to be the same. It’s just pure, irrational fear of changes.

Disney was capable to see this fear and, being able to reach millions of people of all ages everywhere in the world, took the right chance to communicate this message: given our diversities, we evolved to live together in peace, we have a brain to use not to give in to our worst instincts. If we don’t remember this, we would get back to when world was divided into preys and predators.

Bring that son of a Pitch on!

Pitching is an activity that might sound unknown to those who never had to present a project to a commission, to those who never had to persuade someone else about the quality of their own ideas, to those that are not independent creative workers.

To us pitching represents an inevitable moment in the process of preparing a project. It’s when you have to face your inner fears of being judged and expose your idea to someone whose help you are in need of.

As money and investors lack, pitching has become more and more important. Since the last thing you want is to get to pitch your idea and go there unprepared (nothing is worse than a pitching session full of “ehhhh… mmmmh… ahhhhh….”), you had better to learn the principles of pitching and exercise the hell out of it. There are  several courses out there willing to teach you how to do the perfect pitch. They cost around  two thousand euros.

If you, like me, don’t dispose of that sum, I would suggest the enlightening book by professional script doctor Bobette BusterDo Story – How to tell your story so the world listensIn this short yet amazing book, Buster shares her experiences in teaching her students how to bring out the perfect story.

In one of my past article we already outlined the importance of knowing what you want to tell and why so, in this section, I would like to skip directly to the format of your story.

Once you developed your story to be the best you could tell, you have to pitch it in order to, as Cormac McCarthy would say, “bring the fire to others“.

Here are the ten principles of narration as seen from Bobette Buster: 

  1. When you tell a story (aka when you pitch your idea), tell it like you were telling it to a friend. It would keep your narration fresh, quick and personal.
  2. You must let your audience know the answer to the following questions: what, where, when, who? 
  3. Use verbs in present time: it would help your audience getting involved in your narration.
  4. Remember that story’s main structure develops around a conflict between a thesis and an antithesis. Let your audience know about this conflict.
  5. Don’t forget to give your speech some “colorful” details, something to hook your audience with. My suggestion is to chance this detail as you change your audience, to find the most suitable every time.
  6. Try to pass to your audience that same sparkle that stroke you the first time that idea came to your mind.
  7. Share your story in the most personal way. Don’t be afraid to show a weak point.
  8. Narrate through the five senses: give your audience several ways to visualize what you are talking about.
  9. Dare yourself, don’t hide. In telling stories truth is the winner.
  10. Be short, you don’t want your audience to get bored.

With this indications in mind, you could prepare a short and engaging pitch, so to thrill your audience with the same excitement that is driving you while you work on your project. Good luck!

 

The eternal struggle of creative procrastinators

When you decide to finally give in to your inner voice saying that your true vocation is *insert any creative profession*, you initially feel relieved, like if you had finally spoken the truth after a long time of lies. You feel great, charged both by courage and fear, and you start working on your own creative job that, at this point of the story, is quite far from being payed with any kind of retribution.

You think that, as this is YOUR dream, YOUR profession, the one you had so much time and so much trouble to find, of course everything is going to be a piece of cake.

Hell if you are wrong.

You used to think that your parents discouraged you so much because of the competition and the difficulties buried in your profession’s fundaments, but is not the only reason.

They probably knew, as your are learning now, that in creative professions, you are less likely to find yourself inside an already set path. Unlike other professions, where you can image yourself being hired and start a nine-to-five career, in creativity you can’t follow the others, otherwise it would be harder to succeed. You have to figure out and make your own path, and work on it everyday. And, most of the times, you’d be alone with your creativity.

As your brain struggles to find ideas, languages, expressions, as you stare at the blank page and try to follow a schedule even if know one would care if you don’t, that’s when you start what I call “The Serial Procrastination“.

Suddenly everything seems to be more important than your work. Facebook, cat videos, emails (for me chores) seem unable to wait. And that is how you don’t get your shit done.

I asked myself many times why, when I had to prepare for an university exam, I used to have a ten elephant-pack concentration but, if I have to think of a plot, I am distracted as a three weeks old kitten.

I found my answer after speaking with my coach, Sonja. I went back to the day I said my parents I wanted to live with stories. I felt good, yes, but also a little ashamed and guilty, because in my family stories were never considered a job, they were nothing more than a hobby. So, back then, part of me felt like I had chosen a profession that deserved less respect than some others and, unfortunately, this affects me even today.

But if you want to succeed, to make a living out of your passion you have to give it (and, consequently, to give you) the right credit. You have to commit and struggle, as you would do if you were employed in a society.

There are many different ways you can try to find your own way to commit. There are routines, exercises, moments for feedbacks and motivational recaps. Personally I recommend you to read this amazing book “101 Ways of Successful Screenwriters” , even if screenwriting is not what you want to do. It really helps you to find a way to dedicate to a creative profession, despite all the mental arguments you might have with yourself.

And then, as Shia LaBoeuf would say… “Just do it“.

Photo by Giulia Linus