hard work


Here’s part three of my Summer of Conferences posts.  In Part 1 I talk about Fishtrap. Part 2 was about Willamette Writers and the Hawaii Writers conferences.

View from Hawaii Writers Conference

View from Hawaii Writers Conference

After attending both public radio and writers conferences for a number of years, I find a positive experience really depends on your attitude and the preparation you do ahead of time. I’ve gone to conferences generally to network, promote my latest projects and learn something new. Here are some tips I can offer if you’re thinking about investing time and money to go to a conference:

1. Open your mind and let go of expectations. Don’t assume everyone is dying to hear about your project or book. Think about meeting people and learning about them as people, not rungs on a ladder to success. Do your best to promote yourself and your passion but set the bar low on expectations. You’ll leave yourself open to getting more out of the conference.

2. Study the schedule and presenter bios and photos BEFORE the conference.  A good many interractions happen in the hallways, events and after a workshop or session. Be very choosy about which session you’ll attend. Try to learn as much as you can while you’re at the conference.

3. Be prepared to meet anyone, not just people you THINK may be helpful to your career. I don’t know how many times people have been rude or have ignored me when I meet them at lunch and then later I’ve presented at a panel and they’re friendly after they find out who I REALLY am. That’s just plain silly. Don’t be a conference snob. Be nice to everyone!  The worst case scenario: you’ll make friends!

4. Prepare a postcard or small flyer ahead of time with your project or book idea. Have the title, your name/contact info and a short book/project blurb in 25 words or less. Include a great photo to draw attention to the idea. It’s simple and something you can do and print out in color at home. You don’t need a lot of copies. Just enough to hand out when you meet people.

5. Practice your pitch at home in 25 words or less. Write up your blurb and then paraphrase it. Say it in front of the mirror or with a friend. It can’t sound memorized. Just conversational. I even added a bit of Hollywood to my pitch about my memoir: It’s “Joy Luck Club” meets “Terms of Endearment.” And an editor at a prominent publishing house loved it!

6. Have fun! People love hanging out with people who are having fun. Don’t you? Guaranteed, if you’re having a good time, people will want to meet you. That’s just human nature.

Check out the flyer for my memoir that  I took with me to the last writers conferences. And send me your tips for getting the most out of conferences!

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Thanks to Harold Phillips, an actor friend who twittered he was in a webisode, I happened upon a creative fundraising and marketing tool for an indie film project in Portland. Mike Vogel wrote and directed “The Waiting List,” a feature-length comedy currently playing at festivals, as well as the bike-themed short “Claire Rides a Bike.” He is also author of the Needle Award winning novel “Isn’t That Bigamy?” and runs Front Avenue, his production company. I asked him about his funding/marketing videos.

Tell me where you got the idea for these videos.

Mike Vogel

Mike Vogel

Everyone worked for “deferred payment” on my first feature, “The Waiting List.” So the second time around, I wanted to at least attempt to secure some sort of funding. After I wrote the script for “Did You Kiss Anyone?” I made a production schedule, budget, and a handsome PDF with headshot photos and charts and all that. But then it occurred to me that I don’t know one person who would drop $10,000 to be an equity investor in a feature, let alone ten or twenty people. But I know a handful of people who might donate $20 or $50, and so if I could target those people and the people they know, then maybe I’d have enough to cover basic production costs. But in order to get those contributors engaged, I wanted to give them something upfront, not just the promise of a movie I hadn’t shot. So, inspired by webisodes like “Wainy Days” and shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” I outlined the first five episodes of “Did You Cast Anyone?” and started asking favors from actor friends.

How do these fundraising/marketing videos represent the project you want to produce?

Both the movie “Did You Kiss Anyone?” and the webisodes “Did You Cast Anyone?” are comedies. But the webisodes are much broader comedy. Goofy, silly things that are better suited for the web. The actors in the webisodes will actually be in the movie playing the characters they talk about in the webisodes. The webisodes will continue into production and post-production because it’s a good way to build an audience regardless of whether or not that audience is donating money right away. Hopefully they’ll feel more involved and will want to tell friends to go see or buy the movie when it’s available.

How’s it going so far? Has it accomplished what you wanted?

We’ve received a few donations on our website DidYouCastAnyone.com but not enough to start shooting yet. There’s a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) style of filmmaking that I think is dead. If it’s not dead, it’s totally uninteresting. DIWO (Do-It-With-Others) is a lot more exciting. Ideally, the webisodes might help us find someone who wants to invest $10K or $20K in an independent film. But even if that doesn’t happen, we’re building an audience for a movie before we even make the movie. And we’re having a hell of a lot of fun doing it.

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julieradio1

Julie Sabatier (Photo: Cameron Browne)

There’s nothing more DIY than funding your own bliss and independent radio producers really know how to do practically everything themselves.

One of the talented and inventive radio producers I’ve worked with is Julie Sabatier. She produces an amazing show , Destination DIY,  about revolutionary do-it-yourself projects and really explores the topic in unusual ways. Her most recent show describes various way people represent themselves. I found the “avatar” section really fasincating especially in light of all the social networking sites now. You can hear it online as well as other fascinating shows. Sabatier has built up a following through podcasting her show as well as distributing it regionally. 

Sabatier recently wrote in response to the “Brain-picking” posts and described an inventive way she deals with numerous requests:

radio zine image“Though I still consider myself a bit of a “newbie” I have started to get some requests for mentorship. I struggled with it in a very similar way that you did, Dmae. Sometimes it turned out great and lead to opportunities for all parties, but many times emails went unanswered and good, solid advice unappreciated. This is one reason I put together a lot of my answers to frequently asked questions in zine form. I have no problem asking for a couple bucks in return for this little collection of information. And it’s great to be able to hand off something already finished to people who just want to know the basics.”

I thought this was a fabulous idea to give a primer to people as well as make $2 each time. Check out her “How to Make Radio” zine as well as her online archives of shows. We’ll be hearing a lot more from Julie Sabatier and Destination DIY in years to come!


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Skye Fitzgerald is a filmmaker in Portland, OR. Through his production company Spin Film, he’s created films to address social issues throughout the world. He produced with Patti Duncan “The Bombhunters,” about children who dig for landmines in Cambodia to sell the scrap metal, “Finding Face” about Cambodian women survivors of acid attacks. He’s currently working solo on “Peace Commandos” about stockpiles of weapons in the Congo. He shares his thoughts on making a life worth living. I recently interviewed Skye and Patti for my KBOO radio show.

Skye Fitzgerald at work

Skye Fitzgerald at work

Every week I receive at least a handful of inquiries from young budding filmmakers wanting to know how to make a living in the industry. And every time I find myself thinking: “Hell, I don’t know.  Who says my answer will be your answer?”

The second thing that always comes to mind is something a mentor in college once told me when I was struggling with whether there was a real value in getting a liberal arts education. To paraphrase:

A liberal arts education is not designed to learn how to make a living, but how to make a life worth living.

And that stuck with me.  It has guided me in strange and mysterious ways since. Maybe there is a power in simply sharing things we have learned over the years. With that in mind, here is my first pass at some precepts I live by as a working filmmaker:

Skye on location

Skye on location

1. Keep your overhead low – it allows you to squeak through in the stretches you like to euphemize as “challenging” once you’re through them.

2. Seek out artists attempting the same kind of work you are doing and join forces. In filmmaking, as a collaborative art form, it often pays off.

3. Pay it forward – we all get a boost from someone at some point in each of our careers.  I believe as working artists it’s our job to reciprocate when we can.

4. Work to cultivate an abundance mentality.  In the production community there is a tendency to hoard – whether it be jobs, clients, gigs or grants.  By living within a dearth mentality I think too many of us get trapped into a mindset that there isn’t “enough” to go around rather than reaching out and collaborating in ways that result in stronger work, more contacts and often – more work!

5. Always be working on at least one project that you deeply care about – it will carry you through what might be a roster of smaller projects with lesser meaning, but that need to be done nonetheless.

6. If someone burns you, let them know it. If they do it again, cut them out of your creative circle without a look back.

Now, I am no superstar.  I haven’t won any big awards, don’t have an Oscar to my name and certainly am far from independently wealthy.   But I make a living doing what I love and am passionate about – creating nonfiction films on human rights and social justice topics – on my own terms. And to me, that makes a life worth living.

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I’m an avid list-maker. I make lists all the time: lists for groceries, to-do, films to rent, housework and especially work that has to be done for the day or week.

(c) Creative Commons

(c) Creative Commons

But lists are good for life goals, too. In 1989, I made a list of seven things I wanted to accomplish in five years. I forgot about the list till I began combing through my old journals while working on my memoir. I was pretty amazed to have accomplished four of the seven.

They were pretty big goals too…like do a major series on public radio and meet the love of my life. The first one I accomplished during the five-year goal. But I didn’t meet my love till 1996.

After a couple failed romances, I was through with bad relationships. So I made a long list of what I wanted from a mate. I called it my “male order form.” By writing my list, I sent word to the universe saying “here’s what I want.” Four months later, I met Richard when we were practically pushed together by a mutual friend who organized a blind date for us. I was talking to an actress friend who was a temping as a receptionist at Richard’s office. I was telling her what as on my “list.” She then interrupted and said, “here’s who I think you should meet—Richard, come talk to my friend!.” She convinced us to meet for coffee and we kept on dating afterwards. I’m happy to say I pretty much got what I put on the list.

Lists are great for life goals not just the everyday to-do’s. It’s a way of almost contracting with the powers-that-be by spelling out what you really want from life.

Try making your list by thinking hard about what you really want. Make a reasonable goal and give it time to happen…several months, a year, several years. And then say, this is my road-map. This is what I want to happen. Then put a plan in action where your life-goals could be achieved.

I truly believe the pathway to bliss is to listen to your heart and follow your impulses and intuition, then taking action. Make the list. Then lay the groundwork by making sure you have the time and resources to achieve those goals and dreams. And most of all, let people know so they can help support your list…or at least not get in the way to making those dreams happen.

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I’ve usually pretty positive about the joys of working at the home office but lately I’ve been getting all kinds of pain…hand, knees, feet…It’s due to sitting at the computer. But when that’s the bulk of your work, how do you keep going when you’re in pain?

Time to drag out the pilates ball again...

Time to drag out the pilates ball again...

So I’m sitting on the pilates ball again. That helps my knees but soon my butt is going to get sore. It’s a constant rotation of pain as I switch chairs, desks and even stand while working.  I finally have a keyboard that work for me..the new one that came with my Mac.

Ergonomic keyboards cause me more hand pain because you have to press so hard. I went to an occupational therapist once and he just spent 10 minutes showing me websites for ergonomic office equipment, (duh!) and charged $300! Now that’s scam of a business to get into.

I’d really like a Star Trek computer that operates on voice command. So far Mac voice command software hasn’t really worked well but I’m open to suggestions!

Please share your pain-saving work methods…with all of us!

My previous post, The Karma of Giving, got a lot of mixed responses. Check out the comments section for some passionate thoughts on the role of the artist in supporting other artists. 

Cherie Blackfeather wrote:

“Even the idea of funding my “bliss” sort of offends me these days. It is not my “bliss”, it is my imperative. It is what I need to do and it is – what the community needs me to do (whether they are conscious of that or not).

(c) Creative Commons license

(c) Creative Commons license

The tough reality of American culture is that most creatives need to fend for themselves to make a living off their “bliss.” I wish we had a culture that provided a salary for artists, writers, performers and media producers simply because that is their talent. Ultimately it is up to us to find our way through our own drive, persistence and hard work. 

That said, I believe each of us can make a living at what we love doing. But the proper groundwork must be laid so we don’t fall into that category and stereotype of the “starving artist.”

I found this article geared toward writers, but I believe it’s pertinent for other artistic disciplines. It’s titled 10 Questions Writers Must Ask Before Quitting Their Day Job on Writersdigest.com, still the leading source for writers about writing.

The writer, Jeff Yeager, asks some tough questions and offers insight on the hard decision many people make about making a transition to their bliss.

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