Archive for April, 2010

Worth Repeating: Mastering Your Craft

Some conversations with friends and family members over the last few months have caused me to think a lot about success; what does it take to not only succeed, but be the best? how does one who is currently, by whatever standard of measurement imposed, deemed unsuccessful become successful? and what tools are out there to help?

Well, here’s my perspective:

Success is basically defined as accomplishing something or reaching a certain level of popularity or income/profit. i.e. a successful actor or a successful movie. On a more personal level, it may be reaching a level financially where one no longer has to live paycheck to paycheck, or when an entrepreneur starts getting work from word of mouth rather than direct advertising.

From my small experience, any success I’ve gained in my life has come from a commitment to master my craft. Please bear with me as I share a few personal examples.

I play the saxophone, and in high school came the time to audition for the numerous bands on campus. There were quite a few other saxophone players, and so quite a bit of competition. But I worked hard, practiced, and in some small sense, mastered my craft, and was the first chair saxophone player throughout the 4 years I attended high school.

Also in high school I played Volleyball, and was captain or co-captain the years I played. I and my co-captains attained that position by, again, on a small scale, mastering our craft. We practiced outside of practice, constantly had a volleyball in hand, and devoted ourselves to being the best we could be.

All this among the other endeavors I and my close friends were involved in, which included performing groups, choir, student council, decent grades, and everything else that came with the territory. It wasn’t hard, and I didn’t even come close to mastering everything I did, but the stuff that mattered most to me, I tried my best to master, and measured my success against my previous success as well as the success of others.

As a soundsmith, I’m in an industry that is ripe with competition. Since the process has grown to become almost entirely digital, it has also become more affordable, and I, along with many many others were able to break into the industry with very little investment. I was a sound recording major at BYU, but didn’t just rely on the education I received there to jump start my career. I started reading everything I could; books, forums, blogs, anything I could get my hands on to learn more about the craft. By the second year of school I was passing out of classes by handing in recordings the first day of class that I had done the week before at the studio I was working at. I got an A, and never went to class once.

Since then I have started my own business, am working at getting new and more clients, and trying to be successful. Now, I am by no means the best sound engineer there is in Utah, I can think of plenty of people who actually deserve such a title, but I consider myself successful. At one point I was fully supporting myself as an engineer, and am working on getting to that point with my business. The decision to not just limp in, but to become a master of my craft, is what makes all the difference between my reaching that success and failing.

Now, if you’re trying to do something, be it achieve a goal, start a business, be successful, get published, release an album, play a sold out show, raise good kids, the list goes on, here’s my 2¢ on how to do it.

Read everything you can about the subject. Want to be in politics? Then read everything you can on both sides. Want to be a great songwriter? Read every book you can on songwriting. Want to produce a short film? Read everything you can on producing. Reading is the easiest way to learn from industry and other types of professionals on any subject, and you can learn so much in such a short amount of time.

Experience matters almost more than anything else. In certain industries, what you have done almost matters more than what you know. Take film, for example. Nobody on a film set cares that you graduated first in your class with a film degree, if you are a grip that doesn’t know what a c-stand is, or a flag, or gaff tape. You cannot become a master of your craft if you do not actually DO whatever your craft is. So, while you’re reading all the books on whatever you’re trying to learn, spend as much time as you can actually doing it as well. Write if you’re trying to become a successful writer. Take pictures if you’re trying to become a successful photographer. Act if you’re trying to become an actor. You get the picture.

Master your craft. It takes dedication. It takes discipline. It requires you to understand what you’re competition is and/or what obstacles stand in your way. But I can attest to the reality that if you devote everything you have to mastering your craft, it will not be long that you can taste the sweetness of success. You cannot, or rather you should not try to do it any other way.

Now, a final recommendation to you. One book that I’ve read 3 times now and am constantly revisiting, and will now share. It hasn’t changed my life, that would be a little extreme, but it has greatly changed my perspective. If you’ve read it, pick it up and read it again. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it no matter if you’ve already become successful or if you are just starting to try. Link.

Mastering your craft: worth repeating.

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Worth Avoiding: The Losers

I almost want to apologize for using The Losers as a springboard to talk about a bigger perspective, but it is pretty deserving of any criticism to follow.

Firstly, I want to talk about a perspective recently adopted by yours truly. Its called “The First Reel Contract”, it can be found in its entirety here.

One of the first things you gather in the first 10 minutes or so of a film, or as Mr. Epstein says, “the first reel”, is what genre the film is. Genre, aside from being what aisle of the movie store you’re walking down, is a set of “goods” you are expected to deliver as the filmmakers. If you don’t deliver the goods, your movie fails, maybe not in the box office, because there’s plenty of people who are content with turning their brains off to watch a “hot” girl and listen to loud noises (*cough* Transformers…*cough*), but in the hearts of us who love good movies and were led to expect more from your film.

Take the example of The Losers. The trailer gave me so much to look forward to:

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, and Idris Elba. Done. I’m sold already.

Cheesy 80’s music and a joke about an “80’s Classic Car” ha. This should could be a funny movie.

Good premise, good characters.

All of this = “Yes, I want to spend some of my hard earned money to watch this movie.”

From the trailer I gathered that this would be a comic action movie, with some fun action scenes, lots of explosions, guns, cars, and a bad guy who probably wants either a gazillion dollars or some amount of power, or both.

The first 10 minutes of the movie fell into step nicely. We’re in Bolivia, they’re a group of army soldiers, and they have a mission. There’s some jokes, stuff goes wrong, and we have the premise of our movie. I’m intrigued, I feel a little bit like the writers were lazy with the dialog, but I’m ok with it so far.

Now, skip through the movie to the end, and me walking out of the theater in a small outrage, grunting “that was just NOT GOOD”. How did we get from A to B? Let me explain.

If you are writing an action comedy, you have to explain that that’s what your movie is in the trailer and in the first 10 minutes of your movie. Check.

You ALSO have to deliver the goods. What are the goods? In this case, you have to have interesting action sequences, preferably ones that move the plot forward and show/tell us something about the characters, and you have to make me laugh. Now, is that such a tall order? Apparently, yes.

The action sequences were ok, there were a few moments of “oh, that was kinda cool”, but nothing groundbreaking. I’m ok with not being groundbreaking. Really, I am. But if you have an action scene just for the sake of an action scene, I immediately lump you in with such directors as Michael Bay, you know, the “awesome for the sake of awesome” guy. Ultimately, they did not deliver the goods.

Now, you’ve got another saving grace. If your action isn’t that good or doesn’t fit well into the plot, you can get by with being funny. Take Tropic Thunder: the action scenes weren’t “OMG you have to go see this movie its so AWESOME!!!!!!”, but they served their purpose, and the movie was hilarious.

The Losers, on the other hand, fell short. You’ve got some incredible actors pulling out so much from flat, boring, lazy dialog. It just goes to show how great Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Chris Evans are, but how much better would the movie had been if the writers had just taken another month to rewrite the dialog and make it the best it could be.

So, the movie in my opinion failed. It broke the contract, did not deliver the goods, however you want to explain it, it failed.

Now rather than just leaving it at “Verdict: Worth Avoiding”, I’m going to ask for a favor. Its a favor that benefits you as a movie goer, as well as myself and others who are both movie goers as well as film makers. The favor is this:

If a movie breaks its contract, i.e. does not deliver the goods, i.e. is a crappy movie, DON’T SUPPORT IT! Actively tell your friends, as I am telling you now, to wait until it comes out on video, or wait until its in the dollar movies, or at very least see it during a lower priced matinee. Because, and this is crucial, if you support crappy movies and they make buttloads of money (ahem), they will make more of them (ahhheeeemmmm). (At that rate, the third one will have a freshness rating of -17%, and will be quite deserving of such a negative rating). We must demand more from the studios and filmmakers that are making movies. It is our duty, and its our right.

So, if you’re like me and you are a fan of great movies, support them. Help them make money. If the movie sucks, don’t let others make the same mistake you did when you gave them your $10. Deal?

Crappy Movies: Worth Avoiding

Worth Avoiding: Pride

I’ve spent the last few weeks indecisive; not only about what to write about but trying to figure out where life is heading. We got a call that our landlord wants his house back, so we had to frantically find a place to move to so that we wouldn’t be homeless at the end of the month. The decision of where to live has been an interesting one, as we were faced having to choose between cost and comfort. Maybe its oversimplifying a bit much, but it seemed like we had limited options that were on opposite sides of the spectrum: old and cheap or new and pricy. Where did we end up? Well, first, how did we make the decision.

We really wanted to lower the amount we were paying a month. We’ve done well keeping our rent to under 30% of our budget, but wanted to lower it if we could. We’ve been really spoiled with the place we’re in, and so it was a tough decision. We ended up getting really lucky and have a place kind of fall into our lap. Its the perfect size and is less rent than we are currently paying.

The reason I bring it up is because thinking back on it, (trying to gain some perspective), I worry I was motivated by pride. It probably would’ve been better for us to lower our rent even more than we are going to, but I wanted to have a place that was nice. Not necessarily “nicer” than others’, but something that was nice. Is it so wrong to want to give your wife a nice home?

So it got me thinking about pride. After thinking and reading and all, its a little scary what could happen if we aren’t actively avoiding pride.

So without further ado, here’s why  I feel we should avoid pride, with a few examples.

Pride occurs in the comparison. When we act upon or react to a situation based on a comparison, pride is involved in whatever decision we make.  So we must ask ourselves, why did we buy that car, or put those rims on it? Why do we live in the neighborhood or the house we live? Why do we go out to eat instead of eating in? If any of the answers involve a comparison with someone else, pride may be present.

Pride clouds our judgement. When we’re concerned so much about what other people think or how we are viewed by others, there’s a problem. I’ve seen pride bankrupt people, because they were afraid of what people might  think if they had to downsize their lifestyle.  How many times in history has the pride of a nation or it’s leader brought about its destruction?

Think about some of the qualities and goals we all seek after, and how pride can derail us from that pursuit if we don’t avoid it:

Having a family

Being persuasive

Financial security

Job security and advancement

Health

Faith

Charity

Patience

Virtue

Humility

Discipline

And the list goes on and on…

So, I’ve been taking inventory as of late, trying to eliminate the instances of pride that are littering my life.  Its not easy to say the least, but its a good exercise for all of us. Take a good look, read a book if need by, and try to get it out completely.

Worth avoiding: Pride