Hello Filmmakers and Industry Professionals,
This blog is for those of you who make a living in the industry, or those that are interested in the business ideas behind the Digital Bolex and where those ideas come from.
I would like to preface that while I will be speaking mostly about this as a money making venture, it is much more than that. There are a lot of ways to make money, for instance did you know that laundromats and dry cleaners are two of the most profitable small businesses you can open without an advanced degree? http://bit.ly/fvq9qQ If I wanted to just make money I would definitely have chosen something else. This is a passion project that will hopefully help us find our place in history. As Joseph Beuys once said “After I am dead I would like people to say: ‘Beuys understood the historical situation and he altered the course of events.’” I guess we are all looking for something to do with our time on this planet that will leave our influence and hopefully make other people’s lives at least a little richer.
Book Suggestions: I am going to recommend three books that have utterly changed my life, but first this is why I think this is so important. So far in the entertainment industry the studios, distribution companies, TV stations, and other conglomerate billion dollar companies have been the gate keepers for the entertainment industry, but soon that will change. This is already happening in small ways on platforms like YouTube and iTunes, but hopefully soon it will be the predominant way people experience entertainment. This is great because it means that filmmakers and content creators can be the masters of their own destiny and their work can be accepted by a wide audience instead of having to be accepted by a studio exec or film festival judge. This is also a little dangerous because it means that each of you who want to be the proprietor of your work through self-distribution must now learn to be good business people as well as consummate artists.
Right now there is a business barrier between many filmmakers and their audience. This barrier comes in the form of execs telling people what the content of their films should be, who they should cast, and many other choices that should be left to the creatives, but this barrier also means that a business person is handling the financial side, essentially insulating filmmakers from what might be difficult waters for them to swim in. In the future we will have to be our own execs. It will soon be just as important for filmmakers to know how to write a market research paper as it is for them to know the 180° rule.
These books are very popular in the business world, but for some reason I know very few filmmakers that have read them. Anyway enough preface, Here are the books and how they relate to this project:
#1. Getting Things Done by David Allen is a book about productivity and time management. This book is a general how to book for life in the modern e-centric world. It was better for me than some of the other time management books because it talks about human anatomy and it’s relation to processes. This was great for me because I could see the reasoning behind his suggestions. I believe I was about half as productive before I read this book as I am today.
#2. Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, as I spoke about in one of my previous blogs, this is a book about finding an untapped market space and creating unique value for consumers. This has clear importance to someone making a camera, but you may ask why this might be important to filmmakers. The offerings of any product can be charted, even entertainment, and if you can chart competing products you can build a unique product that will stand out from current offerings. When you start to break these things down this way, it’s amazing how similar a lot of movies and TV shows are and how many under serviced markets exist.
#3. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is a book that looks at business techniques going back to 1900. I have only completed this book as of early this year, but it has already changed the way I think about all business. Many of the chapters are commentary on todays post industrial society and are actually very profound, not just in relation to business, but to humanity as a whole. And again you may say, well I don’t live in San Francisco and I’m not starting an internet company, what does this book have to do with me? Every film that seeks financial success is like a startup in many ways. You have a target market, budgets, schedules, and of course employees that need proper motivation. And bigger than that if you want the freedom to make and market your own content, even a YouTube channel, you have a startup business. You have to build your market and if you ever want to make money you should understand the primary “engines of growth”.
I have read, actually listened, to each of these several times, and I continue to listen to them. Each time I consume one of these books I learn something new, even if it’s a 3rd or 4rth time through. As your understanding of the world grows the meaning of the books change. I have read dozens of non-fiction books about business, marketing, and productivity. They all have interesting things in them, but these three contain a profound understanding I feel changed my life. I read them in the order above, and I think it makes good sense to read them in that order.
Each of these are popular enough to have dedicated forums and rich communities of people talking about these concepts, but if you guys would like to open a “Suggested Reading” thread or something like that here I think that’s a good idea too!
All of these books as I said have been profoundly influential on me. I’ll start with the first one. Getting Things Done talks about a lot of things, but one of the central themes is write it down. Our brains are very poor for long term storage, but very good at quick processing, it makes sense to keep “hard copies” of your important thoughts and tasks, thus freeing up brain power for other things. Basically every time you write something important down where you can find it, it’s like closing an app in your brain which helps it run faster and not crash as much. I keep three major lists and a lot of smaller lists. The three major ones are:
1. a day to day to do list, this one syncs with my phone and if I don’t check at least three things off every day I get a little uneasy. This must be updated everyday!
2. a major projects list, of things my company and I are working on as a whole. This one I share with relevant people and update only as needed.
3. a down the road list, this is my storage closet, when I get an idea for a new way to fold a camping tent or a digital cinema camera intended to simulate film it goes here. One almost never gets to cross things off of this list, but it is really gratifying if you ever do!
These lists are not just good for remembering what to do, they also help you analyze things about yourself and your company that are abstract. One of the things I think that helped me in my last business and continues to help me is constantly writing and rewriting the Company Statement of Purpose, and my personal one. These are useful to help make tough decisions and also give guidelines and goals to people you work with. When you have a clearly defined purpose aligning with the right people and making good decisions starts to feel natural. A nice side effect of making these short term and long term lists is being able to look at them down the road and try to understand the commonalities between them. For instance “respond to forum questions” is on my day to day list 3 days a week now, and “post a new blog” is on there one a week. If you had asked me 3 months ago what my job description here was, blog and forum posts would not have been a factor. Today it would be one of the first things I list. And when I look at my long term goals they all have to do with independent filmmakers owning and distributing their work, or giving people the tools to make better images with less money. I have heard many people say they are afraid of the democratization of movie making, because it will lead to so many bad movies being made it will lower the number of good movies being made, and make weeding out the good ones impossible. I believe we can take the same tools people are afraid will degrade the movie industry and use them to make it better if applied correctly. I guess my mission statement right now would be to help create better movies through the democratization of filmmaking. And if you look through my long term lists it makes a lot of sense. The reason this camera means so much to me is because of it’s ability to influence this outcome. The ideas and techniques in Getting Things Done helps me understand this better, and helps guide my decisions.
The next book is Blue Ocean Strategies. This book has been revolutionary for me. The idea is basically within ever product category there lies latent value that current market offerings don’t satisfy. This book is full of really good information, but the value proposition is the thing that I think is key to understand. One of their favorite examples in the book is Cirque Du Soleil. The French Canadian company took the circus out of the tent, into a theater environment, and added music and story intended for adults. The result is the most profitable live performance shows on the planet. The conception now may seem obvious, but at the time it was completely revolutionary. This is a graph showing how this innovation came about.
You can see clearly how their offering differed dramatically from what current circuses were offering. Here are a couple more…
The hardest part of designing one of these graphs is deciding which factors should be considered. For this many companies do study groups and it can take years to really understand it properly. We put out several surveys asking hundreds of people about their experience with DSLRs and what they felt was important. Some surveys included information about our project and some did not. This gave us a good basis for how to construct our graph…
As you can see in the graph above we found that while DSLRs fared well with in camera options, NLE compatibility, and their efficiency of bit size through compression, they received lower marks for ease of use, sound quality, and image quality. So we set out to make a camera that had an almost exact inverse value curve for people who cared more about things like image quality, than NLE compatibility. The result was a camera that felt much more like a traditional film camera than what had become the norm for digital cameras. We wondered, if we pursue the film camera simulation path, would that set us apart from the competition, especially in this price bracket?
The third book The Lean Startup is probably the most influential for me at this point in my life. It talks heavily about “minimum viable product”, and small teams working in small batches. These seem like easy and obvious concepts, but upon implementation they become much more complicated. We have structured our product development this way, I believe to great advantage. We have adopted a policy of openness and honesty with our supporters that is also talked about in this book.
I know this is a really long blog, I hope this was informative for people interested in the thinking behind the Digital Bolex, and if any of you read / listen to these books I would be excited to hear what you think.
As always thank you all for your support, Joe