Bridging Gaps – Part 2

OK. Yay. You got to work in the field you wanted. But how? How did you bridge the gap between corporate communications and entertainment work?

Quick side note. I worked in the music industry for a little bit in L.A. and I would always listen to these stories of how writers, musicians and artists went from being broke to being successful. And 99% of the time, they skipped the part about how. I take that back. They always left out the details. The story always went something like:

I was broke and didn’t have a job. And I figured, no one is going to make my dream happen but me! So I worked hard and 1 year later, I landed my first deal. We went around the country playing small clubs and they got bigger and bigger until bam! Carnegie Hall! A great story. But if I want to follow in your footsteps, I’m going to need a little bit more info.

So here’s some more info. If you recall, I reached out, by accident, to the booking agent of a comedian that I wanted to work with. The world wide web was just emerging as a viable medium and I had just graduated from Future Splash to full-fledged Flash. The internet was finally able to handle some coolness and I was out on the cusp of its development. So I sent an email. The booking agent wrote me back with the simplest of responses: “Call me.”

So I did.

Here’s something you should consider before you run headlong into a working relationship. Know what you can get before you offer. You see, I had never been to a comedy club. I didn’t KNOW that often times the comedians simply hang out to talk. But to me, that was worth the design of a small website. And so I offered to design one with the promise that I could get some free tickets and meet the comedian backstage. Well, for a booking agent, tickets to ANY show of their client is like lint. Always available and they can produce them at any time. Insert Price is Right Fail music. So he hooked me up. And it was my good fortune to have accidentally emailed the BOOKING AGENT because now he had OTHER clients that could use my services.

Second note: When making sales calls, reach out to the people that have more contacts. While it’s great to be speaking directly with the end client, sometimes it’s better to set up a relationship with the guy who knows all the clients you’re trying to reach. For clarity: the booking agent works with a bunch of comedians. I wanted to work with some comedians. Had I reached out to ONE comedian, I would have relied on him to spread the word for me. Working with the booking agent, I could provide added services to his clients. Win-win.

Baptism by fire.

How did I gain these web and multimedia skills? Let’s start with web. I was a graphic designer. Knew Photoshop, Illustrator and Desktop Publishing. There was no web ability in there whatsoever. Not even an understanding. But my company didn’t know that. We were JUST starting to understand the web. So I jumped in with both feet. “I know how to design a website!” The marketing manager looked me for a second, knowing he had no other alternatives or budget to hire an agency. “OK.” So I got the gig. I went straight to the developers and said, “So…I’ve been asked to do this website. Do you have any resources you can recommend?” And they did. A great starter book. And so began my web design career.

I began devouring books. Watching tutorials. Found great CD-ROMs from Lynda! Eventually, I jumped into a couple classes here and there. All to expand the skills I knew would get me the kind of work I wanted to do. And the booking agent did his part. He recommended me to other comedians. They recommended me to each other. THEIR contacts wanted me to do THEIR websites. Eventually, I could barter my skills with favors from these entertainment professionals. What kind of barters? Here’s an example. I bartered a website for a promise that my client would read a new script I was working on. They loved it and passed it onto their son, a film icon back in the 80’s. THAT relationship sparked a writing partnership that would last 3 years. So I went from Corporate Communications to web design to designing for entertainers to becoming a script writer.

It’s how I tell people to use the side door.

Bridging Gaps – Part 1

I used to write a blog about being a writer in the entertainment industry. I have been, in one way or another, attached to the entertainment industry in whatever capacity I could. Whether as a writer, a producer, a designer, a developer, an animator, or whatever was the soup du jour. It was what I was pulled to. I LOVE the entertainment industry. It has neurotics, crazy people, driven people, some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, as well as some of the biggest jack asses. But all those experiences aside, it was a career path I wanted to pursue. But like the connections in your brain, if one way didn’t work, I’d simply find another.

Here’s the point. No matter what your passion, just because you can’t make it your full-time mission in life, doesn’t mean you can’t make it a part of your life. What I’m talking about here is the all or nothing mentality I sometimes come across. The “I worked in the film industry, but couldn’t cut it, so now I’m serving fries.” REALLY? You just gave up?

Now I’m not dumb. There are very real financial risks to pursuing your dreams. There are very heavy burdens that come from trying to pursue your dreams after getting married or having a family. But there are ALWAYS ways. Granted, some ways are not as fulfilling as others. But it depends on what your goals are.

I have set several goals in my lifetime, having reached all but one: getting a certain screenplay of mine turned into a major motion picture. That day is coming. I used the environment around me to kick in the side doors of an industry that may otherwise have been unavailable to me through the traditional paths that thousands take pilgrimages on every day. Be clearer? How exactly? (Yeah, I hate those guys that give you the life story of how they went from rags to riches, conveniently leaving out the details of exactly how they did it. So here’s what I’m talking about…)

My first goals: Work in the motion picture/TV industry. Specifically, I had in my head these three subsets of the goal. 1) Write a screenplay/teleplay and pitch it in L.A. or NYC. 2) Be able to fly to NYC on someone else’s dime because I’m being paid to be there on an entertainment-related gig. 3) Work with celebrities.

Yep. Got all three. And I was working in corporate communications at the time. Telecom even! AND, I live in the middle of the U.S.! So what did I do that was so different? How did I not have to go to L.A. or NYC to make these connections and break down the doors of an industry that usually caters to people who can hop in a cab and be in your office in half an hour or less? It was slow. I’ll admit. But it’s an incestuous industry. They work with people who’ve worked with people they know. And how did I work with the people they know? I sent an email.

Making the first connection

I LOVE the comedy business. Love stand up comedy, love the scene, love the guys behind it. So when one comedian in particular came along that I could relate to and really get behind, I decided to offer some of my design skills for free. That’s right. I said it. FREE. You see, I was willing to show them what I could do at ZERO risk to them in order to break down the door for things I wanted to do later. I didn’t rush into presenting my script ideas or asking for autographs. I simply said I’d do a website for him if you could get me and some friends into a club to watch him perform. It worked. One fortunate accident came out of that email to this comedian. 1) I accidentally emailed his booking agent. If there’s one thing you should learn first, it’s that bathing in a river isn’t nearly as satisfying as swimming in the ocean that it came from. Because you get access to all the other rivers! I have a favorite quote from “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.” “Your odds go up when you fill out an application.”

So I filled out the app. And from that came gigs with other comedians. Like I said. Incestuous. I charged pennies at first. Then, as my reputation gained popularity in the circle, I branched out. Pretty soon, I was doing sites, flying to L.A. and NYC, and eventually parlayed all of that into other projects with the very celebrities I watched and admired on TV. Goals 2 and 3…check.

Check out my next entry when I talk about some of the challenges with bridging the gaps of your current skills sets to achieve some your goals in a different industry altogether.

Battling the Design Rut

This is dedicated to all those designers that may find themselves in solo land. Whether working for a small team, inside the corporate wheel but without other designers, or contracting from your silo of a home base. At times, you find yourself looking at the same designs, the same inspirations, and the same old same old. It’s not all bad. All is not lost. So where do you find new inspiration?

Use your friends! Find new ones.

What’s the use of having friends in design if you don’t tap their collective cerebellum? The social network is an amazing invention. It lets you move with lightning speed through the internet, employing your network of friends as filters. I find, that the younger of my acquaintances in my field are about 10x more likely to find cool and inspirational things than I am. I admit it, I’m a part of the daily grind at times and don’t invest nearly enough time into keeping things fresh for myself. And it’s in these moments that I rely on these friends out there in the real world to help me keep my design goggles on full throttle. Follow their tweets, read their Facebook posts, IM them, click on links they send you because they think it’s cool, anything to keep your mind inspired by different things. I am constantly learning about new technologies, techniques, and inspirations that can help me keep my own designs fresh and unique.

Be social.

There are ton of great designers out there. And if you don’t know them, click the “FOLLOW ME” link on their site. I’ve been hard pressed to find great designers who aren’t willing to share some facet of their technique with others. There used to exist a “web ring.” Technically, it never went anywhere. But in this specific iteration, it existed for websites to connect to one another. Literally, you would have a short list of websites at the bottom of your page. This list of sites looked similar across all the websites that were connected to the ring. Often times, it was just a series of links that took you to something you had no interest in reading. To be fair, I GUESS you could say it was related to the original site you were reading. This was one way to surf the web and just see what was out there. Early on, you would simply follow hyperlinks all over the web. There was no de facto search engine. And in those days, there weren’t really too many things to search for. But it was fun just to click and click and click until you found yourself on some ungodly site or the coolest thing you’ve ever seen (a rarity.) Today, social networks help you surf from a distance. As lazy as it sounds, you’re letting others do the work, finding the latest trend in design, and then checking it out for yourself. And for the most part, those curiosities tend to lead you down your own paths of discovery. And it’s THOSE times that you return the favor to your friends. Ah, the circle of life.

Do your own research.

If all else fails, get out there. Pick up a magazine. Go to an art gallery. Find something/someone you like in the design realm and do some research on it. Reach outside your comfort zone. Research another field! Into Flash design? Pickup a photography magazine. Into desktop publishing? Pick up a book on new technologies? Anything to stimulate your brain from thinking down the same old road of design you’re used to. I’ve often found myself churning out the same old icons, backgrounds, buttons. Why? Time plays a factor, certainly. If I’ve got 10 projects to get out the door in 1 week, I can’t spend time getting inspired. I’ve got work to do! OK. This happens more than I’d care to comment on. HOWEVER, do make time. Even the slightest inspirations can get the wheels turning in a different direction and breathe new life into your designs and purpose in life. 🙂