Friday, July 29, 2011

The Letter of Rejection

Yeah, it happens to all of us.

You pour your heart and soul into something. You seal the envelope and take a deep breath as you pop it into the mail. You send it off and wait. And wait. And finally get a note in return. Just one simple piece of paper that shreds your hopes and dreams into kitty litter...

This was I believe, written
by Hunter S. Thompson to Mike Peters,
an aspiring writer who'd sent a satirical piece to Rolling Stone.

I've had worse.

You see - a Rejection Letter isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's actually a good thing. Any salesman will tell you that a "NO" is better than a "Maybe". "No" means "we're not interested, move along." "Maybe" means that you have to hang around and wait. And there's nothing worse than waiting.

Of course, there are some ways of saying "No" that are nicer than others.

I pitched an idea to the good people at McDonalds many years ago. A couple of days after dropping off the package, I got a call from the VP of Marketing. He explained their marketing strategy and why my project didn't fit within their plans. He spent at least 20 minutes with me because I had taken the time to include McDonalds in my plans. Very nice. What more can you ask of them? I ran out and ate a Big Mac to thank him.

I pitched a project to William Shatner once. He called. We spoke. He turned me down for scheduling reasons - but offered a number of very good creative suggestions which improved the overall quality of my project. Advice from Captain Kirk??? BONUS!!!

These days, you often don't get any feedback at all. You send in your project - and it falls into a black pit.





They don't even bother to say that they're not interested.

There are a few good people out there, real gems who do offer feedback and comments. They're the ones who earn your respect and put on a good face for their companies. They're the kind of people you'd want to work with on future projects.

Even this form rejection slip is better than nothing. It's impersonal but informative.

Essanay Studios made Chaplin films back in the day.

They actually used this slip when rejecting screenplays.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tony Stark: Superhero

I come to the Marvel movie franchises as a newbie. When I was a kid, you were either a Marvel or a D.C. guy. I was a D.C. guy. I followed Batman and Superman. I knew who Spiderman was, but I'd never read one of his comic books. That goes for the rest of the Marvel canon as well.

When the Spiderman movie came out - I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I knew all about the radioactive spider before the movie, so no big surprise.

But then this "Iron Man" guy came along. I'd heard the name, seen the covers - but never got into it. (To be honest, I'm still not "into" Iron Man - I don't buy the comics.) But I do enjoy the movies. Why?

Tony Stark.

He's cool. He's flawed. And he knows it. Forget the tin suit, I'd watch a Tony Stark movie any day of the week. That's what makes for a great superhero - when his secret (or in Tony's case, not-so-secret) identity is as interesting - or MORE interesting than his Superhero identity.

I've come across a number of pitch properties where the hero derives his powers from the suit that he or she wears. I call these "the magic golashes" - as in, "He can fly when he wears The Magic Golashes". But as soon as he kick them off - he's just a regular guy.

And that's the problem - nobody wants to see a "regular guy". Your hero has to be as amazing and cool in his daily life as when he's in the suit. Bruce Wayne as played by Michael Keaton in the Tim Burton Batman movies (and by Adam West in the 60's TV series) - was boring. The persona only exists as Batman - which frankly - and I hate to say it - is bad storytelling.

Nope. Take it from this D.C. guy - Iron Man is a brilliant character because of who he is, when he isn't in character.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fortune Telling

I attended an industry function last week. Everyone was milling about discussing the biz: who's working where and on what, to who, etc. The topic turned briefly to a small studio owner. He's got a decent business providing service work to larger studios and making TV commercials. Great for him - he's living the dream.

Now let's flash forward 15 or 20 years. Our studio owner is ready to retire and wants to sell his studio. What is a studio - and what is it worth?

If he's bought the building that his studio occupies in downtown Toronto - he's sitting pretty on some prime real estate, so he's set. Let's not worry about him. If he's renting his studio space - then the asset is the studio itself - so let's look at that.

What is a studio?

A studio is made of up three things: People, equipment and intellectual properties.

You can't sell the people. That's kinda, sorta... against the law. The new owners would have to keep the key talent from leaving. But that's a variable - they might stay. They might not. So that's not an asset.

The equipment. The hardware and software is outdated the moment it hits the store shelves. So the gear itself isn't worth much. Maybe 1/2 of it's list price at best. Maybe there are some rare and collectible pieces of art or autographed tchotchkes lying around. Who knows? But overall, the stuff ain't worth much.

And then there are the Intellectual Properties. What characters, shows, logos, trademarks does the studio own? These little gems are what holds the value in the future. This is what people want.

I was watching Dragon's Den the other night - that's the show where people pitch ideas to Venture Capitalists. The lady who created Woofstock (a dog festival) was offered $500,000 for 50% of her business - with the opportunity to grow it bigger. The key interest to the investor was that she had worldwide trademarks on the name and the brand. A name and a reputation for quality is worth a half million dollars - and she turned them down.

I was chatting with the founder of a local festival yesterday. Someone has started a competing festival - calling it a "summer version" of the original. I advised my friend to trademark the name which she had originated and was now being widely used. Its one of those things that could be very valuable in future years.

Create something new and original. Grow it. Own it.

I met with a very smart man yesterday. He gave me some good advice - the equation for wealth.

Innovation + Harmony = Money