This Week’s Gems – Sept 2nd 2012

So this is an inaugural series of posts I hope to do weekly. I’ve handpicked some useful stuff I came upon this week – links, articles, books, inspirational work –  and I thought it might interest you as well. Like most of my posts, these resources center around work, learning, artmaking and creativity. Enjoy this week’s potpourri:

1. The Little Book of Talent by Daniel CoyleThree years ago Daniel Coyle published the fantastic The Talent Code that debunked popular misconceptions on talent/genius and how to attain it. It shared some kinship with Gladwell’s Outliers, except Coyle gave us specific methods for getting better, for acquiring mastery, regardless of the pursuit. Here in this short volume he continues that discussion with more concrete tips. Each short chapter is supported by observations he made visiting masters and the schools/teachers that mentored them. Highly recommend it, to any ‘makers’ out there. I’ll leave you with a quote from the introduction:

Whatever talent you set out to build, from golfing to learning a new language to playing guitar to managing a startup, be assured of one thing: You are born with the machinery to transform beginners’ clumsiness into fast, fluent action. that machinery is not controlled by genes, it’s controlled by you. Each day, each practice session, is a step toward a different future. This is a hopeful idea, and the most hopeful thing about it is that it is a fact.

2. Working Out Doesn’t Just Make You Stronger, It Makes You Smarter [via FastCompany] Useful infographic that reminds you how important exercise is for your gray matter.

3. Scent of Revolution (Ra’ihat Al-Thawra) – A dear mentor of mine is seeking funds to finish off her most recent documentary. Viola Shafik is the author of the esteemed Arab Cinema and film maker/curator based between Berlin and Cairo. Based on the film’s trailer and description, it seems that this doc will be a multi-threaded, cross-sectional look at the complex relationship between Egypt’s past, present and future. She seems emotionally tied to finding some answers to where Egypt is going post-Mubarak. While there’s no shortage of films on the recent Egyptian revolution, I think few take such a nuanced look at the events as she has. With the film in the can, she’s seeking $18k for post – if you’re a fan of Arab cinema and want to be part of it, definitely pick up her book and try to support her film with whatever spare change you have.

4. Kirby Ferguson: Embrace the Remix – If you’re not familiar with Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix video series you should be. It debunks popular ideas on originality and ownership and is a great starting point for ‘makers’. In this short TED video he extends his ideas by using examples from Dylan and Steve Jobs to demonstrate how our most celebrated creators borrow, steal and transform to produce their greatest work. You can watch the full 10 minute video here:

5. I’ve spoken before about Skillshare, now they’re offering hybrid classes that allow students to take online classes and meet up in their respective cities for further discussion. Really interesting selection so far, I think I’m going to sign up for Build Your Creative Empire, and I just sent in a proposal to teach a Kickstarter Your Dreams class.


2011 in Review

2012 getting closer. Before I make any resolutions, let me first reminisce on this year’s accomplishments and what I’m most proud of:

  • Completed my ‘100 poems in a 100 days‘ project. This was a great teacher of the value of ‘just doing it’ and how our potential creative output is actually a lot greater than we think. And of course there were other insights along the way.
  • Blogged about my Binger Lab experience with Shelter. Those posts became a separate kind of laboratory where I could tinker with ideas I had for the script and how to direct the film.
  • Helped out as a Kickstarter Consultant with funding campaigns for two short films (‘Lunch Date‘, ‘Plato’s Reality Machine‘).  This taught me a great deal about how one can raise funds and might be useful for 2012 if I decide to kickstarter a project of my own.
  • Got back into taking pictures and drawing on a more regular basis. Even rented a studio for a few weeks to paint.
  • Abandoned Facebook and shifted over to Tumblr as my main social media site. A few months ago I found Facebook to be a distracting burden instead of a creative tool, so now I’m using Tumblr as a scrapyard of ideas, both taken from others and original ones, to use later. This shift has forced me to stay in touch with friends more directly, by email and phone.
  • Used to start chatting with natives in Egyptian Arabic. This has been quite a workout, as we’re not speaking within the confines of a lesson or class, but rather talking freeform about anything and everything. But I’ve made more progress in the last three months than I have in the last five years; and I’ve reached a higher fluency than ever before. With all the recent events in Egypt we’ve had plenty to talk about.
  • Started treating regular fitness like an adventure, experimented with working outdoors and different tools like iPhone apps, running, kettlebells, etc. For the past few months I’ve been using a great little app called BodyFate. It lets you train with the equipment you have handy, and the workout comes at you in an unpredictable manner as if you’re working with a shuffled deck of exercises. My training now is goalless, it’s just about putting in the time on a regular basis and eating sensibly. Ironically, because I’ve ditched the ‘workout plans’ and fitness gurus, I’m in better shape now than ever before.
  • Bought a Kindle and started reading more often and everywhere. While a digital book can never replace a physical one, the pros do outweigh the cons. I’m able to travel with my entire library and revisit my books and highlights very quickly. It’s also easier for me to draw connections between the different books I’ve read on a particular subject or across disciplines.
  • Last but not least, I got to witness my younger brother get married. It was a beautiful, humbling experience and reminded me of what truly is important in this life.

The irony is that none of these accomplishments came out of a set of resolutions I wrote for myself at the beginning of 2011 – they were simply the result of me following my curiosity and needs as the year went by. Maybe ‘going with the flow’, and simply embracing your questions and interests, pursuing the things you want to be doing more of, is a more useful tool for realizing a resolution than the resolution itself?

I’m excited to see what I achieve with this same, goalless approach for 2012, as I get closer to my 35th birthday.

How to Build a Buzz Machine for Filmmakers –


Going through the computer and found this old article I wrote on marketing for filmmakers.

You can either download it as a PDF, or read it here –

Enjoy –

‘How to Build a Buzz-Machine for Filmmakers’

A Book Review of ‘Creating Customer Evangelists’

Independent filmmakers are entrepreneurs that must do everything they can do to get their work in front of a paying audience. Whether you like it or not, you are a brand and your film is a product. The more you can think like a business, while retaining your artistic vision, the closer you’ll be to being a self-reliant filmmaker. My aim for writing this summary is to help you cross the chasm you may feel as an artist trying to read up on the latest marketing literature. These books weren’t intended for your type of products or your industry. But many of their lessons still apply. You can either buy your marketing, your ‘buzz machine’, through PR and fancy ads, or you can build it, one customer at a time.  Its been proven in recent years that word-of-mouth is the great equalizer that can compensate for low-budget marketing and distribution. In my opinion one of the best books written on understanding, initiating and nurturing word-of-mouth is Creating Customer Evangelists by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba. My aim is that by the end of this article you will learn the basics of how to generate and sustain word-of-mouth. I will also leave you with some ideas on how to build a ‘buzz machine’ made up of your own paying audience who are eager to spread the word out about your work.

The pillars of McConnell and Huba’s ‘business theology’ is presented in a case-study approach that deciphers why and how eight companies, like the Dallas Mavericks and Krispy Kreme, are thriving so well. The authors found that the common denominator in these companies’ success stories is their customers. These customers are not only loyal, they are fans, they are evangelists who:

  • recommend the brand to their friends and even strangers
  • believe in the brand
  • are eager to give back constructive feedback
  • have made a strong emotional connection to the company and its products

The authors have coined six pillars that are common in any company that sparks such fervor. These companies:

  1. Continuously gather customer feedback – ‘Customer plus-delta’
  2. Make it a point to share knowledge freely – ‘Napsterize knowledge’
  3. Expertly build word-of-mouth networks – ‘Build the buzz’
  4. Encourage communities of customers to meet and share – ‘Create community’
  5. Devise specialized, smaller offerings to get customers to bite – ‘Make bite-size chunks’
  6. Focus on making the world, or your industry, better – ‘Create a cause’

You can nurture these traits from the very start of your film’s preproduction. The prerequisite is that they be done honestly and consistently otherwise you will simply sabotage yourself and your brand. For the filmmaker, I’d like to translate these pillars into potential actions and tools that they can use throughout film production well into the next project. These are only suggestions, I’m sure you can come up with more effective ideas:




‘Customer plus-delta’ Continuously gather customer feedback
  • Make it easy for people to contact you.
  • Don’t be afraid of honest feedback, encourage people who have seen or purchased your film to leave an online review.
  • Twitter is great at tracking comments and if you’re open enough you’re bound to get back some useful feedback
‘Napsterize knowledge’ Make it a point to share knowledge freely
  • Give your audience a behind-the-scenes tour of your film while in production.
  • Teach them tricks of the trade (e.g. basics of editing, etc.) for free.
‘Build the buzz’ Expertly build word-of-mouth networks
  • Determine for yourself through trial and error the best way to build the buzz about your work. Is it through social networking sites? Or is it through casting call events that are so unique they get reviewed by the local paper?
  • Give fans who register for your blog or subscribe to your podcast special benefits (e.g. discounted DVDs, invitation to chat-room events).
‘Create community’ Encourage communities of customers to meet and share.
  • The easy thing to do is setup a twitter hashtag where fans can discuss your film and related topics.
  • When you do have a following, why not let the audience have a stake in your next project by allowing them to vote on certain production issues (e.g. title of film, DVD menu layout, etc.)
‘Make bite-size chunks’ Devise specialized, smaller offerings to get customers to bite
  • Don’t wait until your film’s completion to show your audience bits and pieces of what you’re working on. Allow them a free pass into all phases of production, with pictures, sounds, and video.
  • Give away scenes of your film to YouTube or Vimeo.
  • Give the audience different ways of viewing your content (e.g. streaming, iPad, etc.)
‘Create a cause’ Focus on making the world or your industry, better
  • What is your goal as a filmmaker? To make funnier films? Shed light on a problem in society? Make sure everyone knows what you’re about.
  • A portion of DVD royalties could go to a charity
  • You could invite your audience to a special eBay listing where you auction off film props for a charity.
  • Why not teach a free filmmaking workshop while spreading the word about your film?



Re-reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ –

I first read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King when it first came out about 10 years ago. I was 22 at the time and felt afterwards that I had wasted my money.

I’m rereading it now, a little wiser, and find that I’m able to soak up a lot more of what Mr. King was trying to say.

Its relation to my study in memory was confirmed in one of the first paragraphs in describing his biography and memories as a writer:

‘There are no lines – only snapshots, most out of focus’

He goes on to write out those ‘snapshots’, even pointing out the missing details in his memories, in order to explain how he became the writer he is.

It’s as much for our benefit as fans of his work as it is for him – a practitioner who doesn’t quite know how he’s able to do what he does.

I’ve just started – if I find anymore memory or writing tidbits that might interest you I’ll post them up –