Freedom to Fail


success if only for those who are willing to take risks….

Television is expensive to make.

Books are cheap.

To create a television ‘product’ you now have to have an idea, hire a cameraman, a soundman, director, lighting tech, editor, edit suite, rent gear… on and on leading one to believe, and properly so that making television is a complicated, intensive, time-consuming and costly proposition.

Or at least it used to be.

To write a book, you have to have an idea… and a pencil and paper.

The ‘technology’ of writing is both cheap and inexpensive.

The ‘complicated’ nature of television production has, since the medium’s inception, inculcated us all with a sense that before we embarked in the actual act of ‘making tv’, we had better have a good plan of what the final product would be, what it would cost, how we would get there and so on. Hence, the world of ‘production management’.

This ‘complicated and costly’ mentality toward television production permeates every aspect of the business, from feature films to local news.

Before we dispatch a crew, we want to be damned sure there is going to be an airable product at the end of the day. So we have ‘assigment desks’ that sit next to scanners and monitors to tracke very auto accident and then rush a crew out to shoot it. In truth, auto accidents are not much of a story (except for the poor basterd in the car), but they are easy to get ‘sure things’. The same goes for press conferences. Nothing could be more ‘non news’ than a press conference (essentially just a PR stunt designed for TV), but it guarangees success.

The absolute biggest disaster you can imagine is to send out a crew and have them come back with …nothing. (you know, we got there, but frankly, journalistically ,we didn’t think there was much of a story there, so we came back). That is the quick route to unemployment. Good jouranlistic judgement perhaps, but unemployment nevertheless.

“For our next piece, we are running 1:20 of black because the idiot we sent out to bring back the story does not understand the news business”.

We like to say, “just bring back something”.

When I was at CBS News we used to call the place ‘cubicles of fear’. The fear was that what you brought back would be found to be ‘unacceptable’, so ‘experimentation’ of any kind was a massive no-no. Television became imitative, not creative. Make it look the way it looked last night, last week, last year and you will be fine. Look at 60-Minutes. Has not changed in 30 years. Tick.. tick…tick….

It was this cost:product ratio that made TV so risk averse. That is why all television news desks, anchors, weather, hair styles and pieces all look pretty much the same whether you are watching KABC or WCBS or KBC (Kenya Broadcasting Corporation). They all look exactly the same. Cookie cutter… piece after piece, night after night.

Print is different because print is cheap.

Anyone can try it.

All JK Rowling had to do to write Harry Potter was start writing.

And one can safely assume that she did not write it perfectly from page 1 to the end. I am sure there were lots of drafts and redrafts and mistakes and torn up pages. That is fine, because paper costs nothing. So anyone is free to try and try again and try again, until they get it right… or at least better.

Creativity, real creativity, requires the ability to take risks.

Real creativity means that you have to be prepared to fail a lot of times before you start to get it right.

Tear up the paper and start again….

Now, if every sheet of paper cost $1000, and you had to hire a ‘typerwriter operator’ to type the letters out for you, and every ‘typerwiter room’ charged you $2500 a week or more, novels might read a bit differently. Everyone would be really fearful each time they set out to write something. And we would probably all repeat tried and true formulas that worked. Every book sold would probably start ‘It was a dark and rainy night”… and maybe, maybe some highly creative person would try “it was a dark and windy night”… maybe. And we would only publish books by well known authors like Katie and Matt because we would be sure they would sell.

We would have some pretty crap books.

Like we have some pretty crap TV news.

Creativity, and great journalism by the way, require a built-in freedom to fail.

That is, the ability to try and fail and try again and fail until you get it right.

Television news is institutionally averse to failure. We are an extremely risk-averse business.

But if we really want to explore greatness in the medium, then we have to change our thinking. We have to embrace failure… embrace it as a good thing.

This is incredibly hard to to. It goes directly against 60 years of real life experience.

But the rules are different now.

If you have a laptop and a camera and the requisite skill sets, then you could become the JK Rowling of TV. She had a paper and pencil and an idea. You have a camera, laptop and idea. Start making things. Bad things. Messy things. Anything. Then tear it up and start again. And again.

Only by trial and error and risk and failure will we every take the medium to where it could go.

Go ahead… take a risk….


7 responses to “Freedom to Fail

  1. Maybe this is where a hobbyist like me can start making dents. I can take as long as I like. Make content about whatever I like, and have the ability to sell it, give it away, or keep it to myself.

    There are already a few basic portals for this type of risk-taking content, but growth is being limited by all the noise on sites such as you tube.

    But this was the case with the early internet. As I’ve pointed out before, Yahoo! didn’t have a “search” box until 2003 (it was incorporated in 1996). Can you imagine a world without a “search” box? Me either.

    We need to find the analog to that search box to push this whole thing over the edge.

  2. Jim, I’ve taken the time to visit and watch your latest offerings. Well done. An advance with each one. Your editing is getting better and your on camera delivery is honest and not forced. All of it a real winner.

    I really liked your one about taking a walk around town and playing in the fountain. Nice, real family shots. You even got a dolphin! Work harder to make your visuals a little more imaginative. Don’t be satisfied with shooting the same framed shot from the same distance of the same subject all the time. Mixing it up, moving in closer or from a different angle, will make it more interesting and more engaging to the viewer. I liked the shot of you and the family on the big screen but you used it four or five times, kept coming back to it, and I was hoping to see more than the original shot. Little feet mixed with big feet swinging back and forth from a lower angle maybe? Or even just some better face shots of the kids on the swing. The best shot from the heart was when you were trying to talk your young daughter into the fountain and she didn’t want to go. Instead she scooted closer to her brother for protection. You should have hung on that shot a beat longer. The cut was too early and the real moment was having her next to her brother for just a shade longer.

    You have talent Jim. It shows when you are relaxed and confident about what you are talking about and who you are with.

    Your wife and you should team up later on. You have some real talent to expand on. Now it comes down to taking that talent to someone who appreciates it enough to maybe pay you a little something for it. You deserve it.

    Which brings me to the part about your web chats with your wife. Nice sharing moments on your part. You mentioned that 5 Takes was going to possibly use some of your end of the conversation, shot by you, in their show. I would hope they would give you a little something money wise for your time and efforts. After all, without your end of things, all they would have is a single camera shot from their end which is boring and only half the story.

    Keep up the good work Jim. Your wife has married that one in a million. I’m sure she, like you, is looking forward to all of you being together again at the end of this adventure.

  3. Sorry Jim. When I was talking about that shot of you and the family on the big “screen” I meant to write bit “swing”.

  4. Bit, big, today is not a good typing day for me.

  5. Thanks for the feedback!

    I’ve had feedback from other professionals in the biz that match up nicely with your critique, though you also added a few things that I appreciate.

    They did, in fact, use my footage for the Colombia show last night. I got them 3 pretty good angles and they had two cameras on their end. I thought they edited it brilliantly (I think Michael himself has a hand in this). It was a seamless flow and took some of the great moments from the shoot and made them sing. I wore out that section on my dvr watching it over and over (I am still wifeless for 6 more days). It repeats today at 11am E/P.

    Somehow they managed to make it look like my hair isn’t thinning on top. God bless you RosenblumTV.

    As far as getting paid, the stipend they are paying Mary is pretty good, and I got to get a nice new Mac with some of it :). I don’t mind helping her show succeed while also getting experience, feedback, and my video on the air.

    For example, I sweated trying to get the lighting and warmth right. The VJ’s at her end didn’t take long to set up and their video was perfect.

    As an aside, having interacted a few times now with the director on that end, I firmly believe that he could shoot 7 minutes of flies on a dead puppy and at the end you’d feel all good inside.

    The experience of fooling around trying to make the lighting right in a dark room with dark walls on a dark sofa (and a dark ceiling, and backlit with sunny windows) without using lighting gear besides the Robert Rodriguez standard $5 clamp light (I’m trying to stay away from lights – something that a TJ wouldn’t want to travel with) was a bit of a challenge and excellent experience. (I have a “thing” for any guy who can produce a feature film for $7,000.)

    Plus, if I have an idea (of course I have one good one now) to pitch, I have Mr. Rosenblum’s email address now 🙂 . Mary’s come to meetings with me to make me look good, so I can definitely use my hobby to help her look good. If we were basing a show on it, then I’m sure RosenblumTV and I could come to an agreement on the value of the content.

    I know some have bristled at the idea, but this freedom to fail business is very real. People need to be able to take a shot. When I was at the New York 5 Takes auditions, 120 people came in, and 2 got slots. Actors are used to that. You go, give it your best, and maybe that’ll be your break. I know it’s not a terrific analogy or anything, but I saw dozens of different styles of “presentation” that the auditioners were using. One guy came in with a suit. Mary had a skirt and sweater, one goofball was all full of himself and had a leather jacket. TJ Vinnie showed up as TJ Vinnie, complete with hat and tee shirt. I’m sure that none of them likes the idea of failing, but they didn’t know what was going to sell and each took his shot. The market then decided which presentations had value. Maybe someone else could provide a better analogy (of course, I’m commenting on a blog post using a better analogy).

    I’ve read that the main reason that the Chinese, having invented gunpowder, only used it for fireworks had a lot to do with the fact that if you had an idea in China, then too bad. You were never going to be able to use it. You would always be a peasant. Here’s the other side of the same coin: not being allowed to win.

    That Charleston video was one of my first shots at making a good segment with Final Cut. My big mistake was trying to make the video fit the music length, and I should have chosen a shorter version of the song (I own the rights to 5 or 7 versions).

    TJ Mary gives me feedback as to how I compare to the VJ methodology that Mr. Rosenblum teaches, and I’m moving more towards that as I keep going. I haven’t had the time to edit the next good piece I want to do, so everything after that on the site is just experimenting and practicing.

    Thanks for the kind words.

  6. Pingback: Will Sullivan's Journerdism » Rules for video; News Videographer 101 curriculum; Taking chances, being creative and failing; Cat, bass, music mashing, chess and zombie nerds, hit this up.

  7. Pingback: Freedom to Fail « ReelLife

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