Persistence is undervalued

Almost two decades ago, a young filmmaker landed on the scene with a movie that became a big deal, winning awards, and making princely sums at the box office. But after that debut, as many critics and fans would agree, every movie he made was worse than the one before it.

Was this creative genius just a one hit wonder? Was that spark of creativity as good as it was going to get?

I know a lot of people feel that way. They may have had a surge of creativity when they were younger. Some idea, some project, some business had some legs. But the follow-ups struggle and fail to reach that same point. They feel like they’ve run out of gas.

A year ago Brian Lucas and Loran Nordgren, professors at Northwestern University, performed a collection of studies on creativity. In one experiment, they gave participants 10 minutes to come up with as many creative ideas as they could. Then, they surprised the participants with an extra 10 minutes to finish completing the task. Before the additional 10 minutes began, they also asked, “How many extra ideas will you come up with?”

People underestimated how many new ideas they would come up with during the extra 10 minutes. And not just a little. On average, they came up with 66% more ideas than they predicted they would. What’s even more interesting: the ideas that came from the persisted effort were even more creative than ones generated during their first effort.

People undervalue persistence. You’ve been told since you were a kid stories of trains getting up mountains with the power of persistence. Get up. Try again. And again. It feels like the most cliche advice there ever was: I think I can.

But still, we underestimate how beneficial that extra effort becomes.

1999 was a huge year for our filmaker. His movie was nominated for awards at all the major award ceremonies, winning a handful. Through 2005 he made more movies that received warm attention, but never like his debut.

And his Metacritic scores (a number 0–100 aggregating top critics’ reviews) kept sliding.

But he kept going.

From 2006 through 2013 he went through the longest string of awards for “Worst Director”, “Worst Movie”, “Worst Screenplay” I’ve ever seen. Winning Raspberry after Raspberry.

But he kept going.

In 2015, a TV show he produced got some attention. In 2016, a new movie of his got glowing reviews. And now in 2017, his latest movie has hit theaters, and it has the highest metacritic score his movies have ever accrued, which includes… The Sixth Sense.

M. Night Shyamalan has gone from winner to loser and back to winner again. One of the most creative filmmakers has just travelled through an extremely rough patch of failures. Look up “One hit wonder M. Night Shyamalan” on Google. He’s listed over and over again by people who clearly gave up on the guy.

Except for M. Night. It took almost a decade of trials before connecting with audiences and critics again on the level he produced with his movie in 1999. But the persistence is paying off. He clearly has more in the tank. It’s when we think we’re done, that the best in us gets started.

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Apps to make movies, workflow, and music for YouTube videos

Thanks Chris! I’ll answer here as these choices have some background and interesting consequences.

The only app I use to make movies right now is iMovie. But that isn’t a strong endorsement. I think it’s a great tool to get started with, but it has some limitations as you get further along. If you’re looking to start making movies I’d begin with iMovie (or equivalent on Windows), since it’s pretty easy to figure out most things on it.

One thing though that trips you up as you get along in the movie making effort is the fact that the iMovie library itself contains an archive of all the movie clips you import. So let’s say you have 1GB of movie clips in some folder, then import them into iMovie, now you have 2GB of movie clips on your hard drive. This makes doing any kind of workflow around your movies and hard drive space difficult.

My iMovie library is so large I had to move it to a separate 1 terabyte external SSD drive. The move brought a noticeable slow down to doing things inside iMovie.

I’m not an expert in other apps, but I’ve read things like Adobe Premier only holds pointers to your clips in other locations. So 1GB of movie clips remains 1GB of clips. And they exist in the location you stuck them in. Though of course that will have cons too if you move them, since the pointers will all break.

But the movie projects themselves aren’t that important to me once a movie is finished, I’m fine trashing the project and whatever pointers it has, as long as I have backups of the original, raw footage.

This is the external hard drive I’m using:

I’ve been happy with it.

Though I’m still trying to figure out what my long term storage workflow is going to be. Am I going to just collect a bunch of these SSDs over the years? Or get a big NAS type device? Not sure.

One thing I do plan on exploring is Amazon’s unlimited storage solution. $60 a year for unlimited movie storage.

Sounds like a great deal if I can use that as cloud backup of all this movie data I’m collecting. I don’t need the cloud storage for streaming, I really just need it in case of fire and other emergencies.

That’s about all I use in the workflow. Pretty sure I’ll move to Premier or Final Cut Pro here soonish, though they have their own issues. I’d also like to color grade my film a little so will explore other tools to do that too.

As for sound, yes, it’s all GoPro onboard microphones these days. The Session 5 is definitely better than the Session 4 on this front. 3 mics vs 2 mics help with that.

You also want to be real careful about how you hold the GoPro so it isn’t rubbing on your hand or clothes.

There are folks who do attach better mics to their GoPro setups. And some people use separate sound capture hardware all together. I’d love to have much better sound right now. But I just don’t have the patience for more equipment. My DSLR already has the shotgun mic, and that’s noticeably better sound than onboard mics, but the convenience of using a GoPro really trumps the quality most of the time.

As for other sound, I really enjoy adding music to these vids. A good song can make all the difference of making something mundane something interesting. YouTube has a free audio library with a bunch of decent and interesting tracks that you can add to your videos:

I’ve used a bunch of those. I’m starting to explore more though. The YouTube library just doesn’t have enough of what I want. So I just started using tracks from Music Vine. They’ve got affordable and flexible licensing. And another option which I’d like to explore is just reaching out to folks producing cool music on Soundcloud. I think that’s a channel many of the better known YouTubers have pursued. Soundcloud makes it super easy to reach out to people producing music on there:

Lots of new music producers on there would love some extra publicity and links to their work, if they were asked and gave their permission. Just need to create some relationships.

I’d love to hear more from anyone out there about video editing and finding/licensing music. Any new video editing apps worth a good look? And interesting places to find people producing great music they’d want heard in up and trying YouTube channels 🙂 ?

P.S. You should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how history, psychology, and science can help us create better businesses. And if you find yourself overwhelmed while starting your own small business or handling customer support, check out how Highrise can help!

How do you plan out your vlog themes/scenes?

Billy Schrero asks about my incredibly popular YouTube channel. 🙂 I kid, I kid. But it has been growing nicely, the videos are getting more and more engagement. It’s been a great learning experience. And this is another great question I’ve experimented with.

“You write the film you want, shoot the film you can afford, and edit the film you have.” — Anon

At first I just grabbed a camera and started filming, and maybe that works for some, but I realized I could do better. So I started doing a little planning. I’ll write a short script now in a writing program like Draft and plan for a handful of “scenes” or shots with possible dialog. I don’t try to perfect this at all. It’s just rough thoughts. Each paragraph break is a new shot in my head.

Part of the script I wrote for a recent video

I often try to get the dialog to fit into individual Tweet sized bites, as my goal is to keep the shot and dialog to 10 seconds or less. If you watch shots on TV/movies, you’ll be hardpressed to find a shot that lasts longer than 10 seconds, before the camera switches to some other character/angle/background. 10 seconds proves to be a great rule of thumb to keep you interesting. Sometimes I’ll go off script a bit and will talk for 30 seconds or more. But I’m really trying hard to keep a spoken thought under 10 seconds.

One key benefit to the script is it helps remove repetition. There’s something about repeating oneself that stinks an even stinkier smell on video then on the written page. A script helps you focus down your ideas so you don’t end up rambling on camera.

With script ready, I’ll shoot each of those “tweets” by talking to the camera for 10 seconds (hopefully less than 10, but often more), then move onto another place or angle. But I’m never reading from the script. I just improvise what the idea was of that dialog I had planned.

As far as themes, it’s just random stuff I bump into that’s interesting. I read an insane amount. There’s always something interesting in say The Wall Street Journal (I get the paper version every morning. Want something easy to scan while you eat, and have kids dropping yogurt everywhere? Get a real paper), or the 10 magazines I have lying around. All these stories beg me to ask more questions and explore some threads a little further.

I’m also always on the lookout for questions. Sometimes it’s folks asking me directly, or I got to tons of forums like Reddit/Inbound/Quora noticing themes of what people generally like to ask. And I’ll keep those questions in my head as I think about my next topic.

And that’s about it for the planning. I’ll write up my 7–10 shots that I want to capture and I’ll find places to capture them during the day. I used to even try to plan where I think they’d occur, but I lost patience with that level of planning. Now I’ll just remember to shoot one of my pieces of dialog if I find myself in a neat place.

I keep my eyes peeled for interesting things going around. Whether it’s my kid, something on the skyline, or some movement that catches me. My eyes are constantly wandering for interesting things to capture. I wear a GoPro around my neck now just to make that even easier.

And then at the end of the day I have all this dialog and things I’ve done or captured. I’ll try and weave them together. Sometimes something happens where I realize I can grab some older footage from a previous day. And hopefully it comes together into something interesting 🙂

One last thing I’ll mention today about my process is I draw a bunch of inspiration from people breaking the 4th wall in TV and movies. My favorite: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Other interesting examples include mock documentary style video like The Office and Modern Family.

Hope that helps get the juices flowing for other people making videos!

P.S. You should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how history, psychology, and science can help us create better businesses. And if you find yourself overwhelmed while starting your own small business or handling customer support, check out how Highrise can help!

Can I do better?

Julia Roberts — pic from GabboT

Or is it all downhill from here? Have I jumped the shark?

On September 20, 1977 a TV show gave birth to an idiom that now describes the downward spiral many face: jumping the shark. It was the fifth season premier of Happy Days when Henry Winkler’s character, Fonzie, ramp jumps with waterskis over a shark. Fans and critics feel that marked the impending decline of Happy Days.

Garry Marshall the creator of Happy Days has been asked if he feels offended by the phrase:

It was certainly not one of the shows I am most proud of. But I love the phrase jumping the shark and the way people use it today to signify a TV series nearing the end of its run.

Garry Marshall — pic by Francis Graffeo

Garry passed away this week at the age of 81. He had a prolific career producing, writing, directing and acting in countless things you might not have even realized were Garry’s creations. The Odd Couple. Mork and Mindy. Princess Diaries. Valentine’s Day.

Young or old, you’ve probably seen his work. Or know the people he’s discovered like Julia Roberts at 20 years old when he cast her for his movie Pretty Woman.

And I think Garry’s perspective on the often used expression to describe when projects die, companies go off the rails, or people lose their mojo is actually a lens into one of the most important things that led to Garry’s success, and something we can use to improve our own lives.

We all have a voice in our heads. Sometimes it’s friendly and helpful, and sometimes it’s mean and hurtful. Andrew Lane, Director of the Research Centre for Sport Exercise Performance at the University of Wolverhampton, wanted to find out more about this self-talk and other psychological skills.

Can we self-talk ourselves to better outcomes?

So Andrew teamed up with BBC Lab UK to complete a study with an astounding number of participants. 44,742 people performed an online game in which they were given a 6 × 6 grid scrambled with numbers ranging from 1–36. The task was to click 1–36 in sequence as fast as they could.

During the experiment some groups of people were given interventions. They were coached to use self-talk, imagery, or other psychological instructions to encourage improvement.

Andrew found one thing that won’t surprise you. People got better after a practice round. Makes sense.

But where Andrew was surprised was at how effective using motivational self-talk was, especially when it was focused on outcome or process (“I can beat my previous score”, “I can react quicker this time”) rather than instruction or emotion (“I will focus completely” or “I will stay calm”).

In other words: “I can do better”, a simple yet motivational statement, drove the most improvement during a task that requires endurance and competition.

I can do better.

That’s a really interesting expression to me. For two reasons.

One, it’s a critical outlook of your past. You aren’t over confident that everything you’ve touched is gold. That everyone else is to blame for your mistakes. Your entire past can be improved on.

You see that with Garry. You see it in how he handles the Shark Jumping phrase. No excuses, just:

It was certainly not one of the shows I am most proud of.

He even admits in his autobiography that Happy Days started phoning it in. And you see it through his whole life. His autobiography is full of anecdotes like Mary Tyler Moore throwing his first script at his head. It wasn’t good enough. He rewrote it. Lucy of I Love Lucy wrote “THIS IS SHIT” on his first script for her. He rewrote it until she loved it. His very first TV show was canceled:

But I knew from that experience there was no need to dwell. We just had to write and rewrite something new.

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. First time, second time, whatever. It can get better.

His first TV show that he owned and produced was a complete flop:

Then, the final ratings came out; we were ninety-ninth out of a hundred shows. I clipped the ratings from the newspaper and kept them in my wallet to remind myself that I had no place to go but up.

Eventually Garry wanted to move to the director’s chair. That wasn’t working either.

One day I was feeling way out of my league. A scene was not working and I didn’t know what to do. I told the crew that I was going for a quick walk. On that walk I realized something significant: I was not going to be able to show my cast and crew what a great director I was because the reality was that I was not a great director. I was a director with the best intentions, but I was not even a good director yet.

Garry didn’t have an over inflated ego of where he was. He was 48 years old finally getting a chance at directing his first film. But he had the self reflection necessary to realize, he wasn’t even good yet.

The past can always be improved.

Garry had a sense of this since he was 5 years old when he got his first drum kit. He thought he and parents would be a band. He said:

My mom played the piano, and Dad played the saxophone badly. But that Christmas morning I remember we all played together and I thought it was the greatest day ever. We were a band, and I imagined us practicing and performing as a family band for years to come.

“Practicing” is a really interesting word choice there. Not just playing and performing together as a family for years. But getting better. He knew even as a youngster that his whole life in front of him would be about constantly getting better. He’d never be done getting better.

The second interesting aspect of “I can do better” is its confidence.

“I can do better” implies that you know you will eventually do better if given the chance. It’s not “I’ll try to do better”. It’s I’ve always gotten better at things that I kept pursuing. I always will. All evidence points to that.

Growing up, Garry and his family didn’t have a lot of money, and Garry was sick constantly. One day lying in bed with cold compresses all over his body, his mom got him up. She was in a play and couldn’t afford a babysitter. She had one choice: take him to her job and put him on stage so she could watch him there. But Garry wasn’t well enough to do any dancing on stage. She informed him he’d be sitting.

“In the dressing room?” I asked.

“No. Onstage. You’ll play the drums,” she said.

“But Ma, I just started the drums. You know I’m not very good yet.”

“Don’t worry. You’ll follow my lead on the piano,” she said. “You’re smart and quick. You’ll learn.”

So we would sit onstage and she would play the piano with one hand and pat me on the back with the other. That’s how I learned to keep a steady rhythm.

His Dad was the same way. There was never a moment they didn’t expect him to do what he was thrown into. When Garry was applying for the Army, his father told him to put down that he was a “cameraman”.

In reality Garry was a writer and journalist, but his Dad saw a future in TV, and encouraged Garry to stretch his experience hoping Garry would get a TV job with the Army.

I guess he also had confidence that I was smart enough to learn how to be a cameraman on the fly.

Both his parents and his writing partner saw an infinite amount of potential in Garry. Not because Garry was some kind of phenom. They just knew that’s how people are. We never stop growing. Put us into any situation and we have the potential to get better.

Garry brought this optimism to the people he cast too. Hollywood is notorious for casting the exact right person with the right look, voice, cadence, you name it for the part. But Garry didn’t look for perfect people who already looked the part. During Henry Winkler’s audition for Fonzie:

I remember he was not at all the type of actor I was looking for. I thought I wanted a tall, handsome blond, and in walked a short, dark-haired actor from Emerson College and the Yale School of Drama. But before I could dismiss him, I hired him. His audition taught me something. Casting isn’t always about what you’re looking for. Sometimes it is about recognizing potential and what is standing in front of you.

Henry wasn’t Fonzie. But Garry knew Henry could become Fonzie. He had the potential. He saw it in the actors he cast and he saw it in himself.

I’m involved in one of the toughest projects of my life. It’s much harder than I thought it was going to be. Sometimes I feel like I won’t be able to fix the things I need to fix. But Garry’s an inspiration to remember how important my own self-talk is. Am I beating myself up and accusing myself of jumping the shark. Or am I reminding myself I can do better. I know I can improve everything I’ve done. I see that. Everything I’ve come up with deserves another rewrite and chance. And I also know that I’ve gotten better at life from 0 years old to now. All evidence points to that continuing. I’ll get better at every single thing that’s important to getting my projects, life, and creativity sorted out. I know I can do better.

What I haven’t figured out is why some people face adversity and quit or stop trying, while others pick themselves up and go on time after time. Is it genetics, environment, encouragement? I have been whacked often by comedians, stars, censors, studio executives, and, of course, the critics. The critics have whacked me for so long that now sons and daughters of critics are whacking me. However, each time I feel like I can do better.

Garry Marshall

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, please help spread it by clicking that below. And if you are interested in more you should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how history, psychology, and science can help us make better decisions.