Tag Archives: documentary

Three Big Start-Up Mistakes I Made That You Can Avoid.


Thinking of giving up your current job and starting up your own business? Here are a few big mistakes I made and lessons I learned. Maybe they’ll save you some anguish. Then again maybe you’re smarter than I was. ;-)

In 1980 I left my job at TVOntario, an educational broadcaster, and hung up my shingle as an independent documentary filmmaker. I had a passion for documentaries, a willingness to work hard, and a creative bent. What I didn’t have was two cents in my bank account. That was my first mistake.

The early years were tough. I had to borrow money from friends and get odd jobs to pay the rent and buy groceries. The effort expended on survival left little time or energy for filmmaking. Eventually I went on to be a successful documentary filmmaker but it was a lesson well learned.

Lesson 1: Don’t start without money in the bank. You’ll need enough cash in hand to cover at least a year of living and business expenses.  The first couple of years will be lean.

My next big mistake.

Although I was enthusiastic, I had no documentary film experience and no body of work.  Few were willing to take on an eager but inexperienced filmmaker.

Lesson 2: Gain experience and have something to show potential clients. Enthusiasm is important but clients also want to know that you can deliver. If you have little experience, highlight aspects from your previous work  that  indicate you can do the job.

For example, I drew on the fact that I had a Masters of Education degree. As part of that degree I had taken a course in the production and evaluation of educational media and had made a short animated film. I pointed to my work at TVOntario as a producer and as a writer of educational materials.  It was a stretch but it  illustrated that I was competent and had some “media” experience even if I hadn’t made a documentary.

Mistake number three.

I launched into my new business with no plan, no advice, and no clear idea of what was involved in being an independent documentary filmmaker. Not something I’d recommend to others. Had I known what to expect, it could have saved me from a good deal of heartache.

Lesson 3: Have a plan. Seek advice. Know what you’re getting into. You don’t need to turn this into a year long research and development project. But tempering your enthusiasm with a little dose of reality will serve you well. Trust me!

What are some of the mistakes and lessons you’ve learned from starting up a business?

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Photo Credit: Alex E. Proimos

Monday’s Link Roundup.

Monday's Link Roundup

For those of you celebrating Christmas tomorrow, have a very Merry Christmas!

If you’re a fan of director Michael Apted and his “Up” documentary series, you’ll enjoy his interview in The secret to success for director of Up docs? The power of ordinary people.  The folks at Copyblogger are offering a free Internet marketing course. Why not check out Grab Our 20-Part Internet Marketing Course (No Charge) and get a head start on your 2013 marketing?

  • The Paper Trail Through History. “Scholars  “have always looked through documents,” said Ben Kafka, a historian at N.Y.U. and the author of “The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork,” recently published by Zone Books. “More and more they are also looking at them.”If paperwork studies have an unofficial standard-bearer and theoretician, it’s Mr. Kafka. In “The Demon of Writing” he lays out a concise if eccentric intellectual history of people’s relationship with the paperwork that governs (and gums up) so many aspects of modern life.”
  • 10 Ways to Get Clients in 10 Minutes. “Does it seem like you can never find the time to market for more clients? It’s hard to find open hours in the middle of a busy week. But not every marketing task requires big chunks of time. Here are ten productive things you can do to get more clients when you have just ten minutes.”
  • How 6 New Tools Change the Equation for Writing and Self-Publishing Your Book. “…today’s tools marry writing and publishing, bringing artists ever closer to the end product with click-of-a-button e-book creation capabilities built into the writing tools. In 2012 the technology plot thickened, with the development or maturation of six representative tools that change the way we will write, produce and perhaps even change our very concept of a book in 2013.”
  • Grab Our 20-Part Internet Marketing Course (No Charge). “Want to discover the smartest ways to mix social media, content marketing, and SEO for lead generation and converting those leads to customers and clients? We’ve got you covered with Internet Marketing for Smart People. And there’s absolutely no charge.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup don’t miss Why Killing Time Isn’t a Sin. It’s by Leo Babauta at Zen Habits, a favorite of mine. His wise words are worth reflecting on. And if you get high on grammar and enjoy a good chuckle, then you’ll want to check out The 9 Best Funny and Helpful Blogs About Grammar.

  • 7 Things You’re Doing Wrong on LinkedIn. “Today, LinkedIn is the No. 1 social media platform for professionals. Estimates of professional participation in LinkedIn are as high as 83%…social media expert Alexandra Gibson…told me that she sees too many professionals making a lot of mistakes. Here are the seven she sees most often.”
  • What multitasking does to our brains. “We all know this and have heard it hundreds of times. To work efficiently we have to single task. No multitasking.And yet, we let it slip…Why the heck is it so hard to focus on just one thing then? To understand what actually goes on in our brains and see if it all makes sense, I went ahead and found some stunning research and answers to these questions.”
  • Why Stories Sell: Transportation Leads to Persuasion. “Research suggests that trying to persuade people by telling them stories does indeed work (Green & Brock, 2000). The question is why? Because if we know why, we can make the stories we tell more persuasive.”
  • Epilogue: Book-Lovers on the Future of Print. “Epilogue is a lyrical student documentary about the future of books by Hannah Ryu Chung, featuring a number of interviews with independent bookstore owners, magazine art directors, printers, bookbinders, letterpress artists, and other champions of bibliophilia.”
  • Why Killing Time Isn’t a Sin. “I have no objections to reading books, learning languages, or writing to friends. It’s the idea that downtime must be put to efficient use that I disagree with. While I used to agree with it completely, these days I take a completely different approach.Life is for living, not productivity.”
  • eBooks 101: Standard Vs. Fixed Layout. “One of the most frequent questions we get asked here at BookBaby is, “What’s the difference between a fixed layout eBook and a regular eBook?”
  • The 9 Best Funny and Helpful Blogs About Grammar. “There are numerous blogs about grammar available if you poke around. They can be instructive, amusing, helpful, or hysterically funny. I prefer the latter, since I find a little laughter makes learning a whole lot easier.Here then are blogs for your entertainment, education, and enjoyment, all on the subject of grammar.”

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The Best of Monday’s Link Roundup.

Over the past year Monday’s Link Roundup has brought you 336 links to articles of particular interest to personal historians, genealogists, storytellers, and memoir writers.  In case you missed some of these articles,  here are 7 of the best.

  • The art of bookplates – in pictures. “A bookplate, or ex libris, is a small print for pasting inside the cover of a book, to express ownership. By the late 19th century, bookplates had developed into a highly imaginative form of miniature art. The British Museum’s new book showcases some of the many plates in their extensive collection. Browse through some of the best here.”
  • The power of place: Robert Caro. “Show, don’t tell” is a mantra of narrative writers everywhere, but even the most useful adage can lose meaning with repetition. Before a lunchtime audience of writers at the Second Annual Compleat Biographer Conference on Saturday, legendary biographer Robert Caro reinvigorated the concept.”
  • Belongings. “There are three million immigrants in New York City. When they left home, knowing it could be forever, they packed what they could not bear to leave behind: necessities, luxuries, memories. Here is a look at what some of them brought.” [Thanks to Lettice Stuart of Portrait in Words for alerting me to this item.]
  • Dear Photograph: A website with a window into the past. “In the past month, a summery, slightly sad website has made the trip from non-existence to international exposure. It’s called Dear Photograph, and its premise is simple: Take a picture of an old photo being carefully held up in front of the place it was originally taken, so it appears to be a window into the past.”
  • miniBiography and the 99%. “David Lynch’s Interview Project,[is] an online series of short video documentaries centering on the lives of “normal” people across America. In Interview Project’s 121 mini-biographies, the filmmakers (including Lynch’s son Austin) ask complete strangers piercing, existential questions. It is a source of ever-renewed wonder that each stranger has an answer, and that the answers are so often so rich and brimming with hard-luck stories and lived experience.”
  • Objects and Memory. “The documentary film Objects and Memory depicts experiences in the aftermath of 9/11 and other major historic events to reveal how, in times of stress, we join together in community and see otherwise ordinary things as symbols of identity, memory and aspiration. In its exploration of people preserving the past and speaking to the future, Objects and Memory invites us to think about the fundamental nature of human interaction.”  [Thanks to cj madigan of Shoebox Stories for alerting me to this item.]

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this week’s Monday’s Link Roundup a favorite of mine is Sixty years in poems. I like it not only for the poetry but also for its illustration of the many ways we can capture our stories. For a thought-provoking piece on the harmful side of life writing, be sure to read Life Writing: An ethical source of self identity, or painful invasion of privacy?

  • Byte-sized Life. “We are used to duration—getting to know people over time. One of the great innovations of film during the silent era was the close-up. Directors used the facial expression of a character the way one might use an interior monologue in a novel. But it was always shown in some sort of larger narrative context. Now, DVDs, the DVR, and YouTube allow for piecemeal and repetitive viewing…We require so little—a gesture, a word, a simple facial expression—to form an understanding, or the illusion of an understanding, of another person.”
  • Harper Lee’s sister gives glimpses of reclusive author’s life. “Glimpses into the family life of the famously reclusive author of To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee, have been given by her sister Alice, a practicing lawyer who recently turned 100. Alice Finch Lee, known as Miss Alice, was speaking to documentary maker Mary McDonagh Murphy.”
  • Never-before-seen photos from 100 years ago tell vivid story of gritty New York City. “Almost a million images of New York and its municipal operations have been made public for the first time on the internet. The city’s Department of Records officially announced the debut of the photo database. Culled from the Municipal Archives collection of more than 2.2 million images going back to the mid-1800s, the 870,000 photographs feature all manner of city oversight — from stately ports and bridges to grisly gangland killings.”
  • Life Writing: An ethical source of self identity, or painful invasion of privacy? “On Tuesday evening, roughly 30 students, faculty, staff and Greencastle community members gathered to hear John Eakin’s reflections on life writing in his talk, “Telling Life Stories: The Good of It, and the Harm.” … Eakin, a professor at Indiana University and one of the foremost authorities on the autobiography and memoir, addressed the complexities of the genre.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

Happy New Year! And another year of Monday’s Link Roundup with connections to stuff I like and I hope you’ll like too.  My selections are loosely based on items that I think will be of particular interest to those of you professionally involved in personal history, genealogy, and memoir. Enjoy!

  • Grierson: A Documentary About the Filmmaker Who Coined “Documentary” “Grierson is a 1973 documentary about the father of documentary by Canadian filmmaker Roger Blais, now free online in its entirety courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada. Through archival footage, interviews with people who knew him, and footage of Grierson himself, Blais paints a lively and fascinating portrait of a man who was concerned not only with documentary film as an art form but also as a powerful tool of democracy.”
  • VuPoint Solutions Magic Wand Scanner. “The Wand [is]a portable scanner—one of the most portable available. If you need to scan on the go, and don’t want to be weighted down with hardware, that alone makes it worth considering.”
  • Top 10 Photoshop Tricks You Can Use Without Buying Photoshop. “You can do just about anything to an image with Photoshop, but if you don’t have the cash to shell out, free program the GIMP—available for Windows, Linux, and OS X—can take you pretty far. Here are our favorite Photoshop how-tos that also work in the GIMP.”
  • Errol Morris: Two Essential Truths About Photography. “In this video created by the Guardian, writer and award-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris talks about the nature of truth, art, and propaganda in photography. He draws examples from the photographs of Abu Ghraib and the Crimean War, both cited in his book Believing is Seeing, and he asks the viewer to consider a most fundamental question: how does a photograph relate to the physical world? Unlike a verbal or written statement, a photograph cannot be true or false. It simply is.”
  • 12 Tips for the Year of the Memoir! “During breaks in your holiday celebrations, get ready for the Year of the Memoir–2012! Here’s a tip for each month, or you can try one a day for the 12 days of Christmas.”
  • The New York Times “The Lives They Lived”. ” The Lives They Lived is not a greatest-hits issue. Instead, we gravitated to those lives with an untold tale. For storytelling expertise, we enlisted Ira Glass and his team from “This American Life” to edit a special section devoted to ordinary people. And through social media, we put out a request to readers for pictures of loved ones. Samples of the hundreds of submissions we received are beautiful evidence that every life is a story worth remembering.”
  • How to Increase Your Focus. “I confess to being as prone to the distractions of the Internet as anyone else: I will start reading about something that interests me and disappear down the rabbit hole for hours (even days) at a time. But my ability to focus on a single task has dramatically improved, and that one habit has changed my life.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

Welcome to another issue of Monday’s Link Roundup. For those of you who are discovering this weekly roundup for the first time, a word of explanation. The links I select are those that I find personally entertaining, informative, amusing, thought provoking, and unusual. As well, they all have some connection to the realms of personal history, memoir, oral history, and biography. I hope you enjoy your visit here today.

  • How a Book is Made: AD 400 vs. 1947 vs. 1961 vs. 2011. “I love books, their past and their future. Yet, while ubiquitous and commodified, books and how they come to be remains an enigma for most of us. No longer. From Discovery comes this 5-minute microdocumentary on how books are made.”
  • Movellas democratises ebook publishing for Europe. “Movellas is bringing a popular Japanese concept for mobile partwork publishing to Europe. The publishing platform — which just won a Meffy for the Best Mobile Social Media Service — allows aspiring authors to write short novels chapter-by-chapter in a social and interactive environment.”
  • Selling My Mother’s Dresses. “Some of my favorite things — including the sundress I’m wearing today and the Winnie the Pooh car that Jay is pushing our daughter in — are from someone else’s life. I find no joy in shopping at regular stores anymore…I love trying to sniff out a memory from a bud vase or a favorite song from a case of L.P.’s. The stains and broken switches, the bend in the knee of an old pair of jeans. Sometimes I just want to look at how many Mason jars one person can collect and imagine what they might’ve held. It’s comforting to know that someone has breathed and laughed inside a sweater before me. That I am part of a continuum.” [Thanks to Mary M. Harrison of Morning Glory Memoirs for alerting me to this item.]
  • Helvetica: A documentary Film by Gary Hustwit. “Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which recently celebrated its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives.”
  • World Wide Words. “The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or change their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least some part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, the background to words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.”
  • Schools, beware the e-book bandwagon. “..schools may want to pause before jumping on the e-book bandwagon. In a study last year at the University of Washington, a group of graduate students were given Kindles, and their use of the devices was monitored through diary entries and interviews. By the end of the school year, nearly two-thirds of the students had abandoned the Kindle or were using it only infrequently. Of those who continued to use the e-reader regularly, many had “switched to a different and usually less desirable reading technique,” researchers said.” [Thanks to Paula Stahel of Breath and Shadows Productions for alerting me to this item.]

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

Lots of “goodies” in this Monday’s Link Roundup. For a visual treat to start your week, be sure to look at The art of bookplates – in pictures. And if you’ve wondered how to publish an e-book on Amazon on Barnes & Noble, check out Dummies guide to publishing an ebook on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

  • HyperCities: Every Past is a Place. “We love cities, maps and urban storytelling. So we’re all over HyperCities — a digital research and educational platform for exploring the layered histories of cities and public spaces, based on the idea that “every past is a place.”
  • The art of bookplates – in pictures. “A bookplate, or ex libris, is a small print for pasting inside the cover of a book, to express ownership. By the late 19th century, bookplates had developed into a highly imaginative form of miniature art. The British Museum’s new book showcases some of the many plates in their extensive collection. Browse through some of the best here.”
  • Letters to/from the Old Country. “…casts a spotlight on correspondence collections written between Canada and Ukraine. With a primary interest in those that have a Saskatchewan connection, Letters to/from the Old Country is unique in that, for the first time, research is being conducted on transatlantic letter-writing by Ukrainian Canadians and their kin in Ukraine.” [Thanks to Ruth Zaryski Jackson of Memoir Writer's World for alerting me to this item.]
  • The Ragged Edge of Silence: The Art of Listening. “In 1971, after the devastating 800,000-gallon oil spill in the San Francisco Bay, John Francis, then a young man, pledged to never ride a motorized vehicle again. Two years later, he added voluntary silence to his vow, spending 17 years in silence as he walked the world and became known as The Planetwalker.”
  • Last Typewriter Factory in the World Shuts Its Doors. “Now that Godrej and Boyce, the last company left in the world still manufacturing the devices, has closed its doors, when typewriters make their way to landfills, there won’t be any new ones to replace them.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

This weeks Monday’s Link Roundup has the usual smorgasbord of fascinating and informative links. If I was in striking distance of Boston, I’d make a beeline in April for Boston University’s conference on The Power of Narrative: The Rebirth of Storytelling. And don’t miss the documentary, Ahead of Time: The Life & Times of Ruth Gruber.

  • eBook Formatting. “I can’t think of a better person to talk about e-book formatting (in multiple formats) than industry-renowned, Joshua Tallent of eBookArchitects. Joshua’s appeared on many ebook industry-related sites including The Kindle Chronicles, and as a speaker at top industry conferences like O’Reilly Books’ Tools of Change.”
  • Beyond the Business Card. “…we’ve curated three handy digital tools to help unload the fossils and bring your networking up to speed with the digital age. The Rolodex is dead (we don’t even know anyone who owns one, let alone uses it), long live LinkedIn.”
  • Ahead of Time: The Life & Times of Ruth Gruber. “Ahead of Time, a new documentary, tells the remarkable true story of Ruth Gruber. Born in Brooklyn in 1911, Gruber became the youngest person in the world (let alone woman) to earn a Ph.D degree; she did so at the age of 20 from the University of Cologne, where she majored in German Philosophy, Modern English Literature, and Art History.”
  • The Power of Narrative: The Rebirth of Storytelling. “Pulitzer Prize winners and best-selling authors convene at Boston University for the Journalism Department’s annual conference. Hear some of the nation’s most celebrated writers discuss the art and future of narrative nonfiction. Registration is open. Save 20% if you register on or before March 31 (regular registration is $125).”
  • The Morgan Library & Museum.The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives.“For centuries, people have turned to private journals to document their days, sort out creative problems, help them through crises, comfort them in solitude or pain, or preserve their stories for the future. As more and more diarists turn away from the traditional notebook and seek a broader audience through web journals, blogs, and social media, this exhibition explores how and why we document our everyday lives. “
  • Email Etiquette II: Why Emoticons (And Emotional Cues) Work. “Technology creates a vacuum that we humans fill with negative emotions by default, and digital emotions can escalate quickly (see: flame wars). The barrage of email can certainly fan the flames. In an effort to be productive and succinct, our communication may be perceived as clipped, sarcastic, or rude. Imagine the repercussions for creative collaboration.”
  • More Videos on Personal Archiving. “If #RootsTech has left you hungry for more video presentations on digitizing personal collections, check out the 2010 Personal Archiving Conference videos available at the Personal Archiving website.”

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How to Listen with Your Eyes.

An eye can threaten like a loaded and levelled gun, or it can insult like hissing or kicking; or, in its altered mood, by beams of kindness, it can make the heart dance for joy. … One of the most wonderful things in nature is a glance of the eye; it transcends speech; it is the bodily symbol of identity.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I had the pleasure of moderating a documentary film presentation and panel discussion at the 16th Annual Association of Personal Historians conference.

The session featured the screening of  Ted Grant: The Art of Observation followed by a Q&A with the audience, the film’s subject Ted Grant, and writer, co-producer, and co-director Heather Mac Andrew.

Ted Grant is the  dean of Canadian photojournalists whose career spans over five decades. In the documentary I was struck by an observation Ted made, “We hear with our ears but we listen with our eyes.”

Ted’s comment got me thinking. As personal historians, the root of our work is the interview. When we’re interviewing then, how do we listen, as Ted says, with our eyes?

When we’re engaged in an interview, it’s not just the words we’re listening to but also the subtext. It’s the eyes that give us clues to what’s behind the words. Our subject may express happiness and contentment but the eyes are sad. We may hear kindness and openness  but the eyes are angry and narrowed.  If we’re doing our job well, we need to check out this dissonance with our interviewee. By listening with our eyes we unearth a richer more authentic story.

If our interviewees are speaking volumes with their eyes, what are we conveying to them through our eyes? I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of talking to someone who appears to be listening. They’re facing us,  their head is nodding appropriately, they’re making sounds of acknowledgment, and yet something tells us they aren’t there with us. What’s going on? A clue is in the eyes. They’re unfocused and distant. Now ask yourself this, “When  interviewing someone who isn’t particularly interesting, what are your eyes conveying?”  If I’m honest with myself, more than likely my eyes are saying, “Dan’s not here.”

There are other examples. If we’re feeling nervous about a particular interview or anxious about a family matter,  our eyes will reflect our internal state. Pretending that all is well will send mixed signals.  Our failure to get a good interview may in part be a result of the conflicting messages we’re conveying to our interview subjects.

Our ability to draw out the best from our clients depends so much on our ability to listen deeply. Thank you Ted Grant for reminding us that as  interviewers  we do indeed hear with our  ears but listen with our eyes.

***You might be interested  in a previous article I wrote in a similar vein  How to Listen With Your Third Ear.***

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