Your “Creative Brains Trust”: People Who Are Invaluable in Your Career, and How to Find Them

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Remember the story of the Little Red Hen? TL;DR for you: this little lady sets out to make bread and asks the other members of the farmyard if they want to help her with the various tasks, including grinding the wheat for the flour and churning the butter to spread on the finished loaf. Every one of them declines…but when they smell the smell of the freshly baked loaf, they come running. Nobody wants to help make the bread, but they sure want to eat it.

Sometimes I feel like creative endeavors are just like the Little Red Hen story. You hear stories of people who are heralded as ‘overnight successes’, which doesn’t take into account the YEARS and sometimes decades of hard work that they have put in without praise or assistance to get to the point where people applaud their efforts. Sometimes the grind can be exhausting and a little deflating. There’s far too many people who don’t acknowledge the grind when someone is coming up in their career but will be the first to say they knew that person way back when!

That’s why it’s vitally important to surround yourself with people who are the polar opposite of those people. Every creative, entrepreneur and dreamer needs a ‘Brains Trust’: people who support you and your efforts and can assist you in various ways. I’ve found the majority of these people seem to pop up almost magically. Sometimes they will be friends, sometimes employers or ex-employers, sometimes people you least expect. I like to think of them as being like the people who give water to marathon runners; refreshing and replenishing them on their route so they can continue to success.

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Here’s the kinds of people you need in your own “Brains Trust”, regardless of whether you’re a filmmaker, entrepreneur, creative, or all three:

The Sounding Board

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The Sounding Board is the type of person who will stoically listen to you when you need to get something off your chest or test out a theory. The key to having a great person as your Sounding Board is to BE a great Sounding Board yourself. This is not a one-way relationship, nor should it be. It’s give-and-take. These are the people you can be 100% candid with, because a lot of the time you will find your Sounding Boards in your friendship circle.

The Professional Mentor

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A while back, I wrote a post about how to find mentors (and how to be a great mentoree) which outlined how to seek out a mentor, but I particularly wanted to make mention of having a professional mentor as part of your “Brains Trust”.

Footnote: When I set out to write this post, I stumbled across an interesting LinkedIn article about Little Red Hen Syndrome and dysfunctional team members. This post, thankfully, is not going to be about those types of people but it’s definitely worth a read nonetheless. These are people who are usually completely removed from your circle of friends (or who may be acquaintances) who are leaders in your field. While you can actively seek out a mentor yourself, I’ve found that along the way I have been very fortunate to have had mentors appear out of the blue. In my case, my mentors have all been incredible women in the film industry who not only believe in my work and my potential to go further, but who have also, at times, provided opportunities and connections which have been invaluable. Professional mentors are truly magical people, because they see the ability in you even when you (or other people) can’t. Chances are, they’ve had similar experiences. If you are fortunate enough to have a professional mentor or two, don’t forget to become a mentor on your journey and help others along the way.

The Connector

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Connectors are some of my favourite people. They’re the ones who have absolutely no qualms with introducing you to people they think you need to know, or suggesting that you reach out to a certain person. The Connectors in my circle have been the first to send me a link to a project or short-term gig they think I’d be a great fit for. If they don’t know something, you can be sure they know somebody who does, and they’ll very happily introduce you to that person. If they were magicians, they wouldn’t pull a rabbit out of the hat…they’d pull out a unicorn. They can also identify useful resources you should check out: books, podcasts, articles…you name it, they have a magical index of resources!

The Muses

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Every great artist had their muse. Creatives and entrepreneurs often cite people, books, speeches and other resources that have helped spur them to greatness. Tap into your muses and inspirations, both real and fictional. Chances are, you might not meet Michelle Obama, but you can read her autobiography. You can tap into the character strengths of a person you admire to help you summon courage in a moment. I’ve been known to draw on the words and music of Patti Smith and Amanda Palmer, the courage and creativity of Frida Kahlo, the genius and detail of Stanley Kubrick, and the joie de vivre of Rita Hayworth, just to name a few!

You will probably find that some people you know will have multiple attributes. I have a few friends who are Sounding Boards who are also amazing Connectors. If you find that you identify in one of these categories, why not think about helping your fellow creatives in your Brains Trust capacity? Believe me, it really is appreciated and it goes a long way.

I want to make mention of a fantastic article about dysfunctional teams and Little Red Hen Syndrome that I discovered while I was writing this post. It identifies some really toxic team members and behaviours that exist in a teamwork capacity, and is well worth a read to find out who you really DON’T want on your brains trust.

You Matter: A Call To All Creatives, Dreamers and Entrepreneurs

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When I was 10 years old, I had a teacher who decided it was a good idea to put the word “eccentric” on my personal record. I would never had found out about this, had it not been a rainy day when all of the class was inside and my personal record was open on the desk. Her bowels turned to liquid the moment I saw her after lunch and said: “I’m eccentric, am I?” I remember the blood draining from her face as she realised she had left my record open on the desk for all to see…including myself.

For years, that one comment, written in ballpoint pen, haunted me. I’d been called “weird” by my classmates…but to have an adult say it (especially one in a position of prominence in my life)…it must a)be true and b)also be a really, really bad thing. So I let it rattle around in my head for years and years, and instead of embracing the fact that being eccentric could actually be a good thing, I let it erode my confidence and my interactions with other people. As I got older, however, I discovered that being a little bit “different” in other people’s eyes is actually a good thing. I used to get bullied for being interested in computers, and now they’re commonplace, and as a result of being an early adopter of personal computing in the 1980s I was able to jump on the social media zeitgeist early as well.

Why am I telling you my personal sob story about being the “weird kid”? Because so many of us out there were the “weird kids” growing up. We were the ones who were bullied for what was deemed socially “uncool”, the things our peersĀ  (and sometimes family members) didn’t understand. Quite often, it’s the creatives, dreamers and entrepreneurs of this world who have had to endure the pain of being isolated for what they love and who they are. I love this quote from George R.R. Martin (when Tyrion is giving counsel to Jon Snow):

“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”

 

Whether you’re in the process of making your first film, working on a fledgling business, or trying to make your life better after tragedy, know this- you matter. Birthing anything into the world can be a lonely process, filled with doubt, regardless of the medium or purpose. There will be some friends and family who don’t understand what you’re doing. Well-meaning people will tell you “horror stories” to try and make you “see sense”. Sometimes, you will walk the path alone- it’s your path to walk, nobody else’s. There’s a reason for that, and it’s got nothing to do with your inherent worth. Remember (and I’m about to geek out on you again here) in The Empire Strikes Back where Yoda was instructing Luke, and Luke had to enter the cave by himself? Exactly. Did he end up alone at the end of the film? Nope. He was alone again *SPOILER ALERT* when Rey meets up with him at the end of Ep VII, but again there would have been a reason for him to be alone, because that was yet another point on his journey where he needed to tread the path on his own.

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Photo by Rich Lock on Unsplash

Believe in yourself and your dream. First and foremost, you need to be your own cheerleader. When others see how much you believe in what you are doing, and how passionate you are about it, that’s when you start to open doors.

The world needs you. Whether you’re writing your first novel, teaching drama to underprivileged children, or composing a score for a film, we need the creatives, entrepreneurs and dreamers of the world to help make the world less lonely, less bland. And yes, there have been times throughout my journey where I have had dark teatimes of the soul, times when it seemed easier to tap out than to continue…but if you get into a similar situation, ask yourself: if I quit today, what will tomorrow look like? In my case, I couldn’t bear to think about a tomorrow that didn’t involve working in the film industry. I just couldn’t. It was a lifelong love, and would physically hurt if I quit. Things have been tough, but I’ve taken it one day at a time and kept going.

So, why did I choose to write about this, instead of a post about social media marketing, filmmaking or publicity? Because sometimes you just need to hear that there are other people out there that have gone through the same things you have. Sometimes, you need to know that other people “get” the creative struggle. Let this be your sign that you are seen and heard…and that you matter.

“Be A Duck”: Losing Your Mind and Following Your Heart

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As I prepare for the next exciting part of my journey, I have been thinking back about the past five years of this adventure. While Film Sprites PR is almost 3 years old, my journey in film actually began in 2012 after the Christchurch earthquakes when a flash of inspiration during a dark time basically sealed my fate (you can hear that story HERE). So there was 2 years of networking and training, working almost every day until midnight with very few weekend breaks just to get to the point where Film Sprites PR came into being. I had wanted to work for a studio or distributor in the UK (my maternal family is British and Australian), but wasn’t finding any opportunities….so I made my own. April 17, 2014 I took to Twitter and asked my filmmaking contacts if anyone needed PR and digital marketing assistance for their film and the rest is history. By the end of that weekend I had 3 clients, by the end of the week it was 6 and by the end of the month it was 12. Not bad, considering I had no brand at the time, no official website, no seed money OR a business plan (I don’t recommend doing that, by the way)!

But now, it’s time for me to move on. As much as I have loved what we do here at Film Sprites PR, I’m ready to start moving further towards my original dream and goal and I can’t do that alone. So it’s going to take more training, more networking and more heart than ever before. Here’s some of the lessons I’ve learned in the past 5 years:

“Be A Duck”: It’s a strange little mantra, I’ll admit. When I was first starting out even though I believed in my dream and in my abilities, there was still a little bit of doubt. I would be exhilarated by a new challenge, but inside I was shaking like a chihuahua. So I used a mantra to help me: be a duck. Think about the way a duck swims on a pond: they look so graceful, gliding across the surface with ease like a figure skater swirling around a rink. But under the surface, those little orange legs are paddling like hell. I’d heard the phrase “be a duck” and the accompanying explanation before, and it seemed to fit. It was also ridiculous enough to snap me out of whatever nervousness I was feeling at the time.

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Lose Your (Egoic) Mind: Yes, you have to lose your mind a little in order to accomplish things you’d never thought possible…but I mean your egoic mind. And not the Freudian definition of ‘ego’. The definition of ‘ego’ I work with is a bit less psychology and a bit more ‘woo woo’ and I’m not afraid to say that! There’s a great explanation of the differences between your ego and your soul over at the Notes on Bliss blog. If you want to achieve the things your heart truly yearns for, you have to silence that ego and start following your heart and listening to the still voice inside of you. If you have a huge goal to achieve, there’s lots of people who are willing to put their two cents in, especially if to them it seems unbelievable and unattainable. You have to lovingly nod and smile and discard other people’s opinions- you know what you’re capable of.

And yes, it does sound absolutely bonkers, but it works. I took a massive risk by resigning from a permanent position in order to take up temping so that I could fit in everything I needed to while building up Film Sprites PR. It was a risk that has paid off. I’m not suggesting you do the same, but I do suggest trying to silence the voices of your ego that tell you it’s impossible to create a life you love and achieve the things you want to achieve. Be your spirit’s BFF, because if you’re on a huge adventure you’re going to need all the self-support you can get.

Everything is An Exchange: in 2015, I took on my first assistant for Film Sprites PR. My friend Gabe had offered to help out because he believed in what I was doing and also wanted further digital marketing experience. Shortly after we were joined by Hannah, who is now my VA, and we started to receive requests from people looking to work for Sprites. I ended up taking them on on a freelance basis. Knowing how difficult it was to get my ‘foot in the door’ and the fact that I had to make my own opportunities, the first thing I would ask anyone who wanted to be a part of Sprites was: “what are your own career goals?” The reason for this was because I didn’t want them to just ‘do work’- I wanted them to have experiences that allowed them to showcase their abilities and help them to further their career goals. Just the other day a freelancer got in touch because he was applying for a full-time permanent PR and digital marketing position and I very proudly wrote a letter of recommendation for him. Everything is an exchange, whether it’s a client paying you in return for your services or someone wanting to work for you. The same is true of mentoring– if you reach out to someone, looking for mentoring and/or advice…what value can you bring to the table? How can you make their situation a bit easier?

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Get To Know Your Intuition: a lot of people don’t rate intuition as a business skill, but being able to trust your inherent intuition will save you a lot of grief and mourning of bad decisions later on. There have been times when my intuition has been prodding me, telling me that something was amiss or I should say ‘no’. When I hadn’t listened, I regretted it almost immediately. For instance, a year before I founded Film Sprites PR I missed out on one of the biggest opportunities ever because I ignored my intuition. My partner and I were due up in Wellington to visit family, but the day of our flight it started snowing…and snowing hard. I kept frantically checking weather reports and updates from the airport. At about 10:00am as I was monitoring one of the reports, I heard this quiet little voice inside saying: “reschedule your flight. Schedule it for 2 weeks from now”. But I was being stubborn and wanted to fly up that afternoon.

We managed to fly up, and I was standing in a certain place on the Sunday of that weekend, wistfully contemplating the future and my dreams and aimlessly hoping something would happen, that I would be granted a great opportunity. Imagine my shock when that opportunity popped up…in the same place I had been standing 2 weeks previous to the day. I still bemoan that.

That being said: stop wishing and start doing!: I do believe in the Law of Attraction to an extent, but you can just wish for something to happen. You have to meet your goal halfway. Dreams are great, but they’re just dreams if you don’t act on them. In my case, I made my own opportunities with Film Sprites PR and that is serving as a living, breathing resume for the next part of my journey. When there wasn’t funding to outsource things like web design and CEO, I learned how to do it. Dreams are not fluffy little marshmallows, they’re more like cogs in a machine that get stuck on occasion, needing you to roll up your sleeves and get to work. The better the work you do, the less they get stuck and the well-oiled machine of your dreams begins to really pay off.

 

 

How To Find A Mentor (And Be A Fabulous Mentoree)

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When I first founded Film Sprites PR, I did everything on my own. I came from having my Bachelors’ degree and my PR certification to building a business from scratch (and almost accidentally!). But the time came when I could no longer learn through doing…I needed some mentoring- I was looking for my Yoda, my Obi-Wan, my Ancient One, my Tony Stark. Thankfully, I didn’t have to go to some far-flung galactic swamp to be taunted by a wrinkled green Muppet to receive the assistance I needed.

No matter what industry you are in, mentoring is a great idea. Having a mentor means you can receive insights and assistance from someone who is removed enough from your situation that they can give you impartial and practical steps to help you step fully into your greatness.

So, how do you find a mentor? Thankfully in the digital age it’s not difficult to find your own Yoda:

1. Business mentoring schemes: research business mentoring schemes in your community. Some business mentoring schemes are free of charge, some charge a small fee and then subsidize the rest of the fee that would be going to the mentor they select for you, based on your goals.

2. People in your industry (or the field you’re interested in entering): chances are, if you’ve been networking (either in person or via social media), you may have identified people who could be valuable mentors. Perhaps they’re working for a company you desire to work for, or they have qualities you want to embody. Whatever initially led you to pinpointing them as a potential mentor- go with it! Be aware, however, that some people are not keen on mentoring and that’s okay. They may be able to refer you to somebody else who could be of assistance, or resources that can help you.

Start networking with these contacts prior to getting in touch via email/LinkedIn message. One of the things I have found in the 5 years I’ve been working in film is that independent filmmakers in particular are quite amenable to having a chat about their work. It’s not always the case, but try it and see.

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3. Virtual mentors: thanks to the digital age we have mentors available everywhere! Chances are, many of us aren’t going to have the chance to kiki with Oprah, David Lynch or Richard Branson, but we have these thought leaders at our fingertips. Seek out books. Listen to podcasts. Glean everything you can from the people in your industry you most admire. When I first started out, I read Kelly Cutrone’s book If You Have To Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You. Recently I’ve been watching Lewis Howes’ The School of Greatness interviews on YouTube while I’m on the elliptical. There are podcasts, books, interviews, audiobooks…the stream of information is astounding and it’s available right now.

Aspiring filmmaker? Set aside some time, pick a filmmaker who inspires you and watch their films. Have a notebook to record anything that strikes you about their aesthetic. Then go and read books, reviews, critical examinations, etcetera. If you really want to go even deeper, seek out academic papers written about their work.

4. Your muses and inspirations are important too! You can learn so much from the people you admire and who spark inspiration in you. If it wasn’t for a massive spark of inspiration, Film Sprites PR may never have existed. What is it about these people you admire? How can you distill lessons from their journeys into lessons for yourself?

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If you’re looking to have a mentor in your life, you’re going to want to be a great mentoree. There’s many people who receive dozens of requests for mentoring every day…so how do you stand out and make them say ‘yes’?

1. Be of value: what value can you offer to your potential mentor? Perhaps you’re a whiz at coding, can assist with social media or have a knack with great graphic design. Let your mentor know the skills you could potentially offer them in exchange for their guidance and assistance.

2. Have a genuine interest in what they do: you would be surprised how many people will seek out advice and assistance from someone in a field they are interested in without actually being interested in the person themselves! Don’t just seek someone out because you think they’ll be a good fit and they do what you would like to do. Find someone whose ethos and personality genuinely inspires you.

3. Observe the basic courtesies: I shouldn’t have to write about this, but unfortunately there are times when people don’t observe basic courtesies when it comes to potential mentors. If they decline, send a follow-up message to thank them for their time. If you do have a mentor, show up to meetings promptly. If you’ve arranged a Skype meeting, for instance, and there is something wrong with the connection that could potentially see you signing on late- get in touch with your mentor via e-mail or Linked In message. If you have a set time period for your mentoring, follow up with a thank-you card and/or gift.

If you’re keen to start the mentoring process, here’s an idea for you this weekend: grab a pen and paper and write down definite steps you are going to take to start the path towards mentoring. Map it all out, down to who you will contact, who you’ve contacted and the date of any follow up messages. Writing it down is better than just keeping it in your head, and that way you can cross off each step as you do it.

No matter where you are on your life path and career journey, there’s a wealth of people and resources out there to help take you to the next step. Best of luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Indie Filmmakers

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On April 14 this year Film Sprites PR will turn 3 years old. Yes, my humble little PR and digital marketing consultancy for film will become a rambunctious threenager!

Part of the reason Film Sprites PR became a reality was because I could see that there were amazing filmmakers out there who deserved sparkling publicity and social media marketing…and I wanted to be of service.

But if it wasn’t for the spirit of these filmmakers themselves I wouldn’t have reached out. I might have waited pointlessly for my ship to come in instead of making my own opportunities. But interacting with indie filmmakers on Twitter and seeing the way they were making their own opportunities encouraged me to step out and do the same.

If you’re an entrepreneur you can learn so much from the world of indie film. Indie filmmakers are creative, resilient, self-starting, motivated and flexible- all the qualities that a lot of entrepreneurs embody or would like to embody. Here’s what I’ve learned from indie filmmakers, and what you can learn too:

They “Choose Themselves”

Indie filmmakers are the embodiment of “choosing themselves”, as trader/writer/entrepreneur James Altucher puts it. Indie filmmakers don’t wait for opportunities to show the world what they can do- they make the opportunities themselves. The digital age has helped to assist people to “choose themselves” due to the pervasive nature of social media and the Internet. The new systems of streaming and content distribution are also supporting indie filmmakers to “choose themselves”.

What entrepreneurs can learn from this: don’t wait to be “picked”! You are neither a flower or a kid waiting in line for dodgeball teams. Find a problem that needs solving, then offer your solutions. Don’t fit into a niche- create one. I thoroughly recommend James Altucher’s books Choose Yourself and Reinvent Yourself, because they are the rallying cry for creating your own opportunities. You should also check out James’ podcast interview on the Dave Bullis Podcast– it’s well worth a listen.

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They’re Adaptable

If you look up ‘adaptable’ in the dictionary, you’d probably see a picture of an indie filmmaker! Indie filmmakers are adaptable because they have to be. Often, indie filmmakers are working with moderate to micro budgets, and with very tight filming schedules. There’s no luxury of being able to book actors in for a long stint, tech failures happen and sometimes the weather is against you when it comes to location shoots and external shots. But indie filmmakers always find a way. From pre-production through to post, they’re adaptable and deal with anything that comes their way unexpectedly because they have to. When an issue pops up, an indie filmmaker is already thinking of a solution. If a location falls through they’ll find another, or they’ll adapt the script. Indie filmmakers are always thinking on their feet because they have to.

What entrepreneurs can learn from this: you can put in as many contingency plans as you like, but sometimes things will pop up that you weren’t expecting. That’s where you need to be flexible in your actions and thinking. A positive mindset is key- you can’t go retreating to the couch with a box of Milk Tray every time you have a troll or a tech failure. When something goes wrong, don’t spend time ruminating on it- start finding solutions (even if you’re feeling really cruddy about what’s happened). Being proactive halts the feeling of helplessness in its tracks.

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They Follow Their Passions

One of the best stories of how a film came into being would have to come from filmmaker Simon Cox, director of Kaleidoscope Man. As a child, Simon saw Star Wars and loved it so much that it sparked a lifelong love of sci-fi and would eventually lead to the birth of Kaleidoscope Man. Indie filmmakers bring into the world exactly what they want the world to see, because their passion for film and filmmaking is a driving force. Ask any filmmaker what inspires them and they will give you a wealth of inspirations and creative influences, because as creatives they are driven by a passion to create films and tell stories. It’s because of this passion that indie filmmakers are so adaptable and more likely to bypass the “middle men” to bring their creative visions to the screen. They have a passion for film and they know that they have a gift to give the world.

What entrepreneurs can learn from this: when you have a passion for something, it can serve as a guiding light going forward. Often you may not know where the next step of the journey will take you, but keeping your passion first and foremost in your mind will help to inform you in every decision you make. Indie filmmakers are constantly having to evaluate decisions, offers of assistance or other opportunities based on their creative vision and their goals for their filmmaking and films and you should too. How will a strategic partnership serve your overall goals? Is a decision going to move you forward in the direction you see yourself going in, or is it just a “make work” exercise? Constantly evaluate decisions and actions by using your passion as a compass.

You can learn so much from indie filmmakers and be inspired by them, because they don’t give up. If you want to know more about indie filmmakers and their films, one of the best places to look is via the Twitter hashtag #SupportIndieFilm. You will find an absolute wealth of independent filmmakers and their films, as well as many crowdfunding campaigns for films that would dearly love more support and contributions.

 

Need PR/social media marketing assistance for your indie film? See what we have to offer HERE.