Need to build and motivate great teams? Book Robert David Duncan for keynotes, seminars, coaching and training

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Do you want better performing teams?  Do you want to perform better? Contact Robert David (Rob) Duncan, who can help you and your teams be more effective – in terms of cohesion, collaboration, competitiveness and social skills. Rob is also a Certified Management Consultant who can roll up his sleeves and get actively involved in improving your organization’s performance. A longtime college educator, Rob can work with your organization and continue to add value long after the keynote address.

Featured talks and seminars: 1. Team Intelligence; 2. Competitive Intelligence; 3. Collaborative Intelligence; 4. Social Intelligence.

1. Team Intelligence: Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn

South of Cape Horn

South of Cape Horn – a foreboding calm…

What were the secrets to building a great team on a gruelling 3-month sailing voyage around the dreaded Cape Horn? Join Rob for a first-hand account of a life-changing tall ship voyage through stormy seas and interpersonal strains that ultimately led to a rounding of the “Sailor’s Mount Everest.” Told through stories and pictures, with the keen insights of a skilled management consultant, Lessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn will leave your team inspired, engaged, and ready for their next challenge!

2. Competitive Intelligence: Fast, Cheap & Ethical Techniques to get the Edge

What can you do in the next 15 minutes to give your firm an unbeatable lead over the competition? Join competitive intelligence expert Rob Duncan for an entertaining, fast-paced and informative look at a war chest of tools that can be employed cheaply, quickly and ethically to gain a sustainable edge. Drawing on his book “Competitive Intelligence: Fast, Cheap & Ethical”, selected as a Best Business Book of 2008, Rob will leave your group raring to go on these simple and effective tactics.

Rob Duncan is building intelligent teams

3. Collaborative Intelligence: Enhancing Innovation through Social Media

What do you do when your customer is suddenly the head of your design team? “Harness it to your advantage,” says social networking expert Rob Duncan. Rob’s recent doctoral research confirmed that online social networking is breaking down traditional boundaries between companies, competitors and customers. Intelligent collaboration is the way of the future, and Rob Duncan can explain in straightforward terms why LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and other collaborative technologies are going to drive business in the future, and why you need to be there.

4. Social Intelligence: Building Socially Smart Teams for Winning Performances

What do improvisation, active listening, the reading of micro-expressions, networking and acting technique have in common? They all relate to the growing field of social intelligence. Defined as ‘a person’s competence to comprehend his or her environment optimally and react appropriately for socially successful conduct,’ social intelligence is needed more than ever in business. Join Rob Duncan, New York trained actor and co-author of the book “Improv to Improve Your Business: Using the principles of improvisation to foster communication, creativity & innovation” on an engaging journey through some simple, easy to use and powerful techniques to build social intelligence in your teams.

Contact us for more information at or via the Contact tab on this page.

Simple steps to become a successful film-maker for less than $500

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Simple steps to become a successful film-maker for less than $500

This year has been a great adventure for me in that I have directed several short films that are receiving recognition in the form of official festival selections and an award nomination. I have never been to film school, and each of these films was shot and completed on a budget of around $500 or less, including festival submission fees.

Official Selection for A Special Kind of Love

If you have a desire to make a film, I very much encourage you to do so because it has never been easier.  Also, by doing one simple film you will gain exposure to the entire process from beginning to end. There are so many cool short film festivals out there today – some free to enter – that there has never been a more fun time to have a small inventory of shorts in your repertoire to play with. But let’s start with that crucial first film.

Pick a simple story that matters to you. Use the “rule of 1 or 2″ – think in terms of 1 or 2 characters, 1 or 2 locations, 1 or 2 situations and a simple story arc that can be shared visually in 1 or 2 minutes. Maybe 1 person wonders how it all went wrong, or 2 people meet and something hilarious happens. Maybe you decide to frame a story around that anthill you’ve been observing in the park. Keep it very simple for now  – you have many years to put together your epic feature film!

Write down a simple narrative script. Don’t sweat proper screenplay structure unless you really want to – there is time to learn that later. Focus instead on what the characters will say and do in your story. Think in terms of 1 or 2 pages (there’s that rule again). Craft your story until you can start to see it happening in a 1 to 2 minute film. Building in story elements that are easy to film (daytime, natural lighting, available locations, absence of explosions or car chases) makes your job a lot easier.

Take time to visualize. This is the best lesson your director self will ever get. Take the time to picture your film happening as you sit in the audience watching it, each second from beginning to end. I find the moments before falling asleep to be a great time to do this. Go from the opening credits through to the end. Keep refining this vision to include what the camera sees, what angles the viewer sees and other details. Don’t get hung up on this step though – nothing will happen exactly as you predict, and the result will be magical anyway.

Use your smartphone. Sure, you may want to use a more elaborate camera, but try to avoid the temptation for your first film. The more you are shooting and grabbing quick footage without over-thinking, the easier your life will be. Do the minimum. Remember, all films can be re-shot later if they are that important to humanity – the key here is to learn lots, get to your mistakes quickly, finish something and get it out there.  There are lots of great films being made with smartphones now. Just be sure to hold the camera horizontally if that’s what gives the best video quality – ask an experienced friend if you aren’t sure.

Rehearsal with actors Andrew Hill and Lauren Donnelly

Rehearse with your actors if you can.  Do most of your directing in the rehearsal. If you can’t get actors, don’t let that hold you back – do a simpler story with a voice-over narrative for your first effort. Act in it yourself and use a tripod. The main thing is to get something done, finished and out there. I’ve seen great performances with little or no rehearsal, and I’ve seen extensively-rehearsed efforts come out flat, so don’t let lack of rehearsal time stop you.

Plan and execute the shoot. Divide your script and your vision for your film into filmable chunks, fire up your camera and then go for it. If you can get what you need in one single run from beginning to end, then do it and start editing! Go back and grab close-ups if you need them, but remember this is a first film, not your magnum opus. Every additional shot should be justified by really needing it in your final vision. If you don’t need that complex shot to tell the story, save it for a later film. Don’t over-shoot, and don’t go beyond 3 takes unless there is a compelling reason. There is no “safety” in getting more and more takes, and it just ends up causing agony when you are trying to choose between takes during the edit.

Organize your footage.  Upload your video clips to Youtube from your phone and give each video segment a meaningful name so you know what is what when it comes to editing. Download the footage from Youtube onto your working computer when you get home.

Edit your film. Grab a free trial download of an editor like PowerDirector and just wade in and learn to use it by doing. Buy the software once you find one you like. There are tons of video clips on Youtube that will show you the basics of editing. Grab one of your pieces of footage, drag it into the editor, add beginning titles and ending credits, and hit save. Congratulations, you are now an editor. Now you are ready to pull in more pieces of footage, cut away unnecessary bits and do transitions from clip to clip. When you have a simple, complete cut of your film, save it in a usable format like MP4 or mov. Congrats, you are a film-maker! Now the rest of the job starts.

Submit your film to festivals. Target appropriately. Your first 1 minute film may not be right for Sundance, but it might find a welcome acceptance in a festival geared toward micro short films shot with smartphones. Signing up with FilmFreeway or similar websites like Withoutabox can be a great way to find festivals that will be right for your film. Getting your first official selection or acceptance into a festival is a major confidence builder and you will be starting to build a track record of accomplishment in film. Later on, you can explore how to sell your film or distribute your film for money online, but more likely you will treat your early work as just that – early work – and move on to learn more by doing more films. Congratulations on getting this far!

Nominated for Best Drama Micro Short

Congratulations, now go do it again!

Remember, most people who dream of making a film will not even start. Of those who start, few will finish. Of those who finish, few will get as far as submitting to a festival. If you are able to start and finish a short film, however simple, and get it into a festival, you will be on your way! If these steps I’ve outlined help by encouraging you and cutting through some of the mystery, then I am happy. I encourage you to return the favor by helping someone else in the future.

You will find that the film-making community is a very friendly, collaborative and helpful one.  Most people are more than willing to help out a newcomer and will share their hard-earned knowledge with you. The most important lesson though, is that the film that gets finished and out there is the one that matters. Do your first film fast, by yourself if needed, but get it done. Don’t self-censor your work – get it out there and submit it to festivals, you will be pleased with the results. Best of luck to you!



Live to your own script! Book preview from The Adventure of an Ingenious Life

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Book Preview: The Adventure of an Ingenious Life – Follow your creativity through doors of opportunity

I was very pleased to be asked to contribute my thoughts and ideas to this new book. I have worked on collaborative books before, and really enjoy the process of sharing creative approaches with others. This book in particular appealed to me because I see myself at a crossroads between the business thinking and writing I have done before, and the creative and artistic life that is my main focus currently and into the future.

When I co-authored Improv to Improve your Business, I was beginning to meld the worlds of business and the worlds of art together. This new book furthers this process. When I began writing my contribution, I asked myself what I would say to a group of people about what I’ve learned in life so far. Here are some ideas.

Live to your own script!

People tell me that I have had an interesting life. On the one hand it is a genuine compliment, but on the other hand, there is a subtext of “Well, good for you, you are (insert choice of: weird/creative/brave/free/unfettered etc.), but it wouldn’t work for me.” I disagree. Anyone can fulfill their own calling to be who they were meant to be, and it doesn’t require radical or risky behaviours, just a commitment to certain principles, values and habits that I truly believe in.

As I write this, I am an actor, filmmaker, public speaker, writer, coach and trainer. If I am fortunate enough to re-read this in 10 years, I am confident I will describe myself quite differently. My past has included studying art, writing fiction, sailing across oceans, doing an MBA, a disastrous stint as a banker and many other things. Here are my tips for living a creative life of your own ingenious design.

Honor the child in you

Who were you when you were young? You are still that person on many levels. That child is who you are meant to become in life. Think back to when you little and free to dream and play. What things did you like to do? What were your fantasies about life? What games did you like to play? Were you a social person or did you like to wander off by yourself and observe birds and insects? Did you run, jump or climb trees. Did you like reading? Did you like to organize the gang and go on adventures?

Who were you as a child?

Take some time, close your eyes and think about yourself when you were small. Picture that little person looking back at you in a mirror. Work at picturing all the details of small you. What are you wearing? Are you happy or sad? Fearful or bold? Playful? Shy? Think about a perfect day you could have. Map out an entire perfect day for your young self. Picture yourself living that perfect day in a much rich detail as you can. When you are done, write down the most important messages you have taken away from the exercise. Who were you?

For most of us, life began the get in the way somewhere between our young selves and our current selves. As a boy, I loved animals, nature, roaming around, getting dirty and adventures. Later, I was obsessed with photography. Despite that I lived most of my young adulthood doing things that I thought would look good on a resume, rather than the things that fuelled my passions. I would start a program in arts, but decide that economics would look better on a resume. I could have tried my hand at drama and acting, but got an MBA instead. These are all little betrayals, and they add up over time.

How have you betrayed your young self? Make a note of some of the things you wish you could be doing. You owe yourself the chance to fulfill some of the destiny that was in store for you when you were a child. In fact, that destiny will come calling for you in midlife, whether you are ready or not. It’s better to be in control of becoming the person you were meant to become than it is to have the sadness of not doing so express itself in illness, depression or damaged relationships.

Dream big, start small

Look at the list of things that inspired you as a child. Pick one thing that you wish you could have pursued. Let’s make it happen on some level! One of the things I believe causes fear in people when they contemplate their hidden dreams is that they think doing so makes their already-lived life a lie. It’s not true, because we made the best decisions in life we could at the time, with the information and self-awareness we had at the time. We don’t have to throw out all that we have lived to pursue some far-off dream. Pursuing our childhood dreams on some level, though, is far healthier than drowning ourselves in “busy-ness” to avoid thinking about them. This doesn’t have to be a sad story!

One of the things I loved reading about when I was a child were great adventures like kids sailing around the world on little boats. As I started to hit midlife, I realized that those dreams were still nagging at me. I had been channelling this need into following round-the-world solo sailing races on the web and reading book after book about sailing around the dreaded Cape Horn, the most dangerous place on earth to be sailing. People who knew me well could see the gears turning in my head, and they started to worry. I fuelled those fears by starting to talk about needing to “sail around the Horn.”

Fulfilling a childhood dream

The end result of putting it out there to myself and others was that I was in fact able to fulfill my dream of sailing around Cape Horn, as described in my first book “Haul Away!” The way it happened was that I joined a tall sailing ship that was going to attempt a 3-month voyage to round the Horn in the traditional way, and they wanted deckhand trainees to sail with them. Although it was a dangerous voyage (some 10,000 people have drowned trying round Cape Horn, called the Mount Everest of sailing) it was far less dangerous than trying to sail around on my own, or suffering with an unfulfilled dream.

By sailing around Cape Horn, I lost 3 months of income, but I spawned several new avenues for myself. I wrote my first published book, and was delighted to find that audiences really enjoyed hearing about the voyage, which made me take my speaking hobby seriously and start to make money from it. Beyond all that, I had grown tremendously as a person, made lots of new friends, and was ready for more adventures. The lesson I took way from this was that a person can’t achieve a dream if they can’t acknowledge it to themselves and to others. So take one of those childhood dreams from your list, and say it out loud to yourself. Then tell someone about it.

Go brandless!

Through the process of giving up on our childhood selves and dreams, we end up hiding more of ourselves than we should. If we become an accountant, we internalize the idea that we should “act” like an accountant. Just like any “actor,” this implies a costume, a set of behaviours and a script. The more we act out the script we have been handed, the further many of us get from our true selves, the person we were meant to be. The result is a disappointed soul and a half-hearted life.

It’s much better and healthier to be the accountant who is also an actor or the actor who pays the bills by being an accountant than it is to shoehorn yourself into a narrow, rigid life-script. This flies in the face of contemporary wisdom about careers. We always hear that we should have a “personal brand,” that we should specialize, that we must serve a specific “niche.” This is why many people find doing a resume so difficult and depressing. We are trying to take all the complexity of our interesting lives and corral it into someone else’s definition of desirability.

Later in life, I decided to honour my dream of my early 20s to study acting. I took a leave from my senior management job and went to a good acting school. I never went back to my old job! Common sense would dictate that I should have returned to my old job, perhaps apologized for my brief burst of eccentricity, and got on with living a normal, less creative life. Instead, I realized how much I enjoyed acting, and how exciting it could be to keep learning and developing that craft. I became an actor in real life, not just in fantasy life.

Going brandless means ignoring people and advice that tries to make you narrow, specialized and too focused on one thing. It may be fine if that is your natural inclination, but many creative people really struggle to compartmentalize themselves into a small well-defined box. So don’t do it! It’s your script to write and your script to follow. At the end of your life, you may ask yourself if you lived true to your values, and only you can write the script that allows you to answer “yes” to that question. So get writing!

A three- braided approach to your script

People look at my varied background and ask how I got from one role to another. They are surprised to learn that I never took a blind leap from one thing to another, and that I never turned my back on any of my previous education, training or skills. Everything was built on the foundation of what came before. I use what I call a three-braided approach to writing my own life script. Like a strong piece of rope, a life fashioned out of three interwoven strands is strong and resilient. Here’s how it works: the three strands are what you like doing, what you hate doing and where you can grow.

When you look at what you are currently doing in life or in your career, think about the aspects you really enjoy and are good at. These things form one of the strands of your three-braided script. If you really enjoy doing presentations and helping people, but the rest of your job leaves you cold, then flag presenting and helping people as things you want to bring forward with you into your next role.

Next, look at the things you really don’t like about your current role. It could be office politics, detail work, deadlines or anything else you don’t enjoy. This is not the time to pull punches or second guess yourself. If you hate something, acknowledge it. Don’t beat up on yourself or try to rationalize it away by thinking that everyone has aspects they don’t like about what they do. Just isolate the things you don’t like and flag those as things you would like to lose heading into your next role.

Finally, look at the areas where you need to grow. These could be skills and abilities you wish you had, or personal qualities you would like to develop. Unlearning a particular habit or fear, developing a specific skill, or working in challenging new areas might be examples. You now have the third strand of your three-braided script. You know what you like doing, what you don’t like doing and where you would like to grow. Now, take these three strands, put them together and twist! In twisting these three strands together, you will see how to get from where you are to your next role.

Find the right co-stars for your script

We receive a lot of negative messages in life, often from the ones who love us the most. Creativity and ingenuity are sometimes poorly understood by people, and as result, feared by them. Sometimes, those who care about us fear that we are taking needless risks with our lives, ones that will leave us unhappy in the end. Unfortunately, their desire to help often ends up at odds with our creativity. We need to protect our own creativity even if it means curtailing our exposure to certain people.

Surrounding ourselves with the right people is critical to our success at having a creative and ingenious life. Fortunately, the Internet makes it much easier to create a circle of like-minded friends around the world. There are many groups and meeting spots online, so that we don’t have to be the only oddball around anymore! It is also important for us to be able to have other creative people that we can trust with our ideas. Creative ideas are often very fragile by nature, and they can often be stopped with a poorly thought-out remark from someone who doesn’t understand our creative side.

Loving what we do

I have been lucky in recent years to have surrounded myself with people who are interested in film and acting. Though I am still friends with people from my previous business-oriented job, the people I need around me right now are those who understand what it is to bring an idea for a film through the script-writing stage and beyond into casting, production and beyond. What is really interesting to me though, is how much of my past lives and careers are blending into my current life, using the three-braided way of thinking.

As an example, the same skills I used to help build and run an innovation centre for entrepreneurs are the same skills I use now in putting together a film project: visioning, teambuilding, motivation, funding, communication, marketing and so forth. At no point in my many careers have I ever had to say “I am no longer that guy” because everything I have ever done comes in handy in some way. As a film director, I can draw on all my acting experience to work with actors. I can draw on my business experience in my newer role as a film producer. My experiences acting, directing and producing all help me write more effectively for the screen. All of my life experiences come in handy, and they will continue to do so in my future roles.

It’s your script, so write it and live it!

We waste a lot of time seeking permission and external approval for our choices in life. It is truly wasted time, because some of the most common regrets at the end of our lives are that we didn’t live in tune with our own values, didn’t take chances and didn’t believe in ourselves enough to follow our dreams. So stop doing that! Take chances and believe in yourself. Use the three-braided approach to writing your own script and keep moving in directions that maximize the things you enjoy, minimize the things you don’t enjoy and keep you growing in directions that stretch and inspire you.

I didn’t start out understanding how I moved from fun role to fun role. I was part-way through my journey when one of my college students asked me how I had known to make all the right moves to get where I was at that point. I was honest and said I didn’t have a clue, but that I always tried to do things that were fun, and when two choices presented themselves, I chose the more exotic one. This ended up being a running conversation, and I continued to think about career and life planning, and how it isn’t as logical as it sometimes looks in the rear view mirror.

By focusing on principles that will keep you happy rather than specific targets, logical moves or measurable goals, I really believe you can craft a more exciting, fun and ingenious life. In the end you answer to nobody but yourself, and with this truth comes the responsibility to keep yourself happy. So write your own script and start living it! Inspire others by sharing your adventures and your ingenious life. Above all, be yourself, be happy and don’t wait for permission. Write your script, your way and enjoy it!

The making of Every Boat is a Dream

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A story longs to be freed

Sometimes a story is inside you and it finds the right moment to come out. I had long been fascinated by the so-called “bum boats” that are moored around False Creek in Vancouver. Some are really dilapidated, others are still in good shape. Occasionally you see the owners rowing to shore and back in little dinghies. Sometimes the more neglected ones run aground after storms.

As a boat owner, I know every boat represents a dream for its succession of owners. Boats have souls, names and gender (they are always “she” or “her”). They carry the hopes and delusions of the people who inhabit them.

One day after a rare Vancouver snowstorm, I came across an abandoned sailboat that had partially sunk and was bobbing near the shore on English Bay. I took a bunch of still photos that really moved and haunted me.

Several days later at sunrise, the boat was still there, but it had been looted and stripped of any valuables. I decided to shoot some video footage from various angles, trying to capture the sense of the boat being reclaimed by nature but also the sense that the boat was releasing its despair into the sunrise. It seemed both sad and a bit optimistic, certainly realistic.

I went home and wrote a simple narrative script from the standpoint of a fictional character called David, the boat’s final inhabitant as I imagined him. It was is if the boat and her owner had a story to tell, and they chose me to tell it. After some edits to the script I laid down several takes of the voice over narration. I did some rough edits to marry the narrative to the footage of the sinking boat.

Enter my talented friend and producing partner Arnold Bogdan, who was able to take the rough raw materials I had developed and turn them into something that told a much more interesting visual story that tracked the narrative very nicely. I had heard that there are always at least 2 films: the one you shoot and the one you edit, and this really brought that home to me. The power of Arnold’s edits really make the film what it is.

Now that we have our final cut, we will begin submitting it to festivals. Making “Every Boat is a Dream” has been such a cool adventure in letting a story out that has been longing to be set free.

The making of A Special Kind of Love: Part 3 – post-production, original soundtrack, festivals…

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After we wrapped shooting, we began the fascinating process of editing. This involved looking through all the raw footage, scene by scene, take by take, and making notes on what worked best. Arnold Bogdan and I both did this independently, and then shared our thoughts together. We were in very close alignment on our choices, and Arnold was able to stitch together a first rough cut of our film in Final Cut Pro. This rough cut looked very cool and did a great job of showing off the excellent work of our actors. We still needed a final audio track and a musical soundtrack.

Arnold Bogdan and Robert Duncan with the first copy!

Fortunately, the multi-talented Arnold Bogdan and his multi-talented father Jozef Bogdan are musical composers, musicians and recording artists! The father and son duo composed, played and recorded the wonderful soundtrack that accompanies “A Special Kind of Love.” With our soundtrack in place and final editing underway, we were getting very close to our final cut of the film.

Arnold and I spent a great day together editing the rough cut of the film, second by second, until we were satisfied that the scenes flowed together as best they could. All the while, we were making mental and written notes about what we could do differently next time. It was an amazing learning experience.

Film making is very much a team effort! Our film is now finished, and is being submitted to selected film festivals. Most importantly, we are beginning the process of building a strong team that is starting to function like a well-oiled machine. We learned a lot making “A Special Kind of Love” and are eager to throw ourselves into our next project, “Reset.”

The making of A Special Kind of Love: Part 2 – lights, camera, action!

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Lights, camera, action!

Our table reading and rehearsal work went very smoothly, and I was impressed by how much empathy we all had for the situation in the film. Though not essential to the art of acting or film making, it was interesting to see how many of us had experienced something similar to the character Todd’s situation with his sick mother. In hindsight, I think this level of identification made for a uniquely committed team.

The location for the shoot had been decided in advance, and conveniently it was our own apartment. It’s a vintage place with big rooms and great natural light. Dressing the set was straightforward because we were going to use the same space in our feature Fat Punk, so we had thought out some the logistics of shooting there already. I wanted to experiment with color as one of the mood factors in the film: blue for sadness and red for love.

Cast and crew on set of A Special Kind of Love

Cast and crew on set – note blue and red

We were joined at this point by our makeup artist, the talented Elena Ismail. One of the challenges was to make our very healthy looking star Shelley look very ill. Elena did a great job of this and Shelley of course had the strong acting talent to play a much older and sicker version of herself.

Our director of photography, Arnold Bogdan is a wizard at lighting and camera work, and he was able to set up the shots quickly and efficiently. All of the actors were super well prepared and the shoot went off beautifully. The scene we thought would be the most difficult actually turned out to be the fastest and smoothest!

What was it like to direct? Nerve-wracking at first, but surrounded by such a warm, supportive and talented team, I started to settle into the role and get more comfortable. By the end I was totally into being the director, and couldn’t wait to do it again.

It was a truly great day. We finished ahead of schedule, and headed into post-production!

The making of A Special Kind of Love: Part 1 – finding the perfect script

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“What I really want to do is direct”

Sure, it’s an old cliche. Every actor has said these words at one point or another, or so the legend goes. In my case, it gradually had become true. Having seen these mythical creatures in action as an actor, I began the see the immense role the director has in shaping the story into a visual language that will engage and hopefully transform the audience.  More and more people were encouraging me to direct my own films, and I started to listen.

I wanted to find an ideal script for me and my team to work on. It had to be a short, self-contained story with a small number of characters and locations. In keeping with my values as an artist I wanted it to be a very human story with a heartfelt theme. I went on the search for the perfect script…

I spent several days combing through dozens and dozens of short scripts, and there were several that were strong possibilities. Then I stumbled upon A Special Kind of Love, written by Dale Trett. It was perfect – a sweet, simple story about a young man torn between staying home with his ailing mother or going out on a date with his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day.

Table reading

Table reading for A Special Kind of Love

Not wanting to get my hopes up, I wrote to Dale asking whether it might be possible for us to produce his script. He wrote back very quickly in the affirmative, and we were off to the races!

I had 2 of the 3 cast members in mind from our earlier Fat Punk team, and we quickly were able to cast a 3rd person to fill out our cast. Shelley Janzé was on board as Mom, Andrew Hill would play Todd and Lauren Donnelly would play Emma. Arnold Bogdan would be our director of photography and I would direct the film. Eager to move quickly, we scheduled a table reading…


The making of Fat Punk: Part 5 – dream big, start small

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A wonderful team began to take shape around the vision of making Fat Punk: actors, production folks and other crew. A lot of spirited effort went into pre-production activities such as scheduling, table reading, props, more script edits, location scouting and even the home manufacture of the band’s Fat Punks t-shirts!

It was a dizzying and happy time overall, despite needing to lean on the goodwill of so many dedicated and helpful people. The project grew. And grew. And grew some more.

The project grew so much, so fast that we on the production side of things started to strain under the enormity of trying to pull off shooting a feature film in such a tight time-frame. We decided to put a temporary halt to our efforts to regroup and reconsider our approach.

Heart design by Q. Thomas Bower

Enter a wise person:  a friend of mine who was in the middle of finishing directing her first feature film. Her advice, paraphrased here – Don’t sweat the hiccups which are a natural part of pushing a feature film through to completion. That being said – don’t attempt something as massive as a feature until your team has done some short films first. The work you have put into pre-production on Fat Punk is all a great investment and will pay off, but do some shorts first.

Hard words to hear, but true. So we decided to tackle a short film, and I accepted the challenge to step into the director role, and learn as much as I could about the entire process of making a film from beginning to end.

Next… The making of our first short film, A Special Kind of Love.

The making of Fat Punk: Part 4 – inciting incidents and the making of A-Hoo!

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In drama there is often an ‘inciting incident’ or trigger that makes a character change – change direction, change tactics or change internally. In the story of the making of Fat Punk, there were several.

The question “Why don’t we make this movie ourselves?” had been rattling around my head for some time. I had been acting on a number of film sets in late-2012 and early-2013, both shorts and a feature film, big crews and small. Having never been to film school, I was starting to get a sense of the people and processes involved in making a film. Truly fascinating!

At the same time, I had been active in scene study workshops for over a year and had been able to work with some really talented actors. Between making friends in class and on sets, I suddenly knew a great bunch of amazing people! I had been talking up Fat Punk a bit to people, and the interest in the film and offers to be involved were very inspiring

This is the point in the story where the tragic setback usually happens. I was tempted into a couple of job interview situations that related to my former life. They were challenging positions that would have appealed to me a few years ago, before I made a life change to fully commit to acting. Fortunately, my gut instincts forced me to choose my passions instead of my past. They were interesting jobs, and now they will be interesting jobs for someone else!

So there I was, with lots of cool talented friends from all aspects of film making and acting. People I really liked and whose talents I admired. I also had a script, and a burning desire to see Fat Punk get made.

A-Hoo! cast and crew

And then came A-Hoo! A-hoo! was a short film that popped up on the audition board one day. I read the premise, fell in love with it and with one character in particular. After making contact with the producers, I was sent a copy of the script, and I was blown away by the humour, tight writing and the hilarious parallels with the Warren Zevon song “Werewolves of London.”

As an actor, I try to not get my heart set on any particular role, because casting is so whimsical in the end, and for all of us, not getting the part is a frequent outcome. We go in, do our best, and see what happens. Not this time – I broke my own rule – I wanted it and wanted it BAD!

Long story, short: we made A-Hoo! in a half-day with a really cool cast and crew. A half-day! It was filmed in B+W, a look I was seriously considering for Fat Punk. At the end of the shoot, the director asked what my next project was. I mentioned Fat Punk, and he asked to see the script. A few days later, we met up to do voice-overs for A-Hoo!

When we were finished, the director, Mickey, said “I like the story, and this movie can be made.” Sweet!

Next… Dream big, start small.

The making of Fat Punk: Part 3 – edits, edits, edits and the script gets noticed

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After blasting out the first 102 page draft of Fat Punk in 13 days, I did what all the books say to do and set it aside for a month. Frankly I needed the mental rest and some physical exercise! After I dusted it off I could see several obvious edits that were needed so that the logic of the story would flow better. I could see the script was getting better, but I could see there was still quite a lot to do on it.

In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about an artist’s “sacred circle.” These are the people that you can absolutely trust with a vision when it is still at the fragile early stages. I started to share Fat Punk with my sacred circle.

The initial response to the script was really warm. People liked the story, the title and the characters. After more edits, I started to submit Fat Punk to script writing contests. My favourite was the Nicholl Fellowship contest, run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Academy Awards folks).

Nicholl Fellowship

The prize was a paid year to write – how amazing. I knew I had no chance of making it to the winner’s circle but was pleased to get 2 positive reviews out of 2 reads, and to score in the top third of all entries. It was a vote of confidence.

I decided to head down to the Great American Pitchfest in Hollywood, and give pitching a try. The Pitchfest is an annual event where you can meet tons of other writers, pitch your script to executives who are looking to buy and attend cool educational seminars.  You get 5 minutes to pitch, and then you have to move on – just the kind of situation I love!

I had a riot at the event and made several new friends. The pitching went pretty well, and I had 6 companies ask to see the script – all in all a great day. But one piece of feedback kept coming though loud and clear, along the lines of: “It’s a great story, love the character, but it’s a small movie. And we don’t do small here in Hollywood. Bring me a monster movie that will cost $4o-60 million and we’ll talk. Why don’t you make this movie yourselves?”

Why don’t we make this movie ourselves? Hmmm…


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