Robert Rodriguez

Robert Rodriguez

I was listening to another Tim Ferris podcast the other day. This time he was interviewing the filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City etc.), who had some very interesting things to say about creativity:

He keeps a journal of everything he that happens to him, then uploads it so that he can search for certain subjects/words/etc. This allows him, for example, to be a better dad by reliving all his kids’ moments with them in great detail. But it also makes him a better filmmaker, as it gives him the ability to look back at decisions he made in the creation of a project and see if they turned out well or should have been done differently.

He says that in any creative endeavour, the job is 90% the same. So if, like him, you want to write, edit, direct, score and produce your work, you shouldn’t let a lack of experience hold you back (for more on this, check out his interview with Quentin Tarantino, where Quentin explains how he shot his first film, Reservoir Dogs, mainly though his knowledge of acting). When he told one of his teachers that he was planning to be the DOP on his first film, the teacher tried to persuade him against the idea because he thought all his actors would get pissed off watching him set up shots. Rodriguez didn’t listen to him, and it turned out fine. In fact, his many skills meant that he could make his first film for much less money because he could edit as well as direct. This meant he only needed to shoot exactly what he required to make up the final film, rather than cover tonnes of extra footage so that some other editor would have more stuff to work with.

When you stumble you stumble upon things… There’s a big thread of failure=good running through the whole podcast. He also quotes Francis Ford Coppola, who says that failure doesn’t endure, meaning that what seems like a failure inevitably turns into something positive. RR made one quarter of the poorly-rceived anthology film Four Rooms. It flopped, but while making it he watched a sequence with Antonio Banderas and his wife and kids and got the idea for his very successful Spy Kids series.

He made El Mariachi for $7000, which he raised by volunteering for medical experiments (one of them merely required him to be fed and housed for a month while he wrote more screenplays). He then cold-called a Hollywood agent (a new guy with no directors on his books) and asked him to watch the El Mariachi trailer. The agent did so and was very impressed, especially when was told that it only cost $7000. ‘Wow,’ he replied. ‘Most trailers cost $20,000-$30,000.’ When Rodriguez explained that the whole film cost $7000 the guy was of course even more impressed. Within a few days he’d set up a deal at Columbia. Rodriguez didn’t have any other films ready to develop, so he proposed remaking El Mariachi as Desperado. Columbia agreed and the rest is history (guess who cut the trailer and designed the poster):

In his TV series, The Director’s Chair, Rodriguez chats to various great auteurs about their craft. In the episode featuring Robert Zemeckis we discover that he seriously considered cutting the Johnny B. Goode scene from Back To The Future and thought that Forrest Gump was going to be a flop. Rodriguez’s point is that even the biggest experts have very little idea what really works. Remember that when anyone in the room seems utterly certain of an artistic decision, especially one you don’t agree with. Much is fluke:

Rodriguez became the chairman and founder of the El Rey TV network, an english language cable network that creates original programming alongside Robert’s favourite movies. That happened because he realised 20,000 people were vying for every opportunity at Sundance, but very few people wanted to put a TV network together. He said maybe 100 people tried to get the rights to the new network, and maybe five of them had a decent plan of how to do it. Now El Rey is carried on all the major cable providers in the US.

Overall he just wanted to make sure people always think of themselves as creative. I couldn’t agree more. Many times I’ve suggested that a person outside the creative department do something ‘creative’ only to hear the reply ‘But I’m not a creative person’. They’re wrong. We are all creative people. Every thought we have is an act of creation, so we are inherently creative entities.

Some people, like Robert Rodriguez, take that possibility to the nth degree.

You’ve got some power in your corner now! Some heavy ammunition in your camp! You got some punch, pizzaz, yahoo and how. See, all you gotta do is rub the weekend.

In conversation with Quentin Tarantino.

People ask to be roasted on Reddit. Hilarity ensues (thanks, J).

Behind the scenes of A Clockwork Orange (thanks, T).

37 things we learned from Fincher’s Gone Girl commentary (thanks, J2).

Straight Outta Compton, swearing only (thanks, J).

Demotivational quotes.

The art of watermelon carving (thanks, T2).

The most timeless songs of all time (thanks, G).

Dave Chapelle warns people of the dangers of AIDS (thanks, J1):

Robert Rodriguez interviews Tarantino:

What do we do about people hating ads?

Dave Trott often quotes the statistic that we don’t remember 89% of the advertising we’re exposed to. That suggests that there is a massive amount of built-in wastage that supports the effective parts of an industry worth billions of pounds a year. We create what we create in the knowledge that the vast majority of people won’t give the first or last toss about it.

Isn’t that kind of odd? And in the thousands of years advertising has existed the rate can’t have improved. That might be a result of the giant number of messages we’re now exposed to (after all, who could possibly take in 100% of them?), but still, we all pretty much hate almost all advertising. From the most expensive 90-second extravaganzas to the most bovine banners on the side of your Facebook page, if anyone asked you if you’d like to look at an ad voluntarily you’d think they were mad before telling them to fuck off.

Part of me wonders if that’s the reason some people in the industry are trying to circumvent the inherent dislikeability of conventional ads and are instead trying to create other things entirely: social campaigns that have little or nothing to do with the products they sellbooks, tattoos on footballers… Aren’t they all just attempts to sneak ads past people who don’t want to experience the things that interrupt their TV programs? Is it the equivalent of smothering a piece of broccoli in Nutella to hide the taste? Will the public end up becoming inured to these new forms, then hate the industry even more for trying to fool them?

The odder thing is that there’s no consensus about the right way to go. Billions are pouring into annoying ads for shoes that follow you around the internet right after you buy a pair of shoes. Is that a good idea, or are the fake bike paintsTV series and pizza delivery apps better? Never mind all the clients who still think the best use of their money is to fill ad breaks and posters sites.

Perhaps we’re just ignoring a more obvious fact: it doesn’t actually matter where we put a message, or what form it takes, so long as people like it.

Isn’t that all that matters? All that’s ever mattered?

what is luck?

When people talk about what you need to succeed in life they often cite the abstract concept of ‘luck’.

But what is this mysterious, magical power that holds such sway over all our fates?

Well, after careful analysis, I’ve come to the startling conclusion that it’s just some made up bollocks that people use to demonstrate that life is not entirely under their control.

You often hear stories of a person who didn’t catch a plane that then crashed (‘Oh, my God! That was really lucky!’), or won a bet against long odds (‘You lucky bastard!’), or found their other half under unusual circumstances (‘Lucky you decided to stay another day, eh?’). But under the surface the circumstances have not been led by a magic force; they are simply occurrences that happened based on some conscious and unconscious decisions.

The person who missed the plane just happened to miss the plane. They’ve probably missed a few other planes in their life, but none of those crashed, so there was clearly no ‘luck’ involved.

The person who won the bet obviously made a bet they thought they might win, so where’s the luck in that? In fact, it might have come in because of a striker who hit the post instead of scoring. ‘Ooooh! Unlucky!’ a million football supporters and commentators would have said at the time, when, in truth, the striker took a poor shot. Nothing unseen guided a perfectly good volley towards the woodwork.

The couple who meet or don’t meet would do so (or not) based on behaviour that suggests people with similar interests do similar things and that people from similar backgrounds move in similar circles. Put those two factors together and you get plenty of ‘luck’ just waiting to happen.

But the problem with bringing significance to the idea of luck is the abdication of responsibility that comes with it. There’s a famous Gary Player quote: ‘The more I practice, the luckier I get’. That’s the key to it all: you really do make your own ‘luck’, but only if you believe that. If you fatalistically lie down and wait for luck to wave its magic wand, it will wave it far less often than if you work harder, meet more people, look for more opportunities, take more chances and generally enhance all the things that are under your control.

And yes, there are elements to life that you really don’t have any say over, and they can affect you in all sorts of ways, but the more you believe to be under your control the more will actually be under your control.

As John Hunt so succinctly puts it:

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 18.35.37

Tell me, fuck what would y’all do without me?! Kill yourself for even thinking something crazy ’bout me. I’m like Ali, your fuckin’ champ, now watch me rope a dope. Just watch him choke, cause everythin’ I drop is dope. Now watch ’em all go up in the weekend.

Colourised photos with surreal twists (thanks, M).

The importance of colour in storytelling (thanks, J).

Documentary on John Williams composing the score for Empire Strikes Back.

Scorsese Doc:

And while we’re here, Ingmar Bergman on Taxi Driver:

Luxury basketball shizzle (thanks, J).

Bad Lip Reading, Republican debate edition (thanks, J):

Improbable weapons supercut (thanks, J):

Escape documentary

Hello Ben,
I hope you’re well and enjoying L.A.?
I was wondering if you’re interested in uploading this short documentary made about me and my work to your blog:
Might be interesting to your readership; it mostly deals with me leaving the industry, why and how it’s possible to pursue your creative dreams!!


People skills pay the bills

Ultimately, the skill we prize is the ability to get other people to do things.

We might call it leadership, as if it has something to do with being in the front line when you’re asking people to go into battle, but you can motivate people in so many different ways that selecting one style is a bit disingenuous. Some people at the top of organisations or departments get the best out of people by positive reinforcement, while others use fear, or guilt, or double bluff, or leave it up to the person they’re motivating to work it out for themselves.

The annoying thing about that is that they can all work. I’ve been scared into doing better work, but I’ve also just seen how high a boss’s standards are and resolved to live up to them, all by myself. I worked for one guy who I’d show a script, chat about the previous night’s TV, then ask what he thought of the work. He’d hand it back approved even though it had been in his hands upside-down the entire time. He presided over departments that won Agency of the Year several times, so despite appearances he clearly knew how to get the best out of people.

And if you’re an advertising creative, that’s how you get promoted. I once asked a boss whether I should follow the advice of the highly awarded copywriter down the hall, who suggested I tell the client to fuck off. ‘Ben’, my boss replied, ‘that’s the reason why (copywriter X) isn’t an ECD’. So the better writer (but also, alas, a massive, somewhat cantankerous, boozer) had been surpassed in his career by his less talented but people-friendlier colleague. That’s not to say that somewhat cantankerous boozers can’t make it to the top ­– plenty have – but copywriter X was never going to be the guy to fire up a department for a big pitch or make a callow junior happy to go back for a tenth revision on an endline. It was difficult to put my finger on why I was not motivated to impress him, but overall he was just a bit of an arsehole who didn’t seem to like anything much. The stick/carrot balance was weighted too heavily towards the former.

So if you can write a great ad but alienate everyone in the process; get a reputation as a brilliant maverick that nobody wants to work with; inspire grudging, resentful, reluctant admiration; and win the hearts and minds of precisely no one, you’ll only go so far.

However, if your creative work rarely breaks 7/10 but you can persuade a client to give you business; a writer to (gladly) work the weekend; a trade journalist to write favourably about your agency’s recent quiet patch; a superstar MD to join your agency; and a delightful person to marry you, a happy life will be yours.

When in doubt, connect.

They’re callin’ me an alien, a big headed astronaut. Maybe it’s because your boy Yeezy get ass a lot (The weekend).

Watch a rude man take an amusing tumble.

Analysis of the ending of Goodfellas (thanks, J):

Partridge interviews Daltry (thanks, T):

The 37 best sites on which to learn something (thanks, B).

Fireworks ladder (thanks, J):

Warhol interviews Hitchcock (thanks, J2).

TV changes to Scarface:

Rumours abound of a Deadwood movie. Here’s a little video essay on that great show:


A couple of very nice British ads

That’s very well made, amusingly written and firmly linked to the product. Reminds me of the kind of top stuff that regularly appeared in the early 2000s (I mean that in a very good way).


(Thanks, J.)

I’m in India!

The most interesting thing I’ve learned so far is this:


And that, my dear friends, is exactly what they did.