The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Hero's Movie #5: Allies and Powers

There were and are a vast sea of skills, talents, and resources necessary to make DANGER WORD (, our short film, made for less than 1% of the per-minute cost of a Hollywood film.    Is it “just” a zombie movie?   No.  It is a dark fantasy, a tale of hope and love and family and the last 24 hours of a childhood…with zombies.

That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.

And we’re doing it for both personal and community reasons.  Both to express ourselves and to teach others how to make films…or ultimately to bring ANY dream that you have to life, on your own terms.  To demonstrate how to work with friends and family and your own childhood yearnings to create something that works for YOU.  

You need to generalize from what I’m saying here, and see how this applies to books. Businesses.  Fitness.    Relationships.    I’m taking the risk of doing this publicly, where I can fall on my face…or succeed, and you’ll see every step of it.  I am sick of people thinking their dreams are dead if they haven’t reached them by forty.

Sick of it.  So…here we go.

As I said, in Step #5 you face the reality of needing to gather a circle of allies who did and do have the basic capacities.  Then you need to clarify your own goals, and ask them to clarify theirs.   If our goals overlap, it makes sense to work together.  But as “How to Make Friends and Influence People” insists, you have to bond with people based on THEIR needs and drives, NOT YOURS.

(By the way, the best way to understand the motivations of others is to deeply understand your own.  The more honest you are about your own motivations…including the role selfishness plays in everything you do, the easier it is to understand, and motivate others.  If you are often deceived or disappointed by the behavior of others, if you  frequently have the “I didn’t see THAT coming” reaction, if you fall for lies and delusion repeatedly…it is very likely that you are lying to yourself, about yourself.  That the lies you tell yourself to avoid pain, guilt, or fear keep you from understanding the people around you.  That your relationships are actually based on "you don't call me on my b.s., and I won't call you on yours.  Best litmus test I know.)

So the first question was: “what is this person’s dream, and would making a movie with me further that dream?”  Well…first ally?  Tananarive.  My wife, my partner, my best friend.   Frustrates the living #$%% out of me at times, but that’s human relationships for you.  Heck, I frustrate me, so it’s inevitable that the people around me will as well.

But she’s also brilliant.  And has resources and perspectives I do not.  And  yes, what she wants matches largely with what I want…sufficiently that we can have a successful relationship.    We had a match.  We could work on a short story of ours, “Danger Word” which would then have the advantage of becoming a novel, DEVIL'S WAKE, then  a shared dream, a story that could be done “on a budget” in  a genre currently popular, an advertisement for the “Devil’s Wake” novels, a doorway to making a feature film…you name it. 

Luchina Fisher, one of T’s oldest and best friends and an absolute sweetheart, was next to get  on board.  The “Master Mind” principle says that a “Master Mind” is formed when two or more people align in PERFECT HARMONY,  in mutual support.  That means that Harmony is more important than potential resource, or the size of the group.  What you’re looking for is a “Supermind” formed by brainstorming.   A little conflict is great, nothing more than the natural flow of spontaneous dance.  But too much becomes like a brain seizure, left and right hemispheres of that three pounds of gray Jello in your skull  fighting for control.

(By the way, this is what creates the conflict between  labor and management, or art and business.  There is a giant joke I’ve seen in publishing and Hollywood.  The writers believe editors and publishers are Philistines.  Editors often believe writers are spoiled children.  Until…the writers start their own publishing companies to “do it right” at which point the writers who work with them start grousing the same way.  Or until the publishers/editors write their own books and stories…and start complaining about the editors they work with.

The same thing seems true in Hollywood.  The management complains about writers and actors.   Let the writers or actors become “suits” and the people working for THEM start making the same complaints.    Hell, you see it with voters and politicians as well.    See this often enough, and I’d think people would start suspecting that it isn’t that the people in the other position are “bad.”  It is that the nature of the positions places you in antagonistic balance, “Child/Creative/Emotional/Impulsive” selves warring with “Adult/Bookkeeping/Logical/Long-Term” self.  Gee, does this resemble the struggles going on in your own head?   Ever make a promise to yourself and break it?  A sincere promise?   Gee, were you lying to yourself?  Overly optimistic?  Unrealistic?  Now…when others break promises to you, to you think they are “bad” or do you cut them the same slack?    Understanding yourself helps you understand others.   You don’t have to consider other people inferior to you in intent or capacity to reject them, keep them from hurting you, or avoid the negative consequences of their poor decisions.)

So…Harmony between me and T is the first step.    Early in our relationship, realizing we wanted to both work together and stay married, we made the decision that when we had business arguments, we could “go at it” hammer and tongs, but the relationship itself was never, ever on the table.  Never threatened. That if anything was going on that threatened the relationship that had to be discussed separately, and calmly, and directly.

This freed us from the fear that “if I don’t agree, I will lose my love.”   It allowed us to really rip apart each other’s ideas, without feeling personally torn apart.   Because brothers and sisters, you have to both feel free to offer crazy ideas, and know that your ideas and concepts ARE NOT YOU.  They are just expressions, observations, desires.

We love and trust each other, and also know that we are different people, close enough in values, beliefs and goals that we can make a relationship work. 


Understand that distinction, or you are in terrible trouble.   Now, then…with that basic unity established as the core “Mastermind” then add ONE PERSON.  Still have harmony?   Expand brainstorming and add ONE MORE PERSON…continue this process, willing to fall back to the previous number if there is any lack of harmony.

T, Luchina and I  argued, but it was very very cool argument.  Real respect, admiration, and affection there.  I liked what I heard and saw, and breathed a sigh of relief—because Luchina had actually walked this path before, and succeeded in producing a fine short film.   We now had a group with all the basic skills and connections necessary to accomplish what we wanted.  I had a good overall (but thin) grasp of the steps necessary to create a 15 minute short, or THE GODFATHER.  It was just a question of how much could I learn, how fast, or how many people could I enroll?

There is a principle in marketing: DON’T CREATE A PRODUCT WITHOUT A MARKET.  Great way to go broke.  We could have tried to fund it out of our own pockets.  But you know something?  Even hugely wealthy people very rarely do this. They know that if they cannot enroll others in the process, they are operating from pure ego, and are likely to fail.  Luckily, there is something called Crowdfunding.  If we couldn’t make a case to the public, and get them to help us FOR THEIR OWN MOTIVATIONS, if we couldn’t convince them that this project was worthwhile enough to help fund it, there was a very good chance that it wasn’t worth doing…or that we didn’t have the skills necessary to create tribe and ultimately market the result.  If we could fund it, we had some of the critical skills, and a potential winner.

So: the “Allies and Powers” step meant to

1) model successful people to determine what they did, and compare enough of them to determine the “critical path” to success (for instance: some writers drink.  Some beat their wives.  Some overeat.  These are individual, negative behaviors.  But ALL successful writers read and write massively.   THAT is part of the “critical path”, not the other, idiosyncratic behaviors)

2) Determine which of these behaviors, skills and resources you have, and which you do not.  Those you can attain in the time frame available, begin to acquire. 

3) Those skills and resources you do NOT have, or need to bolster, create “Mastermind” groups of like-minded individuals, beginning with a single friend, partner, or lover who you can, in this arena at least, trust 100%.    Meet with them at LEAST once a week, preferably daily, and brainstorm and clarify goals and determine daily actions.

4) Add new partners to the “Mastermind” ONE AT A TIME, and see if you still have harmony.  A little dissonance can be spicy and valuable. But if the new person disrupts your groove, no matter how knowledgeable or talented they are, let them go.  You cannot afford conflict on this most basic level—it is like having a seizure.

5) Use the new person’s knowledge to clarify the plans, resource list and personnel roster necessary to achieve your goal.  

6) Repeat the process as needed.

So we created a plan to get to a 15 minute short film we could use to understand the process of film making, have fun, make money, and leverage our way to a feature, if we liked the process of working together.  If we decided we didn’t…no harm no foul.  We’d back away from each other like porcupines after mating (very carefully!), protect the relationships, and take the knowledge into other ventures with other people. 

Created a time line, budget, resource list, and then said:  "let’s do this."

The rest…is DANGER WORD.


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