Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Why I Wrote SoupChad

Like most people, I've found it somewhat difficult to process the increasingly polarized society we live in. Political discourse doesn't exist anymore. Political demonization is the norm. You're with me—or you're against me. We live in a state of anxiety.

SoupChad is my response. It's the tale of a middle school boy who loves soup and won't tolerate any kid who likes salad. When his family moves and he starts at a new middle school, he forms Soup Club to share his passion. Kids steer clear, until he decides to grant each one of them a new name based on their favorite soup. Spinach, Noodle and Chowder join first, followed by Matzo Ball and Potato.

But power goes to SoupChad's head, and his club transforms from a gathering of soup fans to an army allied against Salad Eaters. SoupChad doesn't just hate salad, he wants to eliminate it from the school. He'll do anything to make that happen.

SoupChad is a story of intolerance and power. While it's a fun, absurd picture of middle school obsession, it's also an allegory that pokes fun at the tendency to see every opposing point of view as an epic battle between Good and Evil, where there is no middle ground and there are only winners and losers.

In a modest way, I hope SoupChad encourages kids to treat others who simply don't agree with them with a bit more fairness.

Curious? SoupChad is available NOW at Amazon, in both paperback and Kindle formats. I would welcome your early review of my book—it's a huge help to an indie author!

You can follow me on Twitter @Rickflix 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Leveling Up: Starting to Build an Online Clientele

One of the most common criticisms of sites like Fiverr and Upwork is that they're essentially a "race to the bottom," offering services at ever cheaper rates, making the prospect of earning a living virtually impossible.

True, there are thousands of people offering pro gigs at rock-bottom prices. The cost of living, after all, is cheaper in Thailand and India than Los Angeles. They're in every category, from website creation to video services to writing. In some situations, westerners have relocated to low-cost locales. I wondered if it possible to compete.

I decided to look further. As I said, as a client, I had already spent over $200 on Fiverr services with just two sellers. I consciously avoided the lower cost options. I wanted to employ an established pro with whom a positive outcome was more likely.

As a seller, that's where I want to be.

I had two built-in advantages, even as a newcomer: First, I was a video professional with several Los Angeles Emmy Awards to my name (and several additional nominations). I also have published three young adult novels (with a fourth on the way). I hoped those facts gave me a bit of a leg-up against the competition, even though I didn't have a work history or online reviews on the freelance sites when I began.

I couldn't charge a premium, though. Despite my background, developing a presence and a collection of positive reviews is the key to higher end gigs. I started the process, seeking small gigs for 25 or 35 dollars that I could complete quickly and cleanly. The jobs I scored weren't going to make a dent in my income, but they would allow me, to borrow game parlance, to "level up" and allow me to play a more powerful game. More on that next time. 

Remember to follow me on Twitter @rickflix

Monday, December 4, 2017

Gig Magic: My First Exposure to the Gig Economy

Until I became a user of freelance "gig" sites, I hadn't given them much of a thought. I knew Fiver existed but hadn't given it much thought. My first impression was that it was a site where you could get cheap labor to do less than professional work. It didn't have much of an appeal to me as a consumer, and certainly not as a freelancer that needed to make a living.

I was collaborating on a series of a video for a client that had requested an animation. In particular, a colleague pitched a "whiteboard" animation, the story of presentation in which a hand seems to draw a series of photos and illustrations.  I would have had no idea how to obtain the animation locally, what the turnaround would have been, and would have guessed that it would have been prohibitively expensive for the small project we were working on. 

To my surprise, my associate was able to present, seemingly overnight, a beautifully produced whiteboard animation for $150, including changes Our client was thrilled. The service had been purchased on Fiverr, and I started exploring the site for other possibilities.
My latest book international collaboration.

Then, as I began to prepare to publish my fourth book, I was presented with a challenge. I wanted to illustrate the cover of the book with an illustrated cover in the style of a World War 2 propaganda poster. With my previous books, I had used photo elements, which my designer manipulated to create my cover. A specialized illustration required a different approach. Though I had a limited budget, I was determined to see my vision through. I searched Fiver, and eventually found a talented artist in India would do the job for $100. Another Fiver talent treated the book cover. I was able to get exactly what I wanted.

That's when I started considering how I might take advantage of these services to offer my own skills. I wondered if it would be worth the effort. I wondered which of my professional skills would be my best bets. I'm an Emmy-winning producer/video editor, I'm also a prolific writer of four novels and numerous blog posts (like this one).

I began to seek out my online competition and find out what was possible. I knew I had services to offer, but would it be worthwhile? Could I expect to be paid a fair rate? Was this, as some have suggested, a race to the bottom? Are clients only looking for cheap work?

In the next installment, I'll share what I discovered, (and why I decided to move ahead and give it a try regardless!).

Remember, you can follow me on Twitter @Rickflix

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I've Gone International: Diving into the Gig Economy

You may have heard the term, Gig Economy, which generally refers to making a living on a job-by-job basis, rather than working for a single employer. It's become more and more common as time moves on, and it's caused more than a bit of anxiety as jobs with benefits and 401-K's become rarer and more difficult to land. The prospect of "pounding the pavement," looking for the next opportunity isn't that appealing in uncertain times.

If you're a creative in 2017, however, pounding the pavement is at best an archaic concept. The gig economy, in my initial dive over the last 2-3 months, means expanding my prospects from a limited local focus to one that is international, and much wider in possibilities than it would be otherwise. It means that I'm creating a clientele beyond serving others in the media industry to businesses of all types and sizes, and offering a wider variety of services than ever before. 

I'm primarily a video editor and writer by trade, which are both crafts uniquely suited to the gig economy. What makes this transition possible, in my case, are two of the most prominent sites in this new world: Upwork and Fiverr.

Fiverr, so called because it began as a resource to obtain creative work (from writing to computer programming to artistic work to video production and editing) for as little as five dollars. That was still my impression until relatively recently, in fact, until I learned that the name of the site had really become a shorthand for finding value at a suitable price. If set up correctly, an individual can set up opportunities that meet their existing rates, and on a more consistent basis. The seller offers a service, or "gig," with a number of add-on premium options, and a buyer needing a  service searches for a seller with the experience and price to complete the task at hand. The two come to an agreement, usually customizing a gig to suit the specific situation, and the work is completed in a set time.

Upwork allows buyers to post their specific needs.  Freelancers submit proposals with a suggested bid. The buyer chooses the freelancer best suited for their job.

In both cases, freelancers are paid through the sites, with a percentage subtracted as a service fee. That percentage can be fairly high (20 percent in some cases), but it's not unpredictable. Strategic freelancers will simply keep that fee in mind when setting an hourly rate or submitting a bid. The sites are upfront about this, clearly indicating the bid, the site's fee, and the resulting profit you will see from completing the service. For example, a completed task you accepted for $100 on Upwork will net you $80, with $20 going to the site.

Succeeding in the gig economy, though, takes some hard work and careful strategy. I'll take you along on my initial experiences in part two of this series, as I work to develop and build my online reputation. I'll show you how I began and update my progress as the story unfolds.

I'm just starting my journey, but I can already see the life-changing potential.

Follow me @rickflix on Twitter, or follow me here. I welcome your feedback and experiences.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

SOUPCHAD Cover Reveal

I'm marking my return to the blogosphere with a cover reveal of my next book. I'm very excited about SoupChad, and about the book cover itself.

I'm not sharing much just yet about the plotline, except that Chad loves soup...and will not tolerate anyone who likes salad. It's a fun ride that just might give you something to think about, too.

I'll reveal more about the book over the next few weeks. For now, think of me anytime someone asks, "Soup or Salad?"

Monday, May 1, 2017

If Only the Rest of My Life Was Like This

Scenes from the making of "The Ghost of Pacific Lodge."
Faces are blurred for privacy reasons.

As a volunteer, I’ve led video production workshops in a variety of settings and for ages ranging from teenagers to the elderly. One workshop, however, was especially meaningful.

At a chance meeting with the development director of Pacific Lodge Boys Home (Now Pacific Lodge Youth Services), a youth home dating back to the 1920's.  I mentioned that I’d conducted filmmaking workshops in the past. I was asked if I’d consider a similar workshop at Pacific Lodge.

I admit some reluctance at first. These were kids fresh out of juvenile hall, with backgrounds that were difficult if sometimes brutal. However, they’re also kids that the courts felt still had the chance to change their lives in a positive direction. By sending them to Pacific Lodge, a bucolic wooded setting where there were no walls or guards, they’re given the chance to work with counselors and therapists to set things right.

At first glance, you wouldn’t think I would have had anything in common with the boys. I was never in trouble as a teen, much less had been anywhere close to juvenile hall. My family life wouldn't have been called “dysfunctional.” On the other hand, previous experience in working with teens had taught me that showing respect and belief in their abilities went a long way in creating a positive experience. I decided to give it a try.
Pacific Lodge hosted a "red carpet" premiere,
complete with a limousine and dinner for
the boys and I at an upscale restaurant.
In late 2003, I began a six-month video production workshop with a group of eight boys. With the help of a great staff and a well-respected counselor with whom I worked hand-in-hand, I visited Pacific Lodge twice a week as the kids wrote, shot and then edited a half-hour film, “The Ghost of Pacific Lodge.” Together, we built a mythology inspired by PL's long history, crafting a ghost story that begins with the discovery of mysterious diary hidden in one of PL's spooky basements. Each boy participated in every stage of the production. Each had the chance to be a camera person, an audio boom operator, a special effects wizard, a director, and an actor.

It was challenging at first. For kids emerging from their first stay at juvenile hall, self-esteem is nearly non-existent. Despite their bravado, many of the boys were terrified. Some wouldn’t hold the camera at first. Others couldn’t imagine taking the lead as director. 

I'll never forget the moment when a fourteen-year-old boy turned to me and asked, “Why do you waste time with us? We’re all losers.” I shrugged and made a point of making the answer seem obvious, “If I thought you were losers, I wouldn’t waste my time.” 

Speaking after the premiere, thanking
the boys for a job well done.
Trust is extraordinarily powerful. Once I established that I was for real—by simply paying them the respect of showing up as promised every week—they became more willing to take part. 

Once the film was completed, the administration of PL held a grand premiere. Staff and benefactors cheered the boys as they emerged from a limousine and walked down the red carpet (after a five-star dinner at a nearby restaurant—personally paid for by the Director of PL). I had the great honor of not only telling the audience what these boys had accomplished, but thanking the boys individually and presenting them with mini-Oscars. 

Not every boy made it through to the end. Some were sent back to juvenile hall, or worse. 

Most boys, however, made it to the finish line...

...including the one boy who had been convinced he was a loser.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Virtual Reality: Boxless Thinking

Recently I spent a couple of days at the Los Angeles Convention Center, enjoying the sites, sounds, and creative energy of the emerging Virtual Reality industry. I sampled new worlds and met extraordinary people.

I listened to industry leaders both inspire and caution entrepreneurs about the future of the VR platform. John Riccitiello, the CEO of the ubiquitous Unity game development platform, believes that the industry will continue to progress, but won't reach massive acceptance for a few years yet. Pie-in-the-sky predictions aside, he believes it will be a few yet until true VR tech will be in the hands of one hundred million users and the industry can be considered well-established.

At the same time, excitement was palpable, and proof of the technology was everywhere.

Applications varied wildly. Here's just some of what I was doing at VRLA:
Inside Mindshow

Floated inside and outside a meticulously detailed recreation of the International Space Station, produced with the involvement of NASA.

All were great experiences, and show just a hint of the wonders that VR will hold in store in the coming years.  The VR industry is moving lightning fast, and many of the companies and projects on the exhibition floor didn't exist a year ago.  Of course, perhaps half of those companies or more may not be around in another year, but that's the reality of any new venture...high risk, for the potential of a high reward.

The technology is real. Unlike the recent launch and crash of 3DTV, VR has something valuable to offer gamers, educators and even bed-ridden patients in hospitals. It's just a matter of time.

At the moment, VR tech is still expensive and somewhat complicated for most consumers, but that's rapidly improving. Most haven't experienced any sort of VR, and most of those who have, experience it through cardboard viewers (into which one inserts a smartphone). Personal experience has shown me that people don't "get it" until they've tried it.

While I'm impressed by the tech, the industry and the VR experiences, I'm fascinated by the people that are making this all happen—the coders, content creators, writers and entrepreneurs who by necessity have had to think outside the box—because the box doesn't exist.