The Pixar Challenge

EdCatmull_lores“Good artists borrow, great artists steal,” is a motto Steve Jobs lived by.

As a business owner, I see myself as an artist because I’m creating something from nearly nothing.

But artists still need inspiration. Filmmakers need a camera. Animators need a pencil or a computer. Sculptors need clay. And painters need landscapes or models.

But all artists need inspiration. Without it, nothing could be created.

My inspiration as the founder of a publishing studio is an animation studio located 2,307 miles away. My inspiration comes from Pixar Animation Studios, namely the founder and owner Ed Catmull.

Millions of people watch Pixar movies every year and even study the studio from a business standpoint and ask, “How do they do it?”

It’s no secret. Mr. Catmull was gracious enough to provide many answers to both artists and businesspeople through his ingenious book, Creativity, Inc.

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In the book, Catmul is open and honest about his and Pixar’s mistakes along the way to success and even after. His thesis is that creativity is found in people, not just ideas—a revelation I’m still trying to wrap my mind around.

So how, as a fledgling company, can Endever Publishing Studios mimic a multi-million-Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 10.58.49 AMdollar animation studio?

By their principles, for one. Pixar Animation gives their employees the freedom to express themselves and their ideas. They’re not hammered down by corporate policies and suits and ties. There are channels set in place for them to go through, but the channels are designed within the studio to be an asset to success, not a barrier, as most companies have it.

Their work ethic for another. I don’t mean just following the rules, but I mean going abovePresto_poster and beyond to win the trust and approval of their audiences (or customers). One example of this is by their short films they release along with every feature film they produce. Prior to (and excluding) the DVR releases of Pixar’s short films, they make virtually no money on their short films. They’re also in production to help aspiring artists and directors spread their wings in preparation for full-length features.

And lastly, but not conclusively, Endever Publishing Studios attempts to mimic Pixar’s storytelling techniques. This is critical seeing that Endever is in the business of storytelling. We are a studio that refuses to release ordinary material. I’m sure we’ll make mistakes in this regard, but we have a system that we are building from within to make the storytelling process as airtight and flawless as possible.

Catmull, in his book, even takes the liberty to give the readers a sneak-peak inside one of Pixar’s “Braintrust” sessions where the storytellers argue and analyze and hash out idea after idea after idea to extract exactly the feelings and thoughts they’re trying to convey to the audience. The process is rigorous, and even draining. But it’s a worthy expedition as Pixar makes films that not only entertain but that enlighten, affect, and even change lives.

It’s a wonder to me that no other businesses that I know of is following Pixar’s model. The leader of one of the greatest companies in the world has literally given us the answer sheet on how to run a successful business, how to begin the process of creating paramount and original stories, yet Dreamworks isn’t pulling the brakes on their mediocre creative factory to regroup, managers aren’t saying, “How can I make my employees feel enabled and motivated?”

If that’s happening, I don’t know about it.

I take Ed Catmull’s book as a challenge to the rest of us. A challenge to step up our game in both the creative and the business worlds. I want to be like Ed. I want my company to be like Pixar. I vow to keep my employees happy and make them feel enabled and that they have much to contribute to the company. I vow to not release a book or any published material produced by Endever until it is something that we believe will not only satisfy immediate readers but will withstand the test of time.

Consider me the first to accept the Pixar Challenge. Will you, as an artist or a business owner or manager, join me?

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Title Reveal for Endever’s Serial Blog

A few days ago I announced the release of a serial blog that will be released this Monday, August 1st.

Beyond building a readership to draw attention to Endever before releasing our debut novels later this year, we’ve decided to give our authors a chance to shine prior to their book releases.

They will be contributing to an ever-growing story with an ever-growing cast of colorful characters. A divorced lawyer-turned-ranch handler, a mother and daughter struggling to make ends meet and stay out of trouble, high school siblings whose wealthy parents have all but abandoned them, and many more.

Though they are scattered throughout the world, they all share one common goal: end-is-near

The fragile desire to survive the end of civilization as we know it.

When the world jolts on August First, no one has any idea that ordinary life has come to an abrupt end.

At first the decline is subtle. Faltering phone connections, weak internet signals.

And then it seems to all happen at once. Random airplane explosions, collapsing mountains. No more sun. No more rain.

In this altered world, survival is essential, it is not instinct. 

On August First, on Endever’s blog, dare to explore “THE UNDERNEATH.” 

Writers: Don’t Forget the Sugar

My favorite drink of all time.

It can be ordered at a bar or you can make it yourself.

Drink too much of it and you can get too sick to move. Refrain from drinking it at all and you could suffer major health issues.

I require it every time I come home from work, or home from a walk in the hot sun, or after playing with the kids, or even waking up in a sweat in the middle of the night.

There are three ingredients: Water, ice, and a squirt of lemon.

I have nothing against alcohol – I just don’t like it. I’ve tried whiskey, bourbon, beer and we now have several half-full bottles in the kitchen. Just doesn’t measure up to my taste buds.

I do enjoy a cold V-8 or a glass of milk. I even love bloody Mary – virgin, of course.

But just give me a cold glass of water with lemon and I’m all set. alkaline-lemon-water

But forget the lemon and I just might throw the water in your face. That’s just nasty. It’s like nonfat ice cream, or sugarless gum. What’s the point?

Most writers can tell a basic story. Introduction, conflict, resolution, the end. Easy. But what about the lemon? What about the stuff that makes the banal taste of water sweet (or sour)? What about the flavor?

Are you taking your story one step higher to add that touch of emotion, or comedy, or deeper insight into your characters? Don’t give your readers sugarless candy. Deliver the goods.

Give us a reason to relate to your character by cleverly providing a backstory.

Give us reason to find your characters’ departure from each other heartbreaking.

If you have a comic relief, don’t recycle old jokes you’ve heard elsewhere before. Be original. Give us fresh, new material that we can enjoy.

A Love Letter to Disney

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A while back I wrote a love letter to Pixar Animation Studios. I’ll never forget watching my viewership skyrocket that week. What was that all about? A couple of weeks later I received an email from Pixar Headquarters thanking me for my post and saying that it’s been making the rounds in the studio. Imagine that! I forget how long I cried. (The picture to the left is during the hysterics.) But the thing that made me happiest was knowing that the hard workers at the studio caught a tiny glimpse of joy they bring to our lives on a regular basis.

Yesterday Disney released the international trailer for their highly anticipated and surefire record-breaker, Moana. Take a second and watch it. I’ve watched it about nine times now and I still get chills.

It’s safe to say that Disney is on par with Pixar. After Wreck-it Ralph, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and most likely Moana, we just need to stop denying it.

They bring a class and beauty to the world that we’ve all but forgotten. In our hurried and messy lives, Disney movies have a way of, I don’t know, restoring order. Even if it’s just the illusion of restoration – or better yet, the hope of restoration.

Their movies are not devoid of evil and chaos and bitterness and jealousies. And their resolutions aren’t as cookie-cutter as they used to be. Disney’s movies sell you on cute, sure, but they deliver on substance and depth.

I mean, how gut-wrenchingly hard is it to watch Hiro release Baymax into the Unknown? If that doesn’t tear you apart, I question your mortality. Not only is their attention to detail and vivid color out of this world, but almost every note strikes a cord with something deep inside us.

Why?

Because they take beauty to the extreme. They push the bounds of reality and expose us to a world of bliss and hope.

Like Pixar, they no longer make movies for kids. Their movies address us adults just as profoundly. Zootopia reminds me that even if I achieve my dreams, my story doesn’t stop and the struggles will keep coming.

Wreck-it Ralph delivers the hard message that I’ve been dealt my cards and I need to figure out how to make the best of it.

Frozen sings about letting go. Big Hero 6 shows us how to do it.

Thank you Disney, for the work and painstaking efforts you infuse in your movies. You have the challenge of not just catering to one specific audience, but to literally every single demographic. And you pull it off with class and style and unimaginable beauty.

I believe Disney movies do make the world a better place, even if it’s just a little. They bring families together. A reason for parents to take the kids out. They provide contexts for us to talk about serious things with our kids. They give us parents footing to address things such as good byes, racism, bullying, sibling rivalry, and my favorite: You don’t have to be a jerk just because you’re popular (Fix it Felix, Jr.).

I know there’s people out there who don’t watch Disney or Pixar movies just because they’re cartoons. I pity those people. They’re missing out on some of the greatest filmmaking in the history of film.

Thank you Disney, for all that you do. Keep at it, and we’ll see you in November!

For more on Disney check out

Baseball and Disney

and One of the Greatest Companies in the World.

 

Take Cover

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On August 1st, the world will change.

Millions will die.

The unlucky survivors will be forced to live in a darker world.

The sun will still be there, but it will not shine. There will be rainclouds, but no rain.

The grass will die. Trees will wither. Crops will rot.

And scattered throughout the world will be people hanging onto what little life they have left.

Endever Publishing Studios is proud to present a serial novel that will debut on August 1st, 2016. Keep checking back here for more details.

And don’t forget to take cover…

Climbing Up the Corporate Christmas Tree

keep_calm_and_climb_a_tree_round_ceramic_decoration-rfb33ecaa15d7445c81cf0e26aeaa3fcf_x7s2y_8byvr_324You’ve likely worked for bosses or managers who just don’t understand. I’m not talking about the inability to sympathize. I’m talking about a literal inability to understand the job they hired you to do because they haven’t done it themselves.

Mostly that’s due to someone inheriting their position through a variety of different means.

There are very few situations where I find this acceptable. Let me explain why.

My wife and I have differing Christmas tree styles we prefer in our living room each year. She thinks the bigger and fuller the tree the better. I prefer the smaller ones because there’s less mess and less decorating. She likes it to be chuck-full and overflowing with white lights and ornaments that date back to 30+ years. With her style, you have to wonder if there’s a tree anywhere underneath the decorations. As far me, bring out a strand of those big, bulky colored lights recycled from the 90’s, wrap them around once, plug ’em in, and wash the sap off your hands before you pour yourself some egg nog.

Everyone has different Christmas tree styles.

So let’s say companies are like Christmas trees. Someone who starts at the bottom and works their way up to the top is going to have a pretty good idea about what kind of Christmas tree they’re on. They’ll figure out that the red globes go on every third branch, the faded framed family portraits are hidden toward the back of the tree, and the higher up they climb they’ll find the ornaments becoming a little more fragile to remain out of reach of kids and dogs.

But someone who’s just thrown in at the top is not going to have as clear of an idea as to what kind of tree he or she is working with, because we’re all fixated on the star at the top. People don’t look down from the branch they’re on. We all only look up.

Bosses and managers need experience and an intimate knowledge of the company they’re managing. If you’re the manager or director of a call center and you’ve never been put through the fire of call after call of angry customers, you have no business managing people that go through it day after day.

If you’ve never struggled as a middle-class working American, I wish you’d think twice before running for president. Because how can you have a clear understanding of the plight of the common American people?

You see, as you climb the tree, you’re collecting broken ornaments, finding burnt lightbulbs, and noting bare branches. You’re building up a knowledge base of issues within the company that need to be resolved in order for synergy to exist.

My father owns a framing company out in California. Even though he owns the company, I’ve always admired that he himself can pick up a hammer and put in a day’s worth of hard work under the blistering sun.

It’s for this exact reason that as I build my publishing company from the ground up, I am putting myself through the fire. I have two manuscripts written that I’ve submitted to my partner Lynn. Through the editing structure we’re building, I’ve had to revise one and put the other on the back burner to be completely redone.Endever Arch

That way, when I come to one of our authors and point out problems in their manuscript, I can sincerely say, “I understand how frustrating this is … but trust me, it’s going to be a better book in the end.”

There are a myriad of reasons why it’s important for owners and managers to climb up the Christmas tree from the ground up. And to be honest, if Endever succeeds, I’m not going to just hang out at the top becoming best buds with the angel and hibernate in the safety of my secluded office. I’ll keep writing and pushing myself.

That way, if the style of the tree changes from white lights to colored lights, I’ll be ready to get my hands dirty and pitch in. After all, it’s my company, right? A guy should take pride in his possessions.

The Infamous Three-Letter Question

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My daughter is starting to ask “Why?” to everything that happens.

Most parents get annoyed by it, but I’ve decided to engage her, because I don’t want to stifle her curiosity, or give her any indication that asking “Why?” is at all a bad thing.

For instance, I showed her Disney’s The Muppets (2011) for the first time yesterday. “Daddy loves this movie,” I told her.

“Why?”

“Because it’s hilarious.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s so well written.”

“Why?”

“Because the writers took pride in their work and took their time writing it.”

“Why?”

“Because they wanted the movie to live up to the anticipated hype.”

“Why?”

“Because they had a lot to live up to in order to match the the Muppets’ legacy.”

“Why?”

“Because bad movies don’t add anything positive to the entertainment culture. But good movies contribute positively and bring new ideas to the table.”

And so on. I love that she’s asking why. It gives us loads to talk about. Who knows what paths the three-worded question can take us! But I’d better be careful because I have the propensity to make up things if I don’t know the answer.

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I have a “Why” for you. Why have we only had one J.K. Rowling in the last two decades? Why are good bestselling books so hard to come by? With as many people who are trying to become published authors, why do we hardly hear about breakout authors?

I have a suggested answer to these questions. Check out this weekend’s post I wrote about whether literary agents really are necessary to the publishing industry: Writer’s Cut Out the Middle Man!

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