IMAGE: Abril Latrene in full drag, bright blue hair, rainbow shawl.

Abril Opens Up Arts Culture’s Failings

By | Inspiration, Purpose | No Comments

I had the pleasure of hearing Abril Latrene speak at Huddle tonight. Abril is a drag queen, fabulous blue hair big as her bosom. By day she’s Shaun, working at a big corporate in change management. Incredible symbiosis, eh? Abril spoke tonight about her journey through the different motivations of doing drag. At first it was boredom, then as he got shows up for free, it became about a profession, getting people to see the show. Like many an artist, Abril then wanted to be paid for the performances, and ultimately, the motivation was for Shaun and Abril to be whole, one person, because that’s who he is. All through that, the villains of those who live the life they truly believe they should live popped up, forcing Abril to quit drag several times. Beautifully, the more Abril performed and Shaun’s workmates and friends learned he was Abril, the stronger and more confident he became.

Abril mentioned that he had to come out several times in his life, as a gay man, as a drag queen (with each new person and in particular each new boyfriend). Even tonight’s presentation for Huddle had him confront the coming out question, as Huddle has a national distribution list and that list had his name on it – boom, suddenly managers were aware of the Huddle event before he’d uttered a word. Tonight, Abril was honest, raw, vulnerable, fabulous, bawdy, funny and warm. She opened up to us – scared, she admitted she’s always nervous before anything, which she’s acknowledged as important to her to maintain – that no one would give a shit about what she had to say. Instead, we all connected with that fear. Abril talks about organisational change and comes out for performances, events and speaking engagements. She knows how to read a crowd. I tell you, friend, to get her in.

Image: Abril Latrene, drag queen, with ashock of deep blue, huge hair, purple gown and heavy dark blue coral-like necklace.

Of the many interesting angles Abril showed us, one thing I kept thinking about was work place bullying. Something that pushed Shaun out of drag queen shows was the bitchy atmosphere and, even more so, the shitty attitudes of venue owners. Abril, clearly, is bulletproof, but if Shaun felt like he was being treated like shit, venues couldn’t give a flying fook. When he stood up for that behaviour, he was kicked out. This is a thing in the arts. I spoke with Abbie about it, she was totally in agreement that the arts is shocking at workplace safety. If the attitudes, words and actions she faced in her drag job were displayed in her corporate job, people would be managed, told off or fired. There’s so many reasons artists and the arts ecosystem allows this shitty behaviour to continue: we’re disempowered and talked out of self worth so much we don’t speak up or seek change; we’re exploited by those in power (even the tiny amounts of power they wield); we’re channeled into competition for shrinking pools of money or time; we aren’t organised; we aren’t educated in certain ways; we don’t have protection; we’re sensitive.

How might we reconfigure our disparate workplace cultures so that artists are protected and encouraged instead of exploited and crushed?

What if Abril had an arts representative that came in with her and negotiated, so she could leave early and perform on Friday nights while still meeting her job requirements?

What if venue managers had to pay for their talent if they made any money from the event, including the bar?

What if artists were trained better in empathy and support systems, so they looked out for one another in their practices?

What if the standard blood bath attitude of the arts was replaced with one of nurturing?

What if artists were paid more than arts administrators?

What if we didn’t accept the shitty status quo we have helped build, or at least allowed to perpetuate, and changed it for the our betterment?

Image: Gathering of listeners in Inspire9 for This Digital Life

This #DigitalLife

By | Events, Innovation, Inspiration, Purpose, Technology | No Comments

Here’s some of the highlights on Twitter from our successful inaugural This Digital Life event. Four incredible women from digital work places shared their cutting edge stories from business, then explained parts of how they got their personal lives balanced. Thanks a billion to Girl Geek and Toya Ricci.

Yes, Innovation & Startups & Tech, Dammit!

By | Innovation, Inspiration | No Comments

Oh man! Suddenly everyone’s realising what we’ve been blabbing on about at The X Gene for years! There’s been a dog pile of articles saying, “Hey, these startup folks are innovating, building interesting things and different business models and…oh snap! They’re getting investment and funding! Maybe screen and the arts should be doing that?”


I, Simon, the owner of The X Gene, have been going to Lean Startup, Startup Victoria, Disruptive Startups and all the other juicy meetups that happen at the likes of Inspire9 and York Butter Factory for years. Going to events to network and meet is the gig, but these particular events grabbed me by the mindgrapes because they think differently. They think the way we need to think to embrace the new favourite word, innovation.

GIF: gotham deserves screen, Commissioner Gordon as the king of innovation saying, "Because he's the hero Gotham deserves."

Imagine Batman is our future screen industry…

I’ve written a great deal on this blog and my own personal blog about how difficult it is to speak with or get through gatekeepers of the screen industry. I’ve called producers who’ve had only a modicum of success and asked for very specific information that should be easy and harmless to divulge, and been told no. Many times. Doors? They be closed.

So when you go to Lean Startup, Startup Victoria, Disruptive Startups and their ilk, you can’t help but wet your pants at how open, sharing, caring and excited everyone is. They want to create, they want to build, they want to innovate, they want to sell to lots of people – and in order to do it, they know they need each other as much as themselves. You’ll learn about business models that failed, structures that bend and change to suit the growth stage. You’ll openly discuss money and budgets and how to make them work. You’ll hear time and again how founders needed to remember their customers were the key to their chances of survival. You’ll be welcomed by strangers and there’ll be enthusiasm for you, and you for them. All of it will be tested and re-tested by successful mentors who insist that something must be set alight before it can go to market – where it’ll be burnt again in an even greater flame. It’s different, man. The egos in the room are all about the project, mostly. Rarely is the attitude dominantly, “How cute that you’re trying, I’m better than you, fuck off, despite my own lack of success.”

I’m not bitter, just frustrated. I love my screen industry, but honestly, I also hate it. Love/hate is a tension that provides energy. The startup and tech scene gives me the tools and understanding I need to apply to our industry, to change it for the better. Somewhere to direct that energy. Disruption is happening all around us, but too few are grasping that and running headlong into it. Here’s what I’ve taken from these magnificent bastards. Here’s what I adapt from the tech startup scene and try to ply in the screen trade:

Innovate, Disrupt, Dummy:

  • You run a business. Freelancers, production company, whatever: you run a business. You gotta work out where you fit, accept your weakness and play to your strengths. Part of that is for creative satisfaction, but an equal and sometimes greater part of that is to generate revenue. So how are you going to get comfy with that? And if you’re not comfy with that, how can you get out of the way ?
  • Share. Share as much as you can. Closed doors stop any of us building industrial memory, joint knowledge. Instead, it’s hundreds of little people clutching anything of value while making tiny dents. Only as a group, working together and building one another, can we make an impact on a huge global stage.
  • If someone doesn’t want to play with you, fuck them. Move on and find those who will. We need to stick together. There’s enough people telling us NO as it is. Build a team.
  • Specialise. Entrepreneurs know how to build a team around them, with each member doing something exceptionally better than the entrepreneur. Fuck the auteur model. Be an exceptional producer, and work with an exceptional writer, interpreted by an exceptional director who brings in an exceptional cinematographer. Pick your place and be exceptional.
  • Learn the traditional, common wisdom…then find ways to smash it to pieces and build something from the shards. Our screen industry has rarely been strong, yet ‘the way things are done’ culture permeates. At the same time, the way the audience views and uses content is changing at astronomical pace. Nothing that was done ten years ago, let alone thirty, stands up today. Look for ways to do it differently and go for it.
  • Our product is story. We need to test our product. No self-respecting business sends a shitty product, untested, to market. Beat the shit out of your script, get audience feedback and listen to it. Learn how to take and how to give feedback. Learn how to apply it. If you aren’t a writer, stop writing and find someone who is. If you aren’t a writer, stop writing. Or fuck off and learn, then come back when you are. We’ll help you learn, of course! Because if you are a writer, teach others!
  • Do it for THE AUDIENCE, not for you. They pay us, they decide what’s good, and they are now global. Don’t worry so much about the domestic. You get the world.
  • Nichefy. With a global audience comes larger numbers in smaller percentages. Google cracked that nut years ago – a specific need fulfilled commands a higher price per unit than a broad need lightly caressed.
GIF: Batman runs into the darkness of innovation as Gordon says, "But not the one it needs right now."

…and tech startup spirit is what we need right now.

Check these out:

goo.gl/vBQMmW – Tania nails it and inspired this post! ‘Silicon Valley may hold the key to innovation in the ‘ – by Tania de Jong
 – might be broken, but Tech start-ups needed to future proof Australian media – by Chantal Abouchar

goo.gl/zMqubr – research on how to make content audiences want, from Simon’s personal blog

goo.gl/XTgGS2 – Lean Filmmaking, where screen and lean smash together, by Kylie and David Eddy


A lion asking you for bravery designed by www.freepik.com

Fear and Bravery in Agency Land

By | Advertising, Innovation, Inspiration, Marketing | No Comments

I’ve been thinking about creative bravery. I’m on my way to an event to launch a fun fashion initiative by Porter Novelli. Hosting the night is Mandy Griffiths (who, incidentally, is one of the speakers at This Digital Life). At the event, a collection of communications and agency folk will be there. These are the people that create and execute the marketing, advertising and general communications strategies big brands need to make you know them and choose them.

These people are the key to groundbreaking, clever, brave, innovative, creatively thrilling content. We need those strategies and influencers to tell their clients to be BRAVE, try new things. Another fantastic woman, Richenda Vermeulen, said a very similar thing in her company’s birthday blog post.

Richenda is right: brands in Australia need to take risks, try different things, seek to be different. Digital is excellent for that because it can shift and change. Best of all, you can measure the success of a brave digital campaign with real numbers and clear pathways from the creative to the BUY NOW button.

I implore our strategy aunts and uncles – please keep pushing your clients to embrace the exciting world of digital. Work with specialists in their fields, find channel suppliers who can give you bold new ideas, then sell them with vigour up the chain. That’s what I’ll be asking the people I meet tonight – how are you guys pushing your clients to be BETTER. Different. Brave.

Cover image from old BandT

Cannes: ‘Move over Grandad’ (reblog)

By | Advertising, Inspiration, Technology | No Comments

The following is a rad article we loved and got us juicy. We’re one of the creative agencies nipping at the heels of the bigguns, and our work is changing the way video is done in Australia.
The article reblogged here with permission from Kevin Macmillan’s The Works, Sydney and was originally posted on B&T.com

I was very excited heading to Cannes 2013. As I pack my suitcase to head back to Sydney, I’m even more excited.

I don’t remember a time in our industry when young creative entrepreneurs have been more at the forefront of marketing.

The ordered approach to marketing we all know from the past few decades, the approach we all understood to be the correct way is crashing down around us. It was so evident in Cannes throughout the week.

Media is going through the ringer. Research is going through the ringer. Strategy is going through the ringer. And Creativity is thriving. The young creative entrepreneurs up on stage at the talks and the seminars spoke with conviction and were wide eyed about the future.

The older speakers from the old marketing world often appeared like rabbits caught in the headlights. Whether it be the boss of a big corporate organisation or the boss of a big agency, I somehow got the vibe they were merely warning us about the changing approach to marketing, rather than actually being part of it.

It’s always more interesting to hear from the creator of something. The person who made something. Not the person who was there when it was made.

Around the world, technology is allowing young creative entrepreneurs to make more ideas, deliver them quicker to market and use real live testing. So instead of “here’s what the future looks like” the Cannes festival was much more “look what I made”.

Cannes did not feel like an ad festival. If felt like an ideas festival. A place where young creative entrepreneurs could come and share creative stuff. There was a ‘Move over Grandad, you ain’t getting this shit’feeling in the air.

It confirmed what I already thought; that the marketing world would be a better place without all the marketing bullshit.  A better place if we were all brave enough to accept what marketing really is – a simple creative idea to make people love your product.

If I’m going to take one thing away from Cannes it’s going to be this; we are in the age of making ideas, not talking just talking about them. As a creative, that is unbelievably exciting.

Kevin Macmillan is founder and creative partner at The Works Sydney

Awesome deer shaped powerlines

Power Lines Just Got Better

By | Design, Inspiration | No Comments

I bet you thought power lines were the best they could be. They get held up by big structures that look like lego technic, and they give us power to give us internet. Well, they just got EVEN BETTER. This is the sort of creativity and extravagant thinking we genetically engineer into our people at The X Gene. (Click the pics to see more)



Stag party.


Bonus: desktop power line wire holders.