innovation Archives - The X Gene

Lots of crew faces with 'YOU?' over their eyes

Co-create stories with us!

By | Design, Narrative, Research | No Comments

We want you to sign up for our co-creation workshops, so you can help us make dangerously fun stories you’ll love. We’re pioneering a new technique in making theatre, film and virtual reality. We call it audience-centred storytelling, and it’s all about getting our audience in before a word is written, and testing our ideas with you. Ultimately, we want to create stories you’ll love, and the easiest way to do it is to ask! http://eepurl.com/lF2O9

The usual way to make a piece of art is to have an idea, and then use a huge amount of physical and emotional effort to make it. Then, once it’s finished, hope the world wants to see it. Most of the time, sadly, the world is a cruel butthead and does not want to see it. So we took the big fat brains of smarter people in the worlds of human-centred design, lean, agile and design thinking, smooshed their techniques together and created audience-centred storytelling.

We have an idea, and we take it to a diverse group of people who will ultimately be our audience. We show you our idea in its embryonic form, and seek your feedback. At the same time we find out what you, our audience wants, likes, needs from entertainment. We use that feedback to reiterate or redraft our idea in its simplest form. Rinse and repeat until we’ve developed a concept we know you like and will watch. We continue to advance the concept stage by stage with our audience until it’s released.

Why go to the ridiculous amount of effort making movies, theatre and virtual reality unless we know you wanna see ’em? So, let’s find out what you think is dangerously fun. Sign up to our list: we only ever use it to offer opportunities to co-create with us.

If you have any questions, ask Simon J Green via simon@thexgene.com or Messenger (voice messages welcome!)


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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 bull asking you to be bullish from www.freepik.com

Does Australia Lack Innovation Backbone?

By | Innovation | No Comments

We talk a lot about innovation here at The X Gene blog, and most of it is about how to be innovative and think differently. But I won’t lie when I say we often get frustrated with the lack of desire to innovate. One of my biggest personal hobbies is researching how and why Australia isn’t as forward thinking as other countries. I came across a story that really summed up a component of this problem.

At a tech startup meeting we were about to film, I was speaking to one of the presenters. This man had done what a lot of those the room dream of: he’d built a successful business in Silicon Valley, grew it over the years, and then sold for a lot of money. He had come back to his home country of Australia to try something new, because he wanted to bring what he had learnt and apply it here. This man had form, and he had a strong idea, but what he was struggling to find was people who would work with him. He needed developers, people to do the coding work that is fundamental to these sorts of projects. They needed a few key skills that he didn’t have, typical of an entrepreneur. Building teams is crucial. Because he was operating at a higher level he couldn’t use the freshly graduated and needed a more mid-level group. Unfortunately, anyone who fit the criteria was so used to an 80,000 dollar plus full time wage in a conventional corporation that when he approached them they loved the idea but demanded similar payment. He tried explaining, as he did to me, that this simply wasn’t how it worked in startup land, and that he would be giving these people something that, in his eyes, was more valuable: a percentage in the company. While a lot of these developers understood the value, they had all been so used to the wage they were on and now had mortgages up to their eyeballs and expenses through their families, that even if they wanted to take the pay cut and take the stake in an idea they thought would be worth more later, they couldn’t. They had hemmed themselves in.

What I took from this conversation was a deep concern. If a proven track record in an even bigger market isn’t enough to dislodge talented people in a field, and have them take a little bit of a risk, then what hope is there? It’s true that this business owner might need to take some risks on younger staff himself, but constantly relying on the newest batch of talent is difficult because that talent doesn’t get to learn from more experienced minds. We have this problem at the moment, a disconnection between a small group of visionaries and a large group of Australians very much stuck in old patterns that seem unsustainable in this dynamic climate. We are not talking about changing wages or any of that nonsense, instead we are talking about a mentality to try. Where is that in the Australian culture? Is the lack of risk-taking backbone an ingrained characteristic that is holding us back? If we don’t start breaking out of old habits we will lose big opportunities. The presenter I was speaking to lamented that if he couldn’t find people soon he would have to go back to California where he knew there were plenty of skilled practitioners ready to take a calculated risk. Australia constantly loses talent overseas. If things don’t change it will simply continue, and our nation will miss out in the future.

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A golden Mercedes Benz

Why Go Pro Video: The Reason it Costs What it Costs

By | Marketing, Technology, Video | No Comments

Here’s the thing about video – anyone can do it…but only professionals can do it well.

I’d be a moron to dismiss or ignore that as digital swept through and technology got cheaper, making videos became more accessible. A smart phone today will shoot some pretty nice footage (I like how the iPhones oversaturate). This all means businesses promoting themselves can have the same sort of fun with video that we have every day.

My job as a producer at a Melbourne video agency is to make content that promotes businesses, not-for-profits, individuals – anyone with a message. The challenge is finding a place for ourselves now that anyone can afford the basic tech.

Some companies have decided to go for bulk. Buy or build a studio (because that’s something harder to get) and pump out a huge volume of video content at a cut-throat rate. It works for these companies, but they’ll freely admit they are missing one thing: quality.

The X Gene has gone a different route. We’ve moved away from cheap. We come in when our client wants a premium product. A potentially lucrative contract with a big international firm? A line of clientele that take part in the finer things in life? A large audience, a large investment, high stakes? These are the types of things a little clip in a poorly green screened studio won’t help.

If you want big returns, you need high quality. That’s The X Gene. High-end cameras, complex lighting and audio setups, multiple edit suites and specialised post-production software – yes, we have all of that, but we also have something far superior: the years of experience and proven talent to utilise all this creatively. We create the best videos we can, and then push ourselves to do better.

That’s what you’re paying for when you get a video made with us. That’s why it costs more than the quick and dirty alternatives, or the overseas options from sites like freelancer.com. I’ve heard business owners in seminars talk about getting a video done overseas and not being happy with the result. They end up making three or four mediocre videos that probably cost them more than they budgeted for anyway. I’ve also been proud to see other owners and our clients show off a premium video and say it was a bit more expensive, but the results speak for themselves.

The old cliche is true; you get what you pay for. With all this talk in the news of Australia needing to accept it can’t compete on price when working against nations four to ten times cheaper, I hear a constant refrain, “IP and value added skills and expertise are the way forward.” That’s us. Quality in a service industry, making excellent content to make you cut through and stand out. That’s why you go pro video – to be better than your competitors. We strive to be better than our competitors, so who better to team up with to take over the world?

iiNet and AAPT

iiNet & AAPT want money instead of innovation on NBN

By | Innovation, Technology | No Comments

Working with video means we transport GBs of data a day over our internet. The future of the NBN is damned important to us – especially those fast upload speeds. Sending a client a video draft can take ages…sending them 6 drafts can be excruciating. iiNet and AAPT have come out in support of the Coalition’s NBN plan, one that takes away our beautiful speed and our precious upload/download equalisation. Well, those two businesses sort of support it: their finance teams, that is. From iiNet’s CFO David Buckingham, “the technology lovers love the Labor version but the accountants like myself … like the idea of the faster rollout and hopefully a lower cost because that’s how we can differentiate. So as a CFO I’m looking forward to the lower cost base and the faster rollout.”

Key difference here is the tech vs the cost. The argument is that that speed is worth waiting for, because the Coalition plan will rapidly be out of date and leave us as frustrated as we are now. The article shows the contrast between the needs of society and business. It’s particularly ironic given the performance factors these telcos advertise. The debate also demonstrates the hurdles we have to jump to be innovative (spoiler: it’s money).

via http://www.businessspectator.com.au/news/2013/7/25/nbn-buzz/aapt-iinet-back-coalition-nbn

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.