Yes, Innovation & Startups & Tech, Dammit!

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