Towards the end of 2013, I met a man forever known as ‘THE MIND MAGICIAN’. We shared coffee and stories, and his journey and love for magic excited me beyond belief. This wasn’t going to be a huge or lucrative project, but boy would it be exciting. I mean, what young lad doesn’t dream about becoming a magician? Who wouldn’t like to peek into a magical world?
Fast forward to now and that excitement is no more. The project has come and gone, and unfortunately it didn’t go according to plan. I don’t wish to paint myself as a victim in this, because I was at fault too. It takes two to tango as they say, and looking back over the weeks and months, I’ve learned several lessons. Lessons I’d like to share in the hope you can learn from them.
The thing is, you may not. As someone whose interviewed 100+ Entrepreneurs about their mistakes and how they overcome them, I’ve listened to stories about each mistake I made. I should have known better, yet here I am stumbling and tripping up over my own feet. Working on The Successful Mistake has taught me a lot so far, but I suppose sometimes we need to make our own faux pas’.
THAT’S SOME FREAKY DEAKY MIND MAGIC RIGHT THERE
I remember our first meeting in a pub in Leeds, and one of the first things The Mind Magician did was a fairly simple card trick. It wasn’t with playing cards, rather cards with pictures of various famous landmarks. Asking me to choose one at random as he flicked through. I picked Ayres Rock, because I’d just finished writing about it for my novel, TICK to the TOCK.
I’ve got you, Mind Magician, I thought.
Flipping between me and the cards, he wrote something down, shuffled the pack, and started to spread them out. All were blank except one, which low and behold had the words, Ayers Rock written on it.
He turned it over and my jaw dropped. “That’s some freaky deaky mind magic right there,” I said. My excitement for this project reached whole new levels!
The plan was simple: to create a short video that showcased The Mind Magician’s skills in one of Leeds’ most popular destinations, and combine this with a personal interview peeking into his past, inspirations, and who The Mind Magician really is. We discussed several other ideas too, but I thought we were both on the same page, and in hindsight this is where the issues began.
I thought. The thing is, he probably thought we were on the same page too, and even though he’s a Mind Magician, I guess his powers don’t reach that far.
THE ART OF BOOTSTRAPPING IS AN INTERESTING CRAFT
Like I say, we discussed other ideas, but in the immediate present, the plan was to create a story based video on a rather tight budget. I had the idea in my head and told him all about it, and I thought he understood, and all seemed rather well. Arranging the location and equipment and generally getting organised was fine at first, but the art of bootstrapping is an interesting craft indeed.
The small budget made it impossible to hire another person or any equipment, so I did what we all do in such circumstances: I begged friends to help me.
And The Mind Magician and me continued to communicate, and all was rosy, but as the video shoot edged closer, I started to sense some issues.
“Right,” I said, eager and with pen in hand. “I need you to take me through the trick in detail so I can plan where to stand and where to position the camera.”
“Oh, well, it’s hard to say exactly. Each time is rather different,” he said.
As a fellow creative, I nodded and understood. After all, I didn’t want to box-in his style and methods. However, as you can imagine, it made planning and structuring the day harder. So, I figured we’d use a rough and ready handheld style, the kind of shots that would still look okay if half a head was cut off for a few seconds. Couple this with a stationary second camera and I figured all would be fine.
“Brilliant,” he agreed. “But there will be a second camera, right?”
“Yes,” I said, thinking nothing else of it.
SOMETHING ALWAYS GOES WRONG
A few days until the big shoot, and I did my finals checks. As we were shooting in one of Leeds’ most popular hotspots, I needed certain permissions. I already had some, and reassured of others, but as I pressed a certain shop to get the final go ahead, they gave me the dreaded news.
“Oh, we can’t let you do that. Sorry.”
Frustrating to say the least, and so I called The Mind Magician and told him about our situation, and overall he was fine.
“Oh well. I can do several smaller tricks instead. Would that work?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “Can you explain how these tricks work?”
“Oh, well, not really. No.”
At this point I rolled my eyes, because I sensed this day would be hectic to say the least. Something always goes wrong in my experience, and even though we’d hit a few pot holes along the way, I sensed the video shoot itself may have a few other issues in store.
I DON’T SIT DOWN!
The big day arrived, and I woke up early, full of nerves and excitement.
My friend who was going to shoot footage with the second stationary camera had a job interview, so I borrowed my godmothers camera just in case he couldn’t make it. Him not being there would add some stress, but as the second camera would be stationary, I thought all would be well.
Plus, my other friend was still able to help with the sound on his lunch break, so that was the main thing.
And so I went to The Mind Magician’s house, interviewed him, captured some lovely footage, and we sped off to Leeds where the exciting tricks awaited. We signed in and I continued to ask if he could give me any more info so I could prepare myself, and he continued to um-and-ah over the situation.
I set up the area for the first trick, and I asked him if he could sit down with the other person, because this would allow me to get the sound just right, and the footage I need.
“I don’t sit down!” he instructed. “No, no. I need to stand up.”
Even though I knew this would add issue, I nodded because I could see how antsy he was getting, and the last thing I wanted to do was make him a nervous wreck.
“Okay,” I said. “Just so you know that this may result in some unpredictable footage. Okay?”
He nodded, and all was well, so I thought.
THE NIGHTMARE OF POST PRODUCTION
The rest of the video shoot went pretty darn well.
It was a hectic day, and we had to rush a tad towards the end because my friend’s lunch break was ending, and I knew one or two of the tricks weren’t good enough. However, we had at least 4 or 5 success stories, and when I uploaded the footage to check the audio, I beamed a large and wonderful smile.
It was loud. It was clear. Happy, happy days.
And so, over the next few weeks I edited the footage, sent The Mind Magician updated drafts, and tweaked them based on his feedback. At this point, there were a few issues, but nothing I didn’t expect from the nightmare of post production.
After all, we both wanted to showcase the best story possible, so a few tweaks here and there were nothing to worry about.
Then, one weekend, I finished the project and sent it to The Mind Magician for final sign off. Not only that, I created several other videos from the leftover footage, because I wished to add as much value as possible, and as certain things did go wrong, I wanted to make sure I had a happy Mind Magician on my hands.
Monday morning came and I received a text from him, asking me to call later that afternoon. Do you know when you just have a bad feeling? Well, that’s what I had. I knew right then this whole process would unravel before my eyes.
IT DIDN’T MATCH WHAT HE HAD PICTURED IN HIS MIND
“I don’t like the interview sections. I don’t like how I look or sound on camera,” he said over the phone.
Rubbing my temples, I shook my head. I’d sent countless drafts and not once had he asked me to remove the interview elements. After all, this was a story based video, and the reason I worked on this project over, say, a video production company, was so I could capture his story.
And so the phone call went, with one excuse after another. Some he’d raised previously, others were completely new:
- There should have been a second cameraman
- The tricks don’t represent the service I offer
- Your sound man had to leave early – we rushed too much
- The audio isn’t good enough
- I don’t the like the overall style
- The second cameraman would have made all the difference
- I want to remain mysterious – you can’t use the interview footage
As you can imagine, I took some rather deep breaths. Up until this point, all the issues raised in the editing process were minor and fixed (so I thought). To hear all of this now, rather than, say, I don’t know, 5 weeks earlier, was a tad surprising. Of course, I knew what this was really about it.
It didn’t match what he had pictured in his mind, and so he didn’t want to pay.
THAT EMAIL CONFIRMED EVERYTHING IN MY MIND
That long, extremely frustrating phone call ended, and I thought we left on the same page(ish). I was gutted and sorry it didn’t match his ideals, but explained that because we worked on a small budget, hiring people wasn’t feasible (and that the second camera still captured extra footage). I also reminded him of our early meetings, and how I thought we were on the same page regarding the setting, style, etc…
The next morning, however, I received an email, and that email confirmed everything in my mind.
Basically, it explained how he wanted it re-shooting and wouldn’t be willing to pay in its current form. My reply to that was an unfortunate no. I was happy to work with the existing footage some more, but as I’d already spent over 12 hours on this project (at least), to spend another 12 and only get paid a rather small amount was impossible.
If we’d been working on a £2,000 project, I’d understand his stance. You pay the big money, you expect the right equipment and team and end result. But when you bootstrap, you work around things as best you can. This is what frustrated me the most. I felt like he offered me a potato and instructed me to prepare a steak dinner.
AND SO, THE LESSONS I CAN SHARE ARE:
This is already a rather long post, but I wanted to include as much of the story as possible, because chances are you will, or indeed already have been, through a similar scenario.
I keep placing ‘thought’ in italics, because I honestly did think we were on the same page. Even when we had little issues and disagreements, I figured we had the end result in sight. However, we were never on the same page, and as the ‘giver’ in this project, it was my duty to ensure I didn’t think, but KNOW!
My hope is you can pick up on these signs and place yourself in this situation, because if you can, maybe, just maybe, you’ll avoid the headaches and heartaches involved. And so, the lesson I can share are:
1: OVER COMMUNICATE
Honestly, this is the main one. I didn’t communicate well enough, and when The Mind Magician refused to let me in on his world (how the tricks worked and so on), I should have insisted!
It’s not enough thinking you’re on the same page, you must ensure you are. As the producer, the buck starts and ends with you. This is why I don’t want to paint myself as a victim in all of this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pissed as hell at The Mind Magician, but I accept it all. I backed down when I shouldn’t have. I didn’t communicate well enough, and it’s as simple as that.
From here on in I’m going to be a pain in the ass, communicating and detailing every single aspect. Which brings me to my next point…
2: WRITE IT THE F&*K DOWN!
Seriously, I could kick myself. I don’t mean create a legally binding contract, because to be honest I don’t think this is always needed. I’m big on trust and relationships, and crazy contracts can ruin this. However, I’ve now created a form of my own that allows me to note EVERYTHING along the journey, create storyboards and objectives, and the exact ins-and-outs agreed upon.
This way, someone like The Mind Magician can read it and sign it, and if he changes his mind at a later date, I can be like, “Yo, bro. You seemed to be on board last week.” (okay, maybe I can;t get away with the tone, but you get the point).
This is what I’m most angry about, because I knew this already. I’ve heard it dozens of times in the past. Not only would this have held us both accountable, it would have my life SO much easier. A structured plan helps take a project from good to great!
This, leads nicely to my final point…
3: BE BETTER
I pride myself on my standards, and somewhere along the way they slipped during this project.
When he said he didn’t sit during his tricks, I should have insisted he did on this occasion. I knew it would have made for better footage. I knew the audio would be better. I knew it would stop The Mind Magician and his accomplice from rocking back and forth in and out of the shot. I knew, yet didn’t stand firm. Bad Turndog!
I should have been better and more forthright when arranging the locations. Don’t allow someone to assure you it’ll be fine. Press them hard until they give it you in writing.
And don’t let other people make you feel worthless. I’m better than this, and I sense you are too.
The Mind Magician made me feel like my product was weak, and although several things could and should have been better, it doesn’t mean I’m useless. Also, the final edits of the videos are solid. I think other people would like them too, and it’s a crying shame they won’t be seen and shared.
For a small budget and a bootstrap approach, some tasty videos were had had. It’s a shame The Mind Magician doesn’t agree.
HERE’S TO TOMORROW!
This project is now over, and The Mind Magician has become the invisible man (what can I say, he’s a talented guy). I’ve learned a great deal though, and although I’ve heard it all before during my interviews for The Successful Mistake, I think I needed to experience this for myself.
It’s given me a kick in the butt, and I’m not sure I’d have received this flogging had I simply learned from the people I’ve interviewed.
We all need to make mistakes on our own from time to time, but it’s how we approach them and embrace them. I’m excited to move forward and implement this lesson into future projects. You may or may not need to suffer this mistake on your own, but you will make faux pas’ along the way. They don’t define you. The way you overcome come them does.
Here’s to tomorrow, don’t dwell on the past.