The Venice Media District (VMD) recently hosted its second annual mixer. Robert Feist, owner of Ravenswork Studios, a provider of audio postproduction, announced that Andrea Stern, of Sternworld, a creative management company, will be his co-chair.
It was a productive year. One of the organization’s goals is to create a vehicle for nonprofit organizations to access the assets of the Venice Media District. An internship program was launched with Venice Arts, an innovative arts center that brings talented artists together with low-income youths to nurture their creativity and imagination.
A promotional film was produced for the Venice Garden Tour, a fundraising event that benefits the Neighborhood Youth Association’s Las Doradas Children’s Center in Oakwood.
Services were also supplied to Heal the Bay, Live Earth, One Lap Top Per Child and Wild Horse Spirit, a film featuring actor, poet, musician, photographer and painter Viggo Mortenson urging the protection of the American wild horse.
The Venice Media District made progress placing interns with businesses and it is looking to expand this program. A new Web site is under construction and the main feature will be a free on-line directory for all the media and post-production businesses.
“It will help define who we are and encourage us to use each other’s services,” says Robert. For more information, www.ven icemediadistrict.org/.
The guest speaker at the event was media luminary Scott Ross, who over an impressive 30-year career was founder and CEO (chief executive officer) of Digital Domain, vice president of LucasArts Entertainment Group and CEO of One Pass Film and Video, San Francisco’s legendary post-production studio.
Early influences shaped Scott’s future to be financially successful and work around technology in the arts. He admits to having been “pure guts-driven” and “rough and tumble” at the beginning of his career.
Although Scott says he didn’t go to “management school” and it was not what he aspired to be, it worked out that way and he acquired knowledge on the job.
One of the most important lessons Scott says he learned, and usually the hardest for people in positions of authority to follow, is to “delegate, delegate, delegate.”
“You get power by giving it away,” he says. “The more power you hold on to, the less powerful you are.” As an example, he cites Richard Branson, Virgin Group chairman. “Here’s this guy running a huge organization and he’s free as a bird,” he says. “He gave away a ton of power and authority and he was just free to create.”
Another aspect of management that worked well for Scott was a culture that he created in the workplace.
“I needed to be cut from the same cloth as the people who worked there,” he says. “I always thought of myself as an elected official and that I had to satisfy the concerns of my constituency — both the shareholders and employees of the company.” A familiar sight at the Digital Domain building was the pirate flag.
“Whatever it was, we always had a sense that we were outlaws, we were artists, we were cool, we were fun,” he says.
One of the greatest compliments Scott ever received from an employee was that he “took visual effects and computer animation and turned it into rock and roll.”
Digital Domain is one of the largest employers in Venice, if not the largest. Is bigger always better? Not according to Scott. There were a number of days he wished they were 25 people when they were 900. He also says that managing 100 people is 100 times harder than managing one, especially in the creative world, because “creative people have a tendency to be really smart and really difficult, if I were to stereotype.”
The answer is to look at your long term goal, he says. Growth might not result in a powerful business. The trick is to combine creativity and business savvy.
“Creative people look at their business oftentimes as [one where] the most important thing is to do creative work, and business people look at it as the most important thing is to do profitable work,” says Scott. “You can’t be in a creative business if you don’t turn a profit and don’t return money to your shareholders or to your employees, and you can’t be in a creative business if you’re only bottom-line-oriented and you’re putting out crappy work. You really have to serve both masters.”
The Venice Media District is comprised mostly of post-production companies or services businesses that provide specialties such as editing, graphics, visual effects or sound for the final product of a film, television show or commercial after they have been filmed.
Scott likens the services business to a hair salon. A customer walks in, has her hair cut, pays the charge and then walks out, possibly never to return.
“If you did a good job, hopefully she’ll come back and have you cut her hair again,” he says.
Scott suggests that members of the Venice Media District should recognize that the services business is a means to an end. He encourages business owners to take the creative resources at their own business and the creative resources collectively in Venice and with this enormous amount of talent to do things with it that create not only a change in our society but also real value to the company and shareholders and ultimately to family and children.
Adding creative content is an opportunity to accomplish this. An example Scott gives is Pixar Animation Studios, which started out as a high-end computer company and went through several transformations until the diligence of a couple of people in the company created a new form of computer animation that resulted in critical and commercial successes such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo.
“The financial value is unbelievable and, just as importantly, their impact on society is incredible,” says Scott. “You can’t go anywhere in the world without kids, in particular, knowing who Buzz Lightyear is. So, that power is extraordinary.”
Among Digital Domain’s five Academy Awards, one was received for Best Visual Effects for the movie Titanic. The company was paid a fee for its work which Scott says wasn’t even enough to pay salaries or overhead. The movie went on to win a total of 11 Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture, and grossed $1.8 billion worldwide.
“I think everybody would say that one of the key parts of that film was the sinking of the ship and if you removed the sinking of the ship, then you didn’t have much of a movie,” says Scott. “But we as craftspeople and in the postproduction business created images that were stunning and that helped tell a story that put butts in theater seats, that got rave reviews and, at the end of the day, we didn’t make any money but the content provider Jim [Cameron] and 20th Century Fox and Paramount, the people who owned the content, made a bloody fortune.”
Scott sold Digital Domain two years ago. At first he traveled and now, while not out of financial necessity, he has several film projects in the works on issues that are meaningful to him.
One that’s in development is based on a book called Aquariums of Pyongyang. It’s a true, terrifying account of a North Korean boy and his family who are swept up and put in a gulag of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and what happened to the boy’s family and ultimately his escape from the gulag and his travel through China back into Korea.
“It’s important to me because I don’t think the rest of the world really knows enough about North Korea and what this guy [Kim Jong-il] has done,” says Scott. “The best way I think to bring this message home is through film. People need to know the horrors of North Korea and what his regime is doing.”
Scott is also starting another company that he can’t divulge too much information about right now. It will be made up of a group of people from various disciplines in software, media and retail who have been successful in their respective field and who recognize that there is an opportunity to come together to offer services and stories about putting people in touch with who they are.
“It will be for the purpose of bringing product that has the ability to elevate the human spirit” he says.
As a father of three now-grown children and concern for other children, Scott is aware how fantasy and reality can sometimes be blurred. He feels that parents need to explain that visual effects and animation are fake.
“If you’re a six year-old-kid — with the fascination of looking at this stuff — it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not real, even for the people who are in the business, let alone the kids,” he says. “I think it’s important that kids understand what special effects are so that they can differentiate the fantasy world that is being created for them as opposed to what might be the real world.
“I also believe that video games have added to that. Now kids have the opportunity to go into worlds of their mind as opposed to interact with people of our world.
“I see a lot of problems and issues where kids are becoming incredibly introverted and just live inside their head and don’t live inside their body.”