Category: Biz News

This past Saturday, I had the honor and extraordinary experience of serving as Second Assistant Director on the location shoot of an independent short film that a friend is making. It was an amazing experience that I truly appreciate being part of. And I realized that there are great lessons in it for business and life in general.

“Quiet on the set!”

The Movie

The film is called Somebody’s Darling, which was a euphemism for a dead body during the American Civil War. The action takes place on and off battlefields, and this past weekend’s shoot was on location at a Georgia hunting club that provided the backdrop for battle footage.

(If you’re interested in donating and reading a bit more about the production, go here – This promises to be a fascinating addition to stories about the civil war!)

The Lessons

Despite the heat, repetition, and a few technical difficulties, most participants (ironically, especially those who worked the hardest) reported after the fact that they had a blast and would do it again. Sure, we had some snags and delays, but thanks to laying important groundwork, we were able to handle the snafus so smoothly that we actually ended up finishing ahead of schedule all the shots that Writer/Director Jeff Ballentine wanted.  That’s incredible.


Skirmishers in the woods

The main lesson I gained from this adventure was the immense payoff of teamwork and division of labor. There was a hierarchy of positions, similar to jobs on any professional movie set but ones that might be overlooked on a small independent production. We were all volunteers, so I’m sure it was a bit like herding cats to make sure everyone came through. In the end, though, almost everyone pulled his or her weight and then some. The spirit of cooperation, jumping in where needed, and keeping eyes on the main objective of capturing excellent footage for the film were tangible.

The take-away from this for life, be it business dealings and group activities, is to give people a clear role, ask them to commit to that role, and then let them fulfill that role. When someone has too much on his or her plate (as did our Second Unit Director / Costume and Makeup Manager / Set Dressing and Continuity Manager), get people to help! The star in the overloaded position may be the absolute best person for the job, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be assistants for each task. This strategy worked like a charm.

Horses are often more patient than people … no surprise there 🙂

Preparation and Commitment

The key to keeping a bunch of people on task during a project of this magnitude is preparation. They need to know what is expected of them, have at least the outline of a schedule, and be asked to commit to doing what they promised. Thanks to the organization persistence of Assistant Director Leigh A. Jones and the loving commitment of a really amazing group of people, we had that. The foundation was laid in several production meetings and constant communication on a site set up for the group. Everything was shared so everyone felt included, and those with specific jobs to do were asked to actively participate and take charge of their areas.

A major lesson in preparing for and executing a big task is to take advantage of delegation. Find out who is reliable, what their strengths are, and let those people run with the tasks that they find exciting.

We did fall short on some prep. For instance, the fluid shot list was simply not ready for anyone to see, so we just had to rely on the Director and AD to tell everyone what they were doing next. But there’s a lesson in that too, and it’s called “Plan ahead, but be flexible.”

Some people, equipment, and supplies didn’t show up as planned. This called for more flexibility, of course. But it also brings yet another lesson: “Those who do not come through should not be asked to do important tasks the next time.” Of course, there might a very good reason that someone was AWOL or something left undone, and it’s a judgment call about what to do with that. However, be aware of patterns emerging and set a limit as to how many times someone is allowed to let you down and slow the progress of the undertaking.

Taking Care of Yourself

Battle scars

Unlike some professional Hollywood types, we don’t have handlers. It was made clear that each of us needed to take care of one’s self—come prepared, stay hydrated, and let designated individuals know if you needed anything. This was a beautiful plan that mostly worked throughout the day. There were only two instances in which I saw the potential downsides to self-care fall through, and it reinforced the lessons of teamwork and preparation: the first is the potential for someone to feel as though he or she can blend in, fall back, and not have to carry the same weight as others, but dead weight always drags down a plan, especially a small-scale one in which it’s all hands on deck; the second is the opposite type of personality that is gung ho and means to keep going despite personal endangerment, and what results is others needing to take care of that person. Could these breakdowns have been foreseen? Maybe, maybe not, but the lesson is that, in any endeavor in life, these are two pitfalls to attempt working out in planning—when you examine the capabilities and personalities of people involved—rather than during execution.

Preparing for a shot in the breastworks

My own paranoia about getting eaten alive by bugs or falling into a patch of poison ivy helped me prepare—maybe even overprepare—but it was successful preparation. Despite being in outside all day (at least twelve hours) and in the woods for part of that, I don’t think I came home with a single bug bite! Thanks, Cutter! It also helped that I wore appropriate clothing, including work books and a big hat.

More of an issue was the heat. Though it was cooler than we’d expected (Georgia has been having quite the heat wave, but recent rains cooled it down a bit for us), it was still oppressive for the soldiers in their wool uniforms as well as for the effects crew who were lugging around generators, fog machines, and assorted pyrotechnics equipment. We went through hundreds of bottles of water (yes, we recycled!) and a huge vat of Gatorade, but we still had a couple of bouts of heat exhaustion. It pointed up the wisdom of following the suggested preparation guidelines that our crew had sent out for pre-hydrating (like athletes do a day or two before competition), staying hydrated on the set, and limiting alcohol and caffeine. Fortunately, everyone reports a full recovery!

The Experience

Those who know me will understand how fabulous an experience this was for the MovieFreak! At the end of the day, I had dirt in my underwear from the explosions, my feet throbbed, and I really needed a beer. But, HELL YES, I would do it again and hope that I get to do so very soon.

Public speaking.

It’s a high-ranking fear for many people throughout the world. Some dread it more than death!

Can it really be that gruesome? Sure, there are all those eyes staring at you, and all the minds trained on picking apart your every word and movement. Who knows, the audience might notice something you had for lunch stuck in your teeth, or maybe your fly is open, but of course you can’t look or feel to see if it is, but what are those people over there giggling about … horrors!

All right, maybe it is pretty scary. But some of us thrive on speaking to groups. How is that possible?

Speaking for myself (sorry about the pun), presenting to groups helped me to get over shyness back in high school, and it’s now one of my favorite ways to impart the knowledge I have to share. It has helped me to be a popular instructor in a variety of teaching situations and to pursue opportunities head-on that others avoided. I can attest to the fact that most people are not born with the ability to speak well in public—I wasn’t. Just like everyone else, I started out terrified. But I knew that this terror would limit me, so I pursued forensics (the art and science of developing skills in debate plus extemporaneous and interpretive speaking, not cutting up cadavers). I found that the more I faced my fear, the easier it became to stand up and just do what I needed to—deliver a message.

You will find a plethora of advice out there about how to overcome speaking anxiety and hone presentation skills. But I boil it down to very simple terms. Over the years, I’ve learned that three things provide the answer to fearless and focused speaking. I call them the three P’s: poise, passion, and practice.


Take your task seriously. Armchair wisdom has often included quips like “Imagine the audience wearing nothing but underwear!” I say, respect the audience, and its members will respect you. Stand up straight, look them in the eyes, speak to them respectfully and with audible enunciation. These people are present to gain something from you, and it is your duty to deliver it in a considerate manner.


Have you ever caught yourself going on and on about something excitedly because you are so interested in it? That’s the kind of passion it takes to truly engage an audience in what you are saying and not in any quirks of how you are saying it. So, what if you are required to talk about something that you’re really not passionate about? Then you need to GET PASSIONATE about it, at least for the moment. How? Find the seed of what interests you about it by doing some research. For example, I can’t imagine anything much less interesting than plumbing, but if I consider the vast impact on health and civilization that the invention of plumbing has had, I could talk about valves and elbow joints with a heartfelt zeal. Find whatever it is in a topic that floats your boat, and let that come through in your presentation.


Surely, you’ve heard this tip before. Everyone says practice is the key, and in this case, everyone is right! The less you need to think about what to say next, the more you can focus on smooth delivery, breathing, and making eye contact. Know your presentation inside and out, and you will have one less thing about which to be fearful.

Resources for Further Reading

Here are some additional resources for various aspects of public speaking. Enjoy!

Toastmasters 10 Tips

Tips from MIT

Better public speaking

Overcoming fear of speaking

Dealing with public speaking anxiety

Minimizing um’s and uh’s

Z-ink client Eric D. Echols, president and CEO of The LPS Group Inc. (a loss prevention, private detective, and security corporation), was involved in the notorious case of Tonya Craft, who was exonerated in 2010 after being falsely accused of abuse and subjected to the incredibly corrupt legal machine in Ringgold, Georgia, located in rural Catoosa County, just south of the Tennessee border.

He has now written the book The Echols Files: Catoosa County Justice to shed light on some of the details that took place behind the scenes.  In this revealing book, Echols writes from his perspective as an investigator in the case and walks readers through the events, including his own arrest as several powerful parties conspired to get him out of the way.  A fascinating read about a notable case in recent American legal history, the book is available at

Refueling the Engine

Taking my own advice is not one of my strong suits. But I hope that by dishing it out, I’ll better be able to pick it up and run with it. Or in this case, take a nap with it.

I’m talking about rest and recuperation. Our bodies thrive on the work-rest cycle. So do our minds.  But that doesn’t stop most of us from abusing the heck out of ourselves.

Celebrate Accomplishment

I just finished a big, brain-challenging project. Hooray for me!  I crossed the finish line — on my birthday, no less. And instead of breathing, smelling the roses, and sipping some iced tea on the deck, I started a list of things I need to accomplish over the next week. Well, OK, I did take myself to see a movie the next day, but I made myself promise to work over the weekend to make up for that. *sigh*

Working hard is not a bad thing. I’m not advocating total chaos and loss of control. But there is something wrong with this picture. There is no downtime worked into the deal. There needs to be.

If you just keep going and going for too long, parts of you start to give out. If you don’t shut down for a time in a planned and voluntary way, you might shut down at some point in a very unplanned and involuntary way.  I’ve seen this happen to people (some very close to me), and I hope that one of these days it’ll sink in enough to teach me to really do as I preach.  I’m getting there. Baby steps.

Power Down to Power Up

At the end of a long day, we go to sleep.  At the end of a long project, we should get a spa day. It scares the heck out of me, and I’m not sure I can do it, but I’m going to try to have an at-home spa day.  Well, maybe a half-day. I think that’s as far as my fevered “gotta get stuff done” self can stretch at this point.

Planning it out will help. So, here goes:

  1. I’ll light some candles and play soft, soothing music.
  2. I’ll apply a facial mask while the tub fills with aromatic, bubbly suds.
  3. Luxuriating in the bath, I will allow myself to daydream about something other than “the next project.”
  4. When I climb out of the tub, I’ll wrap my hair in a towel and my self in a warm terry robe, and I’ll lie down on the bed to rest. If I fall asleep, great.  No stress. Maybe I’ll even put some cucumber slices on my eyes.  Nah — waste of food.  Baby steps.

Will I really do this?  Can I?  We’ll see.  I’ll let you know.  In the meantime, do as I say!  Take a break. Plan it out and execute your plan. You can feel a sense of accomplishment about that too!

I’m all about heroes this month, what with The Avengers hitting theaters and all.  But that’s fantasy … in real life, heroes are people who struggle, battle uphill, overcome, have staying power, give others a hand to climb up in their path, and do their best to keep promises. Here’s to real heroes, and a big thank-you to my client, author David Seagraves, who came to me for interior layout and formatting of his book about just such a real hero.

David Seagraves has just published (via Prana Press) the book Uncommon Hero: The John Seagraves Story, an inspirational and historical account of his father’s life. If you enjoy history, WWII U.S. Navy stories, biographies of fascinating people, or motivating accounts of underdogs overcoming the odds, this is a book for you!  Here is the official book description:

“In Uncommon Hero: The John Seagraves Story, author David Seagraves chronicles the life of his father from John’s upbringing as a poor Southern youngster, through his exploits in the Navy during WWII, to a successful entrepreneur and present day world traveler still quite active in his mid-80s. Courage overcame his lack of education, social barriers, and lowly expectations opening doors to opportunities which helped shape and characterize him throughout his life. John served on Battleship USS North Carolina, the most successful and highly decorated battleship in U.S. Navy history. Over and above their individual duties, he and his gun crew volunteered to defend the ship with complete disregard for their own safety. On April 14, 1945, the 18-year-old sailor and his gun crew defended the ship from an attack which caught everyone else by surprise. Being the first gun group to spot and target a kamikaze plane headed directly toward them, John fired upon the deadly plane, downing the aircraft just 30 feet from the battleship. This isolated act saved untold lives and the ship’s legacy under the most severe circumstances. In a collision of American, African American and Navy history, John holds center stage having impacted the lives of many people before, during and after the war. The family man, with a tireless work ethic and drive to succeed, faced obstacles in the South and during WWII with enthusiasm, relocated and started a family in the North after the war, and found prosperity sharing his passion with the world. He continues to live a vibrant life as a restaurant owner with his wife Mildred. Uncommon Hero has been authored as a cathartic tribute, first, commemorating the man who came from nothing with an unknown past and whose powerful will created the life he wanted, second, offering insight into the core values that still inspire David. The book reveals traits, honed during wartime, which made his father a strong leader. While John’s story drives the book, the lessons underlying his actions provide a blueprint for a path to wealth for younger generations.”

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