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Ron Dawson on the Power of Stories, Putting in the Work, Learning on the Fly – Cracking Creativity Episode 85

Ron Dawson‘s earliest experience with film came through a time traveling caper film he created when he was a kid. Unfortunately, like many creatives, “real life” aspirations took over.

Instead of following his passion for film, he followed his interest in business.  Ron’s first endeavor in business was attempting to buy and sell businesses with his cousin. Although this idea did not work out, it gave him a taste of the  business world.

After failing to launch his business buying venture, and graduating with a business degree from UC Berkley, Ron got a job at Screen Play Systems.  After some time there, he later moved up to become a business manager at Intuit.

While working for these different businesses,  Ron was also working as a wedding videographer on the side. This was a pivotal crossroads for him. He could either continue with his six-figure salary, or he could venture out on his own. Instead of continuing to work at a high paying job he didn’t love, he chose to do a job he did love, making films.

In this episode Ron talks about the power of storytelling, putting in the work, and learning on the fly among many other things.

Here are three things you can learn from Ron:

Tell Stories with Your Work

One of the things that sets artists apart is their ability to tell a great story. Stories give your work meaning. They impact your audience in a way that your work can’t do on its own.

Ron believes his ability to tell a story set his work apart from other wedding videographers. Instead of just documenting the wedding, he got to the emotional truth of the moment.

“There is a documented truth in the images that you capture because this is what happened on that day, but I would argue that it’s not an emotional truth of what happened, but then you take those same emotions… and you kind of reduce them down to their core essence and you edit it in a way that flows like a story… and instead of an entire 60 minute Catholic ceremony… you just have the poignant parts of it and all those kinds of things that punch the emotion and you show that in such a way that anyone who watches it will be moved… then that has a more ringing of emotional truth.”

The ability to tell a good story allows you to connect with anyone, even if they aren’t naturally connected to what’s happening on camera. Ron realized that anyone can document an event, but not everyone can tell a story that makes an impact.

“The emotional truth of the day is that this is a day that moved people to tears or to laughter or to whatnot, and the best way to capture that and instill that in people who are not that emotionally connected naturally is through storytelling and music and the kind of things that filmmakers have used for a hundred years in order to tell stories.”

Being able to tell a story through your art makes a huge difference. It allows you to connect directly to the moment.

“It makes a huge difference the way that you deliver and tell a story in terms of being able to communicate a message or like I said, an emotional truth.”

Put in the Work Before You Think You’re Ready

I’ve talked a lot about how the perfect moment does not exist. It’s a lie we tell ourselves so we don’t have to put in the effort. But you will never get anywhere if you continue to wait for the perfect moment. You just have to walk through that open door when the opportunity presents itself.

“As you do projects like that, ideas come up and the industry evolves, opportunities and doors are opened, and so it’s about doing that kind of stuff, and being mindful of the doors that open, and walking through them when you have the opportunity to do so.”

Don’t wait until you have the right amount of money or equipment for the job. There is no right formula. The perfect moment doesn’t exist. Get started where you are with what you have.

“I think a lot of creatives want to wait… until they have all the money that they need or they want to wait until they have all the equipment that hey need. They’re always waiting for just the right time or just the right formula and you can’t wait. You just have to start working on it.”

The best way to make progress with your business is by building momentum and learning by doing. Don’t make excuses. Just do the work.

“You need to actually get the momentum and start doing the thing you want to do, and then start learning along the way. But it’s the momentum of doing it, because you can always find excuses as to why you can’t or shouldn’t.”

Learn and Do

We’re all guilty of placing blame for why we haven’t found success as artists. One excuse we like to use is saying we don’t know enough. “I don’t know how to do that” is a phrase commonly heard among artists.

The only way to learn is by doing. You have to put yourself out there. Like Ron says, if you want to be a filmmaker, start making films.

“Always be learning anyway, but going back to that Pressfield quote about putting your ass where your heart wants to be, go out and start doing it. If you want to be a filmmaker, start shooting, start making films. This is going to be the number one piece of advice any filmmaker is going to tell you… if you want to be a filmmaker, start making films.”

I know everyone wants to be prepared before they get started. But you can’t prepare for everything. There are some things you can only learn by doing. You have to learn as you go.

“Start making something and learning how to make it and kind of learn as you go. Don’t feel like you have to learn everything at once.”

The point is that you have everything at your disposal to become a successful creative. Stop making excuses for why you can’t do something. If you truly want something, you have to put in the effort to achieve it.

“It’s so easy with all the tools at our disposal to do any kind of creative endeavor online now or offline. There’s no excuse whatsoever. Price is not an excuse. Time is not an excuse. There is no excuse to not just get out and start doing whatever it is you that you want to do.”

  • about Ron
    • creative director of Dare Dreamer and creator of Radio Film School podcast
    • got undergrad degree in business at UC Berkley
      • always wanted to be business person
    • worked in real estate as an appraiser
    • starting an artist management group for a rap group
      • had stress related stomach disorders
    • thought his experiences would make a funny movie
      • enrolled in film school at community college
      • film making discovered him there
      • film became a passion
    • was business manager at Quicken while still doing video on the side
      • decided to pursue video full time
      • got married and started a business
    • started with weddings then moved to corporate work
  • early experience with photography/film
    • dad was photography hobbyist
    • got him 8mm camera from dad
    • made time traveling time caper
      • steal artifacts from time periods
      • filmed at Disneyland where lands represented time periods
  • interest in business
    • mom and step dad worked for Amway
    • he became interested in multi-level marketing
    • wanting to reach high levels of business
    • wanted to work at management consultancy
  • job at Intuit
    • was already doing business related work by the time he got the job
    • working for Screen Play Systems
    • comparing experience to Berkley
    • started business buying other businesses with cousin before Berkley
      • learned negotiating and meeting with people
      • interests changing and evolving
    • what he expected to do with businesses
      • went to seminars showing you how to buy/sell businesses
      • buying assets you could leverage
      • improve businesses
  • how business experience helps creatives

28:22 “I think a combination of my business degree and all the business experience I had has definitely been a benefit in running my business as a professional creative in terms of selling and pricing my services and negotiating with potential clients and that sort of thing… Yeah because a lot of creatives who start businesses don’t have any kind of business background, and so even something as simple as doing finances and accounting wasn’t totally foreign to me because I did that in school already.”

  • his time in film school
    • went because he wanted to be the next Spike Lee or Robert Rodriguez
    • wanted to be a feature film maker
    • was in the program two years before moving to Screenplay Systems
    • was in a program called fiction workshop
    • everyone had their own roles in the film
    • quarterly system where there was a different writer/director
    • Screenplay Systems
      • was still surrounded by people in the industry
      • had to do film stuff on the side
      • did a romantic comedy short film
    • only did wedding videography until he could do other films
      • moved the people he did the videos for
      • most wedding filmmakers weren’t doing short form style videos
        • edited his videos to be like movies
      • worked evolved from that idea
      • gravitated towards films that were documentary in nature

34:03 “The first wedding client that I had, before I finished their full video, I made them a short seven minute highlight reel and I invited them over to my house and showed it to them. And in those seven minutes they laughed and they cried and it was a profound experience for me to see my gifts being used to such a way that they could move people in that way so I… became really invested in using my skill set to help marriages and to help create and bring families together and I was really proud of the work I did as a wedding filmmaker.”

  • documenting weddings vs. telling a story
    • conveying the truth of the day through storytelling based narrative vs. straight documentary
    • emotional vs. documented truth
      • stories with music and emotion
      • anyone watching it having emotions

38:03 “There is a documented truth in the images that you capture because this is what happened on that day, but I would argue that it’s not an emotional truth of what happened, but then you take those same emotions… and you kind of reduce them down to their core essence and you edit it in a way that flows like a story… and instead of an entire 60 minute Catholic ceremony… you just have the poignant parts of it and all those kinds of things that punch the emotion and you show that in such a way that anyone who watches it will be moved… then that has a more ringing of emotional truth.”

38:50 “The emotional truth of the day is that this is a day that moved people to tears or to laughter or to whatnot, and the best way to capture that and instill that in people who are not that emotionally connected naturally is through storytelling and music and the kind of things that filmmakers have used for a hundred years in order to tell stories.”

39:20 “It makes a huge difference the way that you deliver and tell a story in terms of being able to communicate a message or like I said, an emotional truth.”

  • his process of working with clients
    • seeing if clients could afford his fees
    • create report through email/phone
    • see what goals/objectives are then ask how much they want to spend
    • expectations based on price
    • catering what you do to different pricing points

42:02 “There’s different schools of thought on negotiation, but I subscribe to the notion that it’s always better to ask the other person first what they intend to pay or what they want to pay and take it from there as opposed to volunteering, unless you have a flat straight rate for what you do, where there’s no negotiating up or down. This is what I do and it costs this much.”

42:30 “If you’re like me where it’s the amount you end up being paid will vary depending on the amount of work you do and the video I do, then I like to find out from my client, what’s your budgeting, so the client can explain, “Well we’re looking to spend $300-$400.” Well, then I can say “Most of what we do is ten times that, but this is what we can do.”

45:05 “I always like to ask the potential client first what their expectation or ballpark is, then… I usually give them three options, a high, a medium, and a low, a good, better, and best, and kind of go from there.

  • transitioning from six figure salary to full-time videographer
    • saved up a lot of money and built up a cushion with his bonus
    • used money to start business and used his wife’s salary for daily expenses
    • got into a lot of business debt early on
    • learning from Dave Ramsey
    • paying off personal debt, then business debt

47:51 “Early into the years, I got into a lot of business debt, and I’m huge proponent against debt so that aspect of the business I would do differently, and it wasn’t until seven or eight years later before we ended up paying all the debt we ended up getting into. And a lot of that debt was because I was buying equipment. It wasn’t equipment I didn’t need, but it was a lot of equipment and a lot of investment in the business itself that we didn’t have the cash for… and I did a lot of bad credit card spending.”

49:32 “If you don’t have the work that can pay off an investment in the first six months or so, the equipment, or whatever, just rent it and build the rental fee into whatever you charge your clients. Do not get into debt to create or build a creative business.”

  • getting into non-profit and corporate work
    • catching the attention of a non-profit because of the editing he did on his own wedding
      • capturing his daughter’s essence and getting first non-profit job
      • wedding work is similar to non-profit work in evoking emotions
        • when they cry, they buy
        • pulling on heartstrings
      • natural transition
    • doing videos for Intuit and BNI – Business Network International
      • first five figure job came through BNI
    • 2007 – niche became professional photography industry
    • mini expo – CEO wanted to do video for Las Vegas Boys and Girls Club
      • wanted to create amazing keynote and film series
        • found his North Star
  • path for filmmaking
    • Mixed in America – story of being biracial in America
    • focusing on short film documentary series
  • working with an unlimited budget
    • wanting to be a showrunner for Netflix/Hulu
    • unofficial sequels and prequels
  • working your way towards creative goals
    • continue doing projects he’s already doing
    • finding sponsors for projects
    • doing first online reality tv show called The Longest Day
      • 24 top photographers split in two teams
      • 24 hours to conceive/shoot/edit short film and PSA for worthy cause
    • bringing people together and connecting with professionals across the industry
    • “Put your ass where your your heart wants to be.” – Steven Pressfield

1:01:23 “As you do projects like that, ideas come up and the industry evolves, opportunities and doors are opened, and so it’s about doing that kind of stuff, and being mindful of the doors that open, and walking through them when you have the opportunity to do so.”

1:01:43 “I think a lot of creatives want to wait… until they have all the money that they need or they want to wait until they have all the equipment that hey need. They’re always waiting for just the right time or just the right formula and you can’t wait. You just have to start working on it.”

1:02:49 “You need to actually get the momentum and start doing the thing you want to do, and then start learning along the way. But it’s the momentum of doing it, because you can always find excuses as to why you can’t or shouldn’t.”

  • stories that came from The Longest Day project
    • promo video for the project
    • underdog story – one of the teams was way ahead and the other spent three hours fighting and figuring it out
      • seeing how the night progressed
  • inspiration behind his podcast Radio Film School
    • had a previous podcast on photography for credibility
      • geared towards photographers
    • moved on to podcast about film for a few years
    • changed strategy for content related work
      • wanted a more documentary style
      • each episode has a specific topic
    • wanting to do something different
      • one of the things he’s most proud of
      • likes music/storytelling elements
      • combining music/interviews/scripts
    • having the only show of its kind on filmmaking
  • planning out season/episodes
    • using Free Music Archive
    • using Slack to track songs
    • Song Freedom – to create music collections
    • Asana entries for each episode
    • taking notes on Google Drive when interviewing people
    • ex: noting every time an interviewee says the word style
    • making a list of questions for interviews, but also being flexible and using sound clips that occur organically
  • advice for aspiring creatives
    • see what other people in the industry are doing
    • work under/for a mentor
    • always be learning: go to seminars or Google how to do things
    • just in time learning – learn what you need learn as you need to use it

1:25:20 “Always be learning anyway, but going back to that Pressfield quote about putting your ass where your heart wants to be, go out and start doing it. If you want to be a filmmaker, start shooting, start making films. This is going to be the number one piece of advice any filmmaker is going to tell you… if you want to be a filmmaker, start making films.”

1:26:10 “Start making something and learning how to make it and kind of learn as you go. Don’t feel like you have to learn everything at once.”

1:26 55 “It’s so easy with all the tools at our disposal to do any kind of creative endeavor online now or offline. There’s no excuse whatsoever. Price is not an excuse. Time is not an excuse. There is no excuse to not just get out and start doing whatever it is you that you want to do.”

1:41:20 “Creativity is collecting and connecting the dots. I think often times people think of creativity as having to create something new versus taking what’s already out there and reconnecting them in ways that haven’t been done before.”

1:41:54 “Creativity is about adapting what’s already out there and mixing and mashing it up in new and creative ways.”

  • being more creative
    • comparison kills creativity challenge
      • spend month not looking at anyone’s work in your industry
      • if you are a wedding videographer, don’t watch any wedding videos, look at other forms
    • create periodic challenges (daily, weekly, etc.)
    • Robert Rodriguez episode of Tim Ferriss Show

1:42:57 “Obstacles and hindrances are one of the best ways to be creative… Mother necessity forces you to be creative and so some of the most creative videos I’ve done have come out of times where I’ve had obstacles or hindrances. So sometimes self-imposed ones can really help you to be creative.”

  • challenge
    • take a month not looking at people in the same industry as you
    • start looking at things differently

Daredreamer | Mixed in America documentary

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