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Chapter 21: Delegate or Die

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 21 of my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. This chapter explores the importance of letting go and surrounding yourself with smarter, better people, and letting them do the things they are good at (while you do the things you are best suited for!)

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 ,8910111213141516, 1718, 19 and 20. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

Chapter 21: Delegate or Die

One thing that is very clear about making a movie is that it is a collaborative art. Other than for a very few, very rare exceptions, making a film means working with a team. Even the smallest production has actors, crew, and a director at the least. Unlike writing or painting or sculpting, where your art can truly be the pursuit of a sole proprietor, making a movie is almost always a collaboration, and more often than not, puts OPM (other people’s money) at risk. That means pressure to perform.

Such that it is a collaborative art, the fine art of effective delegation becomes an invaluable skill for a filmmaker. The “auteur” theory notwithstanding, when making a film you really cannot do everything yourself. The best filmmakers recognize this and surround themselves with outstanding talent, from the DP and cinematographer to the actors and actresses, the grips and sound people, as well as the costume and set designers, and every other department head. In truth, the best directors don’t need to know how to do everything themselves, but rather they need to know how to surround themselves with the folks who do know everything, and they need to be an effective commander in chief, smartly delegating the tasks necessary to achieve their particular vision for the film.

No small task, but a great business lesson.

Too many entrepreneurs think they can and must do everything themselves. That might work when they are a bootstrapped team of two founders, but as soon as you take in your first Angel round or Series A, you have an obligation to your investors and no longer just to yourself and your “vision.”

Understanding how to delegate is perhaps the most valuable thing an entrepreneur can learn. Doing everything yourself does not scale. Being able to delegate well is akin to being able to lead well, and frankly, to being able to get shit done. And effective delegation is not easy. When it comes to managing a team, there is no such thing as “set it and forget it.” Just because you have assigned a task to someone doesn’t mean you have absolved yourself from it. As the director (i.e., “the boss”) you are ultimately responsible for it all, regardless of who actually executed the task. If all goes awry, it is you who should (and will) get executed (alongside your loyal, but ineffective, lieutenants). A good filmmaker, like a good businessperson, knows to “inspect what they expect” and monitor and check up on the tasks they have assigned to others.

On a movie set, it is not uncommon to have a short meeting with department heads late at night, to review the schedule for the next day and ensure, while there is still time to make adjustments, that everything delegated has been taken care of and is ready to go for the morning and day ahead.

This kind of department head huddle is a good practice for any business. Check-in and check up, to avoid having to check out!

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That’s Chapter 21  –  How are you at delegating tasks and responsibilities? When you do, do you inspect what you expect? Stay tuned for Chapter 22: “Location, Location, Location” which explores the importance of relationships and finding (and utilizing) people’s hidden talents.

The book in previous posts:

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Indie Film Marketing, and How Things Have Changed… (video) #GetIndieWise

I was on a panel about Indie Film Marketing at the Grand Indiewise Convention in Hollywood (Florida, that is…). I had the chance to share some of my experiences in the “old days” and how things have changed today with the proliferation of Social Media and new distribution channels. As the saying goes, “everything old is new again,” and I think that many of the marketing angles we applied “back in the day” can be applied to the Indie Film world today (but with a few new twists), and I share some of those ideas and tips in the video below. NOTE: This is an edited version of the panel, of mostly my bits, as I just had my phone pointed at me…  🙂

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Mister Productivity Gets Some Productivity Tips from Making Movies

Mark Struczewski calls himself “Mister Productivity” and with good reason. He’s singularly focused on solving productivity problems. Through his website, speaking, coaching, and podcast he brings valuable productivity advice to thousands. With that in mind, when Mark invited me to be a guest on his show I focused on lessons I learned from making movies that have an emphasis on productivity. The truth is, even though my book is called Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER, a lot of the learnings I gained from filmmaking are indeed productivity related (and not just about marketing). Mark is a smart and passionate host, and he had some great questions as he had read my book in advance of our talk. To listen, click here or on the player embedded below. I hope you enjoy it and find some value in the productivity advice we discuss.

 

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My Weekend as a CON Man! (Supercon, that is…)

A great time was had by all at Florida Supercon (as mentioned before). It was great to talk to people about my book, including some who had already read it and came by the booth to let me know. It was especially fun to chat with folks who had watched and loved THE TOXIC CRUSADERS and various Troma movies I had been involved in the making of. Good times, then and now.

Aside from enjoying my time hawking my book, one of the highlights of my long weekend at Supercon was the chance to be reunited with William Shatner. Almost 23 years ago I had the pleasure of working very closely with him on the release of his TekWar computer game. At the time I was VP marketing at IntraCorp Entertainment, the developer and publisher of the game, and I personally accompanied Bill-er, Mr. Shatner, on both East and West Coast press tours for the launch of the game. They were great times, and thanks to the Queen of Supercon, Sandy Martin, I was able to say hello and spend a few minutes catching up with Shatner (and yes, I gave him a copy of my book). 🙂

I had a great weekend being a “CON” man at Florida Supercon. Here’s a short video with a few more highlights. Enjoy!


 

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A Virtual Look at Florida Supercon (360 VR video)

I spent last weekend promoting my book at the totally awesome Florida Supercon, put on by my friends Sandy Martin and Mike Broder – “Con” men (and women) extraordinaire! While I was hawking my book in my booth, another friend, Praveen Yalamanchi, stopped by with his 360 Degree VR camera and caught me in the middle of a pitch. You can use your mouse or keyboard to watch me in action and get a short inside 360 view of Supercon! Follow my voice to find me at the beginning and be sure to explore the full 360 view to see some cool costumes on folks filling the aisles. You’ll also get a peek at Coffee Shop of Horrors, who were in the booth across from me, keeping all the cool kids caffeinated! (Check out this very short film I made of a “Cosplay Connection” I witnessed on the coffee line across from my…)

 

 

Chapter 19: Fix It, or Forget It… Fast!

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 19 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, we take a look at the importance of having a plan B and making sure every day is moving your business agenda forward! 

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 ,8910111213141516, 17 and 18. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

Chapter 19: Fix It, or Forget It… Fast

On a movie set, there is no shortage of things that can go wrong. Your camera truck can be stolen. Your location can be locked when you arrive with the owner completely denying they ever gave you permission to come and film there. Your lead actress can refuse to come out of the bathroom to film a scene or refuse to kiss the leading monster—er, man, despite the romantic scene that was in the script and agreed to when she was hired. Essential costumes and props disappear. Cars containing essential talent or equipment break down. It rains (it pours). Actors show up drunk. Actors show up without knowing their lines. Actors don’t show up. Assholes do show up. Equipment breaks. Crew members quit. Sound people forget to record. Camera people forget to load film. It rains (it pours). Teamsters protest and interfere. Stunts don’t work as planned. You run out of power. You run out of light. You run out of time. You run out of money. You run out screaming.

Shit happens.
Lots of shit.
Every day.
All the time.
It is fun, really.
That’s Hollywood (well, Tromaville).

But on a set, the clock is always ticking, and whether you are on a shoestring Indy budget or a gazillion-dollar studio budget, time is still money. There are pages to cover, and a schedule to follow. The shit may hit the fan, but the film still needs to end up in the can. So, when something does go wrong, and it will, you need to make a decision. You need to fix it, fast, or work around it, fast. Innovation and creativity will save the day more than money will, and that’s a solid lesson for any business.

Even if you have the money, replacing something that breaks can take time and delay production. What’s the backup plan? To successfully make a B-movie, you’d better always have a plan B (and frankly, the same applies even if you are attempting to make a blockbuster).

Do you have a true plan B for your business? When making a movie, learning to be prepared and expect the unexpected is essential (which actually makes the unexpected the expected).

Filming on a soundstage is expensive and outside the budget of most independent films. As a result, to get great on-screen production values at a reasonable cost, many Indy films are shot “on location,” leveraging the scenic beauty of the real world in lieu of the fabricated beauty and control of a costly studio set. But in the real world, you can’t control Mother Nature, and your location is always at risk of being shut down by bad weather. Having a plan B means that for every day of exterior filming, you had better have an alternate scene ready to be shot indoors should Mother Nature decide to fool you for a change. That means an alternative location, indoors and nearby, so you could quickly and efficiently save the day.

So, when we were filming The Toxic Avenger Part II (and Part III) in and around the lovely town of Peekskill, NY, we always had several indoor “sets” ready and waiting inside the abandoned Masonic temple that doubled as our local production office. While these makeshift sets were far from “studio” quality, they were good enough, and if Mother Nature decided to poop on our heads, without hesitation we knew exactly what to do, where to go, and how to make the day as productive as possible.

This is a lesson that is easy to forget in the nonmovie world because in most businesses there is a lot more flexibility on a day-to-day basis than there is on a movie set. You may be under pressure to meet a monthly or quarterly goal, but what about losing sunlight before all the necessary pages are shot in a location you absolutely, positively can never return to after the end of the day? Movies function day to day, and that fosters a discipline that would be beneficial to apply to any business. Every day on set must contribute to the end-goal of a finished film.

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Get Ready for a Super Time at Florida Supercon!

 

It’s Supercon time! On July 12-15, 2018 Supercon returns to the Broward County Convention Center, which is literally in my backyard, just a few minutes from my home. So how could I not take advantage of this great opportunity to promote my book to avid pop-culture fans!

I’ll be selling and signing books at Booth 735 all four days of the show. Also, on Saturday, July 14th at 1:00 pm I’ll be giving a presentation in Room 304 sharing some of the business and marketing lessons I learned working for Troma that have helped guide my career from B-movies to the C-suite!

During Jeff Sass’ 7-year tenure in Tromaville he worked on classics including TROMA’S WAR, TOXIC AVENGER II & III, CLASS OF NUKE’EM HIGH II & III, he co-wrote SGT. KABUKIMAN, NYPD and he was instrumental in the creation and launch of THE TOXIC CRUSADERS cartoon series and merchandise. In this entertaining and educational talk, Jeff shares the lessons he learned making Troma movies that have helped him throughout his career as a tech entrepreneur and CMO – lessons that you too can apply to your career. Fun Fact: When Jeff left Troma in 1994, they hired James Gunn to replace him…

(By, the way, I offer a customized version of this presentation as a free webinar for businesses that purchase 12 or more copies of the book  – contact me for more information).

If you are in South Florida and love movies, comics, cosplay and pop-culture you should definitely make your way to Supercon. It is an awesome event, with costumes, celebrities, tons of great products and merchandise, and great content sessions every day. Organizers Mike Broder and Sandy Martin and their team run an amazing show!

And if you do attend, please be sure to stop by Booth 735 and say hello!

 

 

Chapter 18: Playing By The Rules

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 18 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, we take a look at the importance of having some basic rules as a way of aligning your team. 

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 ,89101112131415, 16 and 17. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

Chapter 18: Playing By The Rules

By now you may be thinking that things were fairly loosey-goosey in Tromaville, with inexperienced young lads and lasses running wild and wreaking havoc. You would be mostly correct. In truth, while there were certainly some wild and crazy times (and even more wild and crazy characters and personalities), much of the working of the Troma machine was actually quite well-oiled. There were processes and procedures, and there were rules. In particular, there were the “Rules of Production.”

On every Troma movie set, in numerous, highly visible locations, the following sign was always posted:

Rules of Production:

1. Safety to people
2. Safety to property
3. Make a good film!

This was key. This was important. These were the rules Troma lived by on set, and at any given moment, Lloyd could walk up to a member of the cast or crew and quiz them on these three simple rules, and they had better know them. When it came to setiquette (etiquette on the set), the Troma Team was very clear on their priorities. A film set can be a dangerous place. There are lights, there are cameras, and there is action—big heavy things that can fall on people, miles of cables and electrical cords strewn about, vehicles, explosives, and lots of people around. A lot can go wrong. A lot does go wrong. It is a tribute to the dedication to these three “rules of production” that in over forty years and dozens of productions, Troma has a solid record and reputation when it comes to safety.

Safety to people is the number one priority. Safety to property is second. We were grateful for the fair deals we received on the equipment we borrowed or rented. We were forever grateful for the folks who generously let us use their homes and businesses as sets and locations for filming. The least we could do was to respect their property and do all we could to leave it in the same condition it was in when we arrived (which, frankly, was often no small task).

Finally, the third rule was to “make a good film” and in practice, if you paid attention to the first two rules, you were far more likely to succeed on the third.

These were good lessons in focus and culture. While a Troma film set consisted of a wild and varied sampling of human existence, a seemingly random collection of delightfully disparate souls, the one thing that they all had to have in common was respect for and adherence to the “Rules of Production.” Anyone who could not live up to these three simple concepts did not belong (and did not last long).

While in some cases, rules can be restrictive, when they are simple, direct, and core to your objective, a few good rules can help bind your team together and help keep things moving forward in a positive way. If it can work for Troma, it can work for you.

What are your business’s “rules of production”?

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Chapter 17: Always Salute the Schwag!

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 17 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, we take a look at the importance of always carrying… not weapon, but rather, marketing materials – SCHWAG! What do you think?

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 ,89101112131415 and 16. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

Chapter 17: Always Salute the Schwag!

“I pledge allegiance to the schwag…of the United States of Tromaville.” As part of the Troma Team, I quickly learned the power of “schwag” and the importance of always “carrying.” In this instance carrying did not mean a concealed weapon, although one could argue that good schwag is an excellent sales and marketing weapon. In Tromaville carrying meant you were always equipped with a supply of stuff—stickers, flyers, T-shirts—schwag. Your briefcase was full of the stuff. If you owned a car, your trunk was full of the stuff. If you carried a purse or murse*, your purse or murse was full of the stuff. While representing the Troma Team, you never walked into a meeting empty-handed. You always had your schwag at the ready. Schwag sells.

There’s a reason printed paper flyers were called “sell sheets” in the movie business. They were also called “slicks,” perhaps because the slicker they were, the better they sold. For every movie in the Troma library, having a great key art image that became the basis of the poster, and then the smaller sell sheets was essential. As essential as having a good trailer. Arguably far more essential than having a good movie. Back in the day, especially in the realm of international film distribution, the sale (technically, the licensing) of a film for distribution to a small foreign market was often concluded based on the sell sheet and trailer alone, many times long before the film in question had actually been completed (or in some cases, even started). We were selling the dream. Selling the outcome. And schwag helped.

Like trusty Boy and Girl Scouts, always carrying schwag meant you were always prepared. You never knew when you’d have the opportunity to leave behind that flyer for Curse of the Cannibal Confederates or that gorgeous green “I love Toxie” sticker. And then there were the T-shirts. Especially the T-shirts. We would print bright-red (and sometimes yellow) “I made the Troma Team” T-shirts by the hundreds. They were inexpensive thin cotton tees with a big Troma logo on them, and people loved them. When it came to production time, our “I-Made-the-Troma-Team” tees were like a liquid currency. They were our beads, our wampum, our bitcoin, and often our savior. It is amazing what regular unassuming humans will do or give up in exchange for a free T-shirt.

When scouting for locations, popping open the car trunk and tossing a couple of T-shirts to the owner of the property you are begging to trample and defame was often the tipping point that sealed the deal. When casting dozens of background actors (we never had extras…always “background actors”) to fill a scene, hordes of fans would stand for long grueling days, all for a stale bagel at seven in the morning and a Troma T-shirt when they left at the end of the day, often past midnight.

When making a movie, especially a low-budget independent movie, there are 1,000 things that can go wrong at any moment. Giving someone a free T-shirt can solve 937 of them.

As proof that the Troma Team always carries (schwag) wherever they go, I will share a story that Hertz. Not Herz as in Michael Herz, Lloyd’s partner in cinematic crime and Troma co-founder, but rather Hertz as in the car rental company that doesn’t quite try as hard as Avis. Many years after I emigrated from Tromaville, I was in Los Angeles on business, and I rented a car there. At one point while navigating my way through the torturous traffic that is synonymous with driving in LA, I stopped short at a light, my unpracticed foot a bit heavy on the brakes of the unfamiliar vehicle. As I screeched to a sudden stop, a sudden mess of papers and folders slid out from under the driver’s seat. I looked down, and lo and behold, my feet were surrounded by Troma schwag—flyers, stickers, press kits, and the like. It was literally a blast from the past.

I laughed, and at the first opportunity, I called Lloyd asking him if he had recently been in LA. “I just got back last night,” he replied. “How did you know?”

“Did you rent a car there?” I queried.

“Of course, I did; it’s LA,” said Lloyd. (This was years ago, before the invasion of Uber).

“Well, I think I rented the same car you were driving. You left your schwag under the front seat!”

Yep. He did. Schwag rules.

*A “murse” is a man-purse, carried by a man, just as a “manzier” is a brazier worn by a man. Watch Seinfeld reruns for more details.

Chapter 16: Repurpose, On Purpose

Greetings from Tromaville! Here is Chapter 16 from my book, Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER. In this chapter, we take a look at Troma’s take on “content marketing.” What do you think?

If you haven’t done so already, you can read the Foreword by Troma co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, and the Introduction to the book as well as Chapter 12345 and 67 ,891011121314 and 15. You can also see me read a few chapters live, along with Lloyd and Toxie, at Florida Supercon as well as a few chapters I read on Facebook Live. Stay tuned for additional chapters to be published here. If you like what you read and can’t wait for more, please don’t be shy. You can buy the book now on Amazon (and also please don’t be shy about sharing, and reviewing the book when you do read it.) Both Toxie and I greatly appreciate your support! – Jeff Sass

 

Chapter 16: Repurpose, On Purpose

As stunts go, we did some amazing ones at Troma, and the best of them, like the dramatic (and now infamous) “car flip” have been used and reused in countless Troma movies. Shot one quiet afternoon on the back streets of Hoboken, New Jersey, while costly and complicated to shoot, the “car flip” has perhaps become the most cost-effective bit of film ever shot by the Troma Team (when amortized across the vast number of subsequent films the same sequence has appeared in). Why not? It’s a great stunt, even the seventeenth time you see it. Like a fine wine, it gets fermented—er, I mean better—with age. Like the pestering of a wild and crazy two-year-old toddler, with repetition, it becomes less annoying and cuter. Like a pimple that, after it won’t go away for nine months, reinvents itself as a beauty mark. You get the idea.

Of course, in the case of Troma, given the cult and culture of the rabid fan base, repurposing a stunt or scene across multiple movies turns into a welcome wink to the knowing film fan who can spot the repeated spot. So not only does the cloned scene save time and money, it becomes an Easter egg that delights eagle-eyed fans who are paying close attention—a double whammy win for the Troma Team.

What content can you wisely repurpose for your purposes? Do you have anything that can double as an Easter egg to charm your customers?

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