The Gray Area of Perseverance
THINKING BIG — I got into production not because I wanted to get into entertainment, but because I wanted to tell the stories of entrepreneurs in the same way that VH1’s Driven, ESPN Outside the Lines and Bravo’s Inside the Actor’s studio brought to life the stories musicians, athletes and actors. I wanted to use the big screen to capture the passion, desire and unbelievable journey that is entrepreneurship. The idea was simple – create a TV show that profiled the country’s best entrepreneurs in a compelling and engaging way. Getting a show on television is by no means easy and one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced, but that is a story for another day. After a long and challenging path, we got ‘lucky’ and my partner, Ingrid Vanderveldt (iV), and I created a show called American Made that we pitched and landed on CNBC in a primetime slot on Thursday nights right after The Apprentice. The video clip near the end of this blog is for anyone that has ever had a BIG dream & wanted to give up at times (I’ve been more than a few times) — Keep dreaming, persevering and reaching – it will happen.
One of the core things I should mention is that we always knew it as a great idea, but didn’t have any TV experience on crafting a 48-minute long format show for primetime television or even any TV production experience. We had shot another production with another group, but that was done over a long period of time and were able to learn as we went (think lots of room for error & limited downside). It was shot on our own turf and with someone we knew that was extremely accommodating with his time and let us into his life for a number of days getting the footage we needed. Now we were playing in the big leagues with hi-profile people we didn’t know on the road and under tremendous time pressure to do it perfect each time and I’m thinking ‘yikes’ to myself daily.
28 MINUTES — After the euphoria of landing the show we frantically set about securing hi-profile guests to feature and bring credibility & interest the show. Keep in mind that people we were after have incredibly intense time schedules and were CEO’s/founders of big and/or public companies with a keen eye (or their PR teams do) for their brands. Then Boom – we landed a big fish and someone that is in the consumer mind every sip of the day – Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks and someone that has one of the busiest schedules I have ever seen. Howard has many people that coordinate his crazy schedule and we were helped by the fabulous May Kuthol, Communications Manager at Starbucks Corporation, who coordinated all interactions with Starbucks and with Howard for us and guided our team through everything in their Seattle based coffee empire (gotta love May).
We had about 10 days to plan the shoot in Seattle from Austin with the first scheduled interview with Howard and
Ingrid situated in Starbucks first ever Urban store on the west side of downtown Seattle. This was a great little shop in that it had been deliberately built in an semi-rundown area of downtown Seattle that was Starbucks effort to put stores in non-traditional areas help raise the profile of the area and stimulate business. The challenge for us on this first interview was that we only had 28 minutes which is nothing in the scope of production – especially in a public place with sound, lighting and people issues. You don’t fight things like this – you cherish the fact that you got the interview and work like crazy planning and preparing then hope and you pray you get what you need on the day (minutes) of the shoot.
LET’s TAKE A WALK — So many things happened leading up to that day where we almost didn’t make it (running out of money, disagreements with the network, schedule changes, etc. etc.), but we managed to stay alive long enough in our startup to get that far we were not going to let anything stop us from making our dream come true. We had a very long way to go in creating the entire first season, but it was this first interview that we had that brought it all home for me in terms of eliminating any doubt I had and getting me through the gray area of the unknown. When you watch this segment I think you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
The interview started on time (that was a miracle in and of itself) and Ingrid and Howard had a great exchange about how he came up with the idea, memorable experiences and key challenges he faced starting the coffee behemoth. The story of Starbucks is a very inspiring story in and of itself and Howard really can tell it extremely well. Howard is a VERY polished communicator and can deliver the same speech or pitch 20 times and it sounds fresh and from the heart each time. This remarkable skill really helps him stay on point and bring home the key messages for Starbucks and articulate his beliefs and learnings in a manner that captivates your attention every time. He covered a number of interesting and intriguing stories that I knew we needed to build the show and the story and I’m feeling pretty darn at that time.
Prior to this interview, we got to film one of the company’s shareholder meetings and in it Howard told this amazing story I like to call “Let’s take a Walk” – It is one of those stories that so many of us entrepreneurs can relate to or anyone that has been told to quit their chasing crazy dreams can sympathize with (and laugh at). As the interview went on iV wanted to get a little more personal with him and talk about that story because she knew that had to be one of those times in life where you are challenged at your core. It was at that moment that Howard opened up and shared something deep with us on camera that just blew us away. Roll Howard:
I’m standing next to my DP/cameraman Vance Holmes and we are just exchanging looks at each other and I’m watching the hairs on my arms stand straight up on my arms and I’m feeling the adrenaline start racing through my veins. That was it – that was the moment, what iV likes to call the Aha moment, where I knew we hit it and that we had truly created something special. It was like a wave of pure confidence and conviction swept over me that we had created an unbelievable product that people love and watch over and over and share and that would be inspired by. My eyes welled up with tears of joy because for anyone that truly knows what drives me is to inspire entrepreneurs through powerful storytelling and in that very moment and in that place, irregardless of all the incredible challenges we were facing, I saw our vision turn into reality.
WILLING IT SO — It is so hard to describe that feeling, but those of you who have create products, companies and art that were really phenomenal and you actually were able to turn that idea into something tangible know exactly what I’m referring to. His words were so eloquent and so spot on for me and exactly what I needed to hear because the next 4 months in creating and producing this show were some of the most challenging months of my entire life. There is no doubt that we willed this show to come to life. I’ll leave you with his quote as I have it in a small ‘goosebump’s notebook’ I keep and I refer to it every time I am on the brink and need that adrenaline to flow once again – to get me through it. I hope it might do the same for you one day.
“Sometimes the difference between winning and losing or success and failure is that gray area of perseverance and just ‘will’. I look back over the last 20 years and there were moments where we just willed it, we did, we just willed it to happen…”
Howard Schultz, Founder of Starbucks on the set of American Made – Seattle, WA