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Creative Inspiration

Weeks are for work. Weekends are for personal enrichment. Maybe that enrichment is biking, skiing, cooking, cleaning (really?!), hiking, reading, going to the movies or theater, or whatever floats your boat. For me, it is keeping a collection of inspiring activities at the ready so when the moment strikes, I have no shortage of ways to stimulate my mind.

This particular weekend is supposed to be icy cold - nothing out of the ordinary in New England, but with a lot of travel coming up I think I'll lay low, watch some inspiring media and exercise the parts of my brain that are dormant during the conference calls, spreadsheets and HR tasks during the week (more on all of these important subjects in another entry!).

Here's a still life of my options - in high school art class we would have had to paint this, but that's because we didn't have digital cameras in 1988!:

I won't go through every item, as some of these books I have not read yet. Over the past year as I spent countless hours waiting for connections at such hubs of international travel as Charlotte, Nashville, Midway and Denver airports, I found myself in one bookstore after another. They all have displays of self-help and business books. I have gotten into the habit of snapping a picture with my phone of any book I'd like to read, then looking online for a better price. Airports are about the most expensive place to buy anything. Well looking at reviews often convinces me that what is on display isn't always worth the paper it is printed on, but through blogs and podcasts I discover other resources.

One interesting choice is "642 Things to Draw." This book simply has blank pages with descriptions of pictures I can draw. Sure I could have a sketchbook but it is sometimes ok to have a little nudge to move the brain where it might not normally go. And no cheating - if you don't know what an antelope or a violin looks like you have to guess. You should see the chainsaw I drew!

Clay Shirky's book has gotten a lot of press and one I am looking forward to. Not shown is "The Accidental Creative" which I have read a few times and passed along to another person in need of some work/life balance.

"The Writer's Journey. was recommended by a screenplay seminar instructor I met here in CT, and is a good review of the hero's journey as used by countless writers of both books and movies. Once you read it you say to yourself, "aha, George Lucas thinks he's clever doesn't he!" But in reality, as I formulate stories for half-written screenplays it is a handy reference.

In the lower right, speaking of King George, is "Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution." This is one of my all time favorite reads.

The book starts with a concise but useful story of Lucas, Copolla and the breakout from Hollywood of these two filmmakers, the creation of ILM, eventually of Pixar and early digital animation, nonlinear editing up to more recent advances in CGI, and how Lucas was driving a lot of the innovation. Yeah we all know this right? But this book is full of anecdotes and a look back at how some of our favorite films were made. On my recent trip to San Francisco I went looking for the warehouse that housed the original American Zoetrope studios, only to find a high-rise condominium tower. So much for historical preservation!

Here are a couple snapshots of the interior:

That's Ben Burtt doing sound effects editing on Star Wars in the basement of George Lucas' original home studio.

And here are some pioneers of the first CG animation:

And speaking of our favorite directors, while I don't subscribe, this anniversary edition of DGA quarterly has some great brief interviews with a host of directors:

Since Spielberg doesn't do DVD commentaries, this visual description of the Private Ryan opening sequence is a fascinating read:

The movies shown are three of my favorites for their technical mastery as well as their longevity. Each from a different era in filmmaking, each was innovative and a challenge to the filmmakers. How fitting that the current issue of Creative COW has Douglas Trumbull on the cover - a living legend of filmmaking innovation.

So why the food products? Digestive biscuits, tomato bisque and porridge are three comfort foods perfect for a cold wintry weekend spent feeding my mind - might as well feed my stomach too!

Well, thanks for reading...I've got some reading of my own to do!

Mike Cohen

PS - at least one other member of my household is interested in my copy of Creative COW magazine - get your own!

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jan 13, 2012 at 6:51:51 pmComments (3) creativity, filmmaking

The Other Mike Cohen

In other words, this is a blog where I talk about nothing to do with Media Production or Project Management. But maybe there are still some business and/or creative lessons to be inferred from what I do to unwind...

You see, a few weeks ago, my wife reminded me that I had not taken a vacation yet in 2009. So I did what all husbands should do..I listened to my wife and took the week off.

Business lesson 1: Listen to those you care about, as they likely care about you too.

I set out an ambitious agenda for myself. I need some structure and I bore easily. On most vacations I get what my Dad calls "schpulkes." My wife knows this too, so on day one of my vacation when I declared "I've sat around the house for 3 hours. Not that I don't like hanging out with you, but I'm going to the movies. Is that ok?" Of course.

Business lesson 2: Ask permission even when you know the answer. In other words, show common courtesy and don't get complacent.

I went to my local multiplex, approx. 2 miles from home, to see District 9. Holy COW, what an amazing accomplishment. So many sci-fi movies have tried to have action and a good story and failed. This one succeeded on all levels and was made on a shoestring. I wouldn't mind shooting a sci-fi movie on the same shoestring budget, by the way. Peter Jackson, I am waiting for your call.

Business lesson 3: Appreciate the work of others and find inspiration.

Speaking of shooting my own sci-fi film, I am on about page 20 of the first draft of a short film I hope to shoot next Summer. That ought to be good for a dozen or so blog posts!

Business lesson 4: Always be thinking of the next big thing.

So that was Saturday.

Sunday was garage cleanup day. Living in a 2 bedroom townhouse style condo, my basement is especially small, so the one-car garage holds the overflow. Generally I only garage my car between Nov and April. In the intervening months it goes to seed. I should have taken before and after pictures, but after about 4 hours I had dismantled a few shelving units, disposed of numerous dead rodents and organized my collection of digging, cutting and chopping implements. Still to sort our is the back half of the garage. Something tells me those cherished notebooks from 9th grade geometry are not as interesting to look at as I remember.

The result, so far, is not too bad.

Business lesson 5: Stay organized. Cut the clutter.

Monday, Labor Day.

Went for a brief bike ride, just around my condo complex. One thing I did not do well this Summer was stay in physical shape. Well, no time like the present to get back on the horse. My wife and I devised a new diet for ourselves, better managing our calorie, carb, fat and protein intake per day based upon recommendations for our target weights and activity levels. Like any project, I setup an Excel spreadsheet to automatically tally the numbers. Day 1, fish. Day 2, chicken. Day 3, beef. Rinse and repeat.

Business lesson 6: Manage your data and use this data to help you meet your goals. Also, take care of your self physically.

Tuesday, Budget Day.

Over the past 8 months, my wife and I have seriously revised how we keep our books. For a while, in order to track our expenses, we entered into Excel not just every receipt from every purchase, but each item purchased. I can tell you exactly how much we spent on fresh raspberries, red wine or DVD rentals. From this data we determined where the waste lives and managed to revise our monthly budget accordingly.

With the budget under control, we then created a spreadsheet listing all monthly expenses for a three month period, and then copied and pasted an average month out three years to project our cashflow for the near future. Such a document allows us to anticipate home improvements, vacations, debt to income ratio, major purchases and reserves.

Business lesson 7: Know where you stand and where you are going, and keep good records.

Wednesday, with many of the goals for the week wrapped up, I truly took the day off. I watched another 5 episodes of Lost Season 2. Just when I had given up on the crazy storyline it got interesting again. I will admit to fast forwarding through some of the flashbacks. We also watched a couple of movie DVDs. Crank 2...forgettable unfortunately. A few gratuitous fight scenes but not one of Statham's better action movies. Most interesting is the fact that this film was shot on HDV. And the film made clever use of text supers and music, almost like a comic book.

We also finished season 2 of the BBC series Skins - a show about the outrageous social lives of a group of college kids in Bristol, UK. Lots of partial nudity and drug use, perfect for teen audiences! Seriously, all of the characters have some family or personal breakdown and the young actors all do a great job. Season 3 has a new cast and is, alas, not as interesting, and highly edited for American tv - not good BBC.

Business lesson 8: Have fun. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Thursday - A Fine Day Out!

Today we took a ride along Connecticut's shoreline, from New Haven to Old Saybrook. We stopped at a bead shop so my wife could stock up on some supplies for a few projects. Next we found a gourmet grocery store/farm stand and had a browse around. Many tempting treats but, oh, our diet...bah. Finally, after a quick picnic in the car we hit Hammonasett State Beach, walked along the boardwalk briefly and took in some salty air. When we first started dating we did some camping next to this beach, ate lobsters and generally fell in love. Nice.

Business lesson 9: Get outside and enjoy the nice weather. The same goes for the work day. If you are sitting at your computer for hours at a time, take five minutes and walk outside. It does you good.

Friday - more relaxing.


Shopping for the week, Costco, BJ's Target - all my favorite stores.

Business lesson 10: Know how much things cost and go for the best value. After all your most important customer is yourself. Remember your bottom line. And if you are on a diet, remember your waist line.


Planted some Spring bulbs in the garden and trimmed some overgrown trees and shrubs. Did some laundry and made a to do list for the very busy week ahead.

Business lesson 11: Put your best foot forward. Appearance is important. Plan ahead and anticipate what is to come.


I know what you're thinking...geez man, take a vacation. This was a nice vacation and I only now post-operatively have come up with these business lessons.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 14, 2009 at 1:53:31 pm business, philosophy, vacation, filmmaking, gardening

I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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