Planning a short film

When things start coming together, you can feel it. It's special. I said it best before:

Bringing a team together is an exciting and challenging experience, especially in the realm no-budget filmmaking. These are people that are passionate about their craft and like your idea enough to dedicate all of their energy to it. Magic is the only way to describe it.

That's the stage I find myself in right now, as I plan my next narrative short. Once a couple more puzzle pieces snap into place, I'll spill some details.

Making the cut

I used to make at least one short film a year. A combination living in California and having two kids has slowed things to a halt over the last year and a half. You might be thinking, "What are you saying? You live in Los Angeles and it's harder to make movies?!" Yep, pretty much. Out here, things are much more structured. On one hand, that's good. Because there are so many talented people here, you have an endless supply of collaborators and potential opportunity. But it also means, for most projects, you have to deal with things like permits and a whole bunch of other logistics that make it really tough to make little movies for fun with some friends.

Anyway, that all changes now. 

I'm going to make two short films by the end of the year. Think of the second film as making up for last year. And I'm going to be able to pursue these projects thanks to Big Cartel's Art Grant. They help with funding (and making me feel a sense of accountability), and I get to focus on the art. Yeah, it is as great as it sounds.

I'm going to produce and direct a narrative short. I'm pretty much set on a script, written by an old friend from Ohio, and I'll have more info to share soon. It's unlike anything I've done before, so that has me really excited.

Alongside that, I'm going to make a short documentary. Using only my iPhone. I want to shoot this as a reminder that something great doesn't need all the most expensive gear, a large crew, or tons of resources. Sean Dunne's TRUMP RALLY reignited that fire in me to make  a lot with a little. Sean Baker's Tangerine and Park Chan-wook's Night Fishing are two narrative films shot on iPhone that also inspired me to go after this idea (although those two had budgets in the six figures).

Initially, my plan is to do pre-production, production, and post at the same time for both films. I think it'll be an interesting way to contrast the two approaches, and to see what I get out of each. It may turn out too difficult to plan and execute two projects at the same time, so I may realize that was a terrible idea and change it up. Either way, I'll finish both films by the end of 2016. Promise.

I'll be sharing thoughts, pictures, and more here as the projects develop.

The best Canon lenses you should buy

I've previously written about what lenses you should buy to build out your kit, and I only have one addition I'd make to that list today: the Canon 24-105mm f/4L (Amazon affiliate link). Although its low-light capabilities are lacking, it's super versatile, and with the built-in image stabilization, it can be more useful than the 24-70mm f/2.8 in some cases.

Recently browsing through The Wirecutter–a site I respect and trust for their in-depth reviews and emphasis on quality over junk–I was reminded of a comment I left three years ago. It was on a review titled, "The First Canon Lenses You Should Buy." Since that list remains mostly unchanged three years later, I thought it was a good idea to republish my comment here. Hopefully this finds people who aren't sure about what lenses to buy.

The following has been edited only slightly for context and clarity.

I was really surprised by the recommendations in this article. I'll preface my comment by saying I don't shoot photos, only video, but I shoot video exclusively on Canon DSLRs. I shoot with a 5D Mark III, 7D, 60D, and T2i. That said...

When people ask for lens recommendations, I always say: Don't throw away money on cheap or "passable" lenses. I would never tell someone to go buy a 5D Mark III and throw a 50mm f/1.8 on there.

Lenses can move from camera to camera. If you take care of a lens it can last a lifetime. A camera body will be replaced in what, 5 years? 3 years? For most purposes, you're better off starting with a cheaper body–a used T2i is (still!) a great buy–and then get the 50mm f/1.4. The 50mm will be a great lens even if you move up to a 5D in a few years.

On a crop sensor body, you also may be better off (depending on your needs) to get a 28mm or 30mm from Canon or Sigma. These are also generally in the $300-400 range and will give you an image closer to a "true" 50mm on a crop body.

The 70-200 seems like overkill for this type of list. You should at least be comfortable with the camera before dropping $1000 on a lens. For that price range though, pick up an older model 70-200 f/2.8L or the 135 2.0L (a beauty of a lens that's often overlooked). The point being, put the money into a lens you're sure you'll use (and love) for years. Not something just so you can have a full kit.

The 100mm macro is a very nice lens, but unless you specifically need the macro capabilities, an alternative there would be the 85mm f/1.8. Another great lens that is sometimes under the radar.

Whatever lens you go with, the advice I try to ram into everyone's head is to look at your lenses as an investment. Camera bodies will be replaced. Spend the extra money (or save until you can afford it) for a lens that will last you a long time.

I will say I like the recommendation of using the 50mm f/1.8 as a relatively cheap way to find out what focal length you like. Good call.

Three ways to begin fixing Silicon Valley's 'pipeline' problem

Originally published on USA TODAY on July 16, 2015.

There's a lot of talk about the "pipeline" as the root cause for technology's lack of diversity—the idea that women and minorities aren't seeking out relevant education, therefore they cannot be hired for technical or executive jobs.

This ignores the fact that the lack of diversity in non-technical roles like administration and sales mirrors a shortfall in technical positions in Silicon Valley. Further evidence shows that current diverse candidates graduating with technical degrees are still not seeing the wealth of opportunities that the technology industry promises.

As Elizabeth Weise and Jessica Guynn of USA TODAY pointed out last fall:

On average, just 2% of technology workers at seven Silicon Valley companies that have released staffing numbers are black; 3% are Hispanic.
But last year, 4.5% of all new recipients of bachelor's degrees in computer science or computer engineering from prestigious research universities were African American, and 6.5% were Hispanic, according to data from the Computing Research Association.

I might work with computers for a living, but I'm pretty sure a pipeline only works when it's used at both ends.

Let's make something clear—when we talk about roadblocks to diversity today, rarely are we pointing to overt bias and discrimination. The issues plaguing Silicon Valley are often subtle practices and biases that snowball into a major imbalance. But I truly believe it's not hard to commit to diversity.

Any expenses to implement better practices will pale in comparison to the long-term financial gain—that is, if simply committing to diversity because it's the right thing to do isn't enough.

If you're a CEO, hiring manager, or decision maker at your company and you'd like to do your part, here are three ways to get serious about diversity.

END EMPLOYEE REFERRAL PROGRAMS

By doing this, you're instantly considering a more diverse pool of applicants.

This is especially important if you offer a bonus to employees for referrals. Take those funds and cover relocation expenses for new hires. If you already reimburse moving costs, now you're saving money!

Current employees who enjoy the bonus might not like this change. The good news is that diverse teams perform better, so you can give those well-performing teams a year-end bonus instead.

You could also find better ways to improve employee life by diverting that money into programs for a quality family leave policy and flexible paid time off.

START A RESIDENCY PROGRAM

Women and minority candidates from schools already tapped into the Silicon Valley pipeline are going without jobs, as the stats above show. This could be for a number of reasons—lacking a network for referrals, inability to afford internships or temporary positions, or unconscious bias. Perhaps the worst example of such bias is that people with stereotypically black names were 50% less likely to be called back for an interview.

Whatever the reason, there's a tested solution to help increase your employee headcount with quality workers: Take a cue from the medical field and start a residency program.

This is a low-risk move that allows companies to hire people that might otherwise be passed over for a perceived (or real) lack of experience. Now you have no excuses.

Train residents for a six to 12-month period while they work on small projects within the company. After completing the residency program, transition these employees to full-time roles.

These programs should be run largely by women and minorities in effort to provide all new residents with multiple examples of traditionally underrepresented people in leadership positions.

If you really care about hiring people from all walks of life, dedicate a large portion of these resident positions to candidates from outside Silicon Valley.

LISTEN TO US

There's no shortage of people doing their best to speak up. Yet, what I see time and time again is a dismissal of these people's experiences or qualifications, including my own.

"You must have been under qualified," or "I'm a white guy and I've experienced that too, so it's not a problem," or "Get over yourself," are common retorts that reinforce the status quo of Silicon Valley's  meritocracy myth.

There's a constant effort to silence the voices of people who can see blindspots where others cannot. It's easy to ignore these situations when it doesn't affect you personally, but that doesn't make it the right thing to do.

Addressing Silicon Valley's lack of diversity truly starts by listening to the stories we are trying to tell you. If you ignore us, if you think you know better than us about how to develop an inclusive environment, if you think you can uncover the "real" reason why we aren't getting hired at the rates we deserve:

You are wrong.

Sharing our experiences does not invalidate your own. So just listen.

Listening leads to empathy. Empathy leads to building a better culture.

Doesn't that sound great?

It’s not enough to keep saying Silicon Valley has a diversity problem—we have to get specific

Originally published on Quartz on June 29, 2015.

If we continue saying “Silicon Valley has a diversity problem” without getting specific, how will we ever know what to address?

When I published a post on Medium about my experiences as a black male looking for a job in Silicon Valley, the last thing I expected was for it to get as much attention as it did. It’s not a secret that Silicon Valley has serious issues with diversity—Facebook’s recently-released diversity report proves that hiring practices still have a very long way to go. But the response to my personal perspective on hiring discrimination is a reminder of just how much that issue continues to resonated with people from all walks of life. Indeed, many of the issues and anxieties that underrepresented people encounter are universal, as is the desire to address them.

Maybe it’s a parent expected to go out for drinks after work despite family obligations, or an LGBTQ person weighing an offer that provides unequal pay or benefits, or a person who realizes that their dream job is an impossibility given the prohibitive cost of moving to San Francisco. These are the people on the margins—forced out, or not let in at all. Diversity is important, but especially so in the corporate and tech world. It’s not a coincidence that diverse teams perform better.

When I criticize industry practices, I do so in the hopes that I will help further the conversation on technology’s diversity problem. To do this, we must continue to talk about the systems and mindsets that lead to such a homogeneous culture. Practices like relying on referrals for new hires, or offering unpaid internships and temporary contract positions might seem beneficial to a company’s bottom line, but in actuality they dramatically reduce and limit the pool of candidates for any job opening.

The good news is there are discernible strategies that could help. We can start by supporting underrepresented people, whether that’s monetarily or simply by considering whose voices we amplify on social media. When scheduling a conference, include speakers of all backgrounds, even if that means looking for experts outside of your network. If you don’t believe that’s possible, just look at conferences like AlterConfTech Inclusionand XOXO.

Honesty and transparency are essential. I still see many influential tech companies refusing to publicly acknowledging there’s a diversity gap at all. Reading something as simple as, “We know diversity in technology isn’t where it needs to be, and we want to fix that,” on a job posting goes a long way for candidates who notice the job’s employee page doesn’t feature any people who look like them.

We also need to examine hiring practices and benefits for evidence of hidden biases. If you’re willing to hire someone and pay a tech-industry salary, I have to believe that offering a small relocation credit is worth your long-term investment. (To me, that seems much more valuable than an in-office ping-pong table or fully stocked fridge.)

Finally, support your current employees. I’m able to speak up because I know my employer, Big Cartel, stands with me. I don’t have to worry that speaking out will negatively impact my employment status. But that’s not always the case. How many voices are quieted because they don’t have that privilege?

Right now, there are people in your company who care about this. Deeply. Ask yourself if there are ways to give them a platform. Extend an invitation to involve them in discussions about diversity if they’re interested. (If they’re not, respect that decision, too!) This is about opportunity equality for all. This is about building companies that better represent the diverse world we live in. The only way meaningful change will take place is if those underrepresented people are empowered to contribute to the conversation. That starts by those in positions of power — CEO’s, hiring managers, conference organizers — making diversity a priority, and not another checkbox.

Reading List 12

Done. I read 61 books this year.

December, 2015

Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose (Nicole Fenton, Kate Kiefer Lee) - A must have reference for anyone writing for the internet.

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (Seth Godin) - Insightful and useful, but this is the second Godin book I've read, and I feel like he builds and builds towards points that he ultimately doesn't make.

Currently reading

Fates and Furies (Lauren Groff)

Young Money (Kevin Roose)

Previously

One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven / Eight / Nine / Ten / Eleven

2016

Follow along with all my current reads and recommendations on Goodreads.