Fraud Police

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The author Neil Gaiman, in a wonderful commencement speech talks about the Fraud Police. It appears around 7 minutes into this video.

The Fraud Police is an establishment that regularly hounds an artist threatening to expose his/her claim of being an arts practitioner. Once the Fraud Police catches up with them, they will lift the veil on the artist’s lie and the whole world will see them for the charlatan they really are.

But of course, this Enforcement Authority resides entirely in the artist’s head. They are 100% a work of imagination. And yet, they are every bit as real and as the tax office or the Social Services. I cannot think of a single artist friend who has never doubted his/her ability and often rely on external reiteration for what they do.

Am I good enough? Can I call myself an artist and get away with it? Am I creative? Does my work matter? Will I be found out? Such feelings of uncertainty is something every creative has to grapple with on an on-going basis.

The other day I was at a meeting and someone pointed in my direction and said something about a ‘film-maker’, I turned around and asked ‘who is that?’. And they replied, pointing to me, ‘you, that’s who’. My instinctive reaction was to say, ‘no, not me. I am just…you know…someone who points and shoots. Don’t take me seriously’. Instead I found myself sheepishly accepting that that I dabble in films and was inwardly relieved that I had pulled the wool over one more person’s eyes.

This feeling of being a fake is something that I have learnt to contend with. It does tend to fade away as I I am doing more and more work. And the work speaks for me. The fear however, resurfaces during quieter times and I walk around  expecting to be unmasked at any given moment. I dread that knock on the door and a voice through the letter box shouting, ‘Open up, open up, it’s the Fraud Police!’. And I will give myself up, surrender abjectly to authority, without so much as a token of protest.


The Price Of Loose Comments

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At a recent networking meeting, one of the members, while giving a referral to another said this (and I paraphrase) – ‘I am still trying to convince my wife about your services. A kick and a few blows and she will be come around to it’.

There was a fleeting moment of shock and a few sharp breaths around the room as soon as the words were uttered. But that quickly gave way to nervous titters before we (mercifully!) moved on to the next person.

Clearly the remark was made in jest and intended as such. It is the sort of comment that might get made while out for drinks with one’s mates at a pub. But was it appropriate to say it while simultaneously trying to sell one’s services?

These back chats and comebacks often say more about the person than their carefully constructed sales spiels. Did a throw away line like the one above warm me towards the person saying it? Only in the same way as one would be charmed by a blood hound that has has just snarled at me. Was I likely to refer his services? Not remotely.

In the few weeks since the wisecrack, I have forgotten the gentleman’s name and his business, but I can very nearly quote him verbatim. And that cannot be a good thing.


Content And Context

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One of the first questions I ask clients and potential clients when discussing a promotional video is, ‘where is it going to be shown?’ and ‘who is it for?’. The answers to these questions I believe, will inform all the subsequent decisions I make.

The importance of these questions was brought home to me recently when I was at a shoot with a group of 11-13 year old girls. The objective of the film was to find out how the young people accessed healthcare and get their wide-ranging opinions on it so it can be better delivered and improved upon. I was there simply to assist with the filming which was done by someone else.

Off camera, the girls seemed a lively bunch who had little hesitation in voicing their opinion. However, when they saw the set up for the shoot – three lights, a green screen and a bar stool on which they had to perch while being fired questions about whether they felt uncomfortable asking a male doctor about puberty – the girls froze and began muttering how scared they felt while nudging each other to ‘go first’.

I was one of the two charged with interviewing the girls. And after a while, I suggested that I draw my stool closer while still remaining out of the frame, so I may lean in and converse with them. I don’t know if it did anything to ease the girls, but I was absolutely clear that if it were up to me, I would have given the girls a camcorder each while they filmed each other talking about doctors, nurses, periods and the like.

You see, in this case, the framing or the lighting did not matter in the least. What was crucial was the girls’ opinion on something important and how that fed back to those who made decisions on their behalf.

On a related thought, at the moment I am reading a book (more about which in another blog post) which refers to the following video of virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell playing busker in Washington Metro during rush hour and how few people stop to listen to his exquisite music.

The author mentions how important context is to any art. And how during peak hour traffic when people are rushing to get to work (Joshua Bell played in a business district of the city), it is natural they will not be appreciative of any piece of art – however remarkable it is.

Similarly, a gorgeous looking film whose subjects are tongue-tied and one which does not communicate what it sets out to, is a non-starter in my opinion.


Wowed At WOW

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I spent the last weekend at the Women Of The World Festival at Southbank Centre in London. The festival in its fifth year, draws together a diverse range of experts and opinions from all over the world on issues affecting women. In just two days, I managed to attend discussions on everything from teenagers and pornography to reflections on sexist portrayal of women in underwear adverts.

Along the way I listened to the first ever British Muslim female boxer (whose vest and shorts boxing uniform had to be approved by her local Imam), to an Iraqi MP and her heartwrenching plea on behalf of the Yazidis who were facing imminent slaughter in the hands of the Isis, to the playwright Eve Ensler whose keynote address ended with the packed Festival Hall dancing in the aisles, to a gospel choir who belted out rousing anthems, to a group of refugees who used theatre as a tool to heal their trauma and to many, many more triggers of thoughts.

I recalled both my grandmothers who died at childbirth (one trying not to have a 6th and the other from complications after a 10th baby) and who were long dead before they got my age. I marveled at how much beyond recognition my life is to their own short-lived years. And I thanked all those who had beavered away, making small acts of protest, quiet actions of non-conformity that have gradually made way for the relative equality of women in the Western world where I live.

The West is but a small area in a world where in several parts to be a woman still means to live in perennial peril. And we have a long, long way to go before women can walk on par with men. Events like WOW remind me just how much a part of a larger continuum I am and how important it is to turn the wheel that will set in motion larger, more permanent changes which will ensure a fairer and a more equal world.


Ladies Special

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When I was living in India, we used to have what is called ‘Ladies Special’ buses. These public transport buses would ply mainly during peak hours to serve the women commuters. I assume these were introduced mainly to protect the women from potential harassment from their fellow male passengers while being squished against them at rush hours. Variations of these include ladies compartment in local trains in Mumbai and ladies coupe on National trains that crisscross India.

I was reminded of these buses segregated on gender lines while attending a women-only networking group the other day. It was a pleasant enough group which offered some very interesting prospects for me in terms of work. However, I did wonder about the reasoning behind such a business networking group.

If it is to create a warm and supportive environment for small and micro entrepreneurs, does it need to be exclusive to women? Isn’t it a little patronising to think that a mixed group may not be capable of doing that?

You might argue that very often it is the women that take a career break to have children and many returning to work often choose to go down the entrepreneurial route  (I don’t have any statistic to back this claim, it is merely an observation).  And for this group of entrepreneurs (I distinctly dislike the term mumpreneur), a women-only networking group will offer more a approachable, less intimidating option to one which includes say, men in suits who are tax advisers (stereotype alert!).

Honestly, I am little torn. I have often heard women-only business groups being dismissed as a hobby club not for anyone serious about their enterprise. However, I can also see the need for positive discrimination in gender-specific business networking. But I fear that it encourages division and perpetuates a stereotype.

What are your thoughts on this issue?


Small Budget Videos

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In this series of blogs, I will explore ways in which you can shoot good quality videos with small camcorders or even iphone. There are a few handy tips to bear in mind which will ensure that your video quality is good and effective as a communication tool.

On a related note, I will share with you a clip where very wonderful film-maker Werner Herzog urges those that want to make film to, “work as a bouncer in a sex club, work as a taxi driver, work as a butcher somewhere and you earn that money and make your own film. There really is no excuse for anyone who wants to make films…to make your films”

Herzog’s exhortations begin at around 1.11

A small budget should not interfere with creating good content. Over the next weeks I will show you what I mean.


A Most Unlikely Network

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Bisham AbbeyOf all the places I go to network, the one in a now-disused monastery dating back to the 12th century on the banks of the Thames has to be the most distinguished. Every month, Bisham chapter of Business Biscotti meet at the gorgeous Bisham Abbey. So while a motley crowd of graphic designers and solicitors and marketing consultants gather to exchange cards and politely wonder about each other’s business, all the time sipping coffee and munching on the eponymous biscotti, I cannot but wonder what the monks of yore would have thought about our pursuits.

Would they have approved of it? Frowned upon our interminglings? Or would have nodded in our direction, raised an eyebrow at our heathen purposes and carried on with their own higher calling? I look up at the vaulted ceilings and then down at my cup of tea growing cold in my hand. My biscotti is as yet unmunched and my card remains resolutely heavy my pocket. I dunk the biscuit, drown the drink, fish out the card and go find the next person in the room to ask, ‘so, what do you do?’.



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One of my short promos was screened on the big screen recently. And I approached the screening with great trepidation. I was worried that every minor flaw, every slight mistake would be amplified and become more apparent.

before screening

I realised that my own fears were a bit unfounded when afterwards I had a fair few telling me that I had done a good job. It goes without telling that many of us are far too self-critical of our work, rarely allowing us the necessary credit where it is due.

It is just as important to acknowledge good work when you see it, even if it is your own. Especially when it’s your own.


The Importance Of Saying No

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This week’s lesson was in the art of saying no politely and assertively.

Recently I was asked if I could do more work for the same price I had quoted and I had to decline the opportunity. It took me a week to come to the decision but when I played back in my mind, the conversation from my meeting, I felt that it was decidedly lopsided against me. I had no bargaining power and my requests to meet in the middle ground were I felt, not considered.

So I left the meeting requesting for some time to mull it over. I wrote down the pros and cons of accepting a compromised job offer. I wondered if I would end up doing more (much more) than what was asked of me as I would not have been able to send a less-than-satisfactory piece of work to the client. I would not have been able to draw a line and say ‘Okay, that’s it. That’s enough work for the money I am getting paid’. I would have tried and tried harder.

But was I fool to turn down work at this stage given that this was a repeat client? After all, it could have opened more door and added to my portfolio of work. Isn’t that crucial too? Perhaps.

In the end I decided that I cannot sell my services short and it was not an easy decision to take. But I certain it was the right thing to do.