Don’t Follow The Herd

Robert Rodriguez has taken the idea of a hyphenated career to the extreme. His thoughts on creativity are insightful and inspiring. I first heard the the quote below in interview with Tim Ferriss, which I listened to as I climbed to the peak of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.


Rodriguez is a Writer – Producer – Director – Composer, a Renaissance Man for the modern day. His student film (shot on a budget of $7000) became the lowest-budget movie ever released by a major studio. As a writer – director, he didn’t wait to get approval to make his work the way everyone else did. Looking to expand the impact of his work he wanted to branch out into television. He didn’t do that the regular way either, as he explains below.


It’s good not to follow the herd. Go the other way. If everyone’s going that way, you go this other way. You’re gonna stumble, but you’re also gonna stumble upon an idea no one came up with….


That way, at least it’s a new frontier. I always found success by just going the opposite way.


There was too much competition over there. If everyone’s trying to get through that one little door, you’re in the wrong place.


Sometimes at a film festival when people ask, ‘How do we break in?’ I say, ‘The problem is you’re at a film festival. Nothing wrong with film festivals, but everyone else here is trying to get through that same door, and they’re not all going to fit.’


So you’ve got to think bigger than that. There’s less competition up there. I always wanted to get into TV, but instead of going and competing with everyone else trying to get in on 7 p.m. on NBC on a Friday night, [I decided to] own a network. You know how many people are trying to own a network? Nobody.


When that network I got, El Rey, was up for grabs, there were 100 other applicants. Now, that sounds like a lot. But out of the whole country, 100? Really? How many actually had a solid business plan and a vision of something that could be implemented? Probably 5. So you’re competing with the top 5 instead of the top 20,000 trying to get in on NBC on Friday or Saturday night. So I always say: ‘Try to look bigger….’

Robert Rodriguez

Quote from Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss


While I’ve written about waiting for the gatekeepers’ permission before, Rodriguez adds a great point. The crowd of people waiting to be granted access through the gate is large, and the gate itself is narrow.  You need the right combination of being patient, lucky and unique to get noticed in the first place.


You need to chart your own path.


By charting your own path and going around the gate, you reduce the competition in your field at the same time as you’re creating the interesting story of your extraordinary journey.


“There’s nothing wrong with festivals” and there are times when you benefit from having your work displayed alongside your peers’. Rodriguez’s breakthrough was when his student film El Mariachi was selected for the Sundance Film Festival. The film was remarkable for its $7000 budget, which he funded with payments for a clinical drug trial he participated in.


What aspect of your project, or the story behind it, is going to capture the imagination of your audience? What will help you stand out from the crowd of your colleagues and competitors?


What is your share of the upside?


By investing in his own cable tv network, Rodriguez has a platform that he can use to showcase his own work, and that of others. He has a channel to satisfy his current fans and to curate programming that continually builds his audience.


He now participates in more of the revenue streams associated with the film and media industry. Instead of being paid once for services rendered as a director or writer, he now participates in the ongoing profitability of his projects. He’s taken the common business model where the artist gets paid last (and often the least) and turned it upside down by reimagining his place in the supply chain. Rather than be a replaceable commodity (artist for hire), he now OWNS the market.


You and I might not be in the position to purchase our own television network today, but we have the capacity to launch and build our own (more modest) platform. Your website is the place where you can create and share your work today without having to wait for any other gatekeepers.


On your site, you OWN the gate.

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