Put on a Gorilla Suit

(I first wrote about this many, many years ago, but today feels like a good day to share this story again)

Several years ago, the wife of the photographer who got me into the photo biz (the fabulous Stephen Webster) bought him the at-the-time newly (re)released original Planet of the Apes movies, which he desperately wanted, for a birthday present. She wanted to surprise him with it at a dinner they were going to have, with another couple, in a nice restaurant. The surprise wasn’t just the gift– it was that someone in a gorilla suit would deliver it during the meal. Sadly, she told me on the phone as we gabbed about the impending birthday, waiting for her husband to get out of the darkroom, the person she had lined up had bailed.

I immediately volunteered! I thought it was a great idea and she seemed stuck so, I thought, why not. It wasn’t until after I hung up that I thought, “Oh hell, what have I just agreed to do?! I’m going to look an idiot…”

Then, I thought some more and the old saying “in for a penny, in for a pound” popped in my head. I decided I would be the best gorilla I could be.

On the appointed day, I parked my car, put on that gorilla suit (I had already blacked out around my eyes to make sure he wouldn’t recognize me) grabbed the gift bag, and headed out.

(Yes, that really is me)

On a Saturday evening, in mid-July Columbus, Ohio heat and humidity, I gorilla’ed down a crowded neighborhood sidewalk, making ape noises at random people. I gorilla’ed into the restaurant, right past the maitre d’ (at whom I gorilla-hooted), and found the foursome.

Then the fun really started. I abused the poor victim and his wife and the other couple… but especially him. I pulled his hair, sniffed bits, put my fingers into his food, made lots of ape-ish noises, and even threw bread. Then, as magnificently as I could, I chucked the gift at the honoree, made very excited ape noises while beating my chest, and left, still gorilla-ing all the way back to my car, unrevealed.

The people in the place had laughed and stared and everyone had a great time. This was before ubiquitous cell phones so there are few photos and no videos, but the crowd seemed entertained.

The next Monday, at the studio, Steve excitedly told me the story of what had happened. He said how amazing the ape had been, how the person really pulled it off, and most of all that he couldn’t figure out who it was! I totally played along for hours.

He was stunned when, eventually, he found out it had been me. If I remember correctly, I had to make ape noises before he got it.

Why am I sharing this story? Because I was completely liberated by that suit. I could never imagine doing half what I did in my regular clothes, but wearing the costume, I could be the ape. Every time I have to do something I haven’t done before, as a lawyer, I remember putting on the gorilla suit.

I encourage you to do the same in your business. Play the role of the fabulous artist. Next time you have a one-on-one new client meeting or event where you might meet potential clients, wear fabulous clothes you wouldn’t normally wear, but that you imagine your professional hero would wear. Just go with it. Pretend you have confidence. Do this especially if you are normally shy and self-deprecating. Pretend you are everything you want to be. Just have fun with it.

As others have said, fake it until you make it. Don’t fake your creative work, of course, but do fake the personal image and the confidence. Wear a costume and play the role. At worst, you’ll have fun. At best, you’ll get a project and be one big step closer to making real the imaginary person you were portraying.

On Abundance, redux

I wrote this originally back in 2012, but it is even more needed today so I decided to update it.

Everyone talks about how there is an abundance of content creators today. How there is more creative work than ever. How everyone is a photographer, a writer, a curator (don’t get me started on how that word is misused), a musician… we’re all making stuff. And, the argument goes, because there is an abundance of stuff, none of the individual work is really worth much if anything now.

Here’s what these arguments about abundance in creativity and the pricing model get spectacularly wrong: the reality is there is no abundance of good creative work. Sure, there is an abundance of photography and music and writing and art, but most of it is, frankly, shit.

There is abundance in the creative industries in the same way there is abundance in drivers–there are billions of car drivers globally and just about anyone can do it–but how many people do it well? I don’t just mean those who drive better than Mr. I-go-55-in-the-fast-lane-man and his crappy driving brethren out there. No, I mean, how many professional race car drivers are there? Not very many. Ergo, they are highly valued.

Real creative professionals (in whatever discipline) are like pro race car drivers. They can do things very few others can. Their skills are extremely specialized and what they do is, simply put, not of the same quality as what regular people do.

The media and, worse, the tech companies that control the discourse on this subject within the media, have tried to convince us that your creative work is the same as anyone who tries to make something of the same media. Further, because it is the same (in their argument), that work is of the same value and, final coffin nail, because there is so much of that work available now, that value is near zero. In their world, for example, any pro photographer’s photography is the same as mine (for the record, I am not a photographer) and hardly worth anything since there are so many “photographers” out there. That’s like me saying I’m just like, and of the same value as, Mario Andretti or Michael Schumacher because I know how to drive a stick-shift and don’t completely suck at it.

Bullshit.

Every time you let them call you a “content provider” rather than by your proper title you let them define you as less than you are. You are a Photographer or an Illustrator or an Artist or a Writer (etc.). You CREATE. There are damn few people on this planet who actually create and create well. How dare you accept their belittling bullshit about who you are and the “abundance” of what you do. Worse yet, how dare you call yourself anything other than by your proper title!

You, creative professional, are scarce and your creations are of high value. You are a professional race car driver. Don’t let anyone bully you into thinking otherwise.

Creator? Get a Lawyer

Most of my clients are photographers. That’s no surprise since I started working with commercial photographers in the last millennium (yes, I’m old), and long before I became an attorney. Photographers know me; they’ve come to my lectures, bought my books, read my blogs, and know that I have their backs. However, I serve all kinds of creators, artists, and writers (I generally call all of you artists, by the way).

Regardless of what kind of artist you are,  frankly, I’m shocked at how many of you don’t have lawyers.

The logic of having one is pretty simple:

  • All professional artists have businesses–if you make money from your art, you are in business.
  • All professional artists have contracts in their businesses–yours, your clients’, etc.
  • All professional artists create copyrights (and should register them).
  • All professional artists get infringed (if you haven’t yet, it’s only because you haven’t found it).
  • All professional artists may get married, will die (sorry, but let’s be real), and have assets to protect.

Obviously, then, all professional artists (actually, all artists, even amateurs) have legal issues connected to their work and, for the pros, vocation. Why, then, do so few of you have relationships with lawyers? I suspect it’s mostly the cost. Maybe a little bit of “I don’t want anyone to see how I’ve been BSing my way through my business” imposter syndrome, but mostly cost.

I’d like to suggest my Burns Less program. It’s a great option for artists who have occasional quickie questions and want someone available when they crop up, without paying a huge retainer or hefty hourly fees.

Even if you aren’t interested in that alternative fee program, I encourage you to do a simple cost-benefit analysis before you have a legal need to see if it really is as expensive as you think. The answers will likely surprise you.

For example, is it better to spend a couple of hundred now to learn how to register a copyright properly with a lawyer’s help in answering some registration-related questions first; and so that, for every infringement after, you can get at least $750 in statutory damages? Or, do you want to take your chances to maybe screw up your registration and end up getting nothing–or even paying the other side’s attorneys’ fees?

How about a typical contract your clients wants you to sign for, say, a $1000 gig–the contract with a hidden assignment clause, meaning you’d be selling your copyright totally, for that grand? If you missed that how much value and income over time would you lose?

Or maybe you’re thinking about getting married–did you know that can affect your copyrights created in the marriage? A chat with an attorney before wedded bliss could save you a bundle if it all goes south later (sadly, that happens).

If you’re afraid you’ll sound like an uneducated rube if you ask questions of an attorney, that’s your ego talking; attorneys exist to answer legal questions and any attorney who laughs at you for asking questions, well, you should fire her/him. If you think you can go it alone, that’s also your ego talking–you aren’t a lawyer (or an accountant or a doctor) so you should do your thing (make art) and let other pros do their things to enable you to do your thing better.

If you’re an artist, I hope you’ll consider me for any legal help, of course; but, more importantly, I hope you’ll find someone qualified and with whom you can establish a solid working relationship. There are other great attorneys out there who work with artists and understand their needs–I’m definitely not the only horse in this race. Talk to a few of us and find someone you feel comfortable with–who gets you. Then, go on about your business of being an artist, with the security of having a lawyer on your side.

In that process, consider the Burns Less program. It may have a puntastic name, but I’m serious about trying to help artists at a reasonable price.