How To Get It Done

american-dreamA lot of us have ideas. Sometimes even great ideas. But how many of us are able to go from idea to execution to distribution? Like you, I have notebooks, journals, scraps of papers and Pinterest boards full of ideas. Slowly but surely I am putting ideas into action – this blog, for instance – but it’s not easy and I am forever impressed and intrigued by people who know how to get it done.

James Marshall is one of those people. A year ago he told me about an idea for The American Dream Project – his idea to travel across the US on a motorcycle, staying with people he met via social media, to see if he, a Brit in America, was the last person to believe in the American Dream.

A week ago I went to the premiere.

James didn’t go to film school. He hasn’t been working as a filmmaker or in production or even in media for years. He’s a former executive who quit the business world to pursue his passion. As I like to describe James, he’s a dreamer and a doer. It’s a powerful combination!

So I asked James how he did it:

BBA: One of the things that impresses me about you – from Jogging With James to ADP – is that you have a methodology and you break seemingly monumental projects (especially for a first timer) into realistic, manageable tasks so you can accomplish your goal. With that said…

Can you identify the moment or thing that took ADP from an idea you were thinking about to a real project in pre-production/production?

JM: I made a decision – I made a decision that I was going to make this series – I believed in it. And I knew it was going to be up to me to make it happen.

I was well aware I didn’t know how it was going to come off, so I surrounded myself with the ‘right’ people. I was very careful about this. VERY!! I wanted the right attitudes, the right experience, or the right energy. I dropped anyone that was not up to the challenge.

I think sometimes we look at the entire mountain and think, how can I possibly climb that beast? We get frightened, intimidated and all to often back off from it. Or, we hear a LOT of negativity: Wow, that’s a big job – that’s not standard – that’s never been done before – it will take years – that’s going to be a huge amount of work – have you done this before… the list just goes on and on. So I ask myself… who is telling me this? What is their motivation? What is their track record? If it is someone that I really respect, that has had huge success and still does have success, then I listen and listen carefully. But those people a rarely just negative as they have been through it before themselves. Those people often show a way around a hurdle not just show you that it exists. If it is not any of the above, I just consciously choose to ignore anything that comes out of their mouth. Many people are afraid that if we succeed, it might show them up for not. This quote always springs up in my mind – “we should not be afraid to shine bright in fear of putting others in our shadow, but we should shine bright to show other people the way”.

BBA: What key elements needed to come together in order for you to move ADP forward from idea on paper?

I came up with an idea that gave me a feeling in my stomach – it was originally going to be 3 or 4 other names. But, I wasn’t worried about the name, yet. I started writing, and editing it, and it started to evolve on its own.

I am always aware we can work in silos, or have an idea that is built around our own ego, so I wanted to get feedback from lots of different people before I spent a ton of money or effort. I made a presentation with lots of images that showed the feel of the series, and pitched it to a group of friends (a barman, a writer, a photographer, a finance guy, a waiter, students…) about 15 people. I pitched the series to them and invited feedback, some I listened to, some I didn’t. The idea continued to evolve and come to life.

When I felt happy with it, I had to commit to it, so I looked at map, made a rough route. I looked at the calendar and chose a date for us to leave NYC and that was it! I had no sponsors, no team, no money, just an idea, a date and an understanding that it will need to be one step at a time, but I am 100% committed to this one idea and I am going to GO FOR IT!

BBA: Now that you have these projects under your belt, what would you tell someone they need to do to go from dreamer to doer (in terms of a video project). What are the key skills to getting it done?

Commitment – if you do not believe in it, no one else will – so think about what it is you want to make, really think hard about what makes you happy. If this is it, and it is coming from a pure of heart place, really commit to it – GO FOR IT!

Keep it simple – if you can say what the idea is in one sentence and it gives you a certain feeling, then you are on to something.

Focus – choose an idea, focus on it, stick to it – we often have 10 ideas, we need to focus on one at a time.

Make a decision – think carefully about a date to start filming, and then commit to it. You can reverse engineer anything else into that date.

Just the next step – Make a list and focus on the next step in front of you. It can be as mundane as securing the social media accounts for your idea, or as exciting as choosing a first shoot date. You focus on this step, then that step, then the next and the next. It is the accumulation of all of these little steps that will make up the bigger picture.

Watch The American Dream Project, sponsored by Cole Haan, here.

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