(Re)Mixing It Up With Entrepreneurial Filmmaker, Kirby Ferguson

Kirby Ferguson In Everything (Including Startups) Is A Remix, I discuss the brilliant series of films created by Kirby Ferguson, which focus on the origin of creativity in music, film and business. Kirby’s videos entertainingly illustrate that the building blocks of creativity, irrespective of the creation, are: copying, combining and transforming.

In my recent interview with Kirby, he discusses the origin of his videos and how he called upon his entrepreneurial muse to bootstrap their creation. His tenacity and persistence are instructive to emerging entrepreneurs.

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Kirby espouses that you must suffer through the primitive, copying phase of your creative endeavors in order to eventually create something interesting and unique. As I note in Spilling The Beans, the basic ideas upon which startups are founded are worth nothing. It is the dogged pursuit of excellence that turns worthless ideas into worthwhile startups.

Kirby's Quote

You can watch my interview with Kirby below or on YouTube here: http://youtu.be/dHsz2r4dgKc

I began our discussion by asking Kirby about the genesis of Everything Is A Remix. "It was a really strange time in copyright law a few years ago. A lot of crazy copyright cases (were filed)… that I thought were a bit loony. I started to wonder, ‘Why do people suddenly now think they can sue over ownership of basic ideas?’… Why do certain people think, ‘This is mine now?’

I thought I could illustrate how it’s hypocritical to think that you own these things and can litigate about it. It can be easily illustrated, in lots of cases, that (of the) things you think are somebody’s, there is a chain that came before. It was a behavior that seemed to becoming prevalent, people wanting to lock down clamps on things that they think are theirs. I wanted to show that there is no ‘yours’…not completely."

Do you think these lawsuits were a result of a Napster backlash? "Partially, yeah. A lot of these new laws are about technology. They are trying to clamp down on piracy. But there are also trying to put themselves into a better position than they were in to begin with, trying to take more than they ever had (at the) start."

What is your best guess regarding the total number of views the series has had so far? "I don’t track every little thing. They are all heading to about a million views each. They have three million (views) total, roughly. A friend of mine made a couple supplement videos about particular films. There was one about Kill Bill and one about The Matrix. The first one got about a million and the second one is well on its way to that. So we’re looking at about five million (views) total."

What is the one lesson you want every viewer to take away from the series? "The idea that creativity isn’t magic. It is not just about having some mystical talent that comes from who knows where. The basics are copying, combining and transforming. The way you do seemingly original stuff is to keep at it. You keep building on those combinations and those transformations and over time it turns into something where it can be difficult for us to tell where it came from. Everything emerges out of…the ideas we already have.

It’s an encouragement to create stuff. Even though your early results will be primitive, you have to keep at it. That is the main point. We are all building on other people’s ideas, none of the stuff belongs to us exclusively. You can get in there and start…and do worthwhile things.

You even hear it in people who are developed talents. The secret ingredient is that they kept at it. If you watch (the Beatles) film Let It Be, when you hear them starting a new song, they don’t sound like classics, they do not sound like hit songs. There just these rough, sketchy little things. But it’s because they spend time refining it that it becomes great work."

When I first watched the series, I thought the narration was done by a professional. I found it charming when I discovered that the filmmaker was also the narrator. Did you do the narration out of necessity or did you make a conscious decision to be both the eyes and voice of your films? "It was a non-choice. When I started the series, I was working full time. I thought because I didn’t have to shoot footage, get cast members, book interviews…this will be easy. I can kind of do this on the side. This will be my fun side project, but of course, it turned out to be hugely time consuming.

The voice-over was another way to keep it simple. It’s nice that you thought it was well-done. After the first one, I started to get a little more serious about the way I performed it. I have paid attention to that performance element as it has gone along and I think it has improved."

You have been very busy, of late, speaking at various corporate events and conferences. I am sure most of the questions are remixes. However, are there any audience questions or insights that caused you to reevaluate your work and/or to see it in a new light? "Lots of specific stuff, but outside of that, nothing has shifted my overall vision. It’s not mind blowing stuff. It’s pretty obvious that…you have to be connected to other works to make your own work. It’s an idea that… has been out there for a long time.

What I do that is interesting is (that) I illustrate it and tell the stories about it. I don’t think it’s that controversial. The only other way of looking at creativity is that…it comes from nowhere, its magic."

A number of my UC Santa Barbara students are interested in music, film and other forms of digital entertainment. What advice do you have for a young person who wants to promote their creative works, but has limited funds? "Don’t be afraid to do what other people are doing and put your own twist on it. Don’t be afraid to do genre stuff. Don’t feel you have to reinvent the wheel all the time. That is all there is to starting out. Try to be competent. Don’t be afraid to be derivative at first.

Other than that, it’s just a matter of getting out there and doing it. It’s very inexpensive to find an audience nowadays. This series was basically started without any money. I just put it out there.

It does take time to find an audience. You have to keep at it for a really long time. It’s a tortoise and the hare sort of thing. You don’t want to throw a ton of energy at it and then lounge around. You want to keep chipping, chipping, chipping, keep at it for years and years and years.

It is definitely a great time to be a creative person in terms of reaching an audience, not in terms of making gobs of money, which is what it traditionally has been all about. We had a brief period where you could get financially loaded…but for the most part, that’s not the way it has actually panned out.

Don’t be afraid to be mediocre at first, because you are going to be, whether you think you are or not. It’s gonna happen, unless you are just lucky. Money is not really much of an obstacle. It can be a distraction. It won’t suddenly make you better in a way your audience is really going to care."

I understand you have done work for CNN. What lies ahead for you? "The main thing coming after (Everything Is A Remix) is a political series. It will be about the Everything is a Remix shirt2012 election, loosely. I will use that as a springboard to tell some stories about history, human psychology and how our system works…help people make sense of this crazy political climate that we are in right now."

You have been self-funded to-date. How can my readers contribute to your efforts to ensure that your good work continues? "Go to EverythingIsARemix.info and there is a donate button at the top or you can buy something. You can go to the store and buy either a T-shirt or a poster."

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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