Matt Mullenweg Is a Very Dangerous Man

Matt Mullenweg is a very dangerous man.

At the inaugural WordPress for Government and Enterprise meetup on May 6, the co-founder of WordPress & founder & CEO of Automattic, discussed the amazing journey of WordPress from a home-spun blogging tool to the world’s most successful enterprise content management platform.

Mullenweg believes in democracy. He believes in competition. He believes in open-source. All dangerous notions in Washington, DC, a city devoted to closed-systems, insider deals and imperial government.

WordPress is free. Government spends hundreds of millions of dollars on complicated content management systems that don’t work. “Why is the free thing better than what your agency spent $5 million on?” Mullenweg asked.

WorePress LogoFor him, users drive software. They are always right. Users will decide whether WordPress survives or fails – and he accepts that. “You win because you’re the best,” he said.

I asked him how government could avoid debacles like healthcare.gov. He called for more transparency, imagining a world in which hackers could fix the doomed health care site and develop their own, better vision.

No one got fired for healthcare.gov. Why should they? The project managers at HHS followed all the policies and procedures for government procurement and contract management. You can’t blame the contractors either – they were just doing what the feds told them to do, as crazy as it must’ve seemed at the time. Healthcare.gov was built according to all the regulations and was a $1 billion failure.

The world is moving in Mullenweg’s direction. We, as consumers, pick winners and losers – not the government. Yet, we have a federal bureaucracy designed for the 1930s.

Walter Russell Mead calls this “the blue model“. He writes:

The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the sixty years after the New Deal don’t work anymore. The gaps between the social system we inhabit and the one we now need are becoming so wide that we can no longer paper over them. But even as the failures of the old system become more inescapable and more damaging, our national discourse remains stuck in a bygone age. The end is here, but we can’t quite take it in.

Big Government doesn’t work in a world that’s become small, dynamic and user-driven. For example, Mullenweg works with a distributed team that gets together once a year. He doesn’t even know what some of his employees look like. In contrast, government spends millions on buildings it doesn’t use and struggles with implementing even the most basic of telecommuting policies.

Working in government, I have an old Dell wired to an ethernet jack. We don’t even have a working copier. Office supplies are locked away. Wi-fi is forbidden.

At home, I have a MacBook Pro, wi-fi, WordPress, a digital camera, Dropbox, an iPad and a host of other tools – as well as better coffee. The consumer market provides me better tools than a billion-dollar bureaucracy.

If government is to survive, it must be reformed. We can no longer afford a massive, unresponsive federal state that’s tied down by endless rules and regulations.

Government must become responsive to citizens. It must adopt the WordPress model that users are always right. Citizens pay for government and they deserve better.

If government does not reform, debacles like healthcare.gov are not only likely – they are inevitable.

Governments like China fear WordPress for the openness and free expression it provides. The American government should fear it too. WordPress demonstrates a new, more democratic and more user-driven way of working together. It’s impossible to go back to the blue model. Matt Mullenweg is a very dangerous man.

Middle Men: Stories of Purgatory in LA

“I look at you and I think: middle management.”

That was that was the insult a friend of mine received. It was perfect. After all, no one in America aspires to be a middle manager. Why would you? Middle man – the title alone speaks of failure. You couldn’t make it to the top so now you manage the work of other people. You spend eight hours in a cubicle and write TPS reports.

Middle men are also replaceable, the type of jobs that get supplanted by technology. Instead of going to Sears and talking to a middle man, you just order what you want from Amazon.

middle menIn his short story collection, Middle Men, Jim Gavin explores the world of men stuck somewhere between their dreams and reality. Appropriate for a book on purgatory, these stories are primarily set in Los Angeles. The sun-blasted landscape of the city looms large in Middle Men. Characters escape to the freeway or Del Taco to ease their troubles.

In an interview at the end of the book, Gavin explains that Middle Men is about mastery. It’s about growing up, learning a trade and accepting your fate in a very uncertain economy. The men in the book start out young dreamers – they’re slackers and standup comics and aspiring screenwriters – and end up grizzled vets grimly hanging on to their piece of the American dream.

There are a couple of great short stories in the book – Illuminati and Elephant Doors – that perfectly describe the entertainment business in Hollywood, stripping away the glamor and revealing an industry in which very few find success. As a failed screenwriter in the book says, “Nothing always happens. The literature of Hollywood is depressingly consistent on this point.” Middle Men should be required reading for anyone seeking fame in LA.

You root for the men in Middle Men, trying to make it in a strangled economy with few opportunities. You believe in them. They’re trying. They haven’t given up the idea that they can be better. And that America can too.

 

Three DC Brewvet Destinations

Brewvet is a beer and biking challenge with the aim to get you to explore new neighborhoods and try delicious new beers. The rules of Brewvet are simple:

  • Eight separate bike rides to a different location
  • Buy or consume a beer at each location
  • Ride a total of at least 40 miles.

You have from May 1, 2014 through June 10th, 2014 to complete this challenge. Like the equally whimsical coffeeneuring challenge, the aim of Brewvet is to turn cycling into a fun adventure.

Where to go in DC? Here are three ideas for Brewvet rides in Washington:

1. Glen’s Garden Market
2001 S St NW
Washington, DC 20009

Grilled cheese and beer at Glen's Garden Market #errandonnee 10

Four-dollar beer. And not just any beer, but amazing local beer on draft, including DC Brau, Port City and 3 Stars, all of which you you can enjoy with a grilled cheese on their outdoor patio. Located north of Dupont Circle, you can also pick up organic snacks and sandwiches in the market. They also fill up growlers if you want to take beer with you. I really love this place. Afterward, I suggest a stop at Dolcezza Gelato to round out your urban adventure.

How to get there: If you’re coming from Virginia, get to the White House then take the 15th Street Cycletrack north and make a left at R Street. Maryland riders should get off Rock Creek Parkway at P Street.

2. ChurchKey
1337 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20005

Weekend remnant - chicken and waffles

Saturday afternoons are the ideal time to visit this popular Logan Circle bar. It’s usually not crowded (especially around lunchtime) and their beer selection is the best in the city. I usually get anything by Bell’s Brewery. Also, they have four-ounce pours and low-alcohol beers if you’re concerned about biking while drunk. If you have friends without bikes, there’s even a Capital Bikeshare stand across the street.

How to get there: ChurchKey is at 14th and Rhode Island, a block from the 15th Street Cycletrack.

3. The Bier Baron
1523 22nd Street NW
Washington DC 20037

Bier Baron

The Bier Baron doesn’t open until three on weekends and the food is mediocre. But, they have a great beer selection from all over the world, a comfy vibe and it’s just a block from Rock Creek Parkway. This makes it a perfect Brewvet destination, especially if you’re coming from MD.

How to get there: Get off Rock Creek Park at P Street, make a left and it’s on your left.

Those are my suggestions for DC – what are yours? Where should I brewvet to in MD and VA?

Friday Photo: One Hundred Years of Solitude Edition

One Hundred Years of Solitude

There’s something about an old-fashioned paperback that can’t be duplicated in this digital age. It’s not neat and clean like e-text. Paperbacks reveal themselves through use. Good books become worn and tattered as they’re passed from reader to reader. The better the book, the worse it looks.

This is my $3.95 copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. It shows a couple decades of use. I read it in college, read it again when I had a job working in one-person library, packed it when I moved to Florida, packed it again when returned to DC, boxed it up a couple more times as I switched apartments in Washington, reread it some more and finally placed it on a shelf with much shinier books in better condition.

It’s the book I won’t part with, no matter how shabby it gets.

Every Communicator Needs a Real Photographer

Leica M9 and prosecco

This recent post by Vocus – Every Communicator Needs a Real Camera – highlights how important photography is for business. We depend on photos for blogs, web sites, brochures, tweets, Facebook posts and other kinds of marketing collateral.

Photos are a kind of shorthand, selling a product more effectively than a hundred lines of copy. They communicate who you are and what your brand stands for. Photos are essential to sharing your message with the world.

Despite this, photography is an unappreciated medium. Because free photos are widely available on sites like Flickr, and because anyone with an iPhone can take a picture, many organizations pay little money or attention to their photo needs. Yet, a compelling business case can be made for paying for photographers and photography.

A couple of examples:

1. At a company I worked for, the CEO received a major award at a trade show. We wanted to run a story on the web site about it. But the only photo we had was a blurry iPhone shot from fifty feet away. Without a good photo, we couldn’t do the story.

2. I was the photo coordinator for the DC Shorts Film Festival, responsible for managing a volunteer army of photogs who captured images of film screenings, crowded parties, red carpet arrivals and VIP events. This is an awesome event that you should attend. But don’t take my word for it – check out the photos and decide for yourself. In addition to helping attract attendees to the festival, these photos demonstrated to sponsors how their products were being enjoyed, were included in the annual report and were widely shared in social media.

The Vocus article states that communicators need a good camera. But a camera is just a tool. You need someone who knows how to use it. That person is a photographer. Look for one in your organization. Don’t make photography “other duties as assigned” but give them the time, money and equipment they need to tell your organization’s story. Invest in photography the same way you invest in web site hosting, email marketing and social media.

And if you don’t have a photographer, hire one through a group like APADC.

In this digital age, digital photographers are essential. Don’t miss the important moments in your company because no one had a decent camera. Hire a photographer to create images that you’ll use for years to come.

Friday Photo: Finally, Spring

Cherry blossoms blooming on the Tidal Basin.

Cherry blossoms blooming on the Tidal Basin.

This was the winter without end, days and weeks worth of single-digit temperatures that made me want to curl up with a bottle of bourbon and stay inside forever. I’ve never had to wear so many layers. It was a real winter, the kind I thought that DC never got with its mild Mid-Atlantic climate.

And it literally just ended  – we had snow a couple weekends ago, as if we lived in Westeros and spring and summer snows were a common occurrence. I am not convinced winter is over.

The cherry blossoms arrived late but, finally, we’ve been treated to a stretch of glorious mild days. I rode my bike down to the Tidal Basin to get the above picture. It’s an iPhone shot and edited in the Flickr app, using the Denim filter.

Someone must like it – the photo has received 75,000 views in two days. 75,000 views from “unknown source” according to Flickr’s stats. I think the pic might have been in Explore.

My advice for visiting the cherry blossoms is simple: go early. Do not attempt to drive. Hop on a bike or the Metro and get there before 8 AM. The light is better and you won’t have to deal with the crowds. Enjoy spring before the snows return!

In the Blueberry Soup: The WABA Vasa Ride

Riverside check-in for the WABA Vasa ride.

Riverside check-in for the WABA Vasa ride.

I survived the legendary Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA) Vasa Ride. The ride began early Saturday morning at the House of Sweden in Georgetown. Riders got to choose from three route lengths: 15, 30, and 59 miles. Destinations and routes were not disclosed before the ride. When you checked-in, you were given a cue sheet.

Which I just glanced at, seeing that we were going to Potomac. I signed-up for the 30-mile ride and figured I’d just follow the pack. Wrong!

Starting off from Georgetown, the group of a hundred riders or so threaded its way up the Capital Crescent Trail before making a right (what? should’ve looked at the cue sheet!) at Fletcher’s Cove and heading up Reservoir Road to MacArthur Boulevard.

Once on MacArthur, the road cyclists accelerated away from me on my Specialized Sirrus. I lost contact with the peloton. Behind me were a mass of slower riders – I hope you’re not following me, because I didn’t read the cue sheet…I knew that MacArthur would eventually lead me to Potomac so I kept going.

It was a lovely morning for a ride. The route went through the leafy-green Palisades, then past the faded Glen Echo amusement park, across the single-lane bridge at Cabin John, by the Old Angler’s Inn and the entrance to Great Falls. The road was filled with cyclists, some from the WABA ride, others just out enjoying the day. Every kind of bike and every kind of rider was represented.

It had been a gradual incline up from the river before we reached the massive hill at Great Falls. The top of the hill was a natural stopping point for many cyclists, including me. The Vasa ride went from here to Potomac via Falls Road before returning by Persimmon Tree Road (I found out later).

http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3735/13431535585_4ee74a14c1_z.jpg

The first half of the WABA Vasa ride.

Cars were speeding along Falls Road. I didn’t want to deal with that. And I’m not good at following directions or being part of a group. Continue reading

Errandonnee Winter Challenge: Twelve Errands by Bike in DC

I am a weekend cyclist. I primarily use my bike for fun and recreation. Plus, it’s the quickest and easiest way to get around DC.

What I liked about the Errandonnee Winter Challenge is that it recognized the utilitarian aspects of cycling. It’s not about riding vast distances clad in lycra. Instead, the Errandonnee Challenge was to use your bike for 12 different errands over 12 days. While there were also sorts of complicated rules, provisos and mandates (the contest was created in Washington, after all), the idea was to use your bike for everyday activities, highlighting how you can do anything by bike.

I looked at it as an opportunity to use my bike more often. Or, rather, bikes, for I would be completing this challenge on two of them – a Specialized Sirrus and a Breezer Zig7 (a foldy bike).

And I would capture it all with Instagram.

Errandonnee 1: Marie Reed Field
Distance: 2 Miles
Category: Health
Bike: Specialized Sirrus
Remarks: It was a short city ride to the play the beautiful game on this new turf field in Adams-Morgan.

Errandonnee 2: Georgetown Waterfront
Distance: 10 Miles
Category: Health
Bike: Specialized Sirrus
Remarks: There was no way I was staying inside on a warm Saturday. After lunch, I biked to Georgetown to get some sun, then made a loop around the National Mall before returning home.

Errandonnee 3: Gibson Guitar Room
Distance: 2 Miles
Category: Work
Bike: Breezer Zig7
Remarks: The next day, I spoke on a panel about screenwriting for DC Shorts Mentors, a four-week class on filmmaking. The class took part in the Gibson Guitar Room, which is a super-cool private venue near the Verizon Center.

Continue reading

Mentoring Screenwriters at DC Shorts Mentors

Actors conduct a live screenplay reading at DC Shorts Mentors.

Actors conduct a live screenplay reading at DC Shorts Mentors.

I had the opportunity to be a part of DC Shorts Mentors, joining Joy Cheriel Brown, Greg Tindale and John Hutson in a panel on screenwriting. DC Shorts Mentors is a four-week long workshop on how to write, edit, produce and market a film.

On the panel, we spoke about our background in screenwriting. I primarily discussed my experience as a judge for the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition, sharing what we looked for in terms of a short script. A good story is the most important requirement, one that starts out with a problem and works its way through it. Using the proper screenplay format is necessary for the simple reason that scripts are really hard to read without it.

We don’t want bad Tarantino. You have a unique story to tell. Write your script, not some imitation of someone else.

For example, Five Days in Calcutta, which won the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition, is an example of a simple premise – two cranky old men bickering – that’s funny, well-executed and unique.

Joy and I also really liked DC Shorts finalist The Goblin Baby, a script that has the quality of a really dark fairy tale, one of those scripts that is very personal but with the universal themes of loss and horror. Writer Shoshana Rosenbaum just wrapped-up filming this short so hopefully we’ll see it at the DC Shorts Film Festival in September.

Next came the questions, which arrived fast and furious from the assembled class at Gibson Guitar Room – they asked about screenplay format, screenplay software (use Final Draft or Celx) story structure, books, classes, screenplay direction and a million other topics.

Next, the writers had to write. We gave them an hour to write a short script, with my fellow mentors there to work one-on-one with writers. That was fascinating. Some people squirreled themselves away and began writing. Others needed some help getting started.

After lunch, Greg led a crew of actors in a live reading of short scripts submitted from the class. Writers had a chance to hear their work read aloud before a live audience, as well as get feedback from their fellow writers and the actors – an invaluable experience. They got to see how actors can shape their words as they applied their craft. A good script must give the actors room to make decisions – not on the words, but in how actors deliver lines, stage direction and so on. Words on a page can sound very different when read aloud before an audience.

Film is an inherently collaborative medium. The word is not sacrosanct. If you’re a screenwriter, your work is likely to be changed by writers, producers, directors, actors, editors, just about everyone. Something to know before you begin.

But to write a screenplay, you have to actually write a screenplay – that was my advice to the aspiring filmmakers at DC Shorts Mentors. You can read books about screenwriting, take classes, hire consultants… but eventually you have to sit down and write. There’s no substitute for that.

You can still get tickets for DC Shorts Mentors, which runs until March 30. And don’t forget to enter the DC Shorts Screenplay Competition. The regular deadline is April 30.

How to Write a Screenplay: DC Shorts Mentors

screenplay photo

I was honored to be a mentor for DC Shorts Mentors, a four-week long workshop on how to write, produce and market films. Each weekend brings a different set of mentors on how to write a script, work with actors, shoot a film and then market it to the world.

I was there for a day to contribute my expertise as a screenwriter. I  won the Film DC Screenwriting Competition for my screenplay Mount Pleasant. For winning the contest, I had a chance to visit the set of The West Wing during its final season. I’ve also taken part in the 48 Hour Film Project, interviewed filmmakers for On Tap and generally been a part of the local filmmaking scene – including being a judge for DC Shorts and other screenplay contests.

The screenwriting advice I shared at DC Shorts Mentors is simple:

1. Read books about screenwriting – but not too many

You can spend your entire life reading books about screenplays. From saving the cat to getting past the reader, a whole industry exists to instruct aspiring screenwriters (and take their money). I read a bunch of them and they created a cacophonous racket in my head. There’s so much advice, it’s overwhelming.

Stick to the basics. Stick with Syd Field and Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. Field is the master; everyone else is a lesser copy.

And if you have formatting questions, Elements of Screenwriting Style is indispensable. It’s like Strunk and White for screenplays.

2. Read screenplays

My screenwriting journey began when I friend of mine gave me a couple of scripts to read. We had been in a writers’ workshop together, discussing short stories in a basement conference room. She shared with me the classic of the genre which, believe it or not, is the script for Rocky. Yo! It is the archetypal hero’s journey.

Luckily these days, plenty of scripts are online at sites such as Simply Scripts. Find the scripts from your favorite films and read them. I read a bunch of them – On the Waterfront, Taxi Driver, Swingers, Raising Arizona, Fisher King. Read them closely, study how they begin, how suspense is maintained and how they conclude.

2. Write

Find the writing habit that works best for you. I like writing in coffee shops – something about watching other people work makes me feel like I better work as well. And I love coffee. Turn off social media and tell yourself that you’re going to write for the next couple hours, even if it’s just a single word.

Beginning writers get hung up on screenplay format. It is tricky and different from what you’re used to seeing. You’re going to need software to turn your story into a correctly-formatted screenplay. Fortunately, there are numerous options in screenwriting software, from the free Celtx to the industry-standard Final Draft. I also like Montage, which is for Macs.

Remember, buying expensive software doesn’t make you a screenwriter; completing a screenplay does.

3. Edit

You will not catch your own typos or idiosyncratic turns of phrase. You need an editor. Find a friend, loved one or a disinterested party to read your finished script. Does it make sense? Do they understand it? Is everything spelled correctly?

The simple step of reviewing your work is something that most people don’t do – and will be appreciated by screenplay contest judges.

4. Find a community

Writing is a solitary art; filmmaking is not. Find a community of writers and filmmakers to join. This can be an online community, like Done DealZoetrope or Amazon Studios.

Or connect with people IRL. Volunteer with DC Shorts to meet fellow film fans and help select movies for the festival. Join Women in Film and Video. Take classes at Arlington Independent Media or the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. In the DC area, the opportunities are endless.

5. Enter a screenplay contest

The dream of every screenwriter is to see their work on the big screen. And there are an endless number of screenwriting contests promising a chance at that dream. A lot of them are… questionable.  What screenplay contests will make a difference in your life?

Austin Film Festival and Conference – It’s a great festival and a great conference that attracts major Hollywood players. Winners go on to have careers in the industry.

Nicholl Fellowships – Sponsored by the Academy Awards. All you need to know.

Sundance Screenwriters Lab – If you have an indie mind-set, this is the contest for you.

DC Shorts – Yes, as a judge for this competition, I am hopelessly biased. But the finalists get a live reading before an audience and the winner gets $2000 to turn their short script into a film. That’s a great deal.

6. Make it yourself

Don’t wait for someone to give you permission to make a movie. These days, anyone with a DSLR or an iPhone can be a filmmaker.

Think you need a lot of money to make a film? The delightfully creepy Man in 813 won Outstanding Local Film at DC Shorts and cost $100 to make. It was shot on a Canon Rebel T2i, a digital camera you can get at Costco.

Think you need a lot of time to make a movie? Join a filmmaking team and make a movie over a weekend for the 48 Hour Film Project.

Think your no-budget film will look like crap? Read The Angry Filmmaker to get tricks of the trade.

In summary, the screenwriter’s journey is a difficult one. You are conjuring something from nothing. But movies depend on it for they begin with the written word. By studying your craft, taking it seriously and doing things yourself, you can bring your vision to the screen.