Stephen Robert Morse was nominated for a 2017 Primetime Emmy Award for producing AMANDA KNOX, one of the most-viewed Netflix Originals of all time. Since then, Stephen directed/produced/wrote the critically acclaimed EUROTRUMP, a film that enabled him to get unprecedented access to Geert Wilders, the Dutch right wing politician who lives behind 24/7 security protection due to threats on his life from ISIS. The film was acquired by Hulu, VICE, national broadcasters and had a European theatrical run after playing at Sheffield Doc Fest, DOC NYC, and CPH:DOX. Stephen also Executive Produced FREEDOM FOR THE WOLF about the global threats to liberal democracy,the winner of the 2018 Audience Award at the Slamdance Film Festival. He is now directing and producing a documentary, SOUTHERN GOTHIC, about the 1983 murder of Timothy Coggins in Spalding County, Georgia. He holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and a MBA from the University of Oxford.
As a writer, Morse has been published by The New York Times, Financial Times, Fast Company, The Week, The Atlantic, Narrative.ly, Mic, Salon, New York Post, MTV, The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Al Jazeera English, Mother Jones, and The Economist.
My next film, Southern Gothic will be coming out later in 2019 on HBO or Netflix; we are still negotiating with both organizations on terms.
Here’s the private trailer (for your eyes only):
SOUTHERN GOTHIC TRAILER
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The art and science of project management within a creative world
A practical guide written by the Emmy-nominated producer of the Netflix hit AMANDA KNOX to successfully launching creative projects (e.g. documentaries) using easy-to-follow yet counterintuitive methods.Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed pszr.co/PlSdf 199 views
|Business & Money|
|4 publishers interested|
Since 2016, I have been writing the manuscript for THE LEAN FILMMAKER. This manuscript represents a major departure from other literature intended for creative business leaders. From years working at startups in New York (Seamless, Quirky, and Skillbridge that I co-founded and sold), combined with my business education at Oxford and filmmaking experiences, I learned to practice lean methodologies and apply them to big creative projects, like making films. This allowed me to create a series of counterintuitive ways to make films --and get projects done-- better, faster, and less expensively than others can.
While this may sound daunting, it isn’t; I went through painstaking efforts to write my manuscript in an engaging and fun tone, filled with personal stories and anecdotes from over a decade of work at filmmaking and startups.
Many skills are needed in creative endeavors. It is most certainly not JUST about creating art, though this is one healthy component of creation. Here are some sample chapters:
The target audience is people who want to embark on creative projects. As a person who has been involved with creative and business projects for much of my life, I frequently encounter people asking for words of wisdom or advice on these topics. The audience is both aspirational people who hope to make creative projects as well as people embarking on side hustles and full time creative projects.
37% of U.S. adults and more than 50% of millennials have a side hustle. (https://www.bankrate.com/perso...)
Additionally, with technology growth, both Millennials and Generation Z are accustomed to taking their own photos, making their own videos, and engaging in creativity for fun. This book targets these people who my want to make money from their creativity!
- 10,000+ e-mail addresses over the course of my lifetime.
- 9,000+ Twitter Followers: @Morsels
- 1,400+ Instagram Followers: @StephenRobertMorse
- Strong connections to the University of Pennsylvania and University of Oxford, where I am an alum. Can likely get both institutions to promote book once it is published.
- I blog at ObservatoryVentures.com/blog
- I write for NoFilmSchool.com
- I have friends with large Twitter/Insta followings who can possibly help promote the work too.
Here are comparable titles in the leadership category that my book will be able to stand up against:
It is Creativity, Inc. that I view as the most direct competition. However, my methods are more business-focused than Catmull's --it is very easy for him to talk about Pixar's success that didn't have much to do with him (Hello, Steve Jobs!)-- as I use my proper business training from my time working at and founding successful creative business startups and my MBA to bring proven methodologies to creative endeavors.
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February 1, 2011
I’ve just stepped on board the night train in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, as I’m heading to Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia. I’m here in the Caucuses to work on my journalism master’s thesis. It’s snowing outside and well below freezing. I have the sleeping carriage to myself. I’m wearing every piece of clothing I’ve taken with me, as there’s no heat on this train. It’s two minutes from my scheduled departure time.
I feel sick. My glands are swollen. I open a can of tuna, doused in oil. I then peel a couple of pieces of raw garlic and throw them into the tuna can. I take a bite of tuna using the bootleg Swiss Army spork I carry around. Then, using the newly created space in the can I swirl the garlic around in the oil so it won’t taste so vile. My plan is to eat this “healthy meal” and then sleep through the night.
As I chew on my first bite, an Armenian family bursts into my carriage; men, women, and their children, all escorting their grandmother. Suddenly, these people start yelling at me in a language I don’t understand a word of.
Am I in the wrong carriage? Is it because the tuna smells? The garlic? Have I done something wrong that I’m not even aware of? Do they have guns? What the hell is going on? They’re mad!
I’ll be imprisoned. In Armenia. For the rest of my life. At least that’s what I think.
I stare blankly at this gang of people who yell at me at the top of their lungs. What can I do other than make facial and hand gestures to show that I don’t understand a word of what they’re saying? I’m frantically pointing my fingers at my mouth and my ears.
My mind flashes immediately to Amanda Knox, the American girl who’s in jail in Italy for supposedly murdering her roommate. I’ve read about her case, and the “facts” against her don’t add up. The facts against me won’t add up either: an American kid, eating tuna, in a train carriage. I swear I haven’t done anything wrong!
When I arrive in Tbilisi the following morning, I’m still thinking about the incident in the train, resolved without incident, and Amanda Knox who’s incident isn’t resolved years after she was first accused of a crime.
I pop open my computer and look up flights between London, where I’m finishing grad school, and where I should be spending the rest of my semester “writing my thesis” that I’ve spent a month doing research for in The Caucasus, and Perugia, Italy, where Amanda Knox is now in prison. I now want to understand Amanda’s life. The flight’s only $30, and I’m already ahead on my writing, so I can afford the trip.
There’s something so compelling about Amanda Knox’s case; the naive American being swept into something larger than she knows. After last night’s incident in Armenia, I empathize even more.
I would love to talk with Amanda’s family. I Google to find Amanda’s mother’s name: Edda Mellas. I search for and find Edda on Facebook. I then Google Amanda’s best friend’s name: Madison Paxton. I search for and find Madison on Facebook too.
Then, I write to both of them.
My name is Stephen Robert Morse. I am an American (from New York) currently on a scholarship from the European Union to study media and globalization.
For the past few years, I have been following Amanda's case, and I am haunted by it and extremely sympathetic to you and your family. I studied in Rome in 2005 during my junior year abroad, and, having experienced Italian disorganization, I felt like such a tragedy could happen to anyone, given how chaotic and messy the Italian system of governance is. I used to tell my friends: It's like living in the 3rd world with the facade of the 1st world.
I am now working on my Master's thesis, and I hope to give a fresh perspective about the media and its portrayal of this case in my work. I’ve booked a flight to Perugia for February 16 and I would very much like to meet with you and any other friends/relatives who are available.
I remember reading Mr. Egan's piece in The New York Times and that very much summed up my thoughts. Also, having been based at City University London since September 2010, I can tell you how frustrating I find the British press to be: They're a bunch of arrogant slimeballs.
Please email me at XXXXXXXXXXX or if you would like to speak by phone, I have an American number that goes to my Skype: XXX-XXX-XXXX.
I hope to hear from you soon,
Two days later, Madison replies. The rest is almost history… though it took 5.5 years of blood, sweat and tears from the moment I sent this email until the film AMANDA KNOX on Netflix was born.
This message I sent to Edda and Madison was successful for a few reasons:
It showed that I am relatable (e.g. I studied in Rome in 2005 and I’m American.)
It showed that I had researched the case (e.g. I read Mr. Egan’s article.)
It showed that I had an opinion (e.g. The British press are arrogant slimeballs.)
Most important, the reason I believe this letter worked was because I was myself. I shared personal experiences, and poor grammar, that were unique only to me.
To gain access, be yourself. If you’re charming, be charming. If you are a hustler, be a hustler. But if you’re not charming, don’t pretend to be charming, because then you’ll appear to be fake, and your true self will come across sooner than later.
I’m sure that when one hundred other Hollywood producers knocked on the Knox family door, and there really were that many gunning for this story, they approached the Knox family in very Hollywood ways, falsely promising money and glory. This, for lack of a better term, is stupid, and would appear quite out of touch with reality. A little empathy goes a long way. A lot of empathy goes even longer. And I never even mentioned that I wanted to make a documentary, because, at first, I just wanted to explore, to see if there was even a possibility of making a documentary.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be be an engineer. I guess I am one. The only thing is, I don’t work for the a construction company or for the government. I build bridges between my subjects and the teams I work with.
My name is Stephen Robert Morse. I am a film producer, a jack of many trades.
When I was growing up, I had a lot of interests: acting, piano, trombone, Model UN, tennis, reading, and even volunteering. My mom would always be repeat the phrase to me, “Stephen, you’re a factotum, but you’ve got to get good at one skill.”
All she wanted for me was to find one thing I liked, and stick to it to the point that I got good at it. Mom’s a teacher and former school principal so she probably read about the infamous “10,000 hours of practice rule” that shows how people are far more likely to become experts in a field after they’ve practiced it with intention for 10,000 hours.
Mothers are usually right, but I never hit 10,000 hours at any of the above. You could say I was destined for mediocrity.
A few years later, while I was a student at the University of Pennsylvania, I picked up a camera, and started producing documentaries. Now, some 15 years after picking up my first camera, I realize that to be an excellent film producer, you don’t have to be amazing at any one skill, but you’ve got to be very, very good at many skills, because if you have even one deficiency, you are very likely to mess something up on such a colossal scale that your film will likely never get made, and most certainly your film will never get sold.
In the highly competitive world of independent cinema, there are never enough resources to go around. Sure, it makes sense to hire a lawyer if you don’t have legal skills. Absolutely. But when you’ve spent $10,000 on a good lawyer, there will be other things you likely can’t afford. And this is why you must put on your DIY gloves to complete tasks and solve problems on your own. To solve these problems requires a multitude of skill sets.
As our world quickly changes due to technological advancement, the idea of being very good at many skills will surely hoid increasing value as some skills are replaced by technology. For example, by the dawn of the 21st century, many jobs in film have already been eliminated as we have moved toward a digital society, including but not limited to film cutters, film projectionists, and film processors.
But to make independent cinema is to be an entrepreneur in film, which, from my humble perspective, is the greatest job on earth. You start off from the get-go as a producer or a director. You have the control and the power to make societal changes, while also creating beautiful art that may be seen by millions of viewers.
If you want to be in film, but don’t want to play by these rules, go work for a studio: Warner Brothers, Sony, Paramount, Universal. But then, you’ll have to play by their rules. You’ll have to work your way up a corporate employment ladder like you would anywhere else. Yet remember, many people fall off their ladders on their way to the top.
But it sure isn’t easy to be in independent film either. To make a film you have to expertly raise money, hire talented workers, discover brilliant stories, shoot them in a compelling way, edit to no end, and finally, SELL, SELL, SELL.
To do any of these tasks requires you to be both a general and a soldier, a CEO and an intern, the expert and apprentice. And you’ll have to manage teams who are also filling multiple roles, sometimes taking on challenges that they are ill-prepared for in the blink of an eye to solve problems.
While this may be daunting for many, for me it is absolutely the most exhilarating form of life I could ever imagine and i would never want it any other way.
In THE LEAN FILMMAKER, I share a mixture of narrative stories from the field with practical advice that I’ve written that can be applied to any form of entrepreneurship or business.
I’ve learned some things along the way:
- Hire the best teams possible, because anyone less than an A player will result in a product that isn’t good enough to be sold in our ultra-competitive world.
- When I’m in the midst of production, I cannot let anyone say the word no to me.
- A simple phrase said in a foreign tongue, can not only get you out of trouble, but can also win you respect and much-needed information.
In this book, I will use my strong knowledge of the film business, tales from my experiences as a film producer (and film director too), as well as my belief in practicing lean production principles to make high quality films at bargain-basement prices, to show you how completing independent projects relies on dozens of distinct skill sets, not just one. I will explain how problems are solved across disciplines, and I will do this in a way that is accessible to you if you have worked on film sets your entire life, if you are just a big fan of AMANDA KNOX on Netflix, or if your aunt gifted you this book and you have no idea why you’re reading it. .
During the final year of the five and a half year journey from the time I had an idea on a train in Armenia until the film AMANDA KNOX premiered on Netflix, I went to the University of Oxford and earned my MBA. I used this learning experience as an opportunity to codify principles, shared in this book, that are relevant for making high quality documentary films on budgets that are quite low compared to what competitors spend. I’ve managed to cut out the fat, through strategic planning, strict spending principles, and logic. But I have also made this book highly accessible to people who work in other disciplines, as the lessons I’ve learned can be applied to any other business on earth.
In a world where documentaries are hot, where businesses pivot regularly, and where fake news can travel around the world while the truth is still putting on its boots, there is no better time than now for you to read this book.
Before starting to draft this book, a friend suggested I read the book “How will you measure your life? Finding fulfilment from some of the world’s greatest businesses” by Harvard Business School’s star professor Clayton Christensen. What I learned from reading this book has helped me guide how I will write my own. Some key takeaways that I have applied to this guide are:
- I don’t want to teach you what to think; I want to teach you how to think. Specifically, I want to teach you how to think about the problems you have, why they exist, and how you can most efficiently solve them.
- While we can look at the past successes of nonfiction filmmakers as examples of people we’d like to emulate, the world is changing too quickly from a technology perspective (from equipment to Netflix) to copy what has been done in the past. Instead, we must look to the future.
- By reading this book I am trying to teach you strategies for how to succeed as a nonfiction filmmaker. However, all of the strategies in the world cannot make up for you if you don’t put the time, energy, resources, and money into making your films amazing. Prioritizing whatever resources you have will be the only way you will ever “make it.”
- Only build a strategy to make films if you’re passionate about filmmaking. This goes for other projects too. Otherwise, it’s best you gift this book to a friend who is. There are too many passionate people out there that if you aren’t passionate, there’s very little chance you will succeed.
- Why it is important to spend money on the things that will add value to your production (e.g. crew, equipment) and not on the things that won’t add value (e.g. fancy food, beer).
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