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Task Rabbit, Sticking Points, and Getting Things Done

The New York Times recently had an article titled "A Gofer at Your Service, for a Price" [link] -- which detailed a number of startups which offers people the ability to hire someone else to do a wide range of tasks -- everything from finding tickets to a concert to picking up someone's dry cleaning. This service is task based -- so as opposed to hiring an assistant -- you're paying for each individual task. 

In earlier posts, I've detailed some of the difficulty I've had in producing your own work (web series, short films, etc.) There's a term that I've heard used quite a bit that I really like and that's "sticking points". I would broadly say I've seen it defined as a specific issue that is fundamentally holding someone back from progressing. As a generic example -- let's take someone who is the world's best auto mechanic but he's too curt when dealing with customers. That person's sticking point is then his manner with customers -- it'll be really difficult for him to build a successful business without overcoming this sticking point regardless of how good of a mechanic he is.

Over the past few years, I've gotten way better at producing. The biggest inflection point (and area of growth) was when I started producing my documentary. The biggest benefit of it was that I had so many days of filming -- so I was constantly needing to sort through problems -- camera, lighting, sound, crew, logistics, scheduling, etc. Eventually, I got to a relatively decent stage -- where I have a pretty consistent set of things I do, a decent library of experiences to reference, and an opinion about how I should go about doing what I do. (The latter is something that's always concerning to me when I have the sense of "I just don't know." -- that's when I know I'm probably in trouble.)

However, I didn't get to the same stage with scripted content -- and I was trying to figure out why. I had the gear. I had a decent set of experiences to draw upon. I've worked with (or knew) quite a number of good crew and actors. I even started accumulating a decent set of material to produce or were working with other writers who were open to writing material -- so we had stuff we wanted to shoot. So what was preventing me from getting over the hump? There were a lot of things -- but I want to point one out because it was so instructive for me as an example -- and that's locations.

If you listen to the DVD commentary on "Michael Clayton", Tony Gilroy repeatedly talks about locations -- how important they are, how difficult they were to get, and how fortunate he was to be working with producers who worked so hard to get them and make things easy for him. I know this must seem like a really strange way to think about filmmaking -- but give me a location, and I'm happy to write against it. I'm happy to produce against it. I was chatting with one of the manager's at a diner in L.A. called "Mel's" and we happend to get onto the topic of how much it would cost to rent out his diner and all the logistics that entails. Now, in the back of my mind, I always know that's a possibility if I want to write a scene or scenes that take place in a diner. Before that, I would've assumed that would be a near impossibility on an independent film budget.

I've had scripts sitting around for months (maybe years) that I didn't shoot basically because I didn't have a location. Think about how one would get a location. Ask people they know? Post something on Craigslist? Find a website that specializes in locations? I suppose this just became a vexing, unknowable thing. So this is what did we do for 3 projects that we either did or will do. The first, a new web series that we recently shot -- we dressed my apartment. It fits the web series well and is totally doable. (By the way, listen to the commentary on your favorite independent film and I think you'd be shocked at how often major scenes take place in their home or the homes of relatives.) The second will take place in a restaurant. I started out by going to nearby restaurants and then my producing partner goes, "Oh, I know where to shoot -- I've shot at this particular restaurant before. I'll call them up." Now we're on their calendar in 2 weeks for a very reasonable price. The third was a doctor's office. As soon as I read that article about Task Rabbit [link] -- I immediately thought to give that a try. I've previously tried hiring a location scout (expensive and, like any other new relationship, takes time to develop / find the right person). I've tried hunting around myself. And, probably most importantly, I didn't try that hard. I have no idea why. I'm not sure why I don't like this work -- but it was a big sticking point for me to be able to produce more.

We'll see how Task Rabbit works out -- but theoretically, even if this specific person doesn't work out, someone should be able to do this job. It's a discrete job (find me 3 options w/pictures with specific location requirements) for a very reasonable sum of money. It also works out well on their end -- they have extra time and could use the money.

One of the ways I'm wired is I take almost no pleasure in the successful completion of intermediate steps. For example, let's say I'm working on a script -- a major milestone would be the completion of an outline. This holds relatively little value to me -- it's only when I have a full fledged script that I feel some sense of accomplishment. Similar to when I was a product manager -- there were so many times when we could celebrate as having gotten X done, but until the product actually got out the door, I didn't really care. That probably was just pounded into me because the main question you get when you're a product manager is, "When are you launching?" People care when you get things done, not intermediate things.

Hopefully, Task Rabbit, or a close variant -- will be the way for me to sort this particular sticking point. There'll be many beyond that -- but I think having the ability to get the work you want done on a regular basis is one of life's great pleasures -- and correspondingly, not being able to do that is endlessly frustrating. That's why for me, it's so critical to identify and then solve these sticking points.