Have a story. And make sure it’s a good one. A DAMN good one.
I have a very old, dear friend in New York, call him Andrew.
Andrew is about forty, and a pretty successful film director. One of his films aired on HBO recently. He also has a thriving corporate explainer video business, which he works on when business in Hollywood is going slow that month. He’s not famous, but he’s done very well.
When I first met him he was in his late twenties, working as a bartender. Back then he had a vague idea of getting into the film business some day, but I didn’t know how serious he was, to be honest. A lot of twenty-somethings in New York blether on about getting into film, one tends to mostly ignore it.
But how he eventually broke into the film business is one of my favorite tales.
In the very late 1990s he finally decides that he’s serious about breaking into the industry. So he goes out and buys himself a small video camera, a sound recorder, a new Macintosh computer to do his editing, a few lights, some microphones, that kind of thing.
So the good news is, he now has all the gear he needs to get started.
The bad news is, having spent all his savings to acquire the gear, suddenly he needs money in a hurry. New York is expensive, and he’s broke.
But because he had pretty much zero experience in the film business at that point, he soon realizes that it’ll be a while before anyone in the traditional New York film industry will hire him for the kind of money he’s looking for.
He can’t afford to wait that long. So how does he pay the rent?
He decides to go into porn.
But not just any kind of porn. He does PERSONALIZED porn.
Let’s say you and your Significant Other want to create, shall we say, a special memento [*cough*] of your love [*cough*], and want something a bit more upmarket [*cough*] than just the normal, amateur, single-angle, unedited video from a camera [*cough*] that’s standing on a tripod near to the bed.
That’s right. You’d give Andrew a call. And Andrew and his sound man would come over to your apartment and shoot you and your significant other [*cough*] going at it. With proper edits, lighting, sound and camera angles. You and your loved one in the full throes of passion [*cough], with Andrew and his sound man hovering around you in silence, getting the perfect shot.
After he had shot the video, he would then take out his computer and edit the job right then and there, on the kitchen table. So before he left your home, he’d have already given you the SINGLE and ONLY copy that existed of the video. He and his sound man would then exit with nothing i.e. with no backup copy on his computer, so there was no chance of the footage ending up on the internet. At least, not from Andrew’s side.
He charged a few hundred bucks for his services. The average shoot only took an hour or two. He’s often do two or three shoots a day. Damn good money for an ex-bartender. A lot more money than I ever made in New York.
Business was brisk from Day One, to say the least. When he first told me what he’d been up to, back around 2000, I liked the story so much I pitched the idea to a journalist friend of mine. Andrew ended up being featured in a pretty high-end magazine soon after, which raised his profile even more. Within no time the phone was ringing off the hook, with all sorts of interesting people, both inside and outside the film industry, wanting to do business with him.
Great story. There’s only one catch:
I was talking to Andrew on the phone yesterday, wishing my buddy a Happy New Year’s. I asked him if he minded me using his “Personalized Porn” story for a chapter in EVIL PLANS, as a possible case study for interesting and original business models.
“Sure, Hugh, go right ahead,” he says. “Just one thing. None of it is true.”
“I made the whole thing up.”
“What?” I say. “My favorite story about you ever, the one I’ve been telling folks with glee for the last ten years, was a total lie???”
“Man, you’re a good bullshitter,” I say.
“You knew that about me already,” he says.
“Look,” he says, “Back then I was just one of thousands of young wannabe film knuckleheads in New York, trying to get my foot in the door. I needed to have a story to tell people. One that was interesting. One that was different. One that got people’s attention. One that made me stand out from all the other knuckleheads. One that didn’t require me having a massive showreel. Hey, it worked. That story got me my first few editing jobs in the business. And since then I’ve been nothing but successful.”
He pauses for a second.
“A little present-tense success, forgives a lot of past-tense failure,” he says, chuckling with delight.
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Oh man… what an awesome story! The end floored me.
Absolutely brilliant. I have a friend who climbed up the chain in administrative assistance by way of just such “editorial vagueness” as it were. Careful choices of adjective and pronoun. Sadly not as dramatic as the personalised porn.
Wonder how many of these special memento businesses will pop up in the next twelve months, given this post? Niche market galore.
While it may have work for him — hasn’t it injured his relationship with you?
That’s a great tale.
And shows an alternative approach to getting someone to listen to a newbie early in their career.
It does seem to be such a shame that it wasn’t true. Hell, perpetuate the myth. Maybe he is just trying to hide his somewhat dodgy background nowadays.
btw, Just wonder how much more crap you will get on Twitter through posting something with the word ‘porn’ in it 😮
What a great story and while telling lies might not be THE right way to do things, his reason for doing it surely is a good thing.
What a great story and you know what else? It is actually a good *cough* business idea.
Holy… wow…. omg….
can i, uh…. borrow… this idea?
*looks around shyly*
That is a thing of singular beauty.
I just don’t have it in me.
But I can see the brilliance.
I have just translated the story to my parents and we had a good laugh;-)
Thanks for that, Hugh and your super cool-y creative buddy with guts;-)
funny – great story 🙂
I got misdoubtted in the middle of reading, but I almost believe the story before you unfold it at the end, to be honest, you two are both excellent storyteller. Wait a minute, doesn’t common sense work in our mind? Or, it’s got beaten?
Love this story. It’s called a singular desire for success and doing whatever it takes to get it.
I found myself thinking as I read – I want to know more interesting people like that… I think my entire movement out of corporate consulting and into online business is the desire to be surrounded by interesting, thought-provoking, doing whatever it takes people.
Thanks Hugh for your work and for being someone I can at least tangentially interact with and observe via your books and Twitter.
All the Best, and More!
Your pal wasn’t fibbing to you back in the day … he’s fibbing to you now.
Ten years on, with industry plaudits and a respectable film sector rep to live up to, I can understand why that story of seedy hi-jinks behind his success could become a bit wearing.
So what better time to “airbrush” history and come up with a more respectable version. Who is going to gainsay him a decade on when he is now set up for life?
What nobody seems to be asking is this: if wasn’t personalised porn, then how exactly was your pal raking in the cash back in the day?
Great story though.
I agree Scott, it is a great story- because it is full of ambiguities.
Was he lying? Or was he lying about lying? I guess we’ll never know 😉
But the story was interesting enough to get you and many others to comment on it, at least.
Setting aside the morality of porn, there is no success, as I can define it, that could ever come out of dishonesty.
Money? Fuck that.
Fucking Great Story!
Normally I swallow everything you write or draw hook, line and sinker. But I was saying “No way… ” on this one waaay before you delivered the punchline. 🙂
Debbie, I believed the story from Day One. Why? Because if you know Andrew as well as I do, you’d go, “Yeah, that kinda sounds like something he would do…”
I believe you about Andrew… what I don’t believe is that he’d have lots of willing “clients” for his personalized video service. Pretty damn kinky, dontcha think?? At least for couples in “traditional” relationships. But heck what do I know?!
I dunno, Debbie, there are a lot of weird people in NY. It’s a city that seems to attract people who are very motivated by their “appetites”- be it sex, money, power, drugs, whatever.
Andrew liked exploring the city’s “dark underbelly”, a lot more than I ever did…
Also remember, Andrew’s motivation back then was not to become successful at pornography, his motivation was to create a story- real or imagined- that would be interesting to other people.
So let’s say the story was true, he’d then only need one or two, maybe a handful of clients to have enough source material to tell the story effectively and memorably to others.
“After he had shot the video, he would then take out his computer and edit the job right then and there, on the kitchen table, so before he left your home, he’d give you the SINGLE and ONLY copy that existed of the video.”
No way. Editing video takes serious work and a serious rig. Not a chance someone would be able to do more than one of these a day.
Wouldn’t have fooled me with that story. I doubt he would have fooled anyone in the film business with that. He might have gotten people who weren’t in the business to buy it.
This is the kind of crap you come up with when you spend too much time schmoozing, and not enough time in the office, putting in the hours.
Not impressed. Better bullshit than the average, but still bullshit.
Thank you, Cecil 😉
I’m fully aware how time-consuming film editing CAN be, if somebody’s paying for it.
A friend of mine just finished shooting a film with Ewan McGregor. He tells me all about it…
I guess it all depends on how tight the editing the customers would want the final edit to be, and how much they’d be willing to pay for it.
Re. Schmoozing: Yeah, I have no doubt the story started spontaneously at some downtown schmoozefest, while he was hitting on some gal… and then he ran with it from there.
That would be totally his style…
And porn acting, while not nearly as tough as dramatic acting, is still tough. It’s highly unlikely that you could find more than a few couples capable of doing it with two people hovering over you.
Vince, I don’t Andrew was trying to compete with “Last Tango In Paris” 😀
I think what makes the original story hard to believe and therefore interesting is the idea that there would be a significant number of people who would actually desire to have their naked gymnastics preserved on video.
And yet the other day my dad (who’s now heading up a hotels division) was telling me about this one guy who built up a strong career in hospitality, to the point of Head Honcho…then was fired when it was discovered he’d faked his qualifications. And then there’s that MIT lady who had the same fate.
Perhaps it’s something different fields have different tolerances to?
(and here I am having a hard time getting people to believe that I’ve done the things I’ve done :P)
It sounds interesting but candidly, the idea of audaciously lying about your core competency just leaves me cold. If Goldman Sachs and AIG are castigated for telling their story about these awesome new investments called subprime mortgages, why does Andrew get to get away with his awesome ‘personalized porn’ story? It means that the amount of film he’s directed, shot and edited was wildly overstated. Happily, he evidently was able to cover his lack of experience with creative talent [and kudos for that] but he could have just as easily set himself up for a Dose of Reality. I hate stories like this because for every one of them, there are 999 screwballs who think “me too” and use it as their excuse to jump into wildly ambitious and ultimately poorly-planned projects. Maybe I’m just playing Devil’s Advocate…I have no emotional attachment to Andrew, his success or what I just said.
Tim, yeah, I think your point of view is pretty reasonable. But it’s easy to be reasonable and detached when you have no skin in the game, as you inferred.
Harder to do when you’re down to your last five bucks in New York and desperate for your first break. But that’s what makes the story interesting. No conflict = No story.
But I don’t think Andrew was lying about his core competency. He was a pretty good editor back then, as events proved.
Had he just turned out to be incompetent and took the money, anyway, that would of course be a different matter.
Everything you’ve ever written has touted AUTHENTICITY as the goal of every creative person. Everyone, from Seth Godin down, says that authentic, content-rich relationships are the way forward.
So faking your way through life is now the way to go. Thanks, Hugh. I look forward to more lessons on scamming from you.
All Marketers Are Liars was written by whom Mark?
John Dodds, not to mention, using the word “AUTHENTICITY” [in caps, no less] while making a passive-aggressive remark is a pretty funny, as well.
*SIGH*. Another commenter who forgot to take his meds…
There’s nothing “meds-worthy” about calling out your sophomoric celebration of ethical misdeeds.
Congratulations to “Andrew” on finding success, but I’d never hire anyone with such a loose grasp of ethics.
I am shocked! SHOCKED!! to learn there is gambling going on in here!!!!!!
Andrew will be very successful in Hollywood. My only question is, what was he doing for money if he wasn’t making porn?
There have always been plenty of people who are willing to piss in the pool for personal gain. Penis pill spam, fake degrees, embellished résumés and socks down the pants – all’s fair in love and business, right? Especially if your competition finds doing this stuff distasteful.
Maybe I’m just misreading your post. Maybe it’s just a funny story, meant to be read away from the context of your “Ignore Everybody – carve your own niche to succeed” theme. When I read “personalized porn”, I thought you were linking your friend’s business strategy to your “all good marketing is porn” meme of which I am enamored. Business porn means openness. Your business pink bits laid bare. Authentic Authenticity, not the manufactured kind.
If my bullshit is sanctimonious, it’s because your post celebrating a liar who won because of the lie feels like a betrayal.
Thanks for your site, and good luck with your new book.
Well, Mark, I did say “There’s only one catch”.
I don’t believe Andrew “pissed in the pool”. He turned out to be a pretty good editor and film guy, once he got his foot in the door. He was just desperate for a break, like every young arty kid in New York. So he made up a story that would let him gatecrash the party. And once he got that break, he delivered. To compare that with selling fake Viagra is not quite it, I believe…
Sure, I could’ve ended the story with a “Kids, Don’t Try This At Home” caveat, but I don’t think there was any need to. My readers are smart enough to see the through the obvious conflict of interest of the story, and draw their own conclusions.
[…] Upowszechnienie pornografii miało, według wieszczy nieszczęścia, spowodować społeczne sprowadzenie kobiety do roli obiektu seksualnego, takźe przez modę na prywatną, amatorską pornografię. […]
I loved the story. Bought it hook line and sinker. But then I tend to be gullible.
I guess you can’t argue with success. Sure we can crap on the idea – I sure feel like it’s cheating somehow – but if it works it works.
I guess I can’t get beyond this part: This story seems to fly in the face of your ‘You have to put the hours in’ concept – one could argue that he hadn’t gotten a break because he hadn’t put the hours in. Or that he hadn’t found a way to monetize his creativity properly. It smells of disingenuousness (if that is, in fact, a word).
I’m a huge admirer of your thought process and it’s a privilege to have an open discussion with you, no matter what happens.
Tim, knowing Andrew as well as I do, I doubt anyone could doubt his work ethic or his talent.
Also, knowing Andrew, I don’t think he sat down one day and said, “OK, today I’m going to invent a big lie to help me shamelessly market myself”.
Remember, we’re talking about a guy with a supremely well-developed sense of mischief. That’s what makes his work interesting to begin with.
I’m willing to bet he was just bullshitting some boring person at some equally boring party, as a private joke to himself to keep himself amused. And then started making a habit of it, and then it grew from there…
Damn, I LOVE this story. And like Scott, I have some doubts about what’s real and what’s not… hey, who even knows if ANY of this is true, or if YOU just made the whole thing up, Hugh? 😉
Be it as it may, this story is great, and that’s what matters!
super story, so is a real one is it?
Noted – you’ve definitely given me something to think about. Thanks for spending the time.
Best ever! Hee hee….always great to outwit the system!
Great story… It doesn’t matter if it is true or not, it is creative and helped open a door which Andrew has clearly stepped through.
Reminds me of Melbourne criminal Mark ‘Chopper’ Read who took some liberties with the truth and spun it into a best selling series of books and feature film.
For the ones that keep misunderstanding Seth Godin (and this blogger and who know how many others), read Seth’s
post “Magicians, sausage makers and transparency.”
A quote: “Playing poker with your cards face up on the table might get you some attention at first, but in the long run it’s unlikely to help you win a lot of hands.”
4:13:24 PM] Mr. Robert Dutu says: that is the point
[4:13:34 PM] Mr. Robert Dutu says: nobody wants to give anything out for free
[4:14:21 PM] Mr. Robert Dutu says: but if i promise you $16million usd i will end up getting more than your pay from you
[4:38:06 PM] Mr. Robert Dutu says: and i know my God will forgive because i pray to him to replenish the pockets of my clients with double of whatever they loss
and some other fine moments there
[…] Personalized porn – Title draws you in doesn’t it? It’s OK the link is totally SFW and perhaps the greatest lie ever told. The story comes from the Gaping Void and quite humorous. Who would have ever thought that a simple white lie *cough* could turn out getting someone where they are today – so much for telling the truth on your resume. […]
[…] narrative, while intriguing and clever, was fiction. Read it here, warning: language [ http://old.gapingvoid.com/2010/01/04/10572/ […]
[…] personalized porn | Gapingvoid. 0 […]
[…] full post on Hacker News If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it! Tagged with: Personalized […]
Maybe he is lying because he is now successful and he wants to bury his past?
Never mind. Just another angle to look at it 🙂
BTW Great story 🙂
Haha. This is funny at many levels.
Let me guess: Not only did your “friend” not do personalized porn, but this “friend” never really existed at all did he?
You made him up, didn’t you, to get an interesting story to write about, and now you’re feeling a little guilty and want us to forgive you since you were just getting started in the “writing” industry?
It’s OK, we forgive you. It was a fun story about your “friend” (wink wink).
I was reminded of it when reading a write up about items on ebay selling for a lot more when they were given a story.
Scientific evidence that stories matter: http://www.predictablyirrational.com/?p=708
[…] I read the perfect example of this: Personalized Porn by Hugh Mac Leod, cartoonist and author, about a friend of his who, when no one would give him a […]
Ok is this all about coughing cough coughed stuff. anyway its a good story 🙂