The influence and impact of motivation is everywhere.
It’s in creative…
There’s that ubiquitous scene where the actor asks the director, “What’s my motivation?” When not taken in jest, we are to assume that this is so the actor can delve into the psyche of his or her character and thus give a better performance. Even if you haven’t read the books or seen any of the movies, you probably know the story of how J.K. Rowling told the late actor Alan Rickman a secret about his character that would influence how he gave nuance, complexity and depth to his portrayal of Snape.
It’s in physical fitness…
Whether one is an athlete or just trying to be more athletic, one has to remember one’s motivation when training. The win (the race) or the loss (the pounds). This impacts one’s performance, one’s ability to get up, get out, put forth the effort, train through the pain and reach one’s goals. Have you ever heard of one of those examples of individuals who have struggled with their weight for years, but finally win the battle when they are faced with a motivation that is outside of themselvesand therefore that much more important?
It’s in marketing and persuasion…
Those who seek to get you to buy their product or service, or join their cause know that motivation plays a crucial role. The motivation of the seller, and more importantly, their understanding of what motivates you, are crucial to their creating a compelling pitch that results in your purchase or buy in. In my role as a speaker and trainer, in addition to knowing my subject matter, I'm also tasked with getting the audience or team I'm training to "buy-into" me and what I'm teaching. To do that, I must know what motivates them.
What’s My Motivation?
Ironically, when pressed to give myself a label, I call myself a trainer and motivational speaker, because that is the title that so many people in my field use and more people can relate to, but I prefer to call myself a quality improvement speaker. Why I have this preference is the subject for another article. This article, is about why this quality improvement speaker, who has never gone to film school, is motivated to delve into documentary film making.
I’ve been actively working on this particular project, part-time, since early last year. As I began talking to people to gain support and participation, in addition to the typical Who, What, When, Where, How type of questions about the project, I also get the various forms of Why.
“Why are you doing a documentary?”
“Why did you choose the subject you chose?”
And although they don’t come right out and say it like this, I also get the...
“Why do you think you can do this?”
Let me first use a rather popular metaphor used by many creative types and those engaging in passion projects. This is my “baby”.
Whether one is embarking on a new art piece, a new business venture or a new innovation, when someone asks you about your “baby”, you want to gush and discuss. At length. Unfortunately, you don’t know if they are asking out of a need for small talk or social obligation, or if they are really truly interested. And even if they are genuinely interested, their interest may not last as long as your enthusiasm and ability to discuss it.
Think about when you ask a new mother or father about their child. Their parental pride and angst goes into overload and what they think is the greatest contribution to society since the creation of the wheel or the discovery of fire – their little one’s first bowel movement or their discovery of their own toes – is to you just way more information than you really wanted to know. Likewise, you may not wish to know the challenges of sleep deprivation or potty training; while the new parents may see these as critical to their future happiness and sanity.
Individuals who are embarking on the creation of something new and are truly passionate about it can be just as talkative as new parents. If you are truly passionate about your project, you can and may wish to discuss every aspect, at length and from every angle. However, not everyone may be willing to have that conversation with you.
I read an article once about a chef who was opening a new fine dining restaurant. He remarked on how he could have a two hour discussion on how and why he chose the silverware he did and how it coordinated with the glasses and plates he chose. And that's not even the food! Now a fellow restaurateur may be able to add their own hours’ worth of conversation to this topic. Yet, who among their non-hospitality industry friends would have that conversation with them?
Since I’ve begun this process, I’ve had some great conversations, both about the project itself and while recording people for the documentary. There are those who are “early adopters” who quickly move from interest to engagement to involvement. And then there are those who I know will never be interested or involved. When asked about my project, I try to gauge the interest level of the person before I go into my verbal avalanche. I hope I have guessed well, but I have a feeling there have been a few times when the person might have been wishing they had just said “Hello” and not “So how is the documentary going?”
But there is this great thing about social media. It allows people to have conversations -- more or less -- on their own terms. I can choose to talk incessantly about various parts of my project, and you can choose which ones to read: all, some or none.
Have I lost you yet?
So if I haven’t lost you yet, and you are continuing to read this, I guess you have a least a mild interest in the creative process of documentary film making, of Sociology and History, of towns called Middletown, or you just happen to be a friend, former classmate, or relative of mine. Whatever the reason, thanks for sticking with me so far.
Here is the short version – seriously haven’t figured out by now I can talk (write) a lot – of why I’m doing this documentary; and how you can help.
1. I’m Motivated By A Simple Coincidence
I’ve wanted to do a documentary for the longest time, but for someone who has never been to film school, it always seemed a rather daunting task. Of the many choices I would have to make during the process, not the least of them was: What would be my subject?
I decided to let a simple coincidence make the choice.
My film is called Middletown, USA. It is about the various towns in the United States that happen to be called Middletown.
As an undergraduate Sociology major at Hampton University, I learned about a project called the Middletown studies. I think it might have been in a methodology course, but don’t quote me on that.
In 1929 the team of Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd published the results of their Middletown study in a book called Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture. This was seen as a turning point in Sociological field research, as it was one of the first major community studies to use cultural anthropology methods in a Sociology project. The Lynds followed up their work in 1937 with the publication Middletown in Transition: A Study in Cultural Conflicts, which took a post-Depression look at the town to detail the effects of this economic upheaval.
The town the Lynds studied was actually Muncie, Indiana. It was seen as an example of a quintessentially typical American small city and thus they called it Middletown. Many researchers flocked to the town after the Lynds, to study it and extrapolate theories about the rest of the country from what they discovered in Muncie. In 1982, PBS broadcast a six-part film series, conceived and produced by Peter Davis, inspired by the Middletown studies.
My Middletown, Your Middletown
Fast forward a few years and I found myself living in a town coincidentally named Middletown. As I thought about that dream of doing a documentary, I thought, what if I walked in the steps of the Lynds and their Middletown Studies and took a sociological and historical look at my Middletown…and compared my Middletown to other Middletowns.
When I began my research about other Middletowns across the country, I found that many of them had interesting histories and stories to tell. Middletown, New Jersey has the tragic distinction of losing fifty of its citizens to the atrocity of September 11th. More recently, we see that Middletown, California is working to come back from the devastation of wildfires that destroyed much of the town in September of 2015. Middletown, Pennsylvania (Dauphine County) is located 3 miles north of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant; so they had a lot of “activity” in 1979.
Then there are the happy stories…the happy similarities. I have discovered that Middletown, Maryland’s Heritage Festival is very much like Middletown, Delaware’s Peach Festival. I’ve learned that most Middletowns got their name because somebody thought it was half way between one place and another. I have discovered several Middletown Historical Societies in several states. And I’ve met some really nice people who love their Middletown.
Using the framework of the Lynds’ studies as inspiration, I have divided the project into six categories: (1) Getting a Living, (2) Making a Home, (3) Training the Young, (4) Using Leisure Time, (5) Engaging in Religious Practices, and (6) Engaging in Community Activities. While I won’t be able to touch on all six categories in each of the Middletowns, I’m looking forward to being a guest in as many Middletowns as time and funding will permit.
So because of a simple coincidence, I am returning to my Sociological roots and looking at my Middletown and maybe a Middletown near you.
2. I’m Motivated to Use My Imagination
Speaking of coincidences, imagination plays a pivotal and interesting role in Sociology, in my business and in this project.
Like all creative projects, for this documentary I will have to have a vision of what the finish product will look like. That vision will guide me as I make decisions during the filming process and post production. Every creative person has to delve into their own imagination to create their vision. I am no different. But since this project also has a Sociological aspect to it, you could say I’m using several types of imagination.
If you took an introduction to Sociology class in college, one of the first things you might have learned is the concept of sociological imagination. C. Wright Millsdefined sociological imagination as “the vivid awareness of the relationship between experience and the wider society.” This documentary project would allow me to take biographies of individuals and histories of various towns and use them as a means to examine our America as a whole.
I have always loved that process of taking what has been experienced by one person, or many people and connecting it to our wider society; while also looking at how we, as a collective, have impact on individual lives. I have not been a practicing professional Sociologist, yet I have used the theories I learned in studying Sociology in my roles in education and the non-profit sectors. Still, I longed to get back to using my sociological imagination with more intention.
Practice What I Teach
Interesting enough, in my work as a speaker and trainer, I have created a propriety quality improvement theme that asks the question What Color Is Your Imagination?™ In this framework, I guide people through the various aspects of the creative process and the move from imagination and creativity to innovation.
Innovation can become obsolescence with time and neglect. - Nadine Owens Burton
Here is the thing about innovation. Innovation can become obsolescence with time and neglect. Even those things that were paradigm shifting innovations at one time can lose their relevance and impact. Think printing press in the 1440’s verses the year 2016. Think of the countless businesses that we thought were “indestructible institutions” that failed to reinvent themselves, failed to change with the landscape, failed to re-innovate, and perished because consumers no longer saw them as relevant.
I have to admit that in the last few years, I have failed myself and my business. I got too comfortable in a few roles. I made some of the mistakes that far too many entrepreneurs make. I failed to improve my own business while I was helping others improve.
As much as documentary film making is about “the art”, there is also a lot of business. I’m using my creative side, but I’m also using entrepreneurial “muscles” I hadn’t used in a while. And this is feeding my ambitions in other areas.
Just as I have finally decided to actualize my dream of making a documentary, I’m also working to find a publisher or a sponsor to turn What Color Is Your Imagination?™ into a book. Plus, I’m working on a few other creative and artistic projects. I’ve had all of these ideas and stories and art pieces in my head for years that just never seemed to find their way to some tangible effort. This documentary is just one piece in reminding myself of my creative side.
So you could say one of the reasons I’m doing this documentary is because I’m attempting to use my imagination(s) more than I have in far too long. I’m looking to reinvent myself. This is one of my strategies in my personal fight to combat my own obsolescence.
3. I’m Motivated by Audacity and Humility
Audacity: the willingness to take bold risks
Audacious: showing a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks
If you peruse the bookshelves – or type audacity in the search line on Amazon.com -- you find everything from the The Audacity of Self to TheAudacity of Hops. (As in beer.)
For some, the use of the word audacity is tongue in cheek or perhaps it’s a desire to use some of the success of The Audacity of Hope to bring notice to their work. Regardless, there is something to this willingness to take bold risks.
In their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras talked about companies with longevity having a BHAG: Big Hairy Audacious Goal. According to Collins and Porras, a BHAG is a long-term goal that changes the very nature of a business' existence.
The Audacity of a Voice
This documentary is part of my vision for a better me. It is part of my process to be more audacious. It is an objective that is linked to an overarching BHAG I have for myself and for my company.
In my career I have had countless opportunities to impart my knowledge to a group. Yet, these have been relatively small compared with projects like films and books. So when I decided to say, “yes I could be a filmmaker, yes I could be an author”, I would have to fight that inner voice that says, “Who are you to think you have something to say that anyone would want to hear?”
I would have to have the audacity to share my voice and my vision and create something that was worthy of recognition. And I needed to balance that audacity with some humility.
The Humility of “I Don’t Know”
You know how you have the knowledge or memory of something in your head, but you can’t remember where you read it? I remember years ago reading a book or an article about the vocation of writing. The author talked of the belief thatwriters write about what they know, but contradicted this limited view of writing by espousing the belief that writers write about what they learn while they are writing. That is what I feel about documentary film making.
I can’t imagine any filmmaker starts off a documentary film project about a subject they know absolutely nothing about and in which they have absolutely no interest. Those who have passion project films first start out with the passion. Then they build upon this passion by seeking out more information.
The saying, what makes a great teacher is that they must first be a greatstudent, is a universal truth. You cannot teach something if you have not first learned it and studied it to the point of understanding. Documentary film making is about educating through story telling. Yet, in the process of documenting real life, the filmmaker must also be learning. If she is not learning anything new about her subject, why is she bothering with the project?
I have a little knowledge about Sociology and my own Middletown; but what will make this project great is that I have the desire to learn more. I have the humility of a student to ask the questions, sit back and listen, and learn, and help others tell their stories along the way.
So I suppose I decided to do a documentary because I have the audacity to think I have something to say and the humility to know I also have much to learn.
4. I'm Motivated by Mr. Cohen and My Mother’s Face
Years ago, my little family was having one of those Saturday mornings. In the time it took to go into the local post office, my husband’s car battery died and he had to call AAA. The estimated time of arrival was more than an hour, so he called me at home to let me know. I bundled up our toddler and drove the minivan over to the post office to keep him company and warm as we waited for the technician.
While we waited in front of the post office, up to our car walked Mr. Cohen, who was about in his late seventies, early eighties. Mr. Cohen struck up a conversation as you often do in a small town, but our conversation lasted over forty-five minutes. Despite my voicing my concern about his being cold and standing up so long, Mr. Cohen was not interested in getting back into his own car and going home.
I learned Mr. Cohen was a widower. I learned that he lived near the small airport in town and couldn’t understand why his neighbors complained about the noise. “You moved next to an air field, what did you think there was going to be!” He told us a lot about the town and his life. I learned so much about Mr. Cohen and he about us.
This was almost a decade ago. Although this was the first and last time we met Mr. Cohen, that interaction remains in my mind. As a lesson, as motivation and as a reminder. I recognized that not only was Mr. Cohen a very nice and friendly man, but that he was probably also a little lonely. And he saw in us people he could talk to.
I’ve always said that I have my mother’s face. Not only because I looked like her, but because like her, I have had so many occasions where people bare their souls to me or just strike up a conversation that can get very intimate very quickly. When I was a child I would often ask my mother, “Did you know that person?” Some stranger would seem to just start talking to my mother in a store, in a restaurant or on a train, anywhere. Some conversations would seem almost like therapy sessions. As I got older, I recognized what that was. My mother had “the face”. The look that said, “I’m willing to listen to your story.”
I think I am losing that face. My mother’s face. I haven’t had as many Mr. Cohen conversations as I used to. And I miss those conversations. I miss those opportunities to get a glimpse into someone else’s life. With this documentary, here is my opportunity to have what I hope will be a lot of great conversations.
So I guess one of the best reasons why I’m doing this documentary is to remind myself that I still have my mother’s face.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Now you know a little about why I decided to do this project. Now I’d like you to know how you can be a part of it.
You don’t do projects like this alone. There are already several people who I am so thankful to have met and who have been a tremendous help to me. And before I am done, there will be countless people to whom I will owe countless thank yous and admiration for their dedication and commitment to me and this project.
I’m already blessed to have had people volunteer their time, both in front of and behind the camera. I still have a long way to go, so if you want to help me out, here are a few ways you can do just that.
Please help me with a few clicks of your mouse. Like or share this post or leave acomment. You may not live or work in a Middletown, but someone in your network might. I am currently working to make connections in the various Middletowns across the country. It helps me if when I send an email or make a phone call, the folks on the other end have already heard about this project. The folks in sales know what I mean. It helps me to “warm” the call. Your click might help push word of this project to more people who can help me with the documentary.
Better yet, if you know someone who lives, works or attends church or school in a town called Middletown, share this project with them and suggest they contact me. I will need great stories to tell and people to interview. If you know of either of these, I hope you will help connect me.
I also need Sociologists and Historians who are willing to either be consultants to the project or to be on-camera talent. If you know of a Middletown Historian or a Sociologist who is an expert on the six categories of the Middletown studiesproject, please send them my way.
Join us on social media. If you would like to keep abreast of how the project is progressing. Join Middletown, USA on Facebook, Twitter and the projectwebsite.
Join the mailing list for the documentary. I plan to crowd-fund the project on theIndiegogo platform. If you join the mailing list you will be one of the first people to know when the project goes live. If you live in a Middletown, I’ll let you know when I plan to film in your town. And when we start having screenings of the finished product, you will be one of the first to get an invitation.
Join the conversation and share your stories. For those who live in one of the Middletowns, I will look to you to help me know what’s going on in your town. If you post something on social media, help me to easily find it by using the hashtag#MyMiddletownYourMiddletown. Or if you want to show some state pride use #Middletown[YourState]; for example: #MiddletownDE, #MiddletownMD, #MiddletownKY, #MiddletownNJ,#MiddletownCA, #MiddletownRI, etc.
Until and unless I am able to successfully crowd-fund this project or actualize grants or sponsorship, this project is self-funded. Which basically means any revenue received through my business that doesn’t support my family, helps to fund this project. So in a way, if you want to help me with this project, refer me to an organization that could use my services or share me with them.
Nadine Owens Burton has been a teacher, a university administrator, a non-profit board member, a director of a school readiness program and an entrepreneur. She is the founder and president of Owens Burton Consulting, a quality improvement training and speaking services company. Middletown, USA is her first foray into documentary film making.