It's new. It's the debut. It's a musical. It's Mr. Perfect in "CHA CHA Land!" Fest your eyes, friends and cinema lovers. #CHAperfect

Film Synopsis: Last year, Mr. Perfect took us on a tour of some unreal companies who moved to Chattanooga and were unbelievably successful. Now he returns in a musical extravaganza. And this time he'll have to convince his toughest audience yet that Chattanooga is, literally, perfect for her. 

2016, You Were Good to Us

It's awards season! Unlike the Oscars there was no major faux pas at the Chattanooga ADDY Awards. :-)

Last year we were honored to get to work with some amazing people, both clients and crew. Together, we won awards for: 

Thanks for a great year!


Leif’s Best Books of 2016


The Godfather Notebook

by Francis Ford Coppola
(There’s also a great Fresh Air interview with Coppola about the book here.)

This book just came out in November. It’s Coppola’s masterplan that he used to film the Godfather and gives deep insight into his creative process. I discovered that Coppola was in his 20s and not an expert in the craft when he was brought on to rewrite the script and direct the film. They choose him because he was a “budget” director and Italian-American. Coppola spent months researching and planning in this notebook before he started writing and producing.

For those outside the film industry the book lays out how to systematically approach and solve a massive problem when you’re not an expert. I’ve only read the first 50 pages. So far the biggest insight is Coppola’s planning system for each story point: Synopsis, Textures and Imagery, Time Period, Pitfalls, Single Sentence. He wrote these out for every scene from the book. By the time he was done he had everything he needed to write the screenplay, get the producers to spend more money, fight and win on unpopular talent choices, and direct the film.

Coppola’s way of systematically breaking down a problem and distilling ideas turned him from relatively a novice director to the leading director in the industry in two years.


Extreme Ownership

by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

This is the book I've gifted most this year. The authors are a retired Navy Seal Instructors that led multiple missions in Iraq. I heard a podcast that Jocko was a guest on and I was drawn to his mental clarity when responding to difficult questions. Also, it’s co-authored by another guy named “Leif.” How cool is that!

A big takeaways from Extreme Leadership is the concept that communication should be simple, clear, and concise. The book gives dozens of examples how this is applied in training and in the battlefield. For myself I’m trying to apply that concept to how I communicate with my team both in the office and on set.

Another takeaway is that good leaders make average teams great. Jocko unpacks how ownership is key to becoming a good leader, and shared gripping examples about friendly fire and his responsibility as a leader for the actions of his team members in the field.

The book does an excellent job of incorporating examples from business into each chapter, making it easy to understand non-military applications.

There’s tons of other gold nuggets in this book. I think I need to read it twice.

Inner Game of Tennis

by Timothy Galley

This book isn’t really about tennis! It’s mostly a book about learning and how we learn. This book was written in the 1970s and its insights can apply to tons of areas of your life. I’m a tennis player, and it’s completely changed the way I play tennis and doubled the fun that I have on the court. For non-tennis players start with Chapter 2.

Biggest insight: Be kind to yourself while working on a skill, replace judgement with observation. Whether it’s losing your keys, spilling a cup of coffee, or waking up late we bark an order at ourselves to be better and fix the mistake. That’s the equivalent of trying to give your body verbal instructions on how to walk or breath. It’s not the way the body naturally learns or builds a skill. External commands often deepens the cycle of failure. Instead how can you replace disparagement with curiosity when building a skill?

Tools of Titans

by Tim Farriss

I got this book a couple of weeks ago but it makes the list for my top books of the year. I’ve only read the first 100 pages or so (less than 1/3 of the book). The book is divided up into three sections: Health, Wealth, Wisdom. The book is a compilation of 200+ interviews. Each chapter is maybe 2-4 pages and packed with 5-10 insights.

In the introduction Tim relates a story about a philosopher who was out of money and out of food. When asked what he was going to do about it the philosopher responded: I can think, I can wait, I can fast. 

The first quarter of 2016 started out very slow for us as a company. We chose to fast. We didn’t have enough revenue to pay ourselves for about two months. We could wait. We deferred everything that wasn’t necessary. We’ll cook at home. We’ll keep driving and fixing our Saab with 300,000+ miles on it. We could think. Lucky launched our first cold email and phone call campaign. We reconnected with past clients. We grew our network. We didn’t have to go into debt and we didn’t miss a payment to our crew.

Health is a topic that I don’t naturally read about. I spend 90% of my time reading about business, leadership, human behavior, sports, and economics. But often it’s a good mental exercise to learn outside of your habit loop. So I started with Health.

First insight, think of your health in terms of “training” not “fitness.” Being fit is a vanity concept that also associated with the word “diet.” Dieting by common definition is temporary. But if you think of it as “training” and eating to train. You’ve reframed the concept of health as an internal engine that drives your life forward, not just an outside way to look better.

Second, small daily habits are key. I’ve added 5 minutes to the beginning and end of my day that set me up for success. In the morning I do a specific set of stretches to fight the poor posture and muscle shortening in hips and back that sitting all day leads to (Spiderman and Cat-Cow). In the evening foam roller legs, back, feet to loosen me up before bed.

By making health a priority at the beginning and ending of the day, I’ve found it helps give me a positive outlook on life and gives me a big boost in feeling accomplished and in control of the rest of my day.


“Rough layouts sell the idea better than polished ones.” — Paul Arden
In a creative business like ours it’s tempting to delay, delay, delay before pitching concepts. But roughs are natural invitations for others to collaborate and imagine the final product alongside you.


Tim Ferris Show: “17 Questions” Episode

This episode can be a great goal setting exercise for the new year. During a 9-hour car ride Lucky and I stopped the podcast after each question and talked through how we could apply the question to our business or personal lives.

Asking yourself absurd questions are powerful: If you had only 2 hours per week to work on your business what would you do? It forces you to cut out all the fat and clearly define what’s important.

Another that I found particularly insightful: What’s the least crowded channel? If you’re like us, e-mail is the most crowded channel that we use to communicate, both inside our team and outside with prospects and clients. So why are we using it? It’s the least scary channel to reach out on and you can shift blame to another person if there’s no response by telling yourself that it’s their fault if they didn’t reply. For us the least crowded channel is connecting in person with our prospects in their office.

Are you chasing field mice or antelopes? A lion can easily kill and eat field mouse. But if a lion only kills field mice he’ll use more energy killing the mouse than he’ll get from eating it. A lion on a diet of field mice will starve to death. It takes a lot more effort and time for a lion to kill an antelope, but antelopes keep the lion fed for a long time. If we want to hit our production goals in 2017 should we try and fill Pathfinder Film’s 36 production slots with “field mice” or should we go after 7-8 “antelopes” instead?

Ramit Sethi’s Braintrust: “Unstuff Your Life!” Episode

This podcast is not publicly available right now, but you can get the book “Unstuff Your Life!” by Andrew Mellen that covers the same topic. Andrew Mellen is a personal organizer and theater director. What a crazy combo of professions!

Biggest insight: Having a junk drawer / junk closet is deferred decision making. It’s putting something aside while saying to yourself “I’ll decide what to do with this later.” Andrew structures organization this way:

  • One Home for Everything
  • Like with Like
  • Something in Something Out

After listening to the podcast Lucky and I made a list of the things that we have no reason to keep. We have two plungers that have sat in our pantry (don’t ask why they are in the pantry) for over a year. Do we really need two? No. I have a car cover that I lugged around in the trunk of my car for years. I literally can’t remember the last time I put it on. It’s been years. There’s an old pair of jeans in my closet that has a hole in the crotch. I just got a new pair of the same jean, so why do I still have the old pair.

The common thread is that we told ourselves that these things still have value, maybe we’d be able to use them later, or maybe we’d find someone else that could use them. Both trains of thought are deferred decision making that crowd our home, not to mention our headspace!


When it’s NOT okay to go to Silicon Valley in a t-shirt

One of my favorite things about running a film company is learning about our clients. A little over a week ago we had the privilege of working with Semiconductor Industry Association, an industry association in the technology space. We worked with their marketing team to create video content for their annual meeting in Silicon Valley.

The semiconductor industry is fascinating. For the event we created a tribute video that celebrated 25 years of award winning innovators. They also asked us to come and film interviews with the leaders of many of the Fortune 500 companies that make up their membership — people like the CEOs of Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, and Intel.

A favorite moment from the interviews was talking with the three inventors of the microprocessor as they told their story on camera.

Inventors of the Microprocessor

Inventors of the Microprocessor

We had limited time with each of these high profile individuals so we needed to quickly build rapport and get great content. So that there was no distractions, I wore a well-fitted suit that matched the level of dress of my interview subjects. We had only 15 minutes with each person so we didn’t use lav mics. Finally, we had one of our team greet them at the door to answer questions and prep them on the interview format. These were important details that helped the executives feel comfortable from the moment that they walked in the room.

The tribute video that we had produced was played for a room of 250-300 industry leaders. When writing the script I spent weeks learning about the 25 past winners. There were winners like Gordon Moore who is credited as one of the fathers of Silicon Valley, and others who pushed the core science of semiconductors or worked in public policy. Any one of these leaders deserved a full documentary about their contributions.

Our challenge with the tribute video was to tell the broader story of the industry in a way that still mentioned each winner by name. For the video we sourced hundreds of historical images from each person’s life and produced a 4-minute motion design animation that highlighted their key achievements through voice and image. The audience members had lived and worked for their whole careers in this industry. We took the task of getting the details right very seriously.

The video was warmly received and a perfect fit for celebrating the 25th year of the Robert N. Noyce Award. For myself personally, being on site with our client deepened my connection to their space and what they are trying to do.

3 Tactics for Tiny Budgets

Before working with a creative partner people want to know:

  1. Can you help me?
  2. Are you good?
  3. How much will it cost? 

In my experience, "what's this going to cost" is the hardest question to answer. Both buyer and creative often feel like they have to go into negotiation mode and "win."

A few weeks back I did a teardown that shows how to improve the process and get good work done faster. Today, I'm going to to focus on what to do if you don't have a budget or you're trying something new.

CAUTION: Marketing is a force-multiplier designed to help you grow your results. For video, there's often a minimum viable dose. If you cut too many corners it's not effective and it might be better to use a different medium. 

3 Proven Tactics

Tactic #1: Change the Format
Videos are a high-overhead creative service; aka there's significant expenses beyond the time investment. At Pathfinder, we have a pricing floor for a live action video that's about twice the cost of a motion design video (no filming).

Just by switching the the creative format, there's a potential 50% savings. If you're curious about the actual numbers that we use at Pathfinder, just hit reply to this email.

People often worry that a motion design video is too much like a cartoon, or too childish. The truth is that the tone can be  playful or dramatic. The feel that the piece creates is determined more by the music, script, and delivery of the narration. 

Ask and your creative partner how this approach might look different and the tradeoffs this format.

Tactic #2: Trade Non-$$ Resources
There's times when you know that you have a TINY budget (aka below market rate), but quality creative is important. There's other ways to bring significant value to the partnership. 

Common trades (from highest value to lowest value): 

  • Warm introductions to three people you know that can buy from them.
  • Cross promotion with access to your network.
  • Publicity with gameplan for prominently featuring and endorsing them.

Tactic #3: Creative Freedom
I hesitate to call Creative Freedom a standalone tactic. But when combined with Tactic #2 it can be a powerful motivator. 

Creatives love being able to push limits and try something new. Often they'll put way more work and promotion into these kind of projects because they're a breath of fresh air. 

Taking risks is a great way to get exponential results. Sometimes the risk can turn into a flop.

The Golden Rule of Trades
Cover the project costs. It's almost never reasonable to ask a vendor to spend their money on your project. It's better to plan on covering costs and put a little more goodwill back into the world. 

Why do creatives always ask about BUDGET?

The budget conversation can be awkward when hiring a creative partner.

In most marketing budgets, whether you’re managing it for yourself or for a client, a video spend is going to be the largest line item. It’s understandable that it feels RISKY when talking about money and selecting the right vendor.

It’s tempting to keep numbers CLOSE to your chest: “If I keep quiet, maybe I can get a good deal.”

On the other side of the equation, when you ask a creative, “Can you give me an idea of what this will cost? Ballparking it is fine.” They’ll immediately begin to sweat and look ill. It’s like you’ve just poured salt on a slug.

What goes wrong

By default, both parties wait for the other to flinch, hoping the budget and project will turn out better than expected. However, if you want to take your brand to the next level and succeed in the marketplace this is a TERRIBLE way to find partners.

At Pathfinder, most of our clients have worked with 3-5 other video vendors prior to working with us. Why did they leave their last vendor? 99% of the time they were:

  • Unhappy with the quality deliverables.
  • Blindsided with high hourly charges.
  • Received inconsistent / slow communication.

These client-vendor breakups are lose-lose situations for both parties. What can you do to prevent getting your heart broken?

Many times marketing executives and agency managers try to avoid heartbreak by setting up a more formal process, “We need five RFPs.” With this setup they think, “We’ll see how much this type of work costs, and then pick the vendor that’s the lowest price with the most deliverables.

It sounds reasonable. So why do they still end up disappointed with the results and frustrated with a creative vendor?

RFPs are good start

The RFP process is good at bringing you vendor options to evaluate. But it will ultimately fail to help you build a high-quality marketing campaign if you don’t talk about budgets from the beginning. Why?

Let’s dig deeper and take a look at how creative is bought. People try to buy creative the same way they buy a loaf of bread — Bread is already baked; bread you can pick up, carefully look at, and taste to know if it’s good.

Creatives are bakers, not bread.

If you select a vendor from a blind RFP process (no budget numbers in your RFP), the lowest price with the most deliverables will get you a bottom-feeder.

Bottom-feeders are vendors that estimate wrong on the project. It’s either out of inexperience or because they haven’t protected their margin. Both are a bad situation. At best the vendor is incompetent, at worst, they’re in a fight for survival and will cut as many corners as they need to stay alive.

3 Steps to Find a Great Creative

1) Put together a simple RFP.
It doesn’t have to be formal, it can be an email. It should include schedule, responsibilities, and what goals you have for the project. This indicates to your creative partner that this is a priority for your team and that you’ve already discussed a plan for the project.

2) Put your budget upfront in your RFP; use a range, not a fixed number.
Plan your budget ahead of time, it can always be adjusted later. You’re actually more in control of your final spend if you take the lead on this. Be realistic about how much you have to spend to get great work and a talented partner. Higher value vendors have a budget floor where they know they can’t deliver quality work below a specific price.

3) Always ask how it would look different if you spent $10k MORE than the top tier pricing in a quote.
Most vendors will start limiting their ideas (and thus potential outcomes) based on the budget. Asking what it would look like if you spent significantly more will break your vendor out of a mental box and prevent your team from leaving potentially great ideas on the table.

Marketing is a force-multiplier designed to help you grow your results. By taking these steps, you’ve given permission to your vendor to be a trusted advisor. It’s also an excellent way to evaluate their long-term capabilities to grow alongside you.