Thursday, August 22, 2019

Saved by Three Monkeys in a Church

It was on a quiet, balmy Wednesday night, May 29, 2019, when I ventured out to a local Manassas bar for the first time. I had left a steak chain restaurant, which, to my dismay, closed up at 10 p.m., to seek out more nighttime adventure. Albeit, it was the middle of the week. But I needed some liquid consoling from a difficult project I was working on. Someone suggested Old Town Manassas, which I used to frequent years ago—almost a decade ago, in fact. Familiar places remained; others had changed names and ownership. Some had moved to other locations. But it all felt new again.

I parked my car on one of the quiet side lots and strolled to a new bar that had opened a few months prior: Three Monkeys Pub & Chophouse at 9329 Main Street. I was nervous. Standing at the door from the top steps of this historical church building, I peered through the glass panes to the bar inside. It was packed. Everyone was having a good time, it seemed. But I didn’t know if I was ready yet. I turned to one of the ID checkers behind me and told him that it was my first time. And then I looked back inside and said, “Everyone looks so young.” His response: “They’re not as young as you think they are.”

So I pushed open the doors and a rush of music and conversations surrounded me. I quietly made my way around to an open seat on the side of the bar. Within minutes I was talking to two or three guys. They told me it was Karaoke night, pointed out two of the owners, Travis and Karen Williams, and put me at ease. Then around turned Molly, a sweet, young bartender whom I had known years ago from the same restaurant I had just left. She raced around the bar to give me a hug, and shared pictures of her and her beautiful little girl. In the five years since I had last seen her, her life had changed a bit. But she looked as glowing as ever. Next came Michael Hanley (Mikey), the third “monkey” and co-owner, who once worked at another bar a block over. Familiar faces were popping up all over.

By the end of that first night, I was talking with dozens of people. A former wrestler put me in a half nelson when we got talking about the sport, and drinks were flowing left and right. It was as if I had walked into a happy place, where everyone wanted to connect. I had such a wonderful time.

Two days later, on a busy Friday night, I returned. Was this all a fluke? I needed to know. I sat at the corner of the bar and leaned into a rough-looking stranger who liked the same kind of beer I did. I said, “How was your day today?” He turned and smiled, then laughed. “My day was great! I just got out of prison.” This was going to be an adventurous night. That person is now dear to me, and we’ve connected ever since. (He didn’t really go to prison, he was just joking with me.) Right place, right time. I’m glad I took a chance.

I want to make something clear at this point. This is not an advertisement, because it’s coming from my heart. The reason why Three Monkeys is such a great place to visit is because of the staff and the people they attract. This is not a place where the bartender sets a drink in front of you and only comes around for the next. Mikey, Molly, Shane, Joey, Paige, Jeff, and all the rest, they reach out and shake hands, come around and hug, chat, and laugh. They dance. They sing. They enjoy what they do, and it’s infectious.

And the food at Three Monkeys, both upstairs and downstairs in the more formal Chophouse dining area, is tremendous. Everything from custom burgers and wings to grilled salmon, steak, baby back ribs, and more can be ordered throughout the night.

In the back of the building is a large event room with bar, and the patio just outside the door is alive with daytime performers and a nighttime DJ. I played my first game of cup pong there on Leo Appreciation Night. At one time they filled the back patio with sand for a beach atmosphere. All this effort that the staff puts into this establishment shows that they care about their patrons. After all, the Three Monkeys mantra is “We don’t have happy hours, we have happy days!” And it shows. I’ve made so many friends there over the months I’ve gone back. There will be many more good times, for sure.

Sometimes you go to church to be saved. You may laugh when I tell you that Three Monkeys saved me. But both serve the purpose of bringing people together—where kindness is next to you, and opportunities and connections are just a conversation away. It’s not just the alcohol, which has always served as a social lubricant. It’s the people. Somehow, almost like a miracle, this place has been blessed. I truly believe that.

So show up on a Wednesday afternoon or a Friday night—any time or day of the week. You will be greeted with open arms and warm smiles. Don’t hesitate. I’m glad I didn’t.

Hours: Monday - Friday: 11 am - 2 am, Saturday - Sunday: 10 am - 2 am, Brunch Saturday & Sunday: 10 am - 2 pm

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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Crowdfunding is Prostitution: Review of Seed & Spark

Whew...let me gather myself as I try to write a thoughtful and coherent blog post about crowdfunding. Because I am PISSED. And I think if you follow through, you may come to a similar conclusion. Gosh, I hate to be known as the guy that complains, but when you see a wrong, you need to say something. See something, say something.



Our documentary, Who's Protecting Our National Bird? is about how the bald eagle is being threatened at record numbers by loss of habitat and lead poisoning. It all began when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowed a developer to rip out the habitat in front of an eagles' nest to build two large warehouses. They paved all the way up to five feet from the base of the tree. The eagles are disturbed daily by large trucks that pass below them for deliveries.

I had already raised $5600 through GoFundMe, PayPal, cash, and checks through many means of promotion. My goal, which was so minuscule compared to most film budgets, was $8000. That's because the majority of the production took place at our local eagle nest, which is a 10-mile round trip. Of course, I filmed at other locations, but that was the bulk of the work. And let me tell you, waiting for an eagle to fly out of a tree in 20-degree weather is no fun task.

HOW I PROMOTED BEFORE CROWDFUNDING

So here are the many ways I raised funds before reaching out to a crowdfunding site, in this case, Seed & Spark.

1. I created an official website with a video trailer and several pages of info.
1. I create a Facebook group for the documentary with daily updates.
2. I joined several groups relating to bald eagles and raptors and posted often.
3. I reached out to local businesses.
4. I wrote news articles.
5. I held events to raise money.
6. I promoted the film during my book signings (I'm also an author)
7. I emailed over 2000 people from my last film to encourage support for the new one.
8. I spoke to people directly at the film site and shared my knowledge of our eagle pair.

For my first documentary I paid all costs on my own. I made that back within six months through DVD sales. Since fewer people, if any, buy DVDs anymore, I decided to raise the funds for this new film through contributions, then make the film a public-education piece. Everyone will eventually be able to watch it for free online. That is how I believe it will reach the most people and have a positive impact.

After all of the methods above, some that were successful and others that weren't at all, I came to the conclusion that maybe I should try a crowdfunding site. So by recommendation, I chose Seed & Spark, which specifically gears itself towards filmmakers.

SEED & SPARK SHORTCOMINGS

Right out of the gate I found problems with how Seed & Spark operates:

1. They do not post on social media about every film campaign that has been launched. I checked their Facebook page and Twitter feeds. This should be a no-brainer. How hard would it be to share a quick Facebook post: "Check out the new documentary Who's Protecting Our National Bird? and follow filmmaker Victor Rook as he posts behind-the-scenes updates." All I saw on Seed & Spark shares were projects that were greenlighted. What good does that do? A good platform doesn't just promote success stories.

2. If you look at the landing page for a project, you will notice there are no obvious Share buttons for Facebook, Twitter, etc. Instead, Seed & Spark chose to bury them under a single button that looks like an outgoing email icon. You have to click it to reveal the common share buttons. I discovered it by accident.



From the first day of launch I had people asking me how they could share my page. People are used to seeing the telltale blue Facebook button, so why make them search for it like it's some sort of Easter egg hunt? It took a lot of effort on my part to get them to that page, so why make it hard for them to promote it?

3. Whenever I shared an update, the automatic image would be the same image I used for the promotional video. Can you imagine a Facebook Newsfeed where the same image appears over and over again? Who would click on that? Most would probably unfollow me. If the site was designed correctly, the shared image would be pulled from the update, like on the right below. I saw no way to work around this on Facebook as I can with other posts shared throughout the web, unless you retype the first paragraph and upload the same picture in the update and post the link again.

Left: How every update looks when shared. Right: The proper way to display an update.

4. Seed & Spark does no category promotion. My film is a nature film, so why not send out emails to all followers and donators to Nature films to tell them that there is a new nature film in the making? You can't even browse films by category. This is a travesty, and a poor design.

5. Seed & Spark has no "Newly Listed" category when browsing, and newly listed films do not show up on the main page. Once you launch a campaign, your project is literally buried into oblivion.

6. Seed & Spark believes that encouraging followers to your project is a great way to generate interest for your film. But what happened from day one were other filmmakers asking me to do a Follower Swap. So I'd follow their films so their followers would get an email saying that I followed them, and that would hopefully spark their interest to check out my film and follow it.

Now I believe wholeheartedly that followers (an audience) is the number-one goal, but you want a legitimate audience that really has an interest in your film. Garnering followers as a numbers game just isn't a good way to build a supportive audience. Maybe one or two out of twenty might take an interest, but it's a crapshoot.

7. Staff Picks: I will never understand why any site would have a category where individuals (staff) pick and promote films that are of personal interest. This practice needs to stop. I think we all get a little sick to our stomachs when we see this kind of favoritism.

THE DIVERSITY THING

While filling out the Seed & Spark forms to launch a project, you get asked how your film or filmmaking is promoting diversity? Like will it be about female empowerment, promote racial diversity and inclusion, etc. Now I am 100% for all of that. I am all for everyone to be treated equally. I voted for Obama and Hillary, dammit.

But there is a tinge to this question that made me feel, well, that my being a white human with a penis could be a disadvantage. Why is promoting diversity important for my film to achieve an audience? It's about bald eagles.

So I had to pull out my gay card. At least I had that going for me! But why, seriously, is this even asked? Good films and filmmakers come in all shapes, sizes, creeds, sexualities, and genders, but it should never be asked as a reason to consider whether or not your project is worthwhile.

NOW FOR THE PROSTITUTION THING

It's all about audience building, we get that. I have a large audience of people that would love to see my film for free, but would never think of spending a dime to support it.  I also have a dedicated small group that are totally supportive. I LOVE them!

But current crowdfunding platforms, including Seed & Spark, are doing very little to help create an audience for a film. Sure, they have designed courses telling you how YOU can do it, by means of social media, events, sending emails, finding partners, etc, which is what WE'VE ALREADY DONE.

So why would I want to send those people to a platform that will only turn over those funds to me once I reach 80% of my goal? If I don't raise $2600 in pledges in two months, I will receive NOTHING. That means all the time and effort I spent in sending people to Seed & Spark, and writing and posting updates, will be wasted. If someone supports me through GoFundMe, I have cash in my bank account the next day.

A prostitute works the street to pay a pimp. She (or he) puts on her own make-up, buys her own clothing, and works the streets alone. If she doesn't trick, she doesn't get paid. Unless she works for an escort service, the Johns (followers) are not supplied to her. Her income is based on her own effort. The pimp is the crowdfunding site that provides the street for her transactions and takes a cut.

Filmmaking is hard work. It's stressful and time consuming enough that we all need a little help in working the "streets." If you're going to make me pull out the gay card, recreate a pitch video, update my Johns on a daily basis, then you should do a little something in return, and not just reward me if I'm able to bring 250 Johns to your table.

Seed & Spark could be an excellent platform to connect people to films they may be interested in watching and supporting. But with all the shortcomings I described above, it won't reach its full potential. A good platform works for those in need, not just for those who are already succeeding.

In the end, I gave up after three weeks. $85 was pledged. Do better, Seed & Spark. Your NUMBER 1 goal should be finding donors and bringing them to the table. You're getting paid for that reason. Learn how to do your job, if you really care about filmmakers.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

How We Bridge the Racial Divide in America

As I write this, Megyn Kelly was just fired from her NBC Today Show hosting gig for suggesting that it’s okay to go blackface on Halloween “if it’s part of a character.” Unless you’re going door to door as a coal miner, I’m not sure what character she would be referring to.

And now there has been a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue by a jew-hating nutcase. Eleven people are dead. Several others are injured.

Earlier this summer, comedienne Roseanne Barr referred to Valerie Jarrett as a mix between a Muslim and someone from the Planet of the Apes. We don’t know if she was comparing Jarrett’s physical attributes to one of the characters in the series, or if it was a racially charged slip-up. Barr immediately stated that she did not know Jarrett was black.

So, it’s 2018, we’re a country of immigrants, and slavery was abolished 153 years ago. Why are we still in this place? Why are we still not fully accepting of each other’s skin tones, or religious followings?

My first roommate in college was black. We were assigned our roommates back then. Gary came in with his mother, who immediately seemed taken aback that her son was paired with a white guy. She said, “Now you pick the bed you want and the dresser you want.” Gary was embarrassed. But we both got along very well. It was weird for me to sit in the cafeteria as the only white guy among his ten or more friends, I gotta admit. I was the odd man out, and so I know how it feels to be judged for your skin color, too.

In my adult years I have had three black roommates. I voted for Obama, not because he is black, but because he was fully competent and perfect for the role as President of our country. We did it, America! We looked past race and judged him by the quality of his character.  In my entire life, now age 55, I can’t remember a person so genuinely perfect to represent our country, so it boggles my mind why so many people hate him with such vitriol. Is it because he’s black? I do not know.

So how do you we get past our prejudices? How do we remove those deeply embedded judgments? It’s all about choosing to interact with people who are different from you. Not different in character or desires or goals, but simply different in skin tone. Listen, I’m a pasty-white Irish dude. I’d like a little more color in my life. And every time I’ve reached out to a person of a different skin tone, just to say hi, or buy a beer, or talk in the checkout line, it’s been a great experience. Why wouldn’t it be?


Recently, I was contacted by a major book publisher regarding the above photo. I took the photo while sitting in a bank drive-through in Manassas, Virginia, on December 22, 2011. I could not believe how hateful some of the stickers were. And so racially charged. It made me sick to my stomach.

The publisher found the photo on the Internet and contacted me to see if I would license its use for author and black historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s new book, Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow. From the book description: “A profound new rendering of the struggle by African-Americans for equality after the Civil War and the violent counter-revolution that resubjugated them, as seen through the prism of the war of images and ideas that have left an enduring racist stain on the American mind.”

It’s important for us to document how far we’ve come, and how much work we still need to do to bridge our racial divide. Lately, it’s as if we are taking four steps back for every two steps forward. I was happy to allow my photo to be published in Mr. Gate’s book.

Alas, his publisher nixed the photo "visual essay" section a few months later, and to my knowledge, my photo was not used. But I was still paid for it. And today, April 2, 2019, is the book release date. Check it out.

Congratulations, Mr. Gates!

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Friday, March 1, 2019

Make-a-Book March

If one of your New Year's resolutions was to get your book finished and published, I am here to help you keep that promise to yourself. And there's no better time than the present. I'm calling this month, Make-a-Book March. You'll save 20% on book design services purchased before March 31, 2019, even if you're not quite ready to submit your manuscript.

Wouldn't it be nice to have your book on someone's bookshelf? Let's make it happen.


Book Design and Publishing
Take advantage of my $550 Book Publishing Package, which includes:
  • Book Cover Design
  • Interior Formatting for Print
  • Formatting for Kindle
  • Publishing on Amazon KDP
With the 20% discount, that comes to $440. Read some of my author client recommendations. I can also proof/edit your book. Rates are based on word count. I make two passes through your manuscript and provide a pdf markup file of suggested changes.

Website/Blog Design
I also create fully-functional blogs and websites. Every author needs a platform to market their books, especially if they are self-published. And there's no better way to draw in followers than using social media and maintaining a blog.


I can work with both Blogger (recommended because of all-free hosting) and WordPress. If you already have a website or blog that needs fixing, just let me know. A four-page website (Home, Books, Blog, Contact) designed on Blogger with header artwork, book links, and subscriber form is just $250. I will even provide you with a blogging tutorial.

Marketing Materials
Yes, I am a man of many talents. I can produce bookmarks, posters, business cards, and flyers from your artwork, or the artwork I design for you. Prices vary; just let me know what you want.


Video Production
I've won three Telly Awards for my work on documentary films, and I can also whip together a nice book trailer with some flair. Check out more of my video work here.


So contact me today by email, or by phone at 571-330-7144, and let's get started! I'm good at holding hands and making the process run smoothly, even if it's just through emails and phone conversations. You write, and let me do the rest! Vic

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Manassas 'Snow Day' Becomes Relaxing Film

It isn’t rare for Manassas to receive its share of inclement weather. But winters tend to be on the sleety, slushy, icy side, with most snowfalls disappearing in a few days. Set aside the occasional snow-bomb, like in 2009 and 2010 when the area was pummeled with car-cloaking white, Manassas winters are a bit more tranquil than those farther north. So many of us welcome a good ground covering.

Now one of our most recent snow days, January 13, 2019, has been forever memorialized in a new DVD video titled, Snow Day Relaxation Video. Manassas filmmaker Victor Rook set out early that Sunday morning to capture the essence and beauty of it all.

Watch a short promo clip from the video.

“Last year I made my way out to Cannon Branch Park to photograph the snow before it fell from the tree limbs,” says Rook. “At the edge of Gateway Blvd. and in front of the park, there sits a patch of woods no bigger than the small pond beside it. You wouldn’t think much about it, but when it is covered with snow, it’s like walking into a winter wonderland. I was giddy that day to revel in all that beauty.”

Just a year later, that same wonderland would return, and Rook was ready with his camera.

“I wanted to capture that area and how it made me feel that day with a film that people could enjoy when they needed some winter pick-me-up.” So Rook watched the weather patterns very closely. “The night before, they predicted the snow in our area. But it doesn’t take long for snow to blow from branches. You have to catch it early.”

On the morning of the shoot, Rook checked his Radar app on his phone. “The snow had stopped around 9:00 a.m., but a new patch was coming through. So by the time I got to the park, it had started again. Nice big flakes.”

For the next several hours, Rook hauled around his high-definition camera on a tripod, and stood silently above each shot with an umbrella to keep the snow off the camera lens. Over the next week he pulled out the best dozen winter scenes and edited the 60-minute film. Much like the Yule Log, where you can turn your TV into a crackling fireplace, his Snow Day Relaxation Video allows you to enjoy each scene for 3-6 minutes before it dissolves to the next. And underneath is a tranquil piano score by noted composer Kevin MacLeod.

The film can be purchased on DVD on Victor’s website for $10.95 or on Amazon for $14.95.

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Monday, December 3, 2018

'Vic Video' is Student's Alter Ego

That was the headline of the Michigan State University newspaper (The State News) article on me printed April 25, 1985. I recently found a copy of the paper stuck inside a box of Christmas decorations. It must have been kept by my mother, who passed away in 2008. Also in the box: a giant-size print of my high school graduation photo. Just look at that red hair (picture below).


A lot of red and a lot of hair. Circa 1981.
This was the first article written about me specifically, and it made me a bit leery of journalists and accuracy in reporting. They had gotten wind of my interest in producing music videos. This was in the heyday of MTV, when students watched Madonna, Prince, and Sting videos 'round-the-clock.

I was about to graduate with a degree in Mechanical Engineering when the year before I got hit with the videomaking bug. I asked my dorm mates to be in a music video to Alan Parson's "Games People Play" in 1984, and in 1985 we followed up with Earth, Wind & Fire's "Fantasy." In between all that was a lot of on-camera lip-syncing fun.

I remember being asked if I regretted not studying filmmaking and telecommunications, and I told the reporter that I did not. I knew Mechanical Engineering was a wise choice if I wanted to get a job. But in the article she wrote the exact opposite: "With just a few weeks left until graduation, Rook said he regrets that he didn't major in telecommunication, but said that it wouldn't stop him from making videos." When I called the editor after the article came out to kindly point out the mistake, he responded, "Look, we are not your PR firm." Imagine that? From a student editor. Such a bad way to start off a journalism career.

Since that moment I always get both excited and apprehensive when an article is written about my work. I'm thankful that they care enough, yet wondering what way they will twist my words to fit their view of how my story should be. And it's happened again and again. Which is why I mostly only answer questions by email, so at least I'll have written proof of what I said.

You hear about this all the time: how words are often taken out of context. Sometimes downright untruths are printed. I'm not talking about Fake News, just news that isn't completely accurate. As a documentary filmmaker, I take that to heart. Whenever I trim an on-camera interview, I make sure I'm careful with the subject's words. Outside of knocking out ums and stammers (cut to B-roll), you always keep whole sentences or statements intact. My goal is to allow the person to project their best responses.

What I would tell anyone reading any article today is, realize that you are not getting the full picture. That there are probably inaccuracies. In this Washington Post article on my Beyond the Garden Gate film, the reporter wrote: "'Birds were extremely difficult,' forcing him to crouch still for long periods of time, then sending him dashing through shrubs with camera held high."

Not once did I ever dash through shrubs to chase birds for the video. More like stood still for a long time, and focused. Just as I've done for countless hours for this film. But I guess that doesn't sound quite as exciting.

If I can find them, I will post some of the video clips we shot in college over 30 years ago. We had a blast.

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Sunday, September 9, 2018

Blogger Tips: How to Write and Edit Posts

Here are some tips on writing blog posts with the Blogger interface. Contact me if you'd like your own personalized blog designed. Once your blog is set up, you only need to know a few things to start creating some awesome posts. So let's get started!
Make sure you are signed into Google (go to Google.com and click on Sign In on the top right), and then go to your Blogger Dashboard.

1. Ignore everything in the left-hand column. Messing with anything there could mess up your blog. In the middle you will see a list of all your blog posts, which includes how many comments and views each post has received. Above that you will see an orange button labeled New Post. Click that.


2.  This will take you to a screen where you should write your blog. Important: Do not write your blogs in Word and paste into here. It will bring background characters that will screw up the blog post. This is REALLY important.


3. You will see that you can enter a Post title and the big empty area is where you will type your blog text. Your post title should include important keywords every time as this is the title that will appear in search engines.

4. Type your first paragraph. Like any article, this should get to the point of what this blog post is about. Three or four sentences is best. These are also the first few sentences that will appear when you share your blog post on Facebook.


5. You will see a tool bar above the area where you type to allow you to make text bold, italic, etc. There are also buttons to insert pictures and add links.  Use the default font to have a consistent look.


6. Continue typing until you are done with the text portion of the blog. At any time you can click on the Save button on the top right to save what you are typing. DO NOT CLICK ON PUBLISH. That is only when you are done and you want to make it live.

7. After all text is typed, then go back and play with adding pictures and links. Note: Only add pictures AFTER the first paragraph, not before. To add a picture, put your cursor between two paragraph where you want it to be. Click the Insert image icon up top (to the right of Link) and then choose a picture from your hard drive. After the picture is inserted, you can click on it to add a caption, resize, and make it left, center, or right justified with your text.


8. To make a hyperlink, highlight the text you want to hyperlink. Click Link up top in the toolbar and type in the URL that text should take you to when someone clicks on it.

9. At any time you can click Preview up top right to see what your blog post will look like when live. Make sure you click Save before doing that. Once you are ready to make your blog post live, click Publish. This will take you back to your Blogger Dashboard and you will see it listed. If you need to edit a blog post, published or unpublished, hover your mouse over the blog title in your Blogger Dashboard and you will see Edit appear. Click that. If you published a blog post by mistake, you can check the square box to the left of the post title, then click on Revert to draft up top.

10. Have fun! Remember, always type your blog posts with this interface. Do not use Word or any other program.

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