Jeffrey Sass: CMO & Author of “Everything I Know about Business and Marketing, I Learned from THE TOXIC AVENGER”
You’re listening to the Grow Smarter Show. I’m Scott. Thanks for joining us today. We’re talking about movies and marketing with Jeffrey Sass. So stick around
Scott: what were some of the lessons you learned making troma movies that you’ve applied to other industries?
Jeffrey Sass 0:49
Well, Thanks, Scott. I think you know, it’s very interesting. Looking back at it now after having, you know, a longer career and being an entrepreneur and being involved in a lot of different companies. In startups, I realized that making a movie, especially an independent film, like the troma movies, is really like running a startup, you’re just doing it in a much more concentrated period of time.
But when you’re making a film, you’re literally doing everything that startup does, you know, you have to have a business plan in your script, you have to have, you have to hire and fire people, you have to raise money, you have to really bring your product to market, you’ve got to finish that film, you got to find customers or an audience for your film.
So you’re really doing everything any entrepreneur would do. But you’re doing it in a very concentrated period of time, you know, these independent films would, we’d be shooting for, you know, eight or 10 weeks, and the whole movie might, you know, take a course of six or nine months. So it’s a very concentrated very focused period of time.
And because of that, a lot of the things that you have to do to make a movie really apply very well to business and there were a lot of great lessons that I felt that I’ve learned Through my experience making these wildly crazy, low budget films that I’ve been able to apply to various industries and various companies, you know, over my career, and a lot of it has to do with, you know, communication and discipline and culture. And there’s a lot of chapters about that in the book.
One lesson that that I, you know, recently came to mind, again, is this notion of, of using the word we, you know, at troma, which was, you know, run by Lloyd Kaufman and Michael hers were the founders, you know, they were real characters. And, and even though it was a small, you know, arguably rinky dink little company in the west side of Manhattan.
We had rules and one of the rules was, there was no I in troma . as employees or volunteers working there, we weren’t allowed to say I ever anytime you were communicating on behalf of troma, it was always we, you know, we would like to meet you for lunch, we would like to read your script, we would like to see your movie, whatever it is, it’s we we we it didn’t matter who you were, whether you were the, you know, the founders of the company, or whether you were an unpaid intern, you had to say we and that was a very powerful lesson to learn because when you say we, you immediately feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. And that’s it.
That’s a key to creating a great company culture is really everyone at the company has to feel like they’re a part of something that’s bigger than themselves. It has some purpose behind it. So by saying we you know, you immediately felt like you were part of this team, the trauma team, and every movie even started with the logo that said a trauma team production and it was very effective externally as well because when we presented ourselves to potential business partners, filmmakers we were trying to get into bed with so to speak.
Reviewers and the media. They I always thought it was odd that who was this little company that always said greetings from troma Ville, and we, we, we want to do this and we want to do that. So it really helped make us stand out externally. And it helped create this sense of really being a part of something internally. And to this day, I feel uncomfortable if I use I in any kind of business correspondence, I prefer to say we, and it goes toward, you know, when you think about filmmaking, in particular, in business in general, they’re collaborative processes, you know, unless you’re, you know, truly a solopreneur , you know, working by yourself or an artist that’s painting on a canvas or a writer just typing away by yourself. Almost every other business venture is collaborative, you have other people involved in the process, and there are very few things you do solely by yourself, even if you own the company.
And so by saying we by involving everyone else, you’re being a more honest, you know, if you’ve ever been in a meeting and someone stands up and Who was working on a project that you were involved in? And they say, Well, I did this, and I got this done. And you’re sitting there saying to yourself, wait a minute, I was part of that project, too. You know, what about me?
So when you say we really including everyone in your respective the fact that that your work is, is collaborative, and nothing really gets done by one person by themselves. So that was an important lesson.
Scott: Right? And like it’s amazing was when everybody is 100% bought in. It just adds so much more that
Yeah, so can you tell me a little bit more about that in your book, you say that makes the movies a lot like being in a startup on steroids?
Jeffrey Sass 5:40
Yeah, as I was saying, it’s like you’re doing everything a startup does, but you’re doing it at a much more concentrated period of time, you know, and the thing about filmmaking, which is where the steroids come in is, it’s really one of the few business ventures that that sort of lives and dies on a daily basis.
You know, when you’re making a film Every single thing, every scene and this doesn’t matter whether you’re making a Hollywood blockbuster, or you’re making a arguably crappy little troma movie, although they’re not their art, their artwork, very proud of them.
But, you know, it could be a movie with no budget or a multi million dollar budget, you still have to have everything scheduled down to a daily process, right? Every day is scheduled because every day you need to know, you know, what’s the location you’re filming at? Who are the actors that are required? What props and sets do you need?
What about special effects, etc, who has to be where, when, and you have to have a backup plan, which is something we often don’t have in traditional businesses mean that if you’re filming outside, on location somewhere, you know where things are out of your control, like Mother Nature in the weather, you have to have a plan B for that day, you have to have an interior set somewhere that’s nearby that involves the same actors and actresses that you’re already going to have present for the exteriors See, so that if it does start raining or hailing or snowing or whatever, you have a backup plan and the day is not lost because every last day is lost money. In business, we don’t often plan as carefully and we don’t focus on the things that are most important.
You know, when you’re making a film, I learned very early on that there were three things that were essential when you’re making a movie, right. And those three things were you had to have a camera pretty hard to make a movie without a camera, you had to have film in the camera. Back in those days today, you’d have to have digital storage and sufficient batteries so that the camera would operate. And then you have to have actors and actresses to place in front of the camera and tell your story.
If you didn’t have those three things every single day. Nothing else mattered. It didn’t matter if your director was Steven Spielberg, it didn’t matter if you had the greatest screenplay ever written, or the most beautiful location. You could not make your movie without a camera, filming the camera and actors to get in front of the camera. So Every single day, those were the most important thing.
And when I first started out as a production manager, it was my responsibility to make sure that those three things were the first things on the set every morning. So we had to have a car set to pick up every actor and actress to make sure that they were up in the morning and on set on time.
And even with a low budget film, like trauma would make that car wouldn’t be a limousine, it would be some production assistance, personal vehicle, you know, dented and dirty, but at least there’d be someone there to knock on that person’s door, wake them up and make sure that they were ready to be on the set on time.
And we had to protect the camera truck and make sure that that was on the set and got there on time and everything was in order. So those were very important. And I think in business, we can be very busy on a daily basis, but we may not be moving our business forward on a daily basis. So in the book, I talk about how in business you should try to identify what are your equivalents of the camera, the film and the actress? What are the two or three or four things about your business that are absolutely necessary on a daily basis to keep that business moving forward. And if you’re not focusing on those things, then then you’re kind of missing the boat or you’re spinning your wheels.
And you should really identify the things that are important that you should be paying attention to every single day. So you don’t go home at the end of the day say, Gee, I was really busy today. You go home and say, Gee, I really move things forward. Today, I really work on something that was important and moving my business forward.
Right. 100% so that kind of leads me into this next question, from your book, how to be open to the unexpected. Why is that important?
Jeffrey Sass 9:36
Well, it’s very important because, you know, you don’t know what’s going to happen and things change and and you have to be willing to deal with and embrace that change. And, and a lot of times, especially in business and startups, you know, you know, there’s a lot of focus in our culture on raising money, you know, raising money, talk about the unicorns and all this stuff. But you know, having money is not the answer, Derek And there are many unexpected things that happen in business where throwing money at it is not necessarily the answer, or money can’t solve the problem.
You have to think on your feet. You have to you know, do what the old sailors did it see you have to jury rig something and fix it with what you have at hand, and figure out a way to make the scene work with whatever’s available, if the things you were counting on didn’t show up or broke or something changed.
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You know, Case in point when you’re making a film, if you’re on set, and something breaks or something changes at a location, you know, just having money in the bank doesn’t mean you can get a replacement to the set on time. And in time to save the day.
So you have to always be prepared to think creatively and sometimes not having money sometimes, you know, the training of being on a low budget film, for example, you know, really prepares you for those situations much better than if you’re always in a situation where you feel like Well, I’ve got, you know, unlimited resources and that’ll get me through every problem because there’s a lot of things that Come up in business and a lot of issues and problems that where money is absolutely not the answer. And sometimes too much money is the problem, not the solution.
True, true. Like I love how there’s such a stark contrast between the indie versions compared to the big box office style productions
Jeffrey Sass 11:24
and at the end of the day, you know, and in business too, it’s the same thing it’s the story or the product that that really matters the most you know, if you if you have a business and you have a great product or great service, you have a much greater chance of shining through with less money than even if you have tons of money in the bank.
If you if you’re putting out crap or you’re putting out something that’s substandard, just throwing money at it, it’s not going to make your product any better and you might get a pop at the beginning but in the end, it’s not going to be lasting.
If the products not good and the same with movies. You know if you have a great story well told. You know the There’s a lot of leeway then with what the production values are and what you can get away with in terms of not having a great budget.
On the other hand, if you have a terrible story that’s told poorly, it doesn’t matter, if you throw a ton of money at it, it’s still never going to grow its audience. And we’ve seen that happen time and time again.
That’s a Rotten Tomato over there.
Jeffrey Sass 12:18
looping back to something you had mentioned earlier.giving credit where credit is due.
Jeffrey Sass 12:31
Absolutely. And that ties back to the whole we in the sense of team and creating a culture but, you know, it’s really important to acknowledge the contributions of others. Now, when we were making trauma movies, you know, virtually anyone who, you know, came within 100 yards of the film got their name in the credits, you know, if if we were preparing say, we’d have in the end credits of the film pizza delivered by you know, Joe Schmo, whatever his name is, so everyone got credit, everyone was listed in credits and number one didn’t cost us anything because you have, you know, 10 names in the credits or 100 names in the credits, it’s not really doesn’t really cost any more to do it. So it’s an easy way and an inexpensive way to give credit. And it made everyone feel good. It made them feel like they were part of something you know, everyone loves to see their name up in lights, you know. So giving credit where credit is due is really important. You know, when when if you’re a manager, especially, you know, in business, if you are a manager and you have people who report to you, it’s really important to to shine the light on them, not yourself, right? The signs of a great manager is someone who makes their team successful, you know, not someone who tries to leverage their team to make themselves look successful. They will look successful if their team is successful. And so you know, shining a light if you’re a manager and you’re reporting to someone, you know, give the people on your team credit for what they do sometimes give them credit for more than what they did, right. It’s going to make them feel great. It’s going to make them feel appreciate And you’re still going to look good. You don’t have to say I, you don’t have to make it look like it’s all your your work and not their contribution to look at you look good if your team is successful. So I think that that was really important. And giving that credit in filmmaking was was always, always something we did very, very generously and oftentimes funny, if you watch the end credits of a trauma movie, you’ll find a lot of hidden jokes within the credits. And now we’ve seen other movies start to do that, I’d like to think that we started that trend.
Absolutely. And I think it is important to share the wealth so to speak, it doesn’t cost you anything. You gain huge from it.
Jeffrey Sass 14:43
Absolutely. And when you think about company culture, you know, so many studies have shown that, you know, it’s not just money that people are looking for especially now you know, people are looking for purpose. They’re looking for meaning at work, they’re looking to feel like they’re making a contribution.
And and many studies have shown that many employees would Rather be appreciated and be acknowledged for their contributions then have, you know some sort of a financial raise, just throwing money again, like I said earlier, just throwing money at it doesn’t solve the problem.
just paying people lots of money doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be happy and performing at their best. appreciating them and recognizing them and acknowledging them is more likely to have them performing at their best.
Right. So what are you working on now?
Jeffrey Sass 15:28
So now from the books perspective, actually starting to work on the the audio book, which I shamelessly should have done when when the book was first published, but I didn’t. So hopefully one of my goals for this year is to come out with the audio book, which would be a lot of fun. So on the book side, and then I’m CMO of several companies.
So I’m cmo Chief Marketing Officer of doc club domains, which is the registry operator for the new domain extension clubs. So instead of COM or DOT biz or.org you can get a domain name and in club There are a lot of great new domain endings available now.
So even for my book for example, since it’s called everything I know about business and marketing I learned from the Toxic Avenger, I registered the domain, the domain name, Toxic Avenger dot marketing, and that points directly to the books page on Amazon.
So there’s a lot of creative ways you can use domain names that have meaning and that are relevant to you or your business for your marketing. And I’m also CMO of a e commerce company called par.com. Pa W. And par.com makes beautiful pet products especially these beautiful pup rug dog beds which are memory foam dog beds that have a beautiful washable fo for cover.
So they’re great for your dog and they also look beautiful in your home. So porn calm is a great pet product company that I’m involved with. And I also advise of marketing several other companies as well. So pretty busy all on the marketing side of things.
Nice. Would you ever be tempted to to get back into the indie film market.
Jeffrey Sass 17:03
Certainly from a from a writing perspective, absolutely. I always sort of have a screenplay that’s in progress and, and other, you know, things that I’m working on. So we’re actually also producing a documentary on startups.
Both club and pod calm work out of a startup incubator. We have in Fort Lauderdale, Florida called startups club. And we’ve actually been working with a camera crew and have been sort of tracking the progress of several companies, including product com, who are working out of this incubator, and we’re putting together a documentary series on startups and entrepreneurship following those companies. So I’ve got my hand in the entertainment space with that project as well.
Well, that sounds very interesting.
Jeffrey Sass 17:57
Absolutely. There’s some information at the website, of course. startups club. And there’s a little teaser trailer. And we’re actually working on the pilot episode right now.
And we’ve been following these companies for the past year. So we’ve got a lot of great footage and interesting stories. And one of the goals of this show is to really show the variety of people who can be entrepreneurs, and that you don’t have to be in Silicon Valley or New York, you could be here in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and still be a successful entrepreneur.
And we’ve got, you know, a variety of businesses in different verticals, from the pet industry to robotic flower Rangers to some some pastries, you know, in a beer app, so all different types of businesses, to founders. So it’s it’s a really interesting mix.
You have me at beer.
Jeffrey Sass 18:45
So on that note, with the domain names. Why do you think domain names matter so much in today’s world of social media, especially for marketers?
Yeah, so I think it really it’s going to be Be begin to matter even more, because to your point, you know, with social media, it’s wonderful that we have at our fingertips all these platforms like Facebook and Instagram and Twitter to share our content.
However, when we’re doing so we’re sending people to someone else’s property, right? You know, it’s all companies, including major brands saying, oh, look us up on Facebook, go to Facebook, go to Twitter, go to Instagram, what they could simply be doing and what I strongly recommend is they should have a domain name that’s relevant for their business and a lot of businesses use a club to point to their Facebook page because their Facebook page is their community online.
It essentially is their club, and then they can tell people go visit us at our name club, and have it linked directly to their Facebook page, which is beneficial in several counts. Number one, you’re not training people to go to Facebook, you’re training people to go to a domain name that you own and control.
Yes, it points to Facebook, but it points directly to your page instead of telling them Go to Facebook and search for us, in which case, they might see the wrong page in the search results. And they might be distracted by other things that come up in the search results. So by using a domain name and redirecting it to your Facebook community, you’re guaranteeing that people show up at your page and nowhere else.
The second important thing is, you know, nothing’s forever, there may come a time when you don’t want your community to be on Facebook, you know, you may want it to be somewhere else.
If you’ve trained your fans and followers to go to a particular domain name, you can control where a point so it might point to Facebook today, but two years from now, maybe a point somewhere else, and you don’t have to reprogram your fans.
So try to move them around because they already know to go to this web address. And you control where points. So I think, you know, the rise in social media, I think is actually going to create a greater demand for people to have personalized domain names that may point to their social communities but that they’re in control of.
Scott: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. So while I’m thinking of it, where can listeners get a copy of your book.
Jeffrey Sass 21:09
Yeah, so the easiest way is to go to Toxic Avenger dot marketing. And that will take you right to the books page on Amazon where you’re one click away from purchasing it in Kindle or paperback back format.
And then the book has a website at everything I know about dot marketing and a Facebook page as well and you could find me on Twitter at SAAS. I was early on Twitter so I was fortunate to get my short and sweet last name as my Twitter handle.
Well That’s it for this Episode of grow smarter. Join us next week. when we Talk brand building with Laura Bull
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