Monthly Archives: April 2014

Dealing With “Failure”

If you feel confused or need help finding inspiration or answers to specific questions, analytical essay writing company can help you with this.

failureRobert Burns once said “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.

Was he ever right!

If you ever want to make god laugh, tell her you have a plan.

Recently I worked with an Israeli start up company that had a really neat app. It was going to just blow the lid off texting in a major way. The company had gone through all the steps necessary and received funding. The product had been beta tested then released in it’s shiny form – and then – it just didn’t take off.

There is an expression in Hollywood -

If anybody knew what made a hit movie in Hollywood, every movie would be a hit!

It’s certainly an accurate quote and one that applies to just about everything. If you KNEW which person you wanted to date and then marry on OkCupid, then you’d be married many times over! Wait -I think my metaphor just broke down.

Anyway. You get the point.

But then something happened to this particular app. The CEO got a phone call from a guy in Sweden. He had downloaded the app and was using it not for personal purposes but for business purposes – and he LOVED IT.

Soon, his entire company was using the app for inventory and now the company has a very large contract with an American company planning to do the same thing. The app is taking off.

Just – not in the way it was supposed to.

Have you ever had an experience that turned into something else altogether? I bet you have.

-An app that was actually positioned to work for a whole different group of consumers.

-A script that was really a novel.

-A comedy that was really a tragedy – wait – that’s my life, lol!

Keep that chin up and those ears open because you never know what lies around the corner. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Close the Gap Between Creative You and Business You

Many of us, normally confident in our day to day lives, become a bit of a nervous wreck if we have to take a meeting about what we are working on. Why is this?

Do we feel we have to be a totally different person in a meeting? Why can’t we just embrace who we are? A writer, an innovator, AND a business person?

The good news is that you CAN be yourself in a meeting. Whether you are there to pitch your script to an agent, or your project to a business person, they liked your work enough to invite you to a meeting. Why should you act different from the person who wrote the story or came up with the idea? It is your idea or story, after all, that got you there.

Outside of the meeting, you are a brother, father, sister or mother, right? You are also probably a goofball, good cook and person fond of movies. You don’t need to discuss those things in your meeting, but neither do you have to check them at the door.

An easy way to ruin a meeting is to try very hard not to be yourself but to act like some idealized version of a person in a meeting. But – whose ideal are we talking about? Something we read in a dusty book about How to Act in Meetings?

I don’t know about you but when I am preoccupied with:

1. Don’t forget this part!

2. Don’t forget that part!

3. Smile!

4. Remember to mention this and that and THIS!

I feel so stiff I can’t relax. Don’t worry so much! You know why you are at the meeting, you know what the bottom line is of what you want. Don’t memorize lists; you’ve GOT this.

Of course there are some basics of taking a meeting: dressing nicely, being on time, being polite – but being relaxed is not generally found on those lists.  And it should be.

What trips many up in a meeting is the huge effort they make NOT to be themselves. You know your story or your product or your innovation perfectly well – of course you do – you wouldn’t have any problems discussing it over a beer with a friend, would you? Yet we focus on perfecting our “elevator pitch” when in fact, what you should do is just – relax.

Increasingly, as the gap between personal life and business life erodes, and Don Draper is a thing of the past, you can feel confident in a meeting by simply being yourself. You ARE a writer. Or an entrepreneur who thinks in such and such a way. Why should you strive to act less personal, more stiff than you normally would? Why should you hide your personality – which is what gifted you with the great idea that got you to that meeting?

Make your meeting great by closing the gap between the real you and an idealized, imaginary version of yourself that you are chaining yourself to. Of course, it is common sense to slow down a little bit and leave room for questions and conversation – but outside of that, just be yourself. It isn’t a crime.

Nothing is more exhausting than trying to be someone you are not. So don’t do it. You’ll just sabotage yourself and the meeting. If you are a cheerful, outgoing person, terrific, if you are a quieter person, you only have to remember why you are there – to sell your book or product and also to sell yourself – I am a quieter, contemplative, intellectual person and I speak softly but I make eye contact and I am confident about why we are here. Nothing is as compelling as confidence. Embrace who you are and your success rate will skyrocket.

Remember – it’s only a meeting. And the person on the other side of the desk is just another person.

Here is a fascinating video of authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman discussing their new book The Confidence Code, on why men seem to be more confident than women. Short answer: they don’t “womanate” (ruminate) and they keep their focus more narrow.

Meetings are GOOD. That means you have done something very, very right. So relax! Be yourself!


Five Israeli Films You Should See

Since I have lived in the Middle East for two years, you can imagine it’s not so simple for me to see a movie – especially a new release! When I lived in the US and certainly in Los Angeles, I could see the newest releases sometimes even before they were released. And if I didn’t see a film, I could watch the screener at Academy Award time.

ajamiMovies, movies everywhere. In fact, the only complaint I have about the film scene in Los Angeles is that, for my taste, there are not enough foreign films playing at theaters. My twelve years living in foreign film mecca San Francisco can attest to the dearth of same in L.A. But be that as it may, watching movies is and was one of my strongest passions outside of reading and writing.

Now I live in Tel Aviv, where certainly new releases do play but by far not as many as in the States (naturally) and the movies may or may not be subtitled in English. So I’ve suffered some movie deprivation, to say the least!

But thanks to Netflix, I have had the opportunity to catch up on that sprawling list of films I have not seen; foreign and domestic alike.  I have decided to really focus on films made in and about where I live now, and I came up with a list of five Israeli films that you should see.

Not because you must understand the Middle East as seen through a camera lens (although – why not?) but because these films will show you, as all foreign films do, that while cultural differences separate us, at the end of the day, we are more alike than we can possibly imagine. Watching these films will show you that heartbreak, frustration, love, family, suspicion, pride and jealousy cross ALL cultures. We are all human, after all.

And there is an added bonus: Because the Middle East is perhaps one of the most contentious and misunderstood parts of the world, one that many Americans think of with great sadness and deep frustration – why can’t they just get along already?! – you might be surprised by the way the situation here is depicted in all it’s complex, tragic and sometimes funny glory by your creative brethren, as opposed to journalists or politicians who have an ax to grind or a sensation to create. The truth is much more complicated than anything you can imagine. The prodigious creativity in Israeli film takes this complexity on and how.

So get your Netflix on and take in some of my favorite Israeli films for a rare, wonderful, sad, funny and extraordinarily human take on life in Israel and all it’s complexity:

Ajami is a film that left me stunned and moved. Besides being shot in one of my favorite communities – Jaffa (which neighbors Tel Aviv and is on the sea) these five intertwining stories both showcase deft writing and directing and an expanse of human stories, sometimes at odds, and the commonality that connects them.  This stunning film is a two hanky movie so be prepared. Director Scandar Copti is a Palestinian filmmaker from Jaffa and Ajami was nominated for best Foreign Film in 2010 and swept the Awards of the Israeli Film Academy in 2009.

Five Broken Cameras is a controversial and painful documentary about events surrounding a West Bank settlement and the Palestinian village affected by the construction. Nominated for  best feature documentary in the 2013 Academy Awards, Five Broken Cameras is hard to watch and while it depicts a particularly ugly set of events, it is (in my opinion as an Israeli) not emblematic in general, but important nonetheless.  I encourage you to watch the film along with the others mentioned here so that you can learn about the situation in Israel organically and understand the wider context as well.

The Attack is an Israeli film that left me quite literally on the floor.  The subtlety of the film, and the often unexplored issues of loyalties and identities across borders and checkpoints were fascinating and explored in-depth without feeling like a lesson. There is a mystery in this film and a heartbreaking truth and questions that are never answered that make this film unforgettable. Interestingly, director Ziad Doueiri is also known for his work with Quentin Tarantino on Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and Four Rooms. Having been both nominated and won a bevy of international film festivals, the Attack is a must-see.

Nina’s Tragedies (Netflix DVD only, not streaming) reminded me of Amelie without the magical elements; it bears a certain emotional similarity that is hard to explain. Written by the immensely talented Savi Gavison and produced by someone I am proud to call my friend, the prolific Israeli producer Anat Assoulin, Nina very much has the look and feel of a French film although it is a deeply Israeli film and was shot entirely in Tel Aviv and Jaffa.  Anat just happens to be married to wildly successful Israeli filmmaker, Ari Folman, writer/director ofWaltz With Bashir, which is a masterpiece in its own right, a documentary about the Israeli/Lebanon war, filmed in rotoscope.

The Band’s Visit is one of the most charming films I have ever seen. I saw this film years ago in a small theater in San Francisco and have never forgotten it.  Given events in Egypt of the past several years, of failed revolution, bloodshed and upheaval, The Band’s Visit, about a police band that travels to Israel to play in a community center and then gets lost, leavens a region and a people that we know too little of. Full of humanity and subtlety it bears a certain resemblance to another favorite cult movie of mine, 1987′s Bagdad Cafe.

Screenwriting Video Tutorial: Jumping in Late

What exactly does “jumping in late” mean in your script?

It means get to the point already! It’s easy to think that if a man walks into the kitchen, to get coffee, that we must literally show his every move. We don’t. Movies don’t work with normal time. We can jump in to the scene to get to the meat of what happens.

See if this video tutorial helps make that clearer for you.


Social Green Lights

skepticalIs the woman on the left interested in what you are saying? Or is she skeptical?

How can you tell?


I find that very often creatives live very much inside of their own heads.  WE know what we are doing and creating and thinking about.  But sometimes we are called upon to explain it to someone else.

For most creatives, myself included, translating complicated stories or projects or technologies to someone else is really a challenge.

But we labor under an assumption and that assumption is that we will be doing all the talking.  Read “Death to the Elevator Pitch’ for more on that. 

But – how do you know whether your listener is interested? How do you know when you should pause, slow down or maybe even stop explaining?

You must be an observer of social signals – of social green and red lights.

Red Lights are things like:

  • A loss of eye contact – with you or even in your general direction, that lasts for more than a few seconds.
  • A distinct lack of questions or comments about what you are saying.
  • Body language: is your listener leaning away from you? Do they have his or her arms over their chest? Are they shifting in their seat frequently?

Your listener is disengaged. Maybe completely – they just don’t like your idea. Or maybe because you have momentarily confused them or lost their interest.

So what do you do? How do you reverse the situation?

Be observant. Notice that the level of engagement has changed. Slow down, change it up and ask a question like:

-Does that make sense to you?

-Do you have any questions?

Or you might shift to a different focus of your story or project, you might compare it to something the listener is already familiar with, you might say:

-in Taken, when Liam Neeson turns the tables on the kidnappers, I really want to use that dynamic in my story because….


-in the same way that Twitter started small and was a strange innovation that surprised everybody, I want to…

Now you have introduced a new element, something that your listener can possibly comment on or relate to.

If you see a red light, a change in the engagement of your listener, as subtle as body language or as overt as eye contact, see this as an opportunity to get your listener back on the page by asking a question and engaging him or her in the conversation. Does he or she use Twitter? Wasn’t Taken an exciting film? Change it up and renew the engagement before proceeding.

Don’t, whatever you do, just soldier on when you seem to have lost the interest or engagement of your listener.

Green Lights are things like:

  • Leaning toward you, elbows on his or her desk (or the bar. it happens.)
  • Making and maintaining eye contact.
  • Facial expressions that shift like smiling, frowning, or a questioning look.

Most of us know exactly what it feels and looks like when we have lost somebody’s attention. It’s the same set of signals whether it is in your personal life or in business. When it comes to connecting, the two aren’t really that different.

In acting and in writing we know that characters always have an agenda. They want something. So do people in actual life. Whether what they want is to marry, or date or buy a new car or get groceries. Life is transactional.

Your listener in a business situation wants something too. A deal. A new project. For your project to be their money-making success.

Use the same social and conversational skills in business that you do in your normal life. Okay okay so you won’t be wearing flip-flops and a tee shirt but you are in a transactional exchange. Is your listener interested? Would they like to hear more? If they seem not to be, can you swiftly change that by changing up what you are saying and moving on to a point of greater interest?

Or is it time to gracefully wrap it up and try again another day?

Know your social skills and presenting your pitch, idea or project will be easy.

Read More On Facial Expressions and Body Language:

Five tips on how to read facial expressions.

Body Language is King.



Death to the Elevator Pitch

elevatorAt face value, the Elevator Pitch is the idea that you should be able to describe your book, movie or project very succinctly and articulately in a very short period of time. Say two minutes.

For most of us, the idea of spitting out a bunch of information in two minutes flat sounds like a nightmare.

But if you (rightly) think giving an elevator pitch is a nightmare, imagine yourself on the receiving end of one. Of asking someone what they are doing and having them robotically spit out a bunch of words like ticker tape that sounds like:

Xoxoxozooaeoiaufdlkad;iuaerlkaefluaereaouaerneaohahoarieand uaerlkaefluaereaouaerneaohahoarieand xoxoxozooaeoiauf aroieuao87!! 

…for two minutes that last an eternity while our eyes glaze over.

THAT is a nightmare.

According to Forbes Magazine – Most of us spend 70 to 80% of our time talking about ourselves and not our client’s results. This is a classic mistake but a trap that’s hard to resist.

We’ve all been there, right, to a bar or gathering at which somebody talks AT us not WITH us? We’ve all had that irritating experience when we furtively look around, over, past the person praying it will end soon.

An elevator pitch is an opportunity communicate with someone and to communicate effectively takes TWO.  When I teach writers and entrepreneurs how to pitch their script, book or idea, I teach them mainly how to LISTEN and how to CONVERSE.

Pitching does not mean you take a huge breath and speak until ALL the information is out.  It means to have a conversation about you, what you are doing, and why it will be great for your listener. Great as an investment, great as a story, great as a project.

Jumping in too quickly mitigates actual communication and becomes, instead, a one-way street. Your listener might have a question or comment. They might, you know, also be a human and want a coffee, or have a headache.

A conversation is a dance between two people. Whoever called the meeting (or presumably stepped into the elevator) gets to lead the dance. How would you like it if somebody pitched something to you totally uninvited? Taking advantage of a situation with no polite discourse or invitation does not make a very good impression of you.

So what DO you do?

Practice your Elevator Pitch thusly:

1) Define what you are doing. What’s your log line, so to speak? What is the quick one line description of your project?


I’m writing a psychological thriller set in the near future about sleep being illegal so that productivity will remain high.


I’m developing a wearable technology that allows clumsy people to suddenly become graceful and beautiful at the touch of a button (just putting it out there guys, just putting it out there…!)

2) Be ready to answer the next likely questions like: How does it work? or So what happens? or Is it done?

Now you just got a green light to explain a bit more - again – succinctly.

Well, our hero sells sleep on the black-market so that people can rest but he gets caught and he has to escape and overthrow the Sleep Police! 


You wear it on your thigh and when you start up the application, jolts of electricity flow to your limbs and you start dancing like Martha Graham! 

The idea of an elevator pitch, is to get someone interested in actually learning or reading MORE about your story or project, right?  To get their attention and their curiosity.

So you don’t need to explain the WHOLE thing, just what it is and how it works or how it complicates (in the case of story).

An Elevator Pitch is important but misconstrued. Don’t ever corner someone and speak for two or three minutes without end about your project.

Go from social skill green light to social skill green light – just as you would in normal, polite conversation. Ask questions. Invite questions. Leave room for small talk. Slow down.

This isn’t the only opportunity in the world but it will be your last with this person if you don’t handle yourself with grace and employ the long lost art, in this go-go, hurry-up, instant gratification world, of conversation.  Even a quick one.

Read more about the art of conversation in this fantastic article in the Atlantic. 






The Good Girl

haderYesterday at dusk, as the call of the muezzin drifted from a nearby mosque, I walked into a courtyard of a sprawling concrete compound. A dog barked somewhere in the background.

At the door, my companion Amir turned to me quickly, and stubbornly pulled my sleeves further down my arms before knocking. A well dressed man answered and after exchanging some words in Arabic, Amir and I were led into a palatial and colorful interior that belied the flat, heat proof exterior of the home, which was oddly punctuated with Grecian detail.

The salon of Basim’s home was enormous, with a water fountain in one corner. Bright textiles covered every surface and sumptuous cushions were on the floor. Everything was in sharp contrast to the general poverty of the village we were in.

We were instructed to sit. And to wait.

A black Range Rover drove up outside in a cloud of dust and moments later Basim entered. I was instructed to stand. Then to sit. Then to take the hot mint tea handed me by a wait person of some kind.

Drink it, Amir hissed in my ear.

Basim sat near me at long last. Yalla, he said. You will help me, yes?

I had been dragged to this meeting a bit unwillingly by Amir. He had a friend, he said, a friend in the West Bank, a businessman, and he needed an American to help him.

Help him what? Amir didn’t know, exactly. Something about business.

Basim, as it turns out, is an extremely successful business man. He owns and operates a tour company and caters to Russian tourists of the Christian variety. He estimates that he brings approximately 70,000 Russian/Christian tourists into Israel and Palestine every year between May 1st and end of October.

So why was I there, I wondered?

Basim wants to grow his business, sababa? He wants to bring Americans on his tours, Amir explained hurriedly.

American Christians, Basim intoned, are very good business. He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together. It is like – it is like a how you say, a pilgrimage for them. As to Mecca.

Christian tourism is big business in Israel. Everybody knows that. Tour busses clog parking lots at every holy site and disgorge thousands of pale, camera-clicking Americans every day, in Bethlehem, the Jordan River, Jerusalem…

Basim is an Israeli-Arab, meaning he lives and works in Israel but also spends time at his property in the West Bank. Like most Palestinians, Basim dresses in modern garb and speaks at least some English. Unlike most Palestinians, Basim is economically – how you say – mobile. Advantaged. He travels between Israel and the West Bank almost daily. He has a special permit to do so. He enjoys the advantages of living in Israel but is culturally rooted in the West Bank.

But there is the problem, Basim continued. I have big problem.

Basim needs, it was revealed to me, an American to help him with a website and other materials so that he can sound good, trustworthy – safe – to Americans who “see Palestinians only with fearful eyes.”

A man I had not noticed before was sitting in a corner of the large room, listening to our conversation, his knees close together, a look of close concentration on his face.

Will you to help me, Basim asked? Can you to write my website so I sound like good man?

What a very strange situation I had found myself in. Well, I began, I am sure I can but this is not really my business – I am a writer, you see and–

Amir leaned forward emphatically - Julie, you should make a good business for Basim, a very good business. He looked at Basim a bit obsequiously. She can, habibi, I know her. Basim’s eyes did not leave me.

As I was saying, I tried again, glancing at the silent guy in the corner, I am a writer, yes, but I don’t usually do this type of thing -

But it wasn’t true. Of course I have done this type of thing. I have written copy for my own websites and consulting for years and I have written great copy, American style, for many an Israeli website. Why was I hesitating in this case?

Basim lit another cigarette and waited.

I realized that “no” wasn’t really the answer he was looking for.

Well, I stumbled – I guess I can look at your website…

Basim sprang up, his slight pot belly hanging over his expensive belt buckle.

Mohammed! He gestured to the silent guy. Bring Miss Julie Gray (gdddday, he pronounced it) to the door.

He turned his green eyes to me. Salaam. I will to call you. Yalla.

Amir led me back through the courtyard toward the towering iron gate inside of which the Range Rover was parked.

Yes, yes, you was good gehl, Amir exclaimed, beaming, the best, the best gehl! With Basim as your friend, you will never go hungry, never!

Amir, I said, I have to know, what are Basim’s politics? I don’t want to get involved with anyone who is hanging out with Hamas or anything. I stood, lamely. Was that not the right thing to say? Was that not how to phrase it?

No, no, no, Amir laughed. Basim is businessman!

I think I work for Basim now. I am not sure. And I’m not sure how I feel about it.

I had come to live and work in Israel not only as a Jew but as an experienced writer and teacher and I had wanted to – I want to – organize a creative writing group for Palestinian women outside of academic circles. Something informal. A way to reach out to often isolated and impoverished women and to give them voice.

Would it not be in a similar spirit, in the macro, for me to work with a Palestinian business man who wants to be taken seriously by tourists? Would I not be walking the walk by establishing trust despite our differences? Doesn’t trust and healing and a sliver of hope start one person at a time?

I didn’t have time to think about the whole episode all that much. Darkness had fallen and we had two checkpoints to get through, one for the Palestinian Authority and another at the Israeli border. The Palestinian Authority check point guards generally sit in lawn chairs and smoke amiably. Sometimes they jump to their feet and gesticulate but they didn’t that night.

At the Israeli border, the bus was stopped, which is a bit uncharacteristic. Both doors opened at once and two Israeli soldiers armed with AK47s boarded and walked up and down the aisle slowly, looking at each of us in turn. My heart was in my mouth. Had I done something wrong?

Yes, I most definitely had, I knew that. As an Israeli citizen, it is not kosher for me to cross the border into the occupied territories.

I’ve made this trip to this particular place many times. Amir meets met at a deserted bus stop and takes me into the small village, which has a central square full of date trees festooned with lights. We usually go to a large open air restaurant frequented by local Palestinian men who sip hot, cardamom scented Arab coffee and share hookahs. I am always greeted warmly – everyone knows I am Jewish but Amir warns me sternly to speak no Hebrew lest someone figure out I am not a tourist. You’d think they’d know by now, so many have been my visits. Perhaps they do know. I think we are all pretending.

I usually talk with a very small group of Palestinian women, two or three, including one who attends Birzeit University in Ramallah about stuff – about life – about writing. One particular young lady, Lina, really wants to create a salon in the village that is like my writing salon in Tel Aviv. But it is not possible for she or her peers to cross the border into Israel because a tiny but powerful handful of extremists have caused the border to be closed. Just a few bad apples but enough to take many lives and to limit those of others on both sides of the formidable border.

This makes me very angry but there is nothing I can do about it. So I go to them.

There are hundreds of peace activism groups in Israel with permits to cross the border into the West Bank for a variety of programs and activities. I shall have to formalize and join one if I want to continue in safety. I have doubts about whether they are making a difference, but then I should think change takes time. I also think that the internet has no borders and that if I can get a group of women together to write creative essays and short stories about their lives, that they can not only be heard, they can feel heard, which is at least as valuable.

Is it not also valuable to help a businessman into more prosperity by making him more credible, more palatable? Or is that at odds with my general vision? How will Basim spend his money? He seems to have no interest in what the women of the village have to say. But maybe it’s the price I have to pay to have more access – to gain some credibility of my own on Basim’s side of the border.

The soldiers left the bus and on we went, back to Jerusalem and the Central Bus Station where I had to catch another bus, back toward the relative safety of Ramat Gan, just outside of Tel Aviv, or, as Israelis call it, “the Bubble”.

Bettina of the Desert

I met Bettina at a bus stop in the middle of the desert.

It was over 40C and her face burned bright red, accentuating her piercing blue eyes. Her hair was understandably frazzled and a large backpack was perched at her side.

Hikers and backpackers are a common sight in the unforgiving interior of Israel. Something about the desert has a strong allure for the wild at heart.

Some wind up on kibbutzim picking dates or bananas and others pass through, headed toward the Red Sea and Eilat or perhaps to sate the Bedouin fire within that I suspect many of us have, deep down. To be in the great expanse of the desert, under a sheltering sky, with sand under our feet and the wind as our companion.

Bettina said she didn’t speak any Hebrew and didn’t know how to ask for water. I took one of her large bottles into a nearby kiosk and had it filled.  She drank it gratefully and I wondered when she’d last had water and if she was in danger of sun stroke.

Bettina said she was going to Ein Gedi and that she was from Germany. She was a long way from her destination and, she cheerfully added, she had exactly 50 shekels.  That’s about $14.

A camel sat on the other side of the road from us, bleakly chewing its cud.

How was Bettina planning to get to Ein Gedi?

Oh, she was walking. Or hitching a ride. Either. Both.

How long had she been in Israel? About three weeks.

Had she been here before? No. desertsign

A friend was picking me up momentarily and we were headed in the general direction, did Bettina want a ride?

My question was answered moments later when Bettina gladly loaded her ponderous backpack into the back seat of my friend’s car.

We began to drive, the Judean hills presiding over us.

We drove past Qmran and the Dead Sea for about 15 minutes when I noticed that Bettina was having a lively, muttered conversation with herself.

You okay? I asked.

Bettina smiled and ceased muttering. She resumed a second after I turned away again. It was a fervent conversation about something that only Bettina knows.

Suddenly, she shrieked -

I want out! Let me out! Let me OUT OUT OUT! 

We pulled over in a cloud of dust.

You are kidnapping me! Bettina shouted, her hair wild and her eyes sharp.

Bettina, you can’t stay here, you need water. Do you have a place to stay? 


Bettina jerked open her door and plunged headlong into the dirt on the side of the road, into the silence that is the sweltering Judean desert.

Amir looked at me incredulously.  What were we to do? Leave an obviously mentally ill woman on the side of the road in a dangerously hot desert? Or force her to accept a ride to a filling station where there would be at least shade and water?

LEAVE! LEAVE! LEAVE! Bettina shouted.

There was no semblance of the mellow traveling German hippy we’d met only half an hour before.

No, Bettina had left us. And now she wanted to be in the desert alone.

With heavy hearts, we left a now wildly gesticulating Bettina there on the side of the dusty road, the heat shimmering on the pavement.  She didn’t see the tiny Ibex skitter up the steep incline behind her, she was in a fugue state.


Amir and I knew that within 15  to 20 minutes, a passing car would no doubt repeat our kindness and get Bettina a few more kilometers toward the oasis in her mind.

I hope she found it.

Mind the Culture Gap

Have you ever been in a meeting and had someone use a phrase or word that seemed to imply something that you didn’t quite get? Or acted in a way that was not immediately familiar to you?

Have you felt over or under dressed? Have you been pitching your story or technology and wondered if the person is following along all right or simply being polite? What does their blank face really mean?

As an expat living in Israel, I have well and truly walked miles in the shoes of not being sure that what I was saying was correct or taken the right way. Slowly, I became accustomed to the differences – Israeli directness is a biggie! – and as I learned the language and the subtleties in it, I began to recognize when an expression might actually be offensive rather than complimentary.  I got more comfortable with the fact that Israelis use their hands to gesture a lot and that this is not a bad thing, whereas Americans are much more still when they speak.

There are culture gaps not only between different nationalities but also in different businesses. Hollywood has a particular culture and if a writer has a pitching opportunity, whether at an event or in a meeting, it is important that you adjust your expectations.  Start Up and entrepreneurs also have a world quite their own.

I am fascinated by the similarities between start up entrepreneurs and the business of Hollywood. Both are high risk, high stakes, rarefied environment and both have distinct cultures.

A standout similarity – the defining similarity really – is that whether your are pitching a script idea, a manuscript for a novel, or a new technology or app – you have to explain something a bit vague in a  very specific way. You have to take the information in your head about how great your new application or technology is, or how fascinating your novel will be and why so many people will love it, and articulate that quickly and simply.

This is not easy and definitely a skill that increases with experience.

If you are the person pitching in the meeting, it is important that you allow the person you are meeting with to take the lead socially.

When in Rome is the operative term.

Do they want to have small talk for a bit? Okay, then do that. Do they want to get right down to it? Be prepared to do that as well.

Whether you write, code or invent new technologies, in a meeting you have a new role – you are a salesman. If the person who called you for the meeting asked you to take off your shoes and sit on a tatami mat while pitching – you’d do it. Because this is about sales. And sales is about listening and observing.

[I trust that you already know your story or your pitch/product COLD*]

*Cold means “perfectly”.

You don’t want to be  in a meeting and not know what the executive is referring to when they say they will “pass” your project “up”. What do they mean? Pass it up like forget it, like passing up more creamed spinach? No. They mean pass your project UP to the next higher person in the pecking order. A decision maker.

You don’t want to be in a meeting and not understand when someone refers you to an “accelerator” either.

But what if you still don’t get it?

Listen and watch for context. You might figure out the meaning very quickly. If a person is “passing up” your project or script, maybe they DO mean they are not interested.  Can you observe their tone of voice, body language and other contextual hints that what they are saying is positive or negative?

Your ability to roll with the conversation in a meeting is important.  A successful meeting depends on establishing a rapport – an ease – with the decision maker.

  1. Take your cues from the person who called the meeting. Small talk? Okay. No small talk, fine. Be flexible and let them lead the dance.
  2. Look for verbal and visual cues – leaning closer to you, a lot of direct eye contact and gesturing usually connotes real interest.  Listen for the tone of voice, is it tense or relaxed?
  3. Do your homework and know some of the buzz words in your pitch.

For you entrepreneurs out there, here is a link to commonly used “around the office” buzzwords and phrases. They aren’t all that exotic – but do you know what someone means when they say they want to “drill down” on something? It means to get more specific.  Here is a glossary of Start Up words and expressions. 

For writers, here is a dictionary for the “language” used in Variety, the granddaddy of Hollywood trade rags that developed its own language over time. Here also is a glossary of screenwriting terms. Know these words.

Wherever you live and whatever you are pitching – a new interior design, an amazing new technology for which you are trying to get funding, a great script idea for the next blockbuster script – human behavior is similar world and industry wide, unless you live under a rock, your intuition will tell you whether the person in the meeting is liking what you are saying, merely being polite and getting through the meeting, or out and out disinterested. It isn’t rocket science.

The key is to be prepared, flexible and observant.

And get help. You might just need it.




What Stops You From Writing?

lilyThe other day at the Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon, a member was very distressed because she just couldn’t handle the pressure of writing.

We talked about it for awhile until she was finally able to let herself off the hook and just WRITE.

Turns out, she was being very hard on herself and expecting that her output had to be perfect.

But there is no room in writing for perfectionism – at first.

If wanting your writing to be absolutely perfect is stopping you from writing at all, Houston, you have a problem.

Here is one way I help writers to get over this self-inflicted pressure and it may sound kind of weird – I set a timer. I say you have fifteen minutes to write and I don’t care whether it’s the most detailed shopping list in the world, but it’s ticking right now so GO!

I have been delighted that to a one, writers that have this timed, pressurized experience, wind up actually writing and doing much less thinking.

Thinking about writing more than writing is a common problem for writers.

If you can set aside a time and a place to write, and then time yourself and know that whatever you write is FINE – you may find that your muscle will begin to grow stronger – you CAN write and it does NOT have to be perfect!