The Learning Log #1 – Delivering Happiness – your universe

“Envision, create, and believe in your own universe, and the universe will form around you.”
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh (page 85)

From the book

At this point in Tony’s account, he’d just organized the millennium countdown party of a lifetime in a penthouse he’d bought just to create a place for him and his friends to gather and meet new people. (Kinda like Central Perk in Friends) Because of his love for the rave culture that included values like Peace, Love, Unity and Respect, he went all out to re-create everything he loved about warehouse rave parties he’d attended outside, in his loft. Fog machines, colored lights, lasers, disco balls, black lights… he bought them all.

The party was going smashingly well with several hundred people lost in the music and strobe lights, until he noticed a shrill alarm sounding. The fog machines had set off the smoke alarms for his entire building. It was 3am. Two fire trucks came rushing to the building with their lights flashing only to discover it was a false alarm. But all was fine, the firemen burst out laughing and wished them a happy new year.

As Tony leaned out one of the open windows to watch the firemen return to their trucks below, he stared at the lights on the fire trucks that were still flashing. Then out of nowhere, he heard a female voice. “Isn’t this amazing? You created all of this… You could have done anything you wanted, and you chose to create an experience that people will remember forever.”

The Story

Anyone who’s read about the Zappos story would know that they’re all about company culture. “A service company that happens to sell shoes,” was how Tony put it. Through the process of growing his company, he stayed true to a list of core values. A list that he was willing to base all hiring and firing of staff off, regardless of job performance. Visit their website now and you’ll find a cool music video they’d put together for fun, and a ton of pictures of all the good times they have in the office. To encourage learning and self-development, they’ve got a library of highly recommended books that all employees and visitors are free to take.

Zappos was born just over a decade ago. I look around and I see too many of us dragging our feet in the morning, reluctant to head to the office. How was Zappos able to build a place that every one of their employees loved, and I mean really loved, being in? We’re talking about a place that will pay their new employees $2,000 to quit at the end of their training, to ensure that they’re there for the love of the job and not the money. Wow.

That, to me, is a universe that was almost unheard of in the past. A universe that had to be envisioned and created by those who were daring enough to take the path that wasn’t already laid out for them. Tony knew what it was like to be working in a place he had to drag himself reluctantly to, and was determined to create a universe of his own to change that.

The Lesson

Looking back, when I think about the places to which I’d felt the most loyalty towards, and the most willingness to go the extra mile for, they were all places with particularly strong supportive cultures, a shared sense of pride, and a high level of respect for everyone, regardless of seniority. A shining example: Kartemquin Films.

Why do I still speak of my internship at Kartemquin as my best internship experience ever? Maybe it’s the special weekly 3-hour workshops organized just for interns to learn from each staff member. Maybe it’s their great willingness to teach, all we had to do was ask. Maybe it’s the level of respect we were shown, where they actually took the time to get to know us as people. Us coming back on weekends and off days to help at events was always optional, never assumed or forced (which probably served as even more motivation to go the extra mile to help). My internship may have ended 5 months ago, but i’m still getting work through Kartemquin referrals.

Those who pass through the doors never really leave. And you’ll notice that the sense of KTQ pride never really goes away. People may not always remember what you say or do, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.

I sometimes ask myself why I never jetted straight off to Los Angeles or New York after film school just like the majority. I hate to cast blanket stereotypes, but something about the stories I heard of the dog-eat-dog world out there has created a sense of inertia. Why keep myself surrounded by people whose attitudes and work ethics I do not agree with, and be miserable, when I can architect one of my own where it’s both a happy and positive place to grow?

Thank you, Tony. I really look forward to exercising my universe-creating powers. :)

The Learning Log is a bi-weekly reflection of the lessons I pick up while reading my books. I hope the points picked out will inspire you as much as they’ve impacted me.

Busy Little Bee.

I realize it’s been almost a month since my last update! Been taking on lots of exciting projects lately! Apart from the managing-my-life aspect (work visa to stay in the US longer, mourning Germany’s loss at the World Cup), here’re some updates on what’s been keeping me busy.

Kartemquin Films

Been pretty involved in the production of Maria Finitzo’s Invisible Seasons, a documentary that explores how change takes place in a democracy and the effects of Title IX on women’s athletics. Absolutely love going on shoots with the team doing 2nd camera, still photography, and filming behind-the-scenes footage. It’s always a blast when you put Maria, DP Peter Gilbert and Sound Recordist John Mathie together in one car. :) We’ve had opportunities to be a part of events like the Chicago Sky Opening Night at the Allstate Arena, the farewell banquet for the Kelly High School Women’s Soccer Team, and just learn so much through interviews with some really amazing people! Look out for the new demo that Editor Leslie Simmer’s been hard at work on, coming out mid August!

I’ve also had the pleasure of working the talented folks at Modea on the Invisible Seasons website. The initial draft concept they’ve sent me looks beautiful! It’s going to be such a fun and interactive website, I cannot wait for its official launch. :D

Innovations For Learning

I’m deep in post-production for the videos showcasing the company’s wonderful Online Tutoring program that brings together working professionals in the corporate world with 1st graders who need help with learning to read. They truly make it easy for the tutor because it only takes 30 minutes a week and he/she doesn’t even need to leave the office! All you really need is a phone line and an internet connection. Neat huh? I hope to be able to showcase all that through compelling stories told by our interviewees at the elementary schools and corporations we’ve visited. It’s so much fun exploring the various institutions and learning about what they do. It also gives me a great peek into the world of elementary education here in the US, since I didn’t grow up here. Plus it’s always heartwarming to be surrounded by 6 year-olds. :) Many thanks to my friends/DPs Karl, Alex, Trevor & Josh for coming on these journeys with me.

Studio BE

I got a random phonecall from Karl one day asking if I’d wanted to teach theater kids about film for a week-long summer program. Having no experience in the world of theater, I thought this would be a good chance to learn a little about it, while sharing what I know with a group of very expressive kids. Working with Aaron Shapiro and Tamara Drew at Studio BE was a ton of fun. We came up with a weeklong plan that would enable the kids to plan and shoot their very own promo video for their upcoming musical, RagTime!


Reel Talent Productions

That’s what my Cabrini Connections Film Club kids have decided to name our production company. We’re currently in the midst of an 8-week long summer course where they’ll learn filmmaking techniques through producing their very own music videos! The kids chose, right from day one, that they’d be working on music videos for Lil Mama’s Lip Gloss, and the opening theme song for the anime Air Gear. Two very different pieces, with very different feels.

Just earlier this week, the kids had 3.5 hours to shoot everything they needed. While one group had scenes with dancers, make-up and lots of attitude, the other group had shots of an intense card game, reminding me of casino scenes from James Bond. Over the next 4 weeks, we’ll be hard at work on editing, finishing and summing up with our big screening party. Whee!

Manchester United Soccer School & 1World Sports

The Manchester United Soccer School started off their US tour in Chicago, where kids from all over had to compete for the opportunity to spend a day with coaches from one of the world’s best soccer teams around. How exciting it was for Jane, Jenny and I to be there to capture all the action on video at UIC. :)

1World Sports knows that’s a lot of life lessons that can be taught through sports, so they designed the “Responsibilities of an Athlete” program to teach kids about them. Mixed that with running around under the sun doing soccer drills with the Man U coaches, and the kids went home with smiles on their faces (and plenty of cool Man U merchandise!).

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No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson Sneak Peek

Follow Lesley and I as we go behind the scenes at the Sneak Preview of No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson, the latest film by award-winning director Steve James (Hoop Dreams)!

We had a chance to chat with Steve about why he decided to shine a spotlight on the Allen Iverson Trial and about the main takeaways for the audience. Also featured are Co-Producer Adam Singer, Assistant Editor Leslie Simmer, Post-Production Supervisor Liz Kaar, and Kartemquin’s Executive Director Justine Nagan.


I had a chance to bring 3 of my housemates along with me to watch the sneak and we all enjoyed it tremendously. Look out for it on ESPN’s 30 for 30 series as it makes its Television Premiere on Apr 13th, 8pm.

Behind the Scenes at Kartemquin’s Typeface Premiere

It was a night of tremendous fun at the sold out Chicago Premiere of Kartemquin’s Typeface. Spirits were high and excitement was buzzing at the Gene Siskel Film Center as guests had the opportunity to mix and mingle with Typeface producer and director Justine Nagan, as well as some of those featured in the film.

Here’s a peek at what went down:


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