In the last post, I described the inherent power of “Twin-Dissolve” slide shows, an ad-hoc technology created in the late 60’s by Kodak to enhance the power of it’s unique “gravity-feed” Kodak Carousel slide projector. Two projectors, a dissolve unit, a tape deck, and a gizmo to connect and control them all, and you had an instant affordable replacement for 16mm film, by then a medium too expensive for much of the corporate / organization world.
I had always loved slides- my father was a photographer who excelled at slide photography and living room slide presentations. As a kid, I loved the idea of making movies, but sound movies weren’t an affordable tool for the average 10 year old.
By age 20, I had been introduced to this unique “dissolve” technology. At Marquette, professor of mine, Lou Belden, knew I was interested in film and communications. I was majoring in Journalism and Broadcasting. There were film courses in documentary and theatrical film thrown in as well. He thought I might be interested in how he showed slides. Well, duh. You use a slide projector! But no, there was more- the Kodak Carousel sync dissolve system.
I was hooked. I had a tape recorder- had them since age 12. I volunteered to put together a slide show for our publications banquet (I was in line to be editor of the yearbook.) I asked a very talented fellow student, Chuck Danis, to shoot the slides (I didn’t think of myself as a photographer, although I shot a lot for the yearbook when photographers quit in second semester because of failing grades).
I borrowed the gear from Professor Belden, created a soundtrack consisting primarily of a Beach Boys instrumental (“Pet Sounds”), and laid out my slides, loaded the trays, and “pulsed” the slide changes to music. The pulses- tones that indicated slide changes- were recorded on the second track. In 1969 Sony technology, this was known as simul-sync- playing one track while you recorded on the other.
It was simple, but it said it… pictures of students, professors, landmarks, events, construction, everything that was going on in the Journalism school in the spring of ’69.
The reaction was over the top- rock and roll star over the top. It was partially the element of surprise (What are we looking at?), partially the excellence of the photography, partially the music, but mostly, the flow of pictures dissolving together, in a darkened room, on a subject the audience knew and loved- themselves.
Two years later, I’m editor emeritus of the yearbook, again in change of photography. It’s January, and most of the photographers quit again. This means I’ll be sitting on the court at the MECCA Arena taking pictures of Marquette’s basketball team, when I’d rather be seeing them from the stands.
In walks a a kid who has just taken up photography, looking for a place to use his new Canon. That was Ric Sorgel, my eventual business partner.
Doing yet another Publications Banquet slide show that spring- this one with a much more sophisticated soundtrack and an actual storyline, we once again reveled in rock-star status during the standing ovation. I said to Ric in the back of the room: I think we have a business”.
And we did.
But the premise was shaky. What were we selling? Who were we selling to? Why would they buy it?
I know now in my 60’s that clarity of focus comes much easier at age 22, my age when we started the business in February of 1972.
And by that time, I had figured it out. And since I was the writer of the partnership, I wrote it down:
The SLI Multimedia “Concept”. Essentially a position paper on the what, how, why and who of our business.
I thought to myself when I presented it to Ric, “I’m going to hold on to this Charlie, I have a feeling it might be important someday….”- Jed Leland to Charles Foster Kane, on Kane’s “Declaration of Principles” in Citizen Kane.
I knew even then there would be no “Citizen Kane” or trip to Hollywood for me.
But I also knew we had a head-start on being one heck of a slideshow company.
It is nine pages of unillustrated type- typewriter type, and not a very good typewriter at that. It is bound together by the then standard colored “cover” with slide-on plastic binder to hold the cover and pages together (long gone in the copy shown here).
In the document, we create a premise, and we answer that premise. The premise is something we all (Ric and I, future employees, future clients) could believe in- that slide shows will replace 16mm film as the medium for the future (or at least the ’70’s and 80’s).
We address the communications potential of slide shows (or good media of any kind): the catharsis that comes from logical and emotional realization.
We talk about the strength of slides, as opposed to film- both budgetary and sensory.
And we are already sure how our (nonexistent) clients can uses our services:
Boy, did we love slides. And this self-belief, in a medium, a cause, a concept, a result, made a difference, and put us on the map. Slides vs. Film. Great concept and technique vs. “close enough for government work.” Us against the world.
That clarity carried us for ten years, from a two man show, to a company with 20 plus employees, and later, two companies that employed and trained hundreds.
Once, when Ric and I were in trouble, and had parted with a partner we had added along the way (great and talented guy, but we were experiencing the result of partnership friction and business over expansion), we returned to the tenants of the original “concept”, abandoning forays into 16mm film and videotape for our base medium- slides. It lead to our biggest boom period ever.
So, the lesson:
- Laser-focus on your goals.
- Have a unique selling proposition.
- Know what’s in it for the buyer.
- Stick with the plan.
And motivate yourself.
Before every sales call, Ric and I played and sang “Lady Madonna” by the Beatles. Ric played a mean piano, and at first we’d start at his apartment and he’s play and we’d both sing (our harmony was excellent). Later, leaving from my apartment, we’d play the record. But we always led with Lady Madonna. It worked.
Focus…. it’ll work for you too.