I talk with a lot of new writers and creators, and one of the most common complaints about not being able to get any traction for their writing, vlogging or other creations is simply because their lives are so ordinary.
We look at the Casey Neistats of the world and we realize why he's so famous. His life is incredibly interesting. He constantly travels the world. He has supermodel friends. He risks his life dangling from helicopters or skateboarding through New York.
Our lives are mundane. And that makes it impossible to get the attention we need for our projects.
In 2011, Annette Ontell passed away. She was 93.
Annette's name probably doesn't ring any bells. She wasn't a famous movie star or Nobel Prize winner. She didn't command any attention around her political platform or ground breaking ideas. She didn't have a lot of money.
Her life was, as most people suspect, mundane. She lived in New Jersey, in the same small house all of her adult life.
And maybe oddly to you, this year, Annette's two grandkids, Elan and Jonathan Bogarín, bothered to release a documentary about their grandmother. They showcase all the possessions Annette accumulated over her 93 years. They share home video interviews they've been filming of Annette before she died. They show that boring, small house.
But here's what you might surprising. That movie, titled 306 Hollywood (the address Annette lived in for 67 years) has now gone on to screen at 40+ film festivals. It's already won 4 awards. It's nominated for at least a few more with award names like "Most Innovative" and "Unforgettable". Critics say the same thing. Monica Castillo at RogerEbert.com says: "In the world of documentaries, it is bold, if not a landmark."
A landmark!? Wow. So why is 306 Hollywood doing so well?
I remember an early blog post of mine from over a decade ago that finally got some attention for me around the web. That post told the story of how I got some free extra toppings on a sub sandwich during a lunch break from work. Can you get any more mundane than your regular, daily, lunch break from work?
But I've been so incredibly interested in how businesses market themselves for so long, I dove into this mundane task and why I didn't usually get the toppings I wanted on my sandwich. I explained how I finally experimented with some sales psychology from a book I read to get what I wanted at the sub shop. The post took off with people in marketing who found the story useful to understand a little bit more about psychology. It was my interests, not my interesting life, that started getting me the traction I needed.
To be interesting, be interested.
Some of the things that stand out even from the trailer of 306 Hollywood is how Annette's grandkids ask her deep questions about whether she missed sex or was afraid to die. They spent meticulous time arranging her clutter into Wes Anderson-like displays. The home video interviews with her? They spent 10 years recording those while she was alive.
These are efforts that come not from Annette being what we'd normally associate as interesting, but because her grandkids were so deeply interested in her.
You don't need to be jumping out of planes or risking your life to craft an interesting story. You simply need to place your lens of deep interest onto your subject.
Going back to Casey Neistat, I don't think his "interesting life" is at all why he's had so much success. I think what keeps us so glued to him is the remarkable interest he has in his subject matter and in filmmaking. Have you seen him spend time using arts and crafts to explain his sleep schedule? That's not "interesting", that's him being interested.
Like Casey, if you provide folks with what your authentically interested in, your enthusiasm will shine. Don't get me wrong though. This is still hard work. 306 Hollywood took years to make and a ton of inventiveness to get right. But Annette's grandkids had the passion of their interests to see them through those challenges we all have in the creative process.
306 Hollywood is an inspiring example I hope for all the folks out there struggling with their mundane lives. Your life is incredibly interesting, as long as you're interested in it.
P.S. Free marketing design review?
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