Matthew Weiss is an entrepreneur whose law firm fights traffic tickets throughout New York State for its clients. However, six years ago, he took a major pivot and starting making his first film. This film, called "Man In Red Bandana," comes out September 8, 2017 nationwide as well as VOD on iTunes and Amazon. Man In Red Bandana is about a remarkable 9/11 hero named Welles Crowther and has one of the most incredible endings of any documentary film. Welles died that day but his heroics became known 8 months later due to an ordinary object ... a red bandana. The film is narrated by Gwyneth Paltrow and includes an original song performed by Lyle Lovett.
So how the heck did Matt find the time to tell this special story and what business lessons can we learn from it?
Through the years, Matt has been able to remove himself from the day-to-day operations. This occurred by design and with focus on this goal. Owning a personal service business the defends thousands of motorists a year throughout New York State made the transition particularly challenging but, piece-by-piece, he divested himself of his many roles in the company through delegation, automation and systemization such that his law firm no longer needed him to effectively and profitably run. It has been so successful that, last year, he moved to south Florida to work remotely, and his Manhattan office has not missed a beat.
It was Matt's removal from the day-to-day of running his business that allowed him to take on one of the most rewarding and energizing projects of his life. It started as a steak lunch with his banker, Jeff Crowther. Jeff told Matt the powerful story of his son Welles, a 9/11 victim and hero. His family was naturally devastated by their loss and understandably longed for information about how he died and spent his last hour. Eight month later, Welles' story of courage, strength and sacrifice became known as a result of a single, ordinary object ... a red bandana.
By the time that Jeff had finished, Matt's heart was gripped. He was blown away by so many aspects of the story including Welles' bravery, the way that the "red bandana" revelation changed the Crowther family's perspective on their loss, and the legacy that has been created throughout the United States by thousands of people who honor Welles in diverse ways. He thought three things in quick succession: 1) What an amazing story! 2) Everyone should hear this story! 3) I want to share this story with everyone!
While most filmmakers look for stories, this was a story that found a filmmaker! And that's how the production of "Man In Red Bandana" began.
While Matt's passion for sharing Welles' story gave him the impetus, he got the confidence and leadership skills to direct, produce and market his first film from his entrepreneurial training. Having successfully quarterbacked numerous projects, he knew that he could do Welles' story justice. There are multiple business lessons that have helped Matt create Man In Red Bandana:
1) Work Your Network:
Through the years, Matt cultivated great friendships and relationships throughout the business community. Having heard Keith Ferrazzi, the master networker, he knew the importance of building strong relationships. Thus, when he first meets someone, his first reactions are to be an empathetic listener (actually he always strives to listen in this way) and to try help or connect him or her in some way. Give and you shall receive. People naturally want to reciprocate to those who give to them. It seems counter-intuitive (give to get) but it works for Matt and, more important, allows one to build strong relationships.
Through the years, Matt helped on a few occasions a business colleague named Kevin (Kevin's business matches up musicians with big brands) and he never asked (or sought) anything in return. However, half way through the film's production, it dawned on him that Kevin might be able to help. There were two songs written about Welles by songwriters who (like Matt) were inspired by this story. Due to his past willingness to genuinely and unconditionally give, Kevin jumped at Matt's request to secure a top artist who would record one of these songs, and Kevin vigorously pursued it as if it was for his own movie. A few months later, Matt received an original recording of "One Red Bandana" performed by Lyle Lovett and his band that you can hear during the end credits of his film.
2) Always Be Learning:
Matt considers himself a learning junkie and has attended hundreds of business events through the years. One of his all-time favorite speakers is Ben Zander, a conductor at the Boston Philharmonic. Matt first saw him over a decade ago in Boston. Ben delivered an awesome keynote that involved listening to him play a Chopin prelude while thinking of a deceased loved one. The exercise was touching and gave him a greater appreciation for classical music. Zander received a standing ovation!
At the time, he did not know that this session would ever help him, but he was open-minded and had a thirst for learning. Years later, he remembered this presentation when he needed music for those portions of the film dealing with loss. Of course, he thought of Ben's session and, if Ben Zander says Chopin's prelude was good to convey loss, Matt trusted him. It turned out, this piece worked perfectly and became an integral part of creating the right mood during these difficult scenes in the movie.
3) Share Your Obstacles:
Matt learned a long time ago to discuss what he is doing with whoever will listen. He, therefore, routinely, shares his projects, challenges and roadblocks. This served him well in November 2011 when he told spoke with a friend named Henry about his film. Henry's response was a pleasant surprise. He explained that he was a medic on 9/11 and worked the "pile" during the aftermath of the tragedy. Henry continued that he took an hour-long home video of the scene and asked whether Matt would like to see. Of course, Matt jumped at this opportunity and, as a result, he obtained some spectacular footage for the film that had never been publicly seen.
4) Set Crazy Goals
The goal of any filmmaker is for his or her film to be seen by as many people as possible. Matt felt early on that the single best way to get his film noticed was to win the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. "Go big, or go home" was his motto. If he did not have this lofty goal, he felt that he was self-eliminating the film from this honor. How could he win the Oscar if he did not believe that he could? And how could he get one of those golden statues when he was not trying to get one? But there is much more.
When he told a prospective entertainment lawyer about his goal, he responded "You're on crack!". Yes, you can't make this up. When Matt asked him why he would say such a thing, he said "I'm trying to manage your expectations". Manage expectations? Did he really think that Matt would be devastated if he didn't win the Oscar? Of course, Matt declined retaining him as he was misaligned with Matt's goal (ie, not a good cultural fit). More important, there was nothing wrong with his expectations. This moonshot goal could only propel him to produce a top notch product.
Matt says that to "attain a goal you need to live and breathe it." So he had visualized winning and running down the aisle at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles many times. He even has written and practiced his acceptance speech. Finally, Matt memorized the Academy of Motion Picture's qualification rules and actually carries the rules around with him. Some people might be shy to admit such an audacious goal, but, for him, such brashness is what drives him to succeed and make the very best depiction of Welles' story.
5) Build Your Community Early:
Matt has learned the importance of building your community and that you need to do so before you need them. As a result, Matt regularly updates his film's Facebook page and has already been rewarded with over 14,000 "likes". He has also created commemorative red bandanas as talking points for his fans. Of course, this community is valuable for him as he releases his film on September 8, 2017 in forty locations.
Whatever your business or personal goals are, you can learn a lot from Matthew Weiss, his inspirational story, and his film's even more inspirational story.