Career Advice for Creatives from the Walking Dead


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A presentation for a Core Conversation from SXSW Interactive 2014.

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  • The hashtag, please use it. We can always continue this conversation online later.
  • So about that and a bit about me. I’ve been working in the industry for almost 20 years now At Magnet for 5 doing the first sites for Kellogg’s, Matchbox, etc. But for the past 15 years I have been running the agency Threespot in Washington DC. I’ve worked as a designer, art director, creative director, but now I just focus on running the company. So if you think about it this room collectively could easily have hundreds of years of experience so please jump in and share and let’s help each other out...
  • A bit about this talk. Blog post. Creative Mornings. And in doing that I had to go back and revisit my past and in so doing looked at the evolution of parts of zombie media.
  • Ben (Duane Jones) in 1968
  • Dawn of the Dead in 1978. They were only 90 minutes or so. Sure it was set in the same world but we weren’t following the same set of characters. As as a rule stereotypes emerged...the ex-cop, the medical professional, the shell-shocked mother...
  • Until this genre emerged
  • Resident Evil 1996
  • The zombie genre limped along until 2003 with the launch of the comic. Over 120 issues now. We were finally looking a long form narrative and follow characters that develop over time. So the Romero movies are like projects, or slices of a career, a stint at one job or another. The Walking Dead is like a career. It’s much more complicated and much longer.
  • Some of these are simply thoughts and observations and I have a questions for you all for a few of them.
  • The characters make plans either shouted out in the moment or something more grad and long term. Same thing goes for your career, right? Does anyone here actually have plans and goals for both the long and short term? Would you care to share what those are? Has anyone discussed their plan with their manager?
  • New survivors are always being added to the group and sometimes you need to learn to trust someone with your life in short order. You don’t always get to pick who you meet or who is on your team either.
  • It happens. Conflict is inevitable. Just don’t go rushing towards it.
  • You could end up like Merle chained to something. Has anyone ever been taken off of a project? Why? What would have done differently?
  • Again when there is a leadership struggle in the Walking Dead (and this was about leadership as much as it was about Lori) it usually ends violently. How many of you are Managers? How many of you were reported into the role? Did you get training? Did you have to ask for it?
  • Has anyone ever felt that the person they work for would throw them under a bus if given the chance? What happened?
  • What we are looking at here is a character’s willingness to cross a line. So, don't do the wrong thing for the right reasons. In the comic he gets taken down by one of his own people. Has anyone ever quit because of a bad manager?
  • Being satisfied can be a negative thing. You need tension and you need a certain amount of discomfort. You need a challenge.
  • This is going to be a tough one to talk about since my people are in the room.
  • Does anyone have any ideas about how long is too long in one place? Any warning signs it’s time to move on?
  • So to follow on with that...
  • In the comics you see Andrea here, go from never having held a gun to being able to take a man’s finger off at a great distance. She learned and adapted when it was necessary. You should always be learning and ideally you should be acquiring skills that are adjacent to or outside of your chosen skill set. I have worked with designers in my time who have no urge to be an Art Director, or even to speak with a client. They are content to sit in front of a screen and do what they do best, and yes what makes them happy. But they need to recognize that it will limit them down the road. How do you stay relevant? Should you? Is management or teaching the only path out?
  • It’s good to know what you can and can’t do and when your tools are more trouble than they’re worth.
  • How do you stay engaged and motivated?
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