Rebel Without a Crew

Those that read my blog know I've been having fun with making little movies recently.  Related to that I stumbled across across a cool book called Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez.

The book tells the true story of a young film school student who produces an award winning action movie on a $7,000 budget.  The movie, El Mariachi, doesn't have quite the same production values as the latest Hollywood block buster, but it was made for something like 1/10,000 of the budget.  Quite remarkable!

Much of the story reminded me of how he worked with few resources, but was still able to produce quality material, reminded me of my time working at a tiny software start-up in the early 90s.  However, the most telling part of the story comes after he's sold the completed film to a big Hollywood studio.  The studio wants to do some minor clean up before it's shown at the Sundance Film Festival.  This minor clean up quickly spirals into all kinds of high-priced, time-consuming tasks.  In fact, these little bits of clean up work probably cost more in just a few days than the whole budget for the original movie.  Rodriguez is shocked and has to take back control of the process to get the movie out the door and seen by an audience.

This story probably sounds familiar to anyone working at a small startup company that was acquired by a big computer company.  My group here at Sun has a lot of ex-startup folks.  While my group is smaller than many at Sun, and I think we do a pretty good job of avoiding unnecessary process, I'm sure there's a lot of waste energy that's burned off in the system.  We have a lot of important work to be doing the next six to twelve months and don't have cycles to waste. 

The epilogue to the story is that even as Rodriguez moved into the big studio system, where he has access to larger budgets and more resources, he continues to produce quality movies using his Rebel tactics.  This allows him to move quickly and create successful movies for a fraction of the cost of other directors.  I'd like to challenge any of the ex-startup folks on the team here to let me know their thoughts on this kind of thinking could impact us here at Sun.  How can we streamline the process so that this big company can move that much more quickly and produce even better stuff?

Comments:

Integrate Jessica Alba into our products like Rodriguez did with Sin City? :-)

Startups generally have a smaller focus, little or no legacy issues, and thus can move more quickly because everyone has clearly defined tasks. But if we can pull anything from that environment it's that they also communicate often. Tools like Twikis, instant messaging, and good old "talking to each other" eliminate the overhead of extra process and excess documentation. Those good habits usually come later in their life cycle, but sometimes at the expense of direct communication.

Startups also get 100% (or more) of each employee's work day. That's just not going to happen over an extended period of time at "large" companies where people have other assignments. Things like ARCs, tiger teams, etc., as well as previous projects, can take away time and focus.

Posted by Kevin on February 22, 2007 at 05:14 AM PST #

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Thoughts on cloud computing, virtualization and data center management from Steve Wilson, Oracle engineering VP.

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