Idea Attack: The Merits of Multiplying Your Options

A fixation on our dwindling ability to focus has seized the zeitgeist of late. Winifred Gallagher’s book Rapt brought the “attention” debate to the forefront of non-fiction, while countless computer programs (e.g. MinutesPlease, RescueTime) are designed to put your Facebook obsession in check so you can get on with the real work.
Yet, writer, producer, and director Brian Swibel (Xanadu, Good Thing, Cubby Bernstein) attributes his success to taking an approach diametrically opposed to single-minded focus.Rather than sinking all of his attention into just one goal (or project), Swibel plays both ends – or maybe three, or four – against the middle. He says, “I started when I was 19, and I got some advice, which was ‘develop a lot of stuff,’ because you never know which one is going to hit first. I took that to heart, and really set out to have a multi-tiered production slate… I didn’t just want to be locked into one.”

This attitude has resulted in an insane project-load: at any given time, Swibel is playing editor, producer, writer, or director to several projects across television, theater, and film. To wit, a small sampling of his current projects includes a film adaptation of the book 15 to Life, a multi-media television show revolving around puppets called I Wanna Be That , and a stage adaptation of the film/book To Die For.

“What’s difficult [in spreading your efforts across] three art forms is working to perfect each process. You basically triple the amount of information you’re taking in, and triple the amount of experience that’s required to be the best that you can be,” says Swibel. But the extra work pays off when singular projects are able to cross mediums.

At the end of the day, it’s all about storytelling; a communal experience.

One such project, Cubby Bernstein, was originally conceived as a fun way to bolster the musical Xanadu’s Tony nomination. (Swibel was one of Xanadu’s producers.) The short film series followed a fictional Tony consultant – a very precocious 12-year-old – as he coached the Xanadu crew through the awards season gauntlet. It became an Internet success, and had the theater world buzzing about the as-yet-unexplored Broadway “crossover” terrain. Ultimately, working across industries allows Swibel to take the knowledge from each and apply it across projects, invigorating each field with approaches that are radical in one context, and commonplace in another.

Variety has rooted itself in Swibel’s work ethic since he first entered the entertainment business: “When I first started out, I couldn’t afford lawyers, so I started learning about contracts and the legal process, and I would write a lot of them myself. I still actually do a lot of that myself because I find that forming a hands-on relationship can be beneficial in the long run.” As his business grew and the need to bring on talent increased, Swibel found himself adhering to his policy of diversification in hiring, as well.

Each person on his team was brought on not necessarily due to their extensive experience in the business, but instead, because of their unwavering passion for creative arts. Every new hire is encouraged to explore several areas of the business; then “each member of the team naturally gravitates towards certain aspects of development that they find interesting or inspiring or that speak to their personal skills.”

The willingness to sample different processes, relationships, and art forms has bred an adaptability that has been instrumental in Swibel’s success, but he also emphasizes that passion is an essential partner. Each project has its own organizational needs and obstacles, but, “at the end of the day, it’s all about storytelling; a communal experience, a catharsis, and the opportunity to connect with other people.”

More insights on: Focus, Time Management
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