James Kicklighter is an award winning director/producer whose work has been recognized by leading film publications around the world. He established his production company JamesWorks Entertainment in 2005 at the age of 16. Since then it has added web development and marketing/public relations divisions.
Ain’t It Cool News raved that James’ short film Followed “[is] directed with a delicate and gentle hand… The most unexpected horror surprise seen in quite a while.” He has also produced several documentary films. Film Threat said that Di Passaggio “captures all the imperfections of group travel in a foreign country, boiled down to the authentically naive reactions…[and] innocent perceptions of the world.”
What does being influential online mean to you?
I must admit that it is a feeling of great accomplishment because it has taken years to cultivate influence both digitally and offline, so it is important to maintain a positive image with people who support and trust me. While I once would post personal things, I now try to be aware of the variety of audiences and belief systems that I speak to on a daily basis. We live in a large world with many cultures, so I treat everyone’s thoughts with dignity.
With influence, there is an added sense of responsibility. People observe my behavior, and I have to make sure that it is in keeping with how I would expect others to treat me. I try to be as nice to individuals as possible, though I sometimes go off on brands that have done me wrong to get more attentive customer service.
I learned a valuable lesson years ago that the best way to build trust is to be as honest and forthcoming as possible. That mentality helped me create influence. When a certain number of people start to trust you, then others join the bandwagon. To build that trust, I have to continue to treat my fans and followers with respect.
How do you use your influence to better your community?
Uncle Ben from Spider-Man said it best: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Though I am far from perfect, I try to utilize social platforms to advance causes. I believe the world is my community, so I need to influence causes that impact citizens everywhere. I realize that many of the things I say and do can impact how a lot of people see an issue.
Let me give a couple of examples. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of having dinner with Andrew McGregor, the founder of @TizianoProject, a non-profit that advances underreported news from developing nations on social networks. Of course, the first thing I did was take it to my platforms to invite others to get involved.
Last year I did production work for @JAMAHBags’ In True Fashion program with @3Fates_Anna. @InTrueFashion works with smart, underprivileged youth in urban Los Angeles to teach them how to make and market handbags. Partnering with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, the program teaches how to run a business and interact with professionals. It has been quite successful, garnering attention from people like @RichardBranson and @GavinNewsom who used their online and offline influence to raise awareness of what was going on in the classroom.
I could self-promote all day and people would pay attention. I believe that it is infinitely more rewarding to be mindful of making our global community a better place to live.
How does generosity enhance your online relationships?
Everyone has something to contribute to the world. It starts with listening to other people and acknowledging that others helped you get where you are personally and professionally. I think it is important not be too precious about what you have done or what you will do. A willingness to share knowledge and learn from others can enhance every aspect of your being.
I would never have found success without other people assisting me, so I treat my digital relationships the same way. At JamesWorks we give people opportunities and take risks on untested but motivated crew members. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t, but I always believe in giving someone an outlet so they can prove themselves. I operate online in a similar manner. With the rise of IndieGoGo, Kickstarter and other web fundraising platforms, I can look at projects from aspiring filmmakers and find opportunities to advance their career. Occasionally, I put money into projects that have talented people attached.
How do you integrate your real life experiences with your online identity?
While having an online identity is important, maintaining offline person-to-person connections is a great way to enhance digital relationships. Through blending this relationship cocktail, you build trust with individuals on a human level that enhances the digital relationship.
As I meet people at events around the country, I also connect with them on social platforms. This helps to foster the relationship and lets me learn more about the individual. Since I visit every part of the country during the year, I make a point to meet up with in person by leveraging our digital relationship. I know what they’ve been doing, and usually they’ve been following my work as well. While time may have passed since our last meeting, we know each other better than we did on first impression, building strong relationships that grow to be mutually beneficial.
Here’s an example. @HartHanson, the creator of FOX’s Bones and The Finder, commented publicly about how much he enjoyed the movie Get Low, starring Robert DuVall, Bill Murray, and Sissy Spacek. Hart and I had tweeted back and forth periodically. In the offline world, I became an acquaintance of Get Low writer @ScottSeeke at the 2010 @MaconFilmFest. While I still haven’t met Hart in person, meeting Scott and sharing meals with him built a relationship that laid the groundwork for a digital introduction.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to make directing or film production their career?
A lot of people have this image that Hollywood is one big studio lot with four walls that no one can jump over until you “break in.” I’ve always taken issue with this mentality. “Breaking in” is a huge oversimplification of the process. The people that come out of nowhere rarely rise to the top overnight. They’ve been working hard for a decade and you haven’t noticed them.
If you want to be successful as a director or producer, you need to keep creating, working, and networking. Find a way to cover your expenses while practicing your craft, even if that means taking on projects and clients that you don’t want. Working on corporate or web videos permits you to pay the bills while allowing you to practice your craft in the short form.
Don’t get hung up on having the best pieces of equipment; purchase what you can afford. Hone your storytelling skills, because if those are good, the money will follow. Then you’ll be able to invest in your own equipment for corporate and creative projects, and spend money on SAG Actors.
Like any other job, it’s a process and you have to learn the system and how to operate within it to become successful. This requires a lot of time, dedication and patience. At the end of the day, true talent packaged with good marketing and a social media presence will find a career in today’s business.