Change Takes Time: What Culture-makers Could Learn from Two Wine-makers, by Erik Lokkesmoe

Ongoing series: Two Handed Authors and Bloggers You Should Know

Erik is one of those people whose name just keeps coming up in Hollywood conversations. His journey from Capital Hill staffer to Hollywood heavyweight is the stuff of legends. His gift for tapping into the trends of “younger, globally-minded, spiritually-curious” audiences make him one of the hottest commodities in Hollywood.

Erik Lokkesmoe is the founder and principal of Different Drummer, a LA/NYC-based audience and fan mobilization agency for top entertainment brands. Before launching the company in 2008, Erik was a Vice President at AFG/Walden Media/Bristol Bay Productions, the creators of The Chronicles of Narnia, and other successful family entertainment properties. In 2006, Erik was tapped to oversee the outreach and marketing for the political thriller Amazing Grace, which is described as one of the most innovative social marketing campaigns ever executed for a Hollywood film.

Different Drummer Principals: Corby Pons (left), Erik Lokkesmoe (center) and Marshall Mitchell.

Erik is a graduate of Westmont College and the Act One Hollywod training program, with an MA from American University, with an emphasis in Social Marketing. Before coming to Hollywood, Erik also has served as a political and celebrity speechwriter, Capitol Hill press secretary, the director of communications for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the founder of the arts non-profit Brewing Culture, a co-author and speaker, and a media strategist for the National Association of Broadcasters.

Erik is co-author of The Revolutionary Communicator: Seven Principles Jesus Lived To Impact, Connect And Lead. Erik and his wife, Monica, and their three young children live in Manhattan.  He and his wife, Monica, and their three kids live in New York City. Follow Erik at Different Drummer or Twitter at @buzzdriver.

My Introduction: Impatience is one of the greatest obstacles to culture making today. Christians in Hollywood are nearly overwhelmed by the steady stream of wanna-be filmmakers and financiers seeking an overnight success. It is all a mirage. In this article, Erik articulates a more long-term approach better than anyone I have ever heard. (Originally published in Q. Used by authors permission. Follow at@qideas)

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Waiting for Good: Change Takes Time, but Do We Have the Patience?


In 1933, the year Prohibition ended, two brothers, Ernest and Julio Gallo, launched a wine business from a small warehouse in California’s lush Central Valley. Acquiring grapes and equipment on credit, they joined a handful of other struggling winemakers in sinking every penny they earned back into the family business.
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The first harvest yielded truckloads of frustration and little fruit. As the vines grew, however, so did their optimism. Neighboring vintners said the brothers told everyone who would listen, “… someday the Gallo name and family crest would appear on bottles throughout the U.S.” Lack of money and name recognition were the least of their concerns. Foreign wine-making giants, particularly in France, dominated domestic sales; and wine was viewed as an elitist drink for the wealthy or the secret indulgence of the “wino.”
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Ernest and Julio Gallo made a critical decision. Instead of looking to next year’s harvest or next quarter’s profits, they fixed their eyes on the next quarter-century. Their patience paid off. By 1975, the E. & J. Gallo Winery was the largest wine company in the world; the closest competitor was half their size.
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Decades of persistence did more than turn a profit. Along the way, the Gallo brothers transformed the perception and practices of wine-drinking in America. “Gone are the days when wine was only imbibed at formal occasions; when the wine bottle only made an appearance in somber dusky rooms or at candlelight dinners,” an industry newsletter reported in 1983. “Today, wine … entertains at picnics, social occasions, business luncheons, everyday meals and sporting events … [and] is becoming a part of everyday life.”
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The Gallo brothers understood that changing their fortunes meant changing the cultural climate as well. The beliefs and behaviors of consumers had as much to do with sales as the product itself – as good as it might be.
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Such eternal endurance is uncommon today. In our clamorous and rootless society, bravado is potent and expectations are high; great things are expected to happen quickly. Yet noble and daring deeds — ending extreme poverty, reinventing a new model for the music industry, or revitalizing devastated urban centers — require a patient and persistent vision.
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The same is true in contemporary culture. Elections matter. The Supreme Court is important. Nevertheless, it is movies and music, poetry and plays, fashion and video games that shape beliefs and behaviors. Art and entertainment often normalize, even idealize, as one author said, “the weird and the stupid and the coarse.”
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The answer, however, is not regulation or legislation. To change the culture we must change our approach. We must encourage young people to innovate in every channel of culture. Challenge them to pursue everything from cinematography, dance, and the creation of original music to redesigning entire educational systems, architecting urban development and founding common good organizations.
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To renew all things we must create movies and music, poetry and plays, fashion and video games, employing excellence and artistry in a way that subtly offers audiences startling glimpses of goodness, truth and beauty. We must be originators, not imitators, with an uncommon ability to tell new stories in new ways through new mediums. We must transform the arts from the inside-out and the bottom-up, to “criticize by creating,” as Michelangelo said. And we must celebrate the good wherever it is found, even in the most unlikely and unexpected places.
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Our standard should be this: great art, entertainment, and media that leaves the audience a little better off than when they first entered the theater, turned on the iPod, or opened the book. Art doesn’t have to be happy or easy; it should, however, be a vehicle for recreation and re-creation, an echo of grace that reminds us what it means to be human and more than human.
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Do we have the patience for such long-term transformation?
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Do we have the patience to train one thousand talented young artists over the next ten years to weave redemptive themes into their art, knowing that only a handful of them will ever make a living at it?
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Do we have the patience to take a job in the mailroom of Universal Music Group or Paramount Studios or NBC News, to work hard and not complain, to fetch expressos for executives, to learn how things work, and then ten years from now be in a position to take that job as Vice President of Programming?
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A patient, persistent cultural vision will not earn many pats on the backs or make many headlines; it is much easier to criticize and complain. Like Ernest and Julio, we must till and plant, season after season. The fruit of our labor may take years, even decades to make a difference. But the investment is worthwhile. An enduring vision takes endurance.
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To read article or comment in Q, click: What Can Two Wine Makers Teach Us About Shaping Culture?

See also in Q: Margaret Feinberg’s essay, Napa Valley on Leadership.