MEETING THE MASTER
An Interview With The Creator Of HeroPlot
FACE TO FACE
THEN AFTER A COFFEE ...OR TWO
How would you define HeroPlot? Do you think of it as a comic book or a series of comic books?
No. Absolutely not. I have the greatest respect for comic books. Creators such as Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel and Bob Kane. These are all visionary guys who have influenced or touched the lives of just about everyone on the planet. But that said, for me, comics and comic books are from a different era. They represent an entertainment form that comes from a different time.
When I was young, my mother used to buy my brothers and I comics. Not so much the typical superhero comic stories but ones that had activities in them. Things to do. Stuff to make and paint. I guess in their format they were more like activity books. I used to love them. Cutting out paper masks. Making things from toilet rolls and cereal boxes. You'd be amazed at what you can make out of a bit of sticky back plastic and a matchbox. But if I bought one of these for one of my sons now, they would look at me and wonder where are they supposed to tap? Or swipe? Where the on button is? Or the volume control? You understand? We never had tablets, we had physical paper. Print. A comic book can't possibly compete with a tablet and the apps it can offer a young child today.
When my father was a child he used to read comic books and go to the movies every Saturday morning to watch what they used to call "serials". These were basically movies broken down into ten minute chapters that were released each week and cut at points that could pause on a cliffhanger. A dramatic voice-over would then speak of the possible life or death outcomes and audiences would gasp at the very thought. There was Zorro and Dick Tracy, The Phantom, Buck Rogers and of course The Lone Ranger Rides Again. You’d watch the clip and then spend the week wondering if The Lone Ranger had really fallen off the cliff or if Dick Tracy really had been shot. Of course they never did. How else could they continue the story if they had? But you can imagine, in a time without television and internet. Where entertainment came from the radio, from comic books and from these Saturday morning serials the suspense of these things must have been magical. Of course, today, it’s a different age. There is so much media constantly broadcast that children just don’t have that level of attention span anymore. You couldn’t hope to get a nine year old to watch a ten minute episode of something even as dramatic as Lucas's Star Wars and then expect that they'd be remotely interested in it a week later.
Comic books for me represent an age of innocence. A time when story-telling was at its purest form. We’re just not there anymore. Cable TV, Netflix and YouTube pushed us on.
I’m not saying that comic books don’t have a role to play in society anymore. I’m not saying that all. But I do think the very nature of comic books has changed. I think now they are appreciated more as an art form than a consumable. People buy comic books now, put them in plastic sleeves and leave them on a shelf. They never read them. They collect them. For me that’s not what the comic book was made for. It was made for mass consumption. For entertainment. Not for gaining value one day or being sold at an auction. It does the artists who created these characters great justice to now have their work considered as art but it changes the context of the medium.
There's a famous quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, that goes, "Every artist was first an amateur". Personally, I dont't think the likes of Lee , Siegel or Kane were ever amateurs. They were naturally gifted geniuses just waiting for the right vehicle to show it. With enough exposure to their work, people then began to recognise it.
I see HeroPlot as a form of entertainment that has something for everyone. It is created for, and therefore also meant to be consumed by the mass. But that is up to the mass to decide and determine and not me.
I never want to see HeroPlot become something that is made exclusively for a limited number and available only to those who get it first or are willing to pay a premium. I think it would then lose its relevance. I want it to be available and to have universal access. It shouldn’t matter if you live in London or Tokyo. In Mumbai or a remote village in the furthest outback reaches of Australia. In so long as there is a connection to the internet, whoever chooses and wants, should be able to consume it.
When you think about many of the superhero and comic book series that have tried to make the transition to screen, there have been some really catatrosphic attempts. Does it worry you that if HeroPlot should ever become a film series it could end up the same way?
I don't know if comic book movies have an exclusivity on box office disasters. That seems a bit too subjective doesn't it? After all, I mean to a film studio a bad movie is a great movie if it earns money.
If you're asking do I believe that there have been poor portrayals of certain comic book characters over the years? Then I would have to say, absolutely. But then there are so many truly inspirational real-life stories and autobiographies that have been made into terrible movies. I've lost count of the number of times I've read a book and looked forward to the movie, only to come away with a real sense of disappointment. What is more annoying is that you can see the same mistakes being repeated. Over and over and over again. The director choosing to focus upon the adversity of a situation rather than the characters response to adversity itself. More often than not, the very essence of what made the story great and reason to turn it into a movie.
You know, our imagination is great for filling in blanks, but you have to feed it. Inspire it.
At university I was trained and studied in film. My old lecturer always used to say, "Nothing you see on screen is there by accident. Everything is planned, meticulously." It was his belief that budgets and committees destroyed films. Ruined the vision of the director or forced scenes to be cut, storylines to change and confuse the plot. He also used to say, that it's not what the eye sees but what the eye cannot see. What the mind imagines that has the greatest psychological impact. That's pretty incredible don't you think?
I remember one afternoon, we were discussing Hitchcock's Psycho, and of course that infamous shower scene with Janet Leigh. What people often fail to realise is that you never actually see Perkins stab Leigh. You never see a stab wound or hear the knife cut through the skin. It's a totally fabricated illusion that puts focus on the character's adversity completely. Their surprise. Their shock. Their panic. Their struggle. At the time, the scene was so powerful that audiences apparently fainted in seats and ran to the doors in terror trying to get out.
The speed of the cutting, combined with changes in camera angle and Herrmann's unforgettable music score create such a sense of immediacy and frenzy that your mind panics and imagine's the stab wounds and does so much more vividly than any lens could ever hope to capture.
In the two minutes that passed from Leigh entering the shower to perform a daily mundane task, you have been a voyeur and witness to a most brutal, ferocious and violent attack that ended a life abruptly and suddenly in the worst possible way. But what did you actually see and what did your mind make you think? Of course, it's soon sixty years since Psycho was released and audience sophistication perhaps expects more to gain that type of reaction today, but nonetheless. To imply rather than depict can often be the strongest way.
I know it's an obvious one, but what inspired you to create HeroPlot?
I think inspiration is something that comes from everything around us. All those little things we get exposed to on a daily basis. The things that we often never pay any mind and yet somehow still manage to sit in the subconscious and roll around as we sleep. Like small pebbles that get pushed along by the tide and smoothed by the sea. The strangest things often rub against our minds and make impressions for us to remember.
Wasn't it Plato who compared the mind to a wax tablet and said that memories were just impressions made upon the wax?
I can see I am going to have to be more specific. If I was to rephrase, is there anything or anyone who inspired you to create HeroPlot?
Are you after a specific name or an event from me here Marielle?
The truth is that no single real-life person, event or thing lies at the heart of HeroPlot. There couldn't be. It's just too complex. The seed of HeroPlot is more a collective response to a number of experiences. Experiences which like life I guess, are a mixture of both good and bad. Some of them were good. Many of them were bad. And none of them have ever been in equal measure.
As I mentioned about film directors, I know a lot of authors tend to draw inspiration for characters from personal tradegy and adversity. I guess you could say in much the same way as many song writers tend to rely upon relationship break-ups and heartbreaks to express feelings in their lyrics. But again, personally I don't believe a character's greatest value comes from adversity itself. Their greatest value comes in how they handle it. Whether through choice or through force. It's their response to adversity. That's the true test of a character. The true test of strength.
From a personal perspective, taking bad experiences and trying to turn them into something positive is something I've sadly had to do a number of times. I guess many of those have helped form the nucleus of HeroPlot without question. Certainly had influence over it. But, at its core? Its epicenter? Well that's everything isn't it? The storm of life you might say. The tempest of living.
That sounds quite dramatic. Have you had a number of bad life experiences? Would you be willing to share some?
I dont't know about dramatic, I think it's more about the struggle of living itself. That the good times can be so great that we experience euphoria. Yet on the flip side, the bad times can be so bad that they can scar and change us forever.
Ask a gambler whey they gamble and they will tell you because of the thrill of the win. That one win that helps them to forget the one hundred hits they just took trying to get it. Go to Vegas and drink as much as you want as long as you gamble. You'll spend more money on gambling then you ever could on alcohol and it costs money to pay for all those lights.
Going into a city like Oslo, is much like any capital. Around you it's not difficult to see homelessness, substance addicts, prostitution and people who society in general would rather wish didn't exist, if we are honest with each other. People who the vast majority would prefer they find another place to live or hideaway. Somewhere away from view. Things are often easier to live with when we don't have to see them. When we aren't forced to have face them. Forced to accept that reality is often a darker picture than we want to believe. It's really a sad aspect of human culture and more a reflection on where we still are as a society. Technology may be taking us forward but in many other ways we are still stuck in the old paradigms and thought processes.
In the 1950s, after the war, people wanted more and could have more as consumerism really began to take hold. Seventy years later and people still want more. Bigger houses. Greener cars. The latest mobile phone. More shoes. Bigger, better, longer vacations. It's a list of requirements that never ends. But for some it does. For some it ends badly. The cost of keeping up with the Jones' and with the expectations of society is just too great.
In this, for want of a better term, "rat race", I'm not sure that everyone is equipped to cope or gets the support that they need. Short-term loan advertisements are thrown at people everyday. Many live on credit. Many borrow to the hilt. Many live far and beyond their means. Buy the things they are told they can't live without and do so without really understanding the consequences, or only do so after it is too late. When they lose their homes or get evicted into the street. Get bad credit ratings and can't borrow more to pay off what's already overdrawn or are declared bankrupt.
Of course it is not only consumerism that taints our society. Many people end up on streets running away from families, from abuse, from tragedies. Many were exposed to substances to drugs, to alcohol or turned to these to help them cope with trauma. Lacking the support, the help, the counselling that may have made a difference.
When you pass someone lying in the street, or begging for money, it's really all too easy to turn your head to avoid the awkwardness of having to say, "No". But don't you ever wonder how on earth did this person end up here? How did they end up in this situation?
Last year in London, I spoke with a homeless man playing his guitar for money while his dog sat loyally beside him, not far from Trafalgar Square. His wife had been unfaithful and he had over-reacted after finding out. He ended up in prison and lost everything. His home, his job, his children. Everything. When he was released from prison he slept on the streets and fell in with the wrong crowd and began taking drugs. As he said, they helped, "blot out the days". The monotony. He had caught an infection which ended up with him losing his left leg, from the knee down, and after returning to the streets and free from drugs, stole a guitar and began playing. He didn't know how to play guitar, he'd never held one before in his life, so he began to teach himself and after about a year could strum two songs. He picked up a stray dog. Or rather, was followed by a stray dog, he once offered food to and they were now stuck together.
As he told me his story, I could not stop thinking about how unfortunate this man was. He was struck really by a series of events, some unfortunate, some self-inflicted. Others from pure luck, both bad and good, which had all combined and brought him to this place. His story could be written quite romantically if you choose to see it that way. I mean, here is a man who has lost everything. Betrayed by his wife. Incarcerated for a crime of passion. Loses even more (his leg). Tries to better himself and learns guitar. Uses what little money he collects on food yet still has the compassion to share it with a stray dog who now is his only loyal companion etc. It's almost heroic. As a story, it has "Hollywood Script" stamped all over it. But that would be doing an injustice to him. To his life. To the adversity that he must face every single day. Adversity that has come not through choice but been thrust upon him. Grown out of necessity. That he must find a place to sleep. That he must play the same songs over and over, again and again, for eighteen hours a day in the hope that someone throws him some change. That it will be enough to pay for some food for him and his dog. That in his existence, there is no future. No great plan to escape this way of life. It is his reality. A terrible groundhog day that he must face day after day until the time comes when either his body gives way, or he decides that enough is enough. There is no Hollywood ending. He will not be discovered by a music executive or sell a million records. His reality is dark and it will not end well. It cannot.
Are you avoiding my question? What about your life experience? The bad ones. I asked if you would be willing to share some?
No I wasn't trying to avoid the question, merely give it some perspective because everything is relative. I can kiss my boys goodnight every night. Sleep in a cosy bed and know when I wake up there will be coffee.
I don't really want to talk too much about my own personal bad life experiences, but since I mentioned my sons I will share a little about one.
My eldest son was still-born. He was literally pulled out of my wife in a frantic procedure, ten weeks prematurely, in an effort to save him. When the surgeon responsible for the procedure took me to one side and told me that they had done everything they could and that now it was important for me to be there for my wife. I still didn't understand what she was talking about. An hour earlier we were sitting laughing and joking. Suddenly, with no warning, with no time to consider, life had ended abruptly. As an event. A situation. It was just not possible to comprehend. To digest. In that moment there is no rational. There is anger, there are tears, there is frustration, there is disbelief, there is sorrow, there is confusion, there is panic. But, there is no rational. Things do not make sense. There is only this tsunami of emotional responses.
We were taken upstairs, my wife still heavily sedated, and about eight hours had passed. It was a little after midnight, before two doctors eventually came in to talk with us. I hadn't told my wife what the surgeon had told me. How could I? The doctors told us that they had being giving tiny tiny transfusions, desperately trying to resuscitate him. He was alive, technically, they said and on life support and breathing apparatus in the ICU. More than this, it was not possible to say or know if or for how long he would survive.
Having lost hope, I was given the chance of hope. I don't know which is worse because the emotions are not eased. I sat in the ICU the whole night. I rested my head on the glass box he was in and placed my hand through the side so these tiny fingers could grip my little finger. To let him know that I was there. That he was not alone. It was, until that point, the worst night of my life. In the morning I went up to my wife to tell her he was still alive and so we just tried to take it hour by hour, then day by day, then week by week until eventually one day we were allowed to bring him home.
For a brief moment in time, you think the universe is on your side. Then, the reality of life comes to remind you that nothing is ever for granted. Due to the amount of time he spent without blood or oxygen the likelihood of brain damage was unavoidable.
The world shatters once again.
The next nine months were a daily test really until we were eventually told after all the tests, the MRi's and PET scans that he was fine.
The universe was with us again.
Interviewer's Notes: There is a pause as I gather my thoughts after learning of Harvey's unexpected ordeal. Not wishing to go deeper, at the risk of jepeordising the interview I attempt another line of questioning.
You referred to the universe a number of times when you described your family's ordeal. Do you consider yourself to have strong religious beliefs?
No. Not really.
I do think as a race, we should be better to each other. Kinder. More tolerant of each others belief systems. There is so much focus on being absolute. Who is right and who is wrong? What is black and what is white? I really don't understand this way of thinking. We live in a world of vibrant colour and colour is a spectrum, not extents.
Most of what doctors learn at university in order to pass exams, is proven to be untrue years later. That facts, once considered truths, are mainly only assumptions and often found to be wrong.
Outside of definitives such as birth and death, I think we just have to accept the rest is basically blurred. Greyscale.
Is this a principle in your work also?
Before my son was "born", I ran a very successful design and media consultancy company in Oslo for thirteen years. I travelled alot and worked with many interesting, and many uninteresting, international brands. We did some really cool stuff and won a bunch of different awards but I really had come to a point where the challenge had gone. The reason for wanting to get up and go to work just wasn't there anymore.
The majority of graduates choose a major and then follow through on this for the rest of their career. Sure they jump from job to job, company to company, but it's almost always within the same field. The same vocation. People seem to want to strive towards being an "expert". As if having an expert status gives some form or seal of authority. Provides a command of attention.
There was a time I was considered one of the best branding guys around. Before that, I was, for a year at least, regarded as the best web designer in Europe. If my expert status was ever in any doubt, to seal it all, I did what every expert does. The speeches, the debate panels, the articles. You know, all the look at me stuff. Heck, I was even published in Harvard Business Review. I mean for all intents and purposes I was an expert in the definitive sense of the term. But an expert at what? The following day someone else was giving a speech. The following month someone else was writing an article. The following year someone else was the best web designer. It's all so temporary. So very meaningless. The experts spend most of their time convincing people they are still experts. So much time in fact that there is no time to do anything else. So what do you become? An expert of self-promotion? Is that the goal of a career? It's a pretty shallow, unrewarding life to be an expert.
In that brief period of being an expert I was miserable. Well-paid, but miserable. I stopped thinking. Searching. Trying. I became a bit robotic almost automated and I had never been that way. Couldn't bear to think of life being that way. Being restrained to one field. One colour.
I'm grateful for awards and accolades of course. They're nice to have but they're not the reason for doing. A trophy or diploma doesn't give you passion. It just provides recognition.
By 2012, the vibrance and saturation of the media consultancy had become flat and monotone. I was in the states when a chance meeting with a film producer in LA led to an introduction with a gentleman in Zürich. I liked this guy straight away. He was an ex-banker but apart from the suit, he had nothing in common with any banker I had ever met. This guy wanted to build schools in Africa and do so through raising money via concerts and music sales. There were a lot of renowned recording artists onboard and a lot of heavy hitting investors on the project.
WOW! That sounds exicting. Can you drop any artist names? Any gossip to share?
No and no.
Well what about the project? Did it work? Did they build the schools?
Of course not. The problem with a number of idealistic projects is that while the cause, the reasons, needs and intentions are usually extremely honourable. Sadly, the logistics behind them are a disaster. The apparatus that needs to be established. Usually requires so many different types of people that it is almost impossible to find similar and like-minded individuals. Groups of people with the same interests and motivations. Projects which promise to change the world, and it might literally be the world, tend to attract different people for very different reasons. Some want to be around famous people. Others see an opportunity to make a lot of money and so forth.
One of the greatest challenges in creating real or lasting change is that it usually requires enormous shifts in existing processes. Those shifts do not happen without resistance. The bigger the challenge. The greater the resistance. If something new is going to change the status quo or impact upon the profits, sales, distribution or market share of an existing operation, then you can be sure that achieiving any shift will not be as easy as it sounds or looks, when it's presented as a bullet point in PowerPoint.
So you left Zürich?
Not exactly. The African school project teased my curiousity and brought me to Zürich, but having read the business model and reviewed the intended structure I declined the offer to join. I think it was about three months after the first introduction meeting, that they came back and asked if I would be willing to consider the CEO position. There were so many problems with the project and for me it was clear that it could ever succeed, so with hindsight, happy also that I never got to experience its collapse, or had to talk to investors about their missing monies.
The gentleman who introduced me to the project was also involved in a mobile start-up and asked if I could consider joining that venture.
During the early 2000's, I had worked a lot with telcos. Actually my design company, the one I was telling you about, was responsible for the branding, design and interface for the world's first touch screen internet enabled telephone.
The guys in the Swiss start-up seemed enthusiastic, competent and had first round seed investment so I decided to join. But it proved to be less than ideal. The competence within the company was a lot lower than I expected and made to believe. It was nose-diving. We had a few board discussions and in the end there was a simple choice to make. To walk away or to assume an interim CEO position and get the venture to a level capable of securing second round investment. It was a really difficult and disappointing period. My wife was heavily pregnant in Norway and I was stuck in Switzerland under the context of something that proved to be untrue.
Looking back now, I could have walked away, maybe should have, but I really wanted to see them succeed and the lure of the challenge was just too tempting. I used some time and decided to commit but the scope of the contract just kept growing. What started as an initial agreement to build the marketing strategy became the business strategy, financials, marketing strategy, brand and profiles, national office and recruitment strategies and so on. The process became more difficult than it should have been really and it was evident that the board and senior executives imposed by them on me were there for status and title rather than contribution and input. I wanted to improve knowledge within the company, increase competence and better decision making processes. They just saw dollars. We were too far apart and as a result nothing was developing. In the end, I felt no sense of satisfaction, only relief in fulfilling the contract. So once my obligations were met, I decided to forfeit my equity in the company and declined the permanent CEO position offered.
Isn't that kind of unusual?
Yes. You could say so. But at the same time fifty percent of nothing is still nothing so if your instincts and your experience tells you this will not work then why put more energies into it?
My family is from Ireland and every now and then my father or mother would come out with these strange expressions and quote them, as if they were fact. Like some divine Jedi wisdom handed down from Yoda. Things like, "Cut your nails on Sunday and you'll meet the devil on Monday". You know the kind of thing. Old wives tales from back in the day. How anyone could manage to find logic between cutting toenails and a meeting with the personification of evil is a little beyond my imagination. How they could convince others that this is a fact and have it passed down through generations. Well, that's marketing like we just don't see anymore! Anyway, to get back to the point, another expression was, "Don't throw good money after bad", which has slightly more relevance, and logic. In essence it simply means, cut your losses. If something isn't working, have the sense to know when to stop trying.
With the telco start-up in Zürich, there was nothing wrong with the model. It would still work today if it was implemented. But the setup. The level of competence that was required in the senior positions, at the board level and so on to establish the company as an international concern. Well, it just wasn't there. I'm not talking about experts. I'm talking about experience. And you know boards don't step down, so I did what I felt was right and stepped aside. That actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise because one week later they performed the emergency caesarean to remove my son, and I'm so thankful that I was in Oslo at the time and not in Zürich.
You're not an easy man to follow Scott. To recap, and to try to put events in order. Tired of consulting you close your design company in search of a new challenge? You go to Zürich and disappointed return to Oslo only to face the traumatic experience of the birth of your son who is now thankfully alive and well? So what happened next? When was this?
This was, 2013. March.
The rest of 2013 was really about hopsitals, tests, watching our son and I just lost the appetite for work. At the same time, I can't help myself. I think it's the entrepreneur in me. The restlessness. I don't seem to be able to sit still for long.
You know we are not a big country in terms of population. There are almost twice as many people living in the state of New York than in the whole of Norway. This has its disadvantages and advantages. Opportunities, if you care to see it that way.
Anyone who ever has a child will tell you that the child outgrows every piece of clothing and apparel before it gets worn out. In our case, we were finding clothes and garments in cupboards that we had never even tried on our son. Toys, rattles and things still in their packaging. Norway is so small that many of the larger and more successful online services such as eBay and Amazon don't even bother to have country sites or distribution here so that creates an opportunity. At home, we were literally drowning in baby clothes and gifts and its amazing how quickly babies grow. I didn't know that "0-3" and "3-6" were categories for clothes based in months not years. I wear jeans that are five years old. A new born baby needs a completely new wardrobe after just three months. It's insane. So faced with the prospect of filling the garage with box after box of baby clothes, I thought why not create a service instead? An online site specifically for parents who want to shop, sell or giveaway new and gently used baby things to other parents.
I was convinced that there was a market. A need. After all, we were experiencing it. The closest thing we have to something like eBay is a service called FINN, which roughly translates into "Find". Like eBay, it's also very generic and offers everything from houses to holidays and home shopping to car sales. So while its diversity certainly helped it to grow and gain market dominance. It was also clear to see that it was simply unable to address the needs of a specific niche market like parents.
It wasn't long before I had a pilot in place and was getting ready for public launch. When later that year, out of the blue, one of the investors in that African school project got in touch and said, listen, I'm coming to Oslo. Fancy a chat?
We met. We spoke. And of course I learned the unsurprising fate of that project.
He had never had involvement in the telco start-up, so I think he was more curious than anything else to learn about why I had stepped aside? To cut a very long story short, despite my gut feelings and initial hesitations, after months of persuading, I finally submitted and agreed to take the investor into the parenting portal. It was a truly terrible mistake.
I really do believe that good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from failure rather than success.
It was poor judgement on my part to accept his investment and even poorer judgement to make him equal partner. The truth is that from the moment our partnership was agreed, the project was doomed.
Do you remember how I said how difficult it is to find like-minded individuals? Most specially if your intentions are not pure, or at least transparent. I had a vision of creating a much needed service and outlet for parents. I think he had a vision of wealth and return. It shouldn't really have been that surprising, after all, that is what investors do. Evaluate potential for return. But when you create a fifty/ fifty structure in essence you also cripple a company. Decisions can't be made. Goals can't be reached. And the blistering pace set in the early stages of the start-up grinds to a very painful halt.
That must have been difficult especially after the disappointments in Zürich?
Honestly, it was frustrating more than anything. My focus was elsewhere. Our son had been ill for sometime. We knew it was something serious but we just couldn't get to the bottom of it.
But he was doing well and all the difficulties of the birth were now long behind you now?
We thought so. Or had hoped so.
He had been struggling with digestion and one night at the hopsital under an ultrasound his abdomen just swelled up. We were asked to leave and my wife and I went into an ajoining room. About an hour or so later a doctor came in and said the words that no one wants to hear. "We've found a lump".
We were taken to a specialist hospital and his kidneys collapsed on the journey. They just shut down. Complete kidney failure.
Interviewer's Notes: There's a long pause. Scott has dropped his head, his voice is trembling and is clearly struggling to speak. It's a very powerful moment and I become emotional. I put down my tablet, go to him and put my arms around him.
Shall we take a break? Maybe get another coffee?
Interviewer's Notes: Harvey gathers himself, raises his hands to wipe away several tears. Composes himself and continues.
I can't Marielle. I don't have much time. I have to work on some new character details. They're pressing me.
I'm sorry. I've forgotten where we were.
Interviewer's Notes: I return to my seat and need a moment to get my emotions under control. I hold my breath as I pick up my tablet. I look at the ground to avoid Harvey's gaze and reply, "Your son's kidneys failed as you were sent to another hopsital."
Yes. That's right. It was around 3am and my wife...
Interviewer's Notes: Scott stops again. Lowers his head. Now clearly upset.
I'm sorry. We will have to talk about something else.
Of course. I'm sorry. This is clearly upsetting. I just need to know if your son?
He's fine. He made it.
He went through hell. The chemo. The radiation. The tests. The transfusions. The platelets.
We had to go to the U.S, to Boston, and get treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. There were so many amazing people there. Doctors, nurses, support staff, charity workers. Other parents. Really. People talk about superheroes but you don't need to go to a movie theatre to see them. They're all around us.
And at the National hospital in Oslo. There are nurses there, and they know who they are. They dragged us through our darkest days. When we had given up and when we knew there was no hope. They told us to hang on. I don't think we could have if they didn't.
After they were able to get the kidney problems under control they began to work on the tumors. It's not my story to tell. It's his and I won't cheapen it by telling it. All I will say is this. If you ask any parent whose child has been infected with this horrible disease how did they cope? They will tell you quite simply they didn't. You find depths of despair you could never fall to before. You lose any and all sense of self that is beyond the disease. You watch this thing slowly eat your child from the inside out with no meaning, no point or purpose.
I can't imagine. I don't think anyone can. How he made it through this? How you made it through this? It must have changed your life?
That homeless guitar player in London lost everything and found a way to survive. Taught himself to play guitar, because he had to. He had to survive.
We were lucky enough to be surrounded by people and a system that gave us the support that he never had.
I once spoke at a charity event for families battling cancer while we were in the U.S. I told the audience of benefactors that while our child may have cancer it was my wife and I who have to live with it. To look at it. To watch it. To see it. To have our souls destroyed every second of every minute they're succumbed to it. And you're just helpless. Useless. That's the worst. The complete sense of helplessness.
Does that experience, that process, change your life? In ways that I can never be able to articulate.
I have never been and doubt ever will be the same again.
Can someone ever really get over cancer? No. Never. It's always there. They can learn to live with it. But that fear that it could, might, will one day, come back. It never goes away. It's constant.
Imagine if Leigh had survived that knife attack in the shower. Do you think she could ever take another shower with the curtain closed again? I doubt she could ever take a shower without checking the locks of every door and every window and would have the bathroom door wide open and a shotgun standing beside her shampoo. I don't think you ever really get over deep trauma. You learn to live with it. Some people talk about it and try to give it into some form of perspective. Others need to bottle it. Put it on a shelf. Never speak of it again.
Was it then you started HeroPlot?
After my son was given the first all clear in June 2015, I went back to work full-time. I had been working a little here and there before then, but really only in an effort to retain some aspect of a normal life. In a way, it was a relief. To think about something else. But that relief was short lived and quickly turned to frustration. For the next three years my time would be split between the parenting project and the investors other investments. Again, I think looking back, the biggest failure was not having a clearly defined set of obligations, expectations and limitations. You might say, a set of shared understandings.
I saw his investment in the company as a means to take it further and faster than I could possibly do so alone. And without being presumptuous, I think it is fair to say that he saw his investment as being in me rather than the company. That his investment should also provide him with control over my time and my focus. On this point, we were most definetly not like-minded individuals.
Most things in life, when forced to end, don't end well. If they did, they would never end.
The parenting project, which I had such great belief in, really slowed during the years of his investment and involvement when it should have been the opposite. My time was spent increasingly looking at his investments and prospects in the U.S, Switzerland and Italy and saw everything from cinema to banking services. Perhaps it was a combination of all the events of those recent years, but somehow I now found myself in a position where after running an award-winning consultancy. Then a Swiss telco. I had become an entrepreneur locked in an agreement that essentially forced me into limbo and turned me into a private consultant who should always be at the disposal of his partner and his partner's schedule. It was not an ideal situation, and I think professionally, I was rapidly becoming lost.
So your parenting portal didn't end like the Hitchcock shower scene? Was it more of a slow agonising death?
Well in a way, I guess you could say so. Yes.
The investor had his own business. It wasn't really doing all that well. Like every market segment that becomes saturated with competitors, there will always be a need to either create new products and services, or find new methods to differentiate the business substantially. He hadn't done any of these things and the early successes from perhaps a decade or two previous were no longer reliable. There was a lot of friction inside that company, which quite obviously was due to his leadership style more than anything else. I was asked to perform a market evaluation which I did. After reviewing my work and proposed business model, he asked if I would implement the strategy and assume the role of CEO.
I was under a tremendous pressure at that time. On the one hand, the work situation, where the investor clearly meant that he was paying for, and so owned my time, now decided that it should be spent solely on his things. On the other hand, the family situation had changed. A year after our son's recovery, my wife gave birth to our second son. This really altered things. Priorities shifted. With our first son, the years had been filled with health difficulties. This wasn't the case with our second son. He was born as expected. On time, no problems, no difficulties, no health issues. Just a normal healthy baby boy. Suddenly, we were four. A normal family.
What happened next, is not something I am particularly proud of because it goes against all my principles. For the first time, I allowed myself to become distracted by money, wealth, gain and equity.
The investor made the promise of millions, always talked about all the contracts we would sign. All the things I could trust in and he could guarantee. I was like a baited fish. He had the hook. And I bit down hard. For the first time in my life, I found myself willing to compromise my values and there's no doubt in my mind that I sold out. I "ran" his company under his daily interference and just got on with it. Whether I agreed with his opinions or not, the promise of reward he offered seemed too great to ignore because it offered a security I felt I needed. My family needed. I was like a puppet. It was wrong. I was wrong. Professionally, my greatest mistake.
To draw upon your analogy, the parenting portal was not stabbed to death. It was starved to death.
The prolonged agony of watching the traffic decline, the membership numbers slow down, the product listings dry up. This was such a problem for me to accept. Here was this entity that I had created and wanted to push forward, just being there, doing nothing, being nothing.
Every entrepreneur will tell you, that the most precious commodity and one thing you cannot afford to waste is time. Now here I was, my hands tied, running the investor's company because I chose to follow the money. His company was a full-time, sixteen hour a day, position. I never knew if we would ever commit to the parenting project again. For him, the parenting project had lost all value. I could, and was generating more wealth running his / "our" company. But it soured everything for me. To me, it felt like I had created something that was on the verge of becoming something very special, but was never allowed to see it through. It was very frustrating to have to watch it just drift along, like a rudderless ship being steered by the tide. It was a shipwreck waiting to happen.
Since you're not living in Zürich now, would it be fair to say the ship crashed?
I think it would be fair to say that the ship imploded, and he exploded.
I tried to commute to Zürich for about six months, but it's tough on the body, so in the end I moved there in April 2017.
You have to remember that the investor and I worked together for four years all in all, albeit remotely for the greater part of that time, our communication was always daily. For the first three years of our relationship, I lived in Oslo and he lived in Zürich. If he told me the sun was shining in Zürich why would I have any reason to believe that it was raining?
The problem when I moved to Zürich, was that he would still be trying to tell me the sun was shining while I was holding an umbrella standing in the rain.
It would be wrong to go into any form of detail, and what happened in Zürich will stay in Zürich, but since I know your next question is going to try to find out what happened, I'll be preemptive and tell you only this. Something was brought to my attention that I could not possibly accept. For me it was such a breach of trust that I cut the ties completely and walked away. That was that.
We had no contract. No formal obligations for the Swiss arrangement. So I returned to Norway and tried to resolve what remained of the partnership. Namely his investment in the parenting project. That proved impossible and so the company was forced into liquidation. After that, I was under no further obligation to him and was free.
It's very powerful to listen to you talk so honestly about that period in your life. I don’t think many of us realise the extent of obligations that come with accepting investment. I always think of wealth and extravagance when I think about investors and online start-ups. Large open office spaces where millenials hang out, goof around and occasionally do some work. The consequences however for you, on you and your family, seem to have been very hard. Was it because of this that you started HeroPlot? A story of your own adversities and trials?
No. Not at all.
I think in many instances, the media creates these misleading images. Don’t get me wrong, I visited one of the investments of that investor and I didn’t know whether it was a business office or a fraternity rec room. It's just that it's not stereotypical of actual real-life. Trust me, Google may have this great, open, flexible, eat all you can buffet workplace now. But that was not always the case. When Google tried to sell the company to Excite for $750,000 in 1999, there was no goofing around in those offices then. There were no frills and no fancies. To offer these open facilities as an incentive to prospective employees, you need enormous investment and a track record of success or at least continuous and substantial growth. It's the only way to attract the continued investment required to fund such development under these progressive environments.
Employees in ninety nine point nine percent of every company operating in the digital space do not have time to play, and their employers do not have the luxury to afford it. The reality of being an entrepreneur, of owning or running a start-up is it’s hard. It’s a lifestyle choice that has consequences not only for you, but for your family. Of course many will say, “oh yes but if it works the rewards can be enormous”. And yes they can. But that whole statement is based entirely upon the word, “if”.
Everything is a balance. A nine to five position has job security. It offers fixed salary, bonuses, benefits, incentives. In Norway, at least, you can also expect five weeks fully paid vacation a year and maybe even a company car. Most importantly, let us not forget that they are finished at five. Once they clock out they can go home, relax, play with their children, watch television and live life a little. Most entrepreneurs I know are very pale skinned. To be totally honest, they look anorexic. Mainly because they don’t get out into the sun too much. They come to work when it's dark and leave when it's dark. There's no security, or if there is, it is temporary and exists only for as long as the initial seed investment lasts. You must work day and night. Forget about vacations. Get used to walking and know that if you are able to see your children before they are asleep that this will have to qualify as a bonus.
Actually, just thinking about starting your own company is an absurd concept. The time that it will take. The things that you will sacrifice. And all in the hopes of maybe? That "if" everything works out, you may just get a large sum of money at the end in return for your efforts. If this is how you see entrepreneurship, then you are not an entrepreneur. It has nothing to do with financial gain. As I said, my greatest mistake professionally was accepting the role of CEO in the investors business. Allowing myself to be driven and motivated by financial gains. When I focused on these things, this greed, I lost myself. I lost the values that make me who I am.
There are many people who own businesses who consider themselves to be entrepreneurs. They perhaps started a business. It went ok. It does ok. They have some employees. It goes round. As a result, they have been working there for ten years or twenty years or thirty. But this is not an entrepreneur. This is a business owner and these two are often confused as being one and the same.
An entrepreneur is a calling really. It’s in the blood. I don’t think you can create it. It either drives you or it doesn’t. An entrepreneur cannot be satisfied in a nine to five position no more than a nine to five employee could be satisfied as an entrepreneur. They are just two entirely different skill sets. Mind sets.
I know you have read my LinkedIN profile and you know I have started a number of companies in my life. Any of them I could have stayed in and ran as a business owner. The first company, the design consultancy, I did for over thirteen years. But for at least seven of those thirteen years it was like being an employee. I was never motivated by wealth, but by projects. Assignments. Each was a new challenge, in a way, like it's own start-up. A client needs to sell more of this or that. Another needs a communication strategy. Another needs to expand into overseas markets. No assignment was the same and every challenge unique. But as the years pass, you begin to see the same problems and the challenges begin to become the same. You need to sell more of this to this market segment. Well, that's the same as this previous project to this segment so just do this and this.
I am oversimplifying of course, but you get my point. I began to stagnate. To lose motivation. Passion. I needed that back because without it the rest of my life was unfulfilling. I need the pressure. That sense of not knowing. I thrive from it. It's the drug that replaced the substances from my youth. I know that it often makes my wife's life difficult, but she is my soul mate, she knows me perhaps even better than I know my self. She saw me running the investor's business and watched it slowly suck the energy from me. It didn't matter if we could drink champagne for breakfast because it had no taste. No flavour. It was flat.
HeroPlot is my release. It is forty years in the making. From the things that my brothers and I did as kids. The films we loved, the toys we had, the adventures we went on. To the experiences of life and the people we meet along the way. Those who inspire us, those who incite us and those whom, for want of a better word, disturb or vilify us. It is a multiverse created from millions of interactions and yet at the same time, it is a multiverse that is at its beginning. It is only forming. It is the user, the audience, the fan who will determine its constellations.
One of the things I love about HeroPlot is that you write in a way that is almost cinematic. The story doesn’t follow the typical linear narrative. You told us that you studied film at university. Is your style of writing inspired by cinema?
Film has and will always be an extremely large and important part of my life. I was raised on films. My father loved films. Not the romantic comedies and period dramas. He loved the action movies. There was a period in 1980's and 90's when Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Rambo and all those larger than life tough guys emerged. The action hero.
Those scripts were mostly awful. Someone threatens or actually does kidnap the wife or family of a super tough guy who just wants to be left alone to live a normal quiet life. The bad guys are too stupid to accept this and a battle takes place. The hero gets shot a hundred times but still keeps going despite wounds which would otherwise have killed an elephant. Luckily, he manages to kill everyone except the main bad guy who he saves for last and confronts him in an epic fight. Of course he could simply shoot the bad guy but what would be the fun and suspense in that? Especially after the bad guy says something mean about the hero or the ones that he loves. So, despite holding whatever advantage the hero has, he happily casts aside his weapons and get into a fist fight because now it's personal. After exchanging more punches than a heavyweight title contest, the hero wins. Bloodied and barely standing, he still finds that strength to come out with a corny one-liner before rescuing his family from peril who can't even begin to imagine what he has been through.
It didn't matter if the film was set in New York or Vietnam. Involved police officers, knights, soldiers or aliens. The plot was almost always the same. The outcome identical. The characters typecast.
Despite this repetitive format, the action hero ruled supreme at the box office for a very long time. There was something in this formula. Something that audiences wanted to see. Needed to see.
I remember going to see Rocky IV as a teenager and the audience began chanting “Rocky! Rocky!” when he finally fought Dolph Lundgren. When he won, people stood and cheered. They actually stood up clapping. Now I could understand this if it was the first Rocky movie. But this was Rocky IV. In every Rocky movie prior to this, he would lose then do some hard training to some very powerful music, then come back and win. But Rocky's win could only happen after an epic fight which would almost kill him, then allow him to tell the bad guy, "Can’t we all just be friends and get along?", and of course everyone can. Opponents become friends and everyone trains happily ever after. It didn't matter if it was Apollo, Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago if you were Rocky's enemy today, you would one day be his friend. Such was the power of Rocky that even Russia changed their tune and wanted to be his friend. And still these upstarts would never learn. They would come along and bad-mouth Rocky, who was just trying to live a peaceful life. Here we go again… Rocky V.
In recent years we've seen Harry Potter. A young child, at least when it all started, who just wants to be left alone and graduate. But every time a new semester starts for Harry, one of the followers of the thing that we're not allowed to call by name, tries to take Harry and his friends down. Don't they ever learn? Apparently not, because even by the eighth movie they are still trying. Although granted, by now we can actually say the name of the thing that we couldn't say by name before and thankfully as it turns out he's not that powerful anyway. At least not as powerful as friendly Harry.
Please don't misunderstand me, I love all of these movies. It may sound like I am mocking them but I am not. I just want to try to convey the simplistic repetitive structure of their nature. They are formulas that are hugely successfully. Not necessarily because the plot is so riveting, but because the author, the director, the actors they have all managed to focus on the adversity of the character. This goes back to my earlier point, that a character's greatest value comes not from adversity itself, but rather how the character handles it. Every Rocky fight takes place in a boxing ring. Every Harry Potter story at Hogwarts School. Every John McClane movie at a location where he has plenty of space to hide and take out bad guys one at a time. Each of these situations represents adversity. But not the real struggle of the character. Not their actual fight. Rocky is really fighting age and the affects of a long-lasting boxing career. Harry, his past. McClane, the effects of being a police officer has had on his family life. We can all see ourselves in these imperfect characters. Dealing with growing older, skeletons in our past, juggling a successful career and family. How they struggle and cope with these adversities is simply played out against another fighter. Against another legion of followers of the thing that doesn't have a name but really does. Or against another east European terrorist related to Hans. My point is that these characters become great characters because of their struggle. It is a part of who they are, what they are and what brings them to where they are. To put it another way, you can take the fighter out of the ring but you can't take the fight out of the fighter because they are one and the same.
When you think of cinema post Hitchcock, there are very few films in the last forty years that have had the same kind of psychological impact on audiences as Speilberg's Jaws.
A local police chief simply wants to live a quiet peaceful life in a small town with his family. But he is forced to find the hero within himself when a big hungry shark makes the mistake of entering his district. Scheider, who plays the chief, has to face his fear of the water in order to confront his nemesis. In much the same way as Rocky must face his potential brain damage inside the ring. And Harry one of Voldemort's followers in order to discover more of his past. Scheider eventually defeats the shark and his family are safe. And so you would think they could all now live happily ever after. But wait, then came Jaws II, which was the most successful sequel in terms of box office revenue, for over a decade and more a reflection of the power and popularity of the original film than anything else. And then just when you finally do start believe that it really must be safe to go back into the water, along comes Jaws 3-D. A film that relied heavily on novelty technology in order to try and keep the franchise going. The difference this time is we now focus on Scheider's sons, Mike and Sean who despite all their run-ins with great whites during their upbringing have still decided on careers in the aquatics industry.
I mean seriously, what are the chances?
And if you couldn't imagine that the Brody family have suffered enough through the years, along comes Jaws IV: The Revenge.
The revenge? Because only now after all this time have the sharks had enough, and the widowed wife of the former police chief is convinced that a great white shark is seeking revenge on her family. I guess you can see why there was no Jaws V? Who else could the shark go after? The grandchildren?
The original Jaws, like Hitchcock's Psycho was a milestone in cinema and story-telling. I know I am repeating myself, but the reason audiences never got tired of Rocky's boxing ring is because of the character. Why The Hogwarts School of Magic never became a boring place to return was because of the characters.
Jaws was so successful, not because of the shark itself, but because of its characters. Each had their own struggles. Their own adversities. Their own individual battles to face.
Every parent can relate to the anxiety that sheriff Brody has for his children's safety. Everyone with a dream or ambition can see themself in Matt Hooper and his constant struggle to be taken seriously by the "establishment", played in this case by the great Robert Shaw. Every person, relate to the fear of not knowing what lies beneath the water's surface. Can share in the fear of Brody when he first sees the shark and tells Quint, "We're going to need a bigger boat!"
In all the Jaws movies, there is of course a shark, oceans of water, people getting eaten and bits of bodies being chewed off that float to the bottom. The formula is no different to the repetitive formulas found with Rocky, McClane and Harry Potter. The key difference with Jaws is that by the second installment, we already know what lies beneath the surface. It’s another shark and since that is the only thing that is consistent across the stories, it becomes the main protagonist. And you can't gain empathy or relate to such a protaganist. You can't gain an emotional attachment to an animal whose only purpose in life appears to be killing. Not even if you call it Baby Shark and give it it's own theme tune.
While the genius of Speilberg's original will always remain. The legacy, that came after it, will not. You see they do not engage in continued character development. They rely instead upon the shock factor. More blood and more gore and you cannot compare the emotion of shock with that of psychological fear. To say it simply, watching fountains of fake blood pouring out of a stage prop is always going to be weaker and therefore have lower memorable impact than that of what the mind imagine's being eaten by a shark must feel like.
You clearly study character development and it's clear that the characters of The HeroPlot Multiverse mean everything to you. So far, we now know about Kane and Spear, but are you able to tell us anything about any of the characters that will be coming out soon?
No. I can't sorry. All I can tell you is that each character will fill in some of the gaps and answer some of the questions that previous chapters have left unanswered.
Over time, more and more aspects of the Multiverse will be revealed and with it more and more complexities and questions that may need to be solved in order to fill in gaps still remaining.
You can't give me anything?
Ok, I'll tell you this. The next character to be released begins with the letter "L", but I really can't tell you more. You'll have to follow us on social media if you want to know when he or she will be released and the role that he or she will play.
Can you say anything about the number of characters you plan to release?
No.Harvey's mobile vibrates and he reaches inside his breast pocket to take it out. He quickly looks at the screen and looks back at me. I can see it's important.
The next question?
"Please, if you have to take it?", and I signal that he should answer the phone.
"It's ok", he says. "It can wait. I had it on silent but forgot to turn off the vibration. It shouldn't have interrupted your questions. Sorry for that."
"No, not at all", I reply. "I know I am holding you back now and we've ran over time".
He places the phone back into his pocket and smiles. Never losing eye contact. "Come on", he says. "Let me walk you back to your car. We can talk along the way."
"That's ok", I tell him. "I know you're busy and besides, I think I can remember my way out."
"I'm sure you can", he says, "I'm just worried about the damage you will do to the trees".
Harvey does have a wicked sense of humour, a playfulness that is quite charming. It is subtle but definitely present. As we walk out towards the car, chatting about plans for the weekend ahead, I cannot help but be struck by his candour. His openness. His honesty. He is not elusive. Not at all. He just has so much to tell. So much to share.
I unlock the door and he opens it for me. I turn and hold out my hand to offer a handshake but he leans forward and gives me a hug, the gentlest of embraces and whispers, "That's for earlier. Thank you."
He doesn't say anything more and he doesn't refer to his son. He doesn't need to. We both know what he means.
Before I started this interview and Harvey saved my car, I wondered if I had met a real-life superhero? He may well yet prove to be one, and I may well have only met his alter ego in disguise. But I don't think he is. I think the man I met today is a truly compassionate, warm and creative human being with no ego or alter ego to block his vision and determination. There is a sincerity to Harvey. It is not false and it is not a facade. He is not trying to hide or conceal any fiendish plan or ambition. He simply wants to give. To create. And his wish to do so is as genuine as it is earnest. In this modern, and often sceptic, world I found meeting Harvey as refreshing as it was inspiring.
If I am wrong, and Harvey is a superhero, then I think his strength comes from the fact that he has clearly met his demons. I think he has faced them, and though he may struggle to talk about them, which only an actual superhero could do without being emotionally crippled. He has done battle with them. He may perhaps always have to do battle them until he finds an inner peace. But he has nonetheless come through them. And most importantly he remains unbroken and has emerged victorious.
I get into the car and he closes the door for me. I smile at him and start to think about the most appropriate time to say goodbye. Would it be now? After I reverse a little and turn the car to drive out? But before I start the engine he leans down towards the window.
"Lucent", he says. "The next character. It's Lucent. But if you tell anyone you know I'll have to kill you."
He's smiling. There's that little glimmer again in his eyes. You can see the light catch them and come to life. They looked quite grey before but I can see they are actually blue.
Whatever happens with Harvey and his HeroPlot is uncertain. After meeting him, the feeling that seems to typify his life best, is that of hope. I certainly leave with the hope that there is an opportunity to follow up with him in a later interview and the hopes that our next session might be more light-hearted and allow me to explore that side of his personality. I have to say hope, because if Harvey stays true to his word then by the time you are reading this I will already be dead. Still, at least I got the scoop on Lucent. Now I only have to hope he was worth dying for.