Interview with Robert Garbett
My friend and business partner (source of inspiration and fellow producer of our developing project Thin, Brittle, Mile) Matthew Weston, has met a lot of people through his charity work and campaigning for veterans rights since leaving the forces. One such individual is former Army Officer Bob Garbett, who, like Matt, retired early from the army on medical grounds. A natural leader with inherent business intuition, in his eleven years since early retirement Bob has gone on to create, invest in, and help to grow a slate of businesses.
I’m thrilled to report that Bob has been a major player in the set up of the forthcoming World Film Showcase (more details and launch date coming soon) and more recently has become involved in taking The BFA itself to another level.
Our relationship with Bob has been a train that’s gathered speed ever since we met and has hurtled down the proverbial track; in part due to the solidarity and unbreakable bond that all soldiers, including those like he and Matt, now retired, share.
Matt and I met up with Bob recently, if you’re interested in what really makes an investor/entrepreneur tick and want to take on some incredible advice from an incredible man, read on….
BG: I joined the army in 1985 as an apprentice tradesman in the Royal Signals, I joined as a radio telegraphist, I learned how to do aptitude tests and very quickly got high enough scores at Harrogate Army Apprentice College to be offered any job I wanted. I became an Electronic Technical in the Royal Signals. I graduated from there, went into the Army and very quickly realized that I shouldn’t really have joined as a soldier. By pure chance one of my friends was going back to the UK to watch his brother graduate from Sandhurst, explaining he’d gone from being a Corporal to an Officer in the REME. And that was it, that was the moment in my life I decided I needed to be an officer and transfer over.
I ended up as the Chief Engineer for the Special Forces Army Helicopters and it was at that period (aged 37) having been just promoted to one of the youngest Majors and travelling round the world working with the SAS that I was injured. I had to be realistic, I could no longer keep the physical side of my career going, I could barely walk, was in terrible pain, and realized I needed some time out. So I went to Cambridge and joined the Joint Air Publications Project and ultimately became Airworthiness One which is Head of Airworthiness for the Defense Logistics Organization. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, they couldn’t fix me (physically) and so they let me go.
KC: Did you feel daunted about leaving the ‘safety’ of what you’d always done and doing something so different?
BG: Not really, I can pretty much turn my hand to anything. I could have got a job if I’d wanted to but wasn’t really employable due to my injury and I’m not very good at working for other people.
KC: I can imagine!
BG: Well I’m fine with it.
KC: It’s just them that’s not?
BG: Well they don’t seem to appreciate my honesty.
BG, KC, MW: (laughter ensues)
BG: From there I forged on, became partners with a guy who was ex-Navy, developed Risk Management Software working with FedEx, Flybe, American Airlines and Buckingham Palace. We also did a lot of work in Artificial Intelligence, Data Mining, doing quite well, churning over about a quarter of a million a quarter, then the recession hit and all of our R&D projects were shelved. I had to realign, shrink the business, go in new directions. I started up a business network called O4RB and what I garnered from that enterprise and working with business people was just how much people can be afraid of success. They would blame everyone else for not succeeding but not really do anything themselves.
KC: That’s a very interesting point. Without wanting to sound critical to any of my members who might be reading this, it is a pattern I’ve seen with some filmmakers and actors I’ve come into contact with.
BG: They say that if you sit a hundred people in a room and you tell them exactly what they need to do to succeed only one of them will listen to you. The other ninety-nine will say ‘yeah, that’s brilliant!’ then as soon as they walk out the door they think, 'what’s for dinner?' Ninety-nine percent of people don’t apply, even if they know it’s the right thing to do.
KC: You clearly fall into the other one percent, and I would say you do as well Matt, would you say that’s indicative to you as a person, or was it modeled into you in the Army?
BG: I think it’s a combination of the two, this isn’t meant to be conceited, but I’m very lucky to be who I am, and who I am was forged in the fires of the Forces. So it is very much Forces mentality to try, fall over, stand up, try again. A very clever man once said to me that if you fall flat on your face as long as you put your knees up before you stand again you’re two feet forward, so you only ever fail if you give up.
KC: (to MW) A lot what Bob’s saying I recognize in you Matt and this is where I feel it’s related to filmmakers. I was talking to another former soldier we know who’s also now in business, Dan Ison, about what he’d been through and he carries the same mentality. A lot of filmmakers I know, myself included, are not naturally built that way. I’m not naturally built the same way you and Matt are and I’ve obviously never been through that kind of shaping experience but making a film is really hard. It’s hard for lots of different reasons. There’s a fraction of people who try to do it who seem to be a bit self-entitled, they think it should all happen very easily and seem to think they don’t have to walk the hundred miles of hard road that it takes.
And other people who are a bit more realistic, and a bit braver, give it a shot but find it so hard, and so soul destroying, because it is such a minefield and an overwhelming experience, that they are left utterly defeated, and couldn’t face going through something so harrowing again.
That’s why it’s been so interesting for Matt and I to have come together, not only with Thin, Brittle, Mile but also our campaign Joining Forces which seeks to unite filmmakers and former soldiers. Matt loved coming down for the day on mine and Harry’s film The Spoiler. There was that same sense of solidarity he felt in the forces. Especially when he got to play with the gun he lent us with one of the actors.
MW: And scared your crew.
KC: Yeah he terrified the crew and peed off the soundman.
BG, KC, MW: (laughter ensues)
KC: I think there’s an awful lot for filmmakers to learn from people such as yourselves who never give up and never see defeat as a possibility.
I think filmmakers have got to have some of that mentality otherwise they’ll never get anywhere, they’ll never take their first step. What do you think it is about you guys? What’s the key ingredient? What is it that people like me might lack that stops us from going forward? Is it that we’re afraid of success, are we afraid of the battle, are we afraid of exposing ourselves creatively?
BG: I think it’s two things. I think fear is a really big aspect of it. Either a fear of failure, or a fear of ridicule, a fear of somebody saying something bad about you or the art you produce. The other thing that is bashed out of you in the army is the emotion, taking things personally, that is smashed out of you completely.
KC: How do they do that?
MW: They break you down.
BG: They break you. And then they rebuild you. And that’s how you make a soldier. You bring someone down to base level and then you rebuild them. It takes a lot longer, and a lot of hard knocks in civilian life to learn that you don’t need to take things personally and that stuff happens and you just need to get on with it.
KC: I don’t know much about the injuries you suffered Bob, but being a very close friend of Matt’s I know everything about his-
BG: They were a lot worse than his.
BG, KC, MW: (laughter ensues)
KC: His paper cuts?
MW (to Bob): Well at least I came back with all my hair.
BG: Exactly, you’ve never had to suffer that! Think yourself lucky.
MW: Ultimately we’re driven by adversity, the harder something gets the more determined we are which is a very good thing, but can be a bad thing, especially for guys with mental illnesses. Because in our minds the guy standing next to us is carrying the same amount of kit so we’re never going to ask anyone for help carrying our load. You just keep going. Regardless of how terrible you feel you see those around you moving forward and you keep to their pace. It makes you driven and the harder it gets the more determined you become.
KC: Even now you won’t ask for help no matter how much I nag you.
MW: I’m not as bad now I’m around civies all the time. I’m not as robust as I would have been if I was still in kit but that underlying mentality never goes away.
KC: Is another reason you don’t ask for help because you feel ‘I don’t need to, the people around me will help me no matter what’ especially when the real dire times come? Just look at your friend who saved you, risking his own life in such an extreme way to do so.
MW: We just crack on.
KC: Hence the line from our film ‘Then my brother said why can’t you just be normal, and my heart said, don’t answer him, no one wants to hear about a soldier with grief inside his bones, but my bones said . . . soldier on.’
MW: (shrugs) We just crack on.
BG: There is a certain element of evolution and devolution. (to Matt) Obviously you’ve suffered a lot more than I have, I had a bad back. Ok I couldn’t walk for a while but give me the right drugs and I’ll dance.
It’s important in life to surround yourself with the people who will naturally take you in the direction you want to go. I surrounded myself with, dare I say it ‘civilians’, and ‘business people’, and tried to understand why they thought the way they thought. Some I found to have behaved quite strangely. A lot of people who get into business, especially that lower level where I was operating at that time saw it as a hobby, or a lifestyle choice, and they weren’t ever really going to get off the ground because they wanted the kudos of being the director of a company but they’re not willing to put in any hard work. They go to these networking events, pay their fees to the networking organizations, but they don’t get business because they either don’t have charisma or they don’t have a model, they’re not really trying. They think that just by being in business it’ll work, but it doesn’t.
KC: I’ve been battling for a number of years and I’ve always had it in mind that no one is going to come along and hand me half a million pounds just because I want to make a film. I have to prove what I’m worth first, I have to make the sacrifices first, which is what I did, I made enormous sacrifices, and I’m still battling now. And without being disparaging to anyone, I’ve noticed the same thing about some filmmakers that you’ve noticed about business people, ‘I want the kudos, I want it all to happen, therefore someone else should make it happen for me.’
BG: That’s it, that’s right. You are then on a road to failure. Because nobody else is going to make it happen. When I came out of the army I was working twenty, twenty one hours a day, getting up at 3am, driving to London, sleeping in my car for a couple of hours, then having a day’s worth of meetings. Every day, weekends included, I lived on a couple of hours sleep, and it’s the only way. If you’re not willing to bleed for it, then don’t do it.
KC: I absolutely agree. Since I started the BFA I’ve had a lot of different filmmakers come to me saying ‘can you help me do this, can you help me do that’ and two or three times I took a chance as I believed in what they were trying to do and I extended myself. As soon as I did that they started treating me with a sense of absolute entitlement, as if I was some sort of government funded body or person they had ownership of who existed in their lives just to make it all happen for them. I wrote scripts for people, I pulled together cast for people, and as soon I said, ‘you’ve got to take ownership of some of this, I can help but I can’t do everything’ it all changes. There seems to be some sort of chip missing with some people who don’t realize that if they want to achieve the extraordinary, they have to take to the path like a warrior’.
By saying that I’m not generalizing or being critical of aspiring filmmakers. I’ve got the biggest admiration for anyone who tries anything in this field. The two and a half thousand BFA members are like family to me. They, and the messages they send me, and the belief they have in me is what keeps me battling. I’m only mentioning a few incidents as they spring to mind in relation to what we’re discussing.
I think one of the problems for filmmakers is they just don’t understand how the business model for financing works, myself included when I started out. We think there’s this mysterious ‘they’ this mysterious ‘other’ as if there’s a band of gods sitting in a lofty room somewhere saying ‘yes, we’ll give you a career, you, we won’t.’
BG: There isn’t.
KC: Also, if you’ve got no proven track record why is anyone going to take a chance on you?
BG: Exactly, initially it’s friends and family. Or if you have a wealthy friend who doesn’t mind throwing ten grand at you then great! But if you don’t have those opportunities the struggle is incredibly hard. It’s chicken and egg. You’ve really got to make your own sacrifices first. But don’t expect success overnight because nobody really cares as much as you do.
KC: I see it from both sides. I understand the business aspect of it, I agree with everything you’ve said, but the tragic part of it is that an industry that should have talent as its oxygen, or its life blood, to keep it going doesn’t actually support talent. And that’s a great shame. Like you said it’s the chicken and egg scenario. Just because you’re talented doesn’t mean somebody’s going to give you a chance. You have to do something first to show the world what you can do. With that in mind one of the things I wanted to ask you about, isn’t for any kind of egotistical reason, it’s more to try and get a message through to people, I remember you telling me after you’d seen the brochure for Thin, Brittle, Mile that normally when people ask you to look at their idea for a film your eyes roll over because they’re usually, for want of a better word . . . rubbish.
BG: (laughs) Yeah.
KC: It was lovely how complementary you were, not to mention how much you’re helping us.
BG: To be honest I looked at the promotional material you’d developed and I thought ‘Hats off to you.’ I know you say you haven’t had the forming that Matt and I have had but you’ve clearly had a background in your life, whether it comes from something right back to childhood which has made you very determined, very detail orientated and resolved to put out the best that you can possibly do.
That’s burnt into us. We have no choice in that. But with what I saw I thought ‘Wow that’s actually very good.’ I’ve seen established film companies produce material that’s nowhere near as high quality in terms of your promotional material and the short clip. So that’s why I contacted you and said I’d be happy to help.
KC: And as a message to members we want to thank Bob because you have been the first person who’s come along and said I’m going to help you in whatever way I can with Thin, Brittle, Mile and subsequently The World Film Showcase and most recently what you're implementing for us at the BFA itself. And that is the one thing that I think people do strive for. I know it’s contradicting what I’ve said that no one’s going to come along and do it all for you, but occasionally you get someone come along who says, I believe in you. I think what you’re doing is of worth. It’s not just about money. Encouragement is as valuable. Sometimes someone else who’s proved themselves successful and shows belief in you can be the incentive that spurs people on to kick their own projects into life.
BG: If I can give anyone else a tip, it’s; if they share the passion that you share, go with it. I truly believe that if you’ve got passion for something you cannot fail. So long as you don’t give up. Passion is absolutely everything you need to drive yourself forward. You invest in people because you’re mesmerized by their passion, not necessarily their idea, and because you want to feel the way they feel. I want half a pint of whatever he’s drinking because I want to feel like that. That’s what engages other people and gets them to invest.
I’m very careful about who I involve myself with, I’ve learnt quite a lot over the years. You can only help people who are willing to help themselves. Unfortunately, there are very few people out there who are willing to help themselves. As an investor you’re looking for those people who are literally burning themselves into the ground and have spent all their money and exhausted themselves in the pursuit of their dream. At the point you say, ‘ok I will help you’, but you need them to blossom. You need them to be chasing you saying ‘What can I do? What can I do? What can I do?’ That’s the only way. You can get attention with the passion. But unless you’re willing to back it up after, that will very quickly fade away. You have to WORK!
For more details about Bob’s software company
Drone Major Group check out his website: