The most valuable lessons in life aren´t taught in books, they come from the people that sorrounds you and the ones you love.
During 2023, I had the pleasure of chatting with my friends of Bold Journey and had the chance to tell a bit of what I have learned during my life, not only as a writer but most important, as a human being-
Here is a piece of that nice chat:
There is so much advice out there about all the different skills and qualities folks need to develop in order to succeed in today’s highly competitive environment and often it can feel overwhelming. So, if we had to break it down to just the three that matter most, which three skills or qualities would you focus on?
1. Listening….. that was hard for me to do for many years. I always had something more important to say than anyone else in the conversation. Then I learned to listen, especially when i was not the smartest one in the room. Listening to conversations when eavesdropping on strangers became most informative. I turned it into a sick game. I would get off on eavesdropping and imagining the lives of these real life characters. The greatest lesson I learned about the attributes and benefits of listening came from the Maestro himself, Francis Ford Coppola. We are in preproduction on Dracula and the studio had not yet given us the greenlight. We had turned in a draft of the script and a meeting was set with all the Columbia execs for a notes session. Francis drove us to the meeting in the Thalberg building on a golf cart. I was on the backseat being driven by the director of the Godfather!!!!! Francis shared his philosophy with me about listening on that short ride. And that is DON'T BE THE FIRST ONE TO SPEAK IN A MEETING. Right, let the other guy speak before showing your cards.
2. Research… This is the magic decoder ring to writing. Doing the research on the era, the period, the political landscape, the costume, the social movements, the wars, the music, the historical facts are key. Research satisfies how you set the world and your characters in that world. Research inspires scenes and solves narrative problems. Dracula is a completely realized example of how research was the key element in the success of the screenplay. How and why the real Dracula went to war with god and became a vampire was a product of historical research.
3. Go With Gravity.. One of my primary mantras. A friend called me on night late, as he does once a year. I was in a major downward spiral in my career and was glad to hear from him. This time he was at the Matterhorn in Switzerland and had been filming para-gliders who would skydive off the top of El Capitan, the last 1500 foot face to the peak. All young and fit and uberhuman. One of the jumpers was fit but clearly in his 50’s. When asked why at his age he was taking such risks, he explained that his grandfather was a guide up El Capitan as was his father and as was he since the age of 18. He woke up on his 50th birthday, in his sleepsak, tethered to the sheer wall, cold, stiff, his body ached and he still had to lead 10 climbers another 500 feet to the peak. As the climbers prepared to start the arduous ascent again, suddenly a body fell past them. He yelled at his climbers not to look down and to face the wall. He anguished — his birthday and he had lost his first climber in 30 years of being a guide. He peered down watching the body fall to certain death. Suddenly a red plume appeared on the body. The parachute glider opened and lifted the body back up into the air. Our climber had an epiphany watching the magical site of this flyer soaring down the valley over the magnificent views. Here the climber had spent his entire career going against gravity and fighting gravity to get to the top and here was a climber who was going with gravity and soaring. I had an epiphany as well. My career was stalled because I was difficult, opinionated and inflexible. I had been fighting gravity instead of going with it and climbing to new heights. From then on I was going to be a problem solver not a problem maker. I would be a solution and not the obstruction. I was going to go with gravity and let it take me to new heights. Go with gravity. It’s a good thing.
Before we go, maybe you can tell us a bit about your parents and what you feel was the most impactful thing they did for you?
My parents, Al and Alice, had enormous influences on my brother and I growing up Southern in Ft. Worth, Texas in the 50’s and into the 70’s and 80’s. Yes we grew up Christian in the bible belt but our parents were more Humanist than religious. When my brother came out as gay — they supported him and defended his gender preference publically and with the church. When he contracted AIDS and passed away in 1988 they became a lighting rod for health care for gays and for the proper treatment of PWAs. My brother died in the bed he grew up in at our family home — loved and embraced by his parents. Al and Alice became activists in recognizing the AIDS crisis and speaking out for victims of this epidemic and supporting the Gay community in its fight for care and recognition. The premiere of my first big movie HOOK took place in Ft. Worth, Texas in honor of my brother. The premiere raised 75000 for the first AIDS outreach center in the city. This was all due to my parents, who receive threats and were criticized by many in the church for taking this stance. Ultimately the community rallied around them and the cause of PWAS. My parents also hosted the first bi-racial marriage in our church, took in refugee family from Cuba, hosted foreign exchange students, gave shelter to my brother’s gay friends, and for my brother and mine's support of our attraction to the arts. My brother attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, which was unheard of, but my artistic mother and my hunter, sports nut father made it so. They supported my desire and obsession with making movies and my dad even cashed in a life insurance policy from the VA to invest in my first film. A huge amount of money in those days. Alice, my mother, dragged me kicking and screaming to a performance of Jerome Robbins Peter Pan at Casa Mana in Ft. Worth. I was a jock and a sports nut — had no interest in musical theatre. The night changed my life and forever embedded Pan and Hook in my DNA. They, by their actions and behaviour, taught me empathy, and that we have a duty to take care of our kind who are less fortunate and in need. My dad gave me two guiding principles that his father gave to him….”The hardest thing to do in life is live up to your potential”…and “ultimately you have to live with yourself”. I am guided by these course correctors everyday of my life. Thank you Al and Alice.
Here's to a safer and more healing new year.
Brain blizzards to you in your writing life
writer - job creator