It’s Summer. Good young people are graduating. Here’s some tips if you want to break into filmmaking.
We all get caught up in the past. Thinking about things we should have done a bit differently or moves we should have made. Case in point, there are at least two key moments in my life that I messed up (there’s many more, but who’s counting? I am).
Both were meetings that were set up for me in Hollywood. One was with Amblin Entertainment (Spielberg’s company) and the other was with Disney. Pretty big meetings with pretty important people.
To give some context around this, this was in the nineties and I was in my twenties. I had arrived in LA about a year before, and was making more money than I thought possible working as an assistant propmaster on some very big commercials. Massive budgets. I was traveling around the country, had fallen into a very nice gig, and was naive enough to think that the money burning a hole in my pocket was the be all and end all. It’s easy to fall into that way of thinking.
So when I took these meetings, I didn’t have the right mindset. I wasn’t leaning in and I wasn’t nearly as eager as I should have been. I had a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.
Which was the kiss of death. Instead of being scrappy and saying ‘I’ll do whatever it takes ‘, I played it cool. Too cool for school.
Gratitude is an interesting animal. If it’s at the front of how you carry yourself, it will kick open doors. If it’s forgotten, it will eat your opportunity for lunch until it’s gone. And though I was polite and professional, I didn’t truly understand the moment. Gratitude and excitement and wanting to get it done should have won the day. Instead, it took a backseat to my own hubris. The Disney job? It wasn’t offered to me and wasn’t a good fit anyway.
The Amblin job? I could have had that one. I would’ve had to take a huge paycut and start at the bottom again. I would’ve had to show some crazy incredible enthusiasm. But it was there for the taking. Right there.
And who knows where that would have taken me.
But that bird’s flown. Regret is an assassin. So the lesson is learned:
If you’re starting out, you’ll have to be scrappy. And eager. And excited. You may have to work for no money and endure even longer days. It might look ugly and you might think you’re above all that. And it might be true. You might be above all that.
But I wasn’t. I confused self-importance with reality. So do the work, play the looooong game, do whatever it takes. Look yourself squarely in the eye. All the other stuff doesn’t matter. Not the money, certainly not the title. Not any of that other B.S. at the outset.
What matters is the opportunity. Say yes to the universe. And go for it.
What’s your advice to your younger self?
The beautiful and terrifying thing is, we’re all crashing through space. We’re all speeding through the unknown. And some of us might be falling, or rising, or sitting still. Others might be born or opening their eyes for the last time. And in this context, we’re all equal. We’re all dumb to the outcome yet smart to the pull of things so much bigger.
We’re also persistent. For all our faults, we’ve managed to stick around. To breathe life into one another, and pull it away still. Reaching through the years and the years…
So we are all astronauts.
I’ve been a promoter of Radical Optimism this year - which I think is needed to get through the waist deep shark strewn sludge we’ve all been wading through.
Radical Optimism is about accepting the responsibility for who you are. What you feel. And how you will approach/embrace the world. It is a stoic philosophy long advocated by Plato, Socrates, and others wearing outfits I wish were still in vogue.
But Radical Optimism does not imply a dumb happiness or a stupid acceptance of what is happening around us. Happiness is not even a primary goal. What is a primary goal is the knowledge that, YES, there are many things we can shape in our lives. And some things we cannot. Saying YES to our own outcome.
It’s a philosophy I’m trying to live by, and it’s still forming. I welcome your thoughts.
There is a growing belief that the universe is a zero sum game, that everything swims in a finite resource pool.
So if someone is stronger, this implies by default that someone else must be weaker. If someone is rich, this must be at the expense of someone who is poor.
There’s some truth to this. Oppression is real. Poverty is real. Inequality is real. These are things we must fight against.
But maybe there’s some deeper thinking here. Is it possible that as you become stronger, others become stronger as well? Is it possible that quality inspires more quality?
Perpetual motion might be the discovery here: our ability to create and attract like forces. Our intrinsic magic that creates something from nothing. This can benefit everyone.
So no, I’m not a believer in a zero sum game universe. Infinity, as much as it can be understood, is defined as limitless potential. Right in front of us.
This year, my biggest goal is to make the case for Radical Optimism. The stoics believed that for many of us, happiness was a choice. There were outliers (the poor, the sick, the broken) but to a huge degree, they thought reality was up to us. This is what we might today call ‘privilege’.
I’m one of those privileged. I was born into a bit of luck. So for me Radical Optimism is making choices that include less whining, less complaining, and more joy. It’s perhaps a naive and selfish approach.
But joy begets joy. Good work begets good work. And the true purpose of Radical Optimism isn’t to bring happiness to oneself, but to others. It’s a revolution about being of service. It’s about a relentless (and often blind) movement forward - without the analysis/paralysis that often holds us back. It’s about breaking down the resistance.
Radical Optimism is not about having all the answers. Nor is it about ignoring pain and suffering (no amount of magic can dispel that). But it is about latching onto the smallest sliver of light, and growing it.
I love bicycles. I rode my first mountain bike back in the ‘early 80’s courtesy of Jerry Ahlberg in Marble, CO (look that one up) and have almost broke my collarbone more than once.
And the strange thing is: I love going uphill as much as downhill. I love that work. It’s a meditation around persistence and pain, but also the joy of moving forward.
On those very hard parts, I have to - by necessity - rise out of the saddle. It’s the only way I can get the leverage I need to get around the steepest corners or the vertical incline. It’s about the gritting of teeth.
That’s where we should be every now and again - at that moment we’re not sure we can make another revolution of the pedal but pedaling anyway. Breaking away from what is the status quo and into a view that’s a little bit better. Or maybe stopping completely, spent but knowing we can take another crack at it tomorrow.
A good life, perhaps, is measured by how many times we’ve risen out of the saddle just like that. What do you think, is it possible today?
I think so. I’m cleating in.
This is one of my friend’s favorite quotes: put the couch in the kitchen.
We get stuck. We forget how good we are. Wheels turn but nothing moves.
Maybe dragging the couch into the kitchen is what we need. Maybe shaking things up is exactly what 2019 is asking for.
It’s an interior design question: how will our minds be thinking about things today? Moving things around from where they’ve always been could be a great start. Maybe put that on your ‘To-Do’ list.
I watched Bird Box this week, which is certainly worth the time. This became a metaphor for something I think we’re all very good at: building boxes around ourselves.
Then one day we wake up and look at that box, and wonder how we got here. My box is beautiful and I’m very lucky to have it, but this year especially is about punching bigger holes in it to breathe, and removing walls.
This is what my Mother taught me at the end of her life. Don’t be afraid to go.
Eminem said it best.
This idea of embracing reality. And making friends with the odd creatures that land on earth.
I’ve been hit by such a creature - an asteroid from space.
The death of my mother. My mom. Nana.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to unwind that a bit and write about it here. Tune in if you want to get heavy around that, and help me shine some light into the shadows.
1942 - 2018.
There are a minimum of two realities we are faced with everyday…
Reality as it occurs.
And reality as we (I) perceive it to be.
Socrates and Plato discussed this in the Hot Tub Time Machine centuries ago, this idea of Absolute Truth and the real meaning of ‘Knowledge’. The Matrix discusses it again in a future not so distant from our own. In these deep philosophical mind-benders, it might even be argued that there is just the one reality: mine. But does this negate the goal of compassion: being one with others?
The Rubik’s Cube spins and spins again.
The one truth we do know (if we know anything) is that we can control how we respond to ‘reality’, at least most of the time. When we get bitch-slapped by circumstance, we can manifest our own behavior/attitude/outcome to a huge degree.
There are exceptions of course, but if we accept the power we have and are held accountable for who we have become, just about anything is possible.
Owning that, perhaps, is everything.
Go get some:
If you ask my religion at this exact moment in time, I'll tell you I'm working at becoming a Radical Optimist.
Maybe the true Radical Optimist sees suffering and has empathy. Maybe the true Radical Optimist is the person who is charging towards the best solution and fighting like hell for the best outcome. Maybe it's the embrace of suffering to realize there is something more. Something better.
Peter McWilliams wrote You Can't Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought. I haven't read this yet, but I've always been intrigued by the title and the idea that negative thinking is something only the idle have time for. This isn't always true of course, but how many times have you heard someone say "I succeeded because I didn't know any better.... I just put my head down and did the work."
The inverse of that title is All I Can Afford is a Positive Thought. In this age of noise and discourse, it might be the best action we can take. It might propel us to do the work we are meant to do.
And perhaps be a radical, and a revolutionary, in the process.