From Hollywood to Bay Street: Success is Defined By The Story You Tell

Hollywood1Recently I purchased a book called "The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters." The book is different from others in its genre as it doesn't just look at what highly successful people DO, it digs deeper and looks at how they THINK.

What's striking about the content in the book is its similarities to challenges found in the business world. Whether you're an aspiring screenwriter, entrepreneur or corporate CEO, your challenges are quite similar. At some point in your career, success will depend on how well you can sell your story to people prepared to buy it.

David Brown, a renowned Hollywood producer, once said that "Nothing counts as much as the story, because it is the story that will attract the director, the actors, the studio, the money. The story is the thing." It's the same in business. If you're the CEO of a public company, you better have a compelling and engaging story to attract shareholders and investors. Money begets money, and one way to get it is to have a good story. People tend to gather around a good idea, so make your story compelling and find an innovative way to help solve someone else's problem. Make yourself indispensible and they won't be able to get enough of you.

From the glitz and glam of Hollywood to the driven financial core of Bay Street, success is defined by the story you tell. You have to have something of importance to say, something that's different and cuts through the clutter. You have to tell your story in an engaging way, and develop nerves of steel and dogged determination to be sure your story is heard by the right people, at the right time. Your career will be full of rejection, but successful people are able to take that criticism and constructively use it to get their own story heard.

So take your talent, and hone it through intense dedication to your craft. Feed your passion, and develop the skills needed to effectively present and sell ideas to people who can benefit most from those ideas.

Don't give up. The world is waiting for a good story. Let yours be the one everyone starts talking about and your world will open up in ways you never dreamed possible.

What other similarities do you see between the challenges faced by people in creative industries - and those faced by people who work in the corporate world? Do you think all successful people share the same traits? If so, which ones?


Timeless Christmas Stories Tap Into Memories and Emotions


The advent of Christmas brings with it the cherished reruns of those classic Christmas movies. Somehow over the years, these classics have found a way into our hearts and speak to that childhood wonder in all of us - the sense of pure joy as we crept downstairs to see what Santa had brought us. They speak to us in ways not often found in our day to day lives. In today's chaotic world, family is often forgotten and long held traditional values are replaced with a new and more efficient way of doing things.

It's interesting to note that many of today's cherished Christmas classics started out as box office failures. It's A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol and Miracle on 34th Street didn't become hits until repeated airings on television decades later.

In an article written by Bill Brioux for StarWeek,Brioux asks the question as to why these Christmas classics are so meaningful today. What is it that draws us to the screen every Christmas when the classics are aired? Brioux concludes that the movies are good stories (based on literary works) and are based on great actors who, at the time, were at the top of their games." Most importantly, the movies take us back to a time when childhood was magical and family and tradition held high value in society.

What makes them more real is our ability to identify with the journey of the hero. In every movie, the hero faces incredible challenges and is able to bring himself out of a very dark place. Hope and faith are key themes, and in most cases the hero is able to pull himself out of a bad situation with the help of some sort of spiritual guide.

As the world enters 2009, let's not lose faith in our ability to shine in life. We can each make a difference, and without the ability to dream life is reduced to mere survival and ritual. The greater the pace and rate of technological advances in the world, the greater the need to go back to a time where life was much simpler and full of energy, wonder and hope.

May 2009 be your year to dream and rediscover the lost sense of childhood within you. Thanks to all my readers for their input in 2008!

Why The Movies Are A Reflection Of Ourselves

There's something about the movies that brings out the best - or the worst - in us. From a very young age, we are able to relate to heros on the silver screen. We sit there mesmerized watching Spiderman and Superman save fellow citizens from impending doom. Their world became our world, and soon enough we found ourselves donning a homemade towel cape and jumping off our living room couch shouting..."I'll save you!" Through interaction and involvement in the story, we wanted to be (and for a brief moment) became our heros.

70years_2The movies have always been magical. Even as adults, the big screen and the characters in it seem larger than life (or lower than life), yet movies and stories speak a universal language that knows virtually no bounds.

What we often miss in our everyday lives is the sense of adventure and drama faced by our movie heros. Their dogged determination and fierce belief in a cause are things we admire. Our heros are usually up to something "really big", yet in many cases they went through incredible obstacles to get there. On some level, we identify with their struggles. We're there when they win and beat the bad guys, and we're there when they lose and have to give it all up. Yet it's the defiant hero, the one who fights until the end without giving up his scruples or beliefs that wins our hearts.

Mel Gibson in Braveheart is one such example. William Wallace's fierce determination and rebellious streak were traits needed to lead the Scottish uprising against English tyranny in the 13th century. This fear of living under someone else's rule is something just about everyone can identify with. In a sense, his war becomes our war, and we follow him on his incredible journey to rule out injustice and ruthless domination.

Then there's Jimmy Stewart in the classic "It's a Wonderful Life." A man is driven to despair by circumstances around him, and wonders if anything he has done has any real consequence in the world. Suddenly, everything around him lacks meaning until an angel appears to reveal an entirely different story.

And what about James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause? Who couldn't identify with the classic tale of teenage angst at its finest?

We even learn from the bad guys. Remember Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street? How many of us were proud that we weren't like him? On the other hand, how many of us almost secretly wished that our personalities would allow us to be ruthless and greedy enough to be able to accumulate Gekko's wealth and lifestyle? On the one hand we despised him, yet on another level we wished we could be more like him.

Regardless of our stage in life, there's something about the movies that reminds us it's not all bad. When faced with the most desperate times on the silver screen, directors always have a way of showing us that there's beauty to be found - if only one took the time to look for it. Good advice as we continue to face complex challenges in a world that shows no signs of slowing down.

Heros on the silver screen can inspire us, move us and lead us to action. We will always have this insatiable need to act out some lived (or unlived) part of our lives through characters that live in the make-believe world of motion pictures.

Which heros did you identify with as a child? Has that changed in adulthood? What qualities of your heros did you wish you had? What is it about the movies that can inspire us to believe in something bigger again?

Sean Penn Takes TIFF Audience Into the Wild

200pxchris_mccandlessOne of my favourite movies so far at this year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is Sean Penn's movie rendition of Jon Krakauer's bestselling novel, Into the Wild. The story follows the real-life journey of Christopher McCandless (shown at left) who decides to ditch society as he knows it for the wilds of Alaska. The characters McCandless meets along the way are intriguing, and serve as a reminder to a time when life seemed much simpler.

In addition to the breathtaking shots of Alaska's raw and untouched wilderness, what's perhaps most intriguing about this movie is its ability to touch within us a profound and universal cord. By the end of the movie, there wasn't a sound nor a dry eye in the house. I would wager to bet that every single person in the audience had at some point (if only for a moment), contemplated the idea of leaving the concrete jungle to tackle yet another kind of wilderness. A place as of yet still untouched by societal pressures and norms.

Movies with powerful stories have the ability to transport us to another place and time. For 140 minutes, Chris McCandless' journey became my own. It reminded me at times of my own journey in life, and how during my teenage years, I began to question authority and what was expected of me.

Powerful movies in all genres are able to:

1) Transport us to another place and time through use of a universal theme

2) Make us think about decisions or actions we have made in our own lives - and about the consequences of those actions

3) Inspire us through someone else's story

Perhaps you know of a Christopher McCandless out there somewhere. Or, perhaps, there's even a little bit of him in yourself.

What movies have inspired you to take action in your life? What is it about a good film that moves you?

Spielberg on Spielberg

Last night, I watched the documentary Spielberg on Spielberg on Turner Classic Movies. I've always admired Spielberg's ability to apply story and imagination to the big screen.

In one defining moment, Spielberg tells us that his job as a director is to "produce the aesthetic vistas for the audience so that they are lost for two hours." Talk about an immersive experience!

Storytellers and filmmakers have always given us a way to escape the everyday. From the early days of the Lumiere brothers to the advanced CG imagery of today, the big screen has been able to captivate audiences with its magic.

Robert McKee, in his award-winning book Story, says that "stereotypical stories stay at home, archetypal stories travel. From Charlie Chaplin to Ingmar Bergman, from Satyajit Ray to Woody Allen, the cinema's master storytellers give us the double-edged encounter we crave." He then goes on to say that "Once inside this alien world, we find ourselves. Deep within these characters and their conflicts we discover our own humanity."

Now...imagine a brand that could do all that.