Thursday, September 30, 2004

Skip Press -- hard-pressed to find a better one!

Skip Press is a cool kat I'd discovered a couple of months ago while trolling around looking to boost my personal library of screenwriting tomes.

I'm that kind of expansive thinker.

I generally like to exhaust an entire store of knowledge about a particular topic before I even dare to address myself as 'Mr. Expert' on anything (even then wisdom is an -- and here's that word again -- organic process). Several of the lessons therein were already known to me back then - yet I still wanted to feast my clutches on Skip's book because it was just so chock-a-block with goodies.

Skip's written several books to his credit. One of them, the superbly but highly-deceptive titled Complete Idiot's Guide to Screenwriting, is a delectable journey down Movie Memory Lane. In it, he takes you from one end of the screenwriter's craft to the other through a snappy and saucy mix of expert film buff views to the art of writing a screenplay to the business of selling a script.

Within them there 250 pages., one carries with them the mighty bible of screenwriters (yes, there have been many claims to the throne, but I'm beginning to learn it's more of a subjective decision, don'tcha think?) -- like the cover says: "...and a reference book for the rest of us."

Skip also runs a little online community deftly called the "Hollywood Hangout."

According to Skip, he'd set it up because he'd wanted a forum for aspiring writers to interact with the sorts of people who could truly help them achieve their chosen craft's goals. Skip found early on that far too often, novice screenwriters would be handing scripts to relatives and friends to read -- for valuable feedback, I'm sure -- though it wouldn't get them anywhere nearer to selling their screenplay. Like Napoleon Hill -- the consummate leadership guru -- said, you have to associate with like-minded success-driven people if you intend on tasting any of success' fruits for yourself. Hello forum.

Sometimes I just go in for a look. Sometimes I post a reply. Other times I just want to read the musings of some of the other talented dudes on that site.

Skip's a guy who just said no to established conventions and took the ol' bull by the horns. He took constructive steps to improve his career, and in so doing, added to the endless pool of knowledge about the wonderful craft we call writing for the movies. And the royalty cheques and offers haven't stopped rolling in since...

And, oh yeah, most importantly...in so doing, Skip's able to stay true to the Hollywood maxim -- you have to also give a little back if you get.

Well at least part of the time.


Monday, September 27, 2004

A plea to the members: can we get more grassroots?

Hello Leadership -- it seems as though we've reached a cross-roads here at Leadership. While we've been enjoying the posts here for the past few weeks, it perhaps might be time to go a little 'more to ground.'

Grassroots examples of leadership are perhaps where we should be investing the bulk of our time. I, for one, vouch that we start bringing out examples from the people we know from our daily lives and interactions -- the small stuff.

How, for instance, might our lowly bus driver do things in a leading way? Perhaps it's in the way he stacks his change on the dispensing machine -- for those of us accustomed to drivers who administer change -- perhaps it's the way he stacks his transfers on the shelf? Or, if you have subways where you live, maybe it the efficient manner he's able to quickly dispense information about routes and schedules.

Or how about our dry cleaner? For without them delivering our suits and shirts and dresses and skirts on time -- we'd never be able to look our very best for that all-important business meeting.

It all goes back to the small things.

For far too often we get caught up in the big picuture, which has a tendency to cause us to feel powerless, paralysed, and more than a little anxious.

But leadership starts from down below. Micro stuff. The basics. Sometimes - it seems - I wonder where we'd be without all 'em.




Hero

Last night, I went and saw the movie "Hero." Admittedly, I'm not the biggest fan of these kinds of movies -- I found "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" to be a drag, and impossible to sit through, despite being visually very brilliant. I thought seeing "Hero" was going to be a similar experience, so I was not going to bother to see it. However, a friend of mine was excited to go, so in the interest of spending time with him, I went.

I was pleasantly surprised by the film. Not only was it's visuals and cinematography beautiful, it also contained some very relevant lessons. In the film, Qin, the emperor of one of China's northern provinces, summons the lethal assassin, known only as Namless, to reward him for fighting and killing three other warriors who provided constant theat to Qin's life. Through series of flashbacks, it is revealed that Nameless may not be in Qin's palace to be honored, but instead to assassinate the emperor himself. He has spent ten years perfecting a lethal move that can be perfectly executed from ten feet away, which is the distance he is allowed to be from the emperor.

(Don't read the rest of this if you have not seen the film and don't want to know what happens)

However, Nameless does not kill Qin. Instead, he put the butt of his sword in the emperor's back, and says that a real hero knows when to put down his weapon, and not strike. As Nameless leaves the palace, Qin, egged on by his guards, orders Nameless assassinated.

Nameless was inspired in his actions by another assassin, named Broken Sword, who, earlier in the film, Nameless had come to to devise a plan to kill the emperor. Sword is unable to be a part of the plan, and keeps repeating two words as his reason -- "One Land." Despite the bad that Qin has done, he is the best hope for the unification of the seven provinces of China. To Broken Sword, a unified China is more important than personal vendetta. His lover, and fellow warrior, Falling Snow, sees this attitude as a weakness, but Nameless takes it to heart. However, it is obvious to Nameless that since he will not kill Qin, he himself will become a sacrificial lamb, and he indeed does. At the film's end, it is revealed that Qin is successful in unifying China, ultimately creating "One Land." However, you're left wondering who, exactly, is the bigger "hero." Credit has to be given to both men, who realized when certain actions were necessary, even if it meant sacrificing themselves.

Incedently, the acting in "Hero" is very successful as well. Especially Tony Leung, who's Broken Sword provides the film's moral core. He's worked with director Yimou Zhang several times before, most notably in "Chung King Express" and "In The Mood For Love." If you haven't checked out any of his films, do so -- I know I'm going to.

Television writing -- a special kind of breed

I’m still on that ALIAS habit. I can’t really peel myself away -- the more I begin to understand why, the more I see it has to do with the writing.

In writer’s parlance, JJ Abrams and Co. open up plenty of ‘doors’ week by week on the show. They leave plenty of hanging plot points and trip you up with other spots along the way to confound you. And the trick with Alias seems to be in its fast sharp editing. The ability to lace the various items together, then to create a flow from show to show. It’s funny -- I sort of have to wean myself off of it -- getting to the point where I say I’m not worthy. Nor is Alias the kind of show where I can simply sit there and watch, not analysing it for shot sequencing, character development, or with a very keen eye on the performances.

There seems to be special behaviour associated with TV writing. It’s high-paced, action packed, and it generally takes a writer with nerves of steel and driven to the bone to make the grade. (Having said this, it’s always made me wonder how TV writers manage to keep their cool. Wouldn’t I love to be one of the flies on the wall when they have one of their little parties, eh?) For them, life is a series of endless pressures. I can just see the committee room now. So many things tossed out on the table, so many things rejected. Very few things accepted. Once I heard a famous writer mention the following to me: for every 20 things I write, I must throw about 19 of them out, and one I keep. I was very heartened when I heard that.

How fun it could be to work with someone else’s material for once. Almost akin to what’s done these days at large companies -- being a part of something successful, inspired by a vision coming from a founder -- kind of like what it might be like to work at Amazon’s head office under Jeff Bezos.

What do you think?


Lessons from the Pianist: Leaders Learn

Watched the Pianist - finally - last night. Whew. Not since Schindler's List have Marie and I been left so sombre and quiet after a movie.

Band of Brothers had a similar effect on us, but at least those soldiers had control - they could do something about their situation. All Wladyslaw (the main character in the Pianist, played superbly by Adrien Brody) could do was wait, and depend on the helpfulness of others. He went through a soul-destroying experience, and his soul survived.

Anyway, this post is headed "Lessons", so here are the takeaway lessons we took from the film.

First of all, Marie was touched by the people who did what they could to help Wladyslaw - and anyone else who needed help. They were in a better position than others around them.

Translated to today's situation, where the media has made the world a smaller place, that means our 'neighbours' are in Sudan, or Iraq, or Cambodia. They need help, and we need wisdom to know how best to help.

Summing up Marie's lesson: A leader knows how to manage their resources so they can help the people who need it most. A leader is also aware of the needs of others.

My lesson was to know history, to have a broad knowledge and so not be a sucker. Hitler's Europe was a world devoid of intellectualism, where they burned books and rewrote history. We have amazing opportunities to learn history from many different perspectives, and judge for ourselves. The challenge is - wading through the immense amount of information we need to deal with every day.

Friday, September 24, 2004

An Ode to Jennifer Garner

13 Going On 30 isn't an entirely new film -- in fact, it's been doing its rounds for a couple of seasons on the cinema circuit. In our unique vernacular here on LEADERSHIP called 'movie-speak,' that's like ancient history dude (as in "what have you done for me lately?"). But the wonderful Jennifer Garner -- its star and lead -- isn't. Not by a long shot.

Garner -- to all of us who know -- is none other than delectable bash-em-up spy-chick Sidney Bristow of TV's Alias series. While dropkicking booty on the small screen for the past two years, she's managed to comfortably squeeze into her shooting sked two feature-length films - the decent comicbook action flick Daredevil and, now, romcom 13 Going On 30. In all of her front kicking, backfisting, gun slinging, cloak and daggering glory, viewers shouldn't be blamed for having the tendency to forget Miss Garner is one of Hollywood's preeminent up and coming stars. We should definitely expect to see more of her in the coming months and years. God, I hope so.

Garner is also one of those special breeds of character actor who have the magical ability to brighten up even the grimmest of days. Had a bad day at ol' 9-5? Flip on the tube or pop in a DVD and check out one of Garner's dazzling thespian displays.

It must be the subtle cocking of her head. No, no perhaps it's that wide warm smile? Or could it even be -- horrors -- her lithe physique rumour has it she rises quotidian at 4 a.m. to tone and shape? (salivating not) Or maybe it's the commitment she brings to her job in those dedicated honest portrayals? It could even all of these put together. But feel good you no doubt will!

Jennifer Garner, as herself, is a delight to chat with and just plain ol' apple-cobbler peachy-keen West Virginian nice. Impressive yet is her consummate skill in subsuming all of this in becoming the punchy sweet Bristow. More astounding is 13's opening 30 minutes (constituting its entire first act): she plays a coy precocious 13 year-old not quite sure where she is (for those who haven't seen it, I'll avoid spoilers).

So here is today's winning idea:

1) Watch an episode of Alias.
2) Followed by watching one of her films.
3) Sit.
4) Sit some more.
5) Then spin.
6) Contemplate at length.

Chances are, if you follow my recipe to the letter, you're going to arrive at the same conclusion.

As a good friend (you know who you are) recently told me: Garner is "quite digressable."

But then again, I digress...



Are you David Brent or are you Richard Branson?

I took this test and found out I was a 'motivator'.

Just kidding! Actually not as funny as it sounds, and worse still, it didn't tell me who I was. Biggest problem, for the question "Who has the most influence on your management style?" there is no option to select "Captain Kirk", which of course would be my answer :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Cliff Curtis -- Mr. Versatility

Not enough can be said about the so-called "sub A-List" actors who toil long thankless hours in Hollywood. They're the very adhesive keeping a story together. In their absence, it seems, certain stories could never be the same.

I've been keeping a close eye on Cliff Curtis ever since I saw him in New Zealand's delightful coming-of-age story Whale Rider, 2002's sleeper film of the year that took international audiences by storm.

Since then, I'd backtracked his filmography to check where I might have seen him in the past, but didn't. He joins a long line of fantastic Maori thespians who've done their time in Hollywood -- and who continue to shine: Temuera "Tem" Morrison, Lawrence "Mr. Kill" Makoare, not to mention the fantastic director Lee Tamahori among them (Die Another Day).

Cliff's played all manner of roles for which his swarthy look and lithe build ideally permit him to play a variety of different character types -- Chechen, Arab, and most notably, Hispanic as Pablo Escobar in Blow -- I'll be the first to say that he resembles a younger Anthony Quinn (who had a penchant for Arab roles in his day -- in Lawrence of Arabia and Omar Mukhtar among them). I hope someone tells him. (Tell him to ring me if he calls you back).

I keep catching Cliff in different flicks. Recently, I'd also seen him in an all-New Zealand production called Fracture at the Montreal World Film Festival. As a true character actor, his dedication to his craft pays off in these various true-to-life portrayals of a man living life on the edge.

We talk about leadership here.

It seems actors exude a different type of leadership, though no less persuasive than the one honed by the gurus whose names fill bookshelves in town. Cliff's a leader in his own small way.

I'd be willing to bet dollars that aspiring New Zealander kids imagine that they too, someday, might live out their dreams like their idol Cliff. He's the embodiment of the truism that even those from a small quaint place -- New Zealand, "Land of the Long White Cloud" -- can shine beyond their wildest expectations.




Monday, September 20, 2004

Love and Honour

Had an unusual duo of DVDs to watch this weekend: the hilarious 50 First Dates and the gruelling period piece Four Feathers. It made me think about two challenging aspects of true leadership: love and honour.

50 First Dates was an unashamed chick flick. It brought tears to Marie's eyes, and mine. A little bit. Why? Because it portrays the true meaning of love - a commitment, not a feeling. A total removal of self from the picture, except to ensure self can be maintained, in order to look after the beloved. Profound stuff! And very quirkily presented by Sandler and Co.

Why am I mentioning selfless love on a blog about leadership? Because I believe real love - agape as the Bible calls it (if you read it in Greek!) - is at the heart of effective leadership.

Speaking of the Bible, I'm a believer in the old-fashioned concept of the husband as leader of the home. But to any husband who would like to think of that as a privileged, dictatorial position, I'd point him to 50 First Dates. Because that's what leading a marriage is all about. And, even though leadership in other spheres may not be quite as intimate (well, hopefully not! :) it's the same principle - get over yourself, so you can help others.

I can't quite remember what I had to say about Four Feathers now, except that it was a very good film! Lame ending, though. Much like this post! I'll post later when I remember what my point was about Four Feathers...

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Dick Pound -- Olympian, Statesman, Ethical Crusader

As part of some research for a present project, Dick Pound's insider view on the functioning of the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, has been a fresh and candid perspective on an institution that enshrouds itself in mystery.

Pound begins by stating that his book doesn't purport to be a comprehensive overview of the entire history of Olympism to date. Rather he attempts to distill an insider's snapshot into into a set of pan-Olympic values near and dear to his heart -- issues in which he's played a vital role throughout his Olympic involvement from the start.

Several issues covered in this light tome:

** the anti-doping crusade.
** the Salt Lake Olympic Scandal in 1999.
** his relationship with former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch.
** Pound's opinion about former IOC Executive Committee Member Monique Berlioux (an arch-nemesis and would-be foil).
** his views on the near catastrophes of 1988's Seoul Games, Atlanta in 1996, and the recent selection of Athens for the 2004 Games.

Autobiographical titles must normally be taken with a grain of salt, tending as they do to be somewhat self-aggrandising (along a continuum of light to heavy, naturally). Yet what I find most endearing about Mr. Pound's coverage is that he walks the talk like so few Olympic officials can.

Having competed in Rome in 1960, represented his native Canada as head of the former Canadian Olympic Association (COA), and sat on the IOC's Executive Committee as its VP -- he's demonstrated a firm commitment to the sports field by remaining unshakeable on his ethical stance despite plenty of enticements along the way not to (Salt Lake being among them).

Pound's leadership in the sports field is borne out by the results he's delivered. In his present capacity as Chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), he's shown athletic-like perseverance in that it never pays to give up on what you believe.

Consistency is one of the small things we've been discussing in LEADERHIP comprising that complex matrix in what is known vaguely as 'leadership.'

It's always the small things making the largest difference. Creating a solid foundation for the bigger challenges any leader must face.


Friday, September 17, 2004

Military Discipline vs. Creative Laissez-Faire

I've been thinking for a long time about the environment that gets the best out of people.

In my short working life so far I've worked alone by myself, alone in a room full of others (undoubtedly the worst scenario) and together in a team (perhaps the best). Through all of this, I've found there's like a spectrum of creative vs. discipline - especially in the creative writing industry I work in.

I wondered to myself - are creativity and discipline really poles apart? Does structure tend to stifle revolutionary ideas?

More and more, I don't think that's the case. In fact I believe a bit of military discipline could help anyone who wants to be more creative. And if you other creative types reading this are anything like me, that will make you uncomfortable and hopeful at the same time.

The more I think about it, discipline and structure by themselves don't mean much. It's more about creating a culture that appeals to the highest ideals in humanity.

It's best illustrated by a section I read today in my latest review book, The Battle of Long Tan (as told by the commanders). It's written by 2nd Lieutenant Dave Sabben, commander of 12 Platoon, Delta Company:

"My memories of OTU (Officer Training Unit) are mostly about struggling just to keep up. In later years, I found that most of the others felt that way too. If there were good times at OTU, I missed them. Yet I relished the course. I had never been so challenged before, and I had a vision of the end result. I recognised that this experience was building a better 'me', and I actually found the development deeply satisfying.



"...'Suppress the ego; maintain the output.' I could put up with whatever was thrown at me because I knew we were training for situations where worse would be thrown and I'd still be expected to throw my weight."

Great stuff.

The Downfall - a new German film

It was predicted to last for 1000 years. But crumbling down it came like a flimsy deck of cards. A recent review I'd posted for a German film called: DER UNTERGANG (The Downfall).

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Poetry & Business

Reading my latest Global Province newsletter, I couldn't help but notice the title Poetry & Business. It appealed instantly. Check out the link. I especially like what David H Adams is doing in London.

Reminds me of the best Christmas gift we got last year. Marie was recovering from major surgery, I had to borrow money from my mum who's on the benefit, we were disillusioned about a lot of things and just ... reeling.

My sister sent over a game: "Magnetic Poetry" ... basically a whole bunch of words on magnets. Normal people would use the fridge, but Marie and I set to creating beautiful, heart-wrenching, sad and sometimes funny poetry on the gas heater. It did indeed drag out the issues that were deep in our heart, and I believe it helped us work through that difficult time as a team.

Must do it again sometime soon.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Sydney Pollack -- actor/producer/director

A hectic time since last Thursday the 9th with the start of Toronto's International Film Festival here in town. I've been bouncing back and forth like Halley's Comet from after-gala fete, to film screening, to the occasional master class -- all the while managing in-between to write my latest screenplay. Busy times indeed!

I'd been the very fortunate participant of a 90 minute Master Session at the Sutton Place Hotel featuring famed triple-threat actor/producer/director Sydney Pollack -- known for his films Tootsie, Out of Africa, and The Firm -- amongst other gems.

Sitting shotgun in the front row -- I'd listened riveted to the insights flowing from this cinematic icon, some of which that needed sharing:

Pollack's view on acting:

He rails against the stereotype of the actors as "egotistical maniac." Claims Pollack: actors are "beings of ego who dwell on the cusp of their emotions at all times." It's what allows them to portray the roles they do -- claims he -- as they are constantly in direct contact with their "deep essences." As "beings of emotion," he criticises some directors who lord over their acting casts like obstinate tyrants, and warns the director attempting any shred of dishonesty with his charges. Having begun as an actor, Pollack makes the convincing case for the quintessential "actor's director" -- as he's lived the process.

Pollack's view on quixotic film industry success:

One of the lines I'll fondly remember: "Seldom does a film career inch along in a straight sequential line. There are many twists and turns along the way." This in response to an audience question on the secrets of his "success in cinema." Words to live by.

Pollack's view on today's digital filmmaking:

Today more than ever, he claims, aspiring filmmakers have the power of technology at their disposal to make "works of genius." With nothing more than a $500 camera, a persuasive directorial style, and an enthusiastic group of friends, one has the power to create a solid production "calling card." (He cited the examples of the short films present at Kevin Spacey's TriggerStreet) He only wishes he had that kind of power in his day -- but, then again, seldom does a career move in a straight line (wink, AM).

And lastly he entreats...persistence, persistence, persistence is omnipotent.


Sunday, September 12, 2004

Meep meep! Roadrunner's guide to success

A review of an interesting sounding book: Beep Beep! Competing in the age of the Road Runner.

Dr. Robert Schuller on the power behind leadership

Heard this on TV this morning.

"Leaders are possibility thinkers. They say, 'What's the problem?
How can it be solved?' They don't say it can't be solved. No, their attitude is ... Anything is possible. They may not have the answers, but they find answers. They go for the answers and make it happen, because they've got drive, passion, practically and positive thinking! That's leadership!

You can be a leader and that's what our world needs. Think ... think ... think. But start with faith. Faith makes leaders."

Full Message

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The Power of One - Arun Sarin makes things happen

I've been following Vodafone's fortunes recently and it's interesting what a turnaround this Telegraph article represents.

About a month ago it was all doom and gloom for Vodafone, as shareholders worried that the new man in charge was obsessed with acquisitions instead of generating a good return for shareholders.

Now, Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin is "the man" once more. He's been on what the papers are calling a charm offensive around all the investment brokers in the UK, and now they all agree that yes, Vodafone is on track to get really, really good. Again. Only better.

Undoubtedly Sarin must have had some good figures and spreadsheets to show the pointy-headed ones. But the impression I get is that it's more about his openness and willingness to discuss the hard questions that is earning Vodafone back brownie points.

Stunning, isn't it, that the fortunes of even a huge worldwide corporation like Vodafone can rest on the personal skills of just one man. And he is ... the man. Go Arun!

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Warriors Wisdom

Hi, my name is Jesper, and Im' very inspired by the way the Indians manage their lives.

The indians divide people into warriors or victims. To be a warriordoes not mean that you must be aggressive or violent. It means thatyou are in balance and cares about your relations. A warrior put thewinds in motion and starts things. A victim gets blown away by the wind. A warrior takes responsibility - for them selves, the family, the tribe, the company, the society. A victim pushes theresponsibility away, and blames other people if anything goes wrong. A warrior is honest and sayes thing short, sweet and to the point". Avictim creates a web of small and big lies around them. A warrior respects other people. A victim judges other people. A warrior is in balance and follows the ways of love. A victim is stressed, confused and full of fear.

It's a life long education to find the warrior path, but it's worth working on every day!

Four winds

Jesper

Warriors Wisdom

Hi, my name is Jesper, and I want to thank you for getting invited to participate in this blog.

I love the way the Indians "manage" their lives. The indians divide people into warriors or victims. To be a warriordoes not mean that you must be aggressive or violent. It means thatyou are in balance and cares about your relations. A warrior put thewinds in motion and starts things. A victim gets blown away by thewind. A warrior takes responsibility - for them selves, the family,the tribe, the company, the society. A victim pushes the responsibility away, and blames other people if anything goes wrong. Awarrior is honest and sayes thing short, sweet and to the point". Avictim creates a web of small and big lies around them. A warriorrespects other people. A victim judges other people. A warrior is inbalance and follows the ways of love. A victim is stressed, confusedand full of fear.

It's a life long education to find the warrior path, and I work on it every day!

Four winds

Jesper


Singh is world's number 1!

FOX SPORTS | Golf | Vijay on top of world (September 7, 2004)

I don't know much about golf, but I do know I've heard Vijay Singh's name in golf news for a long time. He deserves this success because of his stickability.

There's also a telling quote in the news story I've linked to:

"My focus was really on winning the golf tournament," said Singh. "I didn't get out of focus. I got it done."

I like that. He wasn't so much focused on 'being the world's number one', he was focused on winning that specific tournament. There's something in that, I'm sure!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

A few words about Robert (Bob) De Niro's Mastery

I've always wondered at length what went into making Robert De Niro such a wizard in the acting trade. By all accounts, he clearly doesn't possess those 'leading male' looks of a Brad Pitt or the newer-on-the-scene Colin Farrell, to wit. Yet what he lacks there he more than makes up in spades through his unswerving dedication to the craft, and his leading methodologies for the profession of acting.

In my continuing quest to master the art of Story (capitalisation quite intended!), I've revisited various classic tales from the course of the past three decades. Filmmaking of the 70s, in particular, has rarely been duplicated in our modern era of the "big bang boom knock 'em up blow 'em up conjure 'em up blockbuster." Take Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver of 1976. A film about Travis Bickle and his struggle against the day to day loneliness he suffers from life in the big bad scummy (in his words) metropolis -- the metaphor of a 'taxi driver' chosen by writer Paul Schrader as representative of the epitome of the solitary man's struggle against an overbearing society (Taxi Driver had been written over the course of 10 days, during a rather depressing phase in Schrader's life, which he speaks of poignantly in the Special Features).

Jodie Foster -- then 12 -- playing the young prostitute Iris - recalls one day's shooting in New York with De Niro then. The scene called for a heartfelt exchange between Travis (De Niro) and Iris in some diner, where Travis cajoles - nay - entreats the impressionable girl to give up hooking, her infatuation for her pimp 'Score' (played by Harvey Keitel) and to get back to school and her parents - occurring somewhere in the middle of the story. (Minutes before Travis begins his long slide down [for those who still haven't seen it, I will withhold the rest, spoiler I am not!].)

Foster recounts how the real De Niro would - over coffee and cake - slam the called-for scene over and over and over with her. They must have reviewed the scene at least twenty times. Foster, being a child actor, knew her lines cold. She couldn't for the life of her understand what the hell De Niro was doing. But, being De Niro, she wasn't exactly going to call him on it. (At least not then, years before her first 1988 Oscar). De Niro suddenly slips in an improvisation here and a gesture there, which took the then-child actor totally off guard. He had her do the scene several times more, continually throwing in newer and zanier improvisations into the scripted dialogue until Foster - as she fondly recalls thirty years on - realised what he his greater plan was. She admits De Niro's mastery in placing her into such a position of comfort in the scene, that uttering the called-for lines became secondary to their improvisations. It wasn't in the static lines of text where the brilliance of acting was to be revealed; rather it was in the improvisations where an audience would really connect with characters. De Niro understood this. He was teaching a valuable lesson to a young kid.

Playing the scene back over several times after learning this new information gave me an even greater respect for actors and, in particular, Robert De Niro. In countless films since, his ability to impress filmgoers the world over has been in his keen ability to take plainjane static lines on a page come alive with the actor's version of the 'value add' - improvisation.

Jodie Foster learned a valuable lesson on that day, one that's served her well since. Her two Oscars (for Silence of the Lambs in 1991 and The Accused, 1988) are proof enough.


Sunday, September 05, 2004

Brian Helgeland: Gentle Perfectionist

I believe there are two kinds of perfectionist: the Picasso type who ends up driving himself (and everyone around him) mad through his barmy obsession with an unreachable dream, and the other type. The type like Brian Helgeland.

Let's backtrack: I love DVDs. We just got a DVD player on Friday, and immediately rented our first one, A Knight's Tale. Watched the movie itself on Friday night, and we've been spending the rest of the weekend watching all the other special features (pausing, of course, to watch Star Wars: Episode I on TV last night) (oh, and spend time with my mum, of course!).

I must say Brian Helgeland, writer, director and producer of A Knight's Tale, impresses the heck out of me. I can tell from the finished product that he's a perfectionist - not only in telling the story, but also in getting historical details right (except for the rock music, but I have a sneaking suspicion that was deliberate!).

But Brian's perfectionism doesn't just extend to the final product. He has the insight to see that it's the people and the moments those people create that make the best final product. So he nurtures them. Paul Bettany, who brilliantly portrays Geoffrey Chaucer in the film, says Brian gets to know you to know what will motivate you ... what words will give rise to the best performance from you.

And this not just from the main actors - homeless Czech extras also got gently guided and nurtured and prodded to get the best, most authentic response. (Don't worry, it wasn't exploitation, it was a work scheme put on by the Prague authorities. But it did help lend a genuinely mediaeval look to the film!)

As well as Brian's approach to people, I love his approach to surprises. "Happy accidents" became part of the final work. Like a stuntman getting knocked off his horse, unconscious, while the cameras rolled. ("Save it, that's a great shot! Is he alright?") And like the end of Chaucer's impassioned speech, when the Czech-speaking extras missed their cue to cheer, and were prompted by actor Mark Addy (still in character). While the crew got ready to re-shoot the scene 'properly', Brian and his colleagues thought hey, what we already have is better than what we would've got!

Of all the types of leadership in the world, I believe movie directing must be the ultimate setting where art and management combine. And it takes a true leader to make people feel comfortable to give their greatest performances, as well as spot the happy accidents that make a piece so authentic.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

How do nobles get noble?


How did nobles get noble? That's the question young William Thatcher asks in A Knight's Tale. The answer he comes up with is a refreshingly 21st century one (not surprising; the movie was made in 2001!): nobility is in the heart, not in the bloodline.

Watching this fun, well-made movie last night made me wonder: just how did the 'nobility' of the past earn their status? From what little I know (and believe me, I'll be finding out more) they were entrepreneurs on a grand scale.

There is little difference between the geopolitical maneouvres of kings and dukes in the 1100s and the same activities of large corporates today. Except the large corporates are probably larger than many of the kingdoms and duchies of yesteryear. And although people now are theoretically better informed than our forbears in the dark ages and middle ages, really, are we?

This all doesn't sound very noble. Instead, it sounds Machiavellian. But perhaps anyone who finds themselves in a position of power - like that enjoyed by the nobles of old - would do well to remember the meaning of true nobility. Courage. Dedication. Selflessness.

And perhaps we, whatever our level of power or influence, should do the same.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Fantastic Quote from Bobby Kennedy

Finally finished "Where have all the good times gone?" (it's a big book!) and I'm already onto my next one: "Crunch Time - How to live a more ethical and meaningful life without giving up all your worldly goods, joining a commune OR losing your sense of humour!" (unfortunately not available yet on Amazon OR Real Groovy)

Great quote in the introduction which really sums up how we can be leaders even if our title says we're not:




"In 1966, in front of a crowd of students at Cape Town University in South Africa, JFK's brother, Bobby Kennedy, gave a speech focusing on the conditions that compel attention and action in every age, in every country and for every generation: oppression, social injustice, violence, danger and uncertainty. He was speaking out against apartheid in a country that would not repeal its racial laws for another thirty-one years. Nonetheless, his message was a simple on, and this book shares it:


'Few will have the greatness to bend history,' he said. 'But each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.'

Dr Seuss said it shorter in The Lorax:

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not."