If you’re anything like my daughter, you might be wondering why I gave up life as a successful movie producer to risk it all to found an indie skincare brand. Here’s the short answer: so I could control my own destiny. The real answer, though, is love. At 47, I found myself psychologically, creatively and emotionally burned out. Then, I found love in the form of my now wife, who also happens to be one of the foremost master estheticians in the world. My wife is the one who saw what I couldn’t see at the time: The best skills I had, the ones I developed over years as a movie producer, could be reimagined and applied in so many other equally challenging and rewarding ways. Here’s what Hollywood taught me about being an entrepreneur.
1. It’s The Story, Stupid
In the words of one of Hollywood’s legendary story gurus, Robert McKee, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” Storytelling at its core is about connecting, and without connecting, it’s impossible to break through the maze of choices. Another approach is to ask yourself: what’s your hook? How are you going to get someone to remember you or your business when we’re continuously bombarded with outside stimuli? Some shorthand questions to think about to help you define your story: are you the “Tesla of skincare?” (Yes.) Would you see the movie Die Hard on a Bus? (Hint: That’s how the movie Speed was sold.) Is your company the “Uber of _____?” You only have a few seconds to make an impression, so you’d better make them count.
2. Tell The Truth
I was fortunate in my career to spend close to 20 years working with the Academy Award-winning actor Robert Duvall. Of the countless things Duvall taught me about life and the movies, the one that stood out the most was the lesson that was taught to him by his equally legendary acting coach Sanford Meisner, who had the following saying on the blackboard of their classroom: “There’s no such thing as right or wrong; there is only truthful or untruthful.” Make a choice; as long as that choice reflects your truth, it’s not wrong. It’s another way of saying trust your instincts — your instincts are never wrong, as long as they’re yours.
3. No One Knows Anything
The two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman (whose credits include All the President’s Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade famously wrote, “Nobody knows anything … not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.” In the case of both of my most successfully produced films, each was rejected hundreds of times over many years, until it wasn’t. It took Robert Duvall reaching into his own pocket to defy the skeptics and finance The Apostle himself; with Crazy Heart, it took the validation of distribution from Fox Searchlight Studio after the original financing studio put it up for sale (not believing the film would amount to anything). Along your own entrepreneurial journey, you will meet countless naysayers, from close family and friends to the most seasoned industry experts, all with dire warnings about the odds of success — don’t always believe them.
4. Raising Money Is The Easy Part
Paying back your investors is the hard part. As long as the economy keeps humming along and interest rates remain at historic lows, finding or borrowing money can be relatively easy. What’s not easy is paying that money back. In the movie business, once Netflix, Apple and Amazon became the near-monopolistic distributors of content, they made it nearly impossible for equity investors in the movies to recoup their money. Imagine spending millions of dollars to make something knowing you only have three potential buyers for it, none of whom actually care what it cost you to make it. As an entrepreneur, spend as much time figuring out how you’re going to make money as you do trying to raise money. Margin matters. Knowing whether there is a market for your product or service matters. Accountability matters. There is nothing worse than having to answer to investors months or even years later as you keep trying to explain how you lost their money.
5. Find The Right Partner
Have you seen the film or television credit “Directed by Alan Smithee” and wondered what it meant? Alan Smithee is the official pseudonym used by film directors who want their real names removed from the credits. Imagine working for years on a film and, in the end, being so dissatisfied that you don’t want your name associated with it. That’s what happens in the movie business when you end up picking the wrong partners. Given the collaborative nature of film, and most businesses for that matter, it’s impossible to recover from the fatal mistake of getting into bed with the wrong partners. Think of your business as a marriage. Is this the person I want to spend the rest of my life with? Lucky for me, the answer now is yes.