“How To Succeed in Hollywood (Without Losing Your Soul)”
Interviews and Articles By and About Key Men and Women in the Entertainment Industry
EDITOR’S NOTE: This insightful article is an excerpt from Dr. Ted Baehr’s book. To purchase the book, you can buy it HERE.
Humiliation Brings Exaltation – an interview with Randall Wallace
This interview with Randall Wallace offers some other important insights into God’s plan for your life …and
much more. In certain corporate circles, it’s not uncommon to hear newly fired employees raising their arms and yelling out a thunderous “Freeeeeeedommmmm!” in the hearing of startled co-workers. Such outbursts can be traced to the famous movie BRAVEHEART, where Mel Gibson, as Scotland’s William Wallace, screams this utterance as an impassioned encouragement to his countrymen. The writer of this compelling movie, as well as other memorable epics including MAN IN THE IRON MASK, PEARL HARBOR, WE WERE SOLDIERS and SECRETARIAT, is Randall Wallace – writer, producer, director, musician, and father. Below, he shares some of his personal background and life wisdom with those daring enough to make Hollywood a career choice.
Examine Your Calling
Randall majored in religion at Duke University as an undergrad and then attended seminary there for one year. During this time, he sincerely wrestled with his vocational calling. “I had sensed that I really wanted – and was led to be a writer, but didn’t know how to reconcile that with a “real” career. I didn’t know anyone who had made a living as a writer, and I really wasn’t sure what kinds of things I wanted to write. To me, writing wasn’t a recognized profession. My friends from Duke were going to be pastors, and I fully believed they had a higher calling than I did. However, Thomas Langford, Dean of Duke’s Divinity School and my faculty advisor, told me he thought that there was no such thing as one calling being higher than another. He counseled me that we were not to judge God’s callings, just to follow them.”
In addition, Randall’s hometown pastor confirmed the fallacy in Randall’s earlier thinking. His pastor told him that the highest calling was not to be a minister – it was to do only and exactly the calling God had for him to do. On the heels of such encouragement from two trusted mentors, Randall left seminary and moved to Nashville. Randall felt that what was happening in New York and Los Angeles at the time was not what he wanted to do, and though he didn’t identify himself with country music, he decided to work in Opryland USA as a talent coordinator. During that first year he got a songwriting contract with the largest BMI publisher, Tree Music.
Go West, Young Man!
Soon, he was waking up at five, practicing his writing, and studying music, voice, and piano, but still not getting any vocational clarity. Deep inside, he still had the gnawing suspicion that there must be more. Was it time for a leap of faith? “I was unhappy in Tennessee, though I was from there. I was doing a lot of soul-searching and realizing that what was happening in Nashville wasn’t what I was doing in terms of songwriting. Also, I viewed California like the Wild West, wide open with opportunity. I kind of made a non-specific, instinctive choice. I thought that California might offer possibilities I could discover only by going there.”
This insightful article is an excerpt from Dr. Ted Baehr’s book. To purchase the book, you can buy it from HERE.
Discern the Need
Randall packed his belongings into his Toyota and drove off to L.A. without any sense of how he’d get a job, though he assumed it might be in the music industry. Gradually, though, he found himself in the company of actors, many of whom were complaining about the quality of scripts they were getting. Randall began reading the scripts, and though he agreed that the content and inspiration were often lacking, he found that the format was conducive to his kind of writing. “Screenplays are straightforward and direct, which was my style. I had not come to L.A. with any sense whatsoever that I’d ever be in the film business, but I decided to try my hand at screenwriting. It seemed to be a really good thing for me.”
Randall just sat down and started writing, though he admits he didn’t know anything about screenwriting. He reasoned he’d better take some courses. “But then I thought, ‘I really want to find my own approach first. I want to see what’s in me before I’m told by someone else what ought to be. I’ll blunder my way through a screenplay, and then I’ll take a course and hear the rules and know which ones I believe.” After his first screenplay landed him an agent, he realized he didn’t actually want to take a course after all.
Align the Need with Your Passion and Gifts
Randall never imagined during this season that he was going to be a director or producer; it wasn’t his particular dream. “But, the more I learned about the way movies are made, the more I thought that directing films would be a fabulous job. Directing the actors, shaping the music, shaping the visuals, and putting it all together is the movie experience.” But, how did one find his way to becoming a writer/director?
Forge Your Own Path in the Woods
At the time of Randall’s greatest search, there seemed to be no career advice available. “If I wanted to be a lawyer, doctor, or minister, I could see the path. It’s clearly laid out, the entrance to these paths is clear, and the milestones along the way are common. But, there is no handbook or map for being a writer/director. Even people who had succeeded in this field couldn’t help me. What had worked for them was not likely to work for others.” When Randall discussed his dreams with his mentor, Dr. Langford advised, “When you enter the deep, dark woods, you become a woodsman. You begin to discern the pathways and make your own way.” Randall believes this was one of the wisest things ever said to him, and it certainly proved to be true of his journey.
Make Frustrations a Catalyst for Change
Though Randall’s first screenplay never sold, he still viewed the process as a great encouragement. “In life, encouragement itself is a great victory,” says Randall with a smile. He did get work in television from that first unsold script, but it was frustrating, as he recalls. “It was good in that it paid me money, but it was projects I couldn’t relate to, couldn’t put my heart in… There was no heart to be had. People were looking for inexpensive, new writing, and in some circles the creative process seemed to be a bunch of people shouting at each other. It was I who was supposed to make it all matter somehow. This was exasperating, but it taught me a great lesson. Unless my heart was in something, it would never work well.
Shift Your Focus and Clear Your Mind
During this period of mostly heartless TV writing, Randall made some money, but he remained frustrated with the creative process. To revive his imagination, he spent a year writing a novel based on the screenplay that hadn’t sold but had generated interest. “I didn’t have an agent at the time, so I went to the library and copied the addresses of publishers from novels on the shelf. I sent seventeen letters of inquiry, describing my book. One publisher wrote back asking to see the first few chapters. On Thanksgiving week, he called me saying they wanted the rest. I was elated. G.P. Putnam published that novel, entitled THE RUSSIAN ROSE. The funny thing is that then I started getting rejection letters from some of the other publishers – some coming a year after the book was already published in hardcover!”
Have Clarity of Faith
Throughout his ups and downs, successes and rejections, Randall Wallace tried to remember that grace is not measured by the yardsticks of fame and fortune. Says Wallace, “I’d remind myself that the Bible says, ‘Wide is the way that leads to destruction, and narrow is the road that leads to life…. Few be there that find it.’ My religion says that the poor in spirit are blessed, that the discouraged and humble are the ones that will be lifted up, that you have to go down to go up. Ironically, when the way is hard, and people are against you, it may, in fact, show that you’re on the right road.”
Having grown up a Southern Baptist in the heart of the Bible belt’s Tennessee, Randall Wallace had a stubborn notion that if everyone agreed with him, he could be pretty sure he was wrong!
Use Disappointments as Springboards
Randall went on to write his second novel, SO LATE INTO THE NIGHT. It got terrific reviews. One reviewer gushed, “It is elegant prose, reminiscent of the best of Robert Penn Warren” Another, Edwin Yoder, compared Wallace’s work to that of Charles Dickens. “Yes, it got great reviews but no sales,” says Randall. ” A book’s life is largely determined before it ever comes out, all based on the marketing and the pre-publication buzz.”
Around this time, Randall had gotten married, and he really began wanting children. “My wife said that if I got her pregnant, I had to take her to Europe. I said, ‘absolutely.’ We did, and I did. I became conscious of something in California I hadn’t experienced in the south. There is a huge consciousness about someone’s ethnic background – whether they are Jewish-American, Italian-American, Hispanic American, or African-American. As a southerner, I saw myself as only an American. My son’s mother was Irish-American, and I wanted to tell him all about his father’s background too. I knew I was Scottish and that Wallace was a Scottish name, but I didn’t know many other details. My wife and I went to Scotland together, and we walked around Edinburgh Castle. There I was amazed to see a statue of William Wallace, though I’d never heard of him and didn’t know of his existence. On the other side was Robert the Bruce.”
Randall asked a member of the Black Watch, “a tough guy in a kilt,” who William Wallace was. The man replied that he was Scotland’s greatest hero. “I wondered, ‘How is it possible that I, an American keenly interested in history, have never heard of this man – my own namesake?’ I asked the castle guard if this William Wallace, whose life dates overlap Robert the Bruce’s, was an ally of Scotland’s greatest king. The man leaned forward and said, as if to share a secret, ‘Our legends say that Robert the Bruce may have betrayed William Wallace in order to clear the way for Bruce to be king.’ In those few words, I heard a great story. It was as if I’d been told that St. Paul and Judas were the same person.”
Randall’s mind was racing. What if Robert the Bruce had actually betrayed William Wallace? What if something about the way William Wallace lived and died taught Robert the Bruce what it truly meant to be noble? But, Randall was not in a place where he could write such a story. He had just written LOVE AND HONOR, a story of integrity, sacrifice, and courage – set in the Russia of Catherine the Great, but he hadn’t sold it yet. “I had a baby on the way and no prospects for money. I was not prepared to sit down and commit to writing a story no one would think at the time was commercial.”
Prepare for the Death-of-the-Vision Stage
Instead of writing what was burning in his heart to write, Randall went back and worked in TV for four more years. He then had a falling out with his mentor in television. ‘I wanted to do projects with more spiritual substance. We disagreed, and ultimately, I left his company… and then spent some cold, dark times not able to get a job. I was not even able to pitch a story. Word was out that I was no good as writer. I couldn’t get a single opportunity in the world of TV, so I was forced to turn to movies.”
Randall had seen his father lose a job when Randall was a young boy. “He’d never lost at anything, but his company was sold, and the new MBAs cut costs by cutting the ‘old’ guys. My dad, at age 37, with two kids, was let go. It crushed him. He totally collapsed…. And then he rebuilt his life.”
Randall Wallace’s father died on 9/11/01 from complications from heart surgery. “Because all planes were grounded after the terrorist attack, I didn’t make it to his bedside, but he knew I was there. My father was a great man – the greatest I ever knew. He showed me that the darkest day of your life might be your greatest opportunity. Here, I was in my darkest hour. I couldn’t sell anything. I had a beautiful home, German cars, and kids in private schools, but I really believed I was going to go under financially. I decided that if I did, I’d do it with my own flags flying. I was going to write what I wanted to see. I was going to finish LOVE AND HONOR and then write BRAVEHEART.”
Randall Wallace did just that, and BRAVEHEART became his first produced film, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture and captivated the souls of audiences worldwide. The man so willing to go down in glory found that, indeed, you go down to go up.
Enjoy the Mountaintops
After BRAVEHEART, Randall had the opportunity to write, produce, and direct MAN IN THE IRON MASK, the inspiring, haunting movie about the days of the famous musketeers. “I loved this time when those who had been famous and widely praised as young men were now floundering and asking themselves if they’re relevant anymore. My own heart was in this story, and that’s a prescription for success. I was writing what moved me, trusting that if it moved me, it would move others.” Then, he wrote and executive produced PEARL HARBOR and wrote, produced, and directed WE WERE SOLDIERS.”
Wait for the Inspiration
Many movie analysts have studied the Christian themes and parallels of BRAVEHEART’S William Wallace and Jesus Christ. For instance, both men lived under the oppression of a foreign government, both realized their purpose was to do their father’s will, both came into their calling through trials, criticism, and betrayal, and both had followers to rally for freedom. In both cases there was an enemy who sought to “marry” the bride, or the elect, as a slap in the face to the true deliverer… the allegorical parallels go on and on. “Whenever you feel in the grip of inspiration, you never feel you’re doing it yourself,” Randall says.
This insightful article is an excerpt from Dr. Ted Baehr’s book. To purchase the book, you can buy it HERE.
Write What You Know
Randall wrote many drafts of BRAVEHEART, but the essential things in that story came out on the first pass through. Many of the sub-themes revolved around true scenarios from Randall’s childhood. “When I was in Tennessee, my uncle had a neighbor whose wife died, and he had a lot of young children. The only way to feed them was to be a farmer, and there was no one to take care of the kids. Neighbors pitched in to help out, and various families took some of the children into their homes until the farmer could find a sister or aunt who could help. My uncle and aunt took the farmer’s daughter into their home for a few weeks. When it was time to take her back, my uncle stopped the car without speaking, without moving. His wife said, ‘Alton, we’ve got to take her back.’ My uncle said, ‘I can’t.’ My aunt and uncle approached the farmer and expressed their desire to raise the girl and love her as their own… She’s one of my cousins now.”
In the same way, in BRAVEHEART, there’s the boy whom no one wants to take in. He’s another mouth to feed, and besides, he’s a wild boy. Randall says, “I wrote about a child at a grave with no one to comfort him…. Someone has to do something. Another child understands and gives him a flower. When he comes back into town, he takes (the grownup version of) the girl on a ride. He can barely speak to her. This was always like me when I really liked a girl…. I could hardly look at her…. When they stop, he doesn’t kiss her; he gives her the flower. This took my breath away. I hadn’t done that on purpose.”
If it Grips Your Heart, it’ll Grip Theirs
When asked about the sources of his inspiration, Randall is quick to say that the primary source is the New Testament, primarily the gospels. “It’s Gethsemane, when Jesus was abandoned by his friends. William Wallace goes into Edinburgh like Jesus goes into Jerusalem.” As for his choice in stars, Randall tells us that he didn’t know that Mel Gibson was a person of faith at the time. ” He was known for LETHAL WEAPON at the time, but we thought he could pull this off. Mel read the script and saw the Wallace character praying, dreaming, and struggling to live a life answering his call, much like Mel’s own story. He saw the divine sacrifice…. I don’t know another actor who could have embraced it like he did.”
Randall says that it wasn’t like he set out to tell story of Jesus, disguised, but it was more that the story of Jesus is so present to him. “I’m not a model Christian, but I’ve read the Bible every day for most of my life. I’ve read the gospels – those four little books, and they spoke to me more than anything. I still read the gospels all the time. That’s the way I see the world. It’s just in me.”
It was actually later that Randall realized his work contained so many biblical parallels. He quotes a phrase he came across in seminary, from Reinhold Niebuhr: “The genius of Jesus of Nazareth is that he found holiness, not among the monastic, but among the profane.” Indeed, all of Randall’s stories show that it’s in the gritty realness of life that the greatest valor and character can be displayed.
Randall was raised in what he calls a Puritanical environment. “No one used alcohol. I didn’t know anyone who did. We had family gatherings of hundreds of people, but there’d be no beer and no profanity. It was how we lived. But, I realized how profane the world could be. It rang true that Jesus did not seek to separate himself from life, instead he was criticized by the self-righteous for associating with sinners.”
Randall wanted to create a Scotsman that was rough, raw, and earthly. “Years later a friend told me I had to read John Eldridge’s book, WILD AT HEART, which quoted BRAVEHEART. I read it, and it talked about how in church you’ll find bored men sitting there and women saying, ‘Where did all the men go?’ Women don’t want to marry Mother Teresa; they want William Wallace. I met John Eldridge, a brilliant writer, a real man, and we had some great discussions about that.”
Tell a Great Story and Don’t Worry About Target Markets
At the time of the release of BRAVEHEART, studios were saying that its major audience would be 17-year-old males… that women won’t like it. “That was such fallacy. Once (the love interest’s) throat is cut, the women in the audience react more violently than the men. At that point, there’s nothing you can do to the bad guys that’s bad enough,” laughs Randall.
Randall loves capturing the funny, poetic, and ironic moments in his filmmaking career. He shared about how Leonardo DeCaprio played the dual role of the brothers in MAN IN THE IRON MASK. “When we were casting, someone told me that Leo loved BRAVEHEART and wanted to meet me to discuss the new film. I went to the set of TITANIC and heard that Leo would irritate Jim Cameron by standing on Titanic’s deck and yelling “freedom!”
Submit to God’s Plan
Randall encourages people to remember that God has a plan for everyone. “The things that drive – even things like ego and pride – God can use. He’ll use all the good, and he’ll burn away all the bad. Many people say, ‘If you will lift me up, God, I’ll draw all people to you. It’s a bargain we try to make with God. But, Jesus said, ‘If I be lifted up, I’ll draw all men unto me.’ It’s not about lifting yourself up. It’s bad enough to try to make a deal with a Hollywood movie studio, but don’t try to negotiate with God.”
A lesson Randall is constantly relearning and sharing with his sons and loved ones is that you have to be true to your heart. “Your heart has to be healthy and whole, no matter the cost. You’re not profited if you gain the whole world and lose you soul. People will come up and say, ‘How do you sell your first screenplay, or get an agent?’ They should really say, ‘How do I find my voice as a writer? What’s the movie I want to see?’ If you learn that, the other things will happen. If you don’t have that, you can sell all the screenplays you want, but your work won’t have heart; it won’t matter.”
Make it Organic; Not Dogmatic
Randall is keen to make the point that artists should not cloak their work in the dogma of their faith. “I believe that one stumbling block for spiritually concerned people is the tendency to be preachy and dogmatic. But, if something is specifically about dogma, it isn’t really about faith. For instance, in BRAVEHEART and WER WERE SOLDIERS, the characters weren’t saying, ‘I’m doing what I do because I’m a Christian.’ They were being who God led them to be, but not cloaking themselves in dogma. People don’t want to be preached at. You can make profoundly captivating spiritual movies without religious garments. That’s important for Christians to remember.”
Clearly, Randall Wallace not only lives his faith, but the writings of the Bible, the encouragement of his mentors, and lessons learned in his valley of tribulation are all woven into every one of his books and movies. Audiences eagerly await the next stream of Randall Wallace novels and movies with their captivating stories with heart and valor and passion.
This insightful article is an excerpt from Dr. Ted Baehr’s book. To purchase the book, you can buy it HERE.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you enjoyed this article and want to know more about how you can redeem the mass media of entertainment and/or become involved in the entertainment industry, please read SO YOU WANT TO BE IN PICTURES? Dr. Baehr’s book is available in bookstores and at www.movieguide.org. When you buy a copy, you get access to many informative articles from top Hollywood talent and executives.
© baehr, 2005
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