Apply Hollywood’s Proven Formula To Become The Hero of Your Life
This is my first post from my first chapter of my first book “Produce Yourself: Apply Hollywood’s Proven Formula To Become The Hero of Your Life.”
[Chapter 1 Excerpt]
FOR THE LAST 20 YEARS, I have been developing and producing stories in Hollywood. I’ve now produced over 20 feature films and over 20 television shows and specials.
That’s a bunch of 20s. They say hindsight is 20/20, so keep that in mind. The bulk of this book’s insight, let’s say 80 percent, is due to that. The other 20 percent is due to my desire to improve and optimize effectiveness in habits, systems, and processes; and how one’s approach to these impacts one’s inner hero’s path.
It’s this facet of my own life’s journey that I want to share. Not in order for you to learn how to produce movies or write TV shows, but rather to show how a character becomes a hero in cinema. By following universal, proven stages, you can make your own life as amazing, full, and satisfying as that of any hero you’ve admired.
You can produce yourself.
The steps a hero takes in story evolution when broken down to core themes are all the same. They’re what we take in real life. No difference. Your life is a TV show. Your life is a movie. And you are the hero. If you think you’ve been miscast, or given the wrong script, these heroic stages will help you correct that. You’re the producer of your own life. You are the boss.
This methodical flow of the heroic transformation is applicable and down-scalable from the large to the small. It covers your entire life’s path from childhood to adulthood; momentous milestones like career changes, new relationships, babies; and includes components as diverse as diet, finances, and workflow.
Over the years friends and family have repeatedly barraged me for advice. After dispensing advice, I’m frequently told, “You should write a book.” This might be that book. I’m not a guru living atop a mountaintop. I’m not an omniscient philosopher standing atop the Parthenon. I’m no Buddha and make no pretense to be. I’m not that different from you. I am, however, learning, discovering, hacking, and finding new ways to harness our inner tools — those available to all of us. But every day is a challenge.
Whether I’m producing a movie, developing a TV series, renovating a house, hosting a podcast, running a mortgage company, investing in real estate, writing, or just skateboarding at the beach, I get close to a dozen calls a day wanting to “schedule a call,” “run something by me,” “or get my thoughts,” wanting advice.
You might think I was:
· a certified financial planner. I’m not.
I studied business, finance, and accounting in college. From age 12, I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my life. I love math and think its principles can apply to many areas of life; especially the power of regular, small, incremental steps that can compound into significant results. Accountability and analysis of a repeatable, daily process are important and revealing. Good habits start young. Today is always the best day to plan.
· a relationship expert. I’m not.
I’m far from it. I’ve had more relationships than I can count on both hands and am now in an 11+ year committed relationship with an amazing girlfriend, who happens to be a professional therapist. Some of that rubs off. It’s sort of contact-absorption. It influences my observations about human behavior.
· a contractor. I’m not.
I held a subcontractor’s license briefly for a painting company I started in college, but that’s the extent of licensure. I’ve renovated almost a dozen properties, personally and by hand, learning the impact of design, branding, and perception. Anything can be accomplished (unless you’re talking rocket science; it’s not rocket science). Everything is accessible, learnable and adaptable. Plus working with your hands and seeing immediate, tangible results can be therapeutic. And creation rather than consumption feeds both your inner hero and your wallet. People have resources to accomplish whatever they can dream. It doesn’t have to be a mere pipe dream.
· a realtor. I’m not.
I do have a California brokers license and mortgage originators license and have a small business brokering mortgages, mostly for freelancers and people to whom the banks normally say “No.” Every obstacle is an opportunity, and I help my clients find their own journey to financial freedom and wealth, which for many is accelerated and multiplied by real estate. I’ve lived through the boom and bust from 2000–2008 and saw what everyone was doing right — and wrong. A herd mentality in real estate is dangerous. This is applicable to other areas of life as well.
· a computer consultant. I’m not.
I learned to code when young, pre dot-com crash, and have built websites for entertainment companies, movie sites, and still geek out over computers. Today we are in an age of the side-hustle and monetizing muses remotely. The sharing/gig/outsource economy has broken down traditional barriers and removed significant obstacles such that anyone can be a digital nomad and build multiple streams of income. You don’t need to know how to code, but the basic programming of IFTTT (If This Then That), WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), and simple flow-charting have shown me that anyone can program their own process or system. In short, they can have a more effective approach.
· an angel investor. I’m not.
I belong to a dozen investing syndicates and exchanges wherein I invest in new businesses, start-ups, and ideas. This has taught me the power of long-term framing and the dangers of short-term thinking — always a recipe for disaster when investing (I still struggle with this today as it’s so tempting to buy the hot water cooler stock). I’ve also learned that most people don’t know their true identity or are living the one others expect. This leads to a pursuit of faulty business ideas, sometimes creating an additional job for themselves rather than freedom. Faulty thinking leads to faulty living.
· a marketing guru. I’m not.
But I’ve developed and produced so many films and TV shows that I’ve gained access to the creative ways in which marketing works — and doesn’t. There are rules, but some are broken every day. Nothing really matters if you don’t think about the marketing first. You need to reverse engineer the process when putting yourself or your ideas out there. How will you reach and find your scene? I’ve had to launch each movie or TV show as its own business, trying to find its audience (the secret is in narrow-casting, speaking directly to the tribe of a given product or service).
Then there’s this:
Why, when I just spoke to a camera operator on a specific camera set-up about which lenses to use, does this same person ask me the next day if interest rates will go up and if he should buy mutual funds or ETFs?
When an ex-girlfriend asked me for advice on buying real estate, it suddenly dovetailed into what she could do to find an extra hour in her busy day.
I have a producer friend who was discussing character arcs with me on a recent Academy Award winning movie when he randomly asked me if it was better to drive his own car daily to the office or use Uber. In answer, we figured out in two minutes that he could save hundreds of dollars a month and gain an extra half hour every day by taking Uber. This doesn’t include the benefit of meditating or getting into a deeper, focused state by the time he arrived at the office if he didn’t drive.
I keep having these encounters, and from people whom I care about, so I enjoy the process. When it becomes a distraction, I say “No.” I ask these questions as well. I’m curious. There is so much I don’t know.
I only have observations from life. These observations have helped me develop believable heroes on screen.
But why should heroes only be in the movies? Why can’t you be the hero of your own life?
Aside from my thoughts springing from having lived it (again, that 20/20 hindsight), the classic journey of the hero is so ingrained in my subconscious that it must impinge on my observations and advice I give others.
I see the movie in everyone. I see it in their overall story — where they are, who they are, and how they got there. I see it when someone is down, having a stressful day, perhaps arguing about work or debt. I see it when someone is lost, floating between identity and circumstance. I see it when a tough decision need be made or when the unrequited dream is out of grasp. All of these are stages of a story, just unfinished and missing critical scenes for simple advancement.
Film and TV have a finite timeline, so we producers have to boil down the repetitive habits (good or bad) and define that character trait in simple, digestible scenes. If someone is spinning their wheels or repeating the same mistakes, producers must correct quickly.
I sometimes observe a common detrimental behavior. I can only assume if this is a prevailing pattern, it’s inhibiting them, preventing them from advancing through requisite stages of their own hero. So this person’s movie is incomplete. It’s stuck on ‘pause,’ wearing down the person and everyone who’s watching their story attempt to unfold.
So I’ve become a reluctant, inadvertent observer. A pseudo “life coach,” you might say, even though I prefer not to be called that. I dislike that term and its often-associated negative connotations. There seem to be so many lately; there’s probably a coach bubble about to pop.
Of course, there are some very good ones. Few can hold a candle to the greats like Jim Rohn, Wayne Dyer, or Tony Robbins. They are the epitome of a true coach for your life. But similar to crazy therapists who give good therapists a bad rap, or bad contractors who make legitimate ones seem shady, there are self-improvement hucksters who give good coaches poor credibility. Sometimes only one bad apple spoils the lot.
I don’t want to pretend I know anything that I don’t. And there’s a lot I admittedly don’t know. So I’m not a life coach. I’m not a motivational speaker. I haven’t studied or trained or received any relevant degrees. True life coaches need to have legitimate, scientific training, and certification to transcend gimmicky coping mechanisms that only aid short term. Many who call themselves life coaches offer a Band-Aid, not a long-term solution.
I did coincidentally create and produce a TV show called “Life Coach” that aired for one season on Hulu, based on the distaste I have for counterfeit coaches. It was about a guy up to his ears in problems who decides to reinvent himself as a life coach and solve everyone else’s problems to distract him from his own.
This stemmed from a phone call from a colleague and friend of mine asking me for career advice. He’s a highly gifted and accomplished filmmaker who was at a temporary low point in his life. As happens with many in Hollywood, there was a period where he had no films on his plate. He was pitching TV ideas to various networks with no sale and going to auditions with no acting gigs on the horizon. He said to me: “I’m not sure I can afford cereal next week.” He was in his mid-40s; had no girlfriend, was in debt, had no job, and would soon have to leave the Westside apartment he’d lived in for 20+ years.
Seeing the comedy in almost everything, but also wanting to help, I said to him, “Let’s sell a TV show called ‘Life Coach.’ It’s all about you. You would star in it, play yourself a la Larry David style, and eventually get out of your on-screen funk and make money by advertising as a Life Coach helping others.” Bam. Idea born. Casting, development, financing, production. TV Series. Done. That really is my extent of experience with life coaches.
Through that process of the TV series, even though the show was fictional and died after one season, my colleague was able to follow his own fictional script in real life. He eventually produced his life in a way that conquered the temporary hurdles in front of him.
Again, I acknowledge there are amazing coaches out there. Should I ever meet one in person, I’d probably want to be one. I’m very interested in finding and hacking peak performance in all areas of life, and feel the key to most of that is from a device we already have: our inner hero.
It’s often easier for one to analyze another person’s situation or shortcomings. We can maintain emotional detachment and don’t have accompanying baggage and distractions. We can laser in on the problem with objectivity. When I was semi-life-coaching my colleague, he was probably life-coaching me at the same time. Perspective helps peel away noise and distraction.
This is why I feel therapy (this includes training and mentoring) is probably effective about 80 percent of the time. People need someone who knows how to listen. We need a third party professional who isn’t distracted by our past regrets and future anxieties. People need to verbalize their feelings so that their inner hero can hear the pleas and requests of the external hero. Reading a story is one thing. Telling/writing it is another — an exercise that I can attest is both therapeutic and life affirming.
That’s one reason I’m writing this book: to give you some pause, perspective, and perhaps lessons that may be applicable to you, as they have been to me. But I’m also journaling my own odyssey for the benefits the writing process engenders.
The idea of helping someone else based on my own experience has always come naturally. I’m not too proud to list my failures or too egocentric to share lessons learned from triumphs. This book contains both. I often find that dispensing advice helps solidify and steady my own compass. Writing this book is as much to help my process as it is to (hopefully) help yours.
I don’t know your whole story or the dozens of burdens you carry. I don’t even know who you are. “You,” as I will write throughout this book is a composite of everyone I have ever met, worked with, lived with, loved, lost, and encountered along my life-hike. So although I hope you think I’m writing specifically to YOU, YOU is an amalgamation of the collective “you,” aggregated from years of examination and thought.
Maybe you’re swapping balances from one credit card offer to another, and I know a better way for you because I’ve been there myself.
Or you left your job because you didn’t get a raise. Yet you haven’t sat down to do the math that shows you don’t really need that raise at all.
Maybe you spend 20 minutes standing in front of your closet deciding what to wear. I can improve on that process for you, saving you an aggregate of months of life for better time expenditure — speculation and prospect for meaningful things.
You complain there aren’t enough hours in the day, when, in truth, there are too many. Your idle hours attract anxiety, restlessness, unhappiness, and excessive consumption.
You’re busy. But you’re also confusing productivity with effectiveness. Were you truly effective, you would accomplish your task in less time — impactful time that works for, not against you. You need never be busy if you’re effective.
There’s an order in which you can accomplish tasks that will seem to slow time for you, equating to perhaps 36 hours a day instead of 24. You can utilize your brain power more effectively by following what Psycho physiologist Peretz Lavie calls “ultradian cycles.”
Although we all have the same hours in a day, I’m sometimes able to do two to three times more than others. I write this without pride, in an attempt to illustrate what is possible. I work smarter, less hard, and make every task a multiplier with a whiplash of ripple outputs. It didn’t come naturally. I had to dive deep and study certain techniques to form new habits.
From operations management in business school to economical storytelling in film and TV, it’s been an educational process that has altered my perspective and given me clarity on a host of negatives: redundancy, overabundance, stagnation, interference, deviation, mediocrity, uncertainty, equivocation, misinterpretation, angst, and exasperation.
Life is short and there’s a lot I want to accomplish. I want to do it stress-free in a state of happiness, which only comes from choice and presence.
There’s a conscious mentality required — and acquired — that I want to share. I have been doing this probably since before “life coach” was a two-word partnership. Part of it is learning to say “No” a lot. Those “No”s will summate to a big “Yes” when opportunity strikes.
Part of it is living authentically in your own narrative, not someone else’s. Part of it is understanding life is nothing but a set of sensory experiences that you can control by focusing on internal factors rather than external ones.
I’m a hybrid of sorts, and I suspect you are, too. But maybe you’re suppressing aspects of who you really are, denying your internal hero the journey it needs in favor of the external hero who might be wrongly focused on societal acceptance.
I’m curious to the point I investigate areas of behavior and immerse myself until I have a clear understanding. I want this book to be that deep dive for you, or at least the diving board to launch you into new pools of opportunity. We all have what I like to call “proximity potential.” But many of us don’t exploit it.
I like to know not just how things work, but why they work. And, sometimes important, why they don’t. I’ve asked myself this question my whole life, ranging from toys and toasters to camera equipment and complicated mortgage-backed securities; and more recently from motivation to the brain’s ability to fine-tune process and performance.
In particular, I’ve been fascinated by mathematics; not money per se, but the calculations behind accelerating inputs and multiplying outputs. This concept has helped me apply the principles of compound interest to varied parts of life beyond finance. I like to plant seeds, then harvest trees.
I’m able to take the time right now to write this book due to gardens tended long ago. But I’m still cultivating them for my future self. Always be a gardener of your life. There’s no better investment than the one you make in yourself, and the one you make today. Future You will thank Past You. Give You that amazing gift.
There’s a Chinese proverb that says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Everything that you are today, and everything you do, how you do it, why you do it, when you do it, is the result of the tree you planted 10 years ago. You are the tree’s fruit, bearing the result of the seeds of the past.
So the best thing you can do today is to tend the tree for tomorrow. Your future is nothing but the sum game of your current habits, choices, and plans. The ultimate test for yourself is what you can do today for your future.
I myself fall victim to this. I think, where would I be if I had started this two years ago? Where would I be with that had I started a month ago? I’ll never be able to do what he is doing because he started 20 years ago.
Those depressing reflections are a never-ending continuum. If every day I nurture new seeds of plants, those seeds will blossom in 1 week, 1 month, and 5 years from now. Growing at their own pace, those seeds of my decisions and habits today will become the trees I desire tomorrow.
At age 8, I read a children’s book called “The Great Brain” by John Fitzgerald. It affected me deeply. It was about a kid who learned how to monetize everyday occurrences. Now, as I look back at the book, I see that the protagonist was a con artist, tricking his little brother out of parts of his allowance and using semantics to win bets, etc.
But the book made me realize there was a different way to view chores, allowance, games, and everything else that occupied my childhood world. I was exposed to an alternate way to have more fun doing what I liked, outsourcing what I didn’t, and how to make money when there was demand (apologies to my sister, whom I charged 10 cents to enter my room whenever she wanted to play with me).
Allow me to give more context, as it dictates much of what this book is about.
Let’s take taxes, for example; that’s one subject no one can avoid. Everyone always talks about taxes; how much is being taken out of their paychecks; write-offs; should they form a corporation or get paid as a freelancer; etc. Even politicians (have you ever heard anyone run for any office who didn’t talk about taxes?). And how sobering is it that, on average, we Americans work until mid-May of every year just to pay our taxes, keeping what we make mid-May to December. We work 4.5 months just for the government. But you don’t have to. I can shorten that.
I’ve read the entire tax code — the whole damn thing. And I continue to read the updates every few years or so to keep current. My accountant was charging me $850 a year (eventually $3,000 with my various corporations) to prepare my taxes. Why do we all need accountants? After reading the tax code, doing my own taxes was easy. I now fundamentally understand the lens through which the government views the tax process and have benefited many times over because I have that knowledge. Don’t just do something because that’s the way it’s done. Society likes its members to ritualize a process so they don’t ask questions. And people fall in line like sheep, accepting inefficiency as law. But it’s not. Silicon Valley has proven that through disruption. Challenge breeds opportunity. There’s a lot we can learn from that.
Everyone has to cut their hair. If they have hair, they pay to get their hair cut. This is simply how “it’s done.” Obviously, if you have a complicated cut or complicated hair, I get it. You have a hairdresser. But for 99 percent of guys, it’s a big scam. Ask yourself: Why have I not learned how to cut my own hair? Time after time, I sit in the chair, look in the mirror and see exactly what they do.
When I was in college I would drive off campus to my hairdresser in Beverly Hills and pay $50 for a haircut. I realized that, with my needing a haircut basically every 4 weeks (typical for a guy with short hair), even without inflation, I was spending $650 a year. In 10 years, that’s $6,500. I don’t need to do the math for you. I went to the library and checked out a book on hairstyling. I read it and then cut my hair the next month. I’ve been doing it ever since for decades.
Next time you get your hair cut, assuming you get the same one you’ve been getting forever, watch what the stylist does. Record it on your iPhone if you have to. It’s not rocket science. Again, challenge breeds opportunity. And opportunity can make you wealthy.
Do you know what this $50 a month in haircut savings may add up to? That $50 a month with a conservative 8 percent return (the stock market has on average returned that, doing zero trading), is now worth $48,236, twenty-five years later. Almost $50,000. That is how much more money I now effectively have just because of haircuts.
Or let me put it to you more simply without getting your hair in a bunch: Do you think you could find $100 a month extra that you don’t need to spend? Maybe you can cut back on something frivolous or just develop the habit of saving. That’s just $25 a week. I suspect you can do that. Put that $100 every month into a simple index equity fund accessible to everyone on the planet (go right now to Vanguard and buy the “Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund”). Do that for 20 years straight. At that same historical 8 percent interest that the fund will earn on average, you now have $60,000 in 20 years. Think what this could be if you could sock away more than $100/month.
Most of you already know this concept. It’s not groundbreaking. But surprisingly few employ it.
Finance is just one obvious measure of its power. This math fundamental can be applied to anything: ideas, progress, habits, relationships, performance. Compounding small incremental daily moments adds up. You can have anything if you chip away at it. Tiny steps. Just do it, daily. It will be huge one day. It’s math; there’s no arguing with it. I will repeat this concept throughout the book to the point you may become completely annoyed. Sorry.
I ask “Why.” Why does something have to be done a certain way? Why does everyone approach a habit this way or that? Why is everyone frustrated that they have to do x or complain every afternoon about y? We only need observe something a few times to realize there’s a problem. We can’t be in denial about it. All problems have solutions. I’m a solutions guy. I hate dwelling on a problem; I want to identify it and clarify it. But that’s the extent of belaboring. I prefer to improve something that isn’t working.
In Hollywood, when we have tight deadlines and are spending gobs of money a day with a 45-person crew and have several million dollars worth of equipment on set, problems pop up every 6 minutes. That’s not scientific, but something I’ve observed as a producer. That’s 10 times in just one hour. So, as a producer, if I don’t solve those problems quickly, they will compound and become much larger issues which could derail the entire production.
I’ve learned from experience, trial, and error, to identify problems as quickly as possible and implement solutions that solve it conclusively so I can advance to the problem that’s almost sure to arrive 6 minutes later.
I love manuals. They demonstrate exactly how something functions. And by taking the initial time to properly learn, I can then improve and hack my way through that device’s initial purpose; know how to maintain it, make it work smarter and more effectively; and eliminate or automate what may later become headaches for others.
I would never be so presumptuous to write a manual for someone else’s life. I’m not even close to being in the right universe for such an undertaking. But I hope this book — my manual, as it were — helps you produce the manual for your life.
With TV shows and film, I’m in the back room making sausage. It’s messy and unglamorous. It’s where I put together pieces and junk no one wants to deal with, holding them up with temporary tape, fake sets, makeup, and lights, cheated angles and music that doesn’t play in real life. I’m the chef in the clunky back kitchen while the consumer sits out front at a nice table with a red carpet and low lighting.
I’m still just the kid opening the telephone and questioning how it works. I saw the film “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial” as a very young kid and wanted to know how that movie was made. I wanted to be Henry Thomas. I wanted my own Alien to hide in the closet and share with my friends, and ride in the night on my BMX bike. And for the first time, I paid attention to a film that said: “Produced by Steven Spielberg.”
Why do we all fall in love with the hero, want to be the hero, or otherwise relate to the hero? Any good movie or TV show has such a hero. You relate to, sympathize with, journey with through obstacles, and become connected to as she grows and transforms from her Ordinary World to her new Special World. It’s a formula that has stood the test of time. It works. It’s sort of a manual.
The main reason we fall in love with on-screen heroes is that we see ourselves in them; either who we are now, or who we want to be. While sitting in the comfort of our own home, we witness the hero doing what we wish we could do. We want that expedition. We want that wish fulfillment. We crave, in the moment, to be that hero who has, against odds, circumvented the ordinary for the spectacular.
There are clear traits (albeit often disguised depending on the genre) that a hero has. There are reasons you like a character or don’t.
That may be obvious to you. Some movies make it painfully obvious, using the same tropes with redundancy.
A likable father is a 30-year veteran of the police force and is retiring this week to spend time with his family (likable), but oops — just this week he’s got a crazy young trainee before he retires (obstacle). Or a cheating provider husband has just dumped his sweet wife (likable), so she has to hit the pavement looking for a job for the first time in 10 years (obstacle). Can the veteran police officer help the unpredictable trainee and learn something about millennials in the process, thus connecting more with his daughter upon retirement (hero)? Can the divorcee turn a job search into self-reflection and dream scenario to utilize the skills she’s always had for something better (hero)? In both cases — in ALL cases of the standard tropes we use — the obstacles become the catalyst and blessing in disguise to launch the hero into their new self. A transformation was in the kindling all along but needed a fire to ignite it.
When it comes to Reality TV, for example (don’t confuse “Reality TV” with reality), I immerse myself in different worlds based on the premise of the show I’m developing. In so doing, I must find a way to make that character believable and likable. I have to look at entities — society, business, group, family, couple, or single person — and see where they are, who they are, why they are; and then write/create/develop so that, as a producer, I can get them where they need to be. I pave that road for them so that they will become a sympathetic and passionate enough character for the viewer to care about. You want to see them succeed — but only if they’re relatable, with real flaws and obstacles, just like us. They need to be as authentic as possible, yet follow the path of the hero. They need to be accessible, but still possess the drive to acquire the tools to develop proper habits and modulate into their future selves.
As a producer, one of my functions is to shape heroes in film and TV. I give them a believable yet compelling adventure to go on that is never easy or necessarily expected, but they get there.
Everyone’s life is a movie. Everyone is currently in their own story, creating new pathways all the time with new endeavors and pursuits, large and small.
I want to help you, regardless where you are in your own life and how far down any path you’ve traveled, by detailing my observations alongside my own journey. I’m sure I could equally learn from yours.
It is merely the fact that I have utilized these heroic stages for two decades as the building blocks for my productions, that gives me any kind of credibility to be dispensing advice. That, and, of course, the power of 20/20 hindsight.
So, without further ado, I want you to become the person you want to be.
I want you to be the hero of your own movie.
I want you to be the hero of your own life.
“You’re supposed to be the leading lady in your own life, for God’s sake!”
- Kate Winslet in Holiday
CALL TO ACTION
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Thank you for reading my first post, from my first chapter, from my first book. I hope I can provide value and contribute to the conversation by posting more here. Thank you, Medium, for the opportunity!
ABOUT TERENCE MICHAEL: Emmy-nominated producer, Terence Michael, has produced over 20 movies and 30 TV shows. He additionally hosts 2 podcasts about the entertainment industry. In his spare time, he invests in real estate, runs a mortgage business, and consults entrepreneurs on how to monetize their passions and be happy in the process. Visit his portal.