Regrets… & Why They Should Propel Us

All our lives we’ve heard the proclamation “no regrets”. We’ve seen it on bumper stickers and T-shirts. finally after 48 years I’m coming to the conclusion that a life with no regrets is probably a life not fully lived.

The idea of regrets is typically sold to us in a dreadful manner. They speak to failure and missed opportunities, but I’m here to say that regrets can be the catalyst that launch our newfound selves. They can lead us into a new ways of living.

Recently I was speaking with my son in China, who has two months remaining of his six-month stay there. I encouraged him to get out, to go, and to do; to experience as much of the culture as he can while he’s there. I also told him that in my life I don’t tend to have regrets about what I’ve done, but moreso, I regret the things I didn’t do.

My regrets tend to be about wishing that I had done more with the opportunities I was presented with. For example, back in 1989 I had received my first job out of college. It was an odd situation where I was the only full-time employee at a small television station in upstate Wisconsin. The station’s license with the Federal Communications Commission was being kept alive by our mother station in Milwaukee for the purposes of relocation at some point in the future. My job was to keep us “on air” for the bare minimum number of hours required by the FCC. So, at 4:30 PM every weekday I would arrive at the station and fire up the transmitter. At 5 o’clock each evening I would begin broadcasting pre-recorded programs until 11 PM at night when I would sign off the air, fill in the log book, and fire down the transmitter. I worked these shifts in complete solitude. I would insert the public service announcements, the weather, and any other pertinent information that needed to be aired between programs. Once in a blue moon I’d answer a phone call from a viewer and on Wednesday’s the station engineer would bring a box of tapes that would provide the content for another 7 days.

After the first week or two on the job, it became pretty routine. And it didn’t require my full attention, so I found myself with lots of time on my hands each evening. I remember spending some of that time working on a stage play that would never be finished and as I clacked away on the old electric typewriter I would occasionally look over at the dark, empty studio where several television cameras sat on tripods pointed at nothing.

A couple of times I used the cameras to work on projects. I remember creating a demo reel that would help me get my next job, but for the most part, night after night, week after week, those cameras sat silent and unused. No, my bosses at the mother station 200 miles away never told me that I needed to use the cameras, but they also never told me that I couldn’t use the cameras. Looking back, I could have had those things running every single day. I could’ve come into the studio early and made use of them. I could’ve created a new community television series to help the station better connect with its audience. I could’ve, I could’ve, I could’ve… but I didn’t. And in the didn’t, that’s where my regrets piled up. That was also the first time I realized that a camera without a project is an absolutely worthless piece of electronic wizardry. I only lasted at the job for 6 months. When I turned off the transmitter for the final time I packed up my regrets, took them with me, and moved on.

Almost a decade later, I was up for a producing position with a company I really wanted to work for. They had flown me me across the country to interview, it had gone really well, and I ended up being their number two pick. I was disappointed and depressed. I remember regretting a moment during the job interview when I said no to something when I really should have said yes. They asked if I had any experience Line Producing, and at the time I didn’t know what line producing meant, so I said no. In reality I had line produced, it just wasn’t a term that I was familiar with. And I’ve look back at that moment during that interview for the last 20 years thinking that was the moment that guaranteed I didn’t get the job.

I regretted it instantly. I remember finding out that I wasn’t their person for the position and getting depressed, but it didn’t last long. I had been working as a producer in Virginia and I’ll never forget the day after I learned that I didn’t get the job, I walked into the studio where I worked and I announced to my colleagues that I was going to embark on making a feature motion picture. It was crazy. I had never before attempted anything like that. It was probably the biggest declaration of my life and it changed who I was and it would never have happened without the regret that I had of saying the wrong thing at that interview.

Once I spoke the words out loud that I was “making a film”, I found myself. I also had instant accountability. I knew that if I didn’t succeed in making that film, my coworkers would always know that I was a failure. So by speaking those words it gave me a sense of accountability that pushed me to complete my task. I immediately set out to write the screenplay and 10 months later we were in production on the picture. My regret become my motivator. My disappointment in not getting what I wanted opened the door to my new life.

Regrets come in all shapes and sizes. Some are much bigger than others. Some of the decisions that we make can really impact our lives for the worse. But I would encourage each of us to not look on our regrets with disappointment, but to look on our regrets with hope. A life with no regrets is surely a life not lived. May the regrets in your life propel you to do great things.

Dear Father Time… where did you go?

The other day I heard from a new mother who was anxious to get back to work. She reached out to me to see if she could use my name as a reference in her job search and, of course, I said, “yes.” Her baby is only a two months old and mom is already turning her attention to her résumé.

As I reflected on how little time we each get with our kids I was reminded of a math calculation I performed about a decade ago when all my kids (I have 6) were under 10. Somewhere I had come across the idea of having one good hour of “quality time” with your child per week, and I thought, “how much does one hour per week really add up to?”

So the math was pretty simple…1 hour per week x 52 weeks = 52 hours per year. Now let’s say your child will move out for college when they are 18 years old. So, 18 years x 52 hours = 936 hours. And this is where I started to get depressed; when I performed the math to determine how few days this really is. I took the 936 hours and divided it by 24, and that’s when I realized that if you spend 1 hour per week of “quality time” with your child for 18 years you will spend a total of 39 days with your kid.

Yes, you read that right… only 39 twenty-four hour periods. If you want to feel a little better let’s put it into 8 hour increments (like work days). So we’ll take the 936 hours and divide them by 8 hour days. Now we have a whopping 117 days with our kids. To put that into perspective, your average work year is approximately 250 work days (fifty 40 hour weeks). So the average employee will spend twice as much time THIS year working at their job than a 1 hour per week “quality time” parent will get with their child over 18 years.

As I did the math and scratched my head I realized I was in trouble. You see, I have 6 kids and rarely do I get 15 minutes of “quality time” with any of them, much less, each of them! I’m a filmmaker and a small business owner and I work long days, and I occasionally have to travel, and I bring work home on weekends, and my phone connects me to email and business texts during meals and while we’re at baseball games and while we’re sitting in traffic. You can see why I can get depressed about this!

It was years and years ago that my wife and I committed to have family meals as often as we possibly can. And we committed to family vacations, and family car trips, and family runs to the grocery store, etc., etc. We’d do our best to make up for the lack of “quality time” with “quantity time” and we committed to making the most of the quantity time we had with our kids.

Today our oldest is a junior in college, but I’ll never forget that first night we brought her home from the hospital as a newborn and she slept all night long curled up on my chest. Time is fleeting. None us are guaranteed tomorrow and even if we were, our kids grow up so stinkin’ fast. 39 days goes very quickly and for many of us a bunch of those days are already gone. So my plea to new parents, like my friend who was polishing her résumé, is to be intentional about being with your kids. Teach them about life every chance you get… through words, deeds, and example. And of course, don’t forget to hug the hell out of them.

 

How many “F****” are too many in a film?

WARNING: This post contains a few words some readers may find offensive!

Motion Pictures have not always been saturated with vulgarities. And before you click away thinking my argument is one for purity of language within cinema, please don’t… two of my recent films contain the F-word. I’m writing instead to show how much the industry has changed since 1939 when the world first heard the word “damn” from the silver screen.

In the early days of Hollywood there was much more concern and respect for what audiences saw and heard. Filmmakers and studio heads were not quick to alienate the movie-going public. There were a few attempts at codifying some principals and guidelines for filmmakers that culminated in 1930 with the introduction of the Motion Picture Production Code or the Hays Code as some call it, in reference to it’s author William H. Hays.

The Production Code provided a list of Don’ts and Be Carefuls that helped guide filmmakers and the industry from 1934, when it was enforced, to 1968 when the rating system was introduced. Some of the Dont’s on the list included “pointed profanity,” “licentious or suggestive nudity,” and the “ridicule of the clergy,” while some of the Be Carefuls were “the use of firearms,” “sympathy for criminals,” and “man and woman in bed together.” This list obviously speaks to the sensitivities of the general public of the time, but also to the responsibility that filmmakers took, realizing that their films were cultural influencers.

In October of 1939, producer & studio executive, David O. Selznick wrote a letter to the overseer of the production code, Mr. Will Hays. Selznick requested special permission to use the word “damn” in the now immortalized line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” in his film Gone With the Wind. Think about that… a Producer requesting permission to use the D-word! And he did it with such elegance and conviction that only a genius from 1939 could have pulled off (see the full letter below). The film itself would go on to win 10 Academy Awards.

In the letter Selznick tried to convince Hays that this one exception of “damn” wouldn’t lead to more.

“I do not feel that your giving me permission to use “damn” in this one sentence,” Selznick wrote, “will open up the floodgates and allow every gangster picture to be peppered with “damns” from end to end.”

Selznick was right and unfortunately he was wrong. In 1990 Martin Scorsese’s gangster film Goodfellas was not peppered with “damns”, but instead with “fucks”. As Michael Medved pointed out in his book Hollywood vs. America, the 146 minute Goodfellas contained 246 F-words… peppered from end to end.

Do audiences really want more F-words? Medved included a quote in his book by Richard Pine, a respected literary agent in the business, who said, “Nobody ever walked out of a movie and said, ‘Gee, that was a great picture, but the only problem was they didn’t say “Fuck” enough.’ Who thinks like that?”

So how many “F****” are too many? I, personally, would think that perhaps 246 should probably be considered a tad “excessive”. But that’s just me. In 2013, Martin Scorsese would go on to break his own record in his film The Wolf of Wall Street. His new personal best over doubled his previous high with more than 500 uses of the F-word.

My films, on the other hand, pale in comparison. Rebellion of Thought and Stained Glass Rainbows each use the F-word only once and both times it occurs in spontaneous man-on-the-street interviews where I felt it made sense to leave it in the picture based on the context and content. In both cases it gives insight into the characters, the environment, and is not used in a gratuitous manner.

We’ve come long, long way since 1939. I wonder what a Martin Scorsese picture would look like if he would make one under the guidelines of Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. My guess is that he would do a brilliant job with it and that most audiences would not consider it puritan. Today, many filmmakers no longer consider the weight of their role and their responsibility to the movie-going public. And unfortunately, if you complain about it, I’m afraid they might just say, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a f***”.


 

I’ve included Selznick’s letter in its entirety below. It’s well worth the read.

Selznick Pleads to Retain Famous Line

October 29, 1939
Hollywood. California

Dear Mr. Hays—

As you probably know. the punch line of Gone With the Wind, the one bit of dialogue which forever establishes the future relationship between Scarlett and Rhett, is, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Naturally I am most desirous of keeping this line and, to judge from the reactions of two preview audiences, this line ls remembered, loved, and looked forward to by the millions who have read this new American classic.

Under the code, Joe Breen is unable to give me permission to use this sentence because it contains the word “damn,” a word specifically forbidden by the code.

As you know from my previous work with such pictures as David Copperfield. Little Lord Fauntleroy, A Tale of Two Cities, etc., I have always attempted to live up to the spirit as well as the exact letter of the producer’s code. Therefore. my asking you to review the case, to look at the strip of film in which this forbidden word is contained, is not motivated by a whim. A great deal of the force and drama of Gone With the Wind, a project to which we have given three years of hard work and hard thought, is dependent upon that word.

It is my contention that this word as used in the picture is not an oath or a curse. The worst that could be said against it is that it is a vulgarism, and it is so described in the Oxford English Dictionary. Nor do i feel that in asking you to make an exception in this case, I am asking for the use of a word which Is considered reprehensible by the great majority of American people and institutions. A canvass of the popular magazines shows that even such moral publications as Woman’s Home Companion, Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s and The Atlantic Monthly, use this word freely. i understand the difference, as outlined in the code, between the written word and the word spoken from the screen, but at the same time l think the attitude of these magazines toward “damn” gives an indication that the word itself is not considered abhorrent or shocking to audiences.

I do not feel that your giving me permission to use “damn” in this one sentence will open up the floodgates and allow every gangster picture to be peppered with “damns” from end to end. I do believe, however, that if you were to permit our using this dramatic word in its rightfully dramatic place, in a line that is known and remembered by millions of renders, it would establish a helpful precedent, a precedent which would give to Joe Breen discretionary powers to allow the use of certain harmless oaths and ejaculations whenever. in his opinion, they are not prejudicial to public morals.

David O. Selznick2

2 Letter from David O. Selznick to Will Hays, from David O. Selznick Collection. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. The University of Texas at Austin.