iMahal Interview Series:
November 12, 2000
Your entire career has been spent in the media industry. Was there ever any doubt about this career path along the way?
Let me tell you a story. When I was a little kid growing up in Clinton, Missouri, on a cattle farm 80 miles south of Kansas City, I went to a country schoolhouse, with 21 students in first to eighth grade, all in one room. One day in third grade the teacher, Miss Akers, asked us all what we wanted to do when we grew up. Bobby would say, "I want to be a farmer like daddy," and Johnny would say, "I want to be a fireman." The usual. When it was my turn, I said, "I want to make films."
This didn't go over very well. People were actually saying to my parents, "You know, you need to talk to him, because he's delusional, thinking he wants to make films for a living." But that's what I wanted to do all my life, and I'm very fortunate that I got to do it, and I don't even know where it came from. Actually maybe I do. I think it came from my sister; she had an interest in this sort of thing. She didn't pursue it, though. She got a masters degree, became a schoolteacher, and married the principal. But I wound up pursuing it and I've never looked back. It's the career for me, no question.
You never wavered and no one ever got you to think seriously about alternative careers?
They asked me again in eighth grade, and again in high school. All the way through. But it was just obvious to me from the beginning. And by the way, many people tried to discourage me. They always said, "You know, you can't do that. Don't bother to try." I labeled these many people who tried to dissuade me along the way. I call them the 'Discouragement Fraternity.' I cannot tell you the number of people who said, "You can't."
And for some reason it never occurred to me that I couldn't. I moved forward until I got a job in a television station as a cameraman and wound up being the anchorman by the time I graduated from college and then wound up at CBS News. Then it was for me a logical progression: industrial videos, "The Making of" films, documentaries, and then directing feature films. It's been a steady climb. The interesting thing is that my hometown has written articles about me in their newspaper. When I was back there for a reunion, my god, they all crowded around me and I thought it was kind of fascinating that they all said, "You know, we all knew you would do it!"
This sounds like something you are passionate about, not listening to the naysayers.
That is very true. A few years ago I made a film called Masters of Success with some of the most wealthy self-made people in America. The reason I made that film was because I wanted show people who had gone out and made a success of themselves despite the naysayers. People like Dave Thomas who started Wendy's and Frank Robinson who started the Robinson Helicopter Company. All these guys appear in my film and they tell how they did it. I wanted to make that documentary because I wanted to put a stop to this 'Discouragement Fraternity' mentality. The world is full of young men and young women who are never going to realize their goals or their potential in life because they believed it when somebody told them, "You can't do it." For some reason, I didn't accept this advice; I paid no attention and kept on trudging. But unfortunately, most people will believe it. It's shocking, the numbers of people who are stopped in their tracks from achieving their goals -- goals that I think they were put here to achieve. I think it's tragic and that's why I wanted to make that film.