Thursday, July 5, 2012

It Only Takes One


It Only Takes One

My grandfather told me it only took one mistake to mess up a whole day.

A teacher in Military School said it only takes one lie to be removed from the school.

In Little League, my baseball coach said it only takes one hit to be a hero.

In high school the basketball coast said in only takes one great basket to win the game.

My professor said it only takes one second to listen, learn and comprehend.

When I first arrived in Hollywood, my agent told me “Bill, it only takes one role to jump-start an acting career.” I look back on that and realize most of that advice was pure hype to get me excited to try harder. My grandfather used the phrase often and more than once he was right on target. How smooth the day would flow without mistakes, and if only we could live mistake free. What he really meant was the deliberate mistake we make every day thinking a little short cut or another won’t matter. One little lie will never be discovered. One irrefutable moment in a relationship, that we know will cause heartbreak, is done in spite of the warnings. What difference does it make?  How many times we think it won’t matter, much. Then we discover it not only mattered; it caused a broken heart, or someone lost his or her trust or faith in you perhaps never to be forgiven.

Yes, it only takes one. Tony Curtis said it only takes one joke to loosen the cast and crew, and he was right. The joke was usually well received; we laughed and had a great production day.

Rock Hudson told me it only took one decision to change direction, a career or the attitude of someone looking forward to putting a negative thought in your head. Rock was a star and lived a quiet private life. Few knew his compassion or that he helped so many and never took credit for any of it. Rock understood what Pay Forward meant and exercised it frequently. As I have discussed and written many times, he found me on the back lot at MGM studios with four flat tires. Someone had cut them as a joke, but it wasn’t much of a joke to me. My wife was pregnant and at home alone and I had no way to call her. Rock was testing his new convertible and found me quite by accident. He laughed and told me it would only take one minute and drove off. It was a bit longer than a minute but a truck showed up with four new tires, installed them and said it was all taken care of. He even let me use his two-way radio to call my wife and tell her I was okay. When I tried to pay Rock back or thank him, he changed the subject and asked what I really wanted to do. He saw me stand behind the producers and talk with the editor and guessed I was as interested in working behind the camera as I was in front of it. He asked me, “If you only have one choice, which would you pick?” I wasn’t sure by then which way I wanted to go. Standing six feet five inches created problems for a career. A few like Rock, made it work, but many actors stood six feet or under, and, in most cases' way under. Actresses were considerably shorter, so a guy my height was like a fish out of water. Behind the scenes was quite appealing. Rock laughed saying, “It only takes one second to make that decision, Bill, just one.” He was right.

It only takes one.

In the real world, we are all faced with making split-second choices. Some are good, some not, but we make them. It is our pick, and most of the time we have options. At the end of the day we are the engines that drive the body, and it’s our body to drive. It’s easy to blame others, but it also takes just one preference, one dastardly error to mess it up. On the bright side, it only takes one great selection to reach success, to make it all go in the right direction.

My grandfather had more wisdom in his little finger than most people I’ve met have in their entire lifetime. He taught me to respect others and their property, to reason and understand predicaments I placed myself in, and to stop and think before taking steps to eradicate my foolishness. If he said, “It only takes one…” once or a thousand times, there was always a reason he said it.

There are few phrases in life that have the deep meaning this statement creates, completes, resolves, or opens the heart and mind to understand.

As a singer who became an actor/writer and then a filmmaker without much guidance or having the convenience of a mentor, I use these four little words frequently. They make me stop and think to consider the options and help make the right decision. In each of the many learning facilities I attended, the one given was to listen after all; it only takes one mind-drifting moment to miss the most important part of the lesson. The same goes for everything we do. In marriage, friendship, making a movie, writing a song, screenplay or novel it takes one great phrase, one beautiful sentence, one particularly rewarding statement or one fantastic scene in a film or television show that will be remembered by those who saw or read your work. It only takes one.

When I make a film, I like to choose the different genre and mix things up. I have made the action thrillers but in film, my favorite genre is family fare. Some of my most successful films were comedies like The Man From Clover Grove, The Adventures of Ragtime and Quigley. Each had kids and animals and lots of “it only takes one shot” to make scenes work better.

I write novels the same way and mix up the genre frequently. It was fun writing my memoir The Hard Way as our early life was quite remarkable, and I got tired of hearing people say, “Why don’t you put that in a book?” So I did. As a screenwriter, like almost everyone I know who writes for the screen, we have many stories that didn’t make it to the big screen. Many have sold scripts; some multiple times only to have the rights revert back to you when the options run out. We have piles of stories, again some good, some not. The special ones find a place in our hearts and minds. When you open the filing cabinet it only takes one moment to find the next adventure. You pick some of your favorite stories. Veronique and Murray is one of those. I sold the script five or six times. I think I re-sold it to one company twice. Everyone loved it, said it would be a hit, but it never got the green light and missed the big screen by “this much.” Now it’s one of my favorites and best-selling novels.

My agent once told me I should create a hero series of films, and thus Rollie Kemp came to life. I modeled him after my buddy who just happened to be a former FBI/CIA and Secret Service Agent. He also started and ended his law enforcement career as a detective. He was the nicest man I ever met, the kindest and the most lethal rolled into one complex personality. One moment he would take off his shirt and offer it to you, or help an old lady across the street. Then, in a heartbeat, he could drop a guy twice his size and disarm him. I thought Rollie Kemp should have all of what John had. So I developed ‘Ghosts and Phantoms Part I The Beginning.’  Rollie became the epitome of “it only takes one and pays forward.” John saved lives and took some that didn’t belong, and I thought how cool would it be to create a character so complex he didn’t know what made him tick and yet could solve the damndest of mysteries. I wanted a guy, who would help children and the elderly right in the middle of saving the world. So I introduced Rollie Kemp in ‘Part I The Beginning,’ and made him as messed up as I could. To say he has baggage is putting it mildly.

Like my grandfather always pointed out, don’t spider-web, pick one. I had already written a mini version of my memoirs but hadn’t put the finishing touches on it. I was once again ahead of my own feet. So after drafting the second part of Ghosts and Phantoms, I put it aside and completed the memoir. As I had done everything in life the hard way, I got tired of people saying I should put that in a book. When you start at the bottom with the clothes on your back and rise to walk above it all, perhaps a few words will help someone else who is currently in the situation I found myself.

To paraphrase my grandfather, things happen quickly and there will be times you only have one right option to make out of multiple choices. Throughout life there will be a stumble or two, some of the judgment calls you make will be the wrong ones, but it won’t be the end of the world. When I completed Part II, I felt Rollie Kemp was together enough to survive in the real world.

I broke away from the serious thriller scene to write Veronique and Murray, another screenplay-turn-novel and one of my favorite stories. In this story Murray has multiple times where he must make one decision. The quirky theme, nutty fun characters are all based on individuals I have had the pleasure of meeting at one time or another. The plot is complex and full of right turns that take us in the huge circle. It was time to laugh, be intrigued and have fun reading the book. I guess that worked based on the reviews and emails I’ve received.

I had to come back to Rollie Kemp. In the third book, APRIL, I tested Rollie, put him in jeopardy, made it impossible to survive and still pulled him to safety at the right moment. I played with the character to understand how he should deal with a situation and get out alive. I confronted him with choices and gave him but one way to solve each situation. It was fun to build a man you can look up to, trust, like and wished you had a friend just like him. He’s like ten perfect men all rolled into one guy. Women like him, men identify with him and his enemy believes he’s vulnerable only to discover he always has a surprise up his sleeve. From here on, the Rollie Kemp adventures will be fun to create, but he will continue to make one decision at a time.

William Byron Hillman © 2012
Book Links:
Veronique and Murray: http://tinyurl.com/8xrmmu7
Rollie Kemp Books
Ghosts and Phantoms Part I: http://tinyurl.com/6wxef7g
Ghosts and Phantoms Part II: http://tinyurl.com/d7mtspu
APRIL: http://tinyurl.com/7gt9prd