Friday, August 24, 2012


What exactly is a success? Are there different levels of being successful? The answer is yes. Sometimes being successful has nothing to do with money or financial rewards, but rather a personal measure that can only be defined by those making the effort.
When I produce a film, for example, many people are hired and how they do their job benefits their career and future recommendations. Some I meet only once or twice early in the preproduction process, and then again, when we start shooting.  Most of these people know their job well and do not need to be seen for them to perform to the perfection expected. Nevertheless, a wardrobe person must listen and be trusted or a disaster is in the making. We meet to discuss dressing the actors, and unless it’s a period piece that requires specific wardrobe costumes, something dealing with present day is easier but not easy. If the script is read and there is no mention of bright-red tennis shoes, and the actors show up on the set in red Reeboks, that’s not cool. That wardrobe person didn’t listen, and their success rate slipped a notch or two. Many jobs on a movie set require a successful background, and that has nothing to do with how much money they have. It does matter what their rate of pay might be on their next job.
To a writer, albeit for the screen or a novel, the success comes from building their audience, creating a following, structuring who they are and how they sell themselves to their potential buyers. For the writer who has struggled for years on end, been turned down by every agency in the business, had his or her work criticized negatively, been rejected by all publishers they approached and finally when all else has failed they find their way to self-publishing, and their work becomes a hit. The size of the hit is not as important as the audience that has been found and hungers for another book. That spells success.
Success comes when writers help one another. It is, after all, a very small world we live in. Many writers write alone and their lives follow that pattern until, or unless they find their audience and a bit of success does happen. It’s a lonely profession. I remember being a staff writer at one of the movie studios. I had written a draft of a script, and one of the other writers came over to look it over for me. He first read the content, and we discussed the story. He made several suggestions, some good ones that I ended up using with his permission. When we were all done, he quietly pointed out a few typos and didn’t make a big deal out of it. I remember that to this day. They were easy fixes, but the script would’ve been sent out with them uncorrected, and he saved by butt and some embarrassment.
I always tell students, not everyone will like your work. Not everyone will see eye to eye with your story content. Does that make it an ominous decision? The answer is no of course not. If you gave a thousand books away and only fifty liked it, does that make it harmful, and once again, it may surprise you there’s good news in that message. What you just did was find fifty readers who will look for your next book and most likely buy it. Amazingly, you found part of your audience. I’ve had people hate a screenplay and tell me to my face how horrible it was, how painful just to read and get through it. A month later I sell that same screenplay, and then it ends up making a pretty good movie. More importantly the film made money, and thus I had another audience for my work.
In the film business, unlike books, you are only as good as your last hit. With books, your audience tends to be loyal to you and will follow you and your work. As you build into your success, the reader enjoys it all the more. If you only write one genre, and it happens to be a series, your toes need to be very strong to hold you up, as your stories need to keep their attention with fresh and unique things for your limited characters to do. If you write a variety of genres without type casting your work, your audience will come to expect a bit of the unusual and accept a wide range of storylines. If you stick to one genre and limit the story lines, for example, writing about killers, rapists, military subjects or terrorist, then you need to create wonderful lead characters the audience will love, identify with and seek to follow. Any of the above will spell success when done with passion.
Success allows you to grow and once again this has nothing to do with your monetary world. It will eventually have great meaning, but not early on. No one can make a storyteller. If you have the gift, you can write. The writing part is also an art that no one can give to you. If you’ve ever read the paragraph, many schools use to show us how gullible we are, then you have read a horribly written string of misspelled words and language usage and yet you, the reader, understands the entire paragraph and can explain what it meant. That said there are some great books written with poor language, typos and some unique spelling and then went on to be best sellers. I am not suggesting you ignore your errors and know you will fix as many as you can find or your editor will discover, but perfection is hard to achieve with so many written words. Often times you will pick up a book written by a famous best-selling author and see typos. Most of these writers have professional editors, and yet they miss some bad usage or words missing or misused. It happens to the best, and it will happen to you no matter how many times to re-read your work. Unless every page is horrible, these mistakes are forgivable if the story holds. The reader sees the error and then forgets about it, so they can devour the next page. That, my friends, is part of the success you achieve when you find your audience.
As a filmmaker, success is not measured by your financial wealth. Success is based on how your film sold and if people came back a second time or bought the DVD of your film. It helps if they not only like the story but how the overall film looks. Were the actors dressed right, use the right gadgets; drive the right cars and travel to locations that captured your imagination? If they loved it all, then you made a successful film that will be remembered. Once an audience remembers you will be asked to make another film. You’ve earned a moment of success. What continues to be true is you are only as good as your last film.
As an actor, success comes from how good, your performance is and can you hold the attention of the audience. Do they like you and your character portrayal? Once they like you, they will always like you even when you work in a turkey. Unless you keep making junk, they will forgive one or even a couple but not all of your additional work. That’s when a star becomes a has-been.
Authors face a similar situation when the first part is the storytelling of your planned journey. If your three best friends love it or are afraid to tell you it stinks, but the next thousand hate it, you might want to try another genre or refreshed characters in a different setting. The story is everything, and that goes for film and television. Story, story, story. If you can tell a story and have people listen and enjoy the tale, you are a storyteller. Can you write? Only you will know the answer to that. No one can do it for you. No one can make you a writer any more than they can make you a storyteller. Once you find your handle, you have just received your first dose of success, and each step you take after that brings more success.
Communication skills also help and they can be taught, honed and perfected. Do you respond to fans? Always. Do you answer emails? Everyone.  Do you return phone calls? Each one is like finding treasure. Does anger help? Never. Can you write a good letter? Try, try and try again. They get better every time you write one. Do they help? Success can’t be obtained if you live in a dark bedroom. Communication is part of being visible.
Financial success usually comes after you’ve discovered. How successful you become is basically up to you, after all, isn’t that what you are trying to do?
The best part of success comes when you can choose what you want to do, turn down what you don’t, and be happy with your decisions.
Over the years, I’ve had the luxury of doing many things, acting, writing, producing, directing and filmmaking. I’ve written songs, music scores, created and directed commercials, and I’ve also stumbled. I’ve done good things and bad things, had successes and failures and through it all have enjoyed every moment. As one of my mentors pointed out to me early on, you cannot please all the people as that will never happen. There will always be someone who does not like what you do, including your greatest success. The secret is to enjoy the journey, be happy with what you do and sincerely care about others. What they think you can’t change, but you can entertain most of them, in one way or another. A smile goes a long way and certainly makes you feel better. The best part comes when you help someone else and because of what you do, that little effort opens a door for their success.

Success. It’s right at the corner.

William Byron Hillman © 2012
Book Links:
Veronique and Murray:
Zebra’s Rock and Me

Rollie Kemp Books
Ghosts and Phantoms Part I:
Ghosts and Phantoms Part II:

Coming soon: Quigley’s Christmas Adventure

Friday, August 3, 2012


Are We Really This Gullible?

I’m afraid the answer is yes. We are so taken in by what we read in the newspapers and the Internet or what we hear on television, radio, newscasters and/or politicians that we just assume it’s the truth.

It sort of reminds of when I see a sign that boldly states, “Live Entertainment” and I used to add, “That’s great as opposed to the alternative Dead Entertainment.”

When I went off to start my entertainment career, I toured the country as the lead singer in a rock band. We were a bunch of misfits, or so it must have looked to those who appeared to enjoy us. Our drummer was a black kid from Chicago who never stopped smiling. Even when he had the flu, he smiled. He just loved life. The bass player was a Hispanic kid from Mexico City; the lead guitar came from France and then there was me, the tall white kid with the golden voice. We played in nightclubs, country clubs, graduations, weddings, church events and even prisons. Everywhere we went to people told us how good we were, and we believed it. Fact was we fully expected a record company to jump out of the crowd and sign us up. We were a band of brothers who could do no wrong until we played at a high-school graduation. The first set was fabulous and the kids danced, laughed and had a ball. During the break we, the four about to become super stars, ducked behind the curtains to chill out. We were having a great time until we heard two girls talking. One said: “The band stinks.” And the other happily added "So “So does their singer. Hasn’t anyone ever told him how terrible he is?” The other girl giggled and added, “Maybe we should tell them to get a real job.” We heard them walk off and for the first time in years the smile on our drummer’s face was gone. We finished the gig, but it was never the same after that night.

When I got to Hollywood, my agent told me I’d be a star. I believed her too. I appeared in plays, did lots of day work, and became a regular on the soap opera Days of our Lives and then fully expected stardom. After a few more years I realized one in a thousand or maybe that number is one in five-hundred thousand make it while the rest drift around, settle for a few jobs here and there and most eventually give up and move on. Most of those were at one time or another told they were great and would be stars, and they all believed what they were told. We were all gullible.

We all truly believe things are great until we discover they’re not.

When I wrote my first screenplay, I had others read it. They all told me how great it was. I had just written the next Gone with the Wind. Even my agent said it was great, and I believed her. She submitted it to several studios, and they all turned it down. Then I got a phone call from the head of the story department at one of the studios, she had submitted the script to and who had also turned it down. The man asked if I would mind meeting him the following day at the studio. When I told my agent about the meeting, she immediately assumed it was great news, and that they had reconsidered and I was about to make my first sale.
The meeting didn’t quite go as she thought, or I hoped it would. The man asked me to sit and when I did the first thing he said was "Your “Your screenplay is terrible.” My heart sank and for a few minutes, I didn’t hear a word he said, and then he smiled and stopped talking. Suddenly, he had my attention. I felt like I was back in school or my grandfather was about to say something important.
“You really believed this was good didn’t you?”
“Yes,” I admitted. “Everyone who read it liked it.”
“And you believed them?” He sat back and waited for my answer.
“Why would they lie to me?” I asked.
“Because they didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
“If I can’t believe my friends and agent, who can I believe?”
His hesitation gave me plenty of room to think and for the life of me; I couldn’t come up with an answer. I studied his face. He was an older gentleman with a twinkle in his eyes that somehow made me relax.
“There is only one person you can trust, that you can truly believe to be honest with you.”
“Who?” I said it too quickly and wished it hadn’t slipped out.
“You,” he answered. “What you’ve written here is a very good concept for a very commercial film. You rushed the script, and wrote it without vision. Each scene needs to be seen in your head with your eyes closed. Each change must fit comfortably into the next, and the dialog needs to flow like your listening to a conversation between friends, strangers or acquaintances.”
“I’m not sure I can do that.” I said, and I knew he heard the disappointment in my voice.
“I’ll tell you what I am willing to do. You go home and re-write this from page one. The whole of your story has already created an organic structure and while it’s in skeleton form, it works. When you have twenty-five pages, bring them to me. We’ll have coffee while I read what you have done.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because you have talent that needs a little push. I can't guarantee the studio will buy what you end up writing, but I think you will learn to trust and help yourself.”

I admit it. I was and probably in some ways am still gullible.

The head of the story department critique was a wake-up call, like getting slapped in the face.

I did as he requested and over a couple of months rewrote and polished the screenplay. The studio didn’t buy it, but another production company did. When I tried to thank him for his help, he told me I owed him nothing. He told me one day, when someone else needs help, perhaps it will be your time to help him or her. It was, after all, once again a form of what my grandfather had instilled into my heart – pay-forward had resurfaced.

I hear people use that term today, but they have no idea the true meaning of what it means to pay forward. Give from the heart; expect nothing in return, and complete your mission is all it takes.

Over the years, I have enjoyed writing about many different genres, but all have a common thread of humor and humanity. I also learned not everyone will like your work or will say nice things about it. Truth is some will hate what you do and will try to discourage you and to them; I say no way. You can’t please all the people all the time so don’t try. If you believe in self-others will too, and you will eventually find your audience and the voice in which you write. I am grateful that Veronique and Murray are finding its audience, much like my Rollie Kemp thrillers are.

On the other hand.

If you believe what others say without checking the facts, you are assuming what is said or written is factual and true and then you my friends and readers are indeed gullible.

William Byron Hillman © 2012
Author Page:
Book Links:
Veronique and Murray:
The Hard Way:
Zebra’s Rock and Me

Rollie Kemp Books
Ghosts and Phantoms Part I:
Ghosts and Phantoms Part II: