“If you can dunk a basketball and hit a three point shot, and you can dominate your middle school basketball team and you live in Nebraska, they find you.”
Author Malcolm Gladwell (on those with special talent)
Interview on The Tim Ferriss Show
This is a nice follow-up to my last post. I’m often drawn to sports
analogies and how they relate to the world of screenwriting & filmmaking.
I agree with Gladwell’s above quote that “they find you.” But that doesn’t mean—even if you have exceptional talent—that you’ll be the next Stephen Curry or Lebron James. Or that you’ll even make it to the NBA.
Remember the Hoop Dreams documentary? It became an instant favorite of mine when it was released in 1994, and it hasn’t lost any shine since then. William Gates and Arthur Agee are literally middle school basketball phenoms in Chicago when the movie opens.
The film directed by Steve James follows Gates and Agee through their high school careers and the ups and downs of that season of their lives. And while both got to play college basketball, neither made it to the NBA.
One more story from the sports world is over the weekend I came across a 2002 article I kept on the best high school football players in the Southeastern United States (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, etc.). College Football is big in that area and in the past fifteen years 10 of the college national football championships have been won by teams in the Southeastern region.
I’ve long forgotten what research I was doing in 2002, but I thought it would be interesting to see how many big name players were on the list almost 15 years later. Players that went on to achieve great things in college and perhaps even star in the NFL.
I’m more than a casual follower of college and pro football, but I only recognized one name; Chris Leak. He was that rare middle school talent that was actually offered a football scholarship to Wake Forest in 8th grade. In high school he led his high school team to three consecutive state championships. Three! He was named a Parade magazine All-American.
He received a scholarship to the University of Florida where in 2007 he was the starting quarterback as the Gators won the National Championship and named MVP of the championship game. (Tim Tebow, a freshman then, was Leak’s back-up quarterback.) All that to say Leak was a phenomenal athlete in high school and college.
And though he was drafted by the Chicago Bears he didn’t play a single down in a regular season NFL game. It doesn’t take away from his career—and Leak did play pro football in Canada and with the arena football league. But it does show the level of competition as you move up the food chain and arrive at the highest level in your chosen field. (Remember Leak was the only name I recognized out of the Southeastern list of top high school football players in 2002.)
Somewhere out there I imagine there’s more than one eighth grade filmmaker who is cleaning up awards at local student film festivals. They will find him or her. For everyone else with less than extraordinary off 0f the charts talent—it may take a little time. (A writer on the documentary Showrunners spoke about how he was ready to take the world by storm after graduating from UCLA film school. He got his first real writing job when he was 33. But they found him.)
Do your writing and filmmaking thing wherever you are and see where it takes you. And strive to maximize your talent and commitment on your way to creating your best work. Do your part in helping them find you.
The 99% Rule (A little inspiration from Oscar-winner Michael Arndt)
The Secret to Being a Successful (Seriously) John Logan’s journey
The Myth of ‘Breaking in’ Insights by Terry Rossio
What is Talent? David Mamet weights in on how often the star of the class “lacks the capacity to continue.”
P.S. Some additional thoughts to ponder from the world of sports: Four time winning Super Bowl coach Bill Belichick began his career as a $25 per week assistant doing the grunt work of studying game films.
Update: In a nice touch of serendipity, just a few hours after writing this post I learned at the Kartemquin Films (producers of Hoop Dreams) website that Hoop Dreams is airing tonight on WTTW Chicago as part of a year old series honoring the 50th anniversary of Kartemquin. And tomorrow night is the #KAQ50 Birthday Party at the Harris Theater which will have in attendance William Gates, Arthur Agee, and Steve James.