David Begelman was chairman of Columbia pictures when Peter Guber left his job there as president of the studio to form his own film production company. Based on his successes, Begelman was willing to finance a risky project of Guber’s titled Midnight Express based on the true story of a young Long Island boy caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey and sentenced to life in prison.
Nearing the completion of the film’s production, Guber got wind of a very bad personal story that was overtaking David. The actor Cliff Robertson revealed that David had forged an endorsement on a $10,000 studio check that should have been paid to Robertson. The IRS launched an investigation and found that Begelman had forged and cashed several checks totaling $40,000 to cover his gambling debts. The government now had a red hot light trained on David’s every move.
Upon seeing an early cut of the movie, David balked, saying, “This is a brutal picture. I’m just not comfortable that this is the kind of film Columbia pictures should release.”
This would have been a financial and creative fiasco for Guber. He exhorted, “David, this is not a story about criminality. It’s a story about the pain of injustice. This kid may have been guilty, but the punishment so far exceeded the nature of the crime!”
Without realizing it, Guber was aiming straight for David’s back-story. By reframing the criminal in Midnight Express as a victim of injustice who heroically perseveres, Guber gave Begelman both a glimmer of hope for his own situation and an incentive to support the film’s release, which he did.
MORE ABOUT TELL TO WIN
To validate the power of telling purposeful stories, Guber includes in this book a remarkably diverse number of ‘voices’ – master tellers with whom he’s shared experiences. They include YouTube founder Chad Hurley, NBA champion Pat Riley, clothing designer Norma Kamali, “Mission to Mars” scientist Gentry Lee, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, former South African president Nelson Mandela, magician David Copperfield, film director Steven Spielberg, novelist Nora Roberts, rock legend Gene Simmons, and physician and author Deepak Chopra.
After listening to this extraordinary mix of voices, you’ll know how to craft, deliver – and own – a story that is truly compelling, one capable of turning others into viral advocates for your goal.