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  • This iconic movie director didn't know his quotes were for writers

This iconic movie director didn't know his quotes were for writers

And how to make your small talk bigger--using stories

Read time: 5 minutes

Laura wasn’t laughing.

Over and over in the dark movie theatre, as I threw my head back and howled with amusement, I could see my best friend next to me as—over and over again—she didn’t laugh.

It was 1996. We’d gone to see “The Birdcage.”

And I think she was too worried about whether or not it was offensive to find it funny. But it was breathlessly funny (and full of heart).

Old favorite movies are on my mind a lot lately. Favorite directors.

It’s so easy to get immersed in new learning. But going back to the things we love can give us new ideas and inspiration.

Steven Spielberg has talked about watching “Lawrence of Arabia” often as a kid, and at least annually, ever since. Mike Nichols, the director of “The Birdcage,” often referred aspiring directors to his own favorite film, “A Place In the Sun.”

Deep down, we’re all still the kids we once were.

It’s worth reconnecting with the things those kids found wonderful.

What are some of those things for you?

  • Wisdom: Sick of small talk? Make it bigger—and better—with this great advice from Jeanne Torre.

  • Photo: Baymax

  • Quotes: Mike Nichols didn’t mean to talk about writing in a 1992 interview—but he did.

People poo-poo small talk.

But small talk has the potential to be big talk, where we really connect with other people.

Here’s some easy, killer advice on how—using stories.

This is Baymax.

He’s the squishy sidekick from Disney’s 2014 movie “Big Hero 6.” It’s a severely underrated movie that was eclipsed by “Frozen” mania from the year before.

But the themes of grief, compassion, and change run deeper than any princess movie.

I’ll tell you next week what’s special about this little LEGO, from my son.

Mike Nichols was an immigrant whose family moved to the United States from Germany on the cusp of WWII.

He was 7 and spoke no English.

A childhood vaccine reaction left him unable to grow hair, which was a defining hurdle in his childhood.

But by his late 20s his comedy duo with Elaine May was lightning up New York.

By his early 30s he was directing his first movie—with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

When Nichols sat down with Charlie Rose in 1992 for an interview, he said 4 things that jumped out and slapped me—

because while he was talking about movies, his words were perfect for writers.

Performing makes me a child, and directing makes me more of a dad. And it makes me happier; I’m thinking about others.

Mike Nichols on Charlie Rose, 1992

As beginner writers, we tend to perform our writing. It’s very self-focused on our wonderful words, our Big Thoughts.

(100% talking to younger me here, y’all)

But what is writing if not an act for other people?

Nichols was 60 when he said this, and I’m fascinated by his introspection. Because he’d realized he was better as a director. When he shifted his focus to other people, and their needs and hopes.

I think maybe there are two kinds of people: there are people whose lives are one arc, and they’re always the same person. And then there are people who are a succession of really rather different people, with different lives. And I think of myself as one in the second group.

Mike Nichols on Charlie Rose, 1992

Coming from a lifelong storyteller, this is an interesting quote.

In any great story, you’ll find change. No change makes an unsatisfying story.

And writing equals change.

Through writing we pursue that succession of different people that Nichols talked about. We lead lives made fuller by change and self-discovery.

I like the idea that when I go to a movie, I know something about my life that I didn’t know before. Even if I may not be able to put it into words.

Mike Nichols on Charlie Rose, 1992

Writing doesn’t just help us discover ourselves — it helps our audience discover things, too.

Things about their own lives that they didn’t realize before reading.

When writing hits, it’s not about us. It’s because we’ve shown other people something about themselves and their world.

I think that the camera sees your nature, in the end.

Mike Nichols on Charlie Rose, 1992

Nichols was talking about the actor Jack Nicholson when he said this. About how in all of Nicholson’s roles — even his villains — truths about the real man came through, despite his great acting.

It doesn’t happen with a single effort or even a dozen, but over time we become, through our writing.

Our words are the camera that sees our nature, in the end.

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