Hollywood filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan has an interesting philosophy on careers, one that defies conventional logic. While most people say you should always love your job, he believes at some point you should truly hate your job.
“I think at some point you should take a job you truly despise . . . that way you’ll always know what you really want in life,” he told the Gazette in a telephone interview this week.
Mr. Kasdan, who will speak at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven next Thursday, admits he truly hated his first job.
Although he would go on to direct films like The Big Chill and Body Heat and write the scripts for classics like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, his initial plan after graduating from the University of Michigan with a master’s degree in education was to become an English teacher.
But teaching jobs were hard to come by in the mid 1970s, and he instead took a job as an advertising copywriter in Detroit, a job he quickly found loathsome. At the same time he started writing movie screenplays and hoped to become a film director. But his day job was still advertising, which only made his resolve to make it in movies that much stronger.
He once told an interviewer he hated his advertising job so much he refused to bring a second child into the world until he escaped it. “I took the job because it was really all I could find. It made me realize what I really wanted, and work that much harder to get it,” he said.
Of course Mr. Kasdan did make it as a filmmaker. In the mid 1970s he sold a script called The Bodyguard to Warner Brothers as a vehicle for Diana Ross and Steve McQueen (the script wasn’t produced until 1992 as a film starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner). Soon after, he moved from Detroit to Los Angeles to pursue film making full-time.
He shopped a script for a movie called Continental Divide which was eventually bought by Steven Spielberg, who at the time was coming off both Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and was one of the hottest young directors in Hollywood. Mr. Kasdan had a brief meeting with Mr. Spielberg to go over the script, and they were joined by another young filmmaker named George Lucas, who was fresh off the megahit Star Wars and was working on its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back.
During the meeting the two directors excitedly pitched an idea for an adventure picture about a daring archeologist set in the 1930s who is searching for the lost Ark of the Covenant while fighting Nazis.
“We had one short, wonderful, exciting and slightly crazy meeting, and they told me the basic idea for Raiders [of the Lost Ark] . . . and afterwards they asked me: would you like to write it? And I said sure . . . I’ll give it a shot,” he said.
Mr. Kasdan worked on the script for six months, and when he was done he drove up to Mr. Lucas’s ranch in Marin County to deliver it. “When I got there he threw the script on the desk and said, ‘Let’s go out to lunch,’ and pretty soon we were talking about the script for Empire Strikes Back,” he recalled.
Mr. Lucas needed someone to complete the screenplay after the death of writer Leigh Brackett. The sets for the highly-anticipated sequel were being built, the casting was underway, but the script was unfinished. “I told George, don’t you want to read the script for [Raiders] first? What if you don’t like it? And he said, no, that’s okay,” he said.
Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark went on to become two of the biggest blockbusters of all time, and both films are universally thought to be the best written and most human installments in their respective franchises. Mr. Kasdan used the success of both films as leverage to get where he really wanted, into the director’s chair, and his first film was Body Heat.
He would follow that with The Big Chill, quickly establishing himself as a top Hollywood director, and went on to write Silverado, The Accidental Tourist and Grand Canyon. Asked if he ever doubted himself back in Detroit, where he was making a living writing advertising copy instead of screenplays, he offered a ready reply.
“Not making it was never an option. I wanted more than anything to write and direct movies. I already knew what I didn’t want to do, so I focused on what I really wanted to do,” he said.
And for the legion of aspiring Vineyard filmmakers, he offers this sage advice.
“If you want to make movies, you have to actually make movies. If you want to be a writer, you have to stop talking about it and actually write. If you want to be a film director, you have to go out and actually make movies. It doesn’t matter if that’s on Martha’s Vineyard or Los Angeles . . . you just have to go out there and do it,” he said.
Lawrence Kasdan will be speaking about his life, his career and his films at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven on Thursday, August 6 at 7:30 p.m.. Tickets are $15 at the door.