The Value of Values by Jim Mercurio

A testimonial from Jim about Champion sponsor and Life Coach, Rhona Berens, PhD.
(A-List Screenwriting Craft & Career Issue 13, August 10, 2010)

I am proud to say that I have chosen sponsors and prizes that have a real impact on writers. All of our prizes lead to understanding the market, improving your script or craft, gaining exposure or getting you and your script ready to be shown to the world. In other contests, winners might wonder, "What am I supposed to do with that prize?" I am proud to say that none of the prizes on our list should elicit that response.

I'll admit that not all people have the same attitude toward growth that I do. It's not a coincidence that my contest is called "Champion." My strength as a writing coach lies in seeing the best in someone's work and in themselves and encouraging it. Teaching, mentoring, coaching, and therapy have always been a part of my life. Going both ways! I even think of directing as being a push the 50 people who join your team to do great work, the best work they are capable of doing. Sometimes the process is less gentle on a film set than with clients or students, but the same principle holds.

How good am I at figuring out what people's natural strengths are? And how organically does being a life coach flow from Rhona Berens' essence? Let me tell you. Before she even told me that's what she was doing for a living, I asked her to be my coach. I don't have enough room to explain that but let me tell you a story.

When Rhona and I started working together last year, I had just started A-List Screenwriting and had planned a weekend class in Washington, DC. A born risk-taker, I won't say I aimed too high, but I will say I committed a lot of money to host the class in a fancy 100-person auditorium in one of the nicest hotels in the city. I was sort of bummed out when I realized that despite my organized marketing efforts, I was going to end up losing at least $5,000.

I don't teach because I expect to get rich. But I also don't teach to lose money. (That's what indie filmmaking is for....kidding, kidding. If Rhona were here, she would never let me get away with that joke!) In the long run, the financial situation sort of sucked but it wasn't the end of the world. Rhona did some digging with me to help me figure out what was at the core of my letdown. I am a good teacher and I know I could be a huge help to the attending writers. I was ready and willing to put on an amazing 16-hour "show" and I was disappointed when only a small audience was scheduled to show up to enjoy it. If a Jim Mercurio class falls in the woods, does it champion anyone? Know what I mean?

Rhona made me understand that the weekend was still allowing my highest values to be served. I like teaching. I want to inspire people, to have an impact on their lives. I wanted to share my love of good storytelling and filmmaking. I still had a chance to do that, but I had to make sure that my frustration with one piece of the puzzle didn't mess up the entire experience, for both my students and myself. Maybe the class would be a failure as a business venture, but there was no way I could let it fail as a class.

I had a free talk planned the night before the Saturday-Sunday class at Georgetown and was giving a semi-dry 30-minute talk about film financing, a topic that they had chosen. I decided to show clips from The Dark Knight and L.A. Confidential to spark a discussion about screenwriting and storytelling craft. I wanted to give them a hint of what the weekend class was going to be like. Well, I talked for about five minutes and it yielded some interesting results. First of all, more than a third of the people in attendance signed up on the spot for the two-day class that started in twelve hours.

Did I still lose money? Sure. Lots of it. But do I have any regrets? No, and here's why.

In the impassioned five minutes - which is what I try to do for three days in the Champion Lab - I relayed my love for movies and was able to reveal the craft in new ways for the attendees. Two guys I had never met before came up to me after the class. One of them didn't have time to take the weekend class and one of them had time to only sit in on part of one of the days. But over the next nine months, the two of them, in completely separate deals, invested a total of $100,000 into a movie I was producing and into my company A-List Screenwriting.

I am not going to get all New-Agey and "The Secret" on you but I know Rhona's role in my life as, ironically, a champion, helped me identify and stay true to my core values. I have since learned that one of the reasons I fill December with 50-100 hours of Champion Lab is because I like to have intense and immersive experiences. That's why I call myself a filmmaker rather than a screenwriter. When I tell my top twenty writers to come to Los Angeles for a week for a class that can change their lives, I am not messing around. I don't put 200 hours of my life on the line in December so I can have a dozen people say, "Thanks for a pretty good class."

Since I started working with Rhona last year, here are a few of the things that she helped me to allow to happen:

1) I found a partner for A-List screenwriting - 13 issues of our newsletter and some new surprises coming soon!
2) As Executive Producer, I helped to raise money for a film shot in and around DC.
3) I am closing a deal for the first-ever, I believe, screenwriting book on Scene Writing. The book proposal was a spin-off of my dialogue article from a few issues back.
4) I directed a feature film this summer that was produced by my fellow cineaste, Erik Bauer.

So, when I tell you that I VALUE what my contest sponsors can do for you, I mean it.

You know the phrase, "Put your money where your mouth is." Well, I have a better phrase: "Put your energy and time where your values are." Rhona helped me to do that. If you are interested in her help, here's what you can do.

Cross your fingers that your feature lands in the top 20, which allows you two free sessions with her.

Enter four scripts to give yourself a better chance of meeting her in person in the Champion Lab in December.

Thanks, Rhona!

Champion Screenwriting: