10 LESSONS FROM 10 FILMS…

Hi! I’m Phil Svitek, AfterBuzz TV’s Chief Operating Officer, and I’m making it a mission of mine for you to master mental fortitude in order to achieve your creative endeavors – no different than what I aspire to do with the AfterBuzz hosts I work with directly.

In the past few episodes I’ve been emphasizing the importance of being truthful with your art and having a message you want to share with the world. Doing so will make your work resonate with audiences, however large or small. Because of that, for today’s lesson, I wanted to highlight 10 movies that have impacted me deeply and showcase the lessons I’ve taken away from them. Most importantly, I’ll give specifics of how you too can apply those same insights in your life and work. These movies I selected are ones I don’t often cite in my lessons. By using them here I hope you’re inspired to go watch them as some of them are lesser known but absolutely wonderful and deserving of attention and viewing. Also, for those wondering, I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as I can but sometimes I might need to give context. I’ll do my best to notify you of spoilers, but otherwise I’m just highlighting a general plot overview. Let’s begin.

#1 – Room Service, which is a 1938 Marx brothers film with Lucille Ball where a broadway producer has sunk every dime into his latest project but still lacks the money to get the play out of rehearsals. While dodging the hotel manager and his henchman over his bills, the producer, director and manager try to soothe the jangled nerves of their playwright and convince a wealthy backer to invest heavily into the show. Given that it’s a Marx brothers movie, you can expect farce in every scene. But as absurd as the movie becomes, what’s amazing to notice is how resourceful the main characters continue to be throughout. There is no problem too large for them to overcome. Regardless of the situation, they find a way to spin it into a positive outcome. That’s a powerful message and on that I’ve been helping teach in each of my lessons. Part of the lesson here may be that some might think of you as crazy but I certainly won’t, not if you accomplish what you’re after.

#2 – Unforgiven, the 1992 Oscar best picture winner starring and directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie is set in motion when a prostitute is disfigured by a pair of cowboys in Big Whiskey, Wyoming, her fellow brothel workers post a reward for their murder, much to the displeasure of sheriff Little Bill Daggett, who doesn’t want vigilantism in his town. Two groups of gunfighters, one led by aging former bandit William Munny, the other by the florid English Bob, come to collect the reward, clashing with each other and the sheriff. The movie is a western, a genre that Clint Eastwood has cemented himself as a legend within. Because of that, the movie is violent and part of its ultimate message is life’s not fair. Now, I’m not advocating for anarchy and a free for all, but there is something to be had when you accept that life doesn’t reward you because of certain actions. Some things are illogical and seemingly unfair. But it’s because we try to judge them as such. There are things in the world that are beyond our control and understanding. Accept that as a way of life but that’s not a license to do what you will. Do whatever, yes, but do it from a place of goodness and love. That was one of the ultimate flaws of the sheriff in the movie. Early on, he had a choice to make and he chose based on convenience. Then when things didn’t go as he would have wanted, he quickly termed it as unfair. We all must accept the choices we make and more importantly, we all must accept that life isn’t singling you out for unfairness. It just happens. All you can do is do your best within it.

#3 – Adventures of Huck Finn, a 1993 Disney film based on the Mark Twain novel starring Elijah Wood as the titular character. The story is about a mischievous Huck Finn who is unnerved when his father, reemerging after years away, kidnaps him in an attempt to take away a $600 inheritance from his late mother. Fearing for his life, Huck fakes his own death and escapes. He soon runs into his friend, Jim, a slave fleeing his master. Together, the pair embarks on a raft journey down the Mississippi River, staying ahead of pursuers who blame the slave for Huck’s alleged murder. I hold this film very near and dear to my heart because it has themes of friendship and youth. I used to watch this film over and over. One the main take messages of that movie is that just because and idea, slavery in case of the film, is popular, don’t make it right. Especially in today’s society, I see a lot of popular ideas being agreed upon that I don’t necessarily agree with. You might feel the same way. See, the way I look at it is if all you do in life is come from a place of fear and hate, then you’re not creating anything new. Most of the things I disagree with come from those places. To be racist, hateful, ignorant and intolerant of other people’s cultures, religions, genders or sexual preferences is the lowest form of thinking because it requires no thinking whatsoever. That is what this movie has taught me over all these years. To be those things means to disregard the truth and accept that you want to remain in what you’d call comfortable and constant state of being. But if there’s anything that this movie and life teaches us, it’s that change is inevitable. The truth will be exposed over time and what people once put up with they won’t any longer. Just look at the Time’s Up or #MeToo movements. They are perfect examples of this. However, there are still many injustices in the world that remain and one of the most powerful ways to combat these so-called popular ideas that inhibit society’s growth is to go out and vote. Vote for change. Vote for what you believe in. Because if you don’t, then you have no right to complain. And think about it from this perspective – during the time in which Huck Finn was set, women and blacks couldn’t vote. The voices literally didn’t matter. So don’t take that for granted.

#4 – The LEGO Movie, directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller that takes popular LEGO pieces and creates a narrative around them. What seems like a sure fired receipt for failure actually amounts to one of the most inventive films I’ve ever seen and loved. Emmet, an ordinary LEGO figurine who always follows the rules, is mistakenly identified as the Special – an extraordinary being and the key to saving the world. He finds himself drafted into a fellowship of strangers who are on a mission to stop an evil tyrant’s plans to conquer the world. Unfortunately for Emmet, he is hopelessly – and hilariously – unprepared for such a task, but he’ll give it his all nonetheless. What this movie teaches young kids and adults alike is that your seemingly biggest weakness can become your greatest strength. That which seems to make you different than everyone else actually uniquely positions you to be able to solve a major problem. Emmet is surrounded by heroes such as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Han Solo, Abraham Lincoln and so on. And yet he never feels inferior to them. They have their skills but they don’t have his. It is his abilities that give them a shot at saving the world. The reason this movie was a smash hit is because many of us, including myself, can relate to Emmet. We look at those around us and feel they are better equipped to do something than us. That somehow they always seem to get the lucky break. If you look at it that way, then you’ll never accomplish much. It’s a matter of perspective. Even if people view you from a certain standpoint, like the heroes did initially with Emmet, that doesn’t mean they are right. Stay true to who you are and do what you can, when you can. Stop worrying about what you should be good at versus what you aren’t and you’ll soon discover all the amazing things you can do. That’s what the LEGO Movie teaches us.

#5 – Gifted, a movie that came out last year, starring Chris Evans as a single man raising a child prodigy – his young niece Mary. His plans for a normal school life for Mary are foiled when Mary’s math skills come to the attention of his mother, whose plans for her granddaughter threaten to separate Frank and Mary. McKenna Grace, who plays Mary, is a fantastic young actress, by the way. This movie, although not as popular last year, is incredibly moving. The central conflict is basically about whether you can live a normal life while still honoring your talents. The movie is very much a tugging contest between the two but the ultimate resolution to the film is an unexpected solution, which I won’t spoil. The beautiful aspect of it though is that it conveys the message that there is in fact a way to utilize your incredible gifts while remaining human. See, in the movie, the initial idea is that in order for Mary to realize her full potential she must sacrifice everything else. And that’s not the case. Many artists think they have to sacrifice themselves for their art. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you’ll be able drink seven days a week with your friends or whatever. There will be parts of life you’ll have to allow yourself to miss. But that goes for everyone. Enough with this FOMO crap. That said, you can still maintain friendships and relationships even while being busy and successful. That to me is a very uplifting message.

#6 – Kubo and the Two Strings, a stop motion 2016 film is about young Kubo’s peaceful existence that comes crashing down when he accidentally summons a vengeful spirit of the past. Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey and Beetle to unlock a secret legacy. Armed with a magical instrument, Kubo must battle the Moon King and other gods and monsters to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known. The movie in many ways in a spiritual companion to Pixar’s Coco. Both deal with family, the past, death, memories, magical realism, music and culture. Coco’s culture was Mexican and Kubo and the Two Strings’ is Japanese. Both wonderful, wonderful movies with deep meanings even though both are marketed primarily towards kids. What I love about Kubo’s magical realism is that is uses that magic to deliver its truth which is that memories are the strongest magic of all. Memories keep those we love in our hearts, even if they are not with us. So long as we have the memory of a person, that person lives on. Storytelling is a form of keeping memories. It allows us to preserve the essence of a person’s impact on this world. That I argue is what art is about. Even if a story is fictitious, the story itself cements a person into history because it allows their thoughts to transience time and space. That’s why oftentimes you’ll hear people refer to certain stories as timeless. I want that for you. Art is the lie that allows us to see the truth. Kubo does this wonderful through its magic realism and so can you. Now, there’s some out there who would argue that with all these digital photos and social media especially, we are preserving the memory. They’re not incorrect, but I say just because anything can be art, doesn’t mean everything is art. Social media posts are so consumable that most people I know can’t even remember taking some of the photos they themselves have posted. Social media can be a tool to allow us to remember moments from life. However, it shouldn’t be in place of you. You must ultimately remember that feeling, whether the joy or the pain or whatever other feeling you might have felt. That’s what makes real memories and that’s what makes us human – the ability to reflect on life and enjoy those extraordinarily beautiful instances.

#7 –  A Scanner Darkly, the film starring Keanu Reeves based on the Philip K. Dick novel, takes place in the near future, as America virtually loses the war on drugs. Robert Arctor, a narcotics cop in Orange County becomes an addict when he is wooing Donna, a dealer, to ferret out her supplies. At the same, he receives orders to spy on his housemates, one of whom is suspected of being Donna’s biggest customer. The film is very esoteric and complex, like many of Philip K. Dick’s works. What I glean from it though is that if we’re not careful the truth can become murky.

There’s already so many things that can distract us and lead us down a path of lies. Drugs only amplify that. Many use drugs to escape their reality. This is short lived and doesn’t solve the problems that lead a person to the drugs in the first place. Also, there’s people out there who’ll claim that drugs are necessary to expand your mind as an artist. I call bullshit. All you’re doing is trying to quiet the voice inside your own head which maybe for a brief moment allows you to seemingly be aware. I say seemingly because of course if you’re on drugs, you’re not fully present. It is true that many artists have created amazing work despite drug use. But imagine how much more perhaps they could have created if they weren’t addicted. It might be a hypothetical question to which we’ll never learn the true answer, but I can say from my perspective, I’d much rather be in control of my faculties, don’t you? SPOILER ALERT, by the end of the movie, Arctor is a shell of himself. There’s nothing that makes him human anymore except the hope that the effects of the drugs he’s taken are reversible.

#8 – Atonement, a sweeping English drama based on Ian McEwan’s book, follows the lives of young lovers Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner. When the couple are torn apart by a lie constructed by Cecilia’s jealous younger sister all three of them must deal with the consequences. The story takes place during World War II and leaves the audience with a harsh realization. That realization is the huge affect our emotions can have in clouding our perception of the truth. It shows us that we don’t always see the truth but rather what we want to see. This is an important lesson because I know for me, there’s plenty of instances where I take something very personally which in hindsight I shouldn’t have. This happens when emotions get in my way. I think I know what someone’s saying based on the emotion I have at that time. These assumptions make me react blindly. It’s a dangerous thing as the movie shows. Cecilia’s sister truly believes she saw what she saw. But it’s not the truth. It’s a lie. Her jealousy tricked her into believing what she thought she saw. This happens to me too often and I’m willing to be has happened to you in your life. The way to combat this is to be aware that you’re doing this. Also, be aware that someone else may be doing this without knowing, and therefore never take things personally. Doing this allows you to be more clear headed and being more clear headed can only enhance your art because you’ll be able to articulate the beautiful truth that exists within the world.

#9 – Risen, a 2016 film about a Roman military tribune named Clavius who remains set in his ways after serving 25 years in the army. He arrives at a crossroad when he’s tasked to investigate the mystery of what happened to Jesus following the Crucifixion. Accompanied by trusted aide Lucius, his quest to disprove rumors of a risen Messiah makes him question his own beliefs and spirituality. As his journey takes him to places never dreamed of, Clavius discovers the truth that he’s been seeking. Mind you, I’m not trying to force religion on you. Heck, I’m atheist myself. However, this movie is well crafted and expressed the idea that there are things we don’t understand but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. In fact, in the movie, Jesus sits down and explains at the end that if it was hard for him to understand and believe what he’s seen, that right, seen, then imagine how hard it will be for people who have not and who will never witness it firsthand. It’s talking about the power of faith. Faith by its very nature must transcend logic and reason. Faith doesn’t have to be religious. You can have faith in yourself, your friends, your work, etc. Many great people of the past held a belief that was deemed impossible or at least unpopular. Jules Verne’s’ novels were mere science fiction until modern technology emerged and made his fantasies a reality. Again, I’m not preaching or telling you that you have to believe in God, but why not believe in the beautiful? Why not believe that there is goodness in the world which you can’t explain. Just accept it. History has shown countless examples of skeptics being left in the dust. It’s easy to criticize someone and say something won’t work. The more you work on your craft and create art, the more you expose yourself to criticism. But you must remain steadfast in your beliefs and goals. Faith is about complete confidence and trust. Do you not trust yourself? If you work hard and practice your craft each and every day, the muse will reward you for that effort. Maybe not right away, but in time. Have faith in the muse. I know some of you may not believe me on this. But I’ve proved people wrong countless of times. There’s even hosts who initially didn’t have faith in themselves but thanks to them and AfterBuzz have now become part of our toted success stories. Faith is a belief and what it really comes down to for me is a belief that incredible things are possible if you remain open to them. Well, that, and again, you work. So get to it.

#10 – Last but not least, I couldn’t talk about movies that have impacted me without talking about my favorite film of all time – The Matrix. The film is about a man named Neo who believes that Morpheus, an elusive figure considered to be the most dangerous man alive, can answer his question — What is the Matrix? Neo is contacted by Trinity, a beautiful stranger who leads him into an underworld where he meets Morpheus. They fight a brutal battle for their lives against a cadre of viciously intelligent secret agents. It is a truth that could cost Neo something more precious than his life. For those that have seen the film, and I’m sure most of you have, know that Neo’s journey is of self-actualization. He must let go of all his fears, doubts and disbeliefs to become who he was meant to be. The reason this film is so popular because people could deeply identify themselves in Neo. Neo’s search is our own search – the search for truth and meaning and purpose. There’s so many lessons within The Matrix but one of the ones that I feel is overlooked is the lesson the Oracle teaches Neo. She points to a sign written in Latin and says “know thyself.”

Most of us are more than capable of achieving our ambitions. We have the skills, the talent, the drive, etc. What holds us back is ourselves. We don’t truly know the power we possess within ourselves and so we let time tick away. Know thyself is such an incredible lesson because as I’ve pointed out in many of my lessons, most of the lessons I’m teaching are ones we already know but just have gotten away from. When you know thyself, you remember what you’re capable of and you understand what needs to be done. One of the problems with the modern world is that we’re so inundated with messaging constantly that we lose sight of who we are and what we can do. Know thyself is a reminder to trust your own instincts and be true to yourself rather than put up a false image for the world because you feel that’s what the world wants from you. For your art to resonate, you must know thyself, know what you want to say and then just say it.

So there you have it. Ten lessons from ten films I love and adore. If you haven’t seen some of these films yet, I strongly encourage you to do so when you can. The lessons here will resonate so much deeper if you have the full context of these films. Even if you don’t, well at least you gained 10 great lessons in a single show. Take care and carry on with your creative endeavors!

Before you click away to another lesson from Phil, here’s a few more things. For your benefit, the transcript of this episode is on Phil’s website. A link is provided so you can always review it. Please be sure to hit that like button if you enjoyed this episode and tell your friends and family about us. Leave a comment with your thoughts and opinions and what lessons you’d like to see Phil tackle next. The more specific you are with your questions, the better he can answer them. Also, you can support this show on patreon.com/philsvitek if it doesn’t burden you financially in any way. Every contribution is truly appreciated and helps defray the costs of putting on this show – which as you can imagine takes a lot of effort. To be notified when future episodes release, subscribe on Apple Podcast, YouTube, Facebook, Google Podcast, Spotify or whatever other platform is most convenient to you. Specific links are provided below. Lastly, if you’re interested in joining AfterBuzz TV as a host or as an intern, visit AfterBuzz TV’s contact page. A direct link is provided. Or of course you can Tweet @PhilSvitek or Instagram me @BonjourJuliet. Thanks for watching. I’m Juliet Vibert, a producer on the show and we’ll see you next week with another one of Phil’s life lessons. Bye!

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