Brian Koppelman on The Artist Within, Nurturing Your Voice & The Importance of Consistent Creative Practice – The Rich Roll Podcast

Check out The Rich Roll Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Give yourself the permission to do the work you want to do
  • Something to think about:
    • “We all have a few of those moments in our lives where something happens that makes us look at where we are, where we’re plotted on the life graph, and question it”
  • Try writing “morning pages” – this is something Brian does every day as soon as he wakes up
    • What are morning pages? – At the start of every day, you write down everything on your mind
      • The whole idea is to just dump your subconscious onto the page
  • Whatever your creative pursuit, make time every day to work at it
    • Even 20 minutes a day adds up over time
  • EVERYONE has hard days creatively
    • The successful people are the ones who train themselves to show up and do the work despite this
  • Great advice:
    • “Find a way to be alone with yourself and hear your inner voice, and nurture that voice in the way you secretly know how”
    • How? – Take a long walk in silence, meditate, or do morning pages

Books Mentioned

  • After reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Brian started the practice of writing “morning pages” at the beginning of each day
    • “Go read that book if you’re someone who feels like you’re at a creative roadblock”
  • Brian recommends Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins
    • “It had a huge impact on me because it allowed me to start really doing some goal setting”
  • You don’t need to quit your job to start your creative pursuit
  • Brian also recommends The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
    • He wishes he read this book much earlier on in life
  • There are 2 scripts David Levien and Brian have written that “have come close to getting made, that ought to get made”

Intro

  • Brian Koppelman (T: @briankoppelman IG: @briankoppelman) is a screenwriter, novelist, director, and producer
  • This episode was recorded in NYC
  • “The world is a better place when we are living more fully and creatively expressed lives” – Rich

Brian as a Creative Mentor for Us All

  • “The thing that draws me the most to you is this mentorship role. You’ve really made yourself available to the creative community to be an encouraging presence for those that have a creative spark and are challenged in bringing it to life.” – Rich
  • Brian says he had a real problem reconciling the feeling of trying to get out of his own perception of himself as someone who wasn’t an artist
    • “I knew I had a deep well of feeling that I was trying to communicate. I knew that when I was really excited about something I wanted to share that excitement and go all the way into that world to explore it. I knew I wanted to find a way to write about it and tell stories about it…but I had an incredibly difficult time putting myself in the lane of ‘artist/creative person’…someone allowed to think of themselves as a storyteller.”
      • “I would look at other kids, like those in high school doing the plays, and they just seemed like they had a kind of magic that I didn’t have.”
    • Brian eventually figured things out creatively, and wants to help others do the same
  • “When a creative impulse dies, it’s like any other kind of death and just has this horrible toxicity associated with it”
    • Brian knew that, in his own life – “If I allowed that creative impulse to die, the toxicity would leech out on to the people I loved”
      • This is what really made him change

Younger Brian

  • Brian actually had ADHD, but it wasn’t diagnosed – this led to a severe inability to complete work
    • “I always knew I could write a paragraph that could dazzle you, but I couldn’t write two paragraphs. If I could write two…I couldn’t turn in the paper.”
    • “It wasn’t willful…and that was torture…it was more out of boredom”
      • Brian attributes a lot of this to his ADHD – he didn’t really come to understand this until college, which led him to be really hard on himself as a kid

The Moment that Changed Everything

  • After college, Brian fell into the record business (he worked for Elektra Records)
    • (His dad was also in the record business))
  • “We all have a few of these moments in our lives where something happens that makes us look at where we are, where we’re plotted on the life graph, and question it”
    • What was Brian’s?
      • As part of his job, he heard an early demo of the Counting Crow’s song Round Here
      • The song made him question everything about his life. He told his wife – “I heard this and it made me realize I became the exact person I never wanted to be”
        • (For timeline purposes – this still was about 3 years before Brian started writing Rounders with David Levien)
        • “That was one of the moments where I realized I wasn’t in a unified place. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing.”

Morning Pages

  • “If you’re trying to unify your thoughts and actions, and become comfortable in your skin, I have found, for me anyway, having ways to check in on a more regular basis makes a gigantic difference”
    • After reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Brian started the practice of writing “morning pages” at the start of each day
      • “Go read that book if you’re someone who feels like you’re at a creative roadblock”
  • What are morning pages?
    • It’s 3 long hand pages, written first thing in the morning
      • “I’ve done them nearly every day since 1996”
        • “Maybe I’ve missed 10 days”
        • Even when shooting Billions, when Brian has to wake up ~4 AM every day, he’ll either try to do them when he wakes up, or on set around lunchtime 
      • The whole idea is to just dump your subconscious onto the page
        • Just keep your pen moving – don’t be a perfectionist
        • “Just write whatever the fuck comes into your mind”
  • Rich has actually been writing morning pages since 1996 when he got out of rehab
    • “It’s all about adherence to the process – being completely in acceptance and not attached to results…It’s about just giving yourself over to something for the purpose of trying to connect yourself, with yourself, in a better way”
  • What has Brian noticed doing this exercise every day?
    • “The stuff I had started writing about in the beginning, about what I hoped would happen, all happened”
  • “Eventually, what happens is I see the truth on the page, and who I’m really supposed to be, the ways I’m letting myself down, the ways I’m allowing emotion to rule me…something happens that forces me to take action”
  • Prior to starting to write morning pages every day, Brian says:
    • “I was really sad. I had this really deep feeling that I wasn’t living up to my potential”

Meditation

  • “I never miss a day”
    • Brian meditates (he does transcendental meditation aka TM) twice a day, and has been doing so for the last 7 years) once in the morning for 20 minutes, and then again in the afternoon for the same
  • What led him to start?
    • One of his kids had a really bad health scare (they ended up being fine) – “But after that, the ricochet of that really fucked with me. I became really anxiety ridden.”
    • The Brian’s mom died…which led to more anxiety
      • He says he took Lexapro for about 6 months to help him cope
        • But he knew there had to be a better way to deal with things – so he turned to mediation 
  • One of the surprising things Brian noticed after starting to meditate:
    • The physical manifestations of anxiety started to disappear (increased heart rate, back pain etc.)

Getting Real – The Struggle Every Human Being Faces

  • “I really try hard to be the person I am on my podcast, but I’m not always that way. I don’t follow through all the time on everything. I fuck off like everybody else does, and I can get short-tempered like everybody else does…and all the rest of it.”
  • “It’s all about finding a way to be comfortable enough with who we are, so that we can be kind to everybody else”
  • One thing Rich has struggled with:
    • “One of the mountains I’ve had to climb is just being a classic people pleaser where I would just chameleon myself depending on the scenario or situation I’m in. It’s been a journey of just getting comfortable enough with who I am.”
  • “We’re in an epidemic of people who are so disconnected from their highest self and the best version of who they could be. Life’s hard man, and people are just trying to pay the bills, and they look at that pursuit as a luxury that’s not available to them.” – Rich

Great Advice

  • It’s crucial to focus on surrounding yourself with people who want the best for you
  • Brian has famously said – “If you’re going home for the holidays, be really careful about telling your dreams to the people at dinner because they won’t mean to crush them, but they’ll say something that sounds different to you than they meant, and it can derail you”

Another Life-Changing Moment

  • Still in the record business (after the major realization mentioned above), Brian recalls experiencing another life-changing moment…
    • He was sitting in his office with a cigarette, a bacon cheeseburger, and big box of music tapes that he didn’t want to listen to
    • “I had the crystallized thought then, that this wasn’t the life I was supposed to be living. I just knew I couldn’t be this miserable in the work environment for the rest of my life.”
  • Around this time, Brian read Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins
    • “It had a huge impact on me,because it allowed me to start really doing some goal setting”

The Next Chapter – Rounders

  • Everything culminated and Brian joined forces with David Levien write Rounders (without ever having every written a movie script before)
    • David and Brian met every day before work for 2 hours to write, and 4.5 months later they had a finished script
  • The movie was rejected by nearly every agency in town at first
    • Brian wrote a little bit about this on his blog

30 Minutes a Day – That’s All it Takes

  • Note that Brian didn’t quit his job to write the Rounders script- and you don’t need to
  • “You don’t have to quit your job. You can find a half hour a day, and even if you don’t think you can find a half hour a day, you can. You definitely need to sleep, but you don’t need the extra hour online, you don’t need the extra hour playing video games.”
    • Every 20 minutes you spend working on something adds up
    • Just 1 page a day….
      • “Anyone can write one page a day. You don’t have to turn your life upside down.”
    • “Whatever your pursuit is, just find a half hour a day where you do the work and don’t judge yourself”
  • “Working with rigor to achieve something is never a waste of time”
    • Even if you don’t achieve what you’re after, you’ll have learned how to work with rigor, and you can apply that anywhere in life

Change is Never Easy

  • “The thing that most people who want to make a change don’t know, is that even for those of us who’ve made the change, it’s still hard… every day. Every day that you have to write, or every day that you [Rich] have to find a way to do your show…we’ve just taught ourselves how to show up every day. We’ve just put guard rails up for ourselves.”
  • When making big changes, what has worked well for Rich?
    • Making things binary
      • When he went vegan, he decided to never again eat meat or dairy and was done with it – there were no more decisions to be made
  • “I fail ALL THE TIME” 
    • “Most of the successful people that are doing the thing you wish you were doing are having hard days doing it all the time. They’ve just trained themselves to get through it.”

What makes a great story?

  • “The storyteller is incredibly engaged to share that story with you”
    • The storyteller is just DYING to share it
  • Here’s what goes through Brian’s mind when he’s considering what to write about:
    • “Do I have an incredible curiosity about this story?”
    • “Is there a world that’s incredibly fascinating to me there?’
    • “Are there characters that I find incredibly compelling?”
    • “Is there a language I start to hear in this universe?”
  • Brian says his writing is much more instinctive based than prescriptive/intellectually guided
    • This quote from Kapil Gupta in these Podcast Notes describes this perfectly:
      • “The things you do the greatest, the things you are artful at, the things that you are world class at, whatever they may be, are precisely the things that you know not how you do”
    • “If you’ve listened to stories for your whole life, you know when a story works. I don’t actually apply the math the way one might think that I do.”
  • “Writing dialogue, for me, is the most fun part, and it’s the part that’s the least conscious”
    • To get an idea of what he means, these Podcast Notes from Kapil Gupta speak perfectly to it 

What’s the movie/story Brian hasn’t made yet that he still wants to make?

  • There are 2 scripts David and Brian have written that “have come close to getting made, that ought to get made”

Parting Advice

  • “Go easy on yourself”
    • “Take a breath and understand that’s it’s okay. Understand that anybody who’s ever done what you’re doing has felt what you’re feeling.”
  • Find a small action that you can do consistently, and do that little thing EVERY DAY
  • “Find a way to be alone with yourself and hear your inner voice, and nurture that voice in the way you secretly know how”
    • How? – Take a long walk in silence, meditate, or do morning pages
  • You CAN find 20 minutes a day to work on your creative pursuit – it adds up over time

Random

  • Brian actually discovered Tracy Chapman while he was in college
  • Brian really thinks Rich should get Seth Godin on the podcast
  • Brian’s most popular podcast episode – this one he did with his wife, Amy
  • Brian also recommends The War of Art 
    • He wishes he read this book much earlier on in life
  • Billions season 4 is currently in production
    • They’re in the middle of shooting episode 8 of 12
  • Brian is a huge fan of Pulp Fiction
    • One big lesson he learned from the movie – there are no rules in the movie making process, you can do ANYTHING you want

These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

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