Encouragement for Creators: Down But Not Out!


“Failures, repeated failures, are the finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.” (C.S. Lewis)

Ever get knocked down? Of course you have. Life sometimes has a way of blindsiding us. We get knocked off our feet by adversity, but sometimes we just trip over own shortcomings. Sooner or later we all stumble and fall short of the mark. When we do, it’s important we rise again, shake off the dust of disappointment, and move on with our lives.

Failure and adversity can become roadblocks to personal, artistic, and financial success. They can make you drop your pen, put down your brush, stop typing, stop playing, stop performing, maybe even stop living. Or we can view failure and adversity as just potholes in the road of life. We get jolted by them, temporarily knocked off course, and we may even need to stop a moment to effect some repairs; but then we get moving again.

There’s a great actor who faced his share of adversity while growing up. His father was a drug addict who expressed his love in the only way he knew, by passing a joint to his six-year-old son. We’d like to say the boy quickly overcame this adversity, but he didn’t. Like his father he became an addict. But it’s not how we begin, but how we end that’s important. And sometimes, the greatest heights are achieved after hitting rockbottom.

After years of substance abuse, Robert Downey, Jr. hit bottom. A series of arrests on drug-related charges, court dates, rehab and relapse, culminated in six months spent in jail. But afterwards, Downey was ready to get his act together. “It’s not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems,” he once stated. “What’s hard is to decide to do it.”

After overcoming this failure in life, the actor then faced more adversity, more potholes. Both Downey’s history with drugs and his reputation for being less than dependable were well known in the film industry. Few directors were willing to take a chance on him, and those who were, had difficulty getting the actor insured. Downey needed to prove himself all over again, and the actor who’d been nominated for an Oscar, for portraying Charlie Chaplin, now found himself playing supporting parts in television and minor film productions. His substance abuse had cost him a major setback.

T.D. Jakes often states, “a setback is a setup for a comeback,” and Downey worked hard to come back. Ironically, during more than two decades of acting, he’d never appeared in a blockbuster movie. And after all he’d been through, it was hard to think he ever would. But in 2008, director Jon Favreau wanted Downey for the title role of Iron Man. A lot of very nervous executives must have said “No way!” Besides, comic book heroes are drawn larger than life: young, muscled, and at least 6 feet tall. Downey is 5’8″ and, at the time, was 43 and slender. But you can’t keep a good actor down-ey. (Ouch, we promise not to do that again.)

Favreau insisted, and the nervous executives gave in. Then Downey bulked up and stood on his giant talent. The rest is box-office history. All of the Iron Man movies have been phenomenally successful, and today Downey is the highest paid actor in Hollywood. Not a bad comeback.

Have you suffered some setbacks? Ready for a comeback? Just remember, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” (Winston Churchill)

You may be down-ey for the count, but you’re not out! (Heh, we did it again!)


Encouragement for Creators: Imagination, Ingenuity & Initiative Pay Off!


Wit, wisdom, and inspiration for writers, artists, musicians, and crafters!

Sometimes having a big budget really pays off. Other times….

RKO Pictures once enjoyed status as one the major Hollywood studios. A few of us may remember the studio chiefly for the legendary 1933 film King Kong, a special effects extravaganza that astounded moviegoers in its day. RKO also was famous for its madcap romantic comedies, and had produced a string of popular and profitable movies starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. At some point, however, the studio went into a financial nosedive: a handful of artistic giants had made their way into the control tower at RKO. Bigger became a production byword at RKO, and in 1941, after giving free reign to director Orson Welles, the studio released its biggest picture yet, Citizen Kane; and although the movie was a critical success — today it’s considered one of the greatest movies ever made — it lost mega-money at the box-office. (Quick, someone say “Rosebud!”) A few months later RKO followed up with another commercial failure directed by Welles, The Magnificent Ambersons. Like Citizen Kane, the picture was critically acclaimed but came in way over budget. RKO quickly aborted Welles’ third film, but the damage had already been done. RKO had lost close to $2 Million.

RKO needed to get out debt, fast!  But to do so they needed to make some profitable movies — on shoestring budgets. Tarzan would help save the day. Johnny Weissmuller swung into the role and starred in six crowd-pleasing movies for RKO that made use of stock footage of African wildlife. George Sanders and his brother Tom Conway also did their parts, in numerous entries in the inexpensive but highly entertaining mystery franchises The Saint and The Falcon.

The real savior of RKO, however, was Val Lewton. This little-known filmmaker had worked on the classics A Tale of Two Cities and Gone with the Wind. When Lewton arrived at RKO he found he had his work cut out for him. At a time when the other major studios were producing movies with budgets of over $500,000 each, RKO asked Lewton to make them a movie for less than $150,000. On top of that, RKO wanted a horror picture, because Universal Studios was having so much success with their slew of Frankenstein and Mummy movies. Then, just to add insult to injury they saddled Lewton with a title for the picture, “Cat People”! Lewton probably shook his head in disbelief and asked “Seriously?” But instead of walking he started working: he assembled a team of writers and directors that included Robert Wise, who’d go on to later fame and fortune directing The Sound of Music and Westside Story.

In 1942, the horror picture Cat People, directed by first-timer Jacques Tourneur, premiered. Val Lewton had produced the movie with the improbable title, but had worked from an original screenplay based on his own 1930 short story “The Bagheeta.” The film was moody and atmospheric, but there were no monsters and nothing at all grisly took place in front of the camera. Lewton had seen an opportunity and had taken the initiative; but instead of making a run-of-the-mill horror movie, he had created a psychological study that relied more on imagination than special effects, and on ingenuity to overcome obstacles.

RKO probably looked at the movie and wondered what had they gotten themselves into now. But Cat People, costing a mere $141,659, brought in almost $4 million in its first two years. And Val Lewton? He had saved the studio from financial disaster. RKO quickly rewarded their savior, by asking Lewton to continue to make really inexpensive horror movies with really stupid titles. And definitely the worst title RKO stuck Lewton with: I Walked with a Zombie!  Lewton didn’t let it ruin his day. He made another incredibly intelligent and memorable film. And before he left the studio, Lewton had made eight of the coolest, most highly regarded movies in RKO’s history.

Imagination will always trump budget; and initiative and ingenuity will win the day. So no matter what you’re facing, keep your chin up. And seize your opportunities. Above all, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin….” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT)