The Director’s POV

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

Kevin Costner has had a great career. (I liked Waterworld.) Costner spoke with Bill Simmons about his career and offered this story about perspective.

Costner was directing and acting in a movie and as such, had to wear different hats. Bill Hader was on a summer podcast with Simmons too and he said much the same thing. Costner comment was:

“My problem was, I gave myself too few takes…finally my producing partner said, ‘You need to give yourself more takes, you’re not rushing anyone else but yourself.”

This isn’t true just for movies, this is true for life. We all wear different hats from moment to moment and it can be hard to juggle them. It helps to have people to tell us we’ve donned the wrong one.

From Costner’s and Hader’s conversations it seems that the secret is trust. Feedback has to be helpful and it has to be trusted. Investment advisors say that the best plan is the one you’ll stick with. Feedback is like that, the best advice is the stuff you’ll do.

In his book, Working Robert Caro reprinted this exchange:

INTERVIEWER: Do you set daily quotas?
CARO: I have to, because I have a wonderful relationship with my editor and my publisher. I have no real deadlines. I’m never asked, When are you going to deliver?

Trust like this works when everyone has aligned incentives. Caro wants to write a good book and his editor and publisher want that too. Ditto for Costner’s work.

Caro and Costner are doing things with a lot of randomness. Movies bomb for clear and complex reasons. Books are fickle with power laws ruling the day. As Michael Mauboussin reminds people:

  • Skill based outcomes are where history is a useful teacher and small samples can be used.
  • Luck based outcomes are where randomness rules, and base rates should too! Here mean reversion can happen fast.

Costner’s partner and Caro’s editor then trust the process. Before he made Dances with Wolves, Costner said he started to pay attention to all the things a director had to do. He studied the additional role he’d have to play. Caro too had a great process, recalling this advice he got when he started as an investigative reporter, “Turn every goddamned page.”

The writer and the director both did the work, built their skills, and created a reason to be trusted. The way to earn trust then is actions over time.

Thanks for reading. Want a week-day email from me? It’s not analysis, breaking news, or statistically significant. It’s just one story that offers a change in perspective. Rory Sutherland noted that a change in Point-of-View is worth 40IQ (points). This email is just that. Check it out.