by David Carus
He has been called the biggest movie star in the world. He’s worked with every big name director and star in Hollywood. For decades his films have consistently generated millions at the box office. It’s safe to say the kind of success Tom Cruise has experienced is no fluke but instead the result of hard work. So what did he do to make it?
Tom Cruise didn’t come from elite Hollywood royalty. In fact, his family was poor, his parents divorced and his career path wasn’t easily laid out for him. When he decided to get into acting he wasn’t immediately handed the role of Maverick in Top Gun. There were lots of smaller roles to be played before he solidified himself as a star. His first big screen role was Billy the arsonist in the movie Endless Love and Cruise was only on screen for 47 seconds! Some actors might have been frustrated about getting so little screen time but Cruise decided to take his character and create as best he could with him so his 47 seconds would be memorable and they were! So much so that it helped him land his next role in the movie Taps.
Once again he was only supposed to play a minor part but after seeing how committed the actor was on set (he was out-marching the other cadets) Taps director Harold Becker gave Cruise a larger role. With it he established that he could play a killer, so much so that when he expressed interest in the title role for Risky Business, the director Paul Brickman said no way. Despite this Tom Cruise showed up unannounced, created an opportunity for himself to audition and landed the coveted role. He slid across that floor in his underwear and let America know a new star had arrived. By the time Top Gun hit theaters there was no stopping the actor.
How did he pull it all off? He used hard work, committed himself to the roles he played, no matter what they were or required and showed a passion for creating movies. He built each character, was determined to become that person and did what it took to see them through. He’s one of the few actors that does his own stunts. Why? Because he knows that’s what it takes to make the best picture he can make. He once said, “That’s what works for me: the power of my own imagination and my own ability to believe.”
He makes it look effortless, like being a movie star is something you’re just born with but on closer examination we see that he just showed up more times and spent longer hours than anyone else to get the job done. He made up his mind that he was not only going to be an actor but that he was going to be a great one. You can tell the level of responsibility he has for his work because he also produces his own films. Despite whatever happens in the tabloids or press the guy continues to get in front of cameras and create. His films are the work of a true professional and stellar artist. One who keeps showing up eager to make something great and no matter the limitations finds a way -- he creates!
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I’m a dad. I have the most awesome son in the world. He’s two and a half years old. Throughout his life I’ve noticed him having quite an effect on people. It started on Facebook when I’d post pictures of him. He always generated more likes than anything else I’d post. He even got the attention of an artist friend of mine in London who asked if he could be part of her latest work (art below). As he got older and had better control of his body and words, I’d take him to the park or to the store and people would ask how old he was and say how mature he was for his age. Lately he’s been creating some incredible effects and I was lucky to film one of them and post it on YouTube. Some of my friends expressed interest in reading what I had to say about parenting and raising such a super kid, so I decided to finally tackle the subject. It also gives me a chance to tell the story behind the YouTube video I just uploaded. I’m sure everyone will love and be amazed by it. So here goes my viewpoint as a parent.
Parenting is something I never thought much about but when the time came to be a parent I suddenly realized no one had ever clearly explained how all of this would be. Sure, people that have kids will laugh and say things like “Good luck waking up in the middle of the night,” or “There goes your free time,” but too many details were missing. Having gone through the whole waking up in the middle of the night thing, changing diapers, rocking my son to sleep in about a million different ways, I can understand why people don’t elaborate on the experience. It’s because everyone is faced with the most difficult task they will ever have to do and no matter what happens, the job has to get done and by the end of it you’re at a loss for words as to what exactly happened; it becomes a big blur. Well, I learned a few things that helped me get through the blur and they helped give me the happiest kid you’ll ever see.
My son’s name is Sage. Sage basically means an old wise man. I was flipping through a book about seven years ago when I saw the word and thought how it would be an awesome name for a boy. I should also mention his middle name is Kal-El which is Superman’s real name. I wanted my son to be smart, strong, able, caring, dynamic and help people. I wanted him to have a different kind of name because I thought of him as an individual. I didn’t want him to be me. I wanted him to be himself. I didn’t talk to him like he was a baby. No goo goo’s and ga ga’s. I talked to him like he was my friend, like an adult. I gave him space and independence but always stayed close enough to prevent him from hurting himself. When he did get hurt I didn’t baby him or show him sympathy; I just put his attention on the next thing. I didn’t invalidate him. I didn’t make him wrong or make him feel like he’d done something bad. I validated him. All the time I told him things like, “Good job!” or “Alright!” or “You did it!”
I knew he was watching and learning from my example so I tried my best to be the best person I could be around him. I wasn’t perfect and I didn’t expect him to be. We both did our best to not be too serious and have fun with what we did. I got excited when we were going to do something and he’d get excited too. It wasn’t easy and there were times I felt like throwing in the towel but I knew my worst was someone else’s best and tried to keep things in perspective. Overall, it took patience, good communication, good control, no punishment and lots of encouragement.
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I took Sage hiking and towards the end of our walk a family was walking towards us. Without saying a word, Sage walked up to the son and hugged him. Then he walked up to the daughter and hugged her too. The family and the kids were dumbfounded. I had to break the silence and told Sage, “Say, good to meet you.” He extended his hand out with tremendous purpose and said “Good to meet you,” to each person one by one. It was the most beautifully moving thing I’d ever seen in my life. When we walked away I told my wife, “My god, I wanted to cry,” she said, “Me too.”
Recently, we took a trip into Manhattan and came across a couple of street performers in Union Square. We stopped to watch a man playing a piano and another doing an interpretational dance to the music playing. The man dancing had big bushy hair, only wore underwear and tennis shoes, and had a fairly large audience watching him. I noticed Sage was excited to see him dancing and I could tell he wanted to get into the act. He did and I was able to film him as he made his way into the circle and it was a proud moment for me to watch him performing on the streets of New York City at 2 years old. Here's the YouTube video of him dancing:
I try to approach things as an artist. Parenting is definitely an art and you either become the starving artist parent, pointing at all of the barriers, or you become the master or genius artist parent, pointing at all of the freedoms. Watching my son running through the park with other kids, giving voices to the toys he plays with at home, saying thank you to the clerk at Trader Joe’s, or dancing in front of a crowd of people, makes me think I helped to give my son a little more freedom than most. I used to think he was my greatest masterpiece but now I realize he’s really his own. I just gave him a brush or two, he supplied the paint.
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by David Carus
If someone is not an artist they might think success as an artist works like this: you’re born with talent and it secretly waits to pop its head one day when, quite through accident, you find yourself performing or creating art and there’s a talent scout watching who rushes to meet you backstage, whips out a million dollar contract and sweeps you away to Hollywood and you wake up to your picture on the front page of every major newspaper in the world. That’s pretty much the idea of overnight success, right? Wrong. It’s time to reveal the actual secret to overnight success by looking at a couple of artists that actually had the world’s attention, seemingly overnight.
Man can fly, but that wasn’t always the case. At the start of the 20th century there were plenty of ambitious minds tackling the problem of flight, but the general public thought man would be limited to traveling by land or sea and laughed at the funny looking contraptions they saw being tested on the tops of hills. The Wright Brothers came along and changed the whole game. What did they do differently than everybody else? They not only took the road less traveled, they ditched roads all together. Like Doc Brown said in “Back to the Future II,” “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” Their story is truly inspiring.
Wilbur and Orville Wright’s father gave them a toy helicopter when they were younger. It was made from paper, bamboo, cork and a rubber band and the boys played with it until it broke but they figured out how to build their own, sparking an early interest in aviation. Wilbur Wright was an athletic guy with plans to go to Yale University when a hockey stick knocked out his front teeth, causing him to withdraw from people. Instead of college, he stayed indoors caring for his terminally ill mother, and considered himself lacking in ambition. However, while at home caring for his mother, he began studying aviation. Orville Wright had dropped out of high school to open up a printing business, using a printing press designed and built with Wilbur’s help. When bicycles became a national craze, the brothers decided to open up a bicycle shop, designing and building their own bicycles.
Up until this time there had been many attempts to build a flying machine but no one in the world had solved all of the pieces to the puzzle. The Wright Brothers decided to tackle the problem and used money from their bicycle business to fund their experiments. They used some of what they’d learned building bicycles and applied it to flying. While everyone else was focused on stability, the Wright Brothers knew the real problem was steering. They understood an airplane in the sky wouldn’t handle like a boat in the water. Their grasp of bicycle design helped them find a steering solution. And another breakthrough came when they abandoned using the aeronautical data of one of their biggest inspirations, the German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal. Realizing his data was incorrect, the Wright brothers decided to start from scratch to discover the correct formulas behind wing design. After more than a decade of experiments, filled with failures, injuries and plenty of self-doubt, on December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers flew the world’s first, truly working airplane. Were there swarms of reporters watching the historical moment? No, there was only one other person there, a guy Wilbur found to take photographs of the flights and the film wasn’t even developed until the brothers returned home to Ohio. The world eventually found out but it was an overnight success that had taken well over a decade to create; longer if you count the toy helicopter.
The airplane was the result of years of study, experimentation, hard work and thinking outside the box. For a couple of guys without college degrees or even high school diplomas, all they needed was to keep pushing through the barriers, ignore the limitations and focus on their dream, so fragile that the whole world didn’t think it possible. The next time you’re watching a famous artist or creator on TV and thinking of yourself as a failure for not being there yet, remember the story of two brothers who spent years of getting it wrong until they finally got it right. Imagine them pushing their flying machine made of canvas and wood into the wind until it was conquered, seeing their masterpiece soaring above the world. Overnight success is great, but not as great as the everyday success of chasing your dreams. The pleasure is in the doing, not the having, so get out there and do whatever you gotta do because that’s the secret to flying.
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Please read this to the end my friend. I should have listened to you long ago. Remember when I first mentioned how much I loved art and you saw that sparkle in my eye but tried to set me straight? You were smart enough to know that life as an artist is only met with struggle and starvation and you wanted to protect me from all of that. You said I should get an office job, something safe and secure and then work on my art on the side. Oh, I should have listened to you! I was such a fool!
I spent years of my life making art. I put my heart and soul into everything I created just to be met with rejection after rejection. At first it wasn't so bad because I could say I was new to being an artist and I needed more experience at it before I was good and before people could value what I was doing. But then more years passed and I knew I was getting better but people still rejected my work. I showed it to friends like you. You smiled and nodded and told me it was good but I could always tell you were being nice and didn't really mean it. You never bought my art and in the beginning that was okay because we were friends anyway and I didn't care about the money so I'd offer to give it to you for free but I could tell you didn't really want it. I started to realize that I must not be good enough so I foolishly took more lessons, studied and worked even harder! I was such a fool! I spent thousands of hours getting better, not to mention thousands of dollars, in the hopes that I could somehow make it and prove you wrong. I really believed in what I was doing and I knew that being an artist was in my blood and I couldn't imagine life without it so I actually continued on, ha!
One day my hard work paid off and someone not only loved what I was doing but they paid me money for it! It wasn't a lot of money but it was something. Remember that day? You told me it was great but that the money I made compared to how much time it took to create my art still didn't make it profitable. You pointed out I'd have to make lots more art and that I needed way more fans than I'd probably be able to find. You told me most people didn't care about art. You said people were too busy working and trying to survive themselves and how could they possibly hand over their hard earned dollars for something they didn't really need. You pointed out that my art wasn't food, it wasn't clothing and it wasn't shelter. I had to admit that you had a point and it really put me in quite a state. I spent weeks thinking about what you told me and it really started sinking in: the idea that I'd just wasted most of my life pursuing a crazy dream that was never going to happen. I started to think about going back to college. I researched which jobs paid the most. I grabbed all of my art supplies and materials, every book I had and every scrap of anything that could possibly remind me of my life as an artist and I put them in large boxes and was ready to take a trip to the thrift shop. I sat there upset, angry and frustrated. I thought about how you tried to help me so many years ago when I first had this foolish notion of being an artist. I remembered that look you gave me and continued to give me. I decided to make a wish.
I wished for a time machine to take me back in time so I could have a conversation with myself back when I was younger; back when I first thought of being an artist. You know what I would tell the old me? I'd say this:
"Don't listen to anyone doubting you and what you want to do. Don't call someone a friend who doesn't support your goals in life and who doesn't want you to succeed as an artist. No matter how much it all seems to make good, solid "sense," never let anyone convince you that what you are doing is not important. You see, artists run this planet. Without people coming up with new ideas and creating new things, the world would never grow or get better. Without artists the world would be a boring, stagnant place that no one would want to live in. You are one of the most able and gifted people on this Earth right now. It's up to you to not only make art but to make as much of it as you possibly can. The world needs you.
It's hard for some people to have as much courage as you do. They wish they could do what you can do and what you will do. It's up to you to help bring about a world where they feel they can also face all of the obstacles standing in the way of artists. The biggest ones don't come like bulldozers or Godzilla stomping towards your house. They knock at your door very politely and smile every time they sit in your living room. They put one hand on your shoulder while the other one moves ever so covertly. No matter what they do, how they appear or when they come, you must know this: they are cowards.
Just keep doing your thing and do it with all your might. Oh, and one day, years from now you will write something that you can send to any of these "friends." You'll start by telling them you're giving up being an artist. You'll be using the words they most want to hear from you. Then, once you have them believing this you will do a complete 180 flip and send them falling down into apathy about trying to harm you. Why will you write this? Because 1) you don't need those kinds of "friends" and 2) it's fun to create isn't it? (Not to mention some of your artist friends may enjoy reading it too, or you for that matter if you ever need some motivation. You don't want the bad guys to win now do you? Good, now stop reading this and get back to making art. You've got worlds to build.)"
When I was 12 years old I was watching lots of movies but I never got the idea that I could be directing them. In 2006, then 12 year-old Emily Hagins of Austin, Texas completed her film which took her two years to write, produce, direct and edit herself. She took a strong interest in movies at an early age and when "The Lord of the Rings" hit theaters she had to watch it over and over and over again, dozens of times. The movie inspired her so much she decided she wanted to make movies and be a director. She knew absolutely no one in the film or entertainment business so she decided to ask the only person she knew for help: Peter Jackson, the director of "The Lord of the Rings!" Emily's letter to the director was responded to with a recommendation to talk to a friend of his that lived in Austin, where Emily was. That friend didn't know what to do other than invite the young girl to his annual film festival where the young girl watched a zombie movie she absolutely fell in love with and decided right then she wanted her first movie to be about zombies.
Within two months Emily had written a script for a full length film with lots of scenes and tons of roles. When she showed her parents they were encouraging and supportive but weren't too sure how likely it was she was going to be able to finish making her movie. Using a small handheld video camera, a microphone attached to an old painter's stick, a cast of actors recruited from her school and a very loving mom to apply zombie make up to dozens of people, Emily Hagins made her first film at the age of 12. Her film "Pathogen" was shown publicly to all of her friends and got her lots of media attention. A documentary film was made about her directing her film called "Zombie Girl" and Emily has gone on to make numerous short films and two more full length films, one about ghosts and the other about vampires. Her third film about vampires called "My Sucky Teen Romance" was filmed when Emily was 18 years-old and received a theatrical distribution deal.
Given Emily's lack of connections, lack of resources, lack of funding and her age, directing a full length movie should be impossible. Somehow this talented, driven and passionate young girl found a way to get a movie made and it led her to more movies and with each film, her experience and skills have increased. Her current projects look much more professional and polished. By the time Emily is in her twenties or thirties, she should be a real force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. While the rest of us were being spectators and watching worlds unfold on our television and movie screens, as a kid Emily Hagins was creating and shaping her own worlds for others to watch. Her story is truly inspiring because she never saw a barrier to her purpose, she just set out to learn and do the things that were needed to get the job done. If a 12 year-old girl can make a full length film, what can we as adults accomplish with tremendously more at our disposal? We don't have homework or curfews to deal with, but perhaps we have children of our own that need our time and attention. Well, why not take your children and put a camera in their hands and shoot something together? There are only the barriers we decide to place on ourselves and so many amazing freedoms we have if we only dare to look. Why not capture them?
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Millions of people have watched the movie "Rocky" but very few know the story of how it came to be created. It is one of the most inspiring stories of an artist making it that you've ever heard, even more inspiring than the movie itself that inspired millions. Sylvester Stallone was no stranger to overcoming the odds. As a baby he had to be pulled out with forceps and began life with physical limitations and a speech problem. There was only one real goal Stallone ever had in his life: to be an actor in movies. When he began acting no one wanted him because he didn't look like an actor and he spoke funny. Every agent in town turned him down but he kept showing up to their offices and eventually one decided to take him after he patiently waited an entire night for him to return the next morning. He got a few roles playing gangsters and tough guys but wanted a real career.
Stallone was extremely broke because the work wasn't enough to make ends meet. It got to the point where he didn't have enough money to pay to heat his apartment.. On a cold day he went to the public library because it was warm there. He was not a reader but someone had left a book of stories by Edgar Allen Poe and he picked it up. Stallone became so inspired by Poe's stories and the author's own story that he decided to try his hand at writing. He wrote with not much success but remained hopeful. His financial situation got worse and one day he realized he couldn't afford to feed his best friend in the whole world, his dog, and stood in front of a liquor store until he found someone that bought him for $25. It broke his heart to let him go but knew now he'd be fed.
Two weeks later Stallone was watching TV and a boxing match was on. Muhammed Ali was fighting Chuck Wepner, an underdog fighter that somehow managed to hold his own with Ali and even knocked him down. He immediately became inspired and in about 20 hours worth of writing over 3 days he had the 90 page screenplay for "Rocky." He was confident in the story and one day mentioned that he was also a writer and they were willing to take a look at his script. He was dead broke and starving at the time but his luck was about to change. He was offered $125,000 for his script! He had only one condition: he had to play the role of Rocky. They told him he was crazy and to take the money and they'd find a big star to play Rocky. He said no. They came back to him with another offer of $250,000! Stars like Robert Redford, Ryan O'Neil or others could play the part. He said no! He was starving, broke and he'd never dreamed of so much money but he stuck to his guns and said he had to play Rocky. It got up to $330,000 but he still said no! They ended up paying him $35,000 but he got the part.
"Rocky" was shot for one million dollars in 28 days and went on to be highest grossing movie of 1976, making $200 million dollars at the box office and won three oscars including Best Picture. Sylvester Stallone's story is one of complete determination and the very highest of ethics. He did not compromise his self-determinism or abandon is dreams, he kept fighting and putting his goal out front until he won. Stallone is a uniquely inspiring guy who went on to inspire countless millions of people across the planet with his tale of a boxer that goes the distance, but the true inspiration is from his own example. An interesting thing happened when he got his paycheck for $35,000. He didn't buy a car or throw a big party. He immediately went back to that same liquor store he had sold his dog at, every day until he found the guy that had him and offered him $100 for him. The guy said no! (He had grown attached to the dog in the one month that had passed). Stallone said I'll give you $1,000 dollars, just please let me have my dog back, he's my best friend in the whole world. He said no! Finally, he had to pay the guy $15,000 and a part in "Rocky" but he got his dog back. You may recognize him, he was in the movie too. He was Rocky's dog, Butkus. When you're feeling uninspired watch "Rocky" and the next time you do, think about the starving artist that didn't starve and his best friend that didn't either. It just might help you put things in perspective. You don't have to drink raw eggs like Rocky but you might want to get yourself a nice tall glass of integrity.
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Ray Bradbury, author of "Fahrenheit 451" and countless writings on science fiction and the human spirit, "passed away" yesterday at the age of 91. He was certainly one of the greatest writers in the last 100 years and leaves the world still ablaze with the fires he started with his great works and the flames he fanned in our minds. If we learn anything from his lifetime spent amongst desks typing and scribbling away, it is that books are powerful igniters for all mankind to lift up and use.
From the time he was a boy he was captivated by books like Tarzan and Flash Gordon. By the time he was a teenager his own short stories made their way into magazines and his career only continued to climb. It was not an easy road for Bradbury, not in the slightest. He is a great example of hard work and persistence overcoming social and financial limitations. His family was on government assistance and attending college was not an option to him. He sold newspapers on the street corner and spent three days a week reading books at the public library for 10 years straight. When he needed to write, he had to rent a typewriter. It was on a rented typewriter in a library that Ray Bradbury wrote his masterpiece "Fahrenheit 451."
Today's writers are very much spoiled, given laptop computers, printers and the internet, but in Bradbury's days, writing was much different. He pursued writing and books because he had a passion for it, not because every household had a computer and he happened to be good in English. He went about a career in literature through reading lots of books and then writing lots of books. Lucky for us that he chose the path he chose because the world is a much better one for it. His stories gave birth to entirely new imaginative and scientific creations that actually took shape and impacted the world. He predicted things like ATM machines, the death of newspapers, television screens taking up entire walls and people wearing earphones which would feed them a never ending supply of entertainment, all before these things happened.
Ray Bradbury was a literary giant whose footprints will be noticed for many years because we will have to keep stepping into them. His stories are so enormous in significance and scope that hundreds of years from now people will read what this man wrote and marvel at his insights and brilliance. In an era where so much attention goes onto war, violence, drugs and sex, here stands a life spent trying to get our attention where it should be, onto peace, creativity, imagination, literature, science and art. We will always have his books and they will continue to shine a light for generations of men in the future who will not have lived when he did but will surely be bettered in their time as we have been in ours by this incredible being.
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Without a purpose you're lost, whether as an artist or anyone. If you had a ship, no matter how well equipped or fancy it was, if you didn't know why it was sailing, it would wander aimlessly in a sea of unrewarding confusion. In the daily challenge of getting through this thing we call life, it helps to have a purpose. When you have one all of the difficulties, the obstacles, the rude comment, the traffic, all dissipate and vanish. Every day I try to remind myself of why I'm doing what I'm doing. I look at the world and compare it to what I'd like it to look like and then get to work making that ideal scene happen. Why do this? Because the alternative is a life filled with ill feelings and frustration. Also, and most importantly because it feels good creating something that wasn't there before.
I like to think every day, each moment I have a blank canvas on which to paint. If I make a mistake which I often do, it's okay because that canvas is limitless and comes with a big eraser. My purpose is to leave something on that canvas that wasn't there before and that helps make the world into something better, helping as many people as possible. When I paint, create, write, make music, whatever, I think about my purpose and never let it leave if I can help it. It sometimes does but I recognize those times easily because it's in those times I am not quite me, not really happy with my activity and reach out once again for my purpose to get me back on track.
I've been guilty of listening to others' opinions or accepting false information as truth and wandered off my purpose line. I know how easy it is to get lost in a world filled with so many contradictory viewpoints and spectacles. However, I have learned that if there was one thing worthy of years of your time, energy and effort, it is finding and knowing your purpose so know one and nothing could ever cause you to even make you look away from it. The truly great human beings we have all immortalized knew what they were doing and why. They kept their eyes on the prize and never gave up. I may have lost a few battles but I like to think I never sold out my purpose of helping make this world better, stronger and more able. It has taken different shapes and forms but the purpose has always been there. Whether it was carrying a stack of books from the library as a kid or sitting in a Congressional hearing or recording controversial lyrics or picking up a paintbrush, I have known my purpose was there. When you see me reading a comic book, don't see a grown man indulging in a childish or immature activity, see a man studying new universes created by artists where human beings are powerful and see me searching for ways to use the story to inject it into ours.
Hundreds of years ago there were no iPods, CDs, DVDs, computers, telephones, telegraphs, airplanes, radios or automobiles. There was no Harry Potter, no Superman, no Sherlock Holmes, no Robin Hood. My point is that the world constantly changes because courageous artists, creators and individuals are out there every day working to put a future out in front of mankind and they all have a purpose that motivates them to get us there. Take time today and examine what your purpose is. If you can't pinpoint it right away, don't worry, keep at it until you can. It's worth doing because you decide what tomorrow will look like. It's best to have a plan going into it and to know why you're going there in the first place.
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I'm David Carus. From overcoming one of the most dangerous cities in the country and graduating from one of the most prestigious colleges in America to leading an educational movement as a teacher and running for Congress at the age of 25, I decided the best hope our world has is through art.