At this year’s World Business Forum, legendary filmmaker and 3-time Oscar-winning director, Oliver Stone spoke about his life, growing up and the impact this had in driving him to work hard, create high impact stories.

Oliver focused on:
  • Storytelling and the power of having a crucial theme and a leading voice
  • How to communicate complex themes to effectively engage people
  • Authenticity and trust: how they relate and the impact they have both on your team and your external audience
  • How to stand out of the crowd and get heard: some insights on passion, beliefs and risk taking
As a young man Oliver served in the Vietnam War. He says he wanted to see what life was like from the bottom of the barrel because of his difficult upbringing with divorced parents and going through a strict school system.

He returned to the US as a war veteran to find he didn’t fit in with society so he took himself to film school in New York, studying with Martin Scorcese. Scorcese was a great source of energy who had an immense love of film and filmmaking. He inspired Stone to tell great stories.

This is what Stone does best – to tell a great story and to tell the truth - without preconceptions and without convention. This has also got him into a lot of hot water but he believes in what he is doing and keeps doing it.

Stone has constantly been told “no” throughout his life but he doesn’t take no for an answer, he just keeps going, even if it’s controversial because what matters to Stone is to tell the truth and tell a great story. Resilience is key, and that comes from belief in what is the right authentic story to tell.

Stone is certainly not a bulldozer. He says experiencing setbacks and getting a lot of ‘no’s’ is very depressing. A lot of stories have not been told because of this, but he just keeps going and believes at some point, they will get told.

Because he’s a dramatist he wants to shed light on the real stories from the inside out - from the perspective of larger than life characters and big personalities – because according to Stone, it’s the right thing to do. It has nothing to do with whether or not he likes their personality.

Nixon was one movie he was extremely proud of because of that. It was a great story, told exceptionally well from Nixon’s perspective – such a complex interesting personality and encourages people to take another look at it.

His father was on Wall Street most of his life and had moderate to good success. To his father, Oliver was considered an idiot – because he didn’t understand bonds, dividends, stocks and the market and he lost money.

Stone is concerned about ethics in business and finance and believes boards are more interested in rating their business than actually improving them.

On leadership, Stone spoke about the challenges of making movies, which involves hundreds of people, with lots of skills, egos, personalities, knowledge, experience, ambitions, demographics and how challenging it is to bring it all together.

His main message is to start from the script – that there has to be something greater than yourself to motivate and inspire people to do a great job. If everyone involved thinks it is a great story, that it is worthwhile and that there’s a story to tell, then people will respect that, believe in it and do a great job, even though they may not necessarily like you. The script will stand as beacon of light throughout the process. If the script isn’t there, then people are likely to do a movie for the wrong reasons and then it becomes a different movie.

Leadership has to be authentic, pure and intense. Stone says purity works in leadership for making films, but may not necessarily work in making products. Dealing with actors is challenging, and you need to figure out your balance. You need to push but you need to know how much. Teams are working overseas with the production designer often going off on their own and you can’t be there to see what’s happening. So it’s difficult. You need a great assistant director.

How do you choose the right talent for your movies? It’s not that simple. Sometimes it depends on budget or timing of making the movie. Sometimes the actor is wrong and you need the ability and strength to say no, not for this movie. This is important because if you get the wrong actor then you’re screwed. Then it’s all for naught. It happens more than you think.

How do you get the best out of your team? Squeezing the sponge. You do it with rehearsal, with the script and by being flexible enough to make changes with the script to match a person you are working with.

Encouragement. You have to love the actor because you are defending them. You do it because you are worshipping the greater good which is your script. The script is the Holy Grail and ensuring you tell that story and make the movie good and creating the right tension. Making it all come together is an art.

Post production is 30% of the job. You have to take all the pieces and pull it all together. Often things that look good on script don’t come across on film so through editing you have to reduce the movie to more simple levels but often a sliced scene, a simpler shot is more effective than the whole scene. It’s a process that has to continue to grow.

Stones experiences allow us to draw parallels to our own businesses and our own leadership experiences.

Randstad is proud to be a major sponsor of the World Business Forum in Sydney 27-28 May 2015.

Oliver Stone
Oliver Stone is a master storyteller lauded for his gripping and at times controversial films about events in recent US history including Platoon, JFK, Born on the 4th of July and Nixon.

Stone has a special capacity to make films that communicate complex and social and political themes that effectively engage mass audiences around the world. A true provocateur, whose work is at times controversial but always authentic, he is not afraid to rock the boat and has shown the power of developing a unique voice when it comes to developing a career that sets him out from the crowd.