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

Oliver focused on:

  • Storytelling and the power of having a central theme and a leading voice
  • How to communicate complex themes to engage people effectively
  • 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 convention. This has also got him into much hot water, but he believes in what he is doing and keeps doing it.

Stone has constantly been told “no” throughout his life but doesn’t take no for an answer. He keeps going, even if it’s controversial, because what matters to Stone is, to tell the truth, and tell a great story.

resilience is critical, and that comes from belief in what is the right authentic story to tell.

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

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

His father was on Wall Street most of his life and had moderate success. Oliver was considered an idiot –to his father 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 improving them.

On leadership, Stone spoke about the challenges of making movies involving 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 a beacon of light throughout the process. If the writing isn’t there, 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 must 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 isn’t easy. It would help if you had a great assistant director.

how do you choose the right talent for your movies?

It’s not that simple. Sometimes it depends on the 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, 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?

You were squeezing the sponge. You do it with rehearsal, with the script and by being flexible enough to make changes to the hand to match a person you are working with.


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 ensures you tell that story, make the movie good, and create the correct 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 them 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 usually, a sliced scene, a more straight 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 businesses and our own leadership experiences.

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

about the author

Oliver Stone

master storyteller

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 unique capacity to make films that communicate complex social and political themes that effectively engage mass audiences worldwide. 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 creating a career that sets him out from the crowd.

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