Personal Wealth Management / The Well-Read Investor
Writer, Producer and Director, Randall Wallace on Living the Braveheart Life
Oscar nominated screenwriter Randall Wallace and host, Mike Hanson, discuss building the character to leads to a Braveheart Life.
We have a truly special guest for you today in Randall Wallace. He’s the Oscar nominated author of the screenplay for the film Braveheart, but you’ll also know him from huge blockbuster films like We were Soldiers, Pearl Harbor, and Secretariat, to name a few. We’re talking today about his book “Living the Braveheart Life: Finding the Courage to Follow Your Heart”. This is about building the kind of character that I hope for everyone I work with, that I hope for my children and family, and what I personally aspire to. Enjoy!
Full Episode 16 Transcript
Michael Hanson (00:08):
Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of the Well-Read Investor, the podcast that profits your mind and your money.
We have a truly special guest for you today in Randall Wallace. He’s the Oscar nominated author of the screenplay Braveheart, but you’ll also know him from huge blockbuster films like We were Soldiers, Pearl Harbor and Secretariat, to name a few.
His career is astounding, prolific, and tremendously inspirational. I met Randall through our mutual friend, Robbie, who as one of the longest and best friends of my life has always been the sort of person who attracts wonderful people around him. Being modest as he is though, I had no idea who Randall was at the time, but we hit it off immediately and that’s why he’s on the show, to continue that conversation. We’re talking today about his book “Living the Braveheart Life: Finding the Courage to Follow Your Heart”. This is about building the kind of character that I hope for everyone I work with, that I hope for my children and family, and what I personally aspire to but, of course, always fall short of.
There really isn’t very much about investments in this one, I’m just warning you. We endeavor at the Well-Read Investor to bring you luminaries from many walks of life to enhance not only our investing knowledge but the larger scope of our view. But I’ll say this much: we tend to think of the investing world as a land of wolves, an unforgiving game of kill or be killed. And it is that, sometimes. But those who are really good at this for the long haul in some form or another have a larger purpose and deeper character, and they remind me of Randall’s spirit.
It’s a great privilege to bring this conversation to you. Enjoy!
Mike Hanson (02:01)
Well Randall, I just want to say thank you so much again. It's a great honor.
Randall Wallace (02:04):
I'm excited to talk with you. And I wish I knew more about investing, so I'll be eager to learn whatever else I can learn as we're talking.
Mike Hanson (02:13):
You may or may not have come to the right place for that. But, you've done so much and you're sort of a polymath of the arts. I mean, you've been a musician, a novelists, screenwriter, director, producer. Everyone asks you about Braveheart, of course, but you wrote an autobiographical book, Living the Braveheart Life. What is the Braveheart life?
Randall Wallace (02:30):
I was asking myself that question a couple of days ago, and I think I wrote the book to try to get it into focus myself. I'm not much for retrospectives. I think, as someone said about history, history reflects the time it's written in, not the time it was written about. So I've always been much more interested in looking forward or looking around where I am then looking back. But I did begin to ponder because I was looking forward, how to live in alignment with everything I believe. And I wrote a whole book to try to get at what a Braveheart life is, in that the stories about where I come from, about my father, my mother, my family, my roots and how Braveheart grew in some ways out of me trying to understand that, but it grew out of another experience.
Randall Wallace (03:29):
And that experience helps me, I think, explain what I mean by a Braveheart life. We're constantly engaged, in a daily choice about whether you act in faith or you act in fear, and whether you're willing to sacrifice to get to the place that you want to go. You're trying to go now, you're not sure that that place is better, that you sensed that it would be. And, and that to me is one of the hallmarks of what Braveheart is and says, is that William Wallace was willing to sacrifice even more than anyone else. I mean, there's a line in Braveheart when William Wallace says to Robert, the Bruce, that the man that risks his life on the battlefield, does he risk more?
Randall Wallace (04:22):
And every one of them who was on the battlefield was willing to risk his life. William almost was even willing to risk his self-esteem, his dignity. He knew that he might be betrayed again, the people that he was, he was going to trust with his life, where people who had already betrayed him, that makes his sacrifice profound. Early in my career, when nobody wanted to say anything that I was writing and no one had ever heard of me, or even thought I could write, I'd come across a Russian proverb. The Russian proverb was, when a man is born, he'll walk one of three roads on the road to the left, the wolves will eat him on the road to the right. He will eat the wolves on the road, down the center, he'll eat himself. And it's so Russian.
Randall Wallace (05:18):
I thought when I was doing that well, I've had my share of the wolves nibbling at me. And I've had way more than my share of eating myself. I'm going to eat the wolves, and the way I'm going to eat the wolves is I'm going to get up every morning and I'm going to write pages. And I made a sign on a yellow poster board in big red letters of magic marker, eat the wolves and a nailed that to the wall. So that every time I looked up at the screen, there was that. And during the years I had that sign on the wall, I found myself jotting down the thought, the more you do, the more you dare. I don't have a one simple explanation of the Braveheart life, but it's in that group of stories, being willing to dare and being willing to sacrifice, that helps me sharpen where I want to go. The Braveheart life is the willingness to step forward into the mystery, and keep moving toward the light and believing in the light. Even when all you're surrounded by is darkness and confusion.
Mike Hanson (06:33):
Such powerful stuff, and one of the things that comes through in all of your work for me is the inspiration. And I think it comes from the life you live, but you talk about inspiration a lot. In fact, I heard you say, my job is to inspire others and I can't do it if I'm not inspired myself. And when I was in college I had a couple of roommates who watched Braveheart twice a week, every single week, and sometimes I watched it and sometimes I didn’t. But I always said to myself, why are they doing that? And in retrospect I think they were seeking out that same thing that academics couldn't give them. It was something more, they wanted to be adults, they wanted to be men and they were looking for ways to do that. But how do you get the inspiration and how do you actually put that in a format as a writer?
Randall Wallace (07:13):
Well that’s an alchemy. It's magic. It's divine. And whenever someone says, the story is greater than the writer, I think there's an inherent danger of self-aggrandizing in it. When you just say, well, look, I just have this divine gift, and it's not that. It is a divine gift to get a story. My two older sons are writers and one of them said something he loved about being a writer is that he got to be the first audience of the story. Not to pretend that I know about investing but, I've got a friend who's been super successful at it, and I've been amazed at how much research he does. So, his willing to sacrifice was amazing. But a funny thing for me is that, I distrust research largely in the same way that I distrust research for say writing the story. I always write the story first, in as white hot form as I can. And then I go back and do my research, and I know that doesn't make sense, but I wouldn't want to write a story unless something about it had already called to me. So I want to get at, what is it about this that is speaking to me? That is inspiring me. Why am I relating to this?
Mike Hanson (08:41):
On that note, I've heard you tell the story about how you got to the final scene of Braveheart. And I feel like that's very poignant to these points you're making. Would you tell the listeners that brief story about how it is you came to that last moment and all of that?
Randall Wallace (08:54):
I did not have an outline for Braveheart and the entry in the encyclopedia Britannica about William Wallace is minuscule and basically says nothing's really known about his life, it's that his legends have inspired his people. Winston Churchill said much the same thing, that the stories of William Wallace have inspired as his people for centuries. So I didn't know enough about him to even have an outline. But I realized early on that a central part of the story was his love for his wife. And it would be later that I would come to the kind of clarity to articulate that Braveheart’s not a war story. It's a love story. Not only his love for her, but through her, in loving her, he loved everyone. in loving her, he fought for everyone. And in some ways she loved him because he was the kind of man who was willing to fight for everyone.
Randall Wallace (10:02):
So her presence in the story was powerful for me. It was unique and relentless. And I've had a number of times in my life, I don't think of myself as particularly mystical, but I probably am. Those times in our lives, when we have dreams and we wake up from them sweating or crying or ecstatic those are powerful dreams. And I had written in the story three different times when William Wallace dreams of her after he's lost her. In the final film, we only have one dream which was filmed so powerfully, we didn't need the other two, but it spoke to how much he loved her and how much she meant to him that every time before something huge happened in his life dreamed of her and missed her.
Randall Wallace (10:54):
I got to the execution scene and I can vividly see this now. The only room we had on the second floor was my office. And I was up there alone and I was getting to the last page of the story that had been such a journey. It taken me 10 years to even get ready to write page one. And I could feel myself coming to the execution of William Wallace and I wrote the ax drops towards his throat and I stopped and thought, we can't see, we don't want to see the ax penetrate William Wallace’s throat. We don't want to be looking at that. So what do I point out as the camera's point of view, what do we see here? And it struck me fairly instantly that the best thing to do would be to see what the world looked like from William Wallace’s point of view, when he knew he had made the final choice, he had yelled freedom.
Randall Wallace (12:03):
He had not asked for mercy, and that ax was falling toward his throat. And he was about to meet eternity. What would he do? And I thought, well, he would know that Haymitch and Steven, his best friends were in that crowd. He would know that, and he would turn and look for them. So I wrote in the last incident of his life, William Wallace turns his eyes to find Haymitch and Stephen. And it wasn't until that moment that I realized she was there and it hit me like an electric charge, like a bolt of lightning. And I wrote in between them is her and I wept, I, I sat at my desk and I wept. And then continued and wrote the rest of it in that state which, in some ways is my favorite part of the movie that Braveheart after William Wallace’s execution is as some ways the most uplifting part of the whole movie to me, the last minute or so that it goes.
Randall Wallace (13:16):
And Robert, the Bruce on the battlefield transformed. Early on, when I first came across the story of William Wallace, one of my earliest thoughts was what if something about the life and the death of William Wallace transformed Robert, the Bruce from being a man who had betrayed the greatest hero of this country to become the greatest King of his country. And it was the post execution that we saw that, so I went on and wrote the rest of it. That, I suppose, encapsulates everything I think about what a Braveheart life is. That there's discovery, that had he not been on that execution table, had he not done everything he did. He wouldn't have seen her, that she was there to tell him I am where you are coming. And that's one of my favorite parts of the movie.
Mike Hanson (14:13):
That was just so fantastic. Another thing I've always wanted to ask you though, is I've heard you say that the viewer or the reader, as much creates the story as the writer does. And several times now, already, you've mentioned alchemy and mysticism, as a writer, as a craft, how do you communicate? How do you tell people these things and have them understand? How did you learn to do that?
Randall Wallace (14:34):
I mean, that's a rich question. One of my best friends in life is from Afghanistan. And when he was growing up, his father would hire a storyteller who would tell the story until the first of the children would fall asleep and he would notice, and then the next night he would pick up the story where that one had fallen asleep. And I thought with them as with us, you've got to be attuned to the audience. When I was a boy, I would sit in these interminable church services. And in the rural South, there wasn't much to do except go to church. And, it was boring many times, but I heard orators who could hold a whole audience with nothing but their voice for an hour. And I heard music that would just give me chills. And when I'm writing a movie, I'm looking for that moment. That just is Epic in my soul. Epic that makes me want to stand up and go YEAH!
Randall Wallace (15:34):
And when I'm looking for that moment, like when I was writing the, they may take our lives, they'll never take our freedom of speech. I was thinking, what would make me stay on that battlefield, if I'm looking across and I'm seeing three times as many as we have and armies that have conquered many other armies, what would make me stay instead of run away. And when I got to, they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom, I was sitting there going, yes, exactly. It rang true for me. And it rang true, not just in my head, it rang true in my gut. It’s when I have that feeling that I feel the most alive. When I was doing studying religion in college, I came across the old Testament idea of spirit, wasn't like a separated soul, like this ghost thing. And then you've got this body and the ghost animates the physical, it was a unity of the physical and soul, and that's the spirit that I'm always looking for.
Mike Hanson (16:42):
So through real intense, personal experience comes universal. That's just so fascinating. I think it's possible to see overtones of the New Testament in Braveheart and all the rest of that. But you and I have spoken about the Russians. How much of an influence has all that been, take a Tolstoy or whomever, they were dealing with these questions ultimately.
Randall Wallace (17:01):
Yes. When I started reading Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and Chekov, they stunned me with how relevant they were, living on the other side of the planet sometimes a hundred years before 50, 75 or more years before me, and how they were revealing things that were completely relevant to me. And that is the way I feel about the whole journey of faith. There was a great phrase I came across of, religion is man's way to God and is always erroneous, but revelation is God's way to humanity. And it's always perfect. And revelation to me, I think I talked about it in the book of Huckleberry Finn, that the revelation that says, this man you thought of as a slave, is a better man than you are, is a revelation from God. It's one that can transform you, but the preaching your own dogma, your own understanding, doesn't transform anyone except possibly you and make you worse. So I'm not about trying to preach my dogma as much as I am to live in accordance with my faith and hope, and what I feel is love.
Mike Hanson (18:22):
I think one of the things that's inspiring about you in addition to your work, it seems as if you do really live these things out. And through the book, Living the Braveheart Life, there’s all sorts of harrowing experiences, but you're very much a sportsman and you engage in very rigorous sports. You know, you go out there and the waves of Laird Hamilton and do all sorts of warrior, like stuff. I mean, what's that like for you?
Randall Wallace (18:41):
I got involved with getting to go up to Laird Hamilton's house and do his extreme pool training workouts about eight years ago, and I'm not a swimmer. But the extreme pool training is not so much about swimming as much as this stress training. And I've had some great experiences too, with the military. I was allowed to go to ranger school in preparing to make We Were Soldiers. To quote Laird, I hope I quote him accurately. He said that if you don't do something every day to make you feel small, you're not fully living. And it's one of the things, even the iconic surfer that he is, he feels the strength and the power of the ocean every time he goes out. And in some ways that's a communion with the divine for him. For me, it's part of, I don't want to live a disembodied life.
Mike Hanson (19:34):
Among all the other things you've done, you've also been a songwriter and music has been part of your life. And you've had several very nice pieces done, and they've been incorporated in many of your works. How does music sort of jive with all of the rest of the artistic endeavor, whether it be visual or writing do you produce music as you write, would you say, is there something lyrical about what you do?
Randall Wallace (19:55):
Man, I love that question. Absolutely. When I first wrote ready for there was a studio executive I worked with named Rebecca Pollack, who is now Rebecca Paula Parker. And Becky is the daughter of Sydney Pollack, who is one of the great directors of all time, one of my favorites ever. And the Becky told me when Braveheart came out because, you know, it was my first movie ,that people were calling her saying, where did this guy come from? Because this is his first movie. How does he write like that? And she saw the music as part of that preparation, that I'd written hundreds of songs by the time I ever tried to write a screenplay and I naturally then would write dialogue in a lyrical way. I don't rhyme the dialogue in movies, but writing lyrics for songs to sort of make the words sing even without the music that goes with them is a mystical skill.
Randall Wallace (20:56):
But also that feeling that you would get like, I've always been drawn to epic music. So Beethoven is my favorite composer. When I was a boy, I mean, eight years old or so, my father bought our first stereo and he got some classical music records because they were on sale. And one of them was Tchaikovsky's 18, 12 overture. And I would turn that on and listen to it over and over because the power of it. You could feel the Russian army and you feel that the French army and you feel the battle and then the cannons boom in the end. Or the way I would feel when we sang the Ode to Joy in church. And I would think when I started writing movies, I want the audience to have an experience that's like that. So, music and movies aren't two different things from me. And on top of that, if you strip the music out of a movie, you would completely gut the movie. A movie without music, is just nothing. I say that, I know Robert Zemeckis some we've worked on a project together, and in his tremendous movie, Cast Away, there's no music in it until the moment when Tom Hanks' character leaves the Island and all that does is just make the music ever more important when it comes in. It's just so brilliant to do that. Music is so deep in my life, I couldn't imagine being without it. Music is sacred to all peoples, the music might be somewhat different, but boy, they have it and they feel the rhythm and they feel the melody, it affects us all. It's a sacred thing.
Mike Hanson (22:43):
It's as universal a story. A personal question, though. I think I heard you say once that you were, or are friends with Mike Post, is that right?
Randall Wallace (22:49):
Yes! If it weren't for Mike, I would, I think have no career. Mike was the one who created my biggest single break, which was he introduced me to Steve Cannell, not just to introduced, but he championed me to Steve Cannell. He was like, Steve, you need to pay attention to this guy, Steve, you need to look, you need to look, you need to read yeah, Mike did that for me.
Mike Hanson (23:11):
Yeah. That just so cool, for our listeners who don't know who Mike Post is, he's a tremendous musical writer and composer and wrote some of the songs that everyone listening to this will have heard, especially for television and other movies and things. And he also produced a Van Halen album, which makes him AOK in my book. What is new and interesting to you today? What can you talk about that you're working on now, and what's next for you?
Randall Wallace (23:36):
I've got a number of things that are exciting. The one that's really top of top of the heap right now is, I had taken my sons to Rome. And while we were there got to meet the Swiss guards and I became fascinated with writing a story about the Swiss guards and I have, and we've been putting together investors and we've got most of the money and some really excited and exciting investors and we're planning to make the movie and start shooting in late summer in Rome. And have that be my own company. I think Hollywood in some ways, it's just come to a point where it needs to be reinvented, as it always does. Hollywood is a an amazing creative engine and it's always reinventing to stay alive. I think it's an opportunity now to do the kinds of movies and, to do them in the business plan that I've always wanted to do them. The Swiss Guard is top of that list, that'll be the biggest thing. I've been doing some music about that and I play music in my church on Sunday. We go to a church in a tent. It's the first time, well since I left home in Virginia, that I've felt a community around me. And I've been writing music for that and trying to figure out how I'm going to like release that. And got a television project, the SQL to Dances With Wolves, is exciting too. So we're staying busy and my sons are more prolific than I am. So we've got a whole lot of things in our family business where we're looking to do.
Mike Hanson (25:04):
Well. That's so exciting Randall, I just want to say thank you again, your inspirational life, your stories. It's been such a pleasure to have you on this program. And I just want to say thanks again for your time.
Randall Wallace (25:14):
Hey, thank you so much. I knew when we met, I can vividly see that I was like, we're going to be friends. I'm so glad that we got, got the link up again.
Mike Hanson (25:32):
That was our conversation with Randall Wallace. I just want to say thank you again to both he and our mutual friend Robbie for making this happen. If there’s anything I can add to our conversation , it would bet this: Toughness comes from tenderness and empathy, fortitude comes from yielding to forces greater than we, respect comes from appreciation, and authority comes from responsibility. I love so much to see those qualities in Randall, and especially in his work.
Thanks again for listening. As always, if you enjoy the show follow us on social media for book reviews and so much more, via twitter @wellreadpod and Instagram at @wellreadinvestorpod or just google the Well-Read Investor to see what I’m reading, reviewing, and talking about each and every week.
We have a spectacular set of guests on the docket over the next months, I couldn’t be more excited, and you won’t want to miss what we have for you. So look for us in two weeks on March 3rd when we have Tyler Maroney in to talk about his book, “The Modern Detective: How corporate intelligence is reshaping the world”. This one is all about the high stakes world of corporate espionage and should be great fun.
And until then, may all your reading profit your mind and your money. Take care.
Investing in securities involves the risk of loss, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. The content of this podcast represents the opinions and viewpoints of Fisher Investments, and should not be regarded and personal investment advice. No assurances are made we will continue to hold these views, which may change at any time, based on new information, analysis or reconsideration. Copyright Fisher Investments, 2021.
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