How to get Jack Nicholson to say Yes

Academy Award winning producer Peter Guber was convinced Jack Nicholson was perfect to play the Joker in the original Batman movie.  

Peter had been working for eight years to bring the movie to the silver screen.

Eight years fraught with uncertainty.  

Peter had hired Tim Burton as the movie’s director.  Michael Keaton had been brought aboard to play Batman.  

All they needed was a world-class villain.  

Jack was their choice.  Peter and Tim knew he’d make a formidable Joker.  Tim’s vision was to revolutionize film with a new type of “super villain,” a darker, complex antihero unlike any other in movie history.  

But the clock was ticking.  While Jack claimed to be interested, he was slow to make up his mind.

Finally, Jack called.  “OK, I want to meet Tim Burton.”  

This week we are exploring some of the key ideas of storytelling from Peter’s book Tell to Win.  Preparation is essential to telling a purposeful story.  Getting to know our audience includes figuring where they will be most receptive to “our tell.” We must look, listen, and locate their comfort zone.  Perhaps their favorite restaurant.  At home or in the office?  The golf course? 

Jack wanted the meeting to take place in Aspen where he had a home.

Peter describes movie director Tim Burton as “a notoriously quirky character with a penchant for the macabre.”  Traveling to Aspen was not in his comfort zone.  

“Not only was he unaccustomed to the country,” Peter writes, “But all the pressure was on him to come up with a story to win Jack now, or the movie might never get made.”  

Soon after the Warner Bros. jet touched down in Aspen, Jack called and upped the ante: “Let’s go horseback riding.”

As Peter hung up the phone, Tim said, “I don’t ride horses.”

“You do now,” Peter replied.

Peter would never know if Jack had done his research on Tim and was testing him.  “But I knew we didn’t want to launch the relationship with a no,” writes Peter.

As storytellers, we want our audience to feel comfortable and willing to hear our story.    

Peter writes: “I suspect that was the last horse Tim ever went near, but out there on the trail, as we rode across the meadow of Jack’s comfort zone, Tim passionately told his story of how he and Jack together would change movie history.  That context put Jack in exactly the right mind frame to hear Tim’s story.”

By the end of the ride, Jack was in.

Batman would become the granddaddy of all comic-book movies,

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Reflection:  Why is location an important consideration when we are “telling to win?”

Action:  Journal about the pluses and minuses of potential locations for an upcoming presentation where the goal is to persuade someone to take action.

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