Box Office Business Lessons: Trumbo

February 15, 2017 by Karen Que

What should you do when the legacy that you’ve worked so hard for is wiped away? Do you give up, or do you find a way to make your voice heard?

The movie “Trumbo” chronicles the fall and rise of Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, played by Bryan Cranston. In the 1950s, Trumbo was a highly respected screenwriter, but his affiliation with the Communist Party landed him in the middle of a witch-hunt by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He went from being the highest paid writer in all of Hollywood to serving 11 months in prison.

When he was released from jail, Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood. No one would hire him or the other nine screenwriters who were called before the committee to testify. So he had to get creative and started writing scripts under other people’s names. He basically created a black market for scripts, using the other blacklisted screenwriters. In the end, he created a thriving business, re-built his legacy and changed the industry.

What Trumbo did was truly courageous. He loved his craft so much, that he refused to let anyone stop him from practicing it. Here are the 4 lessons I learned from Trumbo’s strength and determination.

  1. Living in fear and making fear-based decisions only holds you back.

The 1950s were dominated by fear as Americans worried about Russian and Communist infiltration. Trumbo had to live in fear of the government witch-hunt, but he also strongly believed in his Communist convictions that people should be nice to each other and share. Unfortunately for everyone involved, fear-based decisions rarely lead to positive growth, and a lot of innocent people had to pay the price.

When businesses end up making decisions based on fear, they don’t get the outcomes they desire. Because fear requires you to take on a defensive position, it’s hard to grow and expand. Fear can easily infiltrate the market during a recession, and businesses have to respond. If you let the fear take over your decisions, it will be hard to operate.

If you have a mindset toward growth and taking on challenges and opportunities, then it’s easier to move through the world and stir things up. Don’t let the fear paralyze you.

  1. Being creative about how to make income and scale a business can save you.

At first, Trumbo had to write really bad scripts for B-List movie companies. He would take any job he could get. When the studio head couldn’t afford his fees, he would lower them to ensure he got the job. Eventually, he was in such high demand that he had to hire the other blacklisted writers and enlist his family’s help in running the business.

This is a great example of how to make money when you’re on the blacklist of your trade. When one person tells you no, keep going until you find someone who will say yes. And then don’t stop. Trumbo’s goal was to take over Hollywood until he was writing so many scripts that the studios could no longer deny him. And that’s exactly what happened.

  1. It’s never too late to re-build.

Before his incarceration, Trumbo was well on his way to being a Hollywood legend. The witch-hunt nearly rewrote his role in history, but Trumbo refused to let that happen. He showed that it’s possible to come back when your career has been destroyed and rise to new levels. He was posthumously awarded the Academy Award for “Roman Holiday,” which he wrote under another writer’s name.

It could’ve been easy for Trumbo to find another profession and give up. But he pushed through and won redemption in the end. Businesses can fall apart from something as simple as a bad review or an online post about a customer experience that goes viral. You may want to close up shop, but if you push past the obstacles, you can some out stronger in the end.

  1. You can always find your way back to your priorities.

One of Trumbo’s motivating factors when he got out of prison was to support his family, but the effort of building a new business puts a lot of strain on their relationships. As he became more obsessed with changing people’s minds about him, he lost sight of his priority.

Every business owner has to go through this journey at some point. Sometimes they lose their focus and don’t have any time for family, or they’re single and the plan to build a family keeps getting pushed back. It’s difficult to have two competing priorities and make them work unless you set boundaries around them and you work hard to keep both healthy.

Trumbo’s gift brought so much to joy to the world through the entertainment industry. We all would have missed out if he had given up and let the blacklist end his career. When you have a gift, no matter what happens, you should not be kept from doing it. Don’t let fear or anyone stop you from doing what you love.

How do keep fear from holding you back?

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