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living a great story

“I’m getting scared honey. Can you come home now?”…was all Joey said.

I hung up the phone and took off running down the crowded sidewalk of 5th Avenue, from Central Park to my hotel a half-dozen blocks away. Twenty minutes later, my suitcase was in the backseat of a rental car, and I was crossing the Lincoln tunnel, headed west to Indiana. This is where we would stay until the next March when I would find myself in another car, but this time with a baby in the backseat, headed south to Nashville, without Joey.

It was late October in 2015 when I got that call from Joey. I was in New York City attending a three-day seminar about screenwriting put on by the great Robert McKee. It had been on my (and Heidi and Aaron’s) calendar for six months and though it was a very scary time for us, Joey had insisted I go… to try to keep some normalcy in our lives, during a period that was anything but normal.

When we boarded the plane to NYC, I thought I was going to learn more about writing stories for films: something I was passionate about since I had recently co-written and directed the movie Josephine, but that’s not what happened. The McKee Seminar was and is primarily for those who are or want to be screenwriters (hundreds of alumni have gone on to win Oscars and tell some of the most incredible stories of our generation). But while Mr. McKee teaches about storytelling in film, what he is really teaching is about story in real life. How we all see our lives like a movie and that’s why we love movies so much. And how all great stories have conflict. The greater the obstacles, the greater the story.

I left in the middle of the seminar that fall, but what I learned in the short time I was there forever changed me. And changed my family. It helped me, and Joey, to understand that the decisions we were about to make and the actions we would take during that incredibly difficult season we were about to go through, would say more about who we were than anything else in our lives.

And so without knowing it, Mr. McKee was helping my wife and me find the courage to face our fears and trust that somehow, some way, everything would be okay, even if it wasn’t.

Within days of that seminar, on my blog, Joey and I would decide to share that her cancer treatment wasn’t working and how we were discontinuing any further medical help. And in the coming weeks and months, we would continue to share each and every difficult turn that our lives were taking, and the undying hope that we still felt in our hearts. That I feel still.

This past October, Heidi watched the baby so I could have the chance to travel out west to go to the seminar again with Aaron, along with our buddies Gabe, and Daniel. This time I got to stay and attend all three days.

After three twelve-hour days of listening to Mr. McKee's lecture about screenwriting, on the last night, a few of us were having dinner and talking about what we learned most from the seminar and one of them said, “…I learned that I’m a terrible husband.”

I love that.

I love that yes, he and we learned how great stories in film are put together, and why. But deeper than that, we learned more about how great lives are lived. And that we are not who we say, or think we are. We are actually, the choices we make. We are our actions. And so it makes you rethink all the decisions you make in the future when it comes to your family and career. At least it has done that for me.

When we got back from the flight back to Nashville last year, I started thinking about how much I wish that the songwriters and creators in Nashville could have the opportunity to hear Mr. McKee speak (his seminars are usually in places like LA, NYC, London, etc…). I believe that the greatest songwriters and storytellers in the world are here in our town, and I can’t help but think “what if they, and we, could be even better at what we do? At telling better stories, and even more so… living out better stories as people.“ So we made a few calls and with the help of Steve Taylor and his team at Lipscomb University, the McKee Story Seminar is coming to downtown Nashville for the first time on October 5, 6, and 7, 2018.

If you’re interested in learning more about storytelling for the big screen, or even more so about how we are all telling a story with our lives and the choices we’re making, check out Mr. McKee’s website. Or better yet, do your best to carve three days out to come to Nashville and be part of his lectures in person. Information about tickets and the location for the Nashville Story seminar can be found HERE.

Now, I have to say that as much as I admire Mr. McKee and his skill as a teacher, his style is probably not for everyone. He’s like Mr. Fredrickson from the Pixar movie Up! (if Mr. Fredrickson dropped the f-bomb every two minutes and pulled no punches when it came to giving his opinions). Personally, I am a fan of unique people and characters... and Mr. McKee is definitely a character. There’s a great story that Donald Miller tells in his book A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, about how he and a friend went to the McKee seminar a number of years ago, and how unusual Mr. McKee’s lecturing style was. But he also shared how impacted he was by the seminar and what he learned. I believe that like me, Don’s story was forever changed by the three days he spent listening to Mr. McKee.

Although I’ve not actually had the chance to sit and talk w Mr. McKee in person, I did do an email interview with him recently about the similarities of songwriting of screenwriting when it comes to storytelling. You can read that HERE.

This October I’ll be there, along with Aaron and Daniel and Heidi and Gabe, digging deeper and continuing to learn to be a better storyteller and a better man.

I hope to see you there too.



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