If you happened to see Barcelona, a new film written, directed, and produced by Whit Stillman, who also created Metropolitan in 1990, and noticed the reference to Peter Drucker and self-help business gurus, it was not incidental.
Stillman, 42, toiled as a magazine-advertising salesman and an illustrator's rep in his life before films and became a devoted reader of Drucker and other business books that he felt bettered his sales and "people" skills. It's also not an accident that a small business, IHSMOCO (Illinois High-Speed Motor Co.), has such a central role in the movie. We asked Stillman: Why Drucker? Why business, when Hollywood traditionally takes such an antibusiness stance?
60 Seconds with . . . Whit Stillman: Writer, Director, and Producer of the Film Barcelona
Inc.: We saw your new film recently, and we're curious why you decided to make business one of the dominant themes.
Stillman: Well, work is so important in our lives. It really defines us. Yet it's never portrayed in films in a serious way. I thought the business angle was one of the most exciting things about the script. It also happens to be the part of the film that audiences have the most trouble with.
Inc.: Speaking of work, how would you compare what you do now for a living, writing, with what you used to do -- selling?
Stillman: The positive thing about the writing process is coming to the end of it and having something you've done, you've created. The positive thing about sales is the creative fervor that's associated with it. Sales can be like a drug for some people. The problem with sales is that at the end of a year, two years, where has it all gone?
Inc.: Which is why you're a big fan of self-help books?
Stillman: Yeah, I read all those self-help books when I was selling advertising space for magazines and trying to get psyched each day. I read Frank Bettger's classic, How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Clement Stone. It's hard talking about the self-help books in the film without having some fun with it, but I sincerely think they're great books, so I didn't want to trash them. The protagonist of the movie takes these books very seriously.
Inc.: And then your character moves into management and "graduates" to reading Peter Drucker.
Stillman: When it comes to management, Drucker is the guy. He's the best. I've read four of his books, and some of the best advice is in The Effective Executive. One of the main things that's influenced me is his notion of doing one thing at a time. He pokes fun at people who are executive Mozarts, who think they can do everything at the same time.
Inc.: Reminds us of someone we know in the film industry.
Stillman: All right, so I am a writer/producer/director. At least I do them in sequence, not at the same time.