Peter Guber describes how Michael Jackson taught him a lesson on storytelling using a mouse and his Boa Constrictor “Muscles.”
Question: Michael Jackson told you a purposeful story once, did he not?
Peter Guber: Michael Jackson was an incredible person in every sense of the word. He was a perfect study for anything entertaining, anything creative. And he understood story, he understood drama, he understood narrative. I didn’t know that he understood it. And he would call my house and “Hello Peter, is Peter there?” And he wanted to be in movies. He really wanted to be in movies.
I went to his house and we were going to have lunch and I said to him, so you want to do movies. Why do you want to do movies? And he said, “I love them. I love watching them, I love seeing them, I love the whole personality of what they can do with a human being.” Oh, great, great, great. But what do you know about drama? He looked at me, quirked his head and he says, “Let me tell you a story.”
We may know that it happens, but the drama is to know when and how it happens. He walked me upstairs. And outside his bedroom there was this large glass terrarium, and in it was this boa constrictor. This snake. This giant snake. This giant snake. He says, “That’s muscles.” He called his snake Muscles. And I said, “Okay.” And he says, "Do you see anything going on there?” And I said, “No, Muscles is just kind of still…” “Yeah, walk over there in the corner there, there’s this little live white mouse. It’s just shaking, it’s shaking. My god. Why is it shaking?” He said, “Well, we feed Muscles live mice. That’s the only thing it eats.” Yeah, so. I said, “So what’s the drama.” That’s exactly it. We don’t know exactly when, neither does the mouse.And we don’t know exactly how. But we know it’s gonna happen. The drama is watching the when and how unfold, that’s the key.”
He told me a story that perfectly, perfectly demonstrated he understood it isn’t just about a beginning, middle and end, it’s the process in between the beginning and the end. And that’s the drama. That’s the drama of our life. And so I realized, here was a person that really showed me the secret sauce of the success in a way that I had never seen before. That I’ve never really, you know, learned before. He showed me the tools of the trade even though I had been doing it.
I must have told that story 50 times,that’s the power of a story. The more you tell it, the more it resonates, it lives on, it’s a power tool. It isn’t just information. If you just said, yeah, I know how to make a movie or yeah, I know how to tell a story or here’s a story, once upon a time. No. He was able to metabolize it by actually… not being the story itself, but indicating how the story worked.
Recorded January 19, 2011
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd