Conversations

We are constantly meeting new people all the time, especially in our line of work, which requires us to be somewhat of an “expert” in the craft of networking, creating new connections and exchanging experiences.

I always look forward to meeting new people at work, because it means having conversations—new stories and experiences that I can treat as part of my own personal development journey. The best ones are often thought-provoking, engaging and sometimes completely unrelated to the reason why we had to meet in the first place. Occasionally, new ideas, or even age-old beliefs can be stimulated and enhanced by these conversations.

Just over 20 hours ago I spoke to someone who used to work at the local branch of a major tobacco company back in the 90’s. It was the time of the Brown & Williamson tobacco saga, in which a high-ranking employee blew the whistle on the company on the CBS news program 60 Minutes over their unethical methods of increasing the addictiveness of tobacco through the usage of chemicals to enhance nicotine delivery. This someone I spoke to was eventually compelled to quit, citing guilt over the ethical dilemma of being a part of the for-profit tobacco industry.

This dilemma is indeed real, and the conversation reignited my thoughts and feelings about Michael Mann’s The Insider (Mann is my favourite film director by the way). Starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe, The Insider dramatises the real-life events of the B&W saga and the company’s efforts to discredit Crowe’s character, Jeffrey Wigand (the whistleblower), and CBS investigative journalist Lowell Bergman’s (Pacino) attempts to get Wigand’s episode of 60 Minutes on air.

I first watched The Insider when I was about 17 or 18, and the film immediately struck a chord with me, not because of the tobacco industry talk (I don’t smoke, but I’m not against smokers either), but because it was a film which captured the essence of journalism very well, and apart from other things, people who were willing to stand up and speak the truth even if the odds were stacked against them.

Wigand and Bergman were two entirely different people, dissimilar in background and character, but they pursued a common goal fuelled by their moral obligations to do the right thing—in spite of the danger posed to Wigand’s family & professional reputation by the company.

I was just beginning to get into serious writing while working as a freelance journalist, and for some reason the actions of the characters in the film inspired me even more than any journalism class I took in school could ever have done. In more ways than one, Pacino’s portrayal of Bergman with his fiery desire and unrelenting pursuit of his goals sort of rubbed off on me. I have noticed a trend in the sort of characters that I tend to identify with and base my writing on, and they all usually have “fixated” and “stubborn” ticked off in the character trait boxes. Indeed, I have never been one to back down easily from a cause I am passionate about, Singapore football for example. Perhaps my prior law enforcement ambitions had something to do with this too.

However, as fate would have had it, I didn’t make it past the second interview, which pushed me even more towards my second career choice—filmmaking. I was never serious at first, and had always made videos for fun with my friends where we simply liked acting out what we wrote in our little Microsoft Notepad files.

That was the time when I indeed believed that you could make a film or tell a story without having a clear, distinct voice, but then I slowly realised that I wanted to make films for a living, to inspire and motivate yet entertain others, in the same way that films & TV series I religiously follow have had me. A voice. That’s the key difference between being a filmmaker and a hollow shell of one.

The conversation then segued into another aspect of the interviewee’s life, where she championed a cause against injustice and ill-treatment of a very unique demographic in Singapore. While I won’t be saying much more, I have to say that I was impressed & intrigued by her story, and I look forward to hearing more should we decide to explore this angle further.

In the meantime, I shall continue in the development and shaping of my own “voice”.

There is much more to learn.

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