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What this unofficial Star Wars director can teach us about doubling down on your strengths...

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October 19, 2023

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Did You Know? with Gorick is the weekly newsletter by Gorick Ng, Harvard career adviser and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules, where we deconstruct the untold paths to success — of people (or things) you know!

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Did You Know? You should make the most of what you do best!

If I can be honest with y’all, I’m a huge Star Wars nerd.

I think Rogue One is the best film in the entire franchise. So, when I saw that Rogue One’s director, Gareth Edwards, had also directed The Creator, a sci-fi that just came out in theaters last weekend, I was excited. 

But when the first reviews rolled in, I was confused by what I read: The Creator script lacks development.” How could this happen with the director of what I thought was the best Star Wars movie of all time?

So I started digging… and it turns out that Edwards’ strength isn’t in scripting.

In fact, Edwards didn’t direct at least one-third of what you see on screen for Rogue One (in case you’re interested, you can read an analysis here).

So, what happened?

When executives at Disney saw Rogue One—after the trailer had already been released—they didn’t like the script. So, they brought in someone who had built a reputation for good scriptwriting to fix the movie last-minute. That person was Tony Gilroy—and he received over $5 million dollars for a few months of work.

Gilroy’s changes are widely attributed to Rogue One’s smashing box office success, which grossed more than $1 billion dollars globally.

So, if Edwards really did have the majority of his movie scrapped and rewritten, how’d he land the gig for The Creator?

As Mark Hughes, screenwriter and film critic, said in Forbes, The Creator has “the best visual effects of anything you’ll see this year.”

And Rogue One? Film critics sang their praise for its visuals, too. In other words, Edwards was good at making things look good, but bad at making things make sense—and his strength was enough for others to forgive him for his weaknesses.

What would have happened if Edwards had doubled down on his strength in visual FX and handed The Creators’ script to someone else? Would the film have rivaled Barbie?

I guess we’ll never know!

What I learned (and what you can learn):

I’ve always known that Hollywood movie directors made good money… but I had no idea that a last-minute script rewriter was even a job, let alone such a well-paying job.

“Successful” people are successful not because they have no flaws but because they double down on their strengths.

Take Christopher Nolan, one of my favorite directors, for example. He’s directed movies like Interstellar, Inception, Dark Knight, and most recently Oppenheimer, ​which is the fourth highest-grossing film of 2023 so far.

Nolan is often criticized for prioritizing style over substance and writing incomprehensible storylines—and yet consistently dominates the box office by doubling down on his strength in non-linear storytelling.

(Disclaimer for the fact-checkers among us: Tony Gilroy’s parents are both screenwriters. Gilroy’s father won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. And, Gilroy’s two brothers are both screenwriters and editors… so you could say it's a family affair.

So, I don’t want to discount for a second the fact that “nepobabies” are real—but I also don’t want to discount the reality that fast runners win at the Olympics not because they compete in diving but because they compete in track and field).

A graphic depicting main characters from Rogue One (L) and The Creator (R). Caution: The following link contains spoilers! Image belongs to ScreenRant.

My challenge to you this week:

Think of something you’ve been struggling to do in work, school, or for an extracurricular. Then, try this:

(1) Ask yourself: “Am I struggling with ______ because I don’t know what I’m doing or because this isn’t one of my strengths?”

E.g., “Am I having trouble with this data analysis because nobody taught me or because numbers aren’t my strength?”

(2) Fill in the blank: “I am the most efficient, productive, and impactful when I get to ______.”

E.g., “I am the most efficient, productive, and impactful when I get to write.”

(3) Now ask yourself: “How can I do more of what I’m good at and less of what I’m not good at?”

E.g., “Could I ask to join this project over this other project at work?”

I know it because I’ve experienced it: I went to a math and science-focused high school growing up. And I got my ass kicked! I didn’t do well—and I wasn’t happy. I did so much better—and was so much happier—in my political science classes in undergrad (and it was partially because my poli-sci classes left me with more time to pursue extracurricular activities which actually built my resume). I’m no Denzel Washington when it comes to changing majors, but I can say that I am much happier now.

Double down on your strengths!

Gorick

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