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Interview: Kevin Coupe & Michael Sansolo, Authors of The Big Picture

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Who knew that going to and watching movies could better improve your life and business technique?  It certainly is a fun way to think about things, not to mention much more intriguing than many drab business avenues of learning.  Co-authors Kevin Coupe and Michael Sansolo have dug in deep to find just the perfect resources to implement in business and perhaps, in some cases, personal life.  

Both authors have had extensive experiences both in their careers and their lives.

Kevin has shared his voice and knowledge as a speaker, at hundreds of conferences in the U.S. and abroad, reporting from 45 states and six continents, Kevin has been a newspaper reporter, video producer, actor, bodyguard, clothing salesman, supervised a winery tasting room, ran two marathons (slowly), drove a race car (badly), took boxing lessons (painfully), and acted in a major (and obscure) motion picture.  Kevin resides in Connecticut with his wife and three children.

Michael has traveled around the world, working, yet taking the time to enjoy life and participating in such memorable activities as climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Great Wall of China, and Pikes Peak. Michael is a consultant and frequent speaker for the food retail industry,in addition to being is a contributing editor and weekly columnist for MorningNewsBeat.com, a daily newsletter on the retail industry. Michael was the senior vice president of the Food Marketing Institute and was editor-in-chief of Progressive Grocer magazine.  Michael resides in Washington D.C. with his family and beloved (though often annoying) beagle.

First of all, could you tell us a bit about The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies?

Storytelling is so essential to business and personal success, yet many of us struggle to fill that role. This book uses lessons from all kinds of movies that my co-author Kevin Coupe and I hope people can use to create images and metaphors that help them succeed at the important job of creating narrative for their companies.

The book contains 50 short chapters profiling more than 60 movies, from award winning dramas like The Godfather or Citizen Kane to light-hearted comedies and date movies such as 50 First Dates and You’ve Got Mail. We hope you find it both easy reading and instructional.

Do you have a favorite excerpt from The Big Picture? Could you share that with us, please?

So many of us live and work inside of boundaries that others create. That’s the reason I love the film and chapter on the movie Babe. In the movie, the title character is a pig that doesn’t know how a pig is supposed to behave. So he decides to become a sheepdog and is the best anyone has ever seen. But he has to constantly overcome doubters and in the process wins over even his most vocal critics. I’m betting we all feel that way at times. This movie inspires us and urges us to break the walls that surround us and those around us.

What takes me aback however is that different readers are finding inspiration in different chapters. One young man who just lost his job e-mailed me that the lesson from Cool Runnings on personal happiness really helped him. A woman who can’t find work due to the recession said Bottle Shock really talked to her about following a passion.

What do you want readers to take away from reading The Big Picture?

That they too can be great storytellers. We want them to see that they can find the words and images to lift themselves and those around them up. And they can do it in a fun and easily understandable style.

What was the most fun about writing The Big Picture?

Having a co-author was great. Kevin and I constantly compared notes and chapters, plus we had the happy task of watching a lot of movies and searching for lessons. I think we found lessons in places neither of us expected going in. Neither of us can go to a movie now without looking for the lesson and calling each other. (Our families think we are a little crazed, but we can deal with that.)

What was the hardest part about writing The Big Picture?

We both learned that writing a book is a far larger task than we ever imagined. Kevin and I have written for years, but usually brief articles. The enormity of a book never really hit us until midway through the task. Luckily the nature of the book forced us to bring energy and new ideas to every chapter, so I don’t think the readers will ever see the signs of fatigue. Overall, this book writing stuff isn’t as easy as it looks.

What kind of research did you do for The Big Picture?

Obviously, we had to watch a lot of movies and really think about the subtle lessons to impart. In addition, our editor, Janis Raye, pushed us to provide specific examples of the good and bad in each lesson. That required lots of research into the movies and business history.

But as with anything, you write about what you love. Kevin and I love movies, love business lessons and love story telling. So this was a process of joy.

Could you please tell us about your writing process?

Because my schedule is loaded with speaking engagements and consulting, I had to set specific goals on watching movies and writing lessons. I had to commit specific time to writing whenever my schedule permitted. However, my favorite chapters were written while at a lake house over the summer. I was relaxed and could write, edit and rewrite with an open mind. So my goal is to somehow get successful at this, buy a lake house and repeat that part of the process.

Do you have any particular habits that you take part in while writing? By that I mean certain music you like to listen to, foods you like to eat, environment that helps you write better, etc.

Having once worked in a noisy newsroom, I’ve developed good skills at writing despite chaos around me. That was really important for two reasons. First, my son is studying to become a classical trombone player. When he’s around I play with wonderful music in the background. But it’s very loud!

Second, my household includes a 14-year-old beagle that needs to bay at just the worst moments. I’ve learned how to stop mid-thought, write a note to myself and care for the dog. He did everything possible to stop me, but I pressed on.

Where do you get your ideas and inspirations?

I try to find ideas in life around me. I love hearing, seeing and experiencing new things. That can be wonderful experiences like travel or simply ridiculous things like watching iCarly on television. You have to be willing to see the world in new ways. That matters to business leaders, folks just starting out and authors. We can always learn.

How did you decide you wanted to be a writer? Was there any authors or books that made you think "Wow, that's what I want to do — craft stories of my own for others to read"?

I went to college during the mid-1970s and started my career in journalism. Like so many others, I was inspired by the power and courage of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on the Watergate Scandal. Great writing can produce great truth. In the years that followed, I used my writing for business purposes, but I always felt good writing could make a difference. And while it is hard to explain, I love writing. It makes me feel wonderful, especially when I feel I’ve done it well.

What made you take that leap from "wanting" to be a writer, as opposed to "becoming" a writer? Many talk of being a writer and dip their toes in, but it seems there is often a sort of "push" to bring one over that wall.

Honestly, this is where having a publisher is so important. Certainly, I needed the support and push from my parents, my wife and my children. But my publisher kept the heat on me and that mattered greatly. A book can’t be good if it isn’t finished. Even though I’m self-disciplined, my publisher, Brigantine Media, was essential.

Were you an avid reader as a child? If so, what were some of your favorite books?

I love books, especially great ones. I’m a big fan of Hemingway, Steinbeck and Fitzgerald, along with many writers from the UK. But honestly, the three Americans made such a difference. The Grapes of Wrath taught me about how narrative explains a great truth. Hemingway helped me write with economy. And The Great Gatsby is the book every writer should hold up as the gold standard.

If you had to summarize your life and give it a book title, what would that title be?

Wow that’s a hard question. I’d want something like A Good Man, detailing how I tried to live a good life as a father, husband, neighbor and friend, but I’m not sure that’s the book that would get written. And if the beagle writes the book, I’m screwed.

More likely it would be called something like The Accidental Success and would detail the many twists and turns of my life and how I managed to work them for happiness and success. Most importantly I want it to have a happy ending. I do really enjoy my life even though it isn’t close to perfect.

What are you working on right now? Could you give us a taste/teaser (aka excerpt) from your current WIP?

Sadly I can’t. Kevin Coupe and I are so wrapped up in the marketing of our first book that we can’t think of anything else. But we love the idea of storytelling and we think the possibilities are endless for a sequel. Writers have to understand that producing the book is only the first step. You’ve just got to get people to read it.

And that means getting your message out in whatever way possible.

What are you reading right now?

The biography of James K. Polk. He was one of my favorite Presidents, and it’s a great book about an important time in American history that is too often overlooked. It explains so much about our current political situation and why other countries sometimes look skeptically at the actions of the US, even when we are well intentioned.

What sticks with me most is that Polk managed to overcome defeat and adversity with such conviction. We can all learn from that.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

The three I named before — Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Steinbeck — are high on the list. I love non-fiction writers like Malcolm Gladwell and David McCullough. Plus I’d read anything by Isabelle Allende.

If you could have lunch and chat with any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

It has to be William Shakespeare. While the reporter in me would want to know if he actually wrote all of those masterpieces, I would most likely just want to sit there and soak in the moment. I’d want to know if he ever had any idea that centuries later he would still affect so many of us so profoundly. Honestly, I’d forget all my questions and just be awe-struck.

What do you hope to accomplish within the next five years?

In my consulting business I hope to make companies perform better by getting more in tune with their associates, customers and community. Now everyone says that, but I hope to bring my special outlook to this to make these companies better places to work and succeed. And if I can help people become better storytellers, I’ll be very happy.

Is there anything that you would like to add? That you would like readers to know about you or your writing?

It’s only important that they know that my story doesn’t really matter. Your readers need to find their own words and their own path. You can’t control everything in life so enjoy the journey and be flexible. I’ve done things I never imagined doing; I’ve gone places I never thought I would. (Think the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Great Wall of China…and more.) Enjoy the ride and tell people about it.

Where can readers get in touch with you? Twitter, Blog, Facebook, etc?

They can visit my website: www.michaelsansolo.com or easily find me on Facebook. I’m really not very good at Twitter so following me there is futile. My writing comes out weekly at the website run with my co-author Kevin Coupe, www.MorningNewsBeat.com. Plus we both blog at our publisher’s site: www.brigantinemedia.com

We really welcome your comments and feedback. Both of us thrive on that.

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