I was on a pre-med scholarship at the University of Illinois when I first saw Midnight Cowboy, The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. These transformational films astonished me; they spoke to something deep inside and changed my life. I had found my lifework: to be involved in the magic of storytelling.
So, I switched from pre-med to creative writing, and graduated with a Master’s Degree in Film from UCLA. I optioned my first two screenplays on an amazing early ride, sharing my scripts with Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood. But when the scripts weren’t made into films I went into despair, wound up working as a bellman in a downtown Chicago hotel, and pondered whether film school had been a huge mistake. I confessed to a fellow bellman over a cold beer that while I loved storytelling, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to follow my dream and make movies. He suggested I come with him to a lecture that very night.
The speaker was author Joseph Campbell, featuring his book ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces’, and that night triggered a life-long passion for the power of story to affect positive change in society. I was inspired to create social impact entertainment, and mythologist Jean Houston, a renowned expert on the psychology of creativity, became my mentor. Through studies with Jean, I made the single most important discovery of my storytelling career: that what we’re experiencing emotionally as we’re writing is what the characters are experiencing emotionally – and ultimately what the audience experiences when watching the film. Realizing that writers experience a parallel rite of passage with their characters led me to begin teaching human potential workshops at UCLA, the Esalen Institute, the California Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, and the Academy of Art in Munich.
I started teaching at the National Film School in Munich and began writing, teaching and consulting in Europe, North America and North Africa. My first two collaborations with filmmaker Carolin Link in Germany resulted in nominations for two Academy Awards, with ‘Nowhere in Africa’ winning the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2003.
I co-wrote a film for Columbia Pictures that had the full studio machine behind it, but was a box office disappointment. I realized it was time to go deeper into my craft and in that exploration, I started my journey into documentary films. I was honored to work with renowned filmmaker Paul Saltzman on “Prom Night in Mississippi” featuring Morgan Freeman, and “The Last White Knight,” featuring Harry Belafonte – and both are still having great social impact, internationally.
So, I’d found my niche: combining narrative strategies with true stories. As if on cue, the next two films I’d be writing were powerful, transformational stories based on true events. ‘Thief River’, the ‘Hoosiers’ of hockey, and ‘Second Line West’, the story of a single mother of four, who saved the lives of a number of troubled souls by guiding them toward spiritual solutions.
As a result of these fortuitous collaborations, I‘ve taught transformational storytelling to over 10,000 industry professionals at Pixar, Lucasfilm, Deluxe Studios and the AFI.
Jim Schlesinger’s background is in Strategic Planning and Organizational Development. He has served as an Executive for the AXA Group and has developed several successful franchises in the Midwest.
Jim is currently a Senior Managing Partner at The Business Strategies Group of Illinois and serves as a consultant and an executive coach for high level wealth management teams around the country.
With her focus in Training and Development, Linda Poznansky is responsible for creating strategic paths for personal and professional development. She brings analytical and critical thinking skills, the ability to influence and assemble individuals as well as groups and change management.