Be a fool for the things you love
Jordan Raynor sits down with Kara Holden, Writer of Disney+’s Clouds, to talk about why Bob Iger was so adamant about distributing Clouds, the significance of Jesus as “the God who tells stories,” and why you should always take a glass of water in an interview.
[0:00:05.3] JR: Hey everybody, welcome to the Call to Mastery. I’m Jordan Raynor. This is a podcast for Christians who want to do exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others. Every week, I host a conversation with a Christian who is pursuing world-class mastery of their vocation. We talk about their path to mastery, their daily habits, and how their faith influences their work.
[0:00:31.9] I’m super excited about this week’s guest, her name is Kara Holden, and you may know her work, she’s the writer of Clouds, the second original movie from Disney+, second only behind, wait for it, my beloved, Hamilton. Kara has been listening to The Call to Mastery for a while, she reached out to see if we’d be interested in having her on, and I was like, “Are you kidding me? Of course, we want you on the show”.
She’s an exceptional writer. Before selling this movie to Disney+, Kara wrote or acted on Gilmore Girls, Saved by the Bell, Soul Surfer, Clueless. Yeah, fans of the 90s, you’re going to be a big fan of Kara’s IMDB page.
So, Kara and I recently sat down, we talked about why Bob Iger was personally so adamant about distributing this move, Clouds. We talked about the significance of Jesus as, “The God who tells stories”. We talked about why you should always take a glass of water if it’s offered to you in an interview.
Really, practical advice here for all of you looking for jobs right now. I think you’re really going to love this episode with my friend, Kara Holden.
[0:01:49.2] JR: Kara Holden, longtime listener, first-time caller, thanks for being here.
[0:01:55.5] KH: Hey, that’s what I say. Long-time listener, first-time caller, I’m super excited.
[0:02:01.3] JR: This is awesome. I’m so glad that we connected. You emailed me, I don’t know, a couple of months ago.
[0:02:05.5] KH: Yeah.
[0:02:05.7] JR: And “Hey, I’ve been listening to the show. I wrote this little movie for Disney+, you know, if you ever want to chat?” I’m like “Yes, of course, I want to chat, I want you on the show”. So, I’m curious, has there been an episode of The Call to Mastery that you particularly loved so far?
[0:02:22.9] KH: I absolutely loved the one on Wonder.
[0:02:25.8] JR: Yeah.
[0:02:26.7] KH: With the illusionist who I now know the difference between illusion and magic.
[0:02:32.7] JR: That was a great episode.
[0:02:33.7] KH: I’ve always loved it, I went – there’s a place called the Magic Castle in Los Angeles that’s like, “You have to know someone to get – you have to know a magician to get in.” and I remember being one of the most, like, “mind-blowing amazing things I’ve ever done” so, I’m a fan. But I really loved his take on Wonder and great.
[0:02:52.0] JR: So, Arrested Development, this isn’t fake, there’s like an underground network of magicians working in LA.
[0:02:56.4] KH: Yes, there is.
[0:02:56.9] JR: They did with the magic club, that’s amazing.
[0:02:58.8] KH: Yeah, it’s real and like, you have to do like a secret word to get in and it’s like, very – it’s fun, it’s cool, it’s exciting and very secretive that I love it.
[0:03:10.0] JR: So, the next time we’re in LA, back together, yes, I want to go to the secret – the secret magic club, this sounds amazing.
[0:03:16.9] KH: You have to, you have to see it. I went years ago and I’ll never forget it. I also was assistant for David Copperfield on stage in Vegas once so –
[0:03:26.8] JR: What? That’s amazing, that’s really funny. So, you just launched this, I mean, massive movie with Disney+, right? We’re going to come back to that in a minute, got lots of questions. But first, let’s go back to the beginning or near-beginning of your professional story.
[0:03:42.4] KH: Yeah.
[0:03:42.9] JR: You got a degree in biology.
[0:03:44.8] KH: I did.
[0:03:44.8] JR: From the University of Louisville.
[0:03:46.7] KH: Yes.
[0:03:48.0] JR: And then, moved to LA to write for TV and films. How did this happen?
[0:03:52.9] KH: Well, I wanted to be practical. I have loved movies, acting, writing, since I was very young. All of my best memories growing up or – were movies. And I think it’s because I moved a lot and I felt like the characters sort of became my friends, you know?
Because I removed a lot and there was something about movies, there’s something about stories, I read a lot, I loved to write, I started keeping a journal when I think I was seven or six, and I would write movie reviews in them.
[0:04:26.0] JR: That’s amazing, that’s amazing. Can you remember one of your most scathing reviews?
[0:04:31.8] KH: I didn’t have skating, I very rarely, I think I loved everything. But I remember, I think I remember my greatest, like my A-plus review, went to – was it, Sheena: Queen of the Jungle. I don’t remember, but it was about a superhero who could talk to animals and it was just – I just remember, it really amazed me, but then, after that I mean, my favorite movie that still I would say – it’s not my favorite movie of all time but one that first told me the power of movies was Footloose.
And I saw it in the theater and I was like, “This one guy, made a difference to like, the entire town, you know?” And, he did it in a way that just changed people’s hearts and minds and I just thought, “Oh my gosh, that’s what a movie can do to you, that’s incredible, I want to do that.”
So, but yes, I majored in biology because I thought, for a long time, as a kid too, I wanted to do genetics, I thought I’d be a doctor, I had a friend who has cystic fibrosis and I just wanted to find a cure. So, I went through pre-med, I graduated biology pre-med and – but I just wasn’t built for it.
And, truthfully, the reason was, was because deep in my heart, since I was very young, I knew I wanted to be a part of film and so right before spring break in my senior year, I found a book, I had applied actually to USC and to UCLA for the writing programs and I didn’t get in to either.
I had only – because I majored in biology, I had taken creative writing classes and I had a couple of samples to send in, but they were mostly sort of a couple of short stories, I had never written a full script. So, I didn’t get in and I was kind of like, “Oh no, what does this mean? I thought I was supposed to go to LA? What am I going to do?” I thought, “Well, I did do acting in high school” and so, I got – checked this book out of the library at college, called Acting is Everything.
And, in the back of the book, there were 260 names and addresses of every agent in Hollywood.
[0:06:35.8] JR: What a great book.
[0:06:37.7] KH: I know. So, I was like, “Oh my gosh.” I wrote up this really – I mean, it’s so embarrassing to think of now but I think it did its job. I wrote up like, a cover letter that was sort of like a personal ad, sort of like, you know, “Young Kentucky girl, seeking long-term relationship with –” you know, whatever that was and I, you know, had a little headshot taken and I sent out 260 of them, and I got six calls.
[0:07:06.0] JR: Wow.
[0:07:08.0] KH: And so, for spring break of senior year, I went out and interviewed with all six of those people. One of them turned out to be legitimate, in a way that you know, maybe they sort of – none of them were horrible, some of them felt sketchy like, “In an apartment kind of deal.”
[0:07:19.6] JR: Yeah, totally, yeah.
[0:07:22.8] KH: And the one that I met, I was so starstruck because I loved Wonder Years.
[0:07:27.0] JR: Yeah.
[0:07:27.6] KH: And, it was Marsha Hervey, who was Jason Hervey, the big mean brother, it’s his mom.
[0:07:32.3] JR: Yeah, wow.
[0:07:33.9] KH: And so she ran a talent. And they said, “Okay, like, you know, are you going to move out here and what do you want?” and I said “Yeah, I want to do this.” And so, yeah, I moved out the day after graduation.
[0:07:49.8] JR: And that was that.
[0:07:50.9] KH: And that was that.
[0:07:52.5] JR: You started working pretty quickly, right? You were on Saved by the Bell, Step by Step, Gilmore Girls. Then pivoted to writing. So –
[0:08:00.7] KH: So, I forgot a step, I have a wonderful friend, a young life leader of mine who was just this – is, he’s this wonderful man named Bill McGee. And he had written a script and there was a man who came to our church and now, I feel terrible, okay. I told you I was bad at names. I need to look it up really quick.
[0:08:21.0] JR: We established that, that’s good, yeah.
[0:08:22.4] KH: Okay. Anyway, his friend had written Braveheart.
[0:08:25.6] JR: Wow.
[0:08:26.6] KH: A friend through the church. And so, and then my friend Bill, wrote a script and he said that he would help produce it. And so, they had, this is my senior year of college, they have this open casting call to try and cast this.
And there were 900 people who showed up. And there was an actual LA casting director there and you know, when I went in the room, this is a weird thing but apparently, it meant something to them, I was the only person who took a glass of water when it was offered.
[0:08:56.5] JR: What?
[0:08:57.5] KH: Yeah, so like, I guess I reached it –
[0:08:59.5] JR: What does that indicate to them?
[0:09:01.8] KH: It indicated boldness of some sort. I don’t know. So, I reached for the water, I drank the water. So, always take the water, I guess. And, they said, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I was like, “Oh, I’ll be in LA and I’ll be working in film and television.” And they’re like, “Oh, wow, okay.” And so, anyway, I got a callback and it’s crazy because the movie didn’t end up going which quite often, they don’t.
[0:09:21.3] JR: Yeah.
[0:09:21.3] KH: It’s never a done deal until it’s you know, shooting and so – but, it gave me a connection to a casting director, it made me see that scripts are something that can be written, my friend wrote one. And so, all of these things help me think like another – it gave me the confidence to just do it and go to LA.
[0:09:39.4] JR: Yeah.
[0:09:39.9] KH: And I remember, there was one more scripture that I just thought was incredible because I read it like right as I was trying to decide to go and it still sticks with me sometimes, it makes me laugh. And it’s in Isiah 58, I think and it was: “The Lord will guide you always and will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land.” I was like, “Oh, what could be more sun-scorched than LA?”.
[0:10:01.7] JR: That’s amazing.
[0:10:02.8] KH: “And you will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring, his waters never fail.” And for me, sometimes when I’m having writer’s block, I think, “Nope, there’s a spring whose waters never fail.”
[0:10:13.7] JR: I love that.
[0:10:14.4] KH: Those words will come. Yeah. And so, and then I got out there. Yeah, the first week I moved out there, it doesn’t happen like this, just so people know, usually, I don’t know, it was kind of crazy because my agents who – Marsha Hervey and Pamela Grimes, they, you know, started sending me out like crazy and so I went, they said, “You can line dance, right? You're from Kentucky, right?” I was like –
[0:10:37.2] JR: You know how to line dance, yeah, Kentucky girl.
[0:10:38.9] KH: Sure, of course. of course, no. I didn’t, but I kind of didn’t lie because I had done it once, so I thought, “Okay, I can learn fast, I’m not lying but I also am not really a line dancer.” I had a girlfriend from Texas who I just had met in LA and so she spent the entire night teaching me how to line dance.
And so, I got on this show, that was a soap opera called Sunset Beach. And that got me in one union, which was AFTRA. And so, – you know, sometimes naiveté can work in your favor because I thought that was the union, so, when I went in for an audition for the TV show Clueless, and they asked, “Are you union?” I said “Yes”.
They gave me the role and then afterwards, found out that I was AFTRA, not SAG, which is Screen Actor’s Guild, which is a little bit harder to get into. And, they had to immediately make me, they call it “Taft Hartley”, there’s a special little loophole, that if you get a job, then they make you “it”.
[0:11:36.2] JR: You're automatically in.
[0:11:36.8] KH: Yeah, but it’s hard, they don’t normally do that and – but it was an innocent mistake and so, I got SAG, like the month I moved out there, I ever did my first two roles. But really, truly, on that, Clueless was so cool. Because Amy Heckerling who wrote the movie Clueless, came to set, because her ex-husband who, Neal Israel who is also this great director.
We’re doing this episode that I was shooting and I just was in awe because I remember the first time I saw Clueless in the theater and just being blown away by the writing of that thing.
[0:12:09.3] JR: Yeah.
[0:12:12.3] KH: And so, I told her and you know, she was – you know, “Writers don’t get a lot of attention,” in Hollywood, really.
[0:12:18.0] JR: Yeah.
[0:12:20.0] KH: And so, she was like really amazed that I knew who she was kind of. And, so that was a cool thing of her, another little thing in the back of my head. Like, “Oh man, it could be cool, people do it, look, she wrote this movie.” You know, I started thinking like, “This is something I might like to try.” I had been getting a bunch of roles and every role that I got, I was grateful.
There – you know, it was cool, I got to work on a bunch of neat shows but they were all just these jerk girls who were just vapid and mean –
[0:12:51.1] JR: Yeah.
[0:12:52.8] KH: And cheerleaders, I played a bunch of cheerleaders, I was never a cheerleader but I had blond hair. So, I guess, I don’t know.
[0:12:58.2] JR: Right.
[0:12:59.9] KH: So, I just was like, “There has to be more, are there any better roles for just like, young women to play? Something more interesting?” And then I was like, “Well, maybe I’ll write something.”
[0:13:11.2] JR: Yeah.
[0:13:12.6] KH: And Sylvester Stallone did it with Rocky, right?
[0:13:14.6] JR: Yeah, that’s exactly right.
[0:13:16.9] KH: And so, I set about writing my first script and this is a cool little side thing. I lived in this apartment in Beverly Hills, and it was you know, not super fancy or anything, there are parts about Beverly Hills that aren’t crazy fancy. But it was a nice little place.
And my downstairs neighbor was this very dapper looking elderly man who always wore and ascot and was always carrying like a cigarette and a bottle of scotch out the door and I was like, “Where is he going? Who is this person?” I made some cookies and I went downstairs and I knocked on his door and he goes – I don’t know if I should talk the way he did.
He was saucy, he was a saucy British man and you know, “Who isn’t?” And I said “Hi, I’m your upstairs neighbor, I just made you some cookies.” He opened the door and he said, “Oh good”. I didn’t have a heart to tell him the job was [inaudible 0:14:19].
[0:14:21.8] JR: That’s amazing.
[0:14:23.4] KH: And I thought, “Who is this man, my gosh, I love him already.” Because he’s just, you know, had this big personality. And he turned out to be an Oscar-nominated writer named Ivan Moffat, who wrote the movie, Giant.
[0:14:35.8] JR: Wow.
[0:14:36.9] KH: Yeah.
[0:14:37.3] JR: That’s incredible.
[0:14:38.3] KH: Yeah, and he was just – by the way, elderly people, don’t write them off, they’ve lived whole lives. I volunteered to the motion picture and television fund, which is a place that people retire, for retired people from the industry to go in Los Angeles.
And, I can’t even tell you, I’ve held an Oscar, I’ve met amazing pioneers of color film and just incredible people through that. And then, Ivan who was my actual neighbor, I walked in his door and his entire apartment was filled with just books.
Everywhere you could see, and then a tray table with a typewriter in the middle of it, where he was writing still. And so, how amazing is that? I was like, “Oh, I’m trying to write.” You know? He said, it was a similar thing that he echoed and he’s like, “Don’t try, just write.”
[0:15:27.9] JR: Yeah. I love that so much. I mean, there’s so much wisdom to write and just surrounding yourself with people who have already mastered the craft. It’s a form of apprenticeship.
[0:15:36.3] KH: Absolutely.
[0:15:37.4] JR: Even if it’s just showing up with cookies, you know, that’s a form of humbly submitting yourself to other masters.
[0:15:43.9] KH: Absolutely, and I’ve done that time and again. I think that that is so important, to really humbly, like you said, you know, put yourself at their feet and say, “What can you teach me?” I did, I started going down to his apartment, he started reading my pages, we started talking about character and you know, and structure and he was brilliant, he was patient and you know, I just – I’m so grateful for his presence in my life.
So I ended up with that script that he helped. And actually, a friend of mine, I had been working on that script with as well, my friend came to me one day that I had been writing the script with, and said, “I just got into the USC masters writing program”. And I was like, “How?” He said, “I just submitted our script.”
[0:16:35.5] JR: That’s amazing.
[0:16:36.5] KH: I was like, “What?” I called them and I was like, you know, “How much longer are you taking applications, you just admitted my writing partner.” and then, they’re like, “Oh, today is the last day, if you can make it down here.” And luckily, I had taken the GRE, because I thought I was going to be you know, going into – getting my Ph.D. back way back when.
So, it still counts. That day, I ran to the school, I had all my records and I turned in the same script and so I got in, after having been turned down years before, I got into the USC program and that’s where –
[0:17:11.4] JR: That’s amazing.
[0:17:12.4] KH: Everything just –
[0:17:13.8] JR: That’s where everything happened.
[0:17:14.4] KH: You know, clicked. And I learned so much, yeah.
[0:17:17.0] JR: That’s great. So, you’re writing for years, fast-forward to today –
[0:17:20.9] KH: Yeah.
[0:17:20.9] JR: You write this movie called Clouds. Which Disney+ has picked up as their second original film behind only, what in Jordan’s humble opinion is the greatest piece of art ever made, Hamilton.
[0:17:33.5] KH: Hamilton.
[0:17:36.4] JR: I want to talk about the origin story of Clouds in a minute but.
[0:17:39.9] KH: Yes.
[0:17:40.0] JR: Can you give us the – for those who haven’t watched it yet, give us the 30 to 60-second pitch on what the movie is about? What’s the story?
[0:17:47.4] KH: Yeah, Clouds is a true story based on the life of Zach Sobiech, who was a teenager who had terminal cancer. And discovers sort of what his purpose and passion is through music and writes this hit song called Clouds. That was the only song ever to hit number one, I think, by an unsigned artist, I believe.
I could be a little wrong but it was a very big deal. It hit number one, he was, you know, it was just an amazing viral story that many people might have heard of. I had heard of it before they approached me to write the adaption.
And, it’s yeah, it’s a really powerful story about purpose and making the most of every moment we have. I keep thinking of Dead Poets Society and that Carpe Diem idea of seize the day and Zach, yeah.
[0:18:42.4] JR: I had never heard the story before, but it’s a terrific movie. You know, and you and I talked about –
[0:18:47.3] KH: You hadn’t heard it? Fascinating.
[0:18:48.6] JR: I have not.
[0:18:49.4] KH: Yeah, interesting.
[0:18:49.6] JR: Well, here’s the deal. And my listeners, I’ve talked about this in a couple of episodes. I don’t read the news at all. Like almost zero.
[0:18:56.9] KH: Yeah.
[0:18:57.5] JR: I don’t hear about stuff like this.
[0:18:59.1] KH: Right.
[0:18:59.7] JR: But, it’s a great movie, and a little bit of a surprise for it to be on Disney+.
[0:19:05.3] KH: Right.
[0:19:05.9] JR: This is a little bit older of a film, it’s PG-13 and when you and I talked a couple of months ago, you mentioned that Bob Iger had personally made the move to acquire this. And I, I can’t remember if I mentioned this. I am a huge Bob Iger fan.
[0:19:23.2] KH: Well, I mean. You have a good reason to be, right?
[0:19:28.2] JR: I want every detail of the Bob Iger story. Who is there?
[0:19:31.5] KH: Well, I don’t know if I’m allowed to give it to you, I don’t know.
[0:19:33.7] JR: Come on, it must be good.
[0:19:34.1] KH: I don’t know. Well, I do know that it was originally a Warner Brothers Film. When I wrote it, we wrote it as a feature film for Warner Brothers. And, it was a big swing. Our executive over there was taking a risk, because it also wasn’t quite Warner Brothers material, because it is this family film that is – has faith elements and is you know, this musical –
When I very first was pitching it, I was saying, it was Blindside meets Once. I don’t know if you ever saw the movie that the musical Once. It was such a wild thing of sort of like inspiration and music and just very different.
[0:20:14.2] JR: It didn’t fit in the box.
[0:20:15.7] KH: It didn’t fit in the box, and people didn’t even know what age it was, you know? We just knew that it had to be told and at first, the book is that it’s sort of lose, I mean, it’s based on his life, but then his mother, Laura Sobiech wrote a wonderful book called Clouds: A Memoir, about her experience. So, at first, it seemed like it was going to be from her point of view. And then, you know, in one of those moments where you have like a “aha” epiphany kind of moment, I felt Zach sort of amazingly, when I was considering this thing, say, “I want to tell my story”. I just knew it had to be from his point of view so that then made it less from the family, like grownup perspective, and suddenly, it’s teen, you know?
His world. We still get the parents, we still get, you know, these other – the people in his life, but it’s focused on him, his arc, how he’s feeling and what he is – how he’s growing. But, that said, like you said. It hits many different things, it’s not quite in a box but Warner Brothers took a great risk on it I think and a big swing and really, believed in it and it was really awesome to have them.
And then, sort of all t he way through filming, we – you know, we thought that it was still going to be doing that, headed to theaters. And then, the pandemic hit. And everyone in Hollywood was like, “Oh my gosh, what now?” Like, scrambling, like the whole world. What does life look like now?
And we were just so amazed that Justin Baldoni, the director, you know, had given a cut of it to Disney and Bob Iger and you know, he said, “This is exactly the kind of film we want to be making for Disney+ and, that it matters.”
It’s a movie about a family that inspires and that makes a difference and that’s what they really wanted to do, he was just very keen on it and Warner Brothers, I think thought it was a good idea as well. So, they, you know, are the people – it’s more about those pictures.
They produced it and then, Disney+ then became the distributor. And I think it was just a genius thing to have happened because it actually is. Disney+ is the audience, that you know, really came – get behind this and that it’s – that it could be so impactful for the families, teens, you know, young, not too young of kids but kids we say, sort of 12 and up, 13 and up.
[0:22:54.1] JR: Yeah, yeah, have you read Bob’s autobiography? The Ride of a Lifetime.
[0:22:58.7] KH: No, my husband did though and I know that he was very – and I remember him recounting some of the things in it that he was so impressed.
[0:23:06.8] JR: Yeah like business autobiographies typically aren’t my thing. The exceptions are The Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger and Shoe Dog by Phil Knight by Iger’s book, it’s phenomenal. I always recommend Disney War, which is the biography written about Eisner's tenure and CEO –
[0:23:26.6] KH: Oh fascinating.
[0:23:27.9] JR: And then kind of passing the baton to Iger but it is interesting, Iger hates that book like they’re very publically opposed to that book. So reading both together is a lot of a fun.
[0:23:38.2] KH: Really? Interesting.
[0:23:39.5] JR: Yeah, it’s really good.
[0:23:40.2] KH: Yeah, yeah. Well, I think that he is incredibly brilliant and smart too. He made that choice.
[0:23:45.5] JR: So of course they do, of course, they do.
[0:23:48.3] KH: No, I feel very lucky.
[0:23:49.6] JR: Kara, you’ve clearly earned your stripes as a writer. One thing that you can point to, I’m going to hold you to one as the key to mastering this craft. There’s somebody in the audience that’s like, “Man, I want to write a movie.” What is the key to making this all happen?
[0:24:07.3] KH: One thing? How dare you? Well, what is that? An A.B.C., always be closing? It’s A.B.W., always be writing. The more you write, the more you learn. Well oh but also, always be reading. You have to read scripts. If you want to write scripts, you have to read scripts and you have to write them and the more you write, the better you get. It’s that thing, you know I’ve heard you guys talk about it for 10,000 hours. It’s just a real thing just you know, continually growing writing. Just doing the thing is so important, I you know –
[0:24:44.1] JR: But reading is so critical.
[0:24:45.7] KH: It is. It is.
[0:24:46.7] JR: I would rather reading into writing, to me they are one and the same. Like you can’t write unless you are reading.
[0:24:52.4] KH: Absolutely, absolutely so get your hands on as many scripts. There is a lot online. It’s so eye-opening to see how scripts are written how voice can come through, you know how the dialogue is. It is just a really, really important. I actually teach a screenwriting class from time to time at the University of Louisville and that’s – yes, I – we’re –
[0:25:14.0] JR: And it is the same thing with any discipline, right? If you are writing books like I read a ton of non-fiction because I write non-fiction.
[0:25:20.5] KH: Yes.
[0:25:21.4] JR: Now I’m building a business so I study lots of businesses, right?
[0:25:25.3] KH: Yes.
[0:25:25.7] JR: It is knowing what the existing boundaries of an art form are so that you can expand that.
[0:25:30.6] KH: Absolutely and see who is doing it well and see when it is not done well and why. That’s important you know? You can get a sense of what doesn’t work and be okay with that happening in your own writings. You are going to start out and it’s going to be bumpy and you know, I can’t say the word again on this but my mentor at USC was a man named Syd Field. He wrote a book called Screenplay, which I think is still the best book about writing the screenplays.
And Syd Field, he would say, “You know, one of the biggest things is to make sure you allow your first draft to be just crap” because then you don’t get too precious. You realize it’s work and just get to work, just do it, get it out on the page and then you can go back and refine and refine and refine and that’s what writing is about and so yeah.
[0:26:21.4] JR: No, it’s exactly right. First drafts are never final drafts ever.
[0:26:24.5] KH: Right and I think people can get discouraged sometimes, you know or think that, “This is it, I’ve done it” you know? And no. By the way from a working writer, the script is never done. I am on the set writing as the actors are saying words and saying it. It’s so – yeah, just humbly work at that craft as much as you can, you know? It is, it is wild how that cuts across so many different, you know, disciplines that – yeah.
[0:26:52.6] JR: Totally, so you’ve got a lot going on. You’ve got this movie coming out, you also have – you have one kid? Two kids?
[0:26:59.5] KH: I have two. I have two kids.
[0:27:01.0] JR: You have two kids, okay you got a lot going on. So what does your day look like from the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed? What is a day in the life of Kara Holden look like?
[0:27:10.5] KH: Well, it looks like, I wish I were more disciplined than I am. So it can be different on different days. I do have an office out of the house in the back of a general store that I go to. I love it so much.
[0:27:22.9] JR: That’s amazing.
[0:27:24.8] KH: A little quiet space that I can go and look at some trees and be quiet and it is important for my writing. I used to sort of try to work from home and I would hear my kids giggling and I’d be like, “Oh no, I want to be there. What is making them laugh?” or you know, if they cry, “Why are they crying?” so yeah, it is good for me to be here. So I will, you know like get up, play with the kids, get them ready. My son goes to four-school, he is in kindergarten and so his is outdoor.
So, it is still happening right now, which is nice and then I do have just an amazing, lovely, wonderful nanny, who comes around at 9:30 and then I get myself ready and get to the office around 10 and then I do some e-mails and things and try and get that all out of the way. Eat some lunch and then it sounds like such a crazy day but my, you know turn off everything and just write is usually from about 12:30 to 5:30 but I am going to say, the caveat is when I –
Sometimes when I am getting started and sometimes when I am finishing, I will go to take two days and go to retreat centers and where there is nothing and it was a cabin and like not even Internet and I will just really get into it. So I do have the day-to-day work but usually when I’m really first getting into a script and when I am first trying to sort of finish up the whole thing, I will take a couple of days and I’ll work 14 to 16 hours.
[0:28:58.9] JR: Yeah, it is a grand gesture, right? The magic of the grand gesture in investing time, sometimes money.
[0:29:06.4] KH: Yes, that is such a good way to put it.
[0:29:08.5] JR: It increases the perceived, yeah, it increases the perceived importance of the task. By the way, this isn’t me. This is all Cal Newport and the book he wrote.
[0:29:14.8] KH: I never knew I why I did it before, I just know that it works.
[0:29:18.0] JR: But does that make sense?
[0:29:20.3] KH: Yes, it has you invest.
[0:29:22.3] JR: Oh this is a big deal.
[0:29:23.6] KH: This is a big deal, this is yes. This is a new thing and let me immerse myself in it and then get to the day-to-day work of it but that’s really fascinating because yes, I’ve always done that too. I have always done that from the beginning of my career and I used to get kind of annoyed at like, “Why can’t I just do the day to day like everyone else does? Why do I need this sort of special sort of beginning moments?” but I guess that’s it. I need a grand gesture, it’s just how I get focused.
[0:29:49.9] JR: Yeah especially for creative people like I am actually not sure I’ve mentioned this on the podcast yet but I wrote a children’s book last year, which is in production right now.
[0:29:58.8] KH: Oh my goodness.
[0:29:59.6] JR: And yeah and it’s – I am really proud of it. My agent said, “No offense…”
[0:30:03.8] KH: Congratulations.
[0:30:04.5] JR: “No offense, it is the best thing you’ve written even though it is 400 words.”
[0:30:06.4] KH: Oh it’s amazing.
[0:30:08.2] JR: Which I try not to think of it today but I wrote it on a plane ride to California and it was – I didn’t go to California to write a children’s book but I was saving up for weeks and knowing that, “Okay, my goal is going to be to get the first draft done on that.”
[0:30:21.6] KH: That’s incredible.
[0:30:22.7] JR: Yeah and it worked.
[0:30:23.3] KH: You know, it is so interesting my favorite writer that I really look up to is Madeleine L'Engle. She wrote A Wrinkle in Time and many things that I really love and she said that she did much of her writing on airplanes. I’ve never been able to because I’m not a great flyer. So I had to zone out to a bad movie but I just love people who are able to get that in and you and Madeleine L’Engle. She also did many children’s book so.
[0:30:46.7] JR: There you go. That’s fine company.
[0:30:49.3] KH: Yeah, yeah.
[0:30:50.1] JR: So Kara, as you know this podcast is about mastery but it is also about how the faith of Christ’s followers shape their work. I am curious, with Clouds specifically, how did you faith informed your approach to that project?
[0:31:03.7] KH: Oh, it was, you know it was the exact movie that I needed at the time when I needed it. It is really fascinating, there is something about my faith has changed and grown and you know, done many things over the years. As I said, I had sort of an evangelical youth. Kind of the idea of, “Well, I don’t want to be disparaging at all” but I did I guess in my own mind have a sort of “name it claim it” mentality.
[0:31:33.0] JR: Yeah, yeah.
[0:31:33.4] KH: And as I grew older and saw things happening that didn’t make sense in that sort of world where you know, you pray for something and it doesn’t happen and what does that look like and why and does that mean I did something wrong and you know for me, this story of Zach was so beautiful and meeting his family because their faith was so apparent. They really and truly put themselves wholly in God’s hands.
And there was a line in there and in Laura’s book that ended up sort of getting cut because the actual scene, if you – the scene in Lourdes where they go to take in the healing waters of Lourdes in France, the family.
[0:32:19.2] JR: Yeah.
[0:32:20.6] KH: That was a real thing that they did and her prayer was you know, “God, please heal my son but if for some reason he dies, please let it be for something big,” I mean and this was in the process of her being there with her son and all of that but still having this mindset of, “God, you’re in charge” and you know, to let it be for something big, I mean that was just wild and the idea that miracles look different than what we might expect it, it might not be simple.
But for them, you know, there was a miracle that happened and for them, they also believe that you know, everyone who prays for healing does ultimately get healed. They feel that Zach was healed in this, in the next life and gosh, I just needed – because there are things that I grapple with in my own faith. Those just basic questions, it is interesting how you never get to settle it, right? I had more certainty when I was younger and I remember hearing a quote by Billy Graham once.
Which was similar to where he said, “When I was young, I could tell you the dimensions, the colors of heaven, what it would be and how we would get that you know, sort of every sort of specific with certitude and now, all I can say is I know there is a heaven and I’m going to be there” and I love that and it is sort of how I feel about God, you know? Like I don’t have all of the certitude about all of these things that I might have once had.
So for me, my faith I would say it allowed me to have those doubts and have those questions and put it on the page and sort of wrestle with myself through the writing of the script and it was beautiful because I think God showed up, yeah.
[0:34:08.4] JR: You mentioned before, the film is based on this memoire, right?
[0:34:12.1] KH: Right.
[0:34:12.4] JR: Written by Zach’s mom, which is more faith-forward than the film, right?
[0:34:17.5] KH: Yes.
[0:34:18.1] JR: The memoire is much more faith forward. So, I’m curious, how did you and you, and you mentioned a particular line being cut from the film, how did you think about you know, how large a role the character’s face should play in the film and how did that you know, where you satisfied with where it landed?
[0:34:34.5] KH: I absolutely was, yeah. I, you know why? Because there are certain touch words in Christianity that can feel very exclusive and we wanted this to be an inclusive film. We wanted Zach’s story to be able to impress, inspire and make a difference in a lot – as many lives as possible and I knew growing up, from just growing up as sort of you know, being a young life leader and sort of, the words that you say can sometimes turn people off immediately, right?
[0:35:09.6] JR: Yeah.
[0:35:10.1] KH: And so, I wanted to let action speak louder than words. I wanted to show the family showing up for each other, show them in their moments when they are praying. We don’t have to hear the prayer to know it is happening and so that it could be sort of more impressed to a greater audience. I did want to make sure that it was part of the movie because it was a part of their lives like I said but I didn’t feel like – I feel like when it’s and this is maybe controversial.
When it is super genuine, when the faith is coming from a genuine place especially in a film, it is apparent even if you are not spelling it out and I feel like a lot of times in Christian aren’t general. The difference between like I didn’t – I don’t like that term even Christian art because like I feel like all beautiful meaningful truth in art comes from God, you know whether we know it or not that he is able to use. I mean look, He used a donkey, right?
[0:36:12.6] JR: Right.
[0:36:13.5] KH: To speak to Balaam. Anyone can be used, you don’t have to be those great pillar of faith yourself even to have something true and meaningful spoken in the world. It is sort of the idea of the very rocks can cry out. So we don’t have to try so hard to hit the message. If the message is true and in us, right? It comes out on the page I think and so I think it was – that’s how I approach writing and faith. It sort of – it is why I wrote on a movie called Soul Surfer and it was why they hired me as well.
They wanted me to – I wrote because I was a youth leader, I wrote the youth leader’s part in that and all the dialogue and stuff and between the kids and because you know, there is a time when just being genuine, being honest about questions and difficult times, Zach did encounter fears and doubts and you know, we wanted that in there. I didn’t want him to be a saint.
[0:37:13.6] JR: Yeah.
[0:37:14.2] KH: I wanted him to be real because God has made us with all of these emotions. That is real and I think I like to see more of that, the full range of human expression and if it is a film about faith, let’s see it all. I mean some have their own purpose, you know? There are – you don’t have to get gritty all the time but it was important for this because it was a true story and we wanted to honor it and we wanted to honor Zach and we did just want to be able to touch as many hearts and lives as possible.
And we believed – well, I believed that you know, it’s that kind of thing where likely to just use the words. I don’t – I will let them touch you, they are supposed to touch.
[0:37:56.5] JR: Yeah, I am thinking about Fred Rogers, Mr. Rogers.
[0:37:59.6] KH: Oh yes.
[0:38:00.9] JR: Who believed that there’s a great quote somewhere and I am going to butcher it but that the space between the television set and the kid is sacred ground and that he would come to work never explicitly preaching the gospel but showing it in incredibly powerful ways and how he treated his neighbors, right?
[0:38:19.4] KH: Yes. Yes.
[0:38:20.0] JR: As themselves and trusted the Holy Spirit to translate that and to connect it to the true story, the true myth of Christianity as Tolkien and Lewis used to say. He was big on it.
[0:38:33.4] KH: Yes, yes the story – you know, the story itself you know this arc that you are giving the audience of them seeing this sort of the purpose coming through. I love a quote from Anna Engle that says, “Jesus was God who told stories.” I mean that was another reason why early on that I wanted to, you know do that that you can. Just through the – that we are made to recognize these you know, what stories are and how it applies to our lives and that’s what so beautiful about movies.
And I love that you said that about Fred Rogers that sacred space. I believe it like there is – you are going into people’s – directly into their hearts hopefully and –
[0:39:14.6] JR: Yes, that’s what art does, yeah.
[0:39:17.1] KH: Yes, yes and hopefully, you know to make a difference and just shine that light that sort of you know, I believe in – is that C.S. Lewis? “I believe in God as I believe in the Son, not because I see it but because I can see everything through it.”
[0:39:34.3] JR: Because I could feel His worth, yeah you can see over the dirt, yeah.
[0:39:37.5] KH: Yeah. So I think that’s great in film. I love to see that in a film that when it is just under the surface because it is part of everything. It is a part of the fabric of the film itself there. That’s what their faith is.
[0:39:51.1] JR: Yeah.
[0:39:51.7] KH: So while it wasn’t explicitly for a Christian audience and I mean by the way, I love her book. She does get very into, you know scriptures.
[0:39:59.2] JR: Yeah.
[0:39:59.4] KH: The prayer she prayed for this as a work of you know, it is not a documentary. There are things that we made to tailor it more to a feature film form so that it would give the most satisfying feel of a story and the kind of story we were trying to tell.
[0:40:16.5] JR: I love it and you guys told a heck of a story.
[0:40:19.0] KH: Oh thank you.
[0:40:19.9] JR: So Kara, three questions we love to wrap up.
[0:40:21.9] KH: Yeah, okay.
[0:40:22.2] JR: Every conversation with. Number one, which books do you recommend or gift most frequently to others?
[0:40:30.2] KH: Well, the book I – there is a none – I mean there is a fiction book.
[0:40:33.3] JR: Yeah.
[0:40:33.8] KH: That I just – that my friend Marty gave me and I can’t stop giving it to other people, it’s called The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.
[0:40:43.5] JR: Okay.
[0:40:44.3] KH: It is science-fiction but it is one of the most oh, heart wrenching touching stories about what it means to be human and about the questions of faith and where is God. Oh yeah, it’s an incredible book and then another one that I just love, speaking of Madeleine L'Engle, she wrote a book called Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art and I quite often go back and re-read that like why am I – what do I do what I do and you know, how do I do it to the best of my ability and that book always inspires me.
[0:41:23.3] JR: Those are great answers, yeah.
[0:41:24.7] KH: There’s one more just on the technical, Screenplay by Syd Field. So if anyone out there wants to learn how to write a screenplay that’s my favorite.
[0:41:31.6] JR: I love it and you guys can find those books at jordanraynor.com/bookshelf. Hey Kara, who would you most like to hear maybe on this podcast talking about how their faith influences the work they do in the world?
[0:41:42.3] KH: Oh, I think I am pretty sure he’s a Christian, Ryan Tedder from OneRepublic.
[0:41:48.0] JR: Oh yeah.
[0:41:49.1] KH: So I love the show Song Land. He is the main judge on it and everything and I just always feel like he’s so impressive about how he knows about writing songs and telling stories through songs and they actually just wrote an original song for Clouds and I was thinking, “Oh man, I want to know that guy. I want to hear more from him.”
[0:42:09.9] JR: Yes, that is a great answer. I like that answer a lot, yeah.
[0:42:12.5] KH: Cool.
[0:42:12.6] JR: Yeah, we have to found out about Ryan. All right, last question, one piece of advice to leave this audience with, some of them want to write, some of them want to build businesses, some of them are going to work as teachers, as lawyers, whatever. What they share is they want to do great work for the glory of God and the good of others, what do you want to leave them with?
[0:42:29.3] KH: Well, I want to leave them with never be afraid to make big swings. I think I love the idea, my – I have a dear friend who passed away who – his name was Marty Cobb. He used to always say, “Don’t be afraid to be a fool for what you love” and I have always taken that on. I say just go for it. Introduce yourself to the person, humbly of course. Make the gesture, you know show up, make these big swings and sometimes they don’t work but when they do man, it’s incredible. When something goes, when you hit it out of the park, it feels really good.
[0:43:04.7] JR: I love it, don’t be afraid to be a fool for what you love. That’s really good. Hey Kara, I want to commend you and anyone at our audience who’s making things with words for the important eternally significant work you do every day. Thank you for telling stories of hope and redemption through your films and for making people long for the Kingdom and just you know, at the most basic level, thank you for serving your audiences and producers and investors and production companies to the ministry of excellence.
Guys, I love this film. It’s called Clouds. I am sure you guys have already seen it anyways because it’s right there on the home screen of Disney+. If you want to find Kara, you could find her on Twitter @joydelightsn, letter N, joy – did I get that right Kara?
[0:43:48.2] KH: You did.
[0:43:48.8] JR: @joydelightsnjoy. Kara, thank you so much for joining us.
[0:43:51.6] KH: Thank you, this has been such a joy. Ah a joy. Thanks.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:43:59.5] JR: That was a lot of fun. Anytime I get to talk about Bob Iger on the Call to Mastery, you know it’s going to be a good episode. Hey, if you enjoyed this episode to Call to Mastery, make sure you subscribe so you never miss an episode in the future. If you already subscribed, do me a huge favor. Take 30 seconds, go on Apple Podcast right now and leave a review. Let us know why you love the show. By the way, we read these. We actually read these internal every week at our Jordan Raynor and company all-hands meetings. We read some of the reviews you guys leave here on the podcast. So if there is anything you ever wanted to say to me or the team in that way, that’s a great way to do.
Hey, thank you so much for listening to this episode to Call to Mastery. I’ll see you next week.