Brian Koppelman has a P.h.D in ADHD and creativity.
Okay, just kidding. But if there was such a thing, he’d certainly have one.
Brian is a filmmaker. He wrote Rounders and Ocean’s Thirteen, and Solitary Man (which he also directed). His latest project is Showtime’s Billions.
He also hosts his own podcast called The Moment. It’s one of my favorites. His guests are top-quality creatives from a variety of fields. He’s a fantastic interviewer.
Brian also has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
So I was absolutely thrilled to get the opportunity to ask Brian about ADHD and creativity during a recent Product Hunt LIVE chat.
He had some insightful advice for creatives, and also talked openly about his own experiences with ADHD. He laid out the strategies he’s used to bust through creative blocks and launch a career in the movies.
Below are some of the highlights concerning ADHD and creativity from the LIVE chat.
Q & A with Brian Koppelman
(for full video of LIVE chat, scroll further below)
Question: What’s something you used to strongly believe, but no longer do?
Brian Koppelman: That’s a great [question] because it’s the whole reason I started doing The Moment.
Until I was 30 I didn’t believe I could get past writer’s block. I was someone who always wanted to be a creative person and live my life based on my imagination and ability to tell stories.
But I thought that was an impossible dream, and I was really thwarted.
Around my 30th birthday, my first child was born, and I realized if I wanted to be the kind of person who would come home and tell my kids that they can be anything they dreamed of, that I had to be doing that, otherwise I’d be living a lie.
I realized that when you’re blocked, if you allow yourself to give into it, when that wish dies, you kind of become toxic.
And that toxicity, like any toxicity, spreads, and that you’re not the best version of yourself around the people you love.
And that’s when I made the promise/commitment to myself that I would find a way to break through. It was a binary difference, and I figured out how to start writing everyday.
From the moment I really broke through, within a year we’d sold Rounders and a couple months later we were making the (first) movie.
That was absolutely a belief that I was certain I would never be able to do it and suddenly I figured out a way to get to the other side.
Product Hunt Live Chat
Question: How did you find out you had ADHD? What was that experience like, and how does it influence your creative endeavors?
Brian Koppelman: I don’t know how it influences my creative endeavors now. I can tell you that it gave me an incredible sense of failure for many years, scholastically.
If you have had real ADHD, and I’ve read all the stuff and I agree that it’s over-diagnosed, and adderall and ritalyn are probably overprescribed, but if you really have had it, and can understand the feeling of certain textbooks being sort of radioactive so that you can’t open them even if you want to, like the true thing of what it feels like to not be able to do the work…it’s debilitating. Especially if you’re somebody who has a big intellectual tool-kit otherwise.
I was a kid who used to love to read. Anything I was interested in, I could read quickly and have incredible retention, and I had a big vocabulary.
But I could fail a history test in two minutes if the teacher was boring or the textbook was poorly written. I couldn’t read it, I couldn’t find a way to do it. It creates incredible cognitive dissonance, and it took me years to figure it out.
I found ways to cope and so I went to a good college, and went to law school at night, and I was successful at a young age. But I still felt deep inside like I was lazy and a failure.
To the people who know me now, the thought of me being lazy is absurd. But I felt like I was really lazy, and so it was one of huge things that I had to battle.
It was one of the things that didn’t hit me until I was in my…until really around the time I decided to do this, to really understand and accept, ‘Oh I really have this.’
And I’ve taken adderall at times, for a year at a time. I’m not taking it now. But as soon as I took it was like a giant shift and I realized, I actually have something technically going on that can be fixed short term by medicine, and if I can somehow take the lessons from that, I can maybe deal with it afterwards without medicine.
So, It had a giant impact on my life when I was young. For years I used to think that if I had been able to have medicine when I was a young person, I would have just gone and been like a conventional person. I probably wouldn’t have had this job being an artist, because I would have just succeeded a different way in school.
Question: You talk about your writing partner and I’m so curious how having [a writing partner] influences writer’s block, or does the morning routine with Morning Pages kind of take care of the writer’s block?
Brian Koppelman: I think in the beginning, as you know in studying ADHD, being on teams helps. So in the beginning that absolutely helped in that way. I had to be able to produce results because we were in it together. More David Levien’s example though, after seeing him get up everyday and doing the work, really helped.
The Morning Pages was really the thing that changed it for me. You know Solitary Man, I wrote myself. So, that was a really big thing for someone who had my journey because I had to write the whole script, focus on it, and do it all by myself, and prove to myself that I could. And that wouldn’t have happened were it not for the example I had from Dave and watching him do it. But also doing the Morning Pages, knowing that if I could just do a little bit a day I could get the thing done with that consistency of effort, I could get it done.
Question (Alex Carter): I’m curious, you mentioned Morning Pages a lot, do you want to elaborate for folks who maybe aren’t familiar with what exactly that entails and why that’s helpful?
Brian Koppelman: Some days I meditate first, and some days I write. But you cannot sensor yourself. And you don’t read pages back for at least five years.
All you’re doing is running your hand across the page. Line by line for three pages, and you don’t stop.
What happens as you start to do that every day is it starts to unlock that part of yourself that’s the most create.
You start talking to yourself in ways you don’t anticipate, but what ends up happening is you become freed of whatever the bullshit that’s stopping you.
Question: What have you found is the best process for writing a compelling story, and what are your main components?
Brian Koppelman: I have to really want to tell it. If I try to really do it from outside in, it won’t work.
If somebody gave me a log line, I could create a professional script or short story out of it, but the most important thing to me is I want to show up everyday and tell the story because it’s a long slog to write a screenplay.
If I can find something that I connect to in it, then you just gotta do it.
You know at the end of Sadartha there’s the Buddhist kiss on the forehead, which is instead of outside-in wisdom, you have to just take it in. Writing is the kind of thing you can only learn by doing it.
If you know how to tell a story to your friends, I think that’s a great exercise. Say it out loud, record yourself telling it, figure out why it works, and then write it down and see what it looks like.
What’s a story you know you can tell at dinner that works, say it out loud to your phone.
If you can’t do it alone, do it telling somebody you don’t know, so you can tell it for the first time.
Listen back, write it down and look at what the structure was. Make a model on that.
Questions (Alex Carter): I’m curious, would your advice to newer writers be to get lots of feedback from other people they trust? I know that’s something that resonates in the tech startup world.
Brian Koppelman: There’s a time to get feedback, for sure, and it’s really valuable.
You have to know when you’re strong enough to take that feedback. Because the kind of feedback you want is stern and accurate and sometimes withering feedback.
Probably the day you finish something isn’t when you want it because you’ll be crushed by it, and you’ll react angrily.
So you want that feedback when you’re emotionally ready. But yes, you need it.
To watch the full live chat video, scroll below.
More About Brian Koppelman
I first heard Brian Koppelman on The James Altucher Show. I loved his no-nonsense style and his story.
At 30 years old he made the decision to get out of law and start pursuing his dream of making movies. Since then he’s gone on to do some pretty bitchin’ things.
He wrote Rounders and Ocean’s Thirteen with his writing partner David Levien, and then wrote and directed Solitary Man with Michael Douglas and Susan Surandon.
It took courage and hard work, but making that decision at 30 completely changed the trajectory of his life.
The Moment Podcast
When Koppelman mentioned on James’ show that he also had ADHD, my ears perked up. ADHD and creativity? I’m in. I immediately downloaded several episodes of his show The Moment, and I’ve been glued ever since.
It’s true, I’m unabashedly in love with podcasts, and The Moment is what interview podcast enthusiasts enjoy most: quality engagement. Brian Koppelman’s genuineness and curiosity shines through and enables him to get the real-deal from his guests.
Brian started The Moment in March of 2014 (you can subscribe right here) and interviews authors, fellow filmmakers, entrepreneurs, artists–basically anybody that inspires him. In fact, he’s made it a rule that he will only have people on his show that inspire him, those he genuinely wants to have a conversation with. It keeps the conversations genuine.
Brian Koppelman is a fantastic interviewer. Several times I’ve noticed popular guests veering from their usual interview talk-track (Seth Godin and Tony Robbins are a few that come to mind). Brian uses his curiosity as a guide and also makes space for complexity in the conversation. It makes for incredibly insightful and engaging conversations.
Stream The Moment Podcast below:
Brian is on Vine
Brian Koppelman’s Newest Project
Brian has also created a new show called Billions for Showtime. It’s currently being filmed and scheduled for release this coming January.
Watch the trailer below for a sneak peek.
Trailer For Billions
Full Video of Product Hunt Live Chat Below:
(The wonderful Alex Carter who heads up the new podcasts at Product Hunt is the moderator.)
Here is a link for the video if your device is has any trouble streaming.