Q & A With Author Chris Clews
Q & A with Chris Clews, a Deerfield Beach based author & 80s pop-culture enthusiast with an inspiring story of self re-invention
By Danielle Charbonneau
Deerfield Beach based author Chris Clews is an 80’s pop-culture enthusiast with over 20 years of professional marketing experience in international corporate business. One day, while Clews was bemoaning some workplace difficulties, he turned to one of his favorite 80s films, “The Breakfast Club,” to cheer him up.
A line from one of the characters inspired him and he began journaling about the lessons inherent in the film. The process sparked an idea. What if he were to write about the business lessons one could glean from watching 80s films? He wrote two articles on LinkedIn that were both well received and realized he had stumbled upon a great idea — to merge his love for 80s pop culture and his decades of experience in the corporate world to create an entertaining and informative book.
“What 80s Pop Culture Teaches Us About Today’s Workplace: Unexpected business lessons from ten of the great 80s movies that defined a generation” — is a series of ten lessons learned from ten different 80s films. After writing the book, Clews went on to adapt his lessons into speaking engagements. He has now been a guest speaker at numerous corporate events and workshops.
Clews’ story — of taking a spark of an idea and turning it into a successful passion — is inspiring. He is the type of person who motivates you to try new things and regularly re-invent yourself. He inspired me quite literally. After we spoke, I actually signed up for an improv class merely to try it.
In the hopes he might inspire you too, I decided to publish our interview in Q & A format. Meet your Deerfield Beach neighbor and up-and-coming author/speaker, Chris Clews:
Tell me the story of how you got here [having published your book and started speaking professionally]?
Basically I’ve always enjoyed writing. I actually wrote a screenplay years ago and have been shopping it ever since. And I like to do it in my spare time. I had a job that I was in that wasn’t working well. I was having — I guess you could call it a pity party of one — and I was home on a Saturday afternoon watching “The Breakfast Club.” There was this moment in the movie where one of the characters says, “Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.”
I sat up and thought, the world is an imperfect place. I’ve got to get my stuff together and figure out what i’m going to do. I didn’t want to wake up at 85-years-old and say I was a pretty good marketing guy. I thought, “There’s got to be more for me out there.”
In the process, I realized that the business world is an imperfect place, because that was the position I was in. And I decided to write an article about what “The Breakfast Club” teaches us about the workplace.
I posted it on LinkedIn and got a great response. I decided to write another one, which was Ferris Bueller and what he taught us about work-life balance. I got another good response and thought maybe I had something here.
I decided to write a book. I took ten movies that I really loved from the 80s and began to dissect the business lessons that you can get out of them.
I think that 80s movies, and 80s pop culture in general, has really had a renaissance over the last few years. If you’ll notice shows like “Stranger Things” and “The Americans” and “The Goldbergs” — a lot of the movies like “Ready Player One” most recently — all have a huge culture reference to the 80s. I do think that there’s some nostalgia for the 80s. And the 80s movies in particular.
One of the reasons why we can get some really interesting lessons out of them is that I think that the 80s were the last time film makers really had to develop the characters and write a really good story. Nowadays you can write a really good story, you can develop great characters, but at the end of the day if you’re not totally comfortable with it, you can just throw in some CGI in and then everybody gets excited about the special effects.
Well in the 80s they didn’t have that luxury, so you had to develop a really great story and have some really great characters. I think when you do that, and you have really great content, it can lend itself to a lot of different things and a lot of different interpretations. I just happened to interpret it from the perspective of somebody who had been doing marketing for 20 years or so in the corporate world…Sometimes it takes a little twisting and turning but when you find the right quote or the right character or content, it will tell you a really great story.
Which comes first usually? The lesson you’ve learned in the work place? Do you spot that lesson in the characters and their experiences? Or do you watch the film first, learn the lesson, then apply it to business? Or both?
I think its a little bit of both. I think I started thinking about the movies that I love and that I know really, really well. I started thinking about the characters and who they are, and sometimes it comes from the character. For example, the movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” has a great character who is Del Griffith and is played by John Candy.
He is one of the best characters ever for a movie because you feel like when you watch John Candy in other movies, and heard about who he was before he passed away, Del Griffith seemed to really resemble closely who you would think John Candy would be off screen — this very affable guy.
I started thinking about Del Griffith and what he taught us about the workplace, and that’s how I came up with one of the lessons for “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” — that every company needs a Del Griffith. Every company needs a great salesperson.
But then there are other movies, like “Say Anything,” where you have a character like Lloyd Dobler, who is a fantastic character. He had a quote: “I’m looking for a dare-to-be-great situation.” That quote kind of lends itself to starting to talk about lessons in the workplace, like how you should look for opportunities to be great, and that employers should give their employees opportunities to be great. Everybody should be looking for their dare-to-be-great situation.
It just depends — it could be a quote, it could be a character or it could be the overall plot of the movie.
Tell me about your progression — from your idea, to the book, to public speaking.
Ultimately, I would just quote Lloyd Dobler here, I was looking for my “dare-to-be-great situation.”
I felt like when I started writing these articles it just started coming out of me, and for the first time in a long time I felt like what I was doing was going down exactly the right path.
So I started to connect the dots. When I published the book — I self published it on Amazon — I started to look at it and say, well this is great, but what else can I do with this book? Is there a publisher out there that might be interested? Because I’d like to do a series of these.
I’ve always thought “Chicken Soup for the Soul” is an amazing series, and how that whole thing got started and what it evolved into. I wanted that to. But I knew that just self-publishing, I wasn’t going to get there.
I started to look for opportunities where there might be publishers, and I used connections, friends, and just started to network with the people that are in my life — some of the tight circle and some of the outer circles — and ask them for advice and guidance. Once I started heading in the direction of finding a publisher, I set my goal on getting one.
Once I did that, I asked, well else can I do? I thought, well, I could talk about this for hours and hours and hours if somebody asked me to. And I really enjoy talking about it. And I’m not afraid to be on stage.
I think thats the thing about public speaking — theres a lot of great writers out there and really successful people out there, but there are a lot of people who are afraid to be on stage. I’ve never had that fear. I kind of like being on stage. I think the adrenaline rush is pretty amazing. So, I thought maybe this was a unique idea.
I’ve attended a lot of conferences and I’ve seen some great speakers. What I hadn’t seen was the content that is in my book — the idea that 80s movies and these 80s characters can teach us about business today. And with the 80s being so hot like it is right now, I just figured this is a great opportunity to go after it.
Your story is that of a person who one day gets a spark of inspiration, which spins off into something great. What lesson does your personal story tell to others? Is there a message that you’d like to get across to people you might want to inspire?
I would say that if you have a passion for something, it will find you, at some point. And sometimes it happens a little later than other people. A lot of people find their passion when they are 20 or 25. I knew what my passion was. I love to write. But finding an outlet for it in a way that you can do it for a living, and that you can parlay it into something bigger, took awhile.
I think sometimes, when you’re feeling like — “Where am I going? What’s happening? What am I doing with my life?” — those times sometimes spark the opportunity that you’ve been waiting for — the idea that you’ve been waiting for.
I’m 48 years old. All of a sudden, just in the last four or five months, all of these things have begun to happen because I love what I’m doing so much. I love this. And I am passionate about it, and I want to make it happen.
Could I have thought of this 10 or 15 years ago? Yeah I could have; but would I have dedicated the same amount of time to it? I’m not so sure I would have. I’m not sure I would have had the kick that I needed to make this thing happen.
I think the biggest thing I got out of it is that sometimes the biggest negatives can turn into positives. So when you feel like your career isn’t going where you want it to go, and you feel like things aren’t happening the way you’d like them to happen — those events that happen in your life — they keep pushing you. So instead of looking at things and saying, “Gosh why is this happening to me?” You look at it and say, “Gosh I’m glad that happened to me because it pushed me in the direction that I need to go, and that I want to go to be successful.”
Is there anything personal you want people to know about you?
On a personal level, I guess what I would say is that I’ve been lucky to be able to have opportunities to try new things. And when new things have presented themselves, I’ve jumped at them — from the time that I packed up my car and moved to Florida with a couple hundred dollars in my pocket and no job back in 1993, to getting up and doing stand-up comedy at the Improv because I just wanted to do it.
I thought, when the time comes at the end of my life, I want to be able to look back and say I tried things because I wanted to try them and I was lucky enough to have those opportunities presented. I took advantage of them.
I’ve had some pretty cool experiences — I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of sports marketing around the UFC, professional soccer, baseball, college basketball, which is all very cool and exciting.
And I think growing up I was lucky, too. I grew up around the entertainment business, so I actually had the opportunity to get on stage at a young age and get on camera, which I think really helps you because it makes you not take yourself so seriously and not worry about it when you’re in a room full of people or in a crowd. When the spotlight has been on you for a little bit, even if it’s just a small one, hopefully it humbles you. I think sometimes it can make people the opposite, but it should humble you when the spotlight is on you a little bit to say “Wow, this is really happening to me. This is pretty cool.”
Besides being a huge sports person, I am a huge animal person. I really love spending time when I can at shelters volunteering, and I am planning to tie some of the proceeds from my book back to a charitable animal organization. I haven’t decided which one yet but I am a huge animal person. I can’t walk by a dog without stopping to pet it.
How can people find your book?
The book is currently on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle. Soon my publisher should have my book on a few other channels as well. Also, you can find my website at ChrisClews.com. That’s where people can email me or book me for events. And then I also have social media — Facebook and LinkedIn are under my name, and my twitter handle is @80sPopCulture