I’m guessing he didn’t sit you down and give you lessons on the UNDP, so how was his advice imparted?
His lessons were imparted — more than anything — by the way in which he carried and still carries himself. Growing up, I saw his work ethic and commitment to making a difference in the world. Despite his success, he has always remained humble, and I think this has kept me fairly grounded.
It sounds like he taught you a lot about being a decent human being (nice work, dad!); was he also influential creatively, with regard to your film projects?
Dad has helped me in all facets. From my first project when I moved into a nursing home, to projects I am currently working on, I always send him — and my mom — rough drafts of my work. He is the first person I will send a draft to. My parents know me and my intentions better than anyone. So any doubt I may have of a particular scene, or storyline, I can count on them to be honest about what is working, and what’s not.
Was there a specific piece of advice you found particularly valuable?
There are so many lessons, but my dad always said that when a person gets credit, the first thing they should do is make sure those that they worked with on the project are also given credit. A boy (or girl) will take all the credit, while a man (or woman) will be quick to make sure that due attention is given to others that made the project come to life.
Sound advice! How does it resonate in your work today?
I think I was always determined to be a storyteller. But, and maybe only recently, have I realized why I tell the type of stories I do. My dad could have probably cashed in on a private sector job (he went to college at Cambridge, got a PhD at Oxford), but instead worked long hours trying to help other people from all walks of life. [Similarly], perhaps I would have done action films, or horror films, instead of a lot of the documentary work I do. But most of what I have done focuses on issues not normally talked about: autism, cancer, depression — and I try to bring these topics to mainstream audiences (MTV, Netflix, HBO, ESPN, etc).
And I’m guessing you guys keep in touch?
I am lucky to always be in contact with Dad. I probably haven’t moved to Los Angeles because my parents, brother, and 5 best friends all remain in New York City – not to mention New York is the best. So I get to see my Dad fairly regularly. Although he recently retired from the United Nations, he is working on an array of books, giving lectures around the world, and working harder than ever, which I guess should come as no surprise.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length. In our Major Key editorial series, we talk with today’s most forward-thinking creators about their mentors, teachers, and inspirational figures who coached them towards greatness. #MyMajorKey is brought to you by Microsoft Surface.