By Shannon Lee
In this second installment of a six-part series, Warrior Executive Producer Shannon Lee shares her father’s philosophies on navigating Hollywood. To access Lee’s first installment click here.
When my father Bruce Lee said there is “no other help but self-help,” he didn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for help. In fact, asking for help is helping yourself and often takes some courage. Truthfully, you will need help and want to be in connection and collaboration with many people throughout your life. So don’t take self-sufficiency to mean you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps because the world is a cold, cold place so deal with it. Self-sufficiency is about being personally responsible for one’s inner state and one’s own responses and actions within any circumstance or relationship. It means being centered and grounded, developing an unsinkable attitude, remaining open-minded and openhearted and maintaining a faith of optimism that can see you through every circumstance and relationship.
Bruce Lee knew a lot of famous and well-connected people in Hollywood. He trained Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Ted Ashley (the then head of Warner Bros. studio), to name a few. He counted those people among his friends and colleagues, people who he sought advice from and also wanted to work and create with. In 1970 and ’71, my father, screenwriter Stirling Silliphant and Coburn worked on a project together called The Silent Flute. My father had written the basis of the treatment, Silliphant helped polish it and would later write the full screenplay*, and James Coburn agreed to star. The trio pitched it to Ashley at Warner Bros. As it turned out, Warner Bros. had rupees they needed to spend in India so they sent the three men to scout locations there for the potential feature. Coburn, Silliphant and my father had spent many hours together discussing, creating and envisioning the film, and they embarked on this journey with a “one for all and all for one” attitude. This was going to be an amazing undertaking among friends and the break my father was looking for to express himself fully in Hollywood.
Upon returning from India, though the trip had been difficult (the friends didn’t always see eye to eye and my father’s back was causing him a lot of pain), my father was satisfied they could make the film there. He was excited to share this news with Warner Bros. and get the project moving, but Silliphant and Coburn, who were not as gung-ho about the location, wouldn’t join my father in going to bat for it with Warner Bros. Upon returning, Coburn and Silliphant shifted their attention to other enterprises, and the trio’s original vision fell apart. My father was sorely disappointed. He certainly didn’t expect any undue favors, but he felt that the location could work and that the more important thing was their dedication to The Silent Flute and to one another.
It became clear to my father that he could not place his success as a creator in anyone else’s hands. It wasn’t wrong to try to launch ventures with friends and colleagues; on the contrary, together they had conceived a great idea. But the opportunity had been more important for him than for the others, and he had relied a lot on their agreement to go the distance in getting it made — only to be really surprised when their interests waned so quickly. It became a reminder that the only person he could rely on 100 percent to show up for him 100 percent was, well, him. This did not leave him bitter. He continued his friendship with Coburn and Silliphant, but it was a wake-up call.
No one was going to advocate for him more ardently than himself, and his success was in his own hands. How many times in your own life and career have you wanted someone else to “handle it” for you? (Just waiting for your agent to call with all the best auditions, are you?) When other people have different priorities or don’t follow through, you want to blame them for not doing more. But really, there is no one to blame. If it’s your company or your career or your life, then you are responsible for it. You can work with people and collaborate, but you should never put your long-term trajectory and planning in anyone else’s hands. Even if people flake on you, don’t do what they say they are going to do or lie to you, you are still responsible for your next move and the maintenance of your dreams. You are the determining factor in the long-term shape of your career. No one else.
Poetically, the story of The Silent Flute ends with the protagonist, a martial artist searching for a book that contains the ultimate secret of martial arts, finding his prize — only to discover, upon opening it, that the secret knowledge he sought was nothing more than a mirror. And thus the point is illustrated: in order to find what one seeks, one must look within and cultivate oneself!
* After Bruce Lee’s death, Stirling Silliphant finished the script for The Silent Flute with Stanley Mann; it was released as Circle of Iron in 1978.
To learn more about Bruce Lee’s philosophies, check out Shannon Lee’s Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee, available wherever books are sold and on Audible.