Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. — Proverbs 3:5–6 NKJV
I was deep in the heart of Beijing, People's Republic of China, in the summer of 2009. For the first time in my career, I was the lead studio executive on a feature film—the remake of The Karate Kid, starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith, son of actor Will Smith.
It's important to understand that Beijing—the ancient capital of China—is huge The urban area alone contains about 13 million residents; that's four cities of Los Angeles. Beijing is also complex on a Byzantine scale, and with the producers, entire crew, and cast there, we had ventured far into some of the oldest parts of the city, into ancient neighborhoods called hutongs where the living style was more communal and we could find the character and feel we were looking for.
Getting cast, crew, and equipment there was a major undertaking, the shots were taking a long, long time to set up and complete, and as I stood there, we were running out of daylight.
Sunset is usually panic time for a film crew. Unless you're shooting night scenes, you try to work in every last shot you can, using reflectors to capture every last bit of natural light. The crew was working as quickly as they could to maximize what was a very expensive day of production. But I had other concerns. I glanced at my watch, shot a look at the disappearing sun, and knew that even though I was the sole representative for Columbia Pictures on set, I had to leave.
I had no choice. That is, I didn't give myself a choice.
Fortunately, the producers knew that I would be making my way back to the hotel. It wasn't a surprise to anybody. I pulled one of the production assistants aside, told him I would be catching a taxi, left the production in the capable hands of the producers and director, and disappeared into the streets of Beijing. It was an act that might have been ridiculed if I hadn't set a precedent years before and remained committed to it. Leaving set on the first movie you're running—shooting halfway around the world—isn't advisable if you want a long prosperous career in Hollywood.
But I didn't lose my job.
In fact, my departure didn't make a ripple in the day's shoot. I was able to attend to something infinitely more important: keeping a promise to God that I made many years before.