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From Record Executive to Movie Producer and Psilocybin Documentarian

Scott Wright's story of becoming a Master, Misfit and Mentor



Scott Wright


This story was originally published in our new Substack newsletter - Masters, Misfits, and Mentors. Subscribe and join in the many projects coming up there.


 

Introduction;

Scott has lived many lives in his 69 years on this planet. One life as America’s most-listened-to radio personalities in the 1980s (known professionally as “Shadow Steele” in New York, Los Angeles and syndicated nationally), one as a marketing executive in the music business (working with the likes of Michael Jackson, Pearl Jam, Celine Dion and dozens more), one as a top-rated winemaker and wine importer (co-founder of Scott Paul Wines and Caveau Selections in Oregon and France) and one as an award-winning documentary filmmaker (Producer-Director of Three Days of Glory and John Waite - The Hard Way).

After a lifetime of what looked like success on the outside, he found himself feeling “less than.” Feeling like a fake and an imposter, he realized he had been acting like a jerk - anything to cover up the fact that he was “worthless.” He knew something needed to change.

The Tao de Ching jumped off a bookshelf one day and fell into his hands, leading him to explore spirituality and the true nature of things. This path led to Michael Pollan’s great book How to Change Your Mind - and opened him up to the therapeutic benefits of plant medicine.


 

Scott shares his story . . .

Beginners Mind

As Bob Dylan wrote, “I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.”

Man, was he right. How did he know?

It turns out I had to get a lot older before I could be a beginner. We go through our lives living out a narrative, or an ever-evolving series of narratives that we’ve told ourselves - but that narrative quite often bears no resemblance to the truth.


We see or hear something, decide what it means or how we will process and deal with it, and then put it into our little mental box and proceed accordingly. We rarely stop to step back and just experience things for what they are.

Finding My First Passion

High school did not start well. I was in a new school with 4,000 kids. I was a year or two younger than everyone in my class, and I was small, had braces, and was shy. I was bullied, humiliated, and hustled regularly.


The one kid in school who would talk to me mentioned that he was in a class called “Radio” and that the school had a radio station run by the students.


In that moment, my life changed.


He took me down the hall and showed me the radio station. I was captivated, smitten, and head-over-heels in love. I ran to the counseling office and demanded information on how to get into the radio curriculum.

My focus at school became Radio, 100%.

I did enough in my other classes to get a solid education, but all I cared about was radio. I dove in head first - much to the consternation of my parents - who continually counseled that I should learn a trade so I would have “something to fall back on.”

By senior year, I had become the “Chief Announcer” of the station. I still don’t know what that meant, but man I was proud of it at the time. I had a few years of hands-on experience and knew there was nothing else I wanted to do with my life.

Thanks to a very generous “D” from the Trigonometry teacher, I graduated. I had decent enough grades and good test scores, so I was accepted to some pretty good colleges. Of course, I selected the one that had the best radio and communications program.

The summer before college, I heard that a small radio network was looking for helpers at a PGA golf tournament in the suburb next to mine.

I went to an interview, inflated my vast broadcasting experience, and somehow talked them into letting me be a color commentator at the 16th hole, backing up a rising young announcer (who went on to be a leading TV broadcaster at CBS.)

After the tournament, I called the network and announced that I was going to drive to the next tournament stop in Ohio and would be happy to do any work they might have for me there.

They said they had nothing for me - but I went anyway. I was still just 16 - and somehow, my mom let me do the 8-hour drive to chase my dreams. I showed up and announced that I was ready for work - having been told that there was none to be had - and ended up getting hired to be co-anchor at the 18th hole!

There’s an old show-biz axiom that says that “90% of success is just showing up”. My experience has been more on the order of 98% - the simple act of showing up is everything! Catching Fish

Upon arriving at college, I immediately signed up for shifts at the campus station and applied at every radio station for any kind of job they might offer.


Astonishingly, I was hired to be the “board operator” at a low-power AM Christian station - which broadcast an endless stream of evangelical preachers (whose entire sermons consisted basically of begging for donations. My personal favorite was “Jewels for Jesus.”)

My job was to change the tapes when going from one preacher’s show to the next, read the weather report once an hour, and turn on the microphone for a local preacher who came in to do his daily show live from the studio.

That gig ended abruptly when I forgot to turn the local preacher’s microphone off after his show - and for the first time in history, the words “Jesus Fucking Christ” was aired on a religious station. But that’s another story for another time…

I had been hanging out at a few other stations in town and badgering them for a gig, an internship, anything, and getting to know some local DJs. I was befriended by a young DJ, who eventually recommended me to take his weekend shifts at the big Top 40 station when he moved to a new gig at a larger market.

Being in the Stream was Now Catching me Bigger Fish

I spent the rest of my short college career working part-time at that station - at one point doing three shifts per day for an entire summer (9 am-Noon, 3 pm-7 pm, and Midnight to 5 am!) and loving every minute of it.

College classes were clearly getting in the way of my radio career, as I saw it, and I knew I needed to wade into a bigger stream - going for it full-time.

One day, I overheard my boss talking to someone about me, saying, “Yeah, the kid’s talented, but I’d bet he’ll never make it out of the small markets.”

He recommended me for a full-time job in a small town in Missouri that I’d never heard of. I left school and took the gig. I was a few months past 18. I rolled into town with a few pairs of jeans and my record collection and jumped in with both feet.

I stayed in that stream for the next few decades, landing larger and larger catches as I worked, learned, and gained experience. I imitated the best while I developed my own thing over time.

I believed in myself. I thought I was potentially better than the DJs I heard and saw in more significant markets at better stations. In my mind, I KNEW that I was as good as the guys at the nearest Big City station, so I drove there one day to present myself to the boss and tell him I was ready to work there. I had no appointment, and they had no job openings.

I waited in the lobby.

I left later that afternoon with a job!

Someone had quit during the course of the day, and I was in the proverbial right place at the right time. I had landed the big one, and I was in the Big-Time!

Had I not just gone there - I’m sure my life and career would have taken a much different course.

The simple act of putting myself in the stream of all possibilities continued to pay off as nine years later, I had become the most-listened-to radio personality in America, with a weekly audience of over 15 million.

The ultimate truth of it all is this: The size of the pond or the size of the fish doesn’t really matter. If you want to catch fish, go where the fish are.


 

It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized that, despite the success I was having professionally, I was not putting myself in the most important stream of all - the stream of being in the present moment. From the outside, it looked like I was living the dream - it’s a shame that I wasn’t there to enjoy it.

 

Along the way, I became addicted to cocaine. I woke up in the gutter one morning with blood on my face and no idea where I was and how I got there - which scared me to death. I quit cold turkey.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves After 20+ years in radio as a DJ and programmer, I felt burned out. I just didn’t have the “fire in my belly” like I used to. Not that it wasn’t a pretty cushy ride.

Over the years, I had become one of the industry’s gatekeepers - an elite group who decided what records got played on the radio, which new artists would get a chance to break through, or to whom the doors would be closed. I was getting wined and dined, hanging out with rock stars, getting VIP treatment everywhere. But even that got old - or I just got jaded.


But the lives of the people wining and dining me seemed awfully attractive. They had fat expense accounts and lived high on the hog, and it seemed their entire job consisted of spending the record company’s money, hanging out, and having a good time. I thought a job like that could be my great next chapter.

The grass seemed a lot greener. I imagined not having to go into the studio and do a daily show. I made it known that I might be interested in making a change. Quickly, an offer materialized.


Next thing I knew, I was in the palatial office suite of the CEO of a major music conglomerate, signing a deal to become a marketing executive.

What follows is a classic lesson in “Be Careful What You Ask For.”

It was barely a week into my new gig when I realized I had made a significant mistake. The job was not what I had thought it was. It wasn’t hanging out with people you liked and spending the company’s money and having fun. It was pretending to befriend people you wouldn’t normally choose to hang out with, being directed to kiss their asses, and systematically lying to them in order to serve the company’s agenda - reality be damned.

In other words, Oh shit!

I was miserable, humiliated, and yelled at daily. I felt as if I’d lost my “mojo” and was stuck in a multi-year contract, doomed to take my lumps for the foreseeable future.

How had I ended up in this cesspool? I see it now in retrospect, but at that time, it was just painful. I had been telling myself that I wasn’t happy, that there were bigger and better things in store for me, that there was no new ground for me to explore in radio. All of those were stories - stories that had no basis in reality. But we tend to take the stories we tell ourselves as the absolute truth.

As I neared the end of my journey in the music business - I was a lost soul. I had lived well, made great money, and, by all outward appearances, was on top of the world. I was working with household name superstars and living the VIP life - beachfront homes, rides on private planes, and the works. It was a “glamorous” life - but even those who knew me then wouldn’t have known how much it had hollowed me out.

I felt like I was “not enough.” I felt like I was “less than.” And I felt that way for the next 20 or more years.

Looking back now, I’ve come to understand that I’d been behaving like a jerk for a long time - putting on a false front of bravado to cover up a strong sense of inadequacy that stemmed from my childhood. I started feeling like an imposter - like I didn’t deserve any of the good things that were happening, that if anybody knew what a piece of shit I really was, it would be all over.

So much for the glamour of rock-n-roll.

I had played the game and was reasonably successful at it. But the damage it did to my psyche and my soul took me decades to repair. I wanted out. I needed out. I looked for an off-ramp.

Reinventing Myself in the Wine Industry

Having failed one marriage, my second wife helped me see that I was living in a diseased industry and that it was time to reinvent myself.

The former monetary rewards had allowed me to indulge in some of the finer things in life - and we routinely spent the company’s money on top-shelf food and wine. Something about wine struck a chord in me - a chord that started ringing in my early teens when my parents let me taste whatever fine wine they were pouring with dinner.

I can still taste it and smell it, even now, more than 50 years later. I didn’t know anything could be that delicious, that captivating. That feeling stuck with me and was aroused again the more my finances allowed me to play in the sandbox of world-class wines.

Around this time, I realized that I’m a “diver,” not a “skimmer.” When I get into something, I get in ALL the way. Some folks have a good amount of passion for a lot of different things. They’re the skimmers. Divers like me go as far down the well as we possibly can for the object of our obsession. I was that way with radio and pop music; now, my next deep dive was into the world of wine.

I studied. I tasted. I drank. I visited wineries. I memorized maps. I read everything I could get my hands on. I made friends with some winemakers who kindly took me under their wings and tolerated my endless quest for knowledge and insight.

Eventually, I became one of the “wine guys” in the entertainment business. I started helping other execs put their collections together, bought wine for them at auctions, recommended what they should buy and drink, etc. One day, I realized that I was spending more time doing this wine stuff and getting a lot more joy out of it - than I was from my real job.

I had found my off-ramp.

Ultimately, with the unwavering support of my wife (why she went for it, I’ll never know!), I took the leap, quit my job, and moved to wine country with the vague notion of doing something in the wine business.

With loans from a few friends and no money of our own, we went on to found a small winery and then started a wine import company. We went on to make wines that were selected in the world’s Top 10. We became a leading specialist in small-production, high-end Burgundy and Champagne and started spending a lot of time in France.

Making Movies

After an exhilarating 25-year run in the wine world, we sold our company earlier this year, and I’m ready for the next chapter.

When we sold our wine business, I knew I wanted to slow down a bit, but I surely had no plans to “retire.”

Hell no - I had movies to make!

What?

What on earth did I know about making movies? Absolutely nothing, truly, but of course, I didn’t let that stop me.

My love affair with movies started when my mom took me to see West Side Story when I was seven years old and kicked into high gear when she took me to The Graduate when I was 13. I discovered early on that my happy place was in a movie theater, immersed in watching something creative and captivating on the big screen.

As in my deep dive into wine, I went all the way down the movie rabbit hole again, to the point where it occurred to me that I wanted to make a movie.

So, of course, I did.

The only problem was I didn’t have a clue. But I knew someone who did! Filmmaker David Baker in Oregon had interviewed me a few years back for a film he was making about winemakers who had reinvented themselves after finding success in other fields - and I reached out to him with an idea. Fortunately, he liked the idea - and we agreed to team up on making a film about how climate change, globalization, and corporate money were changing the face of Burgundy and how it was affecting the small family winemakers in the world’s most celebrated vineyards.

I quickly realized that I knew less than nothing about making a movie. I knew the subject matter pretty well, and I thought I knew the film we were attempting to make, but for the first time in my adult life, I was absolutely clueless when it came to a professional endeavor. In radio, records, and wine, I had always been able to “fake it ’til I made it,” - but it was immediately apparent that wouldn’t fly when it came to making a movie.

Welcome to the world of the Beginner’s Mind. It’s a practice talked about a lot in the Buddhist teachings. It simply encourages approaching activities with an open mind, non-judgementally paying attention to your current experience, allowing you to fully enjoy the present moment.

It’s not really about being a “beginner” at anything - it’s the practice of seeing and experiencing things as they are and not coloring them with our thoughts and baggage and the preconceived notions we tend to bring to everything.

It was hard to be vulnerable and admit my ignorance. Everything within me wanted to act like I knew what I was doing. Somehow, by the grace and extreme patience of David and some rudimentary meditation skills, I was able to shut off the bullshit and just be. What a revelation.

Two years later, we had a feature film in the can - Three Days of Glory - which went on to premiere on the film festival circuit, had a mini theatrical run, and then got picked up by HULU for streaming in the US.

Then, in the early days of Covid, I embarked on another film project, a documentary on 80s rock icon John Waite. That’s where I really learned that I knew absolutely nothing.

We had a serious budget this time, and I brought in serious, experienced filmmakers on the project. I found that I was so far over my head that, at times, I was hanging on for dear life. I was working with seasoned pros, and I’m thankful that they were kind, patient, helpful, and great teachers.

I have never been so humbled. I have never learned so much. Mostly, I needed to learn the real extent of how much I didn’t know. I learned that filmmaking is the ultimate team sport. In my previous careers, I’d always been a lone wolf. Movies don’t work that way. It really does take a village.

It was, at times, frustrating and maddening but also an exciting and often exhilarating process to see it all come together. It took nearly two years in all, and John Waite - The Hard Way was released in December ’22 and is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video in North America and is available in over 60 countries around the world, racking up a steady stream of 5-star reviews.

I survived to tell another tale, and as I write, I’ve got two more documentaries in the early stages of development.

Magic Mushrooms and a Journey to the Center of My Mind

At some point over the last few years, I started waking up. While in a bookstore, the Tao de Ching jumped off the bookshelf at me, and some of life finally started making sense.

Then, I started seeing more and more about the research into the therapeutic properties of psilocybin mushrooms. I began a deep dive of inquiry, which ultimately led me, at age 68, to the Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende and into the capable hands of Maria Camille to guide me through a psychedelic journey.

It was a life-changing event. The plant medicine revealed to me so clearly the truths of the universe and showed me everything I needed to see. It was the most profound experience of my life. Once one has seen what the mushrooms have to show you, you can’t un-see it. We may not always like what we see, but it’s ultimately what we need to see and understand.

There comes a time in life, from age 50 on - when many of us start searching for our next chapter. I knew immediately that I had found mine.


 

We sold our wine business, and I knew I was being drawn to help guide others to assist people in finding their own path forward. With the expert tutelage and guidance of Maria Camille, I am thrilled to join forces with her and the power of the plants to produce yet another documentary project where a small group of young elders will come together in February 2024 to embark on their own Vision Quest to gaze into the future of what their Next Chapter of life may be.


 

I don’t know if this will be my final adventure or if there are still others in the offing. Thirty years ago, I would never have predicted I’d have been involved with any of it - wine, movies, or the therapeutic potential of psychedelic plant medicines.

The Next Chapter . . .

Most of us go through life without ever waking up to the here and now. It’s pretty bizarre when you think about it - because right here, right now, is actually the only place we can be. It’s all there is. Everything else is a creation of our mind, a projection, a fantasy, the product of the human brain - which is essentially a non-stop thought generation machine.

Mindfulness - the practice of being present to what is - is what being in the stream is really all about.

So what are the lessons here?

I put myself in the stream, and yes, I didn’t listen to those thoughts telling me, “You can’t do this - you have no idea what you’re doing.” But mostly, I went for it and succeeded because I wasn’t afraid.

What stops most of us from taking that first step and plowing ahead to chase our dreams? What is it that’s holding us back? In many cases, it is simply fear.

So, let’s examine fear for a minute. If you’re in a store and a crazed gunman comes in and starts shooting people - that’s the real fear you’re feeling. If you’re on a hike in the mountains and a giant bear starts running at you - that’s a real fear. Just about everything else we call fear is imaginary. What’s most people’s biggest fear - death? Spoiler alert - everyone dies in the end.

We suffer so much and needlessly from the fear we generate in our imagination. Most of what we fear is nothing - we’re making ourselves fear situations and actions we imagine. We can paralyze ourselves with fear when there is actually little to be afraid of.

We often call people who boldly and successfully pursue their dreams “fearless.” Maybe they’re not fearless at all but are afraid of how shitty they’d feel if they didn’t follow their passion…

Be Here Now. It’s the only stream there is - it’s where all the fish are.

 

Scott Wright will be heading up our newest PROJECT; a documentary film for - The Next Chapter Retreat Ready for your close up? We have space for one more guest -

Vision Quest founder, Maria Camille, has announced a casting deadline for 8 young elders to join the Journey/Event in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico – February 26 – 29, 2024.

The Mission is for eight attendees between the ages of 50 – 70’s to head up a powerful creative idea – a personal Power Project (so to speak), that changes your future and takes you into The Next Chapter. The attendees chosen will be based on their Project Ideas, and the ability to tell their story and see their project through to the end.


Reach out to Maria Camille for more information; maria@mariacamille.com

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