"You have to find a way to follow your dreams," Ron Meyer told the audience from the Floyd L. Sandle Theatre stage in the Conrad Hutchinson Performing Arts Center. "Can't assume someone is always going to help you. You have to want it badly, can't be derailed."
Meyer said he dropped out of high school, didn't earn a high school diploma or a college degree and was determined to succeed, doing whatever it took to do what he loves to do - working in the entertainment industry. He took a job as a messenger for six years before he got a real break. "It's about finding a job that gets you there," he said. "The real trick is where do you take that job."
In a free-wheeling conversation about his career, the state of entertainment and film industries and how to make it, Meyer bluntly said those who really want it are those who stick with it through difficult times.
Meyer was in Lincoln Parish for a few hours to visit the University of Louisiana System's only HBCU after hearing about the institution's mass communication and film work from Paula Madison, a former NBCUniversal executive vice president who retired about two years ago. Madison is the CEO of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks and her family business includes the Africa Channel, a cable network in the top 20 U.S. markets and the Caribbean. Madison visited Grambling State for the first time in 2012 as a part of a Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism visiting professionals grant.
After the event, Meyer noted that Universal has a good relationship with Louisiana. "We shot Tom Cruise's new movie Oblivion last year, as well as other films," said Meyer, who was visiting Grambling State University for a special event. "Louisiana is great for production for Universal."
Cruise's sci-fi adventure film was filmed for several months in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and it is scheduled for an April release.
At the theatre event, Meyer was interviewed by Madison, his former colleague and friend, then he took questions. Meyer and Madison flew in to the Ruston Regional Airport from New York Thursday morning and left for Los Angeles Thursday afternoon. Cindy Gardner, senior vice president for corporate affairs at Universal Studios, said his visit was all about the students.
"This guy is a big deal. I deeply appreciate his honesty," said Frank G. Pogue, president of Grambling State University. "I really hope that the students here today really listened. He did a splendid job."
Meyer said one of the key ingredients for making a good movie is matching the right creative people with the right material. "Sometimes a great director will do a bad job and an OK director will do a great job," said Meyer. "You never know."
Meyer wasn't always at the top of the film industry. For a couple of decades, he was president of Creative Artists Agency, Inc., which he founded in 1975 with four colleagues from the William Morris Agency, making it a premiere talent agency representing some of the entertainment industry's most influential and talented people.
Reginald Owens, a Grambling native who is Louisiana Tech's journalism department head, attended the session with several of his students. "I think what we had today was a very good eye-opener for students," he said. "He gave us some good life advice. Almost every answer was answered perfectly. With his story being so detailed, any student should be inspired to be anything they want to be."
"I learned the importance of taking chance on my dream, especially in Hollywood," said Tierra Smith, a sophomore mass communication major from Milwaukee now living in Houston. "You can't give up after a couple months; you have to be dedicated to your craft."
Nyomi Lyttle, a mass communication major scheduled to graduate in May, was inspired by what she called Meyer's "rags to riches success story." "I left the theater encouraged and feeling like all of the work I've done and will do is not in vain," added Lyttle, 25, of Cincinnati.
"It was like a 'must-hear, must-see' experience," said Peter Dorsey, 23, a senior public relations major from St. Louis. "He gave the GSU audience a real inside (view) of Hollywood."
Meyer told students they must sacrifice for anything they really want, and they must have the determination to pursue their dreams. Those who succeed "make it happen for themselves," he said, and "they can do good for those who can't make it happen."
"I'm a believer that miracles can happen," said Meyer. "For students who can believe in themselves, I think there are great opportunities ..."