From champion skier to stuntman to actor to film producer to author to game developer to graphic novel publisher and back to film producer (pause for breath), Frank Beddor has had more careers in one lifetime than most mortals cram into several.
The 1981-1982 World Champion Freestyle skier, Beddor spun his wheels as a struggling stuntman and actor before going on to produce the 1998 comedy There’s Something About Mary. From 2004 to 2009, he rolled out his best-selling fantasy novel trilogy, The Looking Glass Wars (Penguin), a dark reimagining of the Alice in Wonderland tale. From 2006 to the present, he has been cowriting and self-publishing the spin-off Hatter M graphic novel series chronicling the Mad Hatter’s 13-year search for Alice. The fourth of the five-book series came out May 8 and is teased in the above slideshow.
Beddor’s Automatic Games site features free online role-playing games to publicize both his books and those of a friend, PJ Haarsma, author of The Softwire science-fiction series. Through his Automatic Pictures production company, Beddor is currently producing a sci-fi romance movie, The Juliet, for Sony Pictures and New Regency, with Rubert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) attached to direct.
Here, Beddor talks about the lessons learned from his own circuitous journey and offers points as to how to reinvent yourself in another career—no matter how seemingly disparate from the one you’re in now.
Beddor’s profile as a champion skier landed him as a stunt skier in commercials and films like Hot Dog, the Movie and Better Off Dead. Moving from Minnesota to Los Angeles the following year, he parlayed the relationships he’d made with the directors and casting directors of those movies into bit acting roles in films like Amazon Women on the Moon. "All these people had careers that were just starting, and I just coattailed off them," he laughs.
Beddor tried honing his acting skills at the Stella Adler Academy in Hollywood, which required students to read plays, playwright biographies, and write backstories and scenes for characters he was portraying. Acting classes made him realize how uncomfortable he was with public speaking and being judged for his personality and looks. He began gravitating toward the writing exercises, which were more self-contained, like skiing. Inspired by screenwriter friends, Beddor began writing short stories he thought could be turned into films.
One of Beddor’s stories was about the 10th Mountain Division, a World War II Army unit of skiing soldiers trained to fight in mountainous and arctic conditions, which he sold—in a cold pitch via letter—to the Kennedy/Marshall Company, which had just made the survival film Alive.
"People laughed at me for doing that, but I knew Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall were skiers and had a house in Telluride," he says. "Being a world champion skier and writing a story that was basically The Dirty Dozen on skis got me in the room. Paramount bought it and hired a writer. It never got made, but it became something to hang my hat on. I could call agents and say, `Hey, I’m working with Kennedy/Marshall and have a movie in development at Paramount.’ Before that happened, I could have never made that call. I don’t have that much chutzpah. I needed something real behind it."
With that window of opportunity, Beddor called pals Ed Decter and John Strauss—aspiring screenwriters he’d met in a UCLA Extension class in Shakespeare ("We were all trying to get a little culture," he says)—to ask about shopping their unproduced script, a fledgling version of There’s Something About Mary. To direct, Beddor tapped the Farrelly brothers, who he knew from playing pool and who had a deal with 20th Century Fox. Beddor pitched the package to then-Fox executive Dylan Sellers while sitting next to him on a ski lift at Sundance. "By the time he got off the chair, he’d agreed to the movie," says Beddor.
Beddor got the idea for The Looking Glass Wars when he spotted an antique card deck at the British Museum bearing more sinister versions of the Alice in Wonderland characters, and learned through an antiques dealer about a darker Wonderland that Lewis Carroll intended but never wrote. During a subsequent book tour in the U.K., a tween lamented that Looking Glass Wars skipped 13 years of his favorite character, the Mad Hatter. That gave Beddor the idea for a companion graphic novel about those lost years, a project he funded through Kickstarter.
Beddor’s online gaming foray came about just as accidentally, when he and Haarsma tried to devise interactive websites that lured back readers between their books.
Sometimes the most trite sayings are the most profound. Beddor found that skill sets from his different arenas often dovetailed into one another.
"It’s not always so evident," says Beddor. "For example, there’s a lot of physical danger and risk in skiing. But it creates a laserlike focus that pushes everything out. That same skill helps when you walk into a pitch meeting. There’s a psychological risk, and I use that same ability to focus to drive my point across."
He now uses acting skills during speaking engagements, book tours, and pitch meetings. "I’d been living in a real physical space as an athlete, and acting made me pull away the façade of being a successful skier and look at what was going on underneath," he says. "I didn’t have the ability to be that vulnerable in front of people and let them judge me. But the self-study and examination that I did in class helped me confront my personal weaknesses and reinvent myself."
That self-awareness enables him, as a producer, to harness other people’s creative skills and voices. "Looking back on my life, the takeaway is having the ability to be open and let things unfold," he says. "Then things come your way that might surprise you."