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Illustration of film producer Peter Guber by Anthony Jenkins. (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail/Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Illustration of film producer Peter Guber by Anthony Jenkins. (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail/Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

THE LUNCH

The third act of Hollywood deal maker Peter Guber Add to ...

Peter Guber wants to tell you a story.

It's okay: You're in good hands here, for in addition to being one of the most successful Hollywood executives over the past few decades, he is also a master storyteller. Though it's probably more accurate to say the two achievements go hand in hand.

Here he is right now, sitting at a corner table in the minimalist mezzanine area of Frank Restaurant at the Art Gallery of Ontario, his back to the noisy lunch crowd like a conspirator as he bares a mouthful of teeth and jabs the air between us with both hands, arguing his case that something usually considered the province of artistic endeavour is also a keystone to the success of medicine, sports, business, politics, and probably even the future of the planet if you really think about it.

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And if you thought that last sentence was long, you've never asked Peter Guber a single question and then listened as he unfurled half a dozen answers over the course of 14 minutes.

He is a Hollywood producer, yes, but it seems truer to say he is a screenwriter's version of a Hollywood producer: sharp suit, sharp smile, and a roiling enthusiasm for whatever he's selling that leads him to yelp and gesticulate and not infrequently veer into blue language. Dustin Hoffman wins Oscars for this kind of stuff.

Mr. Guber orders a small bottle of sparkling water and then begins a seduction of sorts, asking for advice on conducting interviews: Though he is the CEO of a diversified entertainment company with interests in TV, movies and professional sports, in his spare time he does television interview shows with celebrities. It was hard, he admits, to learn how to free himself from his predetermined series of questions and just listen to somebody - to play, as he later says, "pitch and catch."

He has become an evangelist for that connection, writing a briskly readable self-help business book about the importance of storytelling, albeit with the deceptively boring title Tell to Win. It is his contention - no, his core belief - that narrative is the most powerful way to persuade someone, be it a company president getting her troops to embrace a new strategy, a salesman closing a deal, or a doctor convincing a patient to fully support a course of therapy.

People, he argues, aren't naturally built to absorb raw data. But if you coat information in a compelling story, your audience will remember it for years.

"When you want to move somebody, you have to say to yourself: 'I'm in the emotional transportation business.' I gotta move them, emotionally. If I move them emotionally, I can get them to move a little bit closer to where their fear space is, and take a bit of a chance. If I try to move them informationally or intellectually, I'm aiming for the head - and, in my business, that's where flops are born."

"Hits are born here," - he motions to his heart, "and they migrate [to the head] Business is born here," - again, the heart - "and migrates here - to the wallet. You aim at the wallet - people protect their wallet and their groin."

On page after page of the book, Mr. Guber offers up anecdotes drawn from his decades in Hollywood: here is Michael Jackson, trying to convince Mr. Guber to let him direct a movie by showing him a snake cornering a mouse; here is Michael Milken talking about discovering he had prostate cancer; here is Carl Sagan talking about the possibility of discovering alien life forms; here are Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama and Deepak Chopra and Tom Cruise and Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela and Steven Spielberg, all sharing wisdom through stories.

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