Ep. 223: Scott Steindorff – Addicted to Life

scott steindorff

The cocaine made his throat close. “I was about to die”.

He wanted to be an actor. He wanted to be creative. He had dreams. And working real-estate for his father wasn’t one of them. “I didn’t want to come down,” he said.

“Why’d you do it?”

“I really wasn’t happy with myself,” he said. “I believe it was because I wasn’t my authentic self doing what I really wanted to do in my life.”

“Nepotism got me the job.”

And it was killing him. He was suffocating.

Now Scott Steindorff is the producer of “Empire Falls,” “Chef,” (one of my all time favorite movies), “The Lincoln Lawyer,” “Love in the Time of Cholera,” and more.

He’s worked with Paul Newman, Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr., Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johansson, the list goes on.

The other day he called me, a few days after we shot the project, to tell me about brand new projects he was working on  that were different than anything he had done before. He is constantly testing the limits of his creativity.

I wanted to know how he became his “authentic self.” How did he go from being depressed and self-medicated to a successful and happy movie producer?

I wanted to know because I don’t think we ever really know. I think part of self-awareness is never quite getting there but always moving (hopefully) in the right direction. And creativity is something that needs to be  constantly reinvented.

Once creativity stays the same, it is no longer creative. Scott found a way to constantly be creativity. I want to learn how.

“It’s not easy at all,” he said. “You have to do the leg work.”

“What’s the leg work?” I asked

Here’s what he said:



These are the two types of cravings:

a) Addiction: I felt powerless. I was addicted to money. More was never enough. Then I left Wall Street. Because they were the supplier.

b)  Depletion: Your body needs something. It can be water, a vitamin or mineral or a change. That’s where reinvention comes in.

Scott wanted euphoria. He craved it.

“I grew up wanting to be a skier and an actor and here I was in an office making money,” Scott said. “I started craving that feeling of euphoria and excitement and passion for life.”

So he started doing cocaine.

“Nobody knew I had a problem,” he said. ” I would do it by myself. So when I checked into rehab, it was a shock to my family.”

The patients had to drink some type of alcohol until they threw up. “By the second day, I said to the doctor, ‘This isn’t working for me. I’m a cocaine addict not an alcoholic.”

He thought they’d try something new. He thought they’d help.


“Well… leave,” the doctor said.

“There was a shift in my consciousness. I went to my room. I cried uncontrollably for 24 hours. All the stress and pressure left me and from that moment on I haven’t used for almost 33 and a half years.”

“What do you mean the stress left you?” I said. I couldn’t imagine. He told me it just left. No explanation. He just saw his own choice. And he took it.

I think most people don’t know what they really want in life.

We talked about adapting. And I said it seems like you have to surrender and be okay with the changes…  even while you’re depressed.

“Isn’t depression a lack of your expression?” he said. I never thought of it that way. Maybe I’m filling one need with sand when I really crave water.



I’m not in a 12-step program, but I want to understand who I am as my authentic self. So I asked what can I do right now?

“Ask yourself questions,” he said. “How Am I feeling? How do I feel about myself, do I love myself, am I feeling less than? Do I feel guilt?”

“But what if you’re lying to yourself?”

“You can’t lie to yourself,” he said. “You’re just denying the truth. If you’re listening to this, it’s coming to the surface. Don’t push it down.”


Step 3: ACT IT OUT

It’s easy to come up with ideas. It’s harder to act on them. I always say, actions are more important than words, which are more important than thoughts.

It’s not about one skill set. It’s about how you meld them together and act on them.

Scott laughed and said, “I have very few skills in life…”

I didn’t quite believe him. He had skills to do real estate. To make movies. To be creative. I have skills.

But we always compare ourselves to what the “next level” is. And I can’t help it. I do it also. So, again, it’s the direction that counts. And fully engaging in the process.  

Scott would surrender. If an opportunity presented itself, and it excited his need for creativity, he would say “yes”.

It never hurts to try the next steps in whatever endeavor presents itself. Try it on like you try an outfit to see if you want to wear it for the summer. See if it fits. See if you love it. And if you do, go all in.

Scott’s story is not about movies, or addiction, or creativity, it’s about knowing the right direction to take the next step.



Scott quit his dad’s real-estate firm.

“Was he supportive?” I asked.

They didn’t talk for two years…

Scott became a millionaire. He was still in real-estate, though. And unhappy. Then the market crashed.

“It crushed me,” he said.

Scott changed careers every five years or so. Now he’s 56. And he’s working on a Joan of Arc movie, a new TV series based in the Bahamas, and a script for “Station 11.”

Any time he liked a book, he’d try to buy the movie rights. Then he’d try to get the movie made. Sometimes it would work. Sometimes it would be a massive success. But always he tried, starting with the simplest step.

The story he told me was a combination of luck, learning skills, building a network, and acting on the intersection of all of the above. But more than anything, it’s being open to surrender. Surrendering to constant reinvention.

Reinvention is a habit not an event.

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  • Kar Lee

    Very inspiring that Scott was able to turn his life around and began directing his path that would fulfill him and allow him to find his authenticity.
    You too inspire people James through your podcasts, articles books and generous sharing of your personal ups and downs and vulnerabilities. Scott has a talent that certainly want to waste in real estate , now is going to be creative and contribute to the masses , which will Boomarang right back to him.
    You too James always had a gift and talent. It’s been many uphill battle for you but you always fall back on your fun gift communicate and write, not to mention your innate chutzpah and lovability .
    I wish I could write to you directly , it’s not a poor me story , but I think I can speak for a lot of people and I’ve worked very very hard all their lives lost and made many many fortunes by old-fashioned hard work . Pretty soon you’re just too old, your brain doesn’t function like it used to , and when you don’t have a talent to fall back on , you’re pretty useless in this economy or changes abd progress are happening at WARP speed.
    Love all that you do !

  • Johnny

    Great. Brialliant. This was an inspiring read. thank you

  • That was a terrific interview with Scott Steindorff. I told him he should write his memoir and he wouldn’t have to buy or option it and he could write the screenplay too.

    And James, I got the distinct feeling that you’d like to produce a movie too. I’ve got one for you. : )

    • That’s a great idea for him! Sort of like a new “The Kid Stays in the Picture”

      • Hi James,

        I may have some unique experience that you might find useful for your podcast. No doubt, your podcast would be extremely useful for me, so I would hope to offer you something special. My bio is at http://www.TomJustin.com – If you’d like me to offer a proposal for the appearance, I’ll be happy to bring whatever you need.

      • Cobi Gabay

        My favorite documentary, second only to My Life- the story of Jerry Weintraub. If you have a chance read his autobiography “When I Stop Talking You’ll Know I’m Dead.”

  • Rebecca Whitworth

    Pretty good interview but this guy seems so…down. Seriously, 2 hours and the guy never laughs. Cheer up Scott!

    • Haha. he likes to laugh. He was just taking my questions very seriously and we were diving into some deep memories.

  • Sad Days

    A possibly shallow, but maybe important addition to your list of things to do to make life better, James … a good haircut. Appearance shouldn’t be important, but it is. There is a video on Youtube of a street beggar being given a total makeover by a salon – the change in his appearance was dramatic, but the change in his persona was even more dramatic. Try it out as an experiment. Then write about it. Who knows, It might just have impressive results :-)

  • Randy

    This was a really good interview, and I’m not just saying that as a Scottsdale Native. One thought that came up – cold calling. He is probably the hundredth guy on your podcast and some others oriented toward success/peak performance that has said this. I remember a business developer from years ago that built a natural gas marketing company based on making 100 cold calls per day. He got his people up to that level and built a multi-million dollar company. There are at least 60 cold call books on amazon and hundreds of Youtube videos as well. But I bet you know someone in your mix that would be a true expert on going from ‘Zero to Cold Call Master”. That would make a fantastic interview. In particular someone who is not a type A salesman already, but just an average or socially below average person. Inquiring below-average minds want to know…

    • That’s a good idea. I’d really like to find a cold call master who can articulate how to do it. Not for the obvious business purposes but just so I can understand the psychology of it. It seems so immense and fearsome to me.

      • Randy

        For grins, why don’t you post a Call for Nominations. Ask your vast and varied followers for nominations for the Cold Call Master’s Award. It may be that the true master is hiding from the main stream like any really good expert. Have a podcast with the top three Masters nominees doing cold calls live and record them. I like drilling into their brains (figuratively) and finding out what makes them tick, but it would be really good to find someone who was/is a bit like you and me – introverted, and possibly a bit subnormal when it comes to social interaction (me, not necessarily you). Yet was able to rise up and become a cold call master. How did they do this? Drugs? Meditation? Self-flagellation? Yoga? … or Hunger?

  • Nicole Wirch

    Great interview James I really liked how you got so much information out of this interesting man.

    • Thanks Nicole, I felt like it was a real deep conversation that we just happened to be recording. I feel lucky to have spoken with Scott.

  • Rene Birabent

    Great pod cast. A few times I wanted to unsubscribe from the emails, but every time I try, I can’t. It’s because of your pod cast. I’m not a pod cast person, so I don’t have a big sample group to compare you to, but intuitively I believe that you have to be in the top 10 of people that are prepared and know your guests, not just understand them.
    To me there is a difference between the two, and I think most people have those backwards. I believe most of us understand a lot of things, but actually know very little, meaning we are unable to use that information or understanding, so it’s not knowledge, and we don’t actually know it. I could be the one that is ass backwards on that, but that’s how I role. The more I listen to your pod casts, the more I realize everybody is jacked up in some way, and that it’s o.k., and actually quite necessary. It’s what you do with your jacked upedness that matters.

  • Great interview full of wisdom.

    I caught : you have to do the things, nothing is going to happen without action. It seems obvious but we tent to forget with all the internet technologie and lead generation.
    And to finish : 3 hours of routine every morning, what a great discipline. I’m impress.

    Bonne soirée. Roger from France

  • Cobi Gabay

    Another great interview. My takeaways from the podcast 1. Success will not come to you; 2. Work- cold calling, rejection, skipping lunch, etc. 3. Always be improving 4. Never be complacent. All of these things I know, but the quality of James’ questions and Scott’s honesty in answering the hard questions prove once again why I recommend this podcast to everyone.

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  • christidman

    It is personal power that lets a person buy the winning lottery ticket or puts him in the wrong place when lightening strikes. We are all born with a certain amount of personal power and either waste it on doing things for ourselves or gain more of it by helping others. All of the available energy we have at any given moment is used up doing what we have learned a lifetime to do. Our personal history is what shapes our egos and makes us think and act the way we do. Our thoughts control our emotions and it is emotions that make us act the way we do. Stop the internal dialogue and you conserve energy that you can use for other things.

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