When Gainesville resident Steve Siebold was invited to go to the Oscars with an Academy Award-winning director, he just thought it was a unique opportunity to see some of the Hollywood elite up close.
But shortly before the event, Siebold found out his own life story would become the subject of a $20 million Hollywood film.
Siebold, author of the book "How Rich People Think" and professional motivational speaker, was contacted by director Kieth Merrill after he made an appearance on a television show in Los Angeles, Calif., where he was talking about one of his books.
"I called Steve and asked him to meet," Merrill said in a press release. "The more I learned about him, the more I realized he has the story that could be the next big Hollywood blockbuster."
The movie will be based on the real-life story of Bill Gove, the "father of the professional speaking business" and Siebold, his young protege.
Seventeen years ago, after a career as a professional tennis player, Siebold decided he wanted to become a professional speaker.
For years he’d studied how the mind and the ability to control emotions impacted athletic performance. He knew he could help people become "mentally tough" in sports and other areas of their lives with his message.
But after the first year of writing books and speaking professionally on the subject, his new business wasn’t taking off.
"I was failing miserably the first year and lost all kinds of money," Siebold said.
But then Siebold got a "lucky break."
"I was about 32 years old, and I got lucky," Siebold said. "I got introduced to the father of the industry, a gentleman named Bob Gove, he was 85 years old and out of the business. But he agreed to mentor me."
Gove mentored Siebold for the last five years of his life. During that time, Siebold became one of the top speakers in the world. Today he is ranked in the top 1 percent of income earners in the world in the professional speaking business.
"Gove teaches Siebold the business and launches his career," Merrill said. "But the underlying plot is that the younger guy, Siebold, brings Gove out of retirement and back into the game of life, traveling the world and speaking on the biggest stages until his death at age 90."
The movie is expected to begin filming in October and will be called "The Mentor." Siebold said Merrill wants Anthony Hopkins to star as Gove but he isn’t sure what sort of a role he may have in the movie’s production. He doesn’t know if he’ll be working with the movie’s script writers to make sure everything in the story line is accurate.
Merrill and Siebold had been discussing the possibility of making the movie for the last several months.
So when Merrill invited Siebold to the 85th annual Academy Awards on Feb. 24, he assumed they’d probably speak about the project briefly and enjoy a flashy night on the red carpet.
"He never gave me the idea that he was going to agree to it until we got there," Siebold said. "But he said ‘OK, I want to do it. I want to do a movie.’"
Siebold said he was in shock as the pair made their way from his hotel to the awards show on foot.
Siebold said it seemed "a little wasteful" to ride a limousine the short two-block distance from his hotel to the event, so he and Merrill decided to walk.
"I’m a guy from Gainesville," Siebold said laughing. "We don’t take limousines in Gainesville. We take trucks."
Siebold said both he and Merrill were surprised to learn that walking to the event simply isn’t an option. Thousands of people pressed together along the sidewalks and roadways leading to the event, all trying to catch of glimpse of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Police officers blocked all entrances to the event.
It took a little convincing — Siebold had to point out their formal tuxedos, official invitations and Merrill’s award-winning status — but eventually six police officers on motorcycles escorted the pair to the awards show.
Finally they made it to the red carpet where they entered the event along sidestars such as Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas.
"At one point, I’ve got Jennifer Aniston on my left, Halle Berry on my right, Dustin Hoffman in front of me and Robert De Niro is behind me," Siebold said laughing. "I turned to Kieth (Merrill) and said ‘Are you serious?’ He said ‘This is Hollywood.’"
Siebold said it was an amazing experience to meet so many movie stars. He said he met more than 30 A-listers and was surprised to find that they all were very "normal."
He said the entire evening was surreal.
"I’m meeting all these movie stars and I just signed a $20 million deal and I’m in shock," Siebold said. "I’m still in a fog. It’s really like being in a movie, no pun intended. It’s just the craziest thing."