Independent Film Producer Jim Lemley Highlights Magic, Improvisation and Death at Commencement

Saturday, May 11 2013

Confessions of a College Grad
MOSCOW, Idaho – Independent film producer Jim Lemley added a little razzle-dazzle to the University of Idaho commencement ceremony and encouraged graduates to worry less about figuring everything out right away.

“Contrary to what my grey hair might suggest, I definitely do not have life figured out…but the one thing I've learned is that's OK,” said Lemley. “Life is messy and that is the part that is hard to see through the certainty and righteousness of youth…But if you listen to it, life will give you the tools to deal with the messiness.”

Lemley, a 1988 marketing alumnus and second generation Vandal, called himself a spectacularly mediocre student. While he was never an academic all-star, Lemley said after graduation, it’s not their GPA that matters, but what they do. Lemley went on the produce critically acclaimed films, most recently “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.”

“The three things I now know to be true are magic is all around you, life is one giant improvisation and death is a destination we all share,” said Lemley. “The sooner you accept, and more importantly understand these truths the more fulfilling your life will be.”

After listening to his first CD in 1987 and seeing the Island Records label on the CD, Lemley knew that was what he was meant to do. It was the same magic that drew him to music as a child. He encouraged graduates to find and follow their passions.

“I knew no matter how outrageous it sounded, no matter how ‘unrealistic,’ I was going to do that. Magic,” said Lemley, who over the next year convinced the chairman of Island Records to give him a job.

After graduation, Lemley packed up his car and headed to New York City to work at Island Records. There, he worked on a musical documentary and discovered filmmaking. Magic stepped in again, and he headed to Los Angeles to follow his dream.

“Life will tell you what you need to hear, it will tell you the truth,” said Lemley. “You just have to open your ears and hear it and practice hearing it and get better at interpreting what it's telling you...The harder part of the equation is having the courage to follow the path it is telling you because it might fly in the face of all that you think you know.”

After meeting and working with Mel Gibson at Icon Productions for 11 years and rising to the level of CEO of the company in London while learning to make movies, Lemley said one of the main lessons he learned was problem-solving and improvisation.

As a producer, he has been faced with “insane” problems, including an upset Russian president in front of the Kremlin wanting 250 extras, 50 carriages, 50 horses, 5 acres of snow the Russian army had trucked in and hundreds of crew members to clear out immediately.

“Life is constantly testing you. You will find yourself in difficult predicaments with no answers,” said Lemley, who orchestrated a five-hour debate while filming continued. “The key to navigating them is to keep your head screwed on straight and work your way through them. You have to get good at improvising. Because life will take you on a journey that not even the highest paid Hollywood screenwriter could imagine.”

When Lemley was 29, and when he thought he had life figured out, he was diagnosed with cancer. He experienced an epiphany and what had seemed so important and necessary before became insignificant, as well as the fears that had held him back. He decided to strike out once again and become an independent film producer, with great success.

“You have to live your life understanding that it has a finite amount of time to it,” said Lemley. “You will be challenged, you can't avoid this I'm sorry to tell you. What you do have some control over is how you react to these situations and what you learn from them and how your struggles make you better.”

University of Idaho President M. Duane Nellis told the Class of 2013 to show the world their excellence, but not to rest upon the promise of what they can do. While the university reaches nearly half a million Idahoans a year through education and outreach, Nellis advised students to show what they can do and take the skills and education from their time at the university to build a reputation on their actions.

"Graduation is a major accomplishment. Each one here is a success story, for themselves, for their families, and for us,” Nellis said. “Our students report remarkable success in the marketplace as they take the knowledge and skills they’ve gained here.”

The university gave an honorary degree to Harry Bettis, a rancher with business interests in banking and oil distribution and a philanthropist. He earned his undergraduate degree in business from Stanford University. The University of Idaho also honored doctoral degree recipients, celebrating the 51st and 50th anniversary of the first doctoral degree in education and philosophy, respectively: Florence Aller ’62 (education), John A. Morford ’63 (educational administration), Newman H. Fisher ’63 (mathematics), Daniel E. George ’63 (chemistry), Bruce D. Gesner ’63 (chemistry), Richard A. Hermens ’63 (chemistry) and Dean E. Metter ’63 (zoology). Metter passed away in 2001, and Florence Aller died in 1993.

The ceremony also celebrated the first-ever graduates with a doctor of athletic training. The University of Idaho is the first university to offer the program at the doctorate level.

The University of Idaho held five commencement ceremonies around the state: in Boise on May 1; in Idaho Falls on May 2; in Coeur d’Alene on May 6; and two today in Moscow, including the College of Law this afternoon.

In Moscow, 1,559 candidates applied for 1,213 baccalaureate degrees, 96 law degrees, 53 doctoral degrees and 197 master and specialist degrees.

Statewide, a total of 1,774 University of Idaho students were eligible to graduate this spring, and applied for 1,845 degrees. As of this spring, the total number of graduates from the state's land-grant institution stands at 107,519 graduates; also, because graduates can earn multiple degrees, as of this year, the university will have awarded more than 115,317 degrees. Final graduation numbers will be available following the end of the semester.
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About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho inspires students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. Through the university’s $225 million Inspiring Futures capital campaign, private giving will enhance student learning, faculty research and innovation, and a spirit of enterprise. Learn more: