The magnet on the refrigerator was a saying from football coach Bill Parcells that hung in quarterback Phil Simms' locker:
"Blame nobody. Expect nothing. Do something."
Brad Furman's mother put it up when Brad was a boy growing up in Lafayette Hill, 35 minutes from Center City.
Both have taken it to heart.
Furman, who graduated from Friends' Central School, decided early on he wanted to be in the movie business, moved to L.A., and, through force of determination, made it happen. His biggest success to date was as director of The Lincoln Lawyer, starring Matthew McConaughey, which grossed $75 million worldwide.
Ellen Brown Furman was a Temple-made lawyer who wanted to be a writer, and now she's the screenwriter of The Infiltrator. It's her first produced screenplay. It stars Bryan Cranston, Diane Kruger, and John Leguizamo, and it's based on the true story of undercover federal agent Robert Mazur's work in the 1980s fighting the Colombian drug cartels.
Brad Furman directed. As far as anybody can remember, it's the first time a mother has written a major motion picture screenplay for her son.
Furman says his mom gave him the confidence to persevere in a hypercompetitive business. Brown Furman says her son gave her the confidence to write a screenplay.
But Furman says it wasn't nepotism that got mom the job on The Infiltrator.
"I didn't think I could get her hired," he said in a recent conference-call interview with his mom. "But producer Don Sikorski told me that Mom was the best person for the job."
"I was very fortunate they were able to trust me," she said.
How did the pairing work? Early on, Furman, who has been through the production grind on low-budget indies like The Take and studio movies like Lincoln Lawyer, needed to help his mom calm down.
At one point, she saw the movie's producers in animated conversation with the money guy. With a tight budget, "we were under tremendous time and financial pressure," Furman said. She was panicked that the movie would be shut down.
"I'm definitely a worrier," Brown Furman said. "I was worried my son would never work again."
"I needed to tell her to chill out," he said.
Otherwise, the pairing was a dream. "Mom wanted to do whatever she could to promote me and the movie," he said. "But there were times I had to tell her, 'You're not my mom, you're the screenwriter.'
"She is still my mom, however. I knew I could get away with things and manipulate her better than anyone else."
"I can't help but be a mother," Brown Furman said. "I give Brad credit for putting up with both."
Furman said his mother worked hard studying the craft of screenwriting "and understands screenplay structure better than anyone."
"But these are all real people in the movie," Brown Furman said, feeling a different kind of screenplay pressure. "I had to take these characters and put my spin on them."
Brown Furman said that, although she had to do a lot of research on U.S. Customs and on the banking and technology of the day, she was not worried about the time period itself. "The '80s vibe? I lived it," she said. "I was very comfortable with that."
The first draft of Brown Furman's script was written as a love triangle among Bob (Cranston), his real wife (Juliet Aubrey), and his undercover wife (Kruger). There wasn't much of a rush for rewrites because Furman was attached to direct Scarpa with Sylvester Stallone.
Then Stallone put that project on hold and Furman, coming off the disastrous Runner, Runner, was concerned his career was going to lose momentum. (Runner Runner "wasn't my movie," he has very publicly stated.)
The Infiltrator got fast-tracked. Too fast.
"The script was ready," he said, "but it wasn't really ready at all."
So Furman, his mom, and their producers "bunkered down in Ventnor," he said, to polish Brown Furman's screenplay into a shooting script.
Furman gives his mom kudos for raising the movie's emotional stakes and adding depth to the characters. "We worked tirelessly to carve out the movie you see today."
"Brad was able to take what I saw and be visual," Mom added.
"It's a director's medium," son said. "But I can't stress enough the importance of the screenplay."
Their mother-and-son movie premiered Monday night in Manhattan and opens Wednesday in Philadelphia. Furman and Brown Furman are now in the early stages of developing a film about fitness pioneers Joe and Ben Weider, the founding fathers of bodybuilding - but both are open to working on other projects with other filmmakers.
In the meantime, they're going to enjoy the journey of The Infiltrator and hope the movie meets with success.
Son is thrilled for his mother, starting a new career in her third act: "Talent is talent," he said. "It's not defined by age.
"I want to give her the credit," he added, "but I also want to take credit for picking her."
Mom is obviously thrilled for her son: "I'm always going to be Brad's mom."