“If you go into a situation with a preconceived idea of the story, you sometimes miss the story. Let the situation tell you where the film is going."
Emmy and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger has had a prolific career. He's directed 12 feature docs that cover the darker side of the human experience, like the story of a brother on trial for murdering one of his kin in Brother’s Keeper, or following the band Metallica down the turbulent road of group therapy in Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.
His new film, Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru, takes a different approach. It's a celebration of the work of motivational speaker Tony Robbins through an inside look at his annual “Date With Destiny" seminar, where thousands of people flock in hopes of changing their lives.
We sat down the day after the film’s premiere at SXSW 2016 to discuss this new turn, his approach to filmmaking in general, and advice to other doc makers trying to sustain a career. The interview was arranged by the film’s publicist, Charlie (who I reference at the end of the episode), as part of its official press junket. That meant that Joe and I were sharing the stage with Tony Robbins himself, who was in the other half of the junket’s hotel suite, leaving us to try to capture the best possible audio by nestling up next to the bathroom. I have to give a big thanks to Joe for tolerating this set-up—while battling bronchitis.
“Usually people walk out of my films angry and wanting to make a change. This film has a very different cinematic goal.”
“I look for stories where you can take people into a world where they may not want to go, and bring them out on the other side somehow changed.”
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No Film School's coverage of the 2016 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by SongFreedom.