Joe Berlinger, director of “Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru,” and Tony Robbins gave The Knockturnal an exclusive interview about their new project.
Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru is a feature documentary depicting the approaches of internationally renowned life and business strategist, Tony Robbins. Berlinger, an Academy Award nominated director, goes behind the scenes of Robbins’ seminars, highlighting the techniques he utilizes to help people take control of their lives.
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR JOE BERLINGER
A lot of your previous films have been procedural, and focused on the miscarriage of justice, what made you change to this genre?
In some ways I think this is not completely that far afield from, say, my Metallica film, which looks into the human experiences, and in some ways I think all of my films explode stereotypes. But this is definitely a different kind of a film in the sense that it’s a ‘feel-good’ movie, whereas most of my films I guess you can say are ‘feel-bad’ movies, because of the dark subjects that they explore. But really what motivated me is I met Tony socially in 2012, and we just met at a party, he was a fan of the Metallica film. I guess he sensed there were some things going on in my life, and he very kindly invited me to his seminar.
Back then I would have told you I’m not a seminar guy, I’m not a self-help guy, but for some reason I found myself drawn, and went out there, and decided to do it. After a couple hours I fled for the exit door, kind of flipping out, thinking this is not for me. It was obviously pushing a lot of buttons. I called my wife on the first break, and I said, “What do I do? How do I get out of here and not insult the guy? I can’t bear six days of this”, and my wife luckily said, “Give it another day.” So I have it another day, and I had this profound and transformational experience on day two, and I thought to myself, wow, if something can make me feel this way, I’m going to stick it out, and stick out the six days. I just wanted to share a very positive experience with people. We live in very divisive times, and there’s a lot of anger and disconnection with people, and if I could use cinema to try to help people become more content – because I think if people are more content in their lives, if you feel more connected to other people – I think maybe there would be less problems. Not that I think my film is going to do that, but that was the creative impulse.
Did you face any challenges during, before, or after filming the documentary?
The first challenge was Tony wasn’t sure if he wanted to do it, so I spent two years convincing him he should do it. The second challenge was it didn’t have traditionally a dramatic structure; you’re not following the same people, you’re covering events. How do you make that interesting? So I decided that the mode to make that interesting would be to treat the film like a concert film: a concert of human emotions. I wasn’t sure if people would be into it, or whether it could sustain over a two-hour period, but that’s for other people to decide, and I think it does.
Prior to making the film, you already had the seminar experience, but has making the film impacted your life in any way?
No seminar, no philosophy, no teaching, you hear it and then boom, you’re fixed forever. You have to keep working on yourself, and you stumble, and then you remember everything you learned, but by immersing myself in this subject matter for a year, it allowed me to have super-mastered this for an entire year.
You say that Tony is “Not a Guru”, could you list three things that he is?
Well, he is a master strategist, he is an incredible speaker, and he gives you the tools for you to find your own best life, as opposed to a guru, who tells you a specific way to be, like a cult leader. Some people don’t understand and dismiss it as a cult. A cult tells you ‘this is the way you need to be.’ Tony just gives you the tools to figure out what your best life is, and how are you going to find that life on your terms.
Do you have any plans for any more documentaries in the works, for Tony, or in general?
No, I don’t think I’ll do another Tony film; I feel like I’ve done my trip with Tony, but I’m busy doing lots of things right now.
Are you allowed to mention what any of them are?
I’m doing a film on genocide, and interestingly – so I guess I’m back to my ‘feel-bad’ movies – I’m doing a series on a string of serial killing investigations on a serial killer that is still not caught. I’m also doing a show on a guy on death row who we think is innocent, so I’m keeping busy.
INTERVIEW WITH TONY ROBBINS
This is an interview for The Knockturnal, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?
I’m nocturnal, so this is the perfect magazine for me. I’m a night person.
It took you two years to sign onto this, what finally got you to agree to do the documentary?
Well, I always respected Joe Berlinger. He’s just a genius documentarian, so it wasn’t a question of that. He finally came up with a cool solution, he said, “Okay, I get it, I really get that you are concerned about disrupting the people,” and he said, “If you will trust me, and not trust me blindly – let me come in,” and he said, “if it really disrupts the people, you can end it, and the thing’s over, and there’s no documentary”. He said, “But if not, then I stay, and we finish it, and then it’s my film, I get to do it the way I want it, and I get full access.” I said, “You got full access, if you’re willing to do that, if you’re willing to take that risk, I’m in.” So he came in, and the first day I was watching him like crazy, and his team was so great, the cameras really disappeared, and it didn’t interfere with anything. Then he filmed the six days, and then went off for a year, and edited it, because trying to figure out how to take 72 hours, and put that into an hour and 55 minutes. That took some skill and some amazing amount of time. You saw, he has this giant team of about thirty people, and they all worked around the clock to get it done.
How did you go from a janitor to a motivational speaker?
Well I’m not a motivational speaker, although that’s how people may have heard of me, but I’ve never been into that, because I think motivation is important – its like a warm bath: you’ve got to take a bath – but its not enough to take a bath, you’ve got to have strategy, you’ve got to have skill, you’ve got to have muscle, so I’m more of a strategist. But going from a janitor to that was driven by just having an obsession with wanting to figure out how to do more for people, how to help people change faster, how to make it more enjoyable. It started with my own self. I grew up in a really tough environment, with four different fathers, and a mother who loved me, but was quite abusive, who would pour liquid soap down my throat ’til I vomited, because she thought I was lying when I wasn’t, or beat my head against the wall. But I tell people, and I say it in the film, and it’s really true, that if my mom had been the mother I wanted her to be, I would not have had the hunger, I would not be trying to help everyone stop suffering.
The fact that I suffered so much gave me the drive to want to change things, and it made me hungry. It’s why, you know, we had no money for food at Thanksgiving, and somebody fed my family when I was 11, and I fed 100 million people last year, 42 million in my life, and in the last year I went for it full tilt. So now I’m going to feed another 100 million this year, and through my partnership with Feeding America, throughout the US, and I’m going to feed 1 billion people in the next 9 years. Would I have done that if I had a perfect life, and everybody loved me, and told me I was great and beautiful? Probably not. So there was a gift in that pain, but then its also just continuously growing, and never settling along the way; always saying, no matter how good it is, that I want it to be even greater, and that’s the processing. I never stop evolving when I do.
Did Jim Rohn influence your seminars in any way?
Very much so. Jim Rohn was one of my teachers, he was a personal development speaker, and I went to work with him when I was 17 for about a year. We remained friends ’til his death. I spoke at his funeral. So he affected me philosophically; he really got me to think that for things to change, I’ve got to change, for things to get better, I had to get better. He really grounded me in that concept too, of adding value. But I evolved a lot of my strategies through Ericksonian studies, through John Grinder and Neuro-Linguistic programming, through a lot of other elements, so I think you need both philosophy and strategy. If you’ve got great strategies you know how to achieve, but most people will achieve, and they’re not fulfilled. If you’ve got a great philosophy you’re fulfilled, but if you don’t have the strategies, then you’re not going to achieve. So I think we need both, and I’ve tried to make my teachings have both strategy and philosophy, so you can achieve faster, quicker, better, in what you really want, but also you really, truly have an extraordinary life of fulfillment as well.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
There’s so many of them. One of them was just, most people who have come before me; I hate the term self-help, I hate motivator, because they’re usually empty platitudes, or somebody is just pumping somebody up, and it doesn’t last. I’m a strategist, so one of the biggest challenges I’ve had is people try to filter you through what they’ve known before, and there hasn’t been someone whose done what I’ve done for these last 39 years, which is why my brand finally became as big as it did, world-wide, but simultaneously I’ve had to go through the filter of “Oh it’s just motivation,” or “It’s positive thinking,” or “It’s for losers.” I’ve got everybody from, well, you look at the Steve Wynn’s of the world who built Las Vegas, or you look at Hugh Jackman, or Anthony Hopkins, or Serena Williams, or Paul Tudor Jones, one of the top ten financial traders in the world, who I coached for 22 years. I have the most successful people on the face of the Earth that are my clients, but see, when people hear about change, they don’t want to look at that, because they don’t want to look at themselves, because those people are truly not fulfilled with their life in every way, if they’re honest. If their business is great, then they often don’t have enough time with their kids; if they’re great with their kids, then they don’t have enough intimate time with their loved one, and if they have got an intimate loved one, then they often don’t take care of their body.
And it’s the nature of human beings to focus on the things we’re good at, and avoid the rest, so the tendency is to not to even want to look at it, and make it wrong. But the most successful people on Earth – I get people at two extremes – they’re the most successful on Earth because they’re hungry, they’re driven, they’ve never lost their hunger. Somebody like Richard Branson, who is a friend of mine, that guy’s as hungry and driven today as he when he was 16, in the crib starting Virgin, and he enjoys his life, he’s an unbelievable man. But when you look around, most people don’t live that way. Most people try to control their life, and control the people, and make it okay. I’m not about “okay,” so the challenges along the way were those. And the second challenge was I wasn’t a businessman, and I was like, here I am, this artist, and my art is helping human beings sculpt themselves, but you’ve got to do art shows if you want to get a bunch of people, and I did not do art shows. So I had to learn how to become a businessman, and that’s helped now, because now I have 18 companies, and 12 that I actively manage, and we do $5 billion a year in sales in all these different industries, and its allowed me to be able to take whatever I dream about, and help make it real for people.
If you could give any advice to the readers of Knockturnal, what would it be?
There’s so much advice depending if it’s your body, your finances, your emotions, but I would say the most important thing you can do in your life is to get clear, to get out of your conditioning, to get out of your programming, and get clear today – not five years ago – what to I want from my life today? What do I want to give? What do I want to do? What do I want to be? What do I want to share? And then, what are you afraid of? Because I tell people: life is really the dance between what you desire most, and what you fear most. And if you can learn to figure out what you fear and what you desire most, and learn how to navigate that, you can have a life that most people never dream about.
Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru is currently out on Netflix.