At what point did you realize your trip could become a movie?
While I was on the journey it just became apparent that I was capturing the living oral history of some of the most extraordinary people in the world, and in so doing, wow, what do you do with this? At least for me, it was riveting stuff. The cynics out there laugh at what I’ve done and say, “Wow, you interviewed a bunch of successful rich people. What are they going to teach you?” (laughs) I don’t know, successful, rich, happy, lit-up, inspired, service-oriented people, I don’t know, they taught me a lot. Before my movie, did you know who Oz Nelson was?

I didn’t know who he was either. I knew who UPS was, but not him. So I turned to him and said, “Mr. Nelson, I have to be honest with you. I know the brown trucks and the guys who deliver packages, but I’ve never heard of you.” And he said, “Eric, the reason why you and your generation have never heard of me is because I haven’t done anything wrong to be in TV or newspapers.” That’s pretty insightful. As far as I’m concerned, that’s right on the money. He’s letting you and I know that we’re a society that likes to exploit things, not honor things. So here’s a guy who gets up in the morning excited and goes to bed fulfilled and is living a powerful life and is a chairman for United Way and all kinds of cool things, and he’s not newsworthy.

He’s not ripping people off.
But I thought what he had to say was extremely interesting. As a matter of fact, many people argue that that scene in my movie, where Oz Nelson is crying about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, being at work instead of with his family, brings most people to tears. And that’s one of the most riveting scenes in the film. That guy was an unexpected source. I think that guy is newsworthy, but you’re not hearing about him.

In your commentary on the DVD, you mentioned that Oz Nelson’s wife told you that he had never told that story before. How did you get someone like him to open up and reveal something he had never told anybody, and on camera no less?
Everyone wants to connect. All you have to do is open up the opportunity and create a space where people can reveal themselves and be an extraordinary listener. I don’t think I have any tremendous skill or a secret or some insight into it. There was nothing magical about that moment except being present to a cool conversation.

It reminds me of when you’re talking to Henry Winkler, and you mentioned on the commentary track that that pause was a lot longer than it was on the film. You said that most people seeing that thought you thought his answer was bullshit and you wanted something real, but you said you actually didn’t know what to do next.
Right. People give me all kinds of credit for that. That’s what’s so great about making something and then having everybody interpret what you made. Did you see the movie Pirates of the Caribbean?

No, not yet.
Okay, here’s one of the most redeeming qualities of that film from my perspective. You have this pirate Jack Sparrow and he’s this famous pirate and people are afraid of him. There’s this one moment where he escapes and he grabs the ropes from the sailboat and he’s very swashbuckly swinging around. We tend to look at that image in most movies and it seems so heroic because they’re swashbuckler guys and they’re swinging from rope to rope and how great it is.

And what they ended up doing was they cut to Jack Sparrow and while he’s flying through the air, he doesn’t have that confident superhero quality. He’s actually scared. His facial expression shows you that he’s like, “Oh my god, what did I get myself into?” But to everybody on the ground watching it, the act looks so heroic. But not when you’re in it. He’s just trying to survive, just trying to get from one beam to the next without killing himself. The fact that he trusts himself and goes for it, and the fact that he didn’t die and landed on the next beam, everyone looks at that and says “Wow, that’s incredible.” He just did the next right thing, which is a great Buddhist principle, and as a result he actually became successful.

I think that’s the same methodology I’ve used. Sitting in that interview with Henry Winkler wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to take down the Fonz because I’m cooler than he is.” That was so not the case. I just sat there and had a conversation. You don’t know where he is. He could have had a great day, a bad day. He could have had a whole afternoon of comedic stuff and just wanted to be light and funny. Maybe he just came out of an intense interview and wanted to be playful. You don’t know why anything happens, but I sat there and in the moment I trusted my instincts and hunkered down and didn’t know what to say. And it turned out to be another great moment in the film. Those are great epiphanies for me because they’ve shown me how to trust where I am in life.

Do you think Microsoft and/or Bill Gates regretted not being in the film?

You never heard anything from them?
I haven’t heard anything from them. It doesn’t really matter to me. It’s a great story in the film and when I was pursuing Bill Gates I felt like if I didn’t get to him the world was going to end, and then in my own learning I realized that I needed to trust the process of my life unfolding. I thought I was going after one thing and I realized that it wasn’t something I needed anyway.

Are you going to take more journeys now?
Not any more film journeys, like taking the bus back out. But I’m on a journey now with the book, I’m going out on tour with Edwin McCain, which is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done because he’s amazing and I get to stand next to him. And then I’m working on a feature film. The same cynics who told me I couldn’t do a documentary are the same cynics telling me I can’t do a feature film. And then you just say, “Well, I’ll do it anyway.” As Walt Disney said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” I love that quote.

Posted on March 19, 2004 in Interviews by


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