Some movies are so powerful that they can change people’s lives. At the outdoor screening of “Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru” in Brooklyn on Monday, Rooftop Films saved the life-changing experience for the Q&A.
What started as a typical post-screening discussion with director Joe Berlinger about the backstory to his Netflix documentary turned into something much more profound. A handful of audience members asked Robbins for advice related to their personal lives, while one woman addressed the apparent lack of diversity at Robbins’ six-day event “Date with Destiny” that is the focus of Berlinger’s documentary. After Robbins explained that the attendees depicted in the film came from 71 countries and had translators relaying everything said in six different languages, he asked the audience of 850 people to stand up and take part in a therapeutic exercise straight out of one of his motivational seminars.
Just like Date with Destiny, the mini-session Monday night was an exercise designed to help people tap into their inner motivation. “Courage is a muscle, and the more you use it, the bigger it gets, the stronger it is, and the easier is is to push yourself forward,” Robbins told the crowd. “When I tell my brain what the fuck to do, it does it, and everyone needs the courage to be able to do that.” The activity included a combination of deep breathing and focusing on comforting memories that people can practice to defeat the negative thinking that prevents them from accomplishing their goals.
In an interview with IndieWire the next day, Berlinger explained that although he never thought of himself as a “seminar guy,” he did have an “amazingly transformational experience” at Date with Destiny in 2012 that made him want to make a movie about Robbins’ methods.
“My goal was not to have people run out and sign up for Tony Robbins seminars,” Berlinger said. “I wanted to use his core teachings to really inspire people [and] get people to spend the running time of the film to think about the direction of their lives.”
Berlinger put up the vast majority of the funds to make the film himself, as he couldn’t promise potential investors the movie would definitely be completed, even after starting to shoot. Why? The director made an agreement with Robbins that if his team of cameramen ended up negatively impacting the seminar in any way, he would pull the plug on the production. For Netflix, which acquired the movie during the post-production process, the audience for the documentary was a no-brainer: Roughly 200,000 people in 15 countries pay nearly $5,000 each every year to experience Robbins’ seminars, which likely served as a strong indicator that subject matter of the documentary would resonate with a large number of subscribers.
Regardless of how you feel about motivational speakers, life coaches, and the entire self-help industry, there’s no denying Robbins’ ability to mesmerize audiences and guide them toward breakthroughs with his trademark interventions. “Tony is a master in distilling kernels of wisdom from all sorts of sources and presenting them to you in a very accessible way that really allows you to make a change, but we are all human beings who fall back into our patterns of negative thought or unproductive ways of approaching life,” Berlinger said, adding that he still stumbles regularly despite having had a major breakthrough in 2012. “The whole point of that exercise at the end of the Q&A was to show people that if you bring a sense of gratitude into your life, it puts things in perspective and allows you to solve a problem.”
Though exposing the secret sauce of Robbins’ motivational work in a documentary might seem like a good way to get people to skip signing up for the actual seminars, Robbins said the movie is just a more effective way of spreading his tools for motivation. “My mission is to help as many people as possible,” Robbins said during the Q&A. “If I can work with someone in front of 2,000 people or millions of people through a film like this, it’s more leverage to help more people.”