So I guess the cat is out of the bag, which is what happens when Lady Gaga gets involved… and then you yourself post pictures of it everywhere. I made a movie about my dad Deepak Chopra called ‘Decoding Deepak.’ This past Friday Night, there was a small private screening at the home of Hollywood mogul Peter Guber and his wife Tara, who also happen to be longtime close friends of our family. It’s likely to be the only screening before the film’s worldwide premiere at the trendy South by Southwest Film Festival March 11th in Austin, Texas.
And yeah, Lady Gaga attended Friday night’s screening… which was, um, interesting. Not only because she’s a fascinating contemporary cultural icon – which is kind of what the film is about (my dad being one of those too) — but also because hardly anyone outside of the small circle of those that have worked on the film with me the last 18 months have seen it. So when one of the first happens to be someone who’s sitting at the zeitgeist of the cultural creative Universe — and also happens to have 19 million twitter followers — it’s a bit nerve-wracking. There’s the fact that she’s twenty-five years old too, but that’s another issue…
I guess the good news is that Lady Gaga claimed to like the movie, at least she said she did. In fact, everyone in attendance said they liked it. Then again, what were they going to say at an invitation only party up in the elite Bel Air Hills hosted by a mogul with the film-maker and subject of the film (my dad) sitting amongst them. Not exactly the venue to go all Roger Ebert, right?
I’ll share more on the genesis and substance of the film in the coming days and weeks, but the nuts and bolts of it are that I followed my dad around the world for the better part of a year. I wanted to answer that question I’ve been asked all my life — ‘what’s it like being the kid of Deepak Chopra?’ I also wanted to resolve the contradiction I’ve seen all my life — reconcile the saintly pop-cultural spiritual icon the world seems to believe my dad is (amongst millions anyway) with the real human being (full of virtues, vices, flaws, and foibles) that my sister and I grew up around.
I don’t think I’m giving anything away by confessing that this movie ain’t no hit job. I didn’t set out to undermine the “brand” my dad has built over his 25 year career. But I also didn’t set out to just emboss it either. I set out to be honest, and that was the quality I kept reminding myself to honor through the course of the film every time I peaked into the camera’s viewfinder. I feel pretty good about staying true to that.
Now, as word leaks out about the film, people are starting to ask when it will be out for the general public to see. And my answer is: I have no idea.
After the SXSW premiere, we’ve committed to a few other subsequent festivals. So limited regional audiences to start. Such is the independent film model. But after that, in terms of reaching the masses, no plan yet in place. And herein lies the issue: What is the best way to reach the audience, which in this case is already pre-established just by virtue of the fact that my dad has done quite a bit of work for me by, you’know, doing what he’s done the last two odd decades. 65 plus books written, 30 plus million sold, dozens of languages, millions of readers, 700k twitter followers, picking fights with Fox News, befriending Oprah etc.
The traditional model is to take the film to the festival, hope we get some good reviews and audience response, have some distributors in the house and play them off of each other for the best and highest sale. Then repeat the process for the foreign markets. Nice license fees, maybe some limited theatrical, and some upside on the home video and downloads and call it a day… Take the money and run and abide by their release schedule. After all, they’d have paid for it.
The hitch? We’re currently amidst the total transformation of the media industry as we know it. The model is twisting, turning, and totally transforming before our very eyes. Content creators (like me) with assets (like the film) with established audiences (like my dad’s) and the potential for broader ones (like Lady Gaga’s) present wildly intriguing possibilities.
Consider this roadmap: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc as means to promote the film. Off the (digital) shelf file sharing software to download the film, Paypal to charge for the film. No walls between you and me. We wouldn’t be the first: see comedian Louis C.K.
Or maybe there’s some hybrid version, collaborating with our friends at YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix. Surely there’s a way. We’re creating our own bloody YouTube channel in partnership with YouTube for God’s sake! (launched July 1, btw)
Alas…for all the hype around the collapse of the old media model as we know it, it continues to march on. New cable channels headlined by titans like Oprah, Ryan Seacrest, Mark Cuban and more in the pipe continue to mount their offensive, demonstrating that the so-called old model isn’t exactly going extinct. And for every Lewis CK success story, there are a dozen others in the new media graveyard.
I said that I set out to be honest, right? So here’s the truth: I set out to make an honest movie about my dad and my goal — like any film-maker — was and is to have it seen by as many people as possible. I had another goal too, to make it worth my and my investor’s while. I didn’t take any money myself to make the movie. The investment — from an amazingly trusting investor by the way- – went into the movie, not my pocket. As a result, my personal financial success comes in the financial success of the film. So yeah, one more bit of honesty, doing the whole ‘open source’ thing is not really in the cards.
So that’s where we stand, folks in ‘real time.’ At the precipice of a brave new (digital) world, but with lingering reminders that the old model ain’t dead yet. And to be honest – since that’s the theme of the day – we’re still tweaking the film in the edit room as I write this. We likely will be until the moment it goes on the big screen in front of that Texan crowd about a month from now. So really, these are just distractive fantasies anyway, because who knows what happens then? SXSW crowds to have that reputation for telling you what they feel. It ain’t exactly Bel Air.
At least, I’ll always have Gaga, right?