Your new documentary Good
Virus - Kindness Is Contagious - in a few words, what is it about?
Virus is a feature length documentary that profiles cutting-edge
scientists and authors from UC Berkeley to Harvard and everywhere in
between as well as real life people whose lives illustrate their
incredible discovery: That kindness IS contagious and that nice guys do
indeed finish first!
made kindness as a subject so appealing to you that you wanted to make a
film about it?
It just kind of grew on me. My wife was giving me a hard time because I
was doing a lot of dark projects so I told her that I was going to do a
film all about being nice. Then I started really thinking about it and
with the world in such a sorry state these days, it became very appealing
do do a film about kindness.
Ironically, altruism is not too popular a
topic in today's culture. So how easy or difficult was it to get Good
Virus off the ground and to find the right crew?
I disagree, I think altruism is more popular than ever. I never had an
easier time putting together a team or raising money. I was a little
surprised myself, but once I got started I noticed altruism everywhere. I
think there is a lot of manipulation going on in the media... This whole
culture of fear thing... But I think it's a very small group people
promoting that. Most people don't know this, but crime is down, murder
rates are down (even if you include all the people killed in 911) and
philanthropy is up. I think people are reactionary by nature and all this
intense focus on the bad stuff that is going on right now is turning
people around. To quote Dacher Keltner from the film, "We are in the
midst of a revolution". I believe that.
few words about the experts on your film, who deliver the scientific
backbone? And how did you find them?
From the beginning I wanted to take a different approach to the subject
matter. I'm not a terribly touchy-feely peace and love kind of person. I
need facts. I was reading this article in Discover Magazine, a science
magazine, about James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis who had
scientifically proven that kindness was contagious just like a virus. I
found that amazing. And these guys were heavyweights from Harvard
University and UCSD with facts and data to back it up. One of the things
people keep telling me is nice guys finish last, but here is proof,
scientific proof to the contrary. So I had my producer, Sara Glaser, ring
him up and she was able to set up an interview. Then when we had that
under our belts it gave us access to many other very smart people.
What can you tell
us about the late Chane't Johnson, who in her virus costume is pretty much
the life of Good Virus?
Chane't was the life and the soul of Good
Virus. It started out as a
very small project and then she got involved and it exploded. She brought
a lot of resources to the table besides just wearing the suit. She WAS the
Good Virus (I think that's why having her in the suit worked so well) and
her passing was a shock to everyone. We had a lot more scenes with her in
the suit planned. That part of the movie was supposed to be like an
anti-jackass. We were going to have her do lots and lots of kindness
pranks. We even talked briefly about replacing her, but it was impossible,
no-one could fill her shoes.
just have to talk about that guy holding his one-man peace walks for a
bit, as I find his story so weirdly inspiring?
because when Chane't booked him I thought it was just some nut-job that
lurches out in traffic with a sign and I didn't want to do the interview.
But she insisted and I'm glad. He is such a contradiction because he's a
very conservative middle-class person, an insurance adjuster, yet he does
this totally wacky thing every Friday night. I think that's what makes it
so good, the combination of sanity and insanity. He's an absolutely
adorable person and I think one of the best interviews in the movie. I
especially like it because he shows that you don't have to have some huge
organization to do nice things. In his own words "every small act of
kindness has an effect."
you find all those interviewees on your film, and could you also talk
about some of those who didn't make the cut?
The interviews just kind of snowballed. It started with James Fowler
and then people would mention this guy or that and we would pursue the
lead and since everyone we interviewed gave us many suggestions, it
expanded exponentially. Basically we had so many people on our interview
list, that we just stopped after filming for a year. It's amazing how many
VERY kind people there are in the world. I think because the media always
brings attention to the bad ones we have a tendency to think everyone is
that way. Conversely, one of the best parts about doing this film is the
opposite happened, it shifted my point of view and I started thinking that
everyone is so nice. It's quite powerful. The dream interview list is so
long now that I think we will do a Good Virus 2 at some point.
Now that's a good question! About the ones that didn't make the cut!!!! I
won't mention any names. But there was this one guy who we cut because he
just talked about money. He wanted to know all about our budget, how we
were stupid for financing our film ourselves and how he wanted a cut of
the distribution. Money was an obsession for him. He was angry bitter and
mean and even though he ran a charity it really detracted from what Good
is all about. I don't think being kind is about money. I think it is
about time and taking the time to help people. Money can help people of
course, but it really is secondary in my opinion. So we decided not to put
him in the film. All the other ones that we cut were cut simply because
all we had was an interview and because of logistics were unable to film
them doing what they do. You need to get action in a documentary or it
becomes boring very fast.
Let me turn
the tables on you for a bit:
What is the nicest thing that anyone
has ever done for you?
LOL! I'm going to take the easy way
out of this one: My wife just gave me a brand new baby boy!!!!
What is the nicest thing that you
have done for someone else?
I made a movie about all the
nice things that people have done for other people!
On a scale from one to ten,
how nice a person would you consider yourself?
a 5. After all I did sell someone's soul to the Devil. That's got to drag
the average down a bit. But I'm working on it. I don't think you have to
be a nice person to do nice things, but you do have to do nice things to
be a nice person, so I have a lot to do before I can measure up to the
people we interviewed in Good
me in our last interview [click here]
that Good Virus
is the polar opposite of your last movie I
Sold My Soul to Satan. Would you like to elaborate on that
statement for a bit?
There are distinct areas where I
Sold My Soul to Satan
are opposites. The most obvious difference is that I
Sold My Soul to Satan
was all about selfish people doing things entirely for themselves
with disproportionate expectations of personal gain. Good
other hand is about people doing things for others with no expectations
whatsoever. Beyond that, I
Sold My Soul to Satan
was a critique of this culture of
celebrity, instant gratification and many of the things that are wrong
with our culture right now. Good
is a celebration of what is right
with our culture. That also posed significant challenges because it is
hard to create drama when within the movie everything is good, gets better
and turns out alright in the end. From the beginning Good
was to be
a film that shows only the good in people, which I think is very different
than a great deal of documentaries out there. Most docs I find are very
critical. Not that that is bad, someone needs to point out problems, be
the whistle-blower, but we wanted to provide solutions when we made Good
Virus. That's why we included so many people talking about the nicest
thing that anyone has done for them. We want people to watch the film and
say, "Hey I could do that!"
To oversimplify the matter, with
Sold My Soul to Satan you have explored the dark side and with
Virus you have explored the bright side of humankind. Which did
you find more intriguing, not ideologically but merely from a filmmaker's
While doing both these films, I found the dark
side and the bright side intriguing, but from a filmmakers perspective, I
found it much more challenging to do Good
Virus. It's relatively easy to
make someone cry, but it's hard to make someone smile, especially if life
is hard for them like it is for a great many people right now. The target
audience for Good
are the beat up people. People who have lost their
money, their job and their house. For those people it's hard to see the
bright side and it's challenging as a filmmaker to convince them that
there is hope. Lots of hope.
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
The $64 question of course: When and where
will Good Virus
It's way too early for this one. We haven't
even finished the film. We still have to complete the animations, finish
the score and balance the color and sound. Let's reconnect in a few months
Any future projects you'd like to talk
A nice long vacation with my wife Annelie and brand
new son Lothar.
Your website, Facebook, whatever else?
is at www.goodvirus.org.
else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
think that we're good. The biggest problem with Good
is that I am
often tempted to get up on a soap-box and preach to people on the virtues
of kindness and that's not good. I cut all the preaching out of the film
so I don't want to do it here either.
for the interview!
Thanks for the amazing questions!!!!