You might know Tom Shadyac as the director of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, and a bunch of other Hollywood mega hits. But you probably don't know what he's been up to lately. After a 2007 cycling accident that almost left him permanently incapacitated, Shadyac went off the deep end. At least that's what it looked like from Hollywood's point of view. He became unsatisfied even with his highly satisfactory life. He dumped much of his fortune and even moved to a trailer park.
And though he eventually went back to doing what he does best -- making movies -- his latest project is unlike anything else he has done. I Am, a documentary of Shadyac's personal journey, asks what's wrong with our world and what we can do to make it better. Shadyac is in Miami for a free screening of the film tonight at 7:30 p.m at the Gusman Center of the Performing Arts. We caught up with him before the screening to ask him about his enlightenment, and how we could get some for ourselves.
New Times: You're world got turned upside down when you had a cycling accident in
2007. From there you've reevaluated your life and decided to make major
changes. Do you think you would have "seen the light" had you not had
Tom Shadyac: Generally don't know to answer what if questions, but I do know that
what I'm doing now is part of who I am. It was going to come out at some
There's been a bit of a misunderstanding that the bike accident change
my life. That's not what happened. I've been changing over 10 to 15
years. The bike accident caused me to talk about (the change). I faced
death and would not have had the courage without bike accident to talk
about it. I didn't' want to die with these ideas inside me.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, many people go through their lives
without a traumatic moment that causes them to reevaluate their
existence. In lieu of such a moment, any advice on how to propel
somebody to make substantive changes in their life for the better?
It's no mystery. It's practice, if your true intention is to serve and
seek truth and to know reality, to touch reality, practice will give you
that. The Dalai Lama said when asked how to get to (an enlightened
place) it's practice. He is now 76 and started seriously practicing when
he was 13. They say you are what you eat, but what we think about, what
you care about, what we spend our time doing is also who you are. If you are
in rat race that is who you become. If you spend more time in meditation, reading, taking walks in nature, having conversations - conversation
is beautiful -- that is who you become.
Shadyac sees life through a new lens.
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
I Am seeks to answer two questions: What's wrong with the world? What can
I do to make it better? Without giving away too much of film, what are
They're easy answers; or rather simple answers (but) we complicate the answers.
I don't want to give away the movie but part what's wrong with the world
is how we are looking at it. In the film I call myself mentally ill --
the reason is that a mentally ill person doesn't see things as they are.
There is a global mental illness; we don't see things as they really
are. We see them as we are. How we are seeing the world is not exactly
how it is. The solutions is part of the journey of the film.
What are some recurring themes you've heard from many of the great thinkers you filmed in response to questions in I Am?
There are too many. Desmond Tutu has a line that's very emblematic of
part of journey ---we are because we belong. In America we think of
ourselves as individuals, but we can't even define a human out of
context. Our first behavior is craving of the breast for milk, but also
the craving of touch from a mother and father.
(The interviews in the film) put flesh on bone for me. I believed that
we are all connected, that my energy effect yours but the film walked me
into science of all that. I spoke to people studying it in practical
way and was educated by how much research had been done to support
People might say it's unrealistic, utopian. I see it differently. I'm
only interested in realistic. The film is the ultimate reality show.
It's what's real, and about real things like how do our biological
system survive, is love really a stronger force than hate. Gandhi said,
if (love is not stronger than hate) don't listen to me. I think love
is more powerful than hate. Sure, Hitler rises up, but he falls. Something
programmed in us that knows that, otherwise we wouldn't survive. That
How much did you draw from your past experiences as a filmmaker to
create I Am? Or is it a completely new experience because of the genre
and subject matter?
Last movie I did (before I Am) I had a crew of 400 and for I Am I had a
crew of 4. The scale was completely different. And quite freeing. I
could pick up a shot at any time, spontaneously, with no permits, no
schedule, no crew to feed.
The process was also very different. A documentary versus making feature,
is like inverse engineering. For a feature you write a script and get
locked into it and follow it like the Bible. In documentaries you go out
with an idea, get footage shot, and go through hundreds of hours to find
the movie inside that. The discovery process is in the editing room.
That's where you find the script. (But) good storytelling is good
storytelling, and I hope that skill is in the film.
Meditating on good filmmaking.
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
How have your friends, acquaintances, coworkers reacted to your project and new outlook?
I've been humbled and grateful from the response from friends and
family. Overwhelmingly, they've been inspired, supportive, and moved
by the picture and principles in the film.
That's not to say that they agree with everything, but they see a power
in it. I've been pleasantly and wonderfully supported, from big
producers to stars who are friends who want private screenings. They
want to have a conversation about it and that's all I wanted to do -
start a conversation. And it did.
What does the future hold?
I plan to serve this conversation in any way that it will have me. It
could be a feature film, like Bruce Almighty or Liar Liar, I'm in
conversations with a couple of networks about doing a talk show to carry
on the conversation, and I'm writing a book. I'm exploring all those
Society has crafted a success model that is limiting, and when I was in
society's success model I was celebrated by society, but it wasn't my
truest success model. As I move away from conversations about box office
grosses and headlines and more into my heart I have been incredibly
humbled, surprised, and edified by the journey. I am flat out happier
but doesn't mean I don't have sorrow. But I am flat out more alive.
I Am screens at the Gusman Center of the Performing Arts (174 East
Flagler St., Miami) at 7:30 p.m. The event is sponsored by Stop, Breathe
and Smile Inc. On Saturday, there is a related Rumi Concert with
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Coleman Barks, Zuleikha, David Darling and Glen Valez at the Gusman.
Tickets cost $25 to $45. Visit gusmancenter.org for more information.