While more and more people, especially those under 30 rely on social media as their primary source of news and information.
Two thirds of people in the US now believe that social media has a mostly negative effect on how things are going in America today.
According to Pew Research.
There’s deep concern that mistrust about the disinformation Divisiveness and prejudice that’s been amplified on social media.
So now what?
The work of today’s guest offers a counterpoint for the negativity about social, Media.
He’s produced and directed to movies five feet apart in 2019.
And now clouds in 2020.
About terminally ill teenagers who are able to use social media to amplify messages of hope, compassion, and the one aspect of being human that unites us all.
I’m talking about Justin Baldoni.
So, Justin, for those who aren’t familiar with your new movie clouds, which has just been released in a pandemic friendly way, give us the skinny on this movie and how it can help us all get through 2020.
Now to start, I just want to say Clouds isn’t a movie about death.
It’s a movie about life.
And I think that that at the end of the day is what’s so important about this and why I think it’s so important right now specifically.
Not just in America but around the world.
Clouds is essentially the story of a young 17 year old musician named Zach Sylvia.
Who has been battling cancer and finds out in the, you know, beginning of the senior year that he’s terminal and he has the choice to keep going and pursue his dreams as a musician or to give up and to just kind of throw in the towel and he
Uses music as a way to connect with the people that he loves and also say goodbye and to leave them with hope that he’s going to be okay.
So it’s just an important story in general but if you stripped the death out of it It’s an unbelievable true story about a small kid in Minnesota like a Midwestern kid in Minnesota who got a chance to fulfill his dreams and it continues to do so.
So, yeah, really grateful that that we’re getting a chance to release it, especially right now.
But the way the world looks.
So much going on, right?
So Zack became known for clouds when it went viral on YouTube back in 2012, beginning of 2013.
And then you came along and did your documentary for my last days on Zack and That took it to another level, right?
So it went viral once and then your video took the story viral again.
And then Zack passed away in May 2013 passed on.
And then something really, really interesting and powerful happen once you tell us a little bit about that.
Yeah, so I was shooting this documentary series called my last days with my friends at SoulPancake.
And it was a it was a small show, we didn’t really know what would happen or if it would work or people would watch it.
This is 20.
12 2013 at a time when YouTube was really filled with like, cat videos and really music videos and things like that, and this was a this was a deep reflective show about what it meant to live while dying.
And I found Zach towards the end of that first year.
And right as his song clouds was starting to go viral xe saw cnn article.
And I clicked on the link and I listened to his song and I knew I had to meet him and see if I could tell the story.
After the documentary came out, he passed away, I think a week, maybe a week and a half later.
And Upworthy did a story on it.
And it was one of the things that actually helped build up for these model it crashed up or the site it got so many unique visitors it crashed their website.
The documentary overnight got 10 million or so views, and Zach became one of the first unsigned artists to ever hit number one on iTunes.
He passed everybody passed beyond say you name it all of his idols.
And that happened with the Davis view.
So when his mom wrote the book about her experience and about sex life, which was called fly a little higher and was recently released, and now it’s called clouds and memoir.
I asked his mom, Laura, if I could be the custodian of their story and to try to, you know, continue Zach’s legacy.
And before he passed away, I had made him a promise that I would that I would that I would do just that and now the movie came out on Friday on Disney plus And when I woke up Saturday, Zach was at number 25 on iTunes, and yesterday at noon, he hit number one again.
So he became the first unsigned artist ever hit number one, twice posted mislead Wow.
So, I mean, and all the money for that this makes goes to helping kids like Zach, who had osteosarcoma right?>> Yeah, his music so before Zach passed away he set up a fund and his name called Zach sobiech osteosarcoma fund, and all the proceeds from his music get donated directly to that fund.
So every time somebody clicked by, On iTunes and they spent that 99 cents or whatever it was whenever that portion that goes to the songwriter because he had no record label.
It was just him and his family gets donated directly to the CCR at the Children’s Cancer Research Fund and earmarked for osteosarcoma research because, When Zach was living, he shared hospital rooms with other kids with osteosarcoma and had to see a lot of them pass away.
And he always said at 17 he was lucky.
He said I got to live to be 17 actually died and he was 18.
And he felt that If he could die, so that other kids could live and it would be a life worth living, and boy, he did just that man he.
He’s still, pushing it.
And the research is going really, really well.
they’ve raised well over $2 million, and I’m praying that this movie helps raise another Jew Now, you have worked with these actors, obviously, in making this movie and and all of them have embraced this idea to, it sounds like and embrace the idea of telling his story and the importance of his story and what it can do for us right now.
Where there’s so much going on in the world that is making people confused, frustrated, depressed, all of these kinds of things and the way that Zach faced the challenges in his life is a lot of what the movie is about.
I will say, in watching the movie.
I like that.
One of the best parts is that you left a lot of the messy parts of the story in there.
Right like it’s you see him arguing with his siblings and you know the family arguing with each other and I feel like it at this point in time.
That is so valuable and so valuable, so meaningful in the story.
But there’s one thing I wanted to ask you about in the movie itself, which was this, there was a song in it.
That was called my little dancer.
And the song, I’ve heard a little bit that there’s something a little special about-
About this song .Can you tell me about that?
Yeah, so before we made the movie when I cast Finn artists who beautifully portrayed Zach And Madison Iseman who plays Amy.
I brought them to Minnesota, cause I wanted to get a chance to meet the real family.
I wanted Finn to spend time with his siblings, specifically Grey’s step sister.
And I wanted them to be alone in Zach’s room and to look at his stuff and to try on his clothes and to- And to really learn to embody him, and I’ve been saying from the beginning, I have a personal belief that the end of this life is not the end, it’s really the beginning.
And I really believe that when we pass on, we’re able to influence this world in a much more profound and impactful way that we could while we were even here
And I think that’s where a lot of intuition comes from.
And I think that’s when you know, when we hear these voices or these promptings I think that honestly, it’s our loved ones.
It’s our friends.
It’s our ancestors that are guiding us.
And from the very beginning I said to everybody, Zach is going to guide this movie, so be open to it.
So I had an empty director’s chair next to me throughout the entire filming with his name on it.
I had the prop department make Zach sobiech chair And nobody was allowed to sit in it because everybody knew that Zach was sitting in it because Zach was co directing his story with me.
And when I brought spin to Minnesota, and I asked him to go spend some time alone in Zach’s room, he was looking through Zach’s sex journal, his BMI journal, and he found.
A couple unfinished songs and he took some pictures of them.
So right before we were filming after the table read, I noticed that there was a spot in the movie that I thought was missing and I wanted to find a way for Zach and his girlfriend Amy to connect musically.
So I asked Finn to write To write a song, and I asked him to call it dancers boyfriend, or something to that extent because Zach actually wore a pen that his girlfriend Amy gave him called dancers boyfriend.
And I just wanted it to be a little tune that maybe was about saying goodbye or something.
Finn went wrote half the song and he couldn’t find the chorus.
So he started thinking about, well, what should I like what could work and he remembered that he took a picture of that journal in Zach’s room, and he went he opened up his phone he found a picture and the words and Zach’s journal was about, A dancer was about Amy and he, he took the, he took the words from, from Zach’s unfinished song and he put them in his, and it fit perfectly.
And he was like, wait a second.
This is theory.
So he finished the song using his words and Zach’s, and then he remembered that Zach had written down chords to this unfinished song.
And he went back and he looked at the chords, and they were the identical chords and the same chord progression to the song he just wrote.
Identical so Finn, finished a song that Zach had been trying to write without realizing it with the same chord progression and come to find out, That that unfinished song was an unfinished song for Amy that he tried to write and couldn’t finish just before he died.
So my little dancer a little dancer is co written by Zach and Finn, and it’s an original song in the movie.
So like Zach’s last song coming out in 2020 you know?
Let’s talk a little bit just about your movie last year to five feet apart.
Because there are parts of that movie that now almost relevant.
Who would have thought we’d be living in five feet apart and remember it would have been called six feet apart but in the race took back a foot That’s right, exactly.
I’ve been explaining that to a couple people recently because in that movie, they’re wearing masks and they’re having to stand five feet apart, right?
And now we’re all living in that world, which is incredible.And I felt like the thing, the real fresh part of that movie that was powerful, we got to this thing that you Early on corrected me thank you of like, it’s a movie about death, but it’s actually about life, right because there’s nothing brings more meaning to life or can bring more meaning to life than death.
Steve Jobs famously said that in his Stanford graduation speech that went viral.
And you state this a lot in very subtle and sometimes direct ways in these movies but also the work that you did with that you did with SoulPancake on my last days, and so in a culture that really doesn’t like to talk about death is very comfortable talking about death.
You’re very comfortable talking about it.
And so what talk a little bit about how the environment we’re in now where we’re having to face a lot more deaths than we have as a society in a long time.
Over a million people have died from COVID-19 200,000 of them in the United States alone.
So, us thinking about death and facing that, can have a really profound impact on those of us that are that are living right.
And you’ve been exploring this a lot for for years.
So what have you learned that they could they can help us?
Well, for me, it comes from my faith.
So I was raised in the blind faith.
And in the by faith bow Allah says that I’ve made death a messenger of joy for the wherefore dost that grieve and and that really messed me up.
It’s one of the reasons why I created my last days because I personally have been afraid of death and It’s because I love life so much cuz I love my family.
It’s cuz I am obsessed with my kids and I wanna be around.
And I started to think about well how can death be joyful?
And death can only be joyful if you prepare for it.
You prepare the people you love, For it if you live a life that you’re proud of, as Claire wineland said, and you made your life a beautiful piece of art, Zach sobiech said if you if you don’t wait to find out you’re dying to start living.
Death can be joyful when you prepare for it like it’s a journey, and you don’t think it’s the end and also when we realize we’re attached to everything We have these physical attachments to everything, our phones, our social media, news, politics, and then then even things like our families and at the end of the day, I have a personal belief that there’s something more and that belief of this not being the end is something that I find solace in, but But further and more like kind of myopically if you meditate on death, and we’re told that we should we shouldn’t if we meditate on our mortality, and we confront it and we realize that we’re all finite beings, and we have an end date, then suddenly you start to calculate and think about.
Your actions and the time that you spend in a different way.
And I think that’s what it’s all about.
It’s are we spending six or seven hours a day on these things?
Or are we spending half of that amount of time and making sure we’re connecting with people in our lives, even in a In a COVID world, how are we finding ways to connect and fill our souls?
And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from over 20 something stories now of individuals living with chronic and terminal illnesses and having to say goodbye away to many people that I love Said there is something to learn from the dying.
And the things that maybe matter to us the most now, and Laura [UNKNOWN] in the movie played by Nev Campbell says this to her son.
That it’s about rethinking all the things that we’re doing and how we’re spending our time.
And kind of reprioritizing and taking stock of what actually matters.
Are we gonna stay in a fight with somebody?
Because our egos are like, inflamed even though we knew we were wrong, are we just gonna say you know what, why waste another day?
I’m gonna apologize.
Are we gonna call that person that we haven’t talked to in a long time when we think about them instead of waiting for them to call us.
These little things make such an impact and a difference in our lives and we don’t often think about them unless we’re faced with our mortality.
So I think that’s really important and, and I hope that something that people can glean from a movie like this.
One of the things people may not know about you is that in 2015, you created an app called.
Shout the good.
God that was almost, I did.
[LAUGH] It was not trying to change the dialogue on social media right, and it didn’t take off but the idea of that is kind of like where we started this thing.
So shout the good was super noble effort.
It was a massive flop but shout look the whole idea was, How can we create like a way to keep people accountable and to think about doing good.
I believe in positive psychology and I believe in positive reinforcement and the idea that like when you see something, you start to think about it more, right?
Like when you suddenly wanna buy a car, you see it everywhere, right?
There’s a psychological effect that happens when you become aware of something.
And I believe the same thing goes with social media.
So I would, I would just wanted to find a way to make it less depressing and less me, me, me and start to reward people for doing good in the world.
But we just found that it wasn’t the right way to do it because no matter which way you went down.
Then it would take away the intention of purity of like doing something for the right reason, because then you are only doing it for a positive score.
And actually, I think Black Mayor did an episode about a version of an app like I like we had tried to create and how terrible it would be for the future.
So I was happy it didn’t work out but the end of the day It’s about seeing the good.
That’s what it is.
You know not to like go super, super deep always and tie it back to Faith.
But that is the thing that motivates me we’re told that if a man has ten good qualities, and one bad one, then we should strive to look at the 10 and forget the one.
And if a man has one good quality and ten bad.
Then we should aim to look at the one and forget the 10.
And I just wish that’s the way that we could start to live.
And the way that we could start to use social media, to see the good in the world to see the good in people instead of just seeing all the bad.
At the same time, there’s a reason for that there’s a reason why these conversations exist and social justice is coming up through Instagram and Twitter and it’s important, it’s galvanizing people.
And we’re seeing things for the first time that we’ve been ignoring, on purpose, whether we’d like to believe it or not for years.
But at the same time we need to balance that with seeing the good with positive stories, with stories of hope and love and connection.
Those two things rising up together I think can change the world.
All right, for those who don’t know, clouds is on Disney plus available to stream now.
It was gonna go in the movies but it is now available for anybody to watch from home pandemic I’m ready.
So take a look.
And just about Dhoni thanks for being with us.
Thank you so much.