Interview: Writer-director Marc Erlbaum Asks About the Meaning of Life

Posted on May 14, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I am always happy to talk to Marc Erlbaum, who makes films that inspire and challenge as they entertain.  I love his audacious new project.  He is “crowd-funding” a new film about the biggest question of all: the meaning of life.

Where did this idea come from?

I’ve been researching crowdfunding sites lately because we’re considering a campaign to raise money to do a soundtrack for my film “A Buddy Story.”  I get requests all the time for the soundtrack of my last film “Café,” but the distributor never produced one, so this time we’re thinking about doing it ourselves.  Simultaneously, we have this great facebook community for my company, Nationlight Productions, and so I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how to keep people entertained, engaged and energized on a regular basis.  As I was exploring the crowdfunding sites, it occurred to me that it would be great to come up with a huge campaign to involve people in something big and meaningful and push the envelope a little bit.

What is crowd-funding and why is it the best way to launch this project?

Crowdfunding is this innovative and alternative way for people to get projects funded.  Rather than raising large amounts of funds from traditional investors, it’s a way to harness the communal spirit of the internet to pitch a huge number of people on giving you a small piece of your goal.  For the one raising the funds, it opens up a tremendous potential funder base.  For those contributing, it offers the opportunity to get behind something from the inception and help it along toward realization.

As far as this particular project goes, crowdfunding is the best way to launch it for 2 reasons:


1)    Pragmatically, it would be hard to convince someone to invest the requisite funds for this – the revenue potential is iffy at best, and frankly it’s a bit hair-brained (but in a good way!).  With crowdfunding, the contributors aren’t looking at the financial revenue potential, they’re supporting something that interests them, and they’re more concerned with helping out and being entertained than they are with fiscal rewards.

2)    Ideologically, I believe the “meaning of life” probably has something to do with community and generosity.  Undertaking this kind of project with thousands of collaborators is much more exciting than going about it yourself or with a few people looking over your shoulders to see if you’re making the most commercial decisions.  We’re going to be asking our contributors where to point our cameras – they’re feedback and participation is what’s going to make this interesting.


Where do most people get their ideas about the meaning of life?

Good question.  My sense is that most of the time we’re too busy or distracted to think about the meaning of life.  Those who are involved in some sort of spiritual practice – whatever it may be – do seem to tend to set aside a fixed amount of time either each day or each week to consider the bigger questions, but then we get engrossed in our mundane affairs and we may lose consciousness of what’s really essential.  My goal has always been to try to keep my head in the clouds and my feet on the ground – engage in the world, but don’t lose awareness of a higher purpose, and never stop trying to figure out what that is at any given moment.


Where will you find your interview subjects?

From the Beliefnet files of course!  The truth is that we’ll be doing a lot of research on our part to find both known and obscure figures who have something to say about life and its meaning.  But we’ll also be looking to our contributors and fans to make suggestions – someone’s shoemaker may be an amazingly profound person who no one has never thought to interview before.


How will you keep your funders up to date?

We’re going to launch a website called (I’ve already paid $9.99 for the url, so I better raise this million dollars!)  In addition to videos that we plan to post a couple times a week, we’re also going to have an ongoing blog which will keep everyone right there with us every step of the way.


Why is making a movie a better way to explore this question than writing a book?

The primary output of this project will be a year’s worth of web content which we may or may not decide to compile into a feature film when we’re done.  Contributors are buying into a year long experience rather than a one-time program.  I think this will feel more like one’s along for the ride rather than just getting it all at once.  One could do it as a serialized print piece, but I’m a visual storyteller, so I’m probably a bit biased toward visual media.  What I really love about doing this as a web project is the transmedia opportunity to document our search in so many different ways.  There are some who love to read, and those who never read anymore – so I think we’ll have something for everyone.


Why is this question so hard to answer?

That’s too hard, I can’t answer that!

But that won’t stop me from giving my opinion of course.  I think that everyone wants meaning, but a lot of people don’t want it to be shoved down their throat.  And we’re suspect of those who try to push it on us.  How do I know that your meaning is THE meaning?  Is there only one meaning, or can everyone have his/her own meaning?  Unfortunately, purveyors of meaning have often exploited something pure for purely selfish aims, so we don’t know who to trust and we’d often just prefer to distract ourselves with more immediate concerns than wander into those murky waters.


Why is it important?

My goal is not to push any one meaning of life.  What’s important to me is to encourage people to search for it.  There are those who believe there is no meaning, and others who have never really been encouraged to stop what they’re doing and look around.  My feeling is that if we can make the search fun and relevant, people will be surprised what they find even if the ultimate riddle still remains to be solved.


Who have been your most important guides and teachers in answering this question?

My parents taught me to always think outside the box.  My wife and children teach me that every moment is precious.  The Baal Shem Tov taught that it is not enough to find one’s own way, but each of us needs to carry a torch that shines a light for those around us as well.

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