Betsy Chasse is most known as the author & producer of “What the Bleep Do We Know?!” But a better description is the way she describes herself:
“What I really am is a person—a woman, a mom, a human being trying to make sense of life. Exploring all the possibilities, evolving, changing, listening and being in this amazing reality we have all created together.”
Here’s her official info: “Award-winning Filmmaker, Best Selling Author, Change-Maker, Mom. Best known as the Co-Writer, Director and Producer of the hit film “What The Bleep Do We Know!?” She has also produced the award-winning Song of The New Earth, Pregnant In America, Radical Dating and The Empty Womb.
She has authored multiple books, including; The Documentary Masterclass, Tipping Sacred Cows and What The Bleep Do We Know?!, and Discovering The Endless Possibilities to Altering Your Everyday Reality. She’s also a blogger, a speaker, a screenwriter, and a consultant.
In this wide-ranging interview we explore everything from her experiences with filmmaking, writing, and her infamous Facebook rants.
- BetsyChase.net – Her official website.
- What the Bleep – The film’s official website.`
- Rampant Feline Media – her media company’s website.
- Betsy Chasse on Amazon – all her books, author bio, etc.
Betsy Chasse Transcript:
DG: Hi. This is Doug Green with What Really Matters Interviews. And today I’m stoked to be interviewing Betsy chassey.
She’s an award-winning filmmaker, bestselling author, changemaker, and mom. She’s best known as the co-writer, director and producer of the hit film What the Bleep Do We Know?! She also produced the award-winning film Song of the New Earth, Pregnant in America and Radical Dating and the Empty Womb.
She’s authored multiple books including The Documentary Masterclass, Tipping Sacred Cows, What the Bleep Do We Know and Discovering the Endless Possibilities to Altering Your Everyday Reality.
She’s also a blogger speaker, screenwriter and consultant, and here’s something she wrote on one of her websites that I really like.
“What I really am as a person, a woman, a mom, a human being, trying to make sense of life, exploring all the possibilities, evolving, changing, listening, and being in this amazing reality we have all created together.
Betsy, thank you for joining us.
BC: Thank you so much for having me.
Let’s jump right in. How did this journey begin for you into filmmaking, the books and the journey of exploration?
So people always ask me how did you get on your spiritual path? And my answer is I came out of a vagina, because actually I co-wrote a book with a bunch of other moms called It Came Out of My Vagina. Now What? It’s a funny book about being a mom.
So I personally think this is my origin story of this whole reality. So I’ll give it to everybody at the beginning because it really sort of drives everything that I do or think. So I look at this reality as the plane of experience, right?
So I think we all show up here. We get bodies; that’s our avatar. Think of it like a video game and there are different levels. And on this level, this is the slowest frequency: mass-to-mass. We have senses. We have bodies. We can feel. We can smell. We can taste. We can touch all of those things, right?
And all of those senses give us the opportunity to experience. And one of the other senses that I think of is our feelings. I think of our feelings as a sense because we get the opportunity to really understand the difference between bliss and suffering and everything in between.
And that’s the name of this game here. That’s the name of this level to me. Here’s your opportunity to experience happiness, sadness, rage, peace, laughter, joy, all of those things in this body. That’s the journey here.
So I think how did my journey began? I popped out of the vagina and into this reality.
Okay, so plop, there you are. Where’d you go from there? Did you hit the ground running?
Here’s something funny? My birth was apparently filmed for a documentary on natural childbirth. I was a child actress as a kid who was in the entertainment business my whole life. When I was a little kid, my dad was a very unusual and interesting guy.
And he gave me a book on my eighth birthday called The Art of War. And I used to live in a town called Riverside, which is very far away from like Hollywood. And I would spend a lot of time in the car with my dad driving to auditions or driving to do a commercial or something like that.
And my dad was supposed to be a priest until, my mother came along … that “heathen.’ All my dad’s brothers and sisters were in the church until their mother died. And then I think they all left. But my dad had studied in the seminary and had deep knowledge of the Bible and religions.
And he was very fascinated by all of it. One of the things that he did was he was a musician and he was a musical director for a Baptist church, a synagogue, a Catholic church, the High Faith. Like he was all over the map. He would go to these different churches.
And I would end up going with him and we’d spend lots of time in the car. And we’d have these very interesting conversations about religion and philosophy and why was there so many different religions when, at their core, they all had this sort of same meanings and what were they supposed to do?
And my dad said to me, when I was eight, maybe one day you’ll figure all that out. Maybe one day you’ll understand. And you’ll be a part of bringing us all together in that sense.
So at that time, did I have any idea this is where I would end up or what I would end up doing? No. But my dad always instilled a curiosity in me. And I’ve always been curious about people and why we do the things that we do and how come we end up where we end up.
Up until I made The Bleep … right before I made The Bleep I wasn’t a spiritual person at all. I was happily living in what I call my “shoe consciousness”. You know, what kind of car am I driving? What kind of shoes am I wearing? What’s my next big gig? What am I doing?
You know, none of that mattered. I was initially a hired gun on The Bleep.
Mark Vicente knew me. And they were trying to put together a movie that wasn’t even The Bleep at the time. It turned into The Bleep after I came in. And they had struggled with it for a year. And they brought me on to actually do this movie that they wanted to make. And I worked with him, them .. became a director.
I was originally just supposed to be the line producer. And I became a writer and a director because they wanted to make a movie that would impact the world, and the movies that they were making wouldn’t have impacted anybody. And if they really want to impact the world, they got to talk to the people that don’t know … like I didn’t know what any of this was about. And that’s how The Bleep came to be.
Why don’t we dive into The Bleep? You ended up as a line producer. Can you explain what that is?
So initially I was hired as a line producer, which is basically they have a budget, they have a script and I’m the person to execute that.
As a line producer you spend the money. And as a line producer – I had a pretty good career producer. And I often ask these questions – which are interesting, because little did I know at the time, now they’re really important questions to ask, regardless of whether you’re making a movie or entering a relationship or whatever – which is, what are your expectations?
What do you expect and want to happen? And how do you think what you’re doing is going to make that happen? And Will said “I want a million people to see this movie.” And I said, “Well, a million people are not going to see this movie that you’ve got here. It’s weird and boring and makes no sense.”
And at the time they were going to use archived footage of talks. They weren’t really going to interview people. There was no storyline, there was no Marlee Matlin. There was none of that. And I convinced Will that we should go interview people. And that was sort of the beginning for me because Will, Mark and I each sat with everybody that we interviewed. Essentially we did three interviews, all from different perspectives of the subject.
You know Mark is very deeply spiritual and emotional and v ery much into that etherial metaphysical space. Will was very scientific; he’s a physicist. That’s what he was, and interviewed from that perspective. And here I was, this neophyte who was like, “I don’t understand what anyone here is talking about. Explain it to me again.”
Like, why do I care about, you know, flipped SU5? Why do I care about spooky action at a distance? Why does any of this matter to me? And I think that’s why The Bleep ended up working so well was, because if you think about it, Mark Will, and I really represented at least three types of people out in the world.
We really covered it. And that’s one of the reasons why Bleep works so well was because we got those interviews from different perspectives, you know?
Do you like working with those other two and what was the dynamics of that? It almost reminds me of the different people on the bridge of the enterprise and star Trek. You’ve got the emotional one McCoy, you’ve got the logical one Spock. You’ve got the captain and you’ve got the engineer.
In your interviewing process, you’ve got three people covering a lot of those positions and getting different perspectives. I know there’s a lot of questions there and I’m curious too, what was the experience like for the person you’re interviewing?
What was it like bringing those different pieces together into a cohesive film and how did all that go?
You know, there was ups and downs. The way we did the interviews was simple. Typically Will would interview first, then Mark. And I would go last, So it was really structured. I mean, we had our moments.
I always say that I was the vagina between two ball , you know, cause it was me and two men. I was the feminine, they were the masculinity. That’s not always true because I can be very masculine and Mark is very feminine. And so, you know, it was a journey. It took us awhile. There was a time when Mark and Will barely spoke to each other and I was just quietly keeping my head down, trying to make the movie.
So, you know, there’s a lot of … whenever you co-collaborate a creation, there’s gonna be great highs and great lows. But I think in the end, we all cared about the movie itself. And as a filmmaker, I teach other filmmakers. And often what I say to them is, I treat any creative project that I’m endeavoring to create as an entity, a separate entity of its own.
People always say to me, “How do you choose a project?’ And it always starts from me out of curiosity, like a question. I’m a genuinely curious person. I’m like, “Why is it like that?” Or “What does that mean?” Or “what would happen if”, or “how does that work?” Is like typically my general nature of who I am as a person.
The way I see it is that when a question is really driving me in my head, you know, what is that about? How does that feel? You know, like my short film, The Empty Womb …
I’m a mom. I’ve never experienced what it’s like to not be able to give birth or have children. And I had a really good friend who was going through that, and I wanted to explore that. And I think, yeah, that, to me, those driving questions, the ones that won’t go away, are usually where I put my energy to, because making a film or writing a book or any creative endeavor is exhausting.
So I really only go for the ones that I think are worth it, my energy – cause it’s a lot of energy. I look at those as sort of like messages from, you know … I think it’s funny that people use the word Universe in place of the word God. But I don’t particularly care, so I just call it Bob.
So I think, “Oh, Bob is really driving want me to go down that pathway?” Okay. I’m going to go. Bob has given me a little baby, a child. And I treat it as such because it’s important to separate myself from the creative endeavor, because the creative endeavor needs to have its own voice. Because otherwise it’s just my ego and opinion.
And there are times when I write … like my rant. Sometimes that’s just my ego and opinion. And it’s just fun. But most of the time, if it’s a big project or a book or a film, I treat it like its own little independent entity. And when you do that, it’s easier when there’s disagreement or when there’s competing ideas. Because, if you do that genuinely, the project or the creative endeavor will speak up and let you know what the right path or what the right thing is.
And sometimes the creative endeavor will speak up and say, “All of you people are wrong. It’s this over here.”
I’m going to give you a perfect example of that. One of the most favorite famous scenes in The Bleep is the subway scene where Marley is walking through and she sees the big posters of the water crystals.
Right? everybody loves that scene. Armin Shimerman from Star Trek is in it. So we’re filming the scene, and we’d brought this ginormous what they call a steady cam operator …
Oftentimes when you see those really smooth walking scenes, they have this rig it’s called a steady cam. It’s on a special balancer. So it looks like the camera’s floating. And there’s a person that’s usually specialized in operating those kinds of rigs. So this guy named Aikin – ginormous, cause I’m tiny. I’m five foot two. I, I swear to God, he was like seven foot nine. I mean, I don’t really mean that tall, But he was abig guy.
And one of the things that I made sure everybody did, who worked on The Bleep – I don’t care if you were going to work through the whole movie or you were just going to work a couple of days – I wanted everybody to read the script. Because I’m a firm believer in energy – film is energy. It’s a medium of energy and frequency. I want as much positive vibes and good Juju on my set as possible.
And we were saying some pretty radical things back then, so I didn’t want people whose ideology was so against it to show up and go, “Oh, this is coming across like Armin Shimerman is some weird stalker in a subway.” And it was not working. So Mark, Will, and I are off on the side having some creative discussion in battle about who’s got the right idea about how to fix this.
And this guy Aikin sort of walks up. The whole crew Was standing around waiting, and we’re like, “I know it just be this, it should be this, it should be this, it should be this. And we’re over there wondering …
And Aikin walks up and he says in this – like, I don’t know whether, what his accent was, but like German or Austria Austrian or something – he’s like ” I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt you, but I had this thought” – you know, cause he had read the whole script. He said, “What about if we do this? And then if Armen says to Marley, if thoughts can do that to water, imagine what our thoughts can do to us.”
That is a genius piece of dialogue. Mark, Will, and I did not write that dialogue. This guy wrote the dialogue. And when he said it, every ounce of – I’m still getting goosebumps, Mark got goosebumps, Will got goosebumps, and we just turn around and we said, “Okay, I can direct the scene. Figure it out. Map it.
Because we had this being, and we knew the being would always let us know when the answer was right, that the answers are sometimes going to come from all over the place outside of yourself. And when you get outside of a project and a creative endeavor and you let it have its own life, that’s when you can have those opportunities come up.
I hope that made sense, but that’s an example of how I operate in the creative space.
So how long did the film take to make and what were some of the major challenges and what were your big takeaways from it when you were done?
Interestingly enough, I was officially hired on September 11th, 2001. I was supposed to meet Will; we had never met in person. Will was going to fly to LA and meet me. And then everything happened. And then he just said, “We’re moving forward. I’m hiring you.”
And the film came out officially on February 4th, 2004. We started our theatrical run. I had booked what was basically one of the first independent theatrical film distribution models. That’s what everybody uses now. Bleep was one of the first films to ever do anything like that. And I created that. So I don’t know, 2001 to 2004 is how long it took.
We made the film in basically three parts. We shot the interviews. We had 90 hours of interview footage. At first Will and Mark and I each went through the transcripts and picked our favorite parts. And then Will took them and put them into this crazy long timeline. And then actually he cut that down to six hours.
So then we watch the six hours and then Will and I went away with a writer and wrote a screenplay. Because originally there was going to be a host, and it was going to sort of be like The Elegant Universe on TBS with the host Brian Allen green or whatever his name is talking all the time. But we got rid of the host and we had convinced will to have this narrative story around it.
So Will and I went away and we wrote the script. And then we shot that – the narrative. And then we started to combine the narrative with the six hours and peel away and peel away and peel away. And while we were doing that, we went and did the animations. And I traveled to South Africa and to Canada to supervise animations.
Okay. So how was that process – pulling all of that together?
You know, it’s daunting and overwhelming as any filmmaker will tell you. I just did an interview yesterday with the guy who made Infinite Potential, which is a really cool movie. , You can see it on my cgood.tv platform.
You know, It’s a lot. It can be chaos. It can be stressful. I think there were times when we all hated the movie. I think there were times when we all loved the movie. Any person who’s a filmmaker or a writer will tell you that you go on your own hero’s journey with each project.
Were there days when it was horrifying and frustrating? Yes. Were there days when it was exhilarating and we had breakthroughs and aha moments? Yes. Was it worth it? Of course, obviously.
It doesn’t always end up as great as The Bleep. I mean, people always say to me, “you should make another Bleep.” And I’m like, I don’t know that I can. And I wouldn’t want to make another Bleep; I’d like to do something else. And I have. But I don’t enter into a creative project with the desire that it’s going to make me rich, or it’s going to make me famous, or this is the one that’s gonna, whatever. I enter into a creative project because I don’t have a choice. Like there’s no choice. You know, my body, I either make this creative project or I shrivel up and die.
So explain that feeling. Just describe what you feel inside, where and what are the sensations?
Well, it’s really just that it’s a driver. It doesn’t leave your head. You’re constantly thinking about it. It pops up in every single thing that you do. I have a book that I just finished, that I’m working on getting a publisher for. It’s called Killing Buddha. And I have been working on that project since after The Bleep. It was a screenplay first and then it got set up and things happen.
And then I had to put it away for a little while. And I went back and it just never left. There’d be days where I’d be sitting there gardening and all of a sudden something would come up about that project. Some thought, “Oh, I should put this in there.” Or “Why am I not working on that?”
It’s just a driver. I don’t know if anybody has puppies or animals or a kid. They follow you around at the heels of your feet and they just nip at you. And you can either keep ignoring it and keep kicking it away – and you know, inside yourself that you’re not doing it and you’re not fulfilling something.
I tend to be aware now when a project is gonna be really meaningful for me, and when it’s not. And people always say “Describe the knowing as a feeling.” I don’t think that you can, really. I think people can use a lot of definitions and a lot of cool adjectives,
This has been a very frustrating sentence for me to hear, but now I understand it, which is “When you know, you know.” Could you get goosebumps? What happens? Does your heart do something?
It’s different for every person. But I know when I need to put my time and energy. And Killing Buddha had been bouncing around in my head for so many years that it took a friend saying, “You know, you should write that as a novel cause you’re a really good writer. And it really needs to be a novel before it’s a film.
And six months later, I had taken my kids out of school, gone to South America to write the book. It was just like, “Uuuup, that’s what I’m doing. Okay. Here we go.” And what happens when you’re following that, typically – and I don’t agree with this a hundred percent. Cause a lot of people will make it sound like “when you’re following your purpose, everything falls into place.” Which isn’t always true.
I think when you’re following your purpose, yes, a lot of things fall into place. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t struggle and frustration and all of those things coming with it. I think the new age, new thought world makes it sound like it’s just easy and everything should be magic.
I don’t believe that. That may be that’s my personal journey. But, you know, I did know that once I decided to write that book and I needed to give myself space and time to write that book, the opportunity arose for me to go to South America for several months to do it.
Why South America?
You know, I had friends there. I wanted to go there.
I’ve never really been pulled to Asia. I’ve never been pulled to India. I’ll probably go there at some point. I’ve traveled extensively around the world to Africa and Europe and the Caribbean and different places. I’ve been to Mexico a few times. But one of my former students lived in Ecuador.
And I wanted to take my kids to Peru, and we were going to base out of my friend’s place in Ecuador. My son had a lot of issues with the altitude, and so I decided not to take him to Peru. And we went into the Amazon jungle in Ecuador, and it was just amazing. I just wanted to take my kids.
You know, there’s a difference between taking your kids to Europe and taking your kids to someplace like South America or Thailand, or a country that is remarkably and decidedly different than your own with a deep culture. And I wanted my kids to experience that.
What do you hope they’ll gain from that? And how do you think that’ll impact their laws when they return?
It already has impacted their lives. It just gave them perspective. I think one of the biggest issues that our humanity has is that for them, if you look at the statistics, I don’t remember the exact numbers, but most people never leave within a 50-mile radius of their home.
They experience the world via movies or media. If their parents are enriching them, they might get some outside perspective. But for the most part, most people don’t know. You know, they hear stories about what it’s like to live in a third world country or a different country, but they never go do it.
Yes, we did stay in a hotel a few times. Yes, we had some nice fancy experiences. But for the most part, we rented Airbnbs or lived with people. They had to go to online schools So we got up every morning and walked to the bakery around the corner to get our breakfast and walk to the place or bought food at the grocery store. We lived a little bit there, so they got a sense of. what life is like someplace else.
As a kid. Did you do much travel?
Not as a kid. Well, that’s not true. When I was 16, my parents sent me to Europe on a trip with a bunch of other 16-year olds, which was a brilliant and horrible idea simultaneously. And then I went with my dad; my dad traveled all over the world for work. So he had the travel bug.
And then by the time I was 18, I had a travel bug. And for me as a line producer and producer, I kind of got lucky was paid to travel. Almost every place that I’ve been to, I was paid to go there.
The book killing Buddha. What is that about? What’s he overarching theme on that?
The Buddha’s the Zen koan. “If you see the Buddha along the road, kill him or you’ll follow him the rest of your life.” So it goes along with what you and I were talking to prior to recording, which I’ll just recap, which is that people become extremely attached to their way of knowing. And they become attached to, “well, this is the right way.”
“Christianity is the right way.” “Buddhism is the right way.” Everything else is my idea. I’m only into chiropractic and this kind of alternative medicine. Oh, I’m only into this kind of meditation. As humans, when we do that, we feel a sense of safety and security because we’ve got our thing. I’ve got my thing. If I keep following this thing, it’s going to be perfect for me. ”
And for the most part I look at it like the placebo. If you believe something to be the absolute truth for you, it’s got to be the absolute truth. And it’s probably gonna work for you. Even if it may not be working out in the world, it’s making you happy.
Like, you think about fundamentalist, Christians, think about what’s going on in the world right now. Look, those people they believe they’re happy. They think you’re the problem because you’re not following their way. And so the idea of Killing Buddha is very funny.
I think so. I mean, I think it’s funny. Most people think it’s funny. I tend to use humor a lot in my writing. It’s a fiction. And it’s basically like what happens when the least spiritual person on the planet gets hired to make a movie about spirituality. So the main characters’s very much me. And she goes on this journey to find her thing, to find her truth, to find her passion. And she ends up at every type of spiritual practice that you can experience.
And everybody’s ” this is the way” and “this is the path.” And “if you do this way … ”
And what she finds in the end is that she’s got to let go of all of that. And she’s got to let go of who she thinks she is. And the things that she’s been told about herself, or the things that she tells herself about herself, in order to find the piece she’s looking for.
So she has to kill all of her Buddhas.
So what I’m really curious about is that shifting point where she realizes she has to kill all of that. What sort of thing does she grasp all of a sudden? What sort of “aha!” hits her that, “Oh my God, all this stuff I’ve been doing is like, that’s not it.”
Well, you’ll have to read the book, but I will say this. After The Bleep came out, I knew everything. I kind of regressed back to my 16- year old self where I knew everything before. So I was sort of like a mid-30 something, 16-year old because now I had all the answers and then I was running around the world speaking.
I mean, I opened for Deepak. I was like “the shit”. Right? People were paying me thousands of dollars to keynote at their conferences. And the reality was I had just made a movie. That was it.
And so I spent a good six or seven years living in this space of like, “I’m so cool. Cause I know everything. I know you just create your reality and I know you do this and if you did this …
And then my world kind of came crashing down. I got divorced. My life turned into chaos. I ended up being a single mom, basically raising two kids on my own and still am. And I thought, “shit, I create my reality, then I’m doing a really crappy job of it.”
And what the heck does all this really mean? And that was when I wrote my first book, Tipping Sacred Cows. Cause that was the moment that I went back and said, wait a minute, what is all this stuff? What is the law of attraction? What does it mean to seek enlightenment? What does the word forgiveness really mean?
Because I realized I hadn’t actually done the work. I had all the data and all the cool buzzwords. And I had done a lot of spiritual bypassing because I had been given this pedestal. And so Tipping Sacred Cows …that was when I first started writing, because most of my life I was told I wasn’t a writer, you know, don’t be a writer. You don’t how to write.
So that was the beginning of me first deconstructing my own beliefs about what it means to be spiritual and what is the spiritual life and what the heck does the word spiritual even mean? So that was to me, the beginning, when I got divorced and my life fell apart and it’s like, wait a minute, this isn’t supposed to happen. I’m supposed to be the spiritual rockstar here. So why is my life a disaster?
That was the beginning for me, personally, of dissecting everything and taking a step back from it all and realizing that, you know, I don’t know shit. Nobody really knows shit. We don’t know whether we are an alien species, we have lizards in our body, we are going to hell or heaven. Like nobody actually knows.
So I started to become really okay with not having the answer around that. I stopped needing to know what was the right path. And I just started being super present on the path that I was on. And what was that showing me? And what could I do that? And how can I live with my values and ethics? What could I do that would follow my purpose?
And it really translated as best I can into many aspects of my life. Like, how do I spell spend money? What kind of food do I eat? What’s okay with me. And just to try to live it in every way that I can, because for me the biggest Buddha and the spiritual movement is knowing our origin story.
Everybody wants to be able to say, well, this is the right way. And the biggest boot I had to kill was I don’t know what the right way is. And. I can have my opinion. That’s why when we started this interview, I said, my belief is my opinion, my origin story. That’s mine. That doesn’t mean it’s true. Doesn’t mean it’s right. And I don’t worry about it anymore.
I saw that you interviewed Joe Dispenza. He’s of that “we create our realities out of the holographic universe.” What’s your perspectives on that? Do we?
I think that I did an interview once with Amit Goswami. I’m going to try to remember. I don’t remember where it is anymore.
He’s so cute. He said, if we were all master creators, we’d be sort of manifesting out of our asses all the time, so to speak.
Do we have impact on mass? Yes. Are we collectively? I think we’re all collectively creating this reality. And we are.
Think about it. You have an idea for a widget, you decide to go ahead and make this widget. You just created reality. It was an idea in your head, you figured out a way to build it and manufacture it. And now it’s a mass, now it’s thing. Right? So yeah, in a sense, we are.
What I’ve come to realize and what Joe, I think is really saying. I think people tend to take some of this stuff way too literally. I don’t think if I meditate long enough, a Mercedes will come flying out of my ass. I do think that if I spend enough time understanding my belief around having a Mercedes, what that value is for me, what that means for me? What does it bring me? Why do I want the Mercedes? If I really want the Mercedes, what do I need to do to get it?
When I do that work either a, I don’t realize I don’t want a Mercedes or B,I do the stuff in mass to get the Mercedes. I hope that makes sense. But I don’t believe that necessarily that I’m going to hold my hands open and I’m going to meditate hard enough and gold’s going to show up. Either that, or I’m a really crappy meditator.
The metaphor I use that sometimes works for me – I used to do a lot of whitewater kayaking, and I think kayaking in the river is a great metaphor for life. You have this canyon that’s directing the river. And you’re in the river, and the river has obstacles – there’s holes and Rapids and pour overs and eddies and all these different things.
And so I’m in this little boat on this big river. And if it’s a challenging river, I’m going to get hammered, right? I’m going to get caught in the hole. I’m going to get beat up, “Maytagged, or any of a number of different things that can happen. So I can’t be still, but neither can I fight the flow of the river, right?
To turn around and try to paddle upstream is a fool’s errand. You might do it for a little while in a calmer area and think you’ve got some hot capacity. But the river will turn around and spank you bad. You have to let go of any pretense of having control, but you still have to participate.
You’ve got to read the river. You’ve got to make your paddle strokes in the right place. You’ve got to dodge, see obstacles, be able to read the water coming up and eddy out when you need to. And sometimes you have to realize that a rapid is so big or challenging that your best bet is to just pull over to shore, get out of your boat and walk around it.
In life I feel like I have my moments when I’m in that flow where I sense that. But I’m wondering, does that metaphor resonate to you?
Yeah, it made me think of something Amit Goswami says often. He says you got to do be, do, be do – which is fun. I mean, cause again, I like to go with fun things, but that’s exactly right.
I don’t operate from the space of why is this happening to me? Or what did I do to cause this, unless I did something to cause it. I think that a big chunk of spirituality is turned into, “I don’t have to take personal responsibility for my actions or behaviors because it’s your experience. You chose to have that feeling. I didn’t do anything.”
I don’t buy into that. I don’t buy into any of that. I think we are either actively or passively participating. So you can choose one or the other. I choose to actively participate.
And I think that, yes, that requires a certain level of spiritual practice. Yes, that requires a certain level of sitting and listening and observing and just being present. And then it requires, as Amit says, that’s the being. And then the doing is when I was being, what did I get? What was the wisdom I got and what actions can I take that support that wisdom?
it’s a two-step process. Like people love to talk about how “aware” they are. I’m aware of my wound about this, or I’m aware of that. Awareness is only one step in the process, And people tend to think that because we’re “aware”, now we’re wise.
Well you have the wisdom because you’ve been given the awareness. But to be wise is to say, well, what am I going to do with that awareness? What shift am I going to make? What change am I going to make? What action am I going to take to use that wisdom, use that awareness? That’s the wisdom.
It feels like step two, right? Gaining awareness is probably the first step?
Absolutely. What’s the action? And then you gotta look back and go, “Wow. Was the action I took in alignment with the wisdom that I was given or did I screw it up again?” Because you know, I’ll screw it up like 18,000 times before I get it right.
I always get annoyed at Bob. I’m like, “Bob, if you want me to know something, can you just write it down on like three easy steps?” Cause everybody, we all just want the three easy steps to being a master. And we want to just take the weekend seminar and call ourselves a “master.” And that’s what we all want, cause we’re all that way. And the reality that ain’t how it’s gonna work. I wish, but it’s not.
Can you talk about cultivating awareness, how you did that? I think a lot of people, just the idea that we’re separate from our ego, is actually a pretty huge step to make. And being able to observe that, watch that, and have that detached perspective is a big leap.
Well, let me start by saying this. I am not interested in killing my ego. I think that is a spiritual myth. And I think it causes more harm than good because every time we bash an aspect of our human experience, we cut off an opportunity for growth.
So my ego is a tool. It’s a piece of me. It’s a part of who I am in this body.
So if I spend my time constantly trying to “kill it”, I’m trying to kill myself. And then this notion that enlightenment is when you kill self.
I don’t know that in this plane of experience, that’s your purpose. I think we cause a lot of suffering by trying to tell ourselves to kill self. And that’s where the separation comes from, because I try to be integrated. I try to be connected to my ego, connected to my feelings, connected to my, I don’t like the word “higher self”, but that other part of me.
You know, it’s funny, if you think about that, visuals, we’ve been given as children, right? We’ve got heaven and hell. It’s like we have the demon and the angels sitting on our shoulders all the time, right? And the ego has been demonized. And the higher self is always the angel, right? But if I try to integrate them together and I listen – because I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have a certain sense of self and an ego. You know, I’m a little egotistical.
It’s true. I’m a filmmaker, I’m a writer. I put myself out there. I show up. I share my opinions. If I didn’t have an ego, I wouldn’t do that. I would just sit back and not care and just be like, “whatever.” I don’t subscribe to the notion that enlightenment is I can sit in the cave for 30 years and meditate.
I think that’s great if that’s what you want to do, but I don’t think that serves your purpose here on this planet or in this reality. We were brought here to show up. We were brought here to process or heal or experience.
So I think, again, my opinion, I think anybody who spends their life sitting in a cave meditating basically said, “I’m not going to take this class. I’m sitting this one out.” And I don’t think that’s doing the work here.
So I wanted to clarify my position on the ego first, because I think is the name of the game, learning to use all your tools and their gifts.
So what does that look like?
So that looks like me saying “I want to write this book.”
N ow the way we make ego sound, people go, “Oh, your ego just wants you to write this book because you want to be famous. Your ego needs to be famous, or your ego needs to share your opinion.
I go, “No, maybe. But I think my ego is just that part of me that says, ‘you know Betsy, you can totally write this book. You should go write that book. You know what? You deserve to write that book!” that’s like my cheerleader. It’s like my friend.
I have a situation where somebody treats me badly. My ego and my feelings get hurt. That’s not bad. That’s my ego saying, “Hey, you know what? We don’t like the way this person’s treating us, you need to create a boundary here.” Instead of, “Oh, I’m going to kill that person” or “I’m going to squash them” or whatever.
When we learn how to use our ego, It becomes a great tool. It becomes part of an integrated piece of who I am. It’s my little cheerleader. It’s my driver. It’s my ambition. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with ambition. One of the things that we have to get away from is this notion that – one of my kids, she’ll walk around and be like, “I want to be rich!”
I’m like, “You go girl, you be rich. Good for you!” All she cares about is money. Well, okay. does that make her bad? You’re making her bad.
First of all, look at the reality. She exists in. Look at messaging and stuff that’s going on. I also happen to know my kid and of course she wants to be rich. I want to be rich. You want to be rich. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t want to be rich. I know a lot of people that are afraid to talk about wanting to be rich. But I also know her ethics and values, cause I’ve worked a lot with her and her brother on what are your ethics and values. And I know that if she were gazillionaire, she wouldn’t be behaving like Jeff Bezos. That wouldn’t be her path.
But we have this tendency to like shame people for being ambitious and wanting to be successful or wanting that Mercedes, because it’s what they desire. So we shame them and then because, “Oh, that’s just your ego.” Then everybody walks around separated from their heart and their passion and their ego and their feelings.
That’s the separation. Because we’ve all been shamed for feeling angry, like being angry is a bad thing. Hey, sometimes I get angry. It’s okay. I’m allowed. Part of this machine we got going on here.
So I think when you talk about awareness … for me, when I get angry, instead of going into shame about, Oh, I’m triggered, look at me.
Something’s wrong with me? I shouldn’t be getting angry. That’s negative. I go, Oh, I’m getting angry. Hmm. What’s what is making me angry here? Is it something within me, or did this person intentionally cause me pain? Or did that person cause me pain? And where is that pain coming from? I’m going to have a whole conversation about it and I process it and I move on. That’s the that’s awareness awareness is, “Oh, I’m really mad right now.”
You know, sometimes I’ll say to my kids, “Hey, I’m really angry at the moment. Give me a minute.” That’s the awareness. Then this next step is taking the time to just check in around it.
Describe that too
Well, because we have to realize that we are humans and we have zillions of things going on in our heads, 95% of which we’re not even aware of. There’s a whole chapter in Tipping Sacred Cows where I talk about attaching meaning.
You know, we’ve attached so much meaning to stuff we didn’t even know half the time that we’ve got some weird meaning in our head that says “guy wearing a red shirt is bad.” We might not even realize it’s in there. And yet we get triggered every time “so don’t wear that red shirt. I don’t like that red shirt.”
So the operation is to go – and this is a lot of Joe’s work. Joe actually wrote the forward to Tipping Sacred Cows – “Why?” Where’s that neuro net coming from? What’s that attached to you? And how do I unattach that one? That’s awareness?
There are two quotes. I want to run by you and get your thoughts on. The first one comes from a Zen guy really liked named Adyashanti. He says “We are spirit having a human experience.” Does that resonate?
It could, I don’t know. to me it feels good. We don’t know what we are before, what we are after. But yeah, that resonates. I had to think about it for a minute. That’s the one thing that a lot of us don’t do anymore is … I annoy people sometimes because now I’ll be like, well, let me think about that. And I gotta debate in my head around it. Because language is such an important thing now. We’ve got to be so clear about our language. So ” we are spirit having a human experience.” Sure.
Okay. The other one is “Nothing has meaning except the meaning we give it.”
I agree with that for two reasons.
One. So far, that’s what science says about how our brains work. That’s what science will tell you. And – if you go back to the question of “Do we create reality?” – what I often say is I think the rock was already there. I think we’re just deciding what the rock means. And so therefore that’s our reality around it …
Depending on whether you stub your toe with it, or you’re able to turn it into a beautiful diamond. Right?
Can you talk about the writing process for you? I’ve written one book. It was a hell of a journey. It took a few years, multiple droughts, like at least 10, probably more like 12 or 13 or more, some big ones, some not so big. For you, when you realize there’s a book, you have to write what happens after that.
I mean, you’ve moved to South America to write this last one. That’s a pretty big commitment to a book .. With your kids no less.
Well, let me say this. My favorite quote is Hemingway who says, “Write drunk, edit sober.” Once I wrote Tipping Sacred Cows, the writing bug really bit me, and more often now you’ll find me writing more than making films. I enjoy it.
Part of what I do is I write every day. I just sit down and write. And I write whatever comes to my head. If I’ve read an article and I want to write a response or – 95% of which goes nowhere, but into the trash. Sometimes you read my Betsy ramps. Sometimes I post them on Facebook because I go, “okay, let’s see what happens if I say this out loud.”
They’re quite good, by the way. I want to add that for the listeners.
Thank you. Cause they’re fun. And people will get, “you get so emotional!” And the reality is I’m not actually emotional about any of it, it’s just that if I sit down to write something, I listen for like, what’s the tone for this? Or what is it that’s supposed to come through?
Cause I’ve found that if I just sit down and let it flow, it’ll tell me. And so that’s my writing process. You know, I knew I wanted to write Killing Buddha. For a long time I kept telling myself, I don’t want to write a novel. I can’t run a novel. I’ve never been a novelist. I can write an 800 word blog.
Tipping Sacred Cows as a series of essays. So it’s not like I wrote an entire book, even though it is an entire book. It was more write an essay on this subject, write an essay on that. So it was sort of like more bite-sized chunks.
This was the first time I ever sat down to write a full-on novel.
And so I said, you know, Betsy, just sit down and start writing, see what comes out. And I think if you’d asked me that question, eight or nine years ago, I would have told you about the struggle and the stress and the writing prompts. But I’m actually a very disciplined person to some degree.
And so if I say to myself, “Okay. If you’re going to be a writer, then you have to know the craft. You can’t just call yourself a writer.” So I read a lot of books. I mean, I’d already read a lot of books on screenwriting and I talked to a lot of writers and the biggest thing that every single successful writer said to me was “Write every day. Sit down, write every day.”
Just write anything. I don’t care if you’re writing out a grocery … if you start by writing out, “Oh, I need to go to the store to buy pancake mix … and that’s what happens. If you just sit down in front of a blank page and just type out the first thing that pops into your head, just for fun, “I need to go to the grocery store and buy pancake mix and I need to go get syrup because I really love to cook pancakes on Sunday with my kids. Oh, by the way, here’s a really funny …”
So instantly you’re in flow of writing … if you train yourself to do that.
Every morning, do you have a time?
I do it every day, every day. Usually in the afternoon, but sometimes in the morning. Now I will have 27 word documents open because now I do it all day long.
Something will pop into my head – an idea – and I’ll just write it on a piece of paper, leave it in a word doc. And then usually on Fridays I go through all the open word docs and I keep whatever, “Oh, that was a really cool random sentence.” And then I might get rid of the rest.
People get lost in writing their books or their novels. And they don’t finish them because they follow my other advice is to just start writing. And they just start writing and they get lost in the weeds. So you have to separate these practices.
I write every day just to keep my mind flowing with ideas and to be open to it and to just not ever feel intimidated by a thought that I can’t write about it.
If I’m going to write a book or I’m going to write anything, that’s a big project. I sit down and do outline work first. And I will outline it to the point where I know what every chapter has to be about. And then I will start writing the book and I don’t start writing the book until I’ve got that pretty well nailed down – because otherwise you get lost in the weeds.
Now, once you’ve outlined it and you’ve written your first draft, you’re going to find holes. You’re going to find a way chapter two needs to be chapter four and chapter four needs to be chapter two. You’ll get there. But I tend to notice that people that don’t finish their books don’t finish them because they haven’t done the work of outlining it.
I would agree with that. On mine. I got lost in the weeds. I ended up with something like 150,000 words. It was just all over the board and I realized, Hey, I’m combining two adventures into a book. Let’s just cut off the second one. That can maybe be a book of its own.
And then the first one was kind of muddy until I entered this contest and they said, “Let’s see your outline and all of your chapters named and the first part of the book.
And that exercise size was phenomenal on helping me see where the book was going. And with the chapters being named, there was a promise that had to be delivered in each of them. So all of a sudden I got to write to that and it brought a lot more clarity in the process of writing and in the editing.
Right. Well, I tell people when I’m working with them on coaching writing a book, before we even get into writing the book, we do a whole process on who, what, when, where and why. So who am I writing this book for? What is it they want? Why do they want it?Why am I writing it?
“When” can be sort of like, when are they best going to receive it? When are you going to release the book. Those kinds of questions, when you get down into it, when you really nail down who’s reading this book, it helps you because it also helps you build the pathway to take them on the journey.
Whereas if you go, “everybody will read this book”, it’s sort of like, you’re going to be taking the long road to China. Whereas if you get really clear, like my book is written for women or, and it can be men, you do demographic and psychographic analysis on who you’re writing for.
It helps you be more focused. You don’t end up with 200,000-400,000 words because you know, wow, this audience, this person, this is their language. This is how they’re going to hear me best. And you’ve become more focused.
Yeah. There’s that saying, “if you try to be everything to everybody, you end up being nothing to nobody.”
So talk about writing versus editing.
Well, I don’t edit as you probably noticed on my rants. Those are all unedited pieces. I advise people to have an editor. I have an editor. And I gotta tell you, I don’t think people should be editing their own work.
Now that’s in writing. Filmmaking is different.
I also think it’s important to have a really good editor in filmmaking, but I think it’s a little easier in filmmaking to do your own editing. I don’t think creativity should be done in a vacuum because I think that when you write something – unless you’re just writing for yourself that sure, write whatever the heck you want. But if you’re writing it to be read, then you need to have input. You need to have feedback on it.
So I say to people have a very trusted circle of readers who can give you feedback, because this is where the ego does come in. To me, the ego is part of what I use as my writer. And sometimes the ego goes off on a tangent and I don’t notice it.
Whereas if I have a trusted circle of people reading my book or reading my work, which is sometimes why I post my rants on Facebook. It’s always fascinating to see what people have to say or what they grab onto or what they pick up on or what they miss – which means I didn’t explain it well – it helps you as a writer become better at expressing your story.
So for Killing Buddha, for instance, I had 10 people read that book. Most of them whom don’t know me cause that’s part of the trick. I have a trusted editor who I work with consistently. She knows me really well. So before that book even went to an editor, like there’s a winery up the street from me, the girl that works behind the counter, I became
friendly with her.
So we were friendly, but she didn’t know me very well. “Hey, would you be interested in reading this book?” She was thrilled. She gave great feedback. She was my demographic. There was nothing keeping her from saying, “I didn’t like this” or “I like that” or “this confused me.” She was genuine in her response. So have a trusted circle of people that you can have read your work.
How many drafts had you done before you sent it off to people to read?
So on Killing Buddha I think we’re up to like nine, 10, something like that.
So you’re getting feedback before you’re sending it to the editor?
So are you kind of doing rough edits, like story edits along the way, like the first draft, you just get it out, right?
Right. Then I go back and I do it myself. Then I have read. And then I take all those different notes from different people, combine them into a document for myself that makes sense. And I just start checking them off the list.
Here’s one thing, and I could be completely wrong about this, but I do have a very good sense of story and story arc. Right. I do understand three-act structure, how to tell a story, how to layer in things. That’s all skills.
I tell people all the time that go, “I want to write a book and tell my story.” And I say, “you may have a great story, but you might not be a writer.” And that’s okay. Because writing a good story is a skill. That’s why there are great movies and there are bad movies.
Right? That’s why there’s great books and bad books. It’s so funny to me, part of what I am amused at is I love that we all have this ability now to write books and make movies. We can self publish. We can make our own movies and we put them out there. And a lot of times people come back and they go ” Betsy, people didn’t like my book” and people didn’t watch my movie”
And I’ll say, “Well, did you do any work around researching marketing? Did you have an editor? Did you do …
“Well? No. Everybody said my story was so great. So I just wrote it and I had this friend who cleaned it all up and I put it out.” And I said, “well, there you go. It’s not well crafted.”
Like don’t ask me to cut your hair, because that would be bad, cause I did not go and learn the craft of hair cutting. So if you want to write a book and you’ve got a great story, go learn the craft of writing.
Do you have some resources that you recommend for people that might be starting down that path?
Well, for one thing, if they want to make a documentary, they should go get my book The Documentary Filmmaking Masterclass. I talk a lot about this in terms of documentary filmmaking in that book. And there are tons of books on writing and there are courses and things that you could do. I wouldn’t even know where to start. It’s endless; it’s out there. Find the one that resonates with you. But I always say ” story, story, story, story, story”
Let’s shift over to filmmaking. Talk about the difference between that and writing. Obviously you’ve got money on the line and a lot more commitment. I mean, it’s a production versus just sitting at your computer by yourself and cranking out a thousand words a day or whatever you do.
Well, it’s a different medium. It’s still the same thing: story, story, story, story, story. But it’s a different medium.
First of all, you usually have around 90 minutes to tell a story. In a book it’s a lot easier. One of the ways you can do that really well is go read all of the Harry Potter books and then watch all the movies. It’s a very interesting exercise to do.
I’ve done it with my son, cause he’s a big Harry Potter fan. And he and I will be watching one of the movies. We’ve seen them all. We’ve read them all. First he was frustrated why they didn’t take this piece and put it in the movie. But as he gets older, he begins to see now why they couldn’t put that piece.
Because if they put that piece in, they’d have to put this piece in -uhhh, uhh, uhh. It’s just they’re different mediums. But the same thing is true: it’s gotta have a solid structure. It’s got to follow the hero’s journey or heroine’s journey or whatever you want to call it. And it’s got to have a beginning, a middle and an end. You’ve got to lead people from here to there, but it’s just a different medium.
And books tend to be expositional and films tend to be visual. So books tend to be tell me, tell me, tell me. Films or show me, show me show me. So when you’re writing a screenplay, for instance, you don’t want to have a scene where the character says, “look at the blue sky. Look at that car. Isn’t it pretty? I like its yellow color.”
You want to show the blue sky and the yellow car and have the dialogue be more relevant. And the dialogue typically has more feeling or more “I’m going to drop a piece of information.” But an actor doesn’t walk in and describe the scenery.
Whereas in a book book always starts, “It was a cold and windy night.” They have to do all sorts of stuff, right? So books are “tell me, tell me, tell me”; movies are “show me, show me, show me.”
How has your filming informed your writing?
I don’t know that it has, I hadn’t thought about that question, so I don’t have a good answer for it. I don’t know.
Maybe it has. Maybe I’ll have to think about that … because I’ve never thought about that. I don’t know that it has, or it hasn’t.
I would say this: my understanding of film and screenplay and the three-act structure and all that stuff – taught me about how to write a good story, which then in turn, when I became more of a writer, helped me be a better writer – if that’s an answer.
Okay. So more about the hero’s journey, story arc, beginning, middle, end.
Character, character development,
Use of scenes, et cetera?
All that stuff.
So pulling back a bit and looking at this life of yours, what are some of the big takeaways? What are the top three lessons you’ve learned about your life or life in general, from your journey so far?
Don’t take everything so seriously. What you think you know now is probably going to change. And I hate to ruin the ending, but it’s all going to be okay.
Okay. Here’s another one. If you could write a letter back to yourself when you were graduated from college or high school, what would be some of the most important things or the top tips you’d write to yourself back then, from your perspective now.
It’s funny. I wrote an article about this for a big college magazine and Oprah had done one and all these people had done one. And I wrote mine and it was very funny and silly and the editor came back and she goes, this was one of the best ones, because here’s what I would tell myself: “Don’t take it also seriously. What you think you know now probably is going to change and I hate to ruin the ending. It’s all going to be. Okay. So have fun. Enjoy your life.
I think one of the interesting things – I have a 16 year old daughter, and there’s so much pressure to succeed on these kids. Especially if they’re smart or, God forbid, “You have to go to college, you have to do this, you have to do that.”
And I’m just like, “you don’t have to do any of that.” To be forced to decide at 16 what career you want to follow for the rest of your life? Like when we were living to 30, I get it, right? But we’re living to 80, 90, a hundred years old. Making that life-altering decision at 16 seems a little dumb now, doesn’t it, considering how young we really are.
So I try to instill, and this is something I kind of always had. So probably didn’t have to tell myself this. My parents were like, “look, if you’re not doing what you love, your life is going to suck. So do what you love; everything else is going to follow.
So I was pretty lucky to have that mindset. And I don’t think of that as a spiritual concept. I think of that as a mindset, more than anything woo-woo. I think – whether you’re crystal-lovin’ hippie or Bible something Catholic – mindset is really key. So I think that nothing is solid in this reality.
We know this, right? This is what science says about reality. Nothing is solid. Nothing touches. So that means nothing is in concrete. I wrote in the article, if you move to a city and you don’t like that city, you can move. If you marry that person and it doesn’t work out, you can change it. If you start in this career and you hate it, you can change it.
And that’s the big thing that I try to tell young people all the time is like, look, a lot of decisions that you make can have lasting effects, but most of them won’t. So take care of yourself, be smart. But if you get halfway through medical school and you realize you hate it, leave medical school
Impermanence is a thing.
Yeah, it really is. Humans want to know, and they want to feel safe. Like we think we’re this advanced species. But we’re less advanced than most other species on this planet because we spend our entire existence afraid of not knowing.
Animals mostly don’t know what the heck is going to happen. They’re just in instinct and they are in survival mode, but it’s different. We are in survival mode most of our time. And we think if we know what’s going to happen and we have our whole life planned out and it’s going across our checklist, everything is going to be fine.
At the very end of The Bleep Marlee Matlin is walking around and all sorts of different people are showing up as Marlee Matlin. And my favorite one was I put Marlee Matlin in a sandwich board, like a harness thing that people used to walk around with sandwich board.
So I put her in one of those. And whenever anybody asks me to sign a book or something, this is what I write in the book: “Make known the unknown.” And then I say, “Don’t take life so seriously. Like laugh a little. It’s okay not to know anything. Meaning, make known the unknown is be okay, which is not knowing. Be okay there. It’s kind of fun.
Betsy. Thank you very much for joining us today on What Really Matters Interviews.
I hope that our listeners find this to be a fascinating interview. It sure was for me. And there will be links to your website, your books, your movies, and all of that in the show notes. But again, thanks very much. I really appreciate your time.
Thank you. It was fun. Yeah. Thank you.