Eckhart Tolle’s book Milton’s Secret gets film treatment

When Barnet Bain set out to adapt an Eckhart Tolle story, crowd funding provided a fitting springbaord.

March 1, 2014

By Guy Saddy

It’s a cool fall evening in Yaletown. In an open brick-and-beam space on the second floor, young women in cocktail dresses talk with their hands, tottering about on four-inch heels, while men clad in expensive denim smile or nod seriously. From behind a chandelier-lit bar, wine is being poured. From a box.

At first blush, economy-class booze might not seem in keeping with the tastes of those in attendance, but considering the occasion, it’s fitting. The evening’s purpose? A fundraiser to help develop Milton’s Secret, a “transformational” feature film based on a children’s book co-authored by local spiritual master Eckhart Tolle and directed by Barnet Bain (producer of The Celestine Prophecy and What Dreams May Come).

As far as the producers are aware, it’s the first transformational feature to seek crowd-funded financing — a web-based option that may be ideally suited for tapping into legions of spiritually minded consumers and avoiding (at least initially) a studio system that would likely try to turn such a project into something more familiar in order to market it. “What crowd-funding does is allow individuals to be a part of the project from the beginning,” says Stephen Huszar, who, with partner Ryan Lockwood, is a main player in Hulo Films, the Vancouver production company behind the project. “From a more practical standpoint,” adds Lockwood, “the transformational audience is very used to contributing ideas and pre-buying transformational experiences.” In the past, this included purchasing inspirational DVDs, for example, or participating in on-demand tele-summits. Now, he says, “they’re giving us the price of their movie ticket in advance.”

Or, on occasion, a whole lot more. The campaign has so far raised over US$300,000, the fourth-highest investment for any film on the crowd-funding website Indiegogo. Donors have dropped between $5 and $10,000 to help the film get made. The latter sum guarantees an associate producer credit and admission to the L.A. or Vancouver premiere, as well as a day on the set with cast and crew, among other perks. (Four of 10 have been claimed so far.)

The film originated with Bain, who learned about the story from the book’s co-author, Robert Friedman. “I was very much involved in reading Eckhart Tolle by that point,” says Bain, who asked Friedman if he could look at the galleys. The story immediately struck a chord: “I thought it presented an open canvas upon which I could paint a much bigger picture.” After meeting Tolle at the home of Connie Kellough, his Vancouver publisher, says Bain, “I explained what I was thinking, and he was very encouraging. He said, ‘If you feel you can do it, go ahead and let me see what you do. And if I like it, I’ll support it.’ ”

The 40-page book that inspired the film is disarmingly simple, with illustrations evoking a Rockwellian time that never was. Milton, 11, is being bullied at school. His grandfather (Peter Fonda is cast) comes for a visit and reveals the “secret” to living a life free of anxiety and fear; armed with this knowledge, and a dream sequence epiphany, Milton arrives at a place of inner peace that allows him to no longer fear the bully.

The original narrative is as straightforward as a Saskatchewan highway. But it’s also filled with references to “living in the Now,” and therefore flirts with didacticism. The script, by contrast, is more complex: family conflicts, as well as career and money problems, are “layered in,” giving the film a more urgent and contemporary feel. So how closely does the script hew to the original story? “This might be a good metaphor,” says Bain. “We optioned a gorgeously architected little cabin and added a few other rooms, a second storey, a guesthouse, and gardens. But the foundation,” he adds, “was there.”

At this point, the production team hopes to deliver the film by the end of the year. (They would like to shoot in Vancouver but are exploring all options.) And although Milton’s Secret may have been successful in doing an end run around Hollywood’s gatekeepers, it’s not like they don’t have to assuage other sensibilities — as a practical measure, at least. “Eckhart needs to like the show and the script as much as his audience,” says Lockwood, adding that genre films that don’t connect to their core audiences are doomed to fail. “If you make a zombie film and the zombie lovers don’t love it, your film’s not going anywhere.”

 

CROWD PLEASERS

Milton’s Secret has raised over US$300,000 on Indiegogo.com, about 30% of the producers’ goal. Only three films have outperformed this:

The Bounce Back
Draw: Ex soap heartthrob Shemar Moore
$638,983

Palo Alto Stories
Draw: Actor/writer/PhD candidate James Franco
$327,929

Angry Video Game Nerd:
The Movie

Draw: Internet gamer celebrity Sean Keegan
$325,327

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