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John Räätz is a pioneer in the growing genre of transformational media and entertainment and the founder of the Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment. Over the past 21 years, he has been involved with the marketing, public relations, distribution and other business aspects of many groundbreaking films including Mindwalk, Baraka, Hearts of Darkness, What The Bleep Do We Know!?, Peaceful Warrior, America: Freedom to Fascism, Illusion, Darshan: The Embrace and many more. He is the founder and CEO of The Visioneering Group, LLC, a transformational marketing and strategic public relations firm linking spirit, vision and progressive values with compassionate communication to promote a positive and sustainable future™. This multifaceted group contains a production company that strives to create community and bring about global transformation through transformational entertainment, a media network that supports alternative distribution venues, and educational and PR branches. Currently a consultant on more than 20 films, Räätz is in pre-production on a documentary called Consciousness Unveiled about non-dual spiritual teachings.
John Räätz: I no longer have a definition of transformational media and entertainment. When I hear it or see it, I feel it. I instantly know it! But how can I talk about transformational entertainment or media with others if I don’t want to adhere to a strict definition of what it is? What distinguishes a transformational film from an ordinary Hollywood film, for example? I believe there are a couple of components that help to distinguish these differences. The first is intention. When the filmmakers of What the Bleep Do We Know!? set out to make that film, they did so with a specific intention and agenda. They wanted to share certain information with the hope and expectation that it would better the world. The stories that comprise What the Bleep contain information related to science and spirituality—so there was a specific intention, a specific agenda. In ordinary Hollywood films an element of transformation may be present, but it’s really a part of the story, not necessarily what drives the creation of the film. Transformation is not necessarily the primary or overarching theme of the film. So I believe the element of intentionality is one quality that helps distinguish transformational entertainment from ordinary entertainment.
Yes. You could look at almost any film out there and say it is transformational because it contains an element of transformation. All stories contain an element of transformation. But not all films have a distinct intention of transformation as the primary element that embodies the entire film and was an agenda from the very beginning.
Another attribute that helps define transformational entertainment is a set of values. I believe that people who create transformational art—whether a film or television program, a song, or poetry, or fine art—bring to that creation their set of values. Values in transformation entertainment are inherently more universal, humanistic and holistic.
The traditional news media gauges news by a set of values that journalists learn in journalism school. One of the expressions prominent in the news media business is, ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’
There are twenty or so values—conflict, controversy, novelty and celebrity are at the top of the list—that guide what we consider to be news in our culture. I believe that transformational entertainment and media are also about proposing a new set of values. You know this all too well because this is what you are about.
I am happy to hear this. Humanistic values are also a part of the agenda and intention of individuals making transformational art.
They bring to their art a set of values that more completely express the essence of who we are and who we want to collectively become. That figures prominently in distinguishing transformational entertainment from traditional entertainment. Of course, those humanistic or holistic values have their roots in consciousness. People who explore the inner dimensions of their lives for years have made certain discoveries. They have also encountered a set of values that are naturally embedded in the fabric of consciousness itself and become expressed through love, compassion, creativity and so forth. So you find that true transformational art is an expression of consciousness, holistic values and intentionality. It is more fundamental to look at a film in terms of consciousness, holistic values and intentionality as distinguishing factors rather than focus on the content itself, such as asking, “Is it a film about science and spirituality?” or, “Is it a film about non-duality?”
Something else just occurred to me as you were speaking. I believe that there is also an element of collectivity. Many transformational artists are delving deep into the collective and starting to bring out a lot of the archetypes that are embedded in the fabric of consciousness itself. So many people have a similar response when they read a book like The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Readers experience an undeniable fundamental understanding. You can’t argue with it; it simply just makes sense. I believe the reason this is the case, and why so many other books similar in nature to this book are popular today, is that people are reading about who they are at the most basic level. They are resonating with the truth of who they are. Transformational art and media affects us all in the same way.
All great art embodies and expresses the universal and attempts to communicate the universal that is within us. You just validated for us that transformational art is self-evident. It needs no definition. It simply is. It expresses that IS-ness and we pick up that ISness because we are that ourselves.
Well, this is a big question. first, let me say that my intention in answering this question is to share with your readers that they too can and should, as Joseph Campbell says, follow their bliss. A lot of people work in jobs where they are not happy. I have fortunately not had to deal with that very much. I frequently have conversations with people where I try to inspire them to step out from behind the 9-to-5 job and pursue what their heart is calling them to do—to express their dharma in the world.
I began my search on the path about 40 years ago. Here is the long story made short: everything I have done for the past 40 years has been by inspiration, by listening to and accepting the call from within. Consequently, my journey has taken me in many different directions, from being a manager and agent in the entertainment business, to being an executive director at an ayurvedic clinic, to being a meditation teacher, to being a stockbroker and financial planner. Many different things but, in each incarnation, I sought to bring what was in me outside and into that particular profession.
It was about infusing my job with spirit, even in traditional entertainment. I was representing a musical artist by the name of Billy Preston who played with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I was in New York negotiating a record contract for him and had an afternoon off. I had never been to the New York Stock Exchange and wanted to check it out. I was so smitten and fascinated by the expression of energy going on there that I came back to Los Angeles, studied for the Series 7 exam, and started functioning as a stockbroker.
But then the market crashed in 1987, as you may remember. I was sitting behind my Quotron, my hand quivering from writing buy and sell orders—we weren’t as computerized back then. I leaned back and thought, “Something has gone awry here.” I had gotten too far afield from my spiritual intention in life. I had become too identified with this experience. Working on the trading floor was not what my life is about!
I was one of those people with many interests and had collected articles on many different topics. I started to go through my extensive files and organize them into categories. I discovered that my greatest resonance was with marketing, public relations, publicity, promotions—that sort of thing. And it really got me excited thinking about it! As part of that analytic, investigative process lasting several weeks, I started to ask myself who I would want to represent and what kind of contribution I could make in the world. I decided that I only wanted to represent projects, products, services, issues, ideas and personalities that reflected and embodied transformation. Then I began to look at that more deeply and came up with the name ‘Visioneering’, which basically came from the words ‘Vision’ and ‘Engineering.’ The idea was that I would assist people in the engineering of their visions, the manifestation of their visions. So began my work. And here we are 21 years later. I believe you have to follow the natural impulse of your life as it manifests within you. You have to be true to that.
Beautifully said. I think you are right. And outer integrity naturally follows the inner integrity. As much as I could hear it, as much as I could follow it, I followed that natural impulse as it expressed itself within me to do this kind of work. As I set about building the business, I only sought out clients that resonated with me at that level.
And it shows! You don’t even have to open the cover of Kosmos to feel that energy. You hold it in your hands and feel the wisdom that emanates from the pages. I know that you bring that level of consciousness and consideration to the expression of Kosmos, the physical expression.
I believe there have been several tipping points along the way. I believe the film Resurrection was a tipping point. I did not work on that one although I wish I would have. Mindwalk — based on Fritjof Capra’s work – was a tipping point. I believe that Baraka was a tipping point in 1992. What the Bleep Do We Know!? was definitely a tipping point.
Much of the marketing that we undertook for Mindwalk, Baraka, and What the Bleep were pioneering techniques that were later used by people who marketed The Secret and other productions. We started pioneering grassroots marketing with Mindwalk in 1990 using special interest groups. We even used very primitive Internet communications. Back then, you had Dow Jones News Retrieval and Compuserve. We used electronic bulletin boards and what was then called eco-linking to help spread the word about the film. We had screenings for special interest groups like the Student Environmental Action Coalition, the Society of Environmental Journalists, and the Harvard Divinity School. So even back then, we recognized the importance—in fact, the need—for connecting grassroots special interests groups and using the Internet, even as relatively primitive as it was back then, to communicate these messages.
More recently, Eckhart’s webcast with Oprah was a major turning point. I believe Oprah, in this particular regard, was visionary because she thought to integrate the web and television. That webcast was a wonderful initial expression of that integration and, of course, attracted millions and millions of people from around the world. I believe the success of that webcast was due primarily to the fact that people resonate with the messages of Eckhart and The Power of Now.
I had been working with Eckhart and his teachings for many years and I just happened to get the first call from Oprah’s office. The full glory of that experience belongs to Eckhart and Oprah. The combination of those two set the world on fire with wisdom for those 10 weeks!
The genesis of GATE was about 30 years ago. When I first moved to LA I was fortunate to meet actor Ned Beatty. I hadn’t been here for a very long time and certainly didn’t know what I was doing. I knew very little about the entertainment business, but felt a kinship with it. When I was younger, I had played in a lot of rock bands so that whetted my appetite for the entertainment business. But then I took the detour of getting on the spiritual path and left entertainment behind.
Ned invited me to work with him. So I did and in the process of working with Ned one project that I co-founded was an organization called The Council for the Enlightenment of the Entertainment Industry. All of the people who were a part of that group practiced Transcendental Meditation and, of course, their experiences with TM were so beneficial that they wanted to share it with their associates in the entertainment business. I became a TM teacher in 1976. A few other teachers and I decided that we were going to help bring meditation to the entertainment community. That was 1979 or 1980. Doug Henning was this magician—quite famous at that time—that I worked with for a while. He had a play on Broadway, performed frequently in Las Vegas, did road tours with Earth, Wind and fire and all kinds of things. He later started designing with Maharishi a consciousness-themed theme park that unfortunately never got off the ground because he died when it was in development. Doug was a part of this group. Mike Love from the Beach Boys was a part of it. There were quite a few celebrities like Merv Griffin, Clint Eastwood, and many others who were meditating using TM at that time and were a part of it. We were out there teaching meditation, but I don’t think it was everything it needed to be in order to succeed and make the kind of impact that we thought it would make.
Now, flash forward to 2007. It was becoming clear to me that transformational entertainment was on the rise. I started seeing it as early as 1990, but a certain momentum had developed by 2007 that was overwhelming. I started noticing that there were a lot of people with professional experience who were also interested in spirituality, but keep it to themselves within the entertainment business. There was an undercurrent of spirituality among certain people in Hollywood so I started exploring this with friends and colleagues. One day a phrase emerged from within me: ‘Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment.’ I liked the name and thought, “what is this?” As the idea developed more, I began to see that there were three criteria for becoming part of the GATE community. The person would be employed or self-employed full-time in the entertainment or media business. He or she would be a person of distinction and achievement and, just as importantly, would be committed to their own personal transformation or at least have a strong and sincere interest in that. The idea here was to bring together people who have achieved success in the entertainment or media business and get them interested in expressing transformation in film, media, television and so forth.
Since then, we’ve also come up with several collective purposes for GATE: education, connection, collaboration and advocacy. Education would be of the inner variety. That is, we will provide resources—events, books or introductory experiences—that we believe will help people deepen into their own inner process. We also want to be an organization that connects people with the intention of collaborating—sharing ideas, projects, money, contacts and other resources that can help manifest and actualize transformational entertainment projects. finally, we want to be advocates within the trade, as well as to the general public. We want people to understand that transformational entertainment can be a legitimate genre along with action/adventure, drama, comedy, etc. There is an audience, a very large audience, who has interest in such expressions.
When I started exploring these ideas and goals more deeply, I began to see the need to organize an event around them. One day it just came to me that this is the moment. The time is right. I need to do this now.
Exactly! So I said to my business partner David Langer, who by the way, sends his regards and wants you to know that he is a dear friend of Sander Feinberg.
Indeed. So I said to David that the time is now. I went to my friend and colleague Jim Carrey and expressed my desire to do this program. Jim got it instantly and asked what he could do to help support it. Then I went to Eckhart. One day when he was in Los Angeles we sat down and I expressed to him what GATE was and what it could do. I told him that I felt consciousness had to be at the core of what GATE is and asked him to do us the honor of being the keynote speaker. He accepted. So I knew that everything could fall into place with Jim and I co-hosting and Eckhart as the keynote speaker. I felt that it would be a very auspicious and dynamic beginning to GATE! From there, I began thinking, “who else?” Of course, you know about the other people, Nancy, because you were there. I began extending invitations and, without exception, everyone said yes. About 500 people! Even more, there were many other people who offered to be speakers, but we unfortunately couldn’t accommodate them.
GATE quickly began taking on a life of its own and that, of course, proved to me that its time had come, that the time was now. Then I had to decide how to market GATE, how to attract a particular audience. I did not want the usual Hollywood audience. I decided that I needed to basically call every single person and communicate with them directly, at least initially. So I went into my address book and made a list of people. I started calling those people and sharing my enthusiasm for GATE. after they were inspired, I would ask who they knew that shares an interest in transformational entertainment. People would give me names and then I would send invitations to those people and it just kept building that way. When all was said and done, we had to turn away almost 1500 people!
And what better expression, what better channel than media— whether it is a film screen or a television screen, or a CD, or a canvas? What better way to connect all of us than through art? You can send a film around the world and have it do its work. You don’t have to be present.
Our firm was marketing What the Bleep in 2004 and I remember standing in the back of a theatre—in San Francisco, I think—and feeling a palpable shift in the audience during a particular moment in the film. And I remember a phrase emerging in my mind—‘Theatre as Temple’—and I had never before conceived a theatre as a temple, as a community, as a place of deepening connection to life. It became very clear to me that film had the potential, the possibility of fostering such a connection, such awareness.
I had read Kosmos many, many times before, but just weeks before the launch event I picked up the most recent edition at a newsstand and, before I opened it I said, “I want to introduce people to this because I think it is a very right, mature, holistic expression of where we want transformational entertainment to go, what we want it to embody.” When I thought about other magazines out there, I felt that I would be doing a great service by introducing Kosmos to them.
We have added 20 to our core team and are planning our next event sometime between December and March. We will move to the Wadsworth Theatre in Los Angeles, which holds 1350, so we can invite more people. We are inviting an amazing group of speakers. The theme for the next GATE meeting will be, “Only a New Seed Will Yield a New Crop: New Media Values for a New World.” So we will announce that next meeting soon.
Something else extraordinary happened after the first GATE event. One of our speakers, Scott Carlin, who was president of Domestic Television Distribution at HBO at the time and has a degree in Spiritual Psychology, called me about a month ago and told me that he is going to leave HBO because he was inspired by GATE and other events that had happened in his life recently. He and I have since formed a venture to represent transformational projects. We’ve acquired one television series and are in the process of working on another. We’ll make these announcements at the next GATE meeting.
Very good question. One of the forces is economics because most major Hollywood companies are driven exclusively by economics. It’s a bit of a catch-22 because if you were to say to a major Hollywood studio or network that people want more transformational content they would argue that their research doesn’t indicate that. But they may not be talking to members of our audience, of our family, so to speak, and they may not be asking the right questions. They might not even know the ‘right’ questions to ask. They are operating in a bubble; they are insular. They believe they know what people want. Rather, they tend to dictate what people want. This isn’t to say that there aren’t people in Hollywood that recognize the need that we have been speaking about. There are many. The purpose of GATE is to empower these people to come out and to share their experiences and to become involved in projects that reflect the kinds of content that we deem would be transformational, that would appeal to this audience and beyond. So I believe that the transformation of entertainment is on the way; it is unstoppable.
The writing is on the wall, but everyone isn’t reading it yet. But there are those people—just like yourself and many of your readers and many people in Hollywood—who do see that writing. And the fact that we had 500 people show up at GATE not even really knowing what it was going to be about but just having the resonance with what they thought it would be indicates that we are now in a place where change is happening at a very rapid pace. In upcoming years, I believe you will begin to see more and more high quality transformational programming.
Instead of these films and television programs and events and so forth being for a relatively small number of people, it needs to be about distribution and magnitude. It is about allowing more and more people to resonate with who they are at the deepest possible level by participating and partaking in these entertainment properties. When you watch certain films, attend certain kinds of events, read certain books, listen to certain kinds of music, go to stage plays that reflect these values, you walk away somehow transformed, transfigured, made more whole. That is going to be the great boon! More and more people will recognize themselves in those expressions and will want more of that. And that will help establish the transformational community as economically viable.
There’s already some transformational content out there, even on television, for a wide public audience. There is a television program called The Philanthropist that airs Wednesday night on NBC. It is bringing transformational values to the television screen.
But how do we produce more transformational content and ensure that it is of sufficient quality to be viable in the mainstream? And how do we connect with the transformational audience to prove that they are an economically viable audience? All of this is in process and has been demonstrated to a degree. From here, we need more content of high quality and we need filmmakers who are skilled and professional. We need actors, actresses, producers, directors, writers, musicians, agents, managers, studio executives and so forth who all come from a transformational mindset and will bring that mindset into their work.
Yes, and distribution has many levels. Word of mouth is a form of distribution. Let’s say you saw the film Peaceful Warrior and you liked it and you told five or ten of your friends. That is a form of distribution. It is not physical distribution, but it is a form of marketing and distribution.
One innovative means of distribution that The Visioneering Group started a few years ago is with the Unity Church. I proposed to the Unity School of Christianity and the Association of Unity Churches that we organize the 1300 or so Unity Churches into the first non-theatrical cinema network called the Unity Cinema Network. We want Hollywood to see the potential in this network and our alternative distribution methodology for mind-body-spirit films. Let’s think beyond theatres for distribution of films. People are gathering in these churches to watch films and Hollywood is starting to see that it is economically viable. By Hollywood standards, it’s not that much money, but it’s a beginning. It’s an entry point. And it’s also an important way to let filmmakers know that even if a film does not make it into a theatre for political reasons, you do have other ways of distributing your work.
Reinvention and re-purposing is happening everywhere. Because I work across a broad spectrum of business firms I see that invention. Going back again to our earlier conversation about what is meant by transformational entertainment—consciousness, values and intention—those same qualities are alive in the business world, in religious sectors, in education. In every field of human expression and endeavor there is reinvention going on because people of consciousness have now become people of influence and they are infusing their work with their consciousness. Their intentions and qualities are becoming embodied in day-to-day expressions and more and more people are beginning to resonate with them. That level of consciousness is waking all of us up. Every field of human expression is waking up!
John Räätz is a pioneer in the growing genre of transformational media and entertainment and the founder of the Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment. Over the past 15 years, he has been involved with the marketing, public relations, distribution and other business aspects of many groundbreaking films
Nancy Roof, Ph.D. is the founder of the award-winning Kosmos Journal: The Journal for World Citizens and Planetary Civilization, which is based on evolving interior development and cultural values as they impact globalization and world community. Kosmos Associates, Inc. is also actively involved in the founding of the Global Commons movement with James Quilligan of the Global Commons Trust.
Fall | Winter 2016