Writer and producer Austin Vickers discusses his feature length documentary/drama that explores the science and power of perception and imagination and attempts to answer the question, “can people really change?”
Ted Simons: An Arizona screenwriter has produced a documentary about perception and reality, and our ability to change how the world affects us. "People Versus the State of Illusion" is now showing at Harkins Camelview Theater in Scottsdale.
Trailer: Traffic jams, internet connections, second mortgages, single parenting. In all of those reactions to the environment produce the same physiological response. People are so focused on the content of their perceptions that they are unaware of how those perceptions are formed, and how those patterns are actually helping to create the problems in life that appear to be happening to them. At a subtle level, one of the things I think most creates these prison walls is what you might call our deepest habits of thought. I think this film is important because it brings to light the reality of our illusions. This film is important if you want to experience more love, more freedom, reconnect with who you were meant to be in this lifetime. It is often said that people are afraid of dying. I think they are more afraid of living. Once people realize that the prison walls are imaginary, that they're a figment of their own mind, then the escape is easy.
Ted Simons: Joining me now to talk about the film is Austin Vickers, the writer and producer of "People Versus the State of Illusion." Thank you so much for joining us tonight.
Austin Vickers: Thank you for having me here.
Ted Simons: Why did you make this film?
Austin Vickers: Probably, you know, to really deal with a lot of the subject matters that I've studied for the last 20 years. I'm a big student of psychology and neuroscience and quantum physics and philosophies. There's a lot happening in those arenas these days, a lot of new research coming down. I wanted to communicate some of the advances in that science to people in a way that would be compelling and thought-provoking. So, that was the reason for the movie.
Ted Simons: Sounds like one of the main messages here is you're in control of your own reality. What does that mean?
Austin Vickers: One of the pieces of science in the film that we talk about, if you look, for example, at the amount of information we take in through the senses, scientists estimate for example we receive on average four billion bits of information or more in the course of any given day. What rises to the level of your awareness are approximately 2,000 thoughts. When you compare that to the amount of information you're receiving, your view of reality is less than 1/1000 of one percent of the total information that is coming to you. We can't possibly have really an objective view of reality. What we are experiencing is typically more indicative who we are, as opposed to what it is we're observing.
Ted Simons: Yet if you go too far the other direction, can you start tiptoeing towards solipsism? Everything is what you see and how you perceive it?
Austin Vickers: Well certainly there is an objective reality, obviously, that we respond to. I think one of the points we are trying to communicate to people is we don't have control over things that necessarily happen to us, but we certainly have control over the way we view those things, the way we respond to those things. It's really -- the film is about really prompting people to become aware of that response, because the way we respond in life of course can create limitations.
Ted Simons: Obviously you wrote the film, the screenplay for the film.
Austin Vickers: Yeah.
Ted Simons: How did you work out a way to get that message across, but try to do it in an entertaining and keep the fanny in the seat kind of message?
Austin Vickers: Well the first year when I was making the film we went out and filmed interviews with some of the top researchers and scientists in the field. Then having been a professional speaker for the last 10 years and doing a lot of training, people learn better by having an emotional experience. So I wrote a script for the film to really match the science that we knew we would be portraying in the documentary side of the film. I think we came up with a pretty good emotionally compelling story.
Ted Simons: You talk about perception as reality and these sorts of ideas. I know when we have artists, writers, screenwriters on, and I'm always fascinated, especially with playwrights and screenwriters when you are writing you are seeing something- that's your perception. What was it like when you saw your perception all of a sudden in the hands of other people and faces and voices and there it is on the screen?
Austin Vickers: It was an amazing experience. When you're -- a lot of the film was written sitting in a Starbucks, and you're imagining these conversations between characters and dialogues. Then you go through the process of auditioning actors and finding people that look like the characters you have in your mind. Ultimately to see them acted out on film, really gratifying.
Ted Simons: Gratifying but a little odd perhaps, a little off-putting in some respects, take you back a bit?
Austin Vickers: Not at all. It was one of the most fun projects I've done in my entire life.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about your entire life- you've had quite a life and it doesn't always necessarily deal with films and screenwriting. You were a corporate attorney?
Austin Vickers: I started as a trial lawyer, practiced trail law in Southern California for a number of years. I went in-house with a Fortune 500 company, and served as general counsel in a division in Europe before I got into this line of work.
Ted Simons: So how did you get into this line of work?
Austin Vickers: I went through a recovery process after overcoming the attorney part of things. I've just always been a student. I read a lot, I inquire a lot. The process of being a trial attorney is really obviously asking a lot of questions, things that I love to do. I started writing, I wrote a book about it. For the last decade I've been teaching corporations about self-awareness and emotional intelligence. So the film was just a really nice way to package a lot of the learning and a lot of the research I've been exposed to, in a way that is I think is compelling for people.
Ted Simons: I asked about how you went from A to B because change is something that I know you deal in, you talk about a lot. I want to focus on this. So apply the perception to reality, these sorts of things we've talked about with folks who want to change, what they are doing, who they are.
Austin Vickers: It's important, I think one of the distinctions I wanted to make in this film, there have been other films out there and there have been other suggestions that we can change simply by positive thinking. I think that's actually a little destructive because sometimes, if people think it's that easy to change, then -- and they don't actually change by their positive thinking, they get frustrated and give up hope. We really wanted to instill a lot of hope in people, that change is possible, by showing them exactly what is the process for change, how does it occur. What's going on inside of the brain when somebody is embarking on the attempt to change their life. And then really show them in fact that you can. That's what we try to portray in the film.
Ted Simons: So what is the process for change and what is going on in the brain?
Austin Vickers: Well, do you have 86 minutes?
Ted Simons: No, we don't, that's our reality.
Austin Vickers: Well you know, it's really about mastery, about understanding for example what it is that we master. One of the metaphors we use in the film is mastering a golf swing. We know from hearing about the life of Tiger Woods, for example, his father used to try to yell at him and throw things at him to distract him when he was practicing his golf swing, so he would become a master of the golf swing without regard to what was happening in his environment. The same is true with how people are in their habits of emotional behaviors. Some people are so excellent at mastering suffering or negative activity or judgment about others that it doesn't matter what's happening in their environment, it's almost like that environment will have no influence. So we have to learn to become masters of a habit of thinking that is constructive and that is imaginative and creative, if we ultimately want to change. That's what we really talked about in the film.
Ted Simons: I've seen reviews for the film, some of them pretty good, some not so good. How do you handle the not-so-good ones?
Austin Vickers: I think it's great. Sometimes films are meant to kind of distract us. This film is actually not made to distract us. It's made to examine the way we look at life. I read actually two reviews from two gentlemen from the same magazine, in fact; one completely hammered the movie, the other one loved the movie and thought it was emotionally compelling. And it was like any experience. That's one of the points of the movie. Again, what we're experiencing is more indicative of who we are. So I think it's interesting for people to go to the movie, see the kind of experience they have. One of the questions they should certainly ask themselves is, you know, "Is my view of this film indicative of the way that I see life?" If it is, maybe question that.
Ted Simons: And if you see it again a few years from now, maybe you'll see it in a whole different way.
Austin Vickers: Absolutely, and for sure that happens. We know with people over time, we can go through the same kind of an experience or read a book again or see a movie in a whole new way. That's how we know we're actually contributing to the experience that we ever have in any situation.
Ted Simons: Well, good luck with the film. It's good to have you here, and thanks so much for joining us.
Austin Vickers: Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here. I hope people come out this Saturday I'm going to be doing a Q&A actually after the 7 p.m. showing at Harkins.
Ted Simons: At Camelview?
Austin Vickers: Right. I hope people come out.
Ted Simons: Alright, very good.
Austin Vickers:Writer and producer