The story reads like an inspiring Hollywood screenplay… but it really happened… and it’s still happening!
Tom Shadyac made a fortune in Hollywood by making us laugh. As director and/or writer of such blockbuster films as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor, Liar, Liar, and Bruce Almighty. But at one point, his life became… not so funny.
As the result of a bicycling accident in 2007, Shadyac suffered post-concussion syndrome (PCS). His symptoms included an intense and painful reaction to light and sound (the tools of his trade, of course), severe mood swings, a constant ringing in his head, and others. The worst aspects of this: there is no successful treatment for PCS, and it may never go away.
Shadyac tried all of the traditional medical treatments; nothing worked. Then he tried a variety of alternative modalities, including biofeedback and a hyperbaric oxygen chamber; again, nothing worked. After several months of torture, he welcomed death. “I wasn’t suicidal,” he recalls, “but I knew I was done.”
Facing death brought an instantaneous sense of clarity and purpose. “If I was going to die,” he reflected, “what did I want to say before I went?” Suddenly, it all became very simple and very clear. “I wanted to tell people what I had come to know.”
Shadyac’s films had grossed nearly two billion dollars worldwide, making him one of Hollywood’s most successful filmmakers. This had brought Tom all the expected perks — a 17,000-square foot art-filled mansion and guest complex in Pasadena, private jets, exotic cars… the whole 999 yards.
“What I discovered, though, when I began to look deeply, was that the world I was living in was a lie. The game I had won at, which I thought would help to heal the world, might very well be what was destroying it.”
After months of isolation, with no visitors and virtually no communication with the outside world, suddenly, unexpectedly, Tom’s PCS symptoms began to recede. When he improved to the point where he could actually tolerate travel, he decided to grab a camera and film crew of four and start a journey to find the people who had helped him question the life he had been leading and try to learn and understand more. And to spark a conversation around two challenging and rarely asked questions….
- What’s wrong with our world?
- What can we do to fix it?
The Underlying Problem
The Overarching Solutions
“Is there a hidden problem underneath that causes all the problems of humanity, all the problems of our world?” Shadyac asked as he pursued production of “I AM,” the new documentary feature that resulted from his exploratory journey.
There is, he determined: it is the separation of ourselves from the natural world… and the implications of that separation. All the result of “the particular scientific story” we’ve been telling ourselves for the last three hundred years. The story that grew out of both Newtonian science — that the universe is reliable and predictable because it is essentially mechanical, a giant machine — and Darwin’s Evolution of the Species, survival of the fittest as a result of competition.
What we know today is these old assumptions simply are not true. The new, emergent under-standing of the nature of the universe contradicts them. But they are still the most common informers of our belief systems and, therefore, our behavior.
What can we do to fix the world? Shadyac suggests we start by fixing ourselves. “Mother Teresa never thought about solving hunger or poverty,” he recounts. “She saw a sick, hungry person and reached out to help. What’s needed is an awakening of one’s own heart, a personal transformation. Our outside world is just a manifestation of what we’re holding inside. So the work is on ourselves.”
In “I AM,” Shadyac uses his wit, warmth, curiosity and masterful storytelling skills to reveal what we are now discovering through quantum physics and other research to be among the truths of our nature —
Science, it seems, is finally catching up with the ancient, basic principles of religion and spirituality. The emerging story is the old story!
- The universe is not a machine and neither are we.
- We are all connected to each other and to everything.
- Our #1 organ of intelligence is the heart, not the brain. Ninety to 95 percent of information flows from heart to brain, not the other way round.
- Our consciousness and emotions impact the physical world around us.
Additionally, in “I AM,” Shadyac underscores —
Shadyac himself narrates the film and appears as an interviewer and good-natured guinea pig in some of the scientific experiments. He interviews some of the most informative, enlightening and inspiring scientists, spiritual leaders, thinkers and experts in the world today.
- Materialism is not a path to happiness.
- Humankind’s basic nature is cooperation and democracy, not competition. Darwin knew this and used the word love numerous times in his book Descent of Man, while using the phrase survival of the fittest only twice! Research demonstrates that we are hardwired for a compassionate response to the troubles of others.
So what does Shadyac suggest each of us do to help solve the dire challenges we face at the beginning of the 21st Century?
“I get asked that a lot,” he says. “Give me a list of things I can do!” But the solution is really about a deeper transformation that must occur in each of us. It’s not my calling to tell people what they should do. I’m about sharing the principles that awoke in me, affected me, and changed my life. Once one experiences a baseline awakening, the To-Do list forms naturally. Frankly, I prefer that each of us has a To-Be list!
“Change starts with consciousness and our own definition of ourselves,” he says. “Each of us has the power to make a difference. It’s the Power of One. Everybody has that power. Just do something. From moment to moment, everything we say or do… or don’t say or don’t do… makes a difference!”
Shadyac lets the film’s content speak for itself: democracy and consensus decision-making is the basis of life among many species, from insects and birds, to deer and primates; humans actually function better and remain healthier when expressing love, care, gratitude and cooperation; consciousness is linked to the behavior of the quantum world….
“If everyone is intentional with their small acts, over time, there’s massive change. That’s the story of women’s suffrage, India’s independence, the American civil rights movement, the Vietnam peace protestors and the end of apartheid in South Africa.
“His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, says, ‘critical thinking followed by action’ is the most important thing we can do now. There’s no such thing as a tiny act.”
So what is Shadyac doing? He sold the Pasadena estate with its furniture and artwork and is living in a mobile home community in north Malibu. He is flying commercially now. He started riding his bike to work. He is teaching at a local college, another venue for sharing his discoveries.
All proceeds derived from the release of “I AM,” in all media, will go to THE FOUNDATION FOR I AM, a not-for-profit established by Shadyac to fund various worthy causes and to educate the next generation about the very issues and problems explored in the film. And, if he ever directs another Hollywood movie, he plans to receive something like the Director’s Guild minimum directing fee — around $210,000 — and have the rest of his usual eight-figure fee deposited into a charitable account.
“Whatever I don’t need, I no longer consider to be mine,” he says. “I just direct it to where it’s needed.” He’s also considering founding an institute in Telluride, Colorado, which would bring together high school and college students, along with adults, to begin a conversation around these ideas.
What makes the film a standout is Tom’s personal story, the intimate self-effacing way he tells it, his relentless pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, and the creative, yet accessible way he shares it with the viewer. There are also stunningly beautiful scenes of the natural world and compelling portrayals of our current human struggle. The music, too, dramatically and emotionally underscores the visual impact of the film.
“I AM” is scheduled to open in selected cities in February and nationwide shortly thereafter. Visit: http://iamthedoc.com/ for show times and locations.