Documentarian Joe Berlinger met Tony Robbins at a party a few years ago. Robbins says that within three minutes, he could tell that something was troubling the award-winning director. So he invited Berlinger to a “Date with Destiny” event—a six-day, 70-something-hour seminar that usually costs $5,000 to $10,000.
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Within an hour, Berlinger wanted to leave. He called his wife and told her that he didn’t think this sort of thing was for him, but she talked him into staying.
“She told him to stay for at least a day,” Robbins says. “Joe told me later it was the best advice he ever got. He felt a level of joy and happiness he hadn’t felt. And he ended up staying the whole time.”
Three days into the event, Berlinger approached Robbins with an idea. “He comes to me and says ‘This is all so cinematic,’ ” Robbins remembers. “All these people sharing their stories and having these experiences—he was really moved by it. He just assumed I’d say yes. But I didn’t invite him for that purpose. I just wanted to help him. So I told him no.”
Robbins worried that a camera crew might interfere with the intimacy of the event and potentially ruin the experience for hundreds of people. But Berlinger was persistent. He would mention the idea again and again to Robbins every six months or so. Berlinger promised that if at any time Robbins thought the cameras were interfering with the seminar, that he’d leave immediately. Finally Robbins relented.
“Joe and his team did a fantastic job,” Robbins says. “The cameras disappeared, which I didn’t think was possible. And his genius is his ability to cut a six-day program into a two-hour movie.”
Robbins had no financial stake in the film and had no editorial say, but he says he’s happy with the final product, and happy so many people are getting to see his message.
“I’m grateful to Joe for being so persistent.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Michael J. Mooney is a journalist who writes for D Magazine, GQ, ESPN: The Magazine, Outside, SUCCESS and Popular Mechanics. He is co-director of the annual Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. His stories have appeared in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing and The Best American Crime Reporting. He lives in Dallas with his fiancée, Tara, and their retired racing greyhound.