Behind the Scenes of the Inspirational Documentary “I’m Fine, Thanks” | Interview with Blogger/Filmmaker Adam Baker

Complacency.

It’s something that we all struggle with from time to time.

Do we remain satisfied with our lot in life, or do we do something about it? Should we do something? Or should we be happy with what we’ve got?

Even many highly successful entrepreneurs fight against complacency on a daily basis.

Adam Baker is fascinated by the topic. So much so that he and his good friend filmmaker Grant Peelle piled in to a van with five guys for six weeks driving across the country interviewing people about this subject.

They sought to put together a collection of stories about life, the choices we all make, and the paths we ultimately decide to follow.

What they have put together so far is pretty amazing. And if the film is anything like the trailer, I think it will really shake things up. It certainly shook me up when I saw it.

Here’s the trailer, which will blow you away:

I first heard about this film project from Pat Flynn of SmartPassiveIncome.com, who is interviewed in the movie and was so impressed with the project that he made a sizable contribution to the film.

Since then, “I’m Fine, Thanks” has received a tremendous amount of attention all across the web.

The trailer is currently up on Kickstarter, which is a website that allows artists and filmmakers to “crowdfund” the completion of their dreams.

Here’s how it works: Adam and Grant have 30 days (until June 22, 2012) to raise $100,000 to finish editing the film in time for its July premiere during Chris Guillebeau‘s World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon.

The good news is as of June 5th, they are almost halfway into their $100,000 goal, while they are about halfway into the 30-day campaign.

I talked to Adam about the movie, the inspiration behind the film, and what it means for all of our lives.

It’s not a long interview, but Adam packs in a lot of details about the film and his personal journey, including:

  • How he and his wife paid off $80,000 in debt, sold all their stuff, and went traveling abroad for one year right after their baby daughter was born (which he chronicles on his blog, ManvsDebt.com)
  • How they interviewed 60 people all across the country, and heard amazing stories about people who struggle to follow their dreams.
  • How different people have followed their childhood dreams or struggled with how to satisfy their dreams when they are unhappy in their current situation.

Here’s some of what the filmmakers have accomplished in just about two weeks since the launch of the campaign:

  • Over 1,750 individual backers.
  • $45,000 pledged for post production on Kickstarter (45% of their goal)
  • 6,500+ Facebook likes on the trailer

After I first watched the trailer, I made a contribution of my own, which Adam will only get if they reach their goal of $100,000 (otherwise they get nothing).

I’m not sharing this because I want to pressure you all to donate, although that’s certainly your option if you feel so inspired.

I just thought the message of the film needs to be delivered far and wide, and so I thought I would do my part. Also, Adam is a cool dude and I enjoyed talking with him for half an hour about his story.  Enjoy!

(The audio isn’t so good because we were both on cell phones, but I’ve included the transcript below so you can read the interview if you prefer. Sorry about the sound quality.)

Resources Mentioned in this Interview:

Transcript of Interview with Adam Baker

John: Hey everyone, this is John Corcoran and thank you all for listening. I’m really excited to be speaking with Adam Baker. Adam, are you there?

Adam: I’m here. Thanks for having me, man.
John: Good, yeah. No, glad to have you. I want to tell you all a little bit about Adam if you don’t know him. And if you don’t know him, I’m sure you will soon. He’s really been coming on strong the last couple of years and working on a number of amazing, different projects. He’s probably most well-known for his blog which is ManvsDebt which chronicled his journey to eliminate all of his excess debt and clutter in his life starting a couple of years ago. And the really interesting twist is at the same time, he and his wife and their newborn daughter also decided to sell off all their stuff and spent the year traveling internationally as a family while paying down their debt. So it’s an amazing story.
It’s received a lot of mainstream media attention. So it’s a really cool blog. It’s got some great advice on there on how people can eliminate their debt and follow their passion. So I thought maybe, Adam, we’d start with, you can tell people a little about your blog for people who are not familiar with it. And then we’ll get on to talking about this great film project that you’re working on. So you want to tell people a little bit about ManvsDebt, its origins and where it’s going.
Adam: Sure, ManvsDebt started originally as my own personal transparent battle against debt. That’s where the name comes from right? ManvsDebt. And it started about four years ago exactly actually. And my wife and I were living a typical kind of American lifestyle and we $80,000 in debt. We had a whole bunch of stuff in our apartment. And when we had our daughter, we just decided that wasn’t the way we wanted to live anymore. It’s sort of my daughter that gave us the clarity to make that decision.
So we’ve had this passionate goal to pay off all of our debt and sell all of our stuff from our apartment and travel overseas for a year with our daughter. And it took us a year of really hard work to get there and about halfway through that year, I started ManvsDebt just to kind of share my journey with the world. I was reading hundreds of personal finance books at the time, and I just wanted to share with my community. I had no idea it would turn into what it has today.
So flash forward four years now, and my little website about my own journey got some momentum. And over the years, I’ve learned that by sharing my story I can actually help people. So, now ManvsDebt is a community. Well, we help people do just what I tried to do with my own life. And that’s pay off their debt, sell their excess crap, and do more work that they love. So we really try to focus on those three topics and we have a community of several thousands, tens of thousands now probably, people that do that as well on the site there.
John: That’s exciting. Must be really inspirational giving advice to other people. Do you find people in the community who followed your advice and gotten rid of their debt as well?
Adam: Fortunately, yeah. It’s kind of funny that to think about almost in a way because I didn’t set out to be some sort of guru. I’m still not a guru by any means. You know what I mean? I don’t have twenty best-selling books all on the row of the same topic. I don’t prescribe that same sort of guru theory. But it did turn out that as much as I obsessed over these topics, I started to learn something about them. Every time that I go talking about this, I learned. And we do. We have people that come to the site and e-mail us five thousand word posts on how their lives have changed. We have people to take courses and products that we offer that now make it a business. And we have many, many testimonials from them.
Like I said, it’s almost funny today because I kind of see myself in a position now that I would have never imagined I would be in four years ago. But we’re very fortunate to not only help people through me and my wife, but the community itself helps a lot of people. It’s the other commenters and the other posts. It’s not just all about me.
John: That’s great. So, at what point did you quit… First what did you before you had this site … what was your line of work?

Adam: I bounced around a lot but most recently before the blog, I was in real estate. So I went to get my sales person’s license in the state of Indiana and I did a short sales and foreclosures. At the very, very beginning of the financial crisis before we knew it was a crisis, we just made some short sales was and properties that they didn’t know what to do with.

John: At what point did you drop that and make this a full-time business?

Adam: That was when my daughter was born. I took at this six month leave. So my daughter was born. I was working a hundred hours a week doing property management, selling foreclosures and just didn’t seem like it’s the right type of fit anymore. So I sold my real estate business. It was very small but I sold it to my partner that was in the business with me. And I stayed at home with my daughter for the next year as my wife is in teaching. She was a teacher. And about six months after staying home with my daughter, six months into our aggressive life goal that we were pursuing, I started the website then as a stay home dad. I’d been a stay at home dad for a few months when I started the website. So quitting that real estate gig, and focusing on our goal is what gave me the freedom to try to be able to start the website. Once again, having no idea that it would make money. But wanting to catch up some of my time and share my journey.

John: Wow. So now, you’ve mentioned that there are three areas of focus of the blog which are debt, eliminating excess clutter, and following your passion. What made you decide to do a film project, number one and also, why focus on that one particular area as opposed to debt or clutter?

Adam: Well, the film project itself came out of a partnership that I had wanted with a friend of mine named Grant Peele. Grant is the director on the film and Grant and I had known each other for a couple of years. We met online and our families became best friends. He’s also from the Midwest. And he has three children like I have three children. So we became quick friends and his story was he’s been a film maker for fifteen years, but he’s just kind of putting it off. He hasn’t been as focused. He’s kind of campaigning a little bit here and there to try to reignite his passion for telling stories through video. But he really hasn’t jumped in at first. He was just at the point where he was ready. He was tired of putting it off and he was ready to jump that full time.

So we were brainstorming ideas of how we may be able to work together and I said I think it’s interesting. I’m kind of like compelled to do it. But I wasn’t sure what we were going to do it on and then it just hit us. We’ll do it on complacency. That’s the issue that deprived my life three to four years and I still fight against it every day. And that’s the issue that was depriving him of his life. He had built his life around a set series of choices that gave him a good life, but it was kind of like he was doing just fine. There was something missing. His dreams and his passions are kind of missing out of the equation. So it made sense for his life. It was playing an important role and it played a vital role in my life over the last few years. And he said let’s do this.

I used the ManvsDebt community to film the film. Most of the experts in the film that we have reviewed were definitely the bestselling authors and the bloggers and the people who really know these individual topics that we were covering were connections of mine through the blog, friends of mine that I’ve made over the last four years through that community. And most of the stories that we revisited, the everyday people that share their stories, again, came out of the book, because I wrote a post and I just asked, “Is there anyone that’s going through this?” And we got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of responses of people who were saying “Yes, come interview me. I would love to talk about the position I find myself in and the choices that I’ve made good and bad” and it was just amazing outward.

So it does feel a little weird for me to be thinking of doing a documentary because I’ve never done anything like this before. But I’ve talked about this issue for so long that it almost feels comfortable in doing it. You know what I mean? I feel good with the content although making the film itself is completely new. It’s overwhelming. There’s just a lot of wonderful things.

John: And so, you went around the country with basically five guys in a van collecting these interviews, is that correct?

Adam: We did. When you put it that way, it sounds kind of funny. We got a crew together of five. So, it’s Grant, myself. I hit the road again in the van, and we got three other crew members, all Midwestern boys. I guess you would call them guys. A team of five guys. And we hauled into a fifteen passenger van with all of our films there and we spent six weeks going to different cities every day essentially. In the bigger cities, we spent a couple of days.

But we were in a different section of the cities every single day on the road and every single day, we interviewed people about the choices that they’ve made, where they found themselves. There were success stories, maybe they redefined their life, to follow their childhood dreams or whatever. We asked them about that process and that tipping point and how their lives are now. Some people were still stuck.

They didn’t know what to do but they wanted to talk about the issues that they’re going through and different societal pressures that have led up to that. And once again, these were just overpowering stories, really amazing stories that we were able to capture. And now, our responsibility as film makers is how do we tell them in the best way? How do we share these stories with the world? And the responsibility of getting that out to the world, which is a whole another very expensive and very time extensive job, turning them into a documentary where people actually watch it and feel it.

John: For someone who spent a lot of time paying down debt, I bet there’s a lot of tension because it’s not cheap putting on a movie. Have you had any personal struggles with that? Did you have to take on debt just to put this movie together, or how did you do that?

Adam: We put a lot of our own blood, sweat, and tears into the filming of the film. And we actually did have a couple of investors come on for the film is well. I did not have the hundred thousand dollars plus to actually film the movie. We did put a lot of money into it ourselves. But we have two investors that did come in and invest in the process of filming it. And now for post production, which is basically another hundred thousand dollars plus just to give everyone a transparent view of how much money goes in to even make an indie film, right? This is not even a Hollywood documentary. There are different types of documentaries, right?

There are expensive multi-billion dollar documentaries. But this is going to take another hundred thousand just to get it edited, produced, sound, color-coded, soundtracked, and out into the world, distributed where people can get it and access it. But basically, where people can can get their hands on it. And for the second part of that money, we’re actually using Kickstarter, a community platform where people can help pledge and donate and make that happen. So we’re kind of crowd funding as is the new buzz term. The second half of that chunk and the first half came from us and a couple private investors that believed in the film before it got off the ground.

John: I first heard about the film from Pat Flynn who’s another blogger here, who is known for the SmartPassiveIncome blog. But since then, I’ve seen and read about your film in a number of different places. I know that Pat was featured in the movie. So how is it going with raising attention and how you’re doing in terms of progress towards your goal right now?

Adam: It’s going really well. There’s two metrics. There’s the amount of money we’ve made which is just a necessary evil, in a way. We have to raise the money that we’re trying to raise in order for it to happen. So there’s that which is going really well. And we’ve done over 40 percent, we’re somewhere close to 45 percent here about the first nine days in the thirty day campaign. So, let’s estimate we’re one third of the way there, and we’re well over one-third of the money raised. So we still have to get the word out. We still have to help spread the word in order to be successful because it could just die out. But that said, we’ve made a lot of strides, and reached $45,000 on Kickstarter, just from people seeing the trailer. It’s absolutely amazing. They were really taken aback and we are so glad to be on track to hit our goal this early in the process and not going to have to chase it. So we’re right on target and we’re really proud of that.

And the second metric that’s far more important is the impact of the trailer and the message that it’s having on people. And I’ve gotten dozens and dozens and dozens of e-mails from people saying they teared up or they cried during the trailer or they watched the trailer five times, ten times, twenty times, over and over and over again. And it’s just so flattering. I never expected that. I’m usually pretty good at sensing “oh this is going to be good.” But I didn’t foresee that this would have this big of an impact for people. But it touches on such and emotional issue that we all deal with. And as first time film makers, it’s just very humbling to have the trailer resonate that much with people. So, one of the things we’re most proud of is we have over sixteen hundred backers, even as I’m talking to you right now. And that’s growing by hundreds every day.

John: That’s amazing.

Adam: And the reason why that is possible is because we’ve given the movie away for a very, very low price point. Some people suggested you should make the download of the movie or the DVD like fifty dollars, because people really want it. And if they have to spend fifty dollars, you would make more money that way. And that may have been true. We may have had made more money but our impact and the number of people we would have reached would be much, much smaller. So we chose to do something a little bit different than that. And we just said, “What if we gave the full high definition download away for just five dollars? It’s five dollars.” Make it super easy for anyone to support and spread the word and that’s why we’ve had sixteen hundred backers. And we’re still on pace for our goal even with just giving the documentary away for five dollars. So we really like this model. We think it’s the future of distribution online. Make it affordable. Make a powerful message. And spread it to as many people as possible. We’re really proud of that.

John: Wow. That’s really great. Now, I know that you still a long way from finishing the movie but based on your six weeks on the road, are there any interviews out of all the ones you did that stand out in your mind?

Adam: Oh, gosh. Yeah. We reviewed them all. We’re still piecing it together and we still have a long way to go. But we’ve reviewed all the interviews now. We interviewed Jonathan Fields, and his story is amazing. He’s a New York attorney that overworked himself into the hospital by working so hard as a lawyer and then decided to… I’ll shorten his story, obviously, but he decided to basically open a yoga studio after quitting the law. And he signed a lease for the yoga studio on September 10, 2001. So he talks about the proceeding day. And losing people he knew and just the entire city not knowing what to do and just how a horrifying a time it was. And he had just signed a huge lease for a downtown property. And he talks about questioning about whether he should go forth with it. It’s kind of his dream at that time. And he said that the city needed it. They needed that yoga studio for healing, they needed a place to just go and sit, be quiet. Or maybe exercise. Just kind of escape as much as they possibly could at that time. And he had me in tears during the interview when he was talking about this, and that of course, it’s a little bit of a success story. The yoga studio does do well. And he goes on. But it will be a great story to share in the final film. There’s another attorney out of Texas. It’s funny, two attorneys I’m giving out as examples. They were actually the only two attorneys who we talked to. But maybe…

John: As an attorney, I can relate to both of them.

Adam: I actually forgot that. So there you go. It’s going to help you. So, this attorney works her whole life ten years or so of her life. She went a hundred thousand dollars in debt to get a law degree. She works for the state. So, she’s got a pretty decent job. She doesn’t have someone trying to make partner, but she got to do what she enjoyed through her profession. But the problem was, and it’s funny to call it a problem, is that she had a daughter. And right when she had the daughter, she was actually decided to go back to work. She explained that as her little girl started to grow up, she’s like eighteen months now, going on two years old, she’s realized that all she wants to do is stay at home with her daughter. It completely blindsided her. You know what I mean? She’s always been that over-achiever. I’m a woman and I’m successful. And look at this. I’ve done everything I should do. I didn’t know what I really wanted to do so I went to law school, just really this passionate story. And she broke down very early in the interview. It’s just the stress. I wish I didn’t have this debt and I wish I didn’t have this huge mortgage. And I would just do anything to stay home with my daughter now I’m trying to change my life to do that. But I just can’t do it. I’m not flexible enough right now. It’s going to take me a long time to be able to spend more time with my daughter. She just said something like I could spend time with my daughter in three hundred square feet. She doesn’t care. My two year old daughter doesn’t care. She deserves to spend time with me and she just needs to spend time with me.

And as a parent, that was one of the stories that again resonated with me the most. I mean, I just really feel her struggle, her friend group and her social group being attorneys and her struggle as a woman to stay at home to get or be a successful attorney and just, all of these pressures which I’m probably not doing any justice with telling her story. But trust me, in the moment, it was just palpable in the room. And it was just a really emotional interview. And that’s two of sixty interviews. You know what I mean? There’s many people I’m leaving out. Those are some of the ones that resonated the most with me as a parent.

John: Yeah. Well, know that Pat Flynn will be interesting.

Adam: Pat’s story is great. Yeah, his recollection of him getting fired. So Pat did everything that was right too. He was a standout architect as you probably know following Pat, but for people who don’t follow Pat, he was a standout architect. He’s still a standout person in everything he does. But he is a standout architect like one of the top employees where he was working. Over-achiever. And when it came time to downsize, they all got cut. And he talks about walking into his boss and getting fired and just thinking like, “I did everything right. I did everything right but in the end, it didn’t matter.” The bad employees got cut, the good employees got cut, the great employees got cut. He’s just like, “I literally had no control over my situation.” I am paraphrasing. But I believe his sentiments.

And he had a tough decision. He had family and friends and encouraging him to go back and get a job in the architect industry, right? Go back and it’s okay, find another job. Go through the grind again. It will be okay. And instead, he decided to start an online website where he had a study guide about one of the examples that he had passed to get a certification in the architecture industry. And he had talked about it. He started spending more time and more time on that. And then he released a little book. Here’s a guide to study for this exam. Didn’t think much of it. He made a thousands and then thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars a month by helping people with his guide to pass this very specific, tangible exam that he had great experience in but no idea that it was going to unlock that much potential.

Since then, he created one of the most wildly popular sites on making money online. And besides, he took on an industry full of scammers and shady people and money grubbing people and non-genuine people. And he, the standout, transparent, family man, with his family out here, all around nice guy in the industry. And he’s just completely redefined his life. And then his own words, he said, “I might have been happy as an architect but I would have never thought I would be this happy.” That was something that he quoted from his interview that I still remember? Yeah, looking back now. Again, he didn’t go the lawyer path. He got fired. He got forced through that situation where he had to fight back. But the way he did it, he didn’t opt to hit back and knock that place around. He chose to pave the new path and now he’s just a shining example for tens of thousands of people that are trying to do the same using the internet.

John: It’s interesting, because for Pat, in particular, it kind of was the kick in the pants that got him going. It wasn’t his own decision to fire himself or to quit or anything like that. But then he’s turned around and with his community, he actually has inspired a lot of others to fight against complacency and to make their own decision even if they’re not fired but to actually go on and do whatever it is they need to do to make themselves happier.

Thank you so much for taking your time to talk to me. Tell us some more about how people can find out about the film and I know that I made a modest contribution after watching the trailer. I was so inspired. And I’ve never done that before. So, it really moved me.

Adam: Thank you. I appreciate it.

John: Yeah, it was a really great trailer. And for me personally, I’ve shared it with some of my clients who actually invested in some documentaries sometimes in the six figures. So, that’s what I’ve done to share it with family and friends and whatnot. So I hope that people listening to this will do the same thing. But tell us where they can find out more.

Adam: Yeah, I guess the best thing they can do is to go to the Kickstarter page to watch the trailer. The trailer is really what I would recommend. You can see if it resonates with you. That site, ManvsDebt.com/movie that will send the people right through the Kickstarter. Or you can just go to ManvsDebt.com and you’ll see it in my side bar. You’ll see it right there in the right of your screen if you go to ManvsDebt.com.

But like you said, all I would love to do is for people to watch the trailer. If it resonates with you and you want to support it on the Kickstarter page itself, obviously, that would be wonderful. But sharing the trailer, watching the trailer, giving us your feedback if it resonates with you, it’s just as important to us because our goal is really to get this out to as many people and to see how we can help kind of spark that passion for people. And your feedback and you sharing that with people would be just as much of a pledge. So obviously, we will be very gracious for any pledges.

John: And one thing I don’t think we did mentioned is actually you don’t get any of that money unless you reach your goal which is a hundred thousand dollars, right?

Adam: That is true. Thank you for bringing that up. So we have to reach our goal. That’s how Kickstarter works because it protects the people who pledge the money, right? Because if you pledge a whole bunch of money and we don’t make our goal and the movie can’t get made and you may not end up getting that. So the way Kickstarter works in exchange for pledging is you, of course, get something. For five dollars, you get the movie. For twenty-five dollars, we’ll send you the DVD. And there’s all these different fun levels. But in order for Kickstarter to process your payment and actually in order for us to give you the reward, we have to meet the goal. That’s sort of the catch to using Kickstarter. So we’re on our way to meeting the goal but we still so need so much support in getting the word out about the trailer. Anyone who knows any way to help do that, help spread the word out, I urge them to reach out to me. And you can e-mail me at baker@ManvsDebt.com as well if you like the trailer.

John: Great. And I just want to say that it’s wonderful the way you put a lot of effort into creating the different donation categories. This is not something where you can give five, you can give twenty, you can give fifty and either way, it’s just a pat on the back. You actually put in a lot of effort and thought into people getting a digital download or getting a physical DVD or getting some kind of other perk or bag or whatnot. And I’m sure that took a lot of effort and it’s going to take a lot of effort by you to eventually ship all this stuff out so you might be regretting it.

Adam: Yeah, it will take a little bit of effort. But we didn’t feel right saying, hey fifty dollars and we’ll give you a pat on the back or we’ll tweet out your name, right? It means that we wanted to give people substantial rewards for supporting the project. Like you said, we had a lot of different wants, a lot of people like three hundred dollar one where you get to see your name on the credits, so we’re going to have a list of all the people who have backed up a hundred dollars or more in the credits. We just try to have fun with it. And we studied other successful campaigns and saw the people who gave these great rewards for the pledges were the ones who were successful. So it’s our sort of way we want to do our business and it was a proven model on Kickstarter. We said, let’s go with it. So I appreciate you bringing that up again. That’s something that we worked hard on.

John: All right, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us and I will definitely have lots of links when I have this posted so that people can directly go through the Kickstarter and check out the trailer. So thanks very much.

Adam: All right, man. Thank you. I appreciate how you having me on.

John: Okay bye-bye.

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  • Phillip G. Tupelo

    I’m glad someone did a documentary on this topic – so many people go through life without taking the time to try something new, or something they have been yearning to try their entire life. Hopefully this move will motivate more people to get off the couch and follow their passions!

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