Buddhist Movie Promotion

HCZDVDA couple days ago I wrote a piece intended to be sent to people promoting the screenings of Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen. I thought it might be interesting to regular readers of this blog. It’s written in third person as if I am not Brad Warner. So you’ll have to deal with that. Here goes:

Thank you for being part of our team working on screenings of Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen across the country! As you know, this is a completely independently made and financed film with no studio backing and no massive corporate supported advertising campaign. We are completely reliant on people like you to make these screenings happen.

Sometimes when we work with people who are trying to promote Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen locally, we get a message back from them saying, “We tried contacting the local Zen/Buddhist center but they never even replied to us!” Or worse, they received a terse, vaguely nasty reply. This isn’t what always happens. Usually local Zen and/or Buddhist centers are extremely helpful. But not all the time.

Although it might at first appear that the best way to promote this movie is to contact the local Buddhist or Zen center, that’s not always the case. This is not to say that you shouldn’t contact those places. You should contact them! Please do! Often they are very supportive! But you also might want to look into other options.

Case in point. One of the people working on promoting the movie recently got the cold shoulder from their local Zen center. The Zen Center in question was a Rinzai sect center (Brad is in the Soto sect) in the lineage of a teacher, who, in recent years has been much maligned by allegations of improper sexual behavior. There are a great many reasons why they might not want to be involved in a movie like this. 1) It’s about a teacher from a “rival” sect 2) It touches upon sensitive issues about sex and spirituality 3) The film includes a lot of punk rock and other pop culture elements usually not associated with “Zen” forms of art 4) It challenges the prevailing ideas about what Zen practice “should” be, especially by not being “serious” in the way many conventional people define seriousness. There are many other possible reasons as well.

To understand how this film looks to the average person who considers themselves “into Zen” take a look at this trailer for a film about our good friends at the Berkeley Zen Center (who are very nice, very good people, and actually quite supportive of Brad’s work):

Now look at the trailer for our film:

We show this not to criticize the BZC movie. We’re sure it’s a fine film. But we want to make very clear the contrast in approach these films take and the BZC trailer makes a really great example of how different this film is from what folks who look at Buddhist movies are used to seeing. (In fact, the practice Brad teaches is almost identical to what they do at BZC, but the films couldn’t be more different!)

Think of it this way. It’s kind of like having a wild, loud, in-your-face film about a guy who is trying to reform Christianity by making it accessible to gays, punk rockers, metalheads and drug addicts and then trying to promote that film by reaching out to the head of the local Catholic parish. And the reformer guy is in a bunny costume on the movie poster! The folks who run the local Catholic parish may see such a film as threatening to their position and their power base. Or maybe they aren’t threatened but they just don’t get it. Also, remember that there is as much rivalry and sectarian nonsense among Buddhists/Zennies as there is among the various types of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

It’s not usually as bad as that. More often than not you can get support for the movie from Zen or Buddhist groups. So we’ll say it again, please do contact those places! Just don’t rely on them to be your only supporters.

It may be better to also target the people that go to those places rather than the people that run those places (unless they’re known to be kind of reformists themselves, some folks who run Buddhist centers very much like what Brad Warner does). Back to the Catholic parish analogy: Even though the people that run the local Catholic parish might want to bury a movie about a radical reformer of Christianity, those who attend that parish might be extremely interested in such a film.

Getting to those people is tricker. But we’ll try to give some hints of things that have worked. For example, when Brad wanted to run a retreat in a certain city in Europe he did not go thru the local Zen center founded by a teacher in his own lineage (who happen to be very nice people and quite supportive), but through a local Yoga center. This eliminated a lot of the sectarian stuff, which tends to get uglier the more the groups in question are like each other. But Yoga people are often very interested in Zen and meditation. Even the folks from the local Zen group seemed to like it this way because it relieved them of the burden of somehow being held responsible for some of the views Brad holds that tend to ruffle the feathers of their congregation.

It may be effective to try to reach people who are into Buddhism by pitching it to things that Buddhist folks tend to like such as yoga studios, pilates studios, health clubs, bookstores, health food shops like Whole Foods, coffee houses and so on.

But please keep in mind this movie is not really for people who are already converted to the Buddhist way. It’s more for people who are interested in Buddhism, meditation, spirituality and so forth, but may never have actually tried it out for themselves. It’s also for people who are into punk/metal and its more deep and philosophical aspects. These folks are not at the local Buddhist/Zen center.

Is there an anarchist bookshop around? They might be into it! Is there a local university? A lot of college students find the movie appealing. Try the record stores if there are any in the area.

Among Buddhist groups there is one very popular international organization who are quite friendly to Brad’s message. That is the Against The Stream organization founded by Noah Levine, author of Dharma Punx. They have centers all over the world. If there’s one of those groups in your area, very definitely you should talk to them!

There is an audience out there for this movie! We packed a theater in the sleepy little town of Ojai, CA, did very well in Seattle and Portland, and even did pretty good  in Denver and Boulder in spite of some real handicaps to getting people out that weekend. It’s just a matter of finding the people who want to see this movie. Sadly, they do not all hang out in one convenient location with a sign on the front that says “Zen.”

I hope this helps!

*   *   *

In 2013 I made about $6000 from book sales. That’s not enough to live on.  The biggest support I have is your donations. Your continued donations are my lifeline that allows me to continue working. I work much harder now than I ever did when I had a “real job” and not having a “real job” enables me to keep touring and working with people all over the world (it’s hard to find a “real job” where they’ll let you run off to Europe to hold meditation retreats for six weeks  — and trust me folks, what I do now is very much real work!).

(If you get a warning about an expired security certificate, ignore it. It’s just some company trying to get money from us. We’re gonna fix that. The PayPal link is not associated with my blog and is completely secure.)

– February 18-23 I’ll be hosting a retreat with Kazuaki Tanahashi  at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico

You can see the documentary about me,  Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen, at the following locations (I’ll be at all screenings):

– March 11, 2014 Ithaca, NY

– March 15, 2014 Brooklyn, NY

– April 20, 2014 San Francisco, CA

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104 Responses

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  1. CatsareInfinite
    CatsareInfinite February 12, 2014 at 8:10 pm |

    WWOOFing is cool too.

  2. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer February 19, 2014 at 4:24 pm |

    One of the silliest things I have made as a result of starting a zen practice was a very elaborate timer. It used a PicAxe microprocessor to drive a series of four red LEDs that would light up as the meditation period proceeded.

    I am an engineer after all..

    At the end of the meditation a solenoid would drive a little hammer that hit a beautiful little turbine blade that made a nice sound.

    I’m not sure that I ever used it but is was fun to make. It’s in my garage now and I am thinking about taking it apart and getting rid of most of the parts (except the turbine blade).

    Is it my sound of one hand clapping, I wonder?


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