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It's a bit sad to contemplate the overall moral guidance and demeanor of mass media in general and especially programming based in the demographic range of campus activities and student program boards.
Besides all the flashy projects involved in The Buried Life, probably its most genuine appeal is an inherent quality of not only entertaining without being degrading, but actually rising above any sort of negativity and spreading a message of helping others as well as one"s self.
Perhaps a bit of an explanation. The Buried Life features four guys, Ben Nemtin, Dave Lingwood, Duncan Penn and Jonnie Penn, who had an idea to make a list of 100 things they wanted to do before they die, and film their attempts at the checklist. Somewhere along the line the project transformed from a neat idea to something much bigger than any one of the four guys at its core.
Ben Nemtin, the widely acknowledged ringleader of the group, sits down for an exclusive interview with Campus Activities Magazine, courtesy of Keppler Speakers Bureau.
"We were all friends growing up together in Victoria, BC. When we were in college, we were having the same sort of aimless feelings many kids at that stage of life feel. We felt like we wanted to do something that had more meaning, besides just being fun. We felt like something was missing."
The gang decided to take two weeks off work before returning to school for the next semester and take a plunge. "We bought a camera off eBay and borrowed an uncle's rickety old RV and hit the road, essentially to try to cross off as many things from our list as possible. For every one thing we accomplished, we asked a stranger what we could do to help them accomplish something from their own list."
As they developed the idea, Jonnie was in first year English class and was assigned a poem. It"s title was "The Buried Life," written by Matthew Arnold in 1852. "In it, there were four lines that spoke to him," Ben says. "and he brought them back to us. They read 'But often, in the world's most crowded streets, But often, in the din of strife, There rises an unspeakable desire, After the knowledge of our buried life.' He realized the author was feeling the same things we were feeling, but 150 years ago. It was a profound connection for all of us, so the name made sense. We all have things we want to do but they get buried by work, school or just life in general. It was a cathartic realization to match the name with the project." It was only intended to be a two week road trip. That was six years ago, a feature documentary, two seasons on MTV, several awards and now a prominent book release since. "From the initial two week project, things just started to snowball. We got on the local news and then national news. It went crazy online once we posted our list and we got all sorts of responses from people saying they could help us and folks even started sharing their own lists with us."
Someone working for RE/MAX could arrange a hot air balloon ride, someone had a friend getting married (make a toast at someone's wedding). "Someone who shared a list with us wanted to learn the bagpipes, or fly in a fighter jet or sing a duet with Michael Buble'. We were totally blown away by the response. We knew it resonated with us, but had no idea of the impact it would have on others as well."
You can find the complete list on our website at the end of this story.
One of the emails they got was from a producer and it just so happened number 53 was to start a TV show. "We went to Toronto and began meeting with networks but were forced to make a really tough decision in turning down the offers because they stipulated a loss of creative control and ownership of 'The Buried Life.'"
Essentially by completing one item on the list they would be forced to forgo the rest of it (or at least any control over it). "We didn't care about a television show that much," Ben states emphatically. "We started The Buried Life to inspire our friends to make their dreams happen and realize they could accomplish things they never thought possible if they didn't try. In our minds, TV show or not, it was working. We decided not to sell out to the networks."
TBL went back to school, and back to the grassroots effort of making personal contact for their project. "We hit the phone books the next year again," Ben says, explaining their method for fund raising the project was essentially a combination of gumption and charm. "We would pretend to be a production company," he says chuckling. "We talked about the movie we were making and persuaded enough people to sponsor the project to buy a bus and hire a crew to film some more for the next summer,"
The team decided to start producing some of the content from the footage themselves and by the following year had a pilot and a trailer. "We started making regular trips down to L.A. We slowly worked our way around Hollywood trying to figure out who the right people for the project were. MTV contacted us after seeing the stuff we put online. They offered us a chance to not only make the show, but to be executive producers and retain complete freedom of control and ownership. It was a no-brainer at that point."
This process occurred over about a five year span, allowing the guys not only to build the popularity of TBL, but also to become heavily emotionally invested. "It wasn't all that easy. I am retelling the story in five minutes, and it seems like everything just naturally fell together, but there were times when we almost quit, at times we were living with our parents and had dropped out of school. Nothing was handed to us. We didn't have any Hollywood connections, so to take this from the seed of an idea to a mainstream success was an incredibly hard experience, and a learning experience, which is what we speak about on campuses today."
If you want to ask about TBL's favorites from their list, get them on your campus and let your students have at them in the Q&A session after their talk. Ben mentions a couple cool examples, but for the purposes of this article, CAM wants to drill in on the wider message, and why this show could be so important for your school. Rather than the easy targets like "Playing ball with Obama" (which they did), I ask if there are any stories of interactions with people they've helped that touched the guys personally in a deep way. "Yeah. There are definitely a few. The first person we ever helped was this guy named Brent. He had lived on the streets and wanted to get back to the homeless shelter. He started a business to get himself off the streets, and when we interviewed him he mentioned the crippling of this business due to the loss of his truck. This was a tangential part of the conversation; his segment had nothing to do with asking for a truck. We realized if we found out a way to get this guy one though, it would be a pathway to at least getting him headed on the right direction."
They found one for $480 and surprised him with it. "I think that was the first time any of us had ever really helped someone in a meaningful way. That was when we knew this was something bigger than us and really lit the fire."
So of course we can't mention balling with Obama in passing and leave you hanging on the rim (okay bad pun), but maybe that wasn't even the most important thing that happened on that trip. "We were in D.C. and saw these two guys walking around looking at the monuments and we asked them what they wanted to do before they died. They were probably in their late 50's and they said ‘We want to go back to our childhood swimming hole.' When they were 13 or 14 they had a spot they would swim at every day and hadn't been back in 40 years, or seen their other childhood friends in that time either."
TBL sprang into action and did some research, contacting the long lost friends and pinpointing the geography. "We surprised them back at the swimming hole. When they all saw each other, even though it had been 40 years, it was like they had all been there yesterday, kids playing in their swimming hole. The four of us saw perhaps ourselves in 40 years. Now those guys take trips there every summer and we helped spark that, which is pretty dope."
TBL wants students to feel this level of satisfaction in their lives, and start making the world a better place in the process. "We've known since the beginning that this was bigger than us. We want students to know that anyone who wants to be a part of that can do so. We've seen how this project moves people and we've been humbled by the fact that people have come up to us and told us how The Buried Life has changed their lives. That is what drives us. The emails we get from the kid who said they were going to commit suicide until they saw something in the show that changed their mind, or the life-changing accomplishment someone experiences when they conquer their fears. When we feel down, that is what brings us back up. We have a responsibility now, this is our job. A lot of people count on us.
"It is much bigger than the four of us. It's not about the four of us. It's about the question 'What do you want to do before you die?' and helping people get there and sharing those stories. That spans much further than the four of us, but if we can come to campus to represent the spirit of the project through personal interaction, that's better than even a TV show."
The Buried Life was filming yet another show for MTV when we first talked to them, and if you want to bring a truly meaningful and inspiring event to campus that still has a celebrity appeal and undoubtedly a draw for your students, contact Theo Moll at Keppler Speakers Bureau at 703.516.4000; firstname.lastname@example.org
And what are on the top of the infamous Bucket List?:
01.) Open the six o'clock news
02.) Lead a parade
03.) Get a tattoo
04.) Start a dance in a public place
05.) Go down a mountain on a long board
06.) Attend a party at the Playboy Mansion
07.) Get in a real NBA match
08.) Ride a bull
09.) Destroy a computer
10.) Learn to fly
11.) Get a college degree
12.) Kick a field goal
13.) Help someone build a house
14.) Grow a mustache
15.) Get on the cover of Rolling Stone
16.) Drive across North America
17.) Start a huge wave
18.) Tell a joke on Late Night Television
19.) Write a book
20.) Get a song we've written on the radio
21.) Become a licensed minister
22.) Approach the most beautiful girl you've ever seen and kiss her
23.) Learn how to play an instrument
24.) Go to a rock concert in all leather
25.) Solve a crime or capture a fugitive
26.) Tell a judge: "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!"
27.) Give a stranger a $100 bill
28.) Send a message in a bottle
29.) Scream at the top of your lungs
30.) Make a donation to charity
31.) Cut a ribbon at a major opening
32.) Get someone named after you
33.) Compete in a Krump Competition
34.) Pay for someone's groceries
35.) Sing the National Anthem to a packed stadium
36.) Throw the first pitch at a major league baseball game
37.) Win and yell "Bingo!" at a Bingo hall
38.) Kiss the Stanley Cup
39.) Design a baseball cap and get 50 people to buy it
40.) Make the front page of a newspaper
41.) Make a toast at a stranger's wedding
42.) Host a cooking show
43.) Become a knight for a day
44.) Catch something and eat it
45.) Sleep in a haunted house for 1 night
46.) Do a sketch with Will Ferrell
47.) Get in the Guinness Book of World Records
48.) Accept a dare
49.) Take a stranger out to dinner
50.) Streak a field