The highly personal nature of this work makes it easy for an audience to empathize with it. Are you consciously looking to break down the walls between your personal & professional lives? Will some walls always separate the two? Please explain.
Stefan: I myself do try to be as open as possible, it becomes much trickier when other people in my personal life become involved in a project, like the film. Also, it will be rather difficult to decide what should go in and what represents over sharing or goes over the line into sensationalism.
Are there more documentaries on the way or what other things are in the pipeline?
Stefan: Oh no, the one is all we can possible handle in right now. Here and there we do a commercial, also in order to learn more about the medium.
Your career has mainly focussed on the area of graphic design, do you see yourself as that still, or would you like to be thought of in other ways? Filmmaker or simply, artist?
Stefan: I feel very much like a designer. Sometimes I now just leave the 'graphic' off, as we did complete projects like furniture and installations in the past. I am not an artist.
You took part in some interesting experiments during the film, did you find that any improved your ‘well being’? Which would you recommend? I hear David Lynch swears by meditation.
Stefan: Right now we are still working within the beginnings of the film. There were times during meditation when I felt it REALLY working and thinking: "Why is not everybody doing this all the time?", and then there were times when I felt it difficult and boring. Check out the wonderful and very critical German doc on David Lynch's meditation involvement called David Wants to Fly, very much worth seeing. And: I just started cognitive therapy and right now find it very exciting.
You are creating a documentary about happiness, The Happy Film. As a print-designer working with the new media of film making/the moving image what has been the biggest challenge?
Stefan: There have been challenges of EVERY nature at every corner. How to tell a long story? Which camera system delivers the sweet spot of mobility and quality? Which cuts works with what? How obvious do we need to be so people understand? How much openness of myself is required? When does it become over-sharing? Why is everything so expensive?
What's the most surprising thing you've learned through your exploration, so far?
Stefan: That film is really, really difficult to do and that my visual background amounts for very little when it comes to crating a 90 minute piece. That serious effect on well being can be brought on by very tenacious training.
How is the process of making a film impacting your journey to understand happiness? Is it a distraction, or is it adding to the journey?
Stefan: The film is a huge part of it! I would have never had the stamina to read 3-4 dozen psychology books and visit research psychologists without the project of the Happy Film on my hand. I selected the topic in part because I hoped that the journey of the making of the film would be exciting in its own right. This proved right.
Hillman Curtis was working with you on the film. All of us who had followed his work were shaken by
Stefan: This was such a very sad story. And a rather odd too, considering Hillman knew for a long while that he is not going to be alive much longer and nevertheless worked on the Happy Film right up until the end. We had talked about it and he really wanted to be part of it. We will continue, albeit of course in a very different way as we just dont know how to replace him or his tremendous contribution. We'll have to make do.
What stage is it at? When will we be able to see it?
Stefan: The film will be visually driven and should be done by fall 2013. We'll submit it to festivals around that time.
Tell me about the film you are making.
Stefan: When I did research for this film and read many, many psychology books on happiness, I found that whenever a scientist talked about something that had actually happened to her, a personal experience, I took this much more seriously than when she wrote about a survey she conducted. So I changed the direction of the film from a general documentation on the subject to focus mainly on personal experiences, hoping that viewers would have the same reaction as I had. The film in itself will not make viewers happy (in the same way as watching Jane Fonda exercise wont make you lose weight), but I do hope that it might be the little kick in the ass to some viewers to explore these directions, like meditation or cognitive therapy. Hopefully it will be a proper look at major strategies serious psychologists recommend that improve wellbeing, they include meditation, cognitive therapy and psychological drugs. I will try them all out and report back on the results.
You have spent a lot of time contemplating happiness. What was it that led you down this path?
Stefan: I was always interested in how design touches me emotionally, and eventually put a talk together titled "Design and Happiness" (which had slowly evolved out of another presentation called "Can Design touch someone's Heart?"). We've received a lot of excited feedback about that talk. During the last sabbatical, when I looked for something meaningful to do with my time, that same subject came up again.
You mentioned that you were trying out various tips from psychologists to train the mind. Would you mind giving an example of this or anecdote about one of the tips? Were you able to train your mind?
Stefan: I was in Bali for three months of intense meditation, our tiny little film team joined me there. Before I left the US, I went through extensive testing of my brain in an fMRI scanner, had EEG's done (my brain waves measured) and completed all sort of written tests.
What else can you tell about the film about happiness?
Stefan: I'd love to find an answer to the question if it really is possible to train my own mind in the same way it is possible to train my body. Can I – through various techniques that might include acts of kindness, diary writing and meditation – increase my overall level of happiness? While a number of serious psychologists are convinced that this is the case, I'd love to find proof for myself and the viewers.
Do you have a working title for your documentary yet? And do you have an estimate about when it will be done?
Stefan: The Happy Film. Release 2013.
Where did you get this idea for the documentary? Did something in your life happen to spark this, or some other inspiration? Have you always been fascinated with the world of psychology? And why did this idea make you want to create a documentary rather do something on it through graphic design?
Stefan: I was always interested in how to improve my and my surroundings well-being, in a sense, why be interested in anything else? Most things I do everyday are somehow geared towards this goal anyway, often just not in a very direct way. And it seemed more challenging to do this in film rather than print, trying out a new medium prevents me to become too complacent. It might fail miserably, but if I've gotten a hair happier in the process, it might have been worth my while.
In a 2008 New York Times story, you talked the "Everything..." project being spawned in 2000 when you took a year off and said "I thought about becoming a filmmaker, but decided to use the language I knew - design." Now, would you say you're becoming a filmmaker? And what made you finally decide to veer from what you knew, design, and make the foray into film making?
Stefan: I am NOT becoming a film maker. I am a designer – we ARE also working on many traditional design projects right now – who dabbles in film.
For something like your documentary, which is obviously a very personal project, do you give yourself a deadline? Or do you believe that something like this can't be rushed, in working on it until you feel it's ready?
Stefan: Yes, we do have a deadline. I think if these projects go on too long it's difficult to remain excited.