Maxim Jago is a filmmaker, futurist, an Adobe Master Trainer,  author and motivational speaker. His focus is on the creative act, and what it means to be human.

Maxim talks with OWC Host, Cirina Catania, about the challenges of making and financing films, including how he recently directed his first feature film coming out in 2020.

In addition, Maxim visits the varied themes about life and creativity that he touches on through his busy keynote speaking career.

From “how to make a feature film from $0″ to living your life full of existential joy, this interview has a little of something for everyone.


This is Cirina Catania with OWC Radio. Maxim Jago, how are you this morning? We have so much to talk about. 

Fantastic. Thank you for inviting me on the show.

So for those of you who don’t know who has had their head in the sand, Maxim Jago is a futurist, he’s a filmmaker, he’s an author and an amazing motivational speaker. The one thing I love about you most, Maxim, is your creativity, your big brain, and your kind heart. So there’s so much to talk about. You’re in the process of writing books, you’ve just directed your first feature, you’re at the Toronto Film Festival right now, and I dragged you into talking to me. You are organizing an amazing conference, which we won’t talk about yet, but I’ll let you say that, and then you’re going to Tokyo. I don’t even know what to start with. Let’s start by the fact that you just directed your first feature, which is an amazing accomplishment for anyone.

Thank you. When I was a kid, my dad said, “Say yes first and find out how later and you’ll live a more interesting life.” And he never mentioned getting enough sleep. I didn’t realize that was a limitation of the advice.

I always tell people I can sleep when I’m dead.

One of my favorite quotes on the internet, and I’m sure it’s traceable, I’ve spoken about this before. You’re not supposed to arrive serenely at the grave. You’re supposed to tumble skidding across the ground into the grave, covered in cuts and bruises, saying, Wow, what an amazing ride.

There you go.

One of my favorite parts of that misquote is cuts and bruises. It’s okay to get the scar tissue, it’s okay that it’s hard. We have this culture where any kind of suffering or pain is unacceptable. And I think that that’s a misunderstanding of what pain is, therefore, it’s a message and it’s telling you something. It’s not necessarily to be avoided. In fact, you should really engage with it and find out what it’s telling you. But that’s a whole other conversation. So I set out to be a feature film director when I was 15. And it turns out that I wasn’t wealthy enough, tall enough, connected enough, it took a long time. So I have been working on projects. I have directed about 30 short films of one kind or another and did okay with those. But I just directed a no-budget, amazing concept, supernatural thriller, and we’re just in post now, and we’re just editing. 

And where was it filmed? 

We shot in a beach house in Massachusetts. And there’s a famous guy in Hollywood, his name’s *Doug Simmons, who has a workshop that has been running for 20 years on how to make your first feature film. And he’s an amazing speaker. I actually saw his presentation 20 years ago and saw it again about two years ago. It hasn’t changed, it’s the same message, just go and make a film. And his recommendation is if you want to make the first feature, horror always sells, go to a cabin in the woods with eight kids and metaphorically artistically chop them up, edit that, film the prosthetics and the special effects of them being chopped off for some reason, and then edit that, and you’ve made a feature film. 

Ew. Sorry, not for me.

Yeah, I’m not a horror guy. And that’s kind of the problem for me, I don’t mind psychological horror, but I don’t like gore. That’s not my thing. I know a lot of people love it, and that’s fine, and I do want to make that kind of film. So a very good friend of mine is a Mexican by birth, she is an actress, Andrea Sweeney, a phenomenal actress. If you met her, she’s blond hair, blue eyes, green eyes, she’s totally a California girl. But actually, she was born in Mexico in Monterrey, Mexico, and Spanish is her first language, there’s no way you could tell from her accent.

I know, you really can’t, I had no idea when I first met her.

Right? It doesn’t show until she switches to Spanish. So I came up with a concept, and the gist of the concept is that-well, I don’t wanna give too much away from the story, but the gist of the concept is that we go to a house and we ask something that takes control of her, and through her begins speaking Spanish. So she gets taken over by this entity in a house. And it’s beautiful, her performance is great. But we shot it, and we improvised everything. And so I came up with 77 scene concepts and the key language that had to be in some scenes, obviously, to drive the plot forward. Essentially, we improvised the scenes, and it was an incredibly efficient way of filming. You can only really do that if you’re working with a true professional. Because a really professional actor, with theater you can keep it alive, you can change it every night, but with the film, if you’ve done it once one way has to be that way every time. And it takes extraordinary skill as an actor to remember the way you moved the blocking, the continuity, the phrasing that you used to allow the different performances to come together. So very impressive working with Andrew. And I’m really happy with it, we did loads of practical effects. So we’ve got fishing wire and had things falling over, and it’s just great.

So what can you tell people about why after making 30 shorts, you finally did your feature? What took you over the edge to do that? 

Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness.

I’m always asking you the hard questions.

I really want to share this with you because I love getting to the heart of the matter. I’ve been busy, I’ve had a lot of jobs, I’ve done a lot of things, and of course, that takes time out of your calendar.

Absolutely. By the way, for those listening who don’t know, Maxim is one of the top trainers with the Adobe team. 

Oh, thank you. 

If you go online, I went online because I want to learn more about Audition and whose voice pops up Maxim? He wrote the book on Premiere Pro.

I write the official book on Adobe Premiere Pro, and I write the official book on Adobe Audition. And I recorded about 1800 tutorials on post-production now. And it’s funny because I have a radio voice, right? And so people will meet me at conferences and film festivals. And they feel they know me, but they’re not quite sure why, because then nobody knows what I look like, they just know what I sound like. And I get this strange look on their faces because learning is hard, it’s tiring. And so you get this look on people’s faces, like, “I know that person. I don’t know why, but I don’t feel good about knowing that person.” “Do they owe me money?” So I’ve got this line now when I meet people like that I say, “Now let’s click on the File menu, and we’ll open some clips and put them in a timeline,” and everyone says, “Oh, my god, you were in my head.” 

You’re in my head. I love that. But I wanted people to know you have several sides to you. You are truly a renaissance man and don’t get embarrassed, but you really are. So let’s go back to the question, which was, why after 30 short films, what took you over the edge to finally making your feature?

Okay, here’s the problem. The problem is the advice that you will hear as an independent filmmaker on how to make a feature film, not a short film because short films are often concept pieces, it’s hard. Everyone knows it’s hard to make money on a short, and if people invest in it, they’re just giving you money, right? So for a feature film, it’s a product it’s a business, and people investing in it expect to get a return on their investment as they would with any business. In fact, it’s common to form a company around each feature film project, just for accounting purposes, it makes it much cleaner. So why can’t you do it? And the reason you can’t do it is that the advice is usually written by the studios. And here’s their advice, come up with a great concept, write the treatment, produce a screenplay, show the screenplay to potential investors, and show it to the agents of actors that are bankable. 

And bankable means you have to recognize who they are without Google on both sides of the Atlantic, that’s the bar that you’re aiming for. Now, it’s okay if you say something like, Oh, they played so and so and such and such a thing, you can give a clue, but people have got to know who they are on both sides of the Atlantic. And then if the agent likes the screenplay and the investors like the sound of it, then the agents show it to their clients, and you have a list of names, and then one of the clients or one of the actors will read it, and they like it. And then you get what’s called a letter of interest LOI, or you can get an MOU even, a memorandum of understanding, that could just be an email if you like it. And then you go back to the investors, and you go back and forth between the agents and investors getting more and more commitment, and then bingo, you’ve got contracts, and the money goes in the bank, and you make the film.

That’s why we call it development hell, right? 

Right. It’s like chicken and egg. So you can’t get the money without the cost, you can’t get the cost without the money. And here’s why, the cost, they don’t want to water down their brand, that’s how they make their money. And the agents really only want fully financed films because they are feeding their families with their commission. This is a really important thing to be aware of. They’re not just bad people. They live on their commission. So don’t be angry with them if they don’t forward your no budget, indie hiking movie, whatever it is. This is their livelihood. And then the investors these days, the only metric that you can use to be sure that you will return the money on investment unless you have an upfront deal with Netflix or Apple, now they’re getting big time into media production. They’re just gonna give you a flat fee, and you’re done. And you’re gonna negotiate it in advance, but they’re the same challenge, which is if you don’t have famous people in your film, why would anybody click the button? Now, if it’s a genre that people really love, even though they’ve never heard of the cast, they’re probably going to click it. I’ll watch any superhero movie, and I’ll even watch a 1-star superhero movie. 

But for most people who are thinking, I’ll check out that film, that’s the tipping point that it has a name that they recognize. And that’s a branding exercise because it tells the audience what kind of film to expect. There’s a certain standard of production value, there’s a certain type of quality, and genre and so on. Now, this is a problem because the investors are not going to commit. For the investors, they can’t invest unless you can show metrics that indicate that they’re going to make money and because of course, how can they just take a risk on, it’s a lot of money. So they’re not going to put the money in the bank until you’ve got a commitment from actors. But the agents are not going to go to the trouble of reading your screenplay, reading your treatment, negotiating with a client, dealing with the legal fees to get the letter of interest written in a way that they’re satisfied with and all of the consequences until you definitely have the money because they’re inundated with requests. So which one do you look at? You look at the one that has the money, so this is the Catch-22. Eventually, what I realized is that my friend introduced me to a friend at a casino in Las Vegas, who taught me how to really play blackjack. And she told me that all of the official books that people use to play blackjack were secretly funded by the casinos, and they’re all slightly wrong in a way that slightly favors the casinos.

Oh, my goodness, seriously?

So you take another card on, and the number you should stick on, it’s just slightly wrong. The odds are just slightly in favor of you going bust, and it just lately favors the casinos. So for me, the problem as an independent filmmaker is that let’s go back to my narrative, let’s go back to the story. So you write an amazing screenplay, let’s just imagine it’s amazing. I have a screenplay that I want a national award for in the UK that I’m raising the finance for. So you’ve got this screenplay that you really believe in, and people love it. People read it, and they say, “Oh, my goodness, how when can I see this film? This is incredible,” you contact the agent for a famous person. And the agent passes you to their assistant assistant, who politely in a sort of fluffy cotton wool kind of way and they’ll never say no. And they say in a kind of vague way. “Yeah, if you want to, you can email that to me. Here’s my email address,” and you say, “Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time today. I’m going to email it over, and I’ll include the logline and synopsis. Let me know if you want the treatment. Thank you for your time.” And they say, “Absolutely.” And then a week goes by and another week goes by, and you feel like well, it’s been a couple of weeks I should follow up, and you email them to say “Hey, I just want to check in with you, how’s it going with the screenplay? We’ve had great responses to it and hope you’re enjoying it,” and they don’t reply to your email. 

And then you leave it another week, and you email them again, and they don’t reply to an email, and then you call the agents office, and you say, “I just want to check that you’re getting my emails because I said I would email it to you and I haven’t heard back. I just want to make sure you’ve got it,” and one or two things happens. You get the secretary who says, “Oh, they’re out of the office at the moment, I can tell them you called. What’s your number?” or you speak to the assistance assistant. And they say, “Oh, yeah, I’m so sorry. I did get your email. We’re a bit backlogged at the moment, but we should be able to get to it next week.” Basically, there’s a lovely lady friend of mine explaining recently that if you’re a girl and you’re not interested in a boy, and you don’t want to be rude about it, you use the fadeout technique where you just reply slower and slower and slower and shorter and shorter messages until the boy gives up. And that’s basically what happens when you contact the agencies. Nobody is going to say no because they don’t want to turn down the next Spielberg, Tarantino, and Lucas, so what they do is they say yes, in a non-committal way. 

I think it’s called ghosting. 

Well, ghosting is just completely not replying at all, so eventually, they ghost you, and you just get no response whatsoever. And so now Oh, hang on a second, this narrative where all I have to do is write a great screenplay and send it to people. Okay, that’s not working. I know, I’ll go to the money, people. So you go to the money, people, and they say, “Wow, amazing pitch, we love the way you present that story. It’s so fantastic. So, yeah, send us the screenplay, and we want to see the metrics. So you spend weeks or months producing a beautiful presentation deck, that’s called potential revenues, but you have to be honest. So you show the low, medium and high and you show comparable films and the risk warning in there, and you sent over the trigger and all of the visuals, and you take photos, and you were finishing on them, and you do a little teaser, and you do all of that you shoot it, and you send it. And then they look at it, and they say,” So who’s in your package? Who have you got commitments from?” and you say, “Well, that’s kind of not the stage we’re at. We’re at the end of development now, so we’re ready to go into that stage. We’d like you to commit funds for the film, and then with that commitment, we can go to the agencies and get the money.” And then the investor says, “Wow, I loved your project. It’s a pass.” Now what happens is, and because you don’t want to push, they would say, “It’s not for us. A great project but we’re out,” And eventually you’ll find an investor, and sometimes and it’s a terrible thing, but in a bar late at night, you’ll get them to admit why they said no, and they’ll tell you that you don’t have anybody attached to the film, which means that it’s just a random who-knows. “We’ve got no way of knowing if the film is going to even get distribution without names attached. And so we don’t get into a debate about it. But we’re always going to pass on that because you don’t have any metrics.” 

And by metrics, I mean, you have no credible sales estimates. And without distributions, my friend Elliot Grove runs a Raindance Film Festival, and I was hosting a panel he was on some years ago, where we talked about the number one thing that matters for film, and his argument was its distribution. Because if you don’t have distribution, you don’t have a product. The money changes hands when people buy tickets for your film, or they rent it on iTunes, or Amazon, or whatever it is. So what do you do? So this is the chicken and egg. And if you are a studio and you contact the agents for a famous actor, the agent will definitely pick up the phone, and you will get the agent. If you have an IMDB Pro account, you’ve got all the phone numbers for all the agents for all the actors, and you can call their office directly. But if you’re not calling from a studio, forget it. Now, if you are related to somebody famous, go forth, put them on your deck for your presentation, you’re probably gonna raise the finance for your film. But if you’re an indie filmmaker, and you’re just coming in the cold, that advice is all false. And I spent years jumping through every hoop doing every single thing that every self-proclaimed expert told me to do, and it was all false. 


I’ll give an example. One more example, and then I’ll tell you how we fixed it. So I came up with this project, Orpheus Rising, a gorgeous love story thriller. We wanted $6 million, it’s my first feature as a director, I’ve got awards as a short film director, but nobody cares about those really. So you get into the investors, and they say, “Well, when you’ve got famous people, let us know,” for abbreviating weeks of conversations, of course, but that’s the gist of it. So then we came up with a project that was a really small budget, Jolie’s Garden, a gorgeous psychological thriller set in a beautiful underground, mysterious garden. And a great project, great team, we’re already attached to both of those projects. And we thought we could shoot this for $200,000, so let’s go for it. Let’s do that. And then what we found is that the real film investors want to invest millions. So you get famous people in the film, and then they raise the profile, and you make your money back. They don’t want to invest in those films. And the people that would invest in small films only really want to invest so they can hang out with famous people.

I had a meeting with some venture capital investors. I thought this is money, right? I’ll talk to them. And I met with these guys that ran a big VC meeting group thing, and I showed them the numbers for this film. And I said, “We’re very confident, we can’t commit obviously to saying it’ll definitely happen. It’s risky. But we’re very confident that investors will make a minimum of four times their investment,” and this guy looked at me and said, “Maxim, please never use that number again when you’re speaking to investors, unless you can show investors that they will make ten times the amount that they invested as profit, as a return of an investment, then just nobody’s going to be interested.” Name one business where you’re going to commit to ten times return on the investment. It’s just insane. That will be it’ll be unethical to say that.

Not if you’re telling the truth, right? You can’t do that. 

And if you don’t tell the truth, you ruin it for everybody else because you get disappointed investors who feel they’ve been cheated. So first of all, I met with a group of investors who committed the first 20% of the budget to Orpheus Rising. We have a list of 40 names of actors that we’d like, ten each for the four main roles, and the deal we’ve negotiated is subject to us getting a letter of interest from any one of the 40 names on that list. They will commit the first $1.2 million to the project. That’s fantastic. I was having a meeting with an investor, and I have great connections with some incredible international technology companies, Adobe, Avid Blackmagic, HP, Dell, Core.Live, these companies are just so wonderful, it’s just a long list. And this guy was saying, “Well, why don’t you give us all of your sponsors, and we’ll finance lots of other films, and then we’ll finance yours,” and I was saying, “Let’s do it the other way around.”

Wait a minute, excuse me? “We’ll finance a lot of other films, and then we’ll get to yours.” Okay, thank you very much. Goodbye.

But then he said, “But you know what, I’m pretty confident that we can get the last 20% for you.” And I was so frustrated because this gentleman had been having legitimate conversations with me about investing in a film and I said, “Look, everybody wants to give you the last 20%. And the reason is that up to that point, the previous 80% they’ve done their due diligence, they check the legal. Everyone’s already checked this project in-depth to get to the point where they’ve invested four out of five parts of the budget, and my mother could give me the last 20% of the budget for the film.” And so no, that’s not of interest. The hard part is the first 20%. Suppose you can get the first 20% committed to a film. It shows credible investors that you have credibility and that your project is authentic. It’s a very important part of finance. So then, in the meantime, for Jolie’s Garden film, I’ve now got a very credible investor supporting the project, who is confident that he can get us two and a half million dollars to shoot the film. And we’re in that process right now, which is just great, because it means I can actually pay people. And you know the thing with film is you can make it for any budget. I love those filmmaker memes Instagram accounts where they have client expectation versus client budget, where it’s a lion, and you get a kitten. 

So in the meantime, we’re just trying to look at what is the problem. And as soon as you tell somebody you’re gonna make a feature film, everybody becomes an expert, and everybody tells you that you’re wrong. Like whatever you were going to do, you’re doing it the wrong way. You could be in a coffee shop, and the guy making the coffee is saying, “Well, I read an article, and it turns out, you should do this,” so it’s a bit of an issue. So what do you do about that? 

Well, I started looking at the first features of famous directors, and I noticed two significant things. Number one, they had no money, and number two, the films were frankly not that great. They showed a lot of promise, they had a consistent look and feel, you felt the hand of a director was on it, somebody made that film, but a lot of them are not particularly fantastic films, to be truthful. They’re good, but they’re not amazing. The second film they make is phenomenal. They’re given a budget and professional crew, and you see what they can do. But the first feature they make is often okay, but you know, you had one day to shoot something you need five days for, and the camera broke halfway through the shoot, and everyone was tired. What do you expect? You work within your means. So we came up with a concept where it would be no budget, no cost, fantastic concept, all about performances, and an engaging, compelling story. 

That’s awesome. 

So that the other projects, it’s no longer my first feature, I’ve now directed a feature film. So all of the negotiations are about directing the second feature film. And this is very powerful, very powerful because people are nervous about investing in first-time directors. So for me, I’m always optimistic in any situation in life where there is a positive way forward. And I only get depressed when I feel like I’m just powerless. It is a very human thing. Control is really important for us as a species. And if you feel like you’re out of control, you can have such a big impact on your health, and you’re well being. So having something positive you can do about it is really critical. So that’s what we’ve done, we’ve shot this beautiful, fantastic, crazy supernatural thriller that all this wonderful stuff emerges. We had a very young director of photography, who I’ve been mentoring for a while now, who’s still at film school. And I said, “It’s no budget, you normally get paid, but I’ll fly you over, give you accommodation and food. And I’m even going to give you the director of photography credit on the film.” He’s not even out of film school yet.

Wow. Who is this?

Tyler Oaks. He was great to work with. I keep an eye out for Tyler. Tyler Oaks is a very impressive young man, very professional. And he’s learning from me about composition, he’s learning about production. And that’s the point, right? He’s there to learn also to be absolutely invaluable in the team. And he’s the director of photography for the film. 

But this is an example, Maxim, of why you’re so successful because you know what you’re doing. So many first films, the DP knows more than the director, and the director hires a DP who’s really able to teach the director while they’re filming. This way, it’s the other way around. I think it’s wonderful. I’m really anxious to see this, I think. I want to see this thing. So you’re in post now, right? 


And by the way, I think this is very good advice. I hope everyone who wants to make films and who has been through the process is listening to this because Maxim has just taken years off of your process if you listen to what he’s telling you. Seriously, I see this all the time. People come to me, and they say, “How can I get my film made?” This is great advice, Maxim.

Pick a film that you can make.

Yes, absolutely. 

Look at Edgar Wright. Edgar Wright was a friend of mine at film school years ago. I’ve got a tape in a box somewhere, where Edgar and I were shooting at each other dressed as doctors because we had to do a made-up commercial for a blog campaign. And Edgar said, “Why don’t we just have a scene where we’re just as doctors shooting at each other?” So I said, “Okay, let’s do it,” and the last shot of the film is my forehead exploding with terrible prosthetics. This massive plastic stuck on my head. And it’s great, there’s a freeze-frame of a blood bottle exploding, it was really good fun. Edgar and I were working on his first feature, A Fistful of Fingers, for a while, and this is a really good life lesson, right? I was 19, so I’m 45 as of about two weeks ago, so 26 years ago. And Edgar had already made a kind of mess around a version of A Fistful of Fingers with his friends before coming to Bournemouth, where we’re at film school together, and he wanted to remake it with a bigger budget. And I kept saying, “Let’s try to get a budget together, we’ll get some sponsors, we’ll get some free stuff. And we’ll try to shoot this properly and make a good quality film.” And Edgar kept saying, “Look, I just want to direct my first feature, and let’s just get it made.” And a few months into the process, I pulled out, in the nicest possible way. Huge respect for Edgar, very talented even then as a director. And I said, “We’re trying to make different films, and I feel like let’s part ways now we’re friends, and we’re on great terms. There’s no big conflict, we’re not having an argument, but I think we’re trying to make different films and so let’s part ways on this project and I’m really a director rather than a producer anyway, so find someone who’s really a producer.” 

He went forth, and he made A Fistful of Fingers, you can find it, and it’s a kind of a spoof Western. Watch that film, and you can see Edgar’s style in it, you can see his comedy style, you can see the hand of the director. And it’s a great achievement. He made a feature film, and I went off to try to make my first feature film that was, getting on a budget together and everybody was telling me this was 26 years ago, everybody was telling me that $8 million was a very good budget for a first-time feature film director. And that was an unrealistic low budget, totally untrue. So I’m working, and I’m listening to everybody’s advice, and I’m going around the houses. In the meantime, I did a lot of other stuff. I became a futurist, and I started consulting for these organizations, NASA and Microsoft, and speaking at conferences. I did a lot of stuff, I traveled the world, and I’m happy with the life I’ve lived. But looking back, I’m learning the lesson now that Edgar knew when he was 19, which is just get it made. Make the film you can make. Because when people in the industry look at the film you’ve made, and they find out the budget you had, they are going to think, wow, that you achieve this with no money at all is incredible. Let’s give that person some money and see what we can do with the pro team. 

And so nobody’s expecting your first feature film to be Avatar or Titanic. No one’s expecting that. What they want is to feel something. If you can make a film, whether it’s a short or a feature, or a documentary, or a series or anything, and people feel something when they engage with what you’ve created, that is what matters. Don’t hold back because you haven’t got the best camera, or Sam Raimi, when he made Evil Dead, invented the concept of Steadicam by putting the camera in the middle of a long plank of wood, and he had one person on either end of the plank of wood running with it. And because of leverage and the way leavers work, the movement of them running across the ground was smoothed, because the camera is in the middle of the plank and there either end. And he just came up with the concept of Steadicam. Steadicam became a company, it’s a totally different concept now. But the idea of using technology to smooth the movement of the camera that you are carrying was invented because Sam Raimi didn’t have any other way of doing it.

You mentioned a moment ago your public speaking, and you have had a few lately that are amazingly interesting. Can you talk about the last couple of talks that you gave and what they were about? 

Oh, thank you for asking. So unofficially, I spent about 20 years trying to understand life and the universe and everything. I was a fan of the universe as a young child, and I want to understand how it worked. And you and I have spoken before about Richard Bach, and he is my favorite author; he wrote a book called Illusions. I read Illusions when I was 11 years old, and it just set me off on my spiritual journey, and I wasn’t particularly attached to one or other belief system or religion. I just wanted to understand what is this thing called life. And for me, the film is an incredible opportunity to express those sorts of ideas and to explore them. It’s experiential for the audience in very powerful ways because you literally experienced what you witness. And so what can I say? I was excited to explore this stuff. And over the years, I’ve given a lot of presentations about film and media, and I speak at film festivals around the world, I speak at conferences, media technology, in particular, VR storytelling, that kind of stuff. 

But I was very grateful that a little while back, people started letting me speak more about practical philosophy, the realism, and perspective on things that are helpful at action rather than just being excitable. A couple of years ago at Dell, they had a venue on Main Street during Sundance. And I go to Sundance every year, it’s a great festival. And I did a session for them that was about post-production techniques because of course, I’m known for that, I write books on it. But they also let me do a session about these sorts of ideas about, for example, I think it’s reasonable to argue that human life is kind of a narrative. Our entire perception of ourselves is a story. We don’t really know the facts. We construct explanations and significances. And on the basis of those, the ones that are persistent, we come to know as ourselves. And so what if we could really have a perspective on that? What if we could choose the narrative that we’re living in? What would that be? So I was talking a bit about that. About a year ago, IEEE, who has such an enormous organization, most people have never heard of them. 

I think they’re wonderful. 

So they have this enormous new future leaders conference. And last August, they invited me to do the headline keynote, which I was really humbled and proud to be invited to do. It’s a room full of engineers and future leader engineers, and I gave a one hour keynote on volition coercion and decision making for future leaders. It was voted the most highly rated session of the entire conference. 

I’m not surprised.

People in America always joke that if you have a British accent, everyone will pay attention to you. 

It’s the “I am Jago. Maxim Jago.”

It feels good to be compared to Patrick Stewart now. So I’ve started practicing the “Tea, Earl Grey hot. Make it so.” So that’s not me, I’m more of a Jason Statham kind of guy. So I gave this presentation, and what was lovely about it is that it’s a set of principles. It’s not a set of rules and specific contexts. It’s just principles to ask yourself, am I making this decision truly? Am I making this decision because I’m motivated by fear or love? It’s going to be one or the other, let’s talk about that. And I was just talking about how we choose what we are. And my argument, the conclusion, you can watch it because they filmed it. I put it online. It’s on YouTube. 

What was the title of this talk? So we can all find it. 

Future Leaders Forum keynote 2018. If you search for IEEE Maxim Jago, it comes up on Google. So I gave that presentation, and they filmed it, which was lovely, and I found really wonderful responses. And then this year at the same conference, I gave a keynote on what the word “why” means. Now, the conclusion of my previous session was I argued that although you can never really know the past, present, or future things, you don’t really remember a character you don’t know in the future. You always know if you meant it. If you make a decision, do you really mean it? And if there is a measure by which we can gauge if we’re truly alive, surely it has to be whether we meant it or not. You might say you’re going to start getting up earlier in the morning, but do you mean it? You might say that you’re going to work hard, you might tell yourself you’re gonna work hard on a project, do you mean it? And ultimately, the things that you mean other things that become you, it becomes your experience. 

There’s a lovely example that I read online where somebody was saying, write down your list of priorities in life in order of priority, and then put that piece of paper to one side, get another piece of paper and write down what you did yesterday. Now take the first piece of paper, throw it in the trash, and look at the piece of paper that describes what you did yesterday because that is your actual set of priorities. If you really want to know what’s important to you, it’s written right there because it’s what you actually did. Fascinating. So then this year, I was talking about what the word “why” means and how we justify or rationalize the choices that we make in life and how to make peace with that. And I argued that the only way to change yourself is to begin by knowing yourself. And the only way to truly know yourself is to know yourself without judgment. Because if you are judging yourself while you are exploring who you are, you are actually going to see the judgment you’re not going to see you. And so you’re never going to know yourself. And it’s only by knowing where you are that you can use a map to decide how to get to where you want to go. So it’s crucial that you non judgmentally, self accept, and then you can think about whether you want to be a different person. And so I argued that it’s our system priorities that we come to know as ourselves. So anyway, I gave a presentation about that. And then it was nicely received. So this is the sort of stuff that I’m enjoying, and I do keynotes for organizations and just help people to make peace with what they are and to make peace with what they want to be because life should be an existential joy, not existential angst.

I agree with you. I just so agree with you. I think a good life joyously lived is our legacy. And if you think about what you want your children to remember when you’re gone or the people that you meet when you go through life. I was thinking a few years ago, what am I good at? What am I really good at? Because I have done so much, but what is the one thing that I’m really good at? And the answer that came is loving, and the next thought was, well, you can’t make a living doing that. And then the next thought was, it doesn’t matter. And with that, cradled in my arms with that, I go out every day, and that’s what I do. I just meet people, and I find such amazing people, and it’s just because I’m open to loving them without any kind of expectation of anything that’s going to happen. It’s such a gift, and you do that with people. You have this brilliant mind. I always love talking with you.

I’m just a fan of people.

You are. And so I hope you do a lot more of these keynotes and I’m anxious to see the film, and I guess you have things you have to do today. I could talk to you for days. And so you are now at the Toronto Film Festival. I’m sure it’s gonna be a very busy day, and then you’re on to Tokyo after that.

Yes, I’m in Tokyo for three months. If anybody wants to reach out and meet up and hang out in Tokyo, I will be in Shibuya for three months. I already might have to come back to the US in October. I don’t mind the long flight. So I’ve got a few things to do. But I will be mostly in Tokyo for a little under three months, and I’m so excited to be there. I’m gonna learn Japanese, and I might take up Aikido. I used to teach Tai Chi Chuan, but I’m really interested in learning Aikido as well. 

Are you gonna send more pictures of you walking on your hands?

So my party trick is a hand down with my fingers. And at the IEEE conference just in Pittsburgh just now, they insisted on having me up in front of everybody doing fingertip hands down to begin an evening, what I would describe as silliness. 

I love it. Oh, Maxim, you are an amazing person and a dear friend. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. And please, everyone listening, listen closely to the advice that you’re being given. It will save you years of walking down the wrong path, and it will lead you to happiness. So everyone remember what I always tell you, get up off your chair and go do something wonderful today. That was Maxim Jago, a futurist, filmmaker, keynote speaker, an amazing intellect, and somebody that we all need to follow. Thanks, Maxim. 

Wow. Thank you so much. Are you sure you don’t want to work in marketing? Thank you. It’s an absolute pleasure. I really appreciate you inviting me to join you today.

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