Milton’s Secret is based on a work by Eckhart Tolle that was originally meant for young children. I received the galleys from the publisher, and thought it would lend itself to an adult story about families and uncertainty and the stressful times families live in. I met with Eckhart and discussed what I had in mind. He encouraged me to go forward.
People often ask me about working with Donald Sutherland. Donald has made 180 movies with everyone from Fellini, Altman, Roeg, you name it. So there’s this epic history that comes along with Donald. And you feel it. He is a generous collaborator, is ahead of what’s happening always, always; what lens he’s on, everything, and that will keep you on your toes. Donald read the script, and fell in love with the character. He wrote to me and said, “I went to sleep, and when I woke up the next morning, my character, Stuart Howard’s slippers were already parked under my bed.” He was in.
The bullying theme is a big deal for me. There is the obvious violence of bullying, physical and emotional — and that’s there, but more subtle is the violence we do to ourselves as a result of our bullying self talk, ‘you’re not good enough, smart enough, rich enough, you’re too tall, thin, black, white…’ you get the point. The thing is this thought-stream is a product originating from outside ourselves. The messages we receive from our families, schools, advertising and media, religions, culture in general. It’s a hand me down worldview. The physical bullying always starts from there whether you are a child on the playground or a banker on Wall Street. We turn these messages on ourselves before we turn them on others. That’s an important understanding, I thought, worth building a movie on.
The major challenges in Milton’s life are more similar than dissimilar to the challenges in most children’s lives. Am I safe? Do I belong? Am I valuable for who I am or am I valued for what I do? That’s a big one. William Ainscough who plays Milton is unusually in touch with his feelings. By the time most kids reach his age, they are often split off from their feelings, and more attuned to anxiety which is worry about feelings, not feelings. So we tried, especially with the kids, to bring about a body awareness of feelings using the breath, stillness, sharing. When feelings are experienced, felt, and released, we can move on. That’s how we worked.
I’ve spent my entire adult life in the film world where projects are scripted and predictable. But in real life the amount of chaos that people are required to meet is monumental and unprecedented. Many are in overwhelm. Fortunately there is one skill-set that can be developed to meet the challenge of change. That core competency is self- awareness. And that’s what the movie about.
~ Barnet Bain, November 2020