FRIDAY MARCH 24, 2017
 
Blog IN PRINT
THE BURIED LIFE
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What do you want to do before you die? Four Canadian boys asked themselves that question several years ago, writing down a list of 100 goals, ambitions, and dreams. After a short self-made documentary earned them serious buzz, the idea took on a life of its own, soon spawning the MTV series The Buried Life.

After wrapping several seasons of The Buried Life the boys - Duncan Penn, Jonnie Penn, Ben Nemtin and Dave Lingwood - have now put their story in print. What Do You Want to Do Before You Die? is a scrapbook-style look back at all the goals they have accomplished, and all the lives they've changed.

We spoke with Penn about building buzz, helping his friends, and whether he'll ever get to go to space.

How did this go from being a thought among friends to a media project?

It started as a two-week road trip, with us filming a documentary around the question “What do you want to do before you die?” We came back from that and it got a good amount of press, it seemed to be resonating with people. The next summer we made some more money, hired a crew and went after bigger list items.

Did you each make your own lists, or was there a lot of overlap?

It was definitely a combination. Dave and I always wanted to ride a bull, so we did that together in Idaho but the other guys didn’t. It really depends on the list items we chose to go after.

What was your first answer to the question?

"Grow a Mustache!" No ...

Well, that is a pretty big challenge.

It is. It’s harder than people think. That was actually on my original list. One of the first was to make a television show, but for me [the most important original idea] was “Make a Movie.”

Has turning this into a job actually made it harder to find time for your listed goals?

Yes and no. The project is about more than a list of things to do before you die, it’s about going after what you really want in life. I’m going after what I want, even if those things like the television show take up a lot of my time. 



You listed “Go into space,” which would seem, if not impossible, at least pretty close. Do you feel like you can do anything?

When this started we had “Make a Television Show,” and people said we would never be able to do it. Four Canadians kids aren’t gonna get a show on MTV! But along the way, sure enough, things happen. And that goes for #100 - “Go Into Space.” We’ve been talking to NASA back and forth, plugging away ... if the book becomes a bestseller we’re going to send a copy into space.

So the goal will be achieved in a manner of speaking.

The book will check things out for us, first. If it’s safe, then we’ll go [laughs.]

These are personal goals, but would you agree that it’s really other people who’ve helped you achieve them?

Absolutely. From the very beginning the only way we accomplished these things was through the help of other people. And we’ve always wanted to give back: someone helps you meet a life goal and you help them meet one of their own. Putting [your goals] out there helps so much. People don’t know that you need help until you tell them, like “Oh, you want to ride in a hot air balloon? My friend runs a company ...” “We’re trying to help this young girl sing with Michael Bublé ... “My aunt knows him!” It’s a network of people helping people.

In the book there’s a reference to helping a father meet his estranged biological son. How have you dealt with the kinds of goals that can such a deep, unpredictable effect?

The question does reach some very personal areas. We’ve had to be careful and delicate in dealing with people’s real lives. That example came up in one of our episodes; we met a man selling art at the side of the road, asked him the question, and he said “I want to reunite with my son, who I haven’t seen in 17 years.” He wanted a man-to-man sit down. After three months we found the son and got them on the phone, then saw them meet, and since then have watched them become closer.

I guess for things like that all you can do is provide people the opportunity, and hope for the best.

Yeah, exactly. And in that situation we didn’t do much, just found the son and delivered a phone number. The courage came from them. Sometimes it’s just about pushing people in the right direction.

Have you ever asked the question and gotten no answer, in the sense of meeting people who feel fulfilled or totally satisfied with what they’ve done in life?

Oftentimes we’ll ask and they’ll say “Oh, I’m happy.” Or they’ll say something in defense like “I guess I could skydive before I die.” But I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened and we get an email the next day saying like “I said I wanted to skydive, but what I really want is to go to the Great Wall of China and recreate a picture of my grandfather.” Everybody has these goals but people are trained not to think about them [too much] because they’re supposed to be dreams.

We often talk about the difference between a “dream” and a “project.” It’s all about how you see it. Write something down and it suddenly doesn’t seem so much like [an impossible] dream. Turn it into a project, something you can break down into steps and go after.

Ask someone what they dream of doing and they’ll probably answer with what they think is closest to impossible, I would imagine.

Without a doubt.

The format of the book is interesting. It’s more like a scrapbook than a straight run-down of your story so far. Why was it important for the team to reflect in that way?

We’ve been wanting to make a book since day one, and we’ve been collecting [the scraps] along the way for the past five years. When we had the original idea it was like someone had given us permission to do whatever we wanted, so our goal with the book was to give the same feeling back to whoever reads it.



What Do You Want to Do Before You Die: The Buried Life hits bookstores March 27.

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