Behind the Scenes

Recommended: Netflix Discoveries and Observations from 2020.

Netflix is overwhelming. We all know this.

The sheer amount of things you can watch on there is staggering. And we also know from research that too much choice is not good for us — it does not make us happy:

Research now shows that there can be too much choice; when there is, consumers are less likely to buy anything at all, and if they do buy, they are less satisfied with their selection.

The global streaming platform has definitely become the epitome of this problem. So much so that they actually offer a “play something randomly” button on their entry page now, to relieve users of the burden of choosing.

I was beginning to suspect that this might actually have a negative impact on my ability to enjoy films: There is so much out there — it seemed to make me less and less willing to actually follow through with any one film or series. Whenever something happened in a film or on a show that I didn’t like or enjoy in the moment — which is normal; all films are about conflict, which is sometimes unpleasant! — I would simply jump ship and watch something else. No commitment, no follow-through, just hopping about. And at the end of the evening I would lazily return to “Big Bang Theory” (which I play on loop when I cook or eat by myself — it’s my default switching-my-brain-off show, akin to a “zen music playlist” on Spotify), to zone out, before going to bed. And in this way, I was apparently “weaning myself off” of the actual film-watching experience — because of an over-abundance of choice.

Then I was watching Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule” the other day, and something dawned on me: Very often, the problem is not Netflix — instead, it is too many films and shows filled with characters I simply do not care about. Characters that leave me cold and uninterested — or worse: actively unwilling to follow them into their conflicts. Eastwood’s grumpy old man in that film was the perfect example. The film spends about 25 minutes introducing me to an unpleasant, grumpy, selfish old man. Nothing about his character is likeable — or interesting. Nothing at all.

I understand, of course, that a film’s purpose is to take one or several characters on a journey, and allow them to transform and learn something about themselves. And yet — if I find a character so unpleasant to begin with that I simply do not care what happens to her or him, then, well, I’ll simply switch off. Why spend two hours of my life (or a lot more, if it’s a show) “in the company” of someone whom I simply do not like? Life’s too precious. And so, after about half an hour, I stopped watching “The Mule” — I just wasn’t interested in what was going to happen to that old fart, as he was beginning his drug-running work for the cartel. (The only worse type are characters that seem completely implausible, or act in ways nobody understands. They ruin a show or a film within seconds.)

Mind you — I don’t need Disney-esque cuddly characters that make you vomit from all the sugar they’re coated with. I am happy to encounter real characters, with flaws and dark sides and anger and pain and all the rest of it. But they also need something human, emotional, relatable. Years ago, I saw no need to continue watching “The Sopranos” — for the same reason. I had finished season 1, and somewhere in season 2 I realised that no one — absolutely nobody — on that show had anything to offer that I liked. So I stopped watching. David Simon’s magnificent show “The Wire” was the exact opposite — I liked almost every character on that show, be they drug lords, beat cops, or corrupt politicians. (Nobody beats Omar Little, of course. Nobody. But that’s another story.) Most of them were also selfish, cruel, spineless, or a combination of these and many other flaws. But something about each and every one of them was also relatable, real, and endearing. It became my favourite TV show of all time.

This blog and website is entirely dedicated to our documentary film project about the political fight for Wellbeing Economies. But after I had had these observations, I wanted to publish a little list of fictional films and TV shows, at the end of this year, that I did thoroughly enjoy. If only to prove to myself that I can still follow through! And besides, since this website is all about making a film, why not add a little shout-out to work that I truly enjoyed — to mark the end of this crazy Pandemic-riddled 2020?

One show on Netflix that hit all the right buttons, in terms of interesting and relatable yet profoundly flawed characters, was “The Sinner“. It centers on Bill Pullman’s awkward detective Ambrose who is solving one murder mystery per season. He is clearly a weirdo, with awkward ways of dealing with people. And so are his suspects. The show’s premise is that we know who the killer is, we just have no idea why they killed their victims. And so you meet these very charismatic yet clearly deranged or disturbed people, and you join Ambrose on his quest to find out why they did what they did. Really interesting. And quite dark, at times.

A couple of weeks ago, Netflix made “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” available for streaming. I didn’t watch it on Netflix, I watched it a while back on DVD (I think). But that film hits hard — in such surprising ways. At first you think that it’s a small straightforward story from a small straightforward town: A mother is giving the police chief a hard time because she thinks he didn’t do enough to find her daughter’s killer. But the way the story builds and builds and builds, and adds yet another layer of drama and then one more on top of that — it’s awesome. And again, it’s peopled with incredibly interesting characters. Frances McDormand’s “mother” is the best example: Very often she is incredibly unpleasant to people. But you feel with her, you want her to succeed. Of course — after what she’s been through!

On the opposite end of the spectrum is “Lovesick“. There are no lives at stake, no killers to be hunted, no earth to be saved — it’s only three twens who are trying to find love in modern day London. Which sounds a bit lame, and which is also a bit predictable — but wait until you meet them: Gloriously fun people! Sometimes you want to hug them, sometimes you want to hit them, but they never leave you not caring.

For the past couple of years (or so) I’ve developed a new habit: I’m watching “The Equalizer” at least once a year. What I love about it is simply observing Denzel Washington as the title character do his thing. He is a damaged soul — as a retired military-secret-spy-elite-something, he has cut his ties with the rest of the world and leads a very quiet life of simplicity. Then, one day a person that he is sympathetic to gets in trouble. And he cannot help himself, he has to get involved. What happens then is one of the most fun revenge phantasies that you can see on the screen — and not the type where gallons of blood are splattered everywhere. Quite the contrary: The violence is sparse, contained, meticulously handed out. In a sense, the film is almost understated with the violence. And lovely that way.

If you want to create a very interesting contradictory Denzel evening with two films in a row, you can add “Training Day” to the mix. The film is from 2001, but it holds up well, and has Washington in one of his meanest roles ever — while Ethan Hawke is standing his ground as a rookie cop that has to deal with all the nasty that Denzel is handing out.

For a change of pace, with animation, sci-fi and robots, I’d recommend “Love, Death & Robots“. It’s a collection of 18 animation short films in all kinds of styles and designs. And they all deal with, well, love, death and robots. I really enjoyed this, because visually they are often stunning, and many of the characters are really interesting. Plus, the snack size of the films (they’re all between 6 and 17 minutes long) makes them very easy to enjoy outside the couch potato setting. Even as a download on the metro, etc.

I don’t usually binge-watch. After an episode or two of a show, I tend to need a bit of a palette cleanser, maybe even delay the next episodes by a day or two. But with “Godless“, this was different. I think I watched the 7-part miniseries in 2019, and loved every bit of it — I burned right through it. For one, it’s fun to see the usually good-natured Jeff Daniels with a big old beard as a nasty villain. But more importantly, the women on the show really make it what it is. You need to like Westerns, of course, to enjoy it. But if you want a Western that shows you fierce bad-ass women standing their ground in a violent world of (fairly) ignorant bastard men, this is incredible fun.

Everyone knows that Joaquin Phoenix kicks ass. If you want to see him do that in a film made by super-inspired film maker Lynne Ramsay, with a visual style all her own, I’d very much recommend “You Were Never Really Here“. That film is a bit like “The Equalizer’s” weirdly deranged younger brother. Here, Phoenix is also a very damaged veteran of some government killing business, and now he takes on a child-sex-abuse-pornography ring that’s protected from very high up in the political system. But the film looks and feels nothing like what I just wrote — watching it is a little like experiencing it from within the mind of the protagonist. And also, Ramsay has found a very interesting way of (not) showing the violence.

Aaron Sorkin writing court room dramas is like Tiger Woods playing golf. A man in his element. I very much enjoyed “The Trial of the Chicago 7“, which came out as a Netflix film this year. Also, it taught me a few things about what happened in the USA back then, when the country very much disagreed on what is right and what is wrong — just like the country is doing today.

Speaking of Sorkin, he was also involved in writing the script for “Moneyball“. The film doesn’t look too exciting on the face of it: a story about statistics in Baseball? How fun is that going to be? Particularly for a European who, by default, cannot understand a damn thing about Baseball anyway? It turns out: Pretty fun! For one, thanks to two very interesting characters — Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill (!) are playing their incredibly understated, quietly intense characters in this David-vs-Goliath story that has you rooting for them even if you don’t understand a thing about Baseball. I really liked it, I’ve already seen it twice.

I do understand football a wee bit better (and I mean the European style — where feet actually matter in the kicking of the ball across the field!), but that is not why my absolutely favourite show on Netflix this year must have been “The English Game“. It’s just a gem of a six-episode miniseries that tells another David-vs.Goliath story — about how football became a professional sport, and what that meant for poor workers from Scotland and snobby nobles from London, and what they could or did not learn from each other. Absolutely delightful.

I am currently right in the middle of “Manhunt: Unabomber” — a show that is a real positive surprise. First of all, I know preciously little about Ted Kaczynski and what he did, and the show does present some of the historical facts. But secondly, it does not shy away from allowing the viewer to find Kaczinsky’s thinking reasonable, compelling even. His analysis of what’s wrong with the world was prescient then, and is quite pertinent today. His method of building bombs and killing people was just extremely misguided and wrong, of course. But that does not mean he didn’t point out real problems that threaten our world today. I am really enjoying the show.

Katherine Trebeck, one of the protagonists of our film, and an Aussie expat in Scotland, turned me on to the next show: I had started watching “Secret City” a while back, it looked like an Australian House of Cards type of thing. But I gave up quickly after the very first episode — it was so full of information, jargon, and what seemed like Australian political insider information and facts that I simply couldn’t keep up. It just seemed too much work. But Katherine warmly recommended the show, so I gave it another go. It turned out that the pilot episode was the problem: They crammed it so full of information that it became almost unwatchable. But then it let off a bit, became better paced, and turned into quite a fun take on the whole Snowden-NSA-data collection controversy from an Australian point of view (which we don’t usually get here in Europe). And it also had a nice element of Western-Chinese relations and mutual spying thrown in.

Staying down under, I also liked “Deep Water“, an Aussie cop show about a couple of detectives investigating horrible crimes against gay men in present and past Australia.

And now I will end my Netflix list with a complete surprise and absolute killer show, once again from Australia: “Nanette“, a one hour stand-up comedy special by Hannah Gadsby. It moved me, it made me laugh, it made me cry, I have never seen anything like it. And I’m not going to spoil why, or what is so special about it — just watch it, and your life will be better for it!

And that’s it from here, for this year. May 2021 bring us things we don’t even dare dream about. And I do mean that politically. Happy New Year!

WEGo in Practice

New Members Joining the Wellbeing Economy Governments

As humanity is struggling with the Covid pandemic (and, in many parts, trying to get into a Christmas spirit, despite the virus), there is still some good news happening. Yesterday, the Finnish Government declared that it is joining the WEGo project:

“Joining the network will give us new opportunities to promote the economy of wellbeing approach, for example in the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. This approach makes it possible to create a sustainable foundation for a just, equal, climate-friendly and competent society which is better equipped to respond to future crises and to overcome them more swiftly,” says Minister of Social Affairs and Health Aino-Kaisa Pekonen.

To us, it is incredibly exciting to witness the development of this alliance. We started following the project when it was nothing more than a visionary idea in the heads of a handful people who wanted to establish a different approach to running our economies.

We were there, at the end of 2018, when it was officially launched to the world, at an OECD conference in South Korea.

Today, a little over three years after the first small meeting was held at the University of Glasgow, to discuss an approach to economics that finally puts the wellbeing of people and planet at the core of economic policy development, five regional and national governments have publicly declared that this is the right one for them.

This does not mean that these governments abandon GDP as a key measurement tool in their work. Not yet. Finland cannot, actually: As a member of the Eurozone, Finland is committed to the Maastricht criteria, which indirectly leads to requirements for GDP growth. But if you carefully read the press release that’s linked above, you’ll see that it makes no reference to GDP growth. And that alone is saying something. It is a starting point.

Earlier this year, at the beginning of May, the Welsh Government became first new member after the alliance’s founding:

Covid-19 has dramatically changed our lives and will have a lasting and profound effect on all of us, on our economy, on our public services and on our communities. We cannot go back to business as normal, and need to plan for a Wales, shaped by the virus, that is more prosperous, more equal and greener, rooted in our commitment to social-economic and environmental justice. Last week, we joined the Well-being Economy Government (WEGo) Network and will be working with Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand – who all have a shared ambition to deliver and improve well-being through their economic approach.

Katherine Trebeck has been fighting for years for this alliance to come about, and to this day, she is part of countless conversations that are happening all around the world — as governments are beginning to rethink their approach to economic development, and slowly moving into a wellbeing economy logic.

I am truly excited that we will get to tell the story about some of the amazing people behind all this in our film.

Which will come out next year. Just bear with us. Still working on that edit. And will keep doing that for a little while longer …

A Christmas season that may be as merry as it can — to all those who celebrate it, and also to those who don’t or can’t. And all the best for a year 2021 to all of us — may it make things come true that we currently don’t even dare dream of yet.

Wellbeing Economies: Concept

Online-Event: Maja Göpel and Lorenzo Fioramonti

On Monday, the 30th of November 2020 at 7 pm (CET), German Professor and ‘transformational thinker’ Maja Göpel will meet with Lorenzo Fioramonti (one of the two main protagonists of our film) in a live debate, streamed online. The title for the evening:

How can we recreate our societies and
thereby ensure wellbeing and quality of life?

The event is organised by Arts & Nature Social Club, in collaboration with the German Chapter of the Club of Rome.

Even though we are already deep in the editing process, we will attend and film the event — to capture what will surely be an inspiring and inspired discussion about how to make our societies future-proof.

For those who want to join, here is the YouTube live link for the evening. Musical support will be provided by Frida Gold.


Relief In My Bones.

This film project — as well as most of my political work in the past four years — was directly inspired by Donald Trump’s election in 2016. The vote stimulated my disbelief, my anxiety, worry, curiosity — and as a consequence, it drove me to find out what was really going on in the world.

This film project would probably not exist if Hillary Clinton had won.

I do not live in America, I am not a US citizen, and it may seem surprising to some that the 2016 Presidential election had such an impact on my life. There are two reasons for this. The less important one is that I have always had a connection to the USA, ever since I went to live there as a teenager for a year, back in the summer of 1989. I have friends in America, I constantly observe and evaluate the impact that America has on our lives all around the world, and I am fascinated and frightened by the effects its culture has on us all. So I felt personally affected by an election in a country to which I feel this connection.

But the more important reason is this: For better or worse, the US President sets the tone for politics around the globe. And Trump maybe more than most, in ways that were so much worse than most. Sometimes his effect was direct and unmitigated — when he pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, for example. Sometimes it was indirect but no less horrendous — when his example stimulated other despotic fascist thugs or just plain old idiots in other high places around the world, to behave the way he did.

But I had no idea how deep that influence ran inside me. Until Sunday last. On Saturday, we all learned that Biden had won the election. And on Sunday morning, it suddenly dawned on me: From now on, everything would be different. Not for everyone or everything in the world, don’t get me wrong! But definitely for me.

And so I cried that morning.

Because only then did I truly realise the enormity of the last four years in my own life alone — how all my little struggles and attempts and projects had happened and existed under the black veil of the knowledge that the most powerful man on earth is against everything I am fighting for. Every single thing. How many times was Trump the first thing on my mind when I woke up in the morning! We live in a truly globalised world, the terrifying problems that we have as a species are shared by all of us. And in that one world, he was setting the tone – his monstrous, callous, sociopathic, global tone.

None of the problems are solved now, of course. They are still exactly as terrifying and enormous as they were a week ago. But the simple knowledge that from now on, an actual human being — with empathy, with the capacity to listen, to reason, to relate to other human beings — will sit in the White House does change everything for me.

The path for Biden and his people until January 20th and afterwards is going to be steep and long and hard, and the Republicans are showing a type of lax disrespect for, or outright loathing of democracy and its processes that is chilling to the bone. But I believe that the rule of law and the election results will reign. And that alone is an incredible victory. Which shows how low the USA have sunk.

But it is a light. Not the light at the end of the tunnel. But a torch that will allow us to carry on — so we may find the end of the tunnel.

Behind the Scenes

Editing a Documentary Feature Film. For the First Time.

It’s been a long while that we haven’t posted anything here. And there is a reason for that. Soon after our last blog post, about Katherine’s thoughts on the Corona pandemic, and what it means for wellbeing economics, we launched into editing mode: We closed the doors behind us (sort of … it wasn’t really hard anyway, because Corona), sat down and finally approached our terrabytes of footage, in order to start assembling this vast collection of material into a story that people will hopefully relate to, feel, understand, follow, be moved and inspired by.

A tall order. But gladly, we have help. Last year, we started collaborating with a team of experienced film makers from Hamburg, and they are now coaching us in the editing process.

Which sounds great. Which actually is great. But it doesn’t necessarily feel great — at least at the start: In April, I put together a first draft of what I thought the first fifteen minutes of our film could look like. It was a fairly rough sketch, but I thought it would be a good starting point for the development. Turned out that it wasn’t. The team in Hamburg explained to me with very kind words — and in a very long two-hour phone conference — that what I had made could probably live on YouTube, with its activist stance and rough & tumble explanatory ‘teacher’ tone. But it certainly was not going to work in the cinema, or really anywhere else where people expect a truly engaging cinematic experience that provokes thought and engages on an emotional level.

I was in a bad mood for about a week after the phone call.

I could not make sense of many of the things the guys had talked about: layered storytelling … associative space for the viewer … designing complexity. They seemed like abstract ideas, incredibly theoretical — I had not been to film school, no one had taught me how to think in these terms, and I could not connect them to our material, to the story of our two protagonists.

But then I started watching more documentaries and tried to keep these concepts and ideas in mind, mapping them onto what I was seeing. At the same time, we did another interview with our protagonist Lorenzo Fioramonti, about his feelings regarding the pandemic and his political ideas. I was slowly getting a grip on these theoretical film concepts, when suddenly some of Lorenzo’s words — he was very candid about the way he saw the state of affairs — and a couple of shots from Italy from Autumn last year began morphing together in my mind. And all of a sudden I had a hunch about how the film could start in a different way, and transmit more of the emotional state that this film project is borne out of. I put this together, and started to sort of riff on that approach. And the feedback from Hamburg suddenly sounded very different. Now they were saying ‘this is beginning to look cinematic.’ It felt like I had cracked a secret, like I had passed through a kind of conceptual door, and now I had a better understanding of what my job was.

And it has been that process ever since. I assemble more and more footage, fine tune it with Nick, we polish it, and then we show it to our colleagues. And then a long — sometimes more, sometimes less detailed — feedback session ensues, which is sometimes painful, sometimes controversial, but always constructive, and it allows me to carry on, polish more, and start building the next sequences.

The only downside is that there is hardly anything we can talk about here on the blog. Or show. Currently, we truly live deep down in the mine of our story, shaping and reshaping the film almost every day, and trying to figure out everything — from the most minute details (‘should we change this one word in the voice-over?’) to massive structural questions (‘can we tell Katherine’s and Lorenzo’s stories in parallel, or should it happen one after the other?’). And this part of the job will probably continue until the end of the year. If all goes well.

It’s an incredible journey, and incredibly enjoyable. Editing film is an addictive activity. At the same time, it can sometimes also eat you up. It takes over your whole body when you are enaging with film material of such quantities on such an intense level.

But I love it, and I am grateful that I get to have this experience, and that I get such amazing help. I will look back one day and know that this was one of the best times of my life. When I made my first feature-length film.

Behind the Scenes Gross Domestic Product Introduction

Katherine Trebeck: Corona Virus and Our Economy

A few days ago, I had the chance to catch up with Katherine – one of the two key protagonists in our film – about her thoughts regarding our current crisis, and what it means for changing our economies. This is a summary of the things she mentioned in our call.

Corona is revealing to the wider community that it’s miserably paid armies of people in precarious work, hitherto dismissed as ‘low skill’, who really keep our societies going: the couriers, the nurses, the supermarket checkout staff, the care workers, the refuse collectors. They are now the ones who keep the shop open, who keep our streets clean, who deliver books and groceries to our door to help us get through lockdown. They are the ones who ensure our wellbeing these days.

Whereas the highly paid top managers are nowhere to be seen in such a terrain.

This should make us take a renewed interest in rather boring seeming and less glamorous aspects of our economy: schools, hospitals, the food industry (the so-called ‘foundational economy’). We should hold on to a new recognition of the importance of local supply chains.

And also ask ourselves new questions: what is the Care Economy really worth to us? How much do we value the “gift economy” — i.e. all the services that are provided in everyday life without payment (child supervision among neighbours, care for the elderly in the family, help here and there in the neighbourhood), which keep so much of our lives as individuals and as communities together.

And we should note that despite its vital role, so much of this is not calculated anywhere in the GDP of a country.

That is why now is the time to think new thoughts and imagine a better economy post-corona than the one we had going into it. This phase of crisis enables us to ask questions and give answers that were unthinkable only a short while ago. For example, the current UK Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to be thinking — or at least there were hints of this in some of his press conferences – in terms of the rich having to carry some of the burden of the mammoth income support programmes the government is having to bring in. We’ll see where that ends up, but it would have been hard to have imagined just a few weeks ago.

The risk is that this window of possibility will close again very quickly – that a “rollback” will come as people rush to return to how things were — forgetting or ignoring how grim that was for so many and for our planet. 

There is a similar diversity in the corporate world — the wheat separating from the chaff: some companies are now putting profits aside and trying to live up to their responsibilities. One example that has caught my eye is the supermarket chain Morrisons which has promised all its suppliers that from now on they will pay all deliveries immediately, to help them with their cash flow. This is significant because supermarkets are notorious for slow payment. Another example is whisky distilleries reconfiguring their operations to produce hand sanitizers — and making it available at cost or for free to front line workers. But there are others going in the opposite direction: Amazon has fired people who didn’t dare to come to work because of Corona, a chain of pubs forcing its staff to work when the government was advising against it.

This is exactly why we must do everything we can to start creating a better world now. The opportunity is to build back better as my former colleagues working in humanitarian situations would say. 

A lot of folks have been thinking long and hard for many years — decades even — about how our economy should be. Covid-19 may have just transformed the economic and political landscape so much that these ideas get the hearing they so urgently deserve.

Behind the Scenes OECD South Korea On the Road

2019: A Breakthrough Year for Our Film Project.

The development of this film project in 2019 was rather remarkable.

Originally, we had planned to finish shooting in March of 2019, after a little over a year. And then we wanted to finalise the edit and post-production by the end of 2019.

But then other things happened.

Our stories and protagonists took to the global stage!

The final chapter in our story about the Wellbeing Economy Governments was supposed to be the big OECD conference in South Korea where the initiative was officially launched and publicly announced for the first time. But to be quite frank, that event felt somewhat anti-climactic: It was a so-called “breakfast session” — very early in the morning, in a small room, with hardly anyone attending. And we asked ourselves: This is supposed to be the big breakthrough that shows the world that we need to move away from GDP as the key measure for economic activity?

It seemed a little like the project had failed as it was succeeding.

But it turns out: A small launch can still lead to a big change. In the following months, all kinds of little things were happening in the three WEGo countries, and also between them. And then, another few weeks later, the big news broke that Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, was announcing and explaining the WEGo initiative from the TED stage. To this day, her talk has been watched over 1.7 million times — and that does look a lot more like the big event that we would have hoped for. And then towards the end of the year, Icelandic prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir gave a speech about the initiative in London, which got the BBC interested, and which finally even led to a brief radio interview I myself gave to the BBC about the WEGo!

Lorenzo’s story also took an unexpected turn around the middle of the year — he was promoted from Vice Minister to Minister of Education in the surprisingly formed new PD/5-Star government. In this role, he made lots of waves in Italy, he got plenty of pressure from many sides, his policies made him unpopular with many people (because he proposes uncomfortable solutions and he really wants to transform the Italian society for the future), but he has also got international headlines for his push to have Italian schoolchildren taught about sustainable living and the climate in all classes starting with the coming academic year.

All this culminated in him being invited to the Climate Conference in Madrid and to an audience with the Pope. (We were there with the camera for the former, but not for the latter.) And now, just before the end of the year he resigned from his job as minister. Which came as no surprise to us, on the contrary. But the background to his resignation doesn’t belong here, it’ll be in our film. The important thing for us is that we were very lucky: We met a man who was then not even a member of the Italian parliament, and who transformed from a nobody into an internationally recognized politician in just under two years. When he resigned, it was reported internationally in the media. How often do international media usually take an interest in an Italian Minister of Education who’s been in office for only a few weeks?

We found powerful partners!

The second thing that “got in the way” was a partnership for the production and distribution of the film. Around the middle of the year we met a director and producer who is very well established in the German television landscape and who quickly warmed to our project. In November we signed an agreement according to which we will finish and market the film together with his company. We will communicate details about this alliance once there are details to communicate — but for the development of our film it is important that the second half of the year was characterized by getting to know and discussing the film project with our new partners. In our exchanges we thought and learned a lot about how our film can work, how we should structure it and what the focus should be. This was enormously helpful for our understanding of what kind of film we are making. But it also took time, of course.

Because of these two developments, we didn’t finish the film by the end of the year, but we are now planning to get it done by the middle of 2020.

So … we are looking very much forward to an eventful year in which we will see our film finished. The key job now will be to carve out a compelling story from all the material that we have collected. Happy New Year everyone, and wish us luck!

Introduction WEGo in Practice Wellbeing Economies: Concept

The Vision of Wellbeing Economies.

A couple weeks ago, I had to summarise the “Wellbeing Economies vision”, for an internal document that we needed. I am neither a scholar nor a practitioner of wellbeing economics, but I still felt that the exercise of writing down what I had understood in our project to be valuable. Clearing one’s thoughts by putting them into writing is often quite helpful. Here are the results. Interestingly, the real experts in the matter — the team at the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) – also just happened to put out a document about the very same thing. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet. But it may be fun for some to contrast and compare.

The concept of Wellbeing Economies (WE) does not attempt to explain the world through a central foundational economic model, nor does it recommend a particular path for achieving its goals. Rather, it is essentially a very pragmatic approach that begins not with a “system”, but with the end goal: an economy that serves people and the planet as a whole.

Five central concerns are to be achieved:

  • Dignity: Everyone has enough to live in comfort, safety and happiness
  • Nature: A restored and safe natural world for all life
  • Connection: A sense of belonging and institutions that serve the common good
  • Fairness: Justice in all its dimensions at the heart of economic systems, and the gap between the richest and poorest greatly reduced
  • Participation: Citizens are actively engaged in their communities and locally rooted economies

One of the reasons why there is no central (mathematical) model for Wellbeing Economies is that advocates of the “Wellbeing Economy” idea embed economics deeply in the social sciences and reject a purely model-driven, number-oriented approach — which tries to give Economics a false semblance of a natural science.

Rather, they acknowledge that the very particular social science “economics” is about the question of how the earth’s resources are to be treated and allocated in the best possible way, in order to achieve the above goals. And while there is no question that mathematical skills are required for this, at the same time it is also necessary to recognize that philosophical questions about the meaning of life, normative ideas about law and justice, and an understanding of human irrationality, emotionality and spirituality are just as important. And they are all factors that have no or only a very limited place in the traditional data-driven approach to economics.

Even though this may not always be explicit, a foundation of WE seems to be that they start from a different view of humanity than capitalism of the neoliberal school does. The latter assumes that the central driver of all human activity is personal benefit maximization (greed), which must be put at the service of economic development. WE, on the contrary, see a number of different needs in people, which are expressed, above all, in our social and cooperative behaviour. In the current design of our economy which is essentially based on greed, these do not come into their own. It is now necessary to change this orientation, in order to give other central human qualities more justice in a our economic logic.

But in order for this to happen, it is fundamental to acknowledge that every economic system is man-made and can therefore be rebuilt or readjusted.

For this readjustment, the Wellbeing Economies see a particular need in redefining the key measures of success of our economic systems: politics and the economy are profoundly influenced by what is measured as success and recognized as desirable.

A core requirement is therefore to abandon the goal of continued economic growth in the sense of a steady increase in gross domestic product (GDP) and instead to define and measure the prosperity and progress of our world’s societies in new, different ways. It is acknowledged that GDP growth in the western world after the Second World War certainly helped increase prosperity and improve living standards. But the resulting obsession with steadily rising GDP is now seen as a central cause for our world becoming more and more unjust and dealing with nature in an completely destructive manner.

The fight against the apocalyptic climate crisis, which results from the unlimited growth of the carbon industry in the post-war economic growth logic, is a central motive for many to work towards Wellbeing Economies.

Politically, Wellbeing Economists are therefore trying to convince governments to use other indicators, better suited to the goals of the WE, rather than classic indicators such as GDP, unemployment figures or stock market prices, to help define and verify the true goals of policies made for people and nature. Examples of implementations are the Scottish National Performance Framework or the New Zealand Wellbeing Framework.

A second demand on policymakers is that ministries in governments abandon their silo roles and understand that they can only create a better society in the sense of Wellbeing if they collaborate and cooperate intensively with each other. Many central problems in economy and society are at the same time the task of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Economy, Finance and Environment. Egoism or struggles for budgets within a government are very counterproductive. In a complex interrelated world, problems need to be approach jointly from all perspectives and then joint solutions need to be developed.

Further demands of the WE are:

  • Decentralized economies: Instead of relying on huge central production facilities, whose products or services must then be shipped all over the world, local production close to people should be the goal. This applies just as much to energy production (local, sustainable, citizen-driven) as it does to sustainable production or provision of physical products (repair shops, 3D printers, recycling, etc.) and services.
  • Plurality of approaches: The WE recognise that the objectives of the WE can be achieved in different ways around the world and that these different ways enrich the concept.
  • Democracy and participation: There seems to be a general consensus that a WE can only be enforced if it involves the local people in its emergence and thereby makes them partners and co-shapers of the new economy.
  • Experimenting and learning from each other: Wellbeing economies can only develop if we learn from each other – because much of what is not yet understood in one place has already been tried out in another. And we must experiment – because we still have to invent some aspects of how these Wellbeing Economies may function.
  • Wellbeing as a social task, not as a private project: One concern of the pioneers of the Wellbeing Economy is that the term “Wellbeing” could be adopted by neoliberalism and made its own. This would turn the concept against itself: Wellbeing would no longer be a political project, but would be interpreted as a task for each individual within the existing system. Mindfulness approaches in start-up companies, yoga retreats and other concepts that try to strengthen the individual in the struggle within the existing destructive version of capitalism can easily be misinterpreted as a wellbeing approach, while they are the exact opposite.
Behind the Scenes climate change

Global Lorenzo.

When we first started thinking about this film in early 2018, Lorenzo Fioramonti was a professor for Political Economy in South Africa, who had given up his job, in order to get involved in Italian politics. He knew very little about the inside of politics, but the “5 Star Movement” had invited him to join their ranks — to become a member of parliament and, potentially, a Minister in the next Italian government. What happened next is hard to summarise. And our film will need to do that job.

What matters to us right now is that you can never know, in documentary film-making, what happens to your protagonists. Sometimes nothing happens at all, to the extent that you realise that you may not even have a film.

And sometimes you get lucky and your protagonist does things that make a difference, that effect change, that have an impact.

Last week, we witnessed Lorenzo making global impact. His plan to introduce climate change education in Italy as a mandatory subject for school children created ripples around the world – after he spoke to Reuters about this plan (who also called him the “Anti-Salvini” in their article), media outlets everywhere picked it up, from Australia to the Netherlands. The New York Times ran a longer article about him and his ideas. CNN reached out. He gave radio interviews to stations in various parts of the world. A German paper praised Lorenzo as a role model for German politicians.

Over the weekend, Lorenzo told us that he got invitations to speak at conferences, he spoke with other ministers in the EU who approached him and want to do something similar in their countries, he even got an invitation to meet the Pope.

When I first heard about Lorenzo and his plan to bring post-GDP thinking to a G7 country like Italy, I thought “this sounds like a very interesting project. And a very interesting guy.” Turns out that has been a major understatement – on both accounts.

And today, we sure are glad to be part of this ride.

Behind the Scenes Introduction

How an Advertising Man Became a Post-Growth Advocate.

I come from the dark side.

Between 1994 and 1999, I studied at two business schools. Then I worked in advertising and marketing from 1999 until 2016 — for 17 years. First I was an employee in a couple of advertising agencies. Then I got a doctorate in Marketing and helped build our own specialised agency, with a group of friends and colleagues. The one over-riding goal of everything was always:


Advertisers may cite many reasons why they work with advertising and marketing agencies, but at the end of the day, they all want the same thing: to grow their market share, their profits, their sales.

And make no mistake: All advertising agencies ever want for themselves is growth, too. More clients. Bigger staff. More campaigns. More money.

Nobody who works in advertising ever questions any of this. There is no time. There is always the next deadline. The next flight to the meeting. The next crazy client request. The next ego emergency. Besides, why question the hand that feeds you? Growth pays for advertising. Then advertising begets more growth. Its a virtuously vicious circle.

I myself had no idea that something might be wrong. And when the news were reporting another year of GDP growth, it was the kind of good news I was happy to hear — I’d grown up in cold war “Economic Miracle” Germany, after all.

And yet, about a dozen years into my career it dawned on me that I could not, would not, should not spend the rest of my days trying to sell more of this shampoo or that floor cleaner. That that was simply not a worthwhile pursuit for a life well lived.

But I couldn’t leave right away, I had to stick it out for another four years, we had to keep growing our business so we could sell our company. I was fairly lucky with my contract and my role in the company — once the deal was done, I could quietly slip out the back door. The new owners hardly even realised that I was no longer there.

It was March 2016. I was in Munich.

I got an electric car — I thought that would be my contribution to protecting the climate. I went to Barcelona for a month, to spend time with friends. Then I moved back to Berlin. Brexit happened. It made me sad. I was living in a small apartment on Urbanstraße in Kreuzberg that I had rented from a friend. I was experimenting with a bit of freedom and with my underused creativity. In other news, the German right-wing party “AfD” was on the rise. I didn’t know what to do about it. Should I be more political? My father had been in politics.

I didn’t have a family of my own (I still don’t), I was alone. I made a hand-drawn animated short film. I reconnected with old friends. I thought about new professions I could take on. I felt a bit lonely. Autumn was coming. But overall, I was trusting that things would somehow be fine.

Then, Donald Trump got elected.

Many were shocked by the news, but ultimately this political earthquake did not leave much of an impact in the daily lives of many people in most European countries. Modern capitalism keeps us simply too busy to care: A presentation is due for the boss. There is the problems with the co-worker at the office. The neighbour just bought a new large SUV. Should we get one, too? One of the children is ill. Let’s just pray that the insurance will cover it. Also, the older one needs a new phone. The car has to go to the garage. A big SUV might feel safer, right? Oh my god, did we remember to book the flights for the holidays? Plus, can we even afford to put Ma in that retirement home? Oh man, health insurance rates went up again.

And so on. And then, at the dinner table, you might find a short moment, you’re looking at one another, saying: “Oh man, Trump is the American President now, that’s something else, isn’t it?” You shake your heads in disbelief, and then it’s back to the daily race.

Well, me … I had none of that.
I was by myself, no one needed me.
I was running nowhere.
No one waited for me.
I had no place to go, no job to do.
Instead, I was looking at the wall in that small apartment — and Trump was always there.

Soon I realised: This wasn’t about a complete catastrophe of a US President. It was about a very different question: What is going on in this world that the United States of America elect someone as horrific as him as “the leader of the free world”.

Where and when had things gone so badly wrong? What had I missed?

2017 became my fact-finding year. I read books and newspapers. I spoke with people. I launched a blog and wrote regularly about my experiences and questions. Soon, the climate crisis rose to the top of my agenda: jointly with my friend Kai Schächtele, I developed a show format called vollehalle — it talks about the climate emergency and the role of us all in it, in a constructive and inspiring manner. We also interviewed Tim Jackson for it. A giant among those who are imagining a better economy. Meeting Tim was my first brush with a new way of thinking about the system I had taken for granted.

And another thing happened to me in 2017: inspired by a small article in the German newspaper “taz”, I discovered the “Netzwerk Plurale Ökonomik” — the German arm of the “Rethinking Economics” student movement. Thanks in part to our meeting with Tim Jackson, and also to David Graeber’s book “Debt” and Wolfgang Streeck’s “Gekaufte Zeit” (English title: “Buying Time“), it was dawning on me that the way we are running and thinking about our economies is probably a big part of the problem. But so far, I hadn’t met anybody who had useful answers. So, I applied to attend the Netzwerk’s first Summer Academy, which took place at the beginning of August 2017 in the small village Neudietendorf outside Erfurt. And I got accepted.

That week in August of 2017 changed my life.

Never before had I seen 90 people — most of them millennial students — so heavily engaged in deep, thoughtful, intellectually curious and generous debate about the major issues of our time. They weren’t shouting their written-in-stone political beliefs or adherence to some political party at one another. Instead, these (mostly) twenty-somethings were soft-spoken and genuinely curious about each other’s thoughts, about how to advance their own thinking, in order to get to new solutions. And they were going at it non-stop, from 8 am at the breakfast table until 2 am at night, as they were having their nightcap beers in the courtyard.

It dawned on me: If there is hope for our world, it’s with critical economics thinkers like these students — with their radically open eyes and their real questions and their genuine curiosity.

And there was something else that I realised: Nobody knows this. Nobody outside these circles knows that the ideas that will solve many of our most dire problems may already exist. And they lie in truly rethinking our economy. In other words, nobody outside these circles seemed to realise that economics was the most important and most exciting subject of our time, if tackled in the right way. I understood that we needed to vehemently start telling these stories and bring this thinking to a wider world. The stories that I was hearing here, the thinking that was going on here, it needed to be shouted off rooftops!

And that was just the informal part of the week.

The biggest part of the official agenda were the workshops. The one I had signed up for was called “Prosperity Economics”, led by Katherine Trebeck and Himanshu Shekhar. At the time, Katherine was a researcher at Oxfam in Scotland. She explained to us how GDP was at best an imperfect measure of progress and how an alternative take on “prosperity” would look at the real issues. She also talked about the challenges of measuring prosperity holistically, in a way that deals with how people’s lives — and the lives of all other living beings on this earth, too! — are really going.


And then she told us about a plan she had, jointly with an Italian professor named Lorenzo Fioramonti who was teaching Political Economics in South Africa. They wanted to build a “counter-G7”: A new summit that would bring countries together who tell the world: “Enough is enough, let’s show the world how to think differently about the economy — in a way that can actually save mankind and this planet.”

They wanted to call it the “WE7”: the Wellbeing Economies 7.

What a story!

Six months later, I got a call from Gustav Theile. He’d been one of the Summer Academy organisers, now he was Katherine’s intern in Glasgow. He told me two things: One, the summit was happening! With Scotland, Costa Rica and Slovenia as the first members, getting together in Slovenia — there, they would jointly sign the Ljubiljana Declaration. And two, Lorenzo had left the project: He was returning to his native Italy, in order to run for office in the Italian election — he wanted to bring his post-GDP thinking into a new Italian Government.

I could not contain my excitement. So I turned to my friend Nick Scholey — a media creation one-man powerhouse, musician, camera operator, editor, all around creative force — and said, “Man, we gotta start making a documentary about this. Let’s go to Scotland and to Rome, let’s start filming these people. What they are doing is too important for the world to miss.”

Neither of us had ever made a documentary. But that didn’t matter. We were now on a mission. And we got support from my friend Kim Münster, a film producer.

Today, one and a half years later, we have hours and hours of footage. Of Lorenzo’s political battles in that strange Five-Star-Lega government, which eventually fell apart — he’s now actually become the Minister for Education, in the brand new Italian Government. And of Katherine travelling around the world, helping save the Wellbeing Economies government project, after the summit in Ljubiljana got cancelled at the last minute. But Katherine and the amazing folks inside the Scottish Government kept at it. And so, a few weeks ago, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, gave a TED Talk about how Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand had joined forces as the Wellbeing Economy Governments!

I am a very different person from the one I was in early 2016. I really hope that I will look back one day and say:

I made my way from the dark side to the light. And it wasn’t too late.


This text was originally published a few weeks ago as a guest-piece on the blog. We are cross-posting it here because it tells the background story of this film project.