How a documentary about a failed project contains incredible lessons on leadership

I have been an ardent fan of Alejandro Jodorowsky for the past 3 years. Through his weird and somewhat controversial movies, books and therapeutic toolset, this 88 year-old beast of an artist has helped me look at life in a totally different way. For the better.

What I didn’t know until last weekend was how incredibly influential he had been not only for me, but for last 40 years’ popular culture. I learned this by watching the documentary ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’ about how the greatest science fiction movie ever almost happens.

For the last couple of days I’ve been obsessed with the quote that opens (and brilliantly summarises) the documentary:

what gives light must endure burning” — Viktor Frankl

After having some success with the avant garde movies ‘El Topo’ and ‘The Holy Mountain’, Jodorowsky was approached by producer Michael Seyroux to make ‘any movie he wanted’, and Jodo decided to make a film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction novel ‘Dune’ and turn the film into ‘a prophet’.

The project built up with the best artists, screenwriters, FX guys, musicians and actors in the world. But it fell by its own weight, when Hollywood refused to take the risk of making a 15 million dollar movie (in 1975) that was mainly aimed at expanding people’s consciousness.

As I was learning about the process, I realised this story is a remarkable example of leadership. Here is why:

Vision

Jodo made the project’s purpose very clear to anybody involved; to make a movie that opens the makers’ and the audience’s consciousness and makes them better people. “The experience of LSD without taking LSD” as the director puts it. Jodorowsky only recruited people who shared and understood the vision. This is clear when he relates how he rejected Douglas Trumbull –the FX guy from 2001– simply because he was ‘very technical but not spiritual’.

Passion

The team relates Jodo’s enthusiastic recruitment process. He hypnotised everyone by selling the project with utmost passion. He simply gave them offers they couldn’t refuse.

Only when you believe in the vision 100% you are able to make people this excited about the project. If not, the project will fail or be done badly. As the Happy Startup Schools puts it, your vibe attracts your tribe.

But what do I really mean when I talk about Jodorowsky’s passion?

Put it simply, he managed to convince Pink Floyd, Salvador Dali, Orson Wells and Mick Jagger to be in his movie.

Exactly.

Empowerment

Even if the movie was never produced, his team went on to work on Alien, and many ideas within the screenplay (which was completed) were used for Star Wars, Terminator, and many other sci-fi movies.The force Jodo created to make Dune was then recycled into massive projects that launched the careers of people responsible for cultural landmarks in your childhood and in mine.

Failure

I’m going to make you cringe with the cliché folks. Yes, you know what I am talking about young entrepreneur. Jodorowsky explains very well at the end of the documentary all the positive things he took from the profound frustration of not being able to fulfil the work of 5 years of his life. Nothing was in vain, and such a thrilling documentary about an incomplete project is the best proof of it.

Now watch the documentary, enjoy its hypnotic synths and ask yourself whether you are ready to get to the same lengths to fulfil your purpose. The chances are you are not thinking big enough.

Did you know Kanye was a Jodorowsky fan but Jodorowsky didn’t know about Kanye?