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Beyond the Secret
the definitive unauthorized guide to The Secret
By Alexandra Bruce
The Disinformation Company Ltd.Copyright © 2007 The Disinformation Company Ltd.
All rights reserved.
THE BUSINESS END OF THE SECRET
"Rhonda just wants to bring happiness to everybody."
Irene Izon, Mother of Rhonda Byrne
By now, it's not hyperbole to describe The Secret as the most successful self-help film and book, ever. The book alone significantly raised the profits of entertainment colossus Viacom, selling at least four times more than any other book in the United States during the first half of 2007.
How did this largely derivative book, little more than a transcript of an underground film (which itself could, uncharitably, be described as a feature-length infomercial), have outsold new books by the likes of fiction giants James Patterson and Jodi Picoult, a celebrity memoir by Sidney Poitier and even the diet book du jour, You On A Diet?
The Secret Movie
Most credit really has to go to the film's creator, 55-year-old Australian reality television producer Rhonda Byrne. The official website describes the project's genesis as follows:
... on that spring day in 2004, when a small, old book called The Science of Getting rich was put into her hands ... Rhonda's whole life suddenly pulled into spectacular focus, she knew exactly what her mission was to become. She was going to take this knowledge to the world. She was going to make a movie to carry joy to every corner of the Earth. And so the great journey that was The Secret began ...
One of Rhonda's initial intentions for the creation of the show was that [she] would use The Secret to make The Secret ... that it would be an effortless, joyful journey as they attracted everything and everyone that was needed to fulfill the vision. And right when the company was ready to begin production, as if by magic, the perfect people to make The Secret began to appear ...
The day Prime Time Productions arrived in the United States to film the living masters of The Secret, they only had one interview lined up. But they brought with them an entire crew, and the firm intention that they would film every person they needed for the show. And in a matter of a few weeks, the team filmed fifty-two "teachers" of The Secret. Wherever the team went, more and more amazing teachers would emerge—great writers, leaders, philosophers, doctors, and scientists. These teachers created the foundation for The Secret.
Their project has certainly led a charmed life. After all, it's not every $3 million film that starts out as a self-marketed Internet download and ends up buoying the share price of a multi-billion dollar entertainment conglomerate.
The original version of the movie was first made available on March 26, 2006 via the producers' slick website at www.thesecret.tv. For a fee of $4.95, visitors to the site could download the movie using sophisticated technology from a company called Vividas. The producers also sold DVDs from the website for $34.95, although they were usually discounted by $5. Regardless of the selling price, with no wholesale or retail intermediaries, the profit margins were extraordinarily high and it didn't take long for the film to recoup the $3 million production cost.
Byrne went on to tap former IBM salesman and Internet/telecommunications executive Robert Rainone as the US-based CEO of her new company, TS Productions LLC. They took advantage of Amazon.com's willingness to distribute and sell DVDs from single-title producers (something hardly any traditional video retailers would consider) and began selling the DVD via Amazon in October 2006, where sales immediately shot up despite minimal promotion beyond word-of-mouth.
The Secret Society
The key here is who's words and mouths. Whether by dint of the law of Attraction or a brilliant, calculated move on Rhonda's part, most of the interviews that appear in The Secret were filmed at a biannual meeting of the Transformational Leadership Council (TLC). This proved to be fateful, indeed.
The TLC is a members-only group of self-help luminaries founded by Chicken Soup for the Soul author Jack Canfield, who has become something of a Godfather in the self-help industry. Like Canfield, many of the TLC's members are marketing geniuses who have successful careers as consultants to Fortune 500 companies. The aggregate sales power of all the people interviewed in The Secret is mammoth and each was able to mobilize his or her own network in support of the film, catapulting Rhonda into the stratosphere of super-success.
By May 2007, Rhonda was in Time magazine's "100 People Who Shape Our World," a list from which the news media at the time made great hay out of the fact that President George W. Bush was conspicuously absent. It was Jack Canfield himself who wrote Rhonda's entry in Time's story:
... I first met Rhonda Byrne in July 2005, when she asked if she could bring her film crew to a meeting of the Transformational Leadership Council and interview our members for a movie she was creating called The Secret. For four days she and her crew filmed during the day and socialized with us at night. I was struck by her energy. She seemed to be in a constant state of bliss, of childlike wonder.
I am often asked why The Secret has been such a phenomenon—more than 2 million DVDs sold in a year and almost 4 million books in less than six months. It is primarily because Byrne's love and joy permeate every frame and every page. Her intention was pure and simple—to uplift as much of humanity as she could reach, and so far she has reached millions. And I believe she has only just begun.
The Secret Religion
Besides high membership in the TLC, most of the speakers who appear in The Secret have been regulars on the New Thought/Unity Church circuit for years and they continue to speak regularly at Unity Churches all over America.
The principles espoused in The Secret are largely those of the Unity Church, the main New Thought denomination, much admired by Oprah Winfrey. Founded in 1889 by American husband and wife team Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, it has a present-day following of some 2,000,000 adherents around the world.
Whereas the new age hit film What the Bleep Do We Know!? was primarily affiliated with and supported by the Ramtha School of Enlightenment, The Secret has enjoyed a similar relationship with the larger and arguably more mainstream Unity Church, whose members have been instrumental in this film's promotion, at a grassroots level.
Both films have also benefited from the marketing advice of the Spiritual Cinema Circle and by the recruitment of the Transcendental Meditation™ movement. My guess is that for any similarly themed independent film to achieve the same level of success as The Secret and What the Bleep Do We Know!?, it would have to have similar alliances in place, in addition to a handful of unstoppable guerrilla marketing powerhouses, on a mission to outsell The Secret.
The Secret Technology
Everything about the success of the film, from its low production cost to its marketing and distribution, can pretty much be attributed to the disintermediation of the entertainment business. With affordable digital cameras and editing equipment, cheap website hosting, Internet video-on-demand, and direct-to-consumer order fulfillment from retail aggregators like Amazon.com, Byrne and rainone were able to bypass all of the traditional gatekeepers that might have been skeptical of their vision.
"Might" is probably generous. The recent success of What The Bleep Do We Know?! notwithstanding, it's fairly safe to say that no movie studio or established home video distributor would have bankrolled the marketing and distribution of The Secret, let alone its production. It's also a safe bet that TS Productions won't be relying on Hollywood to finance or distribute its next projects. According to Time magazine, Byrne started shooting a sequel in January 2007 for release later in the year, quoting Rainone as saying that "it will explore 'the next step, the next level' in the process of achieving one's life goals." Rainone also endorsed the video-on-demand technology provided by Vividas, saying "[i]t is a great way to launch a film and we plan to embrace it again with our future releases."
The Secret Book
In July 2006, a book deal was made with Beyond Words, the publishers of Masaru Emoto's Hidden Messages of Water books, made popular by their featuring role in What The Bleep Do We Know?! "People are finding out about [The Secret] from other people," said Beyond Words publisher Cynthia Black, who heard about the DVD during a dinner conversation in Portland, Oregon, with one of the teachers featured in the movie.
Whether consciously or not, Byrne and Rainone made a good choice by signing with Beyond Words. Black had recently entered into a deal with Viacom's Simon & Schuster publishing arm, via the Atria Books imprint. Judith Curr, Atria's publisher, was immediately enthusiastic, and they rushed a book version of The Secret into stores by November 2006. It was the combination of Beyond Words' New Age sensibilities and Atria's major publisher cash and clout that enabled the ensuing blockbuster success of the book.
According to Atria's Curr:
"We never would have been able to have this book without Beyond Words, but Beyond Words would never have been able to publish this book ... because the biggest problem that small presses have is that they can't fund their success ... There's no way a small press is going to be able to order a 2 million-copy reprint, or even a 100,000-copy one, and then have the resources that you need to manage such a project."
The book hit store shelves before Thanksgiving 2006, selling well enough to top new Age charts almost immediately but not in numbers sufficient to break onto cross-genre bestseller lists.
Until February 2007.
Oprah Winfrey, still the undisputed heavyweight champion of daytime television in the United States, invited Byrne and some of the teachers featured in The Secret to be on her show on February 8th. So successful was the appearance that a second show was scheduled a week later on February 16th.
The rest, as they say, is history. The book immediately shot to the top of every bestseller list for which it was eligible. Booksellers scrambled to try to find copies, taking orders from customers without any idea of when they might be able to fill them. This is a rare instance of a book spun off from a movie that far eclipsed the success of the movie in sales. And the movie itself had done (and continues to do) very well.
The Secret was brilliantly launched and quickly became a sales phenomenon of which the mainstream media took note. It would probably be easier to list by omission which newspapers, magazines, television talk shows and websites did not feature The Secret.
A Hickup (Sic)
As with life in general, the production of The Secret wasn't always as "joyful" of a "journey" as Rhonda might have liked. While she and her team did, indeed, interview some of the leading self-help and motivational speakers and authors working today, they had less luck with perhaps the most important of the teachers interviewed for the film.
The Secret had become such a success story that even the stodgiest, most august newspapers and magazines could not avoid devoting miles of column inches to debate the effectiveness of these New Age-sounding teachings, but in February 2007, the New York Times went a bit beyond its usual level of inquisitiveness and revealed that, "... behind the success of The Secret is a seamier story about the origins of the film. It involves big money and what some participants say are the broken promises of Ms. Byrne. The star of the first version of the movie, released in March last year, demanded to be cut out of the current version, which has been on the market since October 1."
The author of the Times article, Allen Salkin, went on to describe how Esther Hicks had been promised 10% of the DVD revenues and various approvals over her portrayal. According to Salkin, Hicks and her husband, Jerry, were never happy with the film and eventually negotiations with the producers stalled (but not before the Hicks had earned $500,000). Ultimately, Hicks was edited out of a new version of the film, leaving the producers with a bigger share of the millions in royalties yet to come, which would have previously been payable to Hicks.
In a backhanded compliment Ms. Hicks said, "I've got to give Rhonda credit," adding that her former collaborator has shown a monomaniacal dedication to the law of attraction. "I've never seen anybody do that like she's doing it," Ms. Hicks said. "And never mind honesty, and never mind doing what you said you were going to do, and never mind anything. Just stay in alignment."
Hicks and husband Jerry wrote a letter to friends setting out their version of events, stating:
Eventually we received an email from the producer of The Secret lovingly explaining ... that the contract that we had all agreed upon and signed was no longer sufficient for their further distribution of the project in the areas they were now seeking ... and that it would be necessary for us (Jerry and Esther) to relinquish our intellectual property rights in these areas forever and redo our contract or they would have to reluctantly edit us out ... after conferring with our publisher, and then our intellectual property rights attorney, and finally with Abraham, allowing them to edit us out was the path of least resistance ...
It is our desire that, rather than being upset that our part of The Secret will be omitted in future offerings of it, that instead you enjoy the original Abraham version, as it is, at this time, and that you look forward to what other incredible things these talented people may bring to you. These are people who clearly care about the planet, who want to be of value, and who, in our opinion, are of tremendous value.
Financially speaking, we have been very well paid for our participation with this project ... which has amounted to a staggering amount of money. And if money were the most important factor, we assure you, we would have found some way of staying involved.
The original version of the film with Esther Hicks can still be found on eBay and elsewhere on the Internet, but it's not the one that most of the millions of people who have bought copies of The Secret have in their possession.
The Hicks flap is probably the most obvious problem faced by Byrne, and one that she evidently overcame with aplomb. The next major problem was the kind that every publisher dreams of having: running out of stock while demand for the book was at its peak. For several weeks in February and March 2007 the book was not to be found in bookstores or even on Internet bookselling powerhouse Amazon.com, which usually listed it as available in 4–6 weeks. Judith Curr and her colleagues scrambled to print and ship more books, eventually setting a record for the largest reprint in Simon & Schuster's venerable history.
The shortage seemed only to fuel the fire of interest in all things "Secret" ...CHAPTER 2
THE NEW THOUGHT MOVEMENT
"My greatest insights into The Secret ... came from the teachings of Robert Collier, Prentice Mulford, Charles Haanel, and Michael Beckwith."
Rhonda Byrne Producer
Like some people, I had misgivings about the presentaion of The Secret. At a time of "Operation Iraqi Freedom," genocide in Africa, global warming and celebrity meltdowns, The Secret's message of visualizing your skinny body and attracting your brand new BMW seemed to me pathologically narcissistic if not almost criminal in its degeneracy.
Critics of The Secret have complained about the "relentless materialism" espoused in the DVD and book. If The Secret is "spiritual," they ask, what are all these "wealth coaches" doing on this show?
The answer lies in the book that initially inspired the creation of The Secret, Wallace D. Wattles' The Science of Getting Rich. This book was expressly "intended for the men and women whose most pressing need is for money; who wish to get rich first, and philosophize afterward." In other words, Wattles' book was written for people who were desperate.
Excerpted from Beyond the Secret by Alexandra Bruce. Copyright © 2007 The Disinformation Company Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of The Disinformation Company Ltd..
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