If you’ve been reading about financial independence for a while, you’ve likely seen that the topic is getting more popular lately.
Although FIRE (Financial Independence / Retire Early) is far bigger than it was when I created this site in 2012, it’s still nowhere near mainstream.
That may change though…
A full-length documentary called Playing with FIRE is currently in the works and the film has the potential to reach millions of people that blogs or podcasts never would.
This is a huge deal.
Check out the trailer below to see why I’m so excited:
I was asked to take part in the film and was lucky to get to know the talented people behind the documentary.
On today’s episode of the Financial Independence Podcast, I’m excited to welcome the director and executive producer, Travis Shakespeare!
Listen to hear how the documentary came about, discover what Travis has learned about FI after spending the last year creating this film, and find out when you’ll be able to see it!
- Playing with FIRE Website / Kickstarter
- The Intelligent Asset Allocator by William Bernstein
- Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker
- Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement
- INTJ Personality
- Personal Finance Blogs by Personality Type
- Personality Types in FIRE Community (Poll by Millennial Revolution)
- Scott Rieckens on the ChooseFI Podcast
- FI Chautauqua
- Leave a review for the Financial Independence Podcast on iTunes!
Today on the show I’m excited to welcome Travis Shakespeare who is a big time Hollywood executive. He’s a producer of popular TV shows. He’s been nominated for many different awards like Emmy’s and James Beard’s.
He’s generally a very impressive guy, but that’s not really how I know him. I know him as a friend. And we go way back to the Ecuador Chautauqua back in 2015 which is where we met. And we’ve kept in touch ever since. He’s a really smart guy that I’ve had great chats with over the years.
So, I’m excited to get him on just to talk about his story and some of the things that we’ve discussed over the years. But more importantly, I got him on the show to talk about the project that he’s currently working on which is a documentary that I’m extremely excited about. I think it’s really going to be the project that takes this whole FIRE thing to the next level and potentially brings this whole FIRE idea into the mainstream.
So, for the past year, Travis has been working with my other friend, Scott and Taylor. They’ve wrapped up filming. And the premiere of the trailer is going to take place next week at FinCon. So it’s a really exciting time. They’re just launching a Kickstarter to help fund the final push of this thing. And hopefully, it will be released in January or February of next year. So, it’s really exciting.
I’m personally in the film which is insane to me. And so is a lot of people that had been on this podcast actually like Mr. Money Mustache and JL Collins and Mrs. Frugalwoods. And it’s just going to be really exciting to see the concept of financial independence and early retirement on the big screen.
So, there’s a lot I want to get into. I’m excited to have him here. Travis, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it.
Travis Shakespeare: No worries! I’m very happy to be here.
Mad Fientist: So, we go way back. We go back to—I think it was maybe around this time actually of 2015, my first Ecuador Chautauqua and your first Chautauqua as well, right?
Travis: That’s right, yup! 2015… wow!
Mad Fientist: I know! It’s crazy. So, over three years ago. And we’ve seen each other a lot ever since. We came and met you guys up in LA. And you’ve come to Edinburgh. And we’ve kept in touch all these years. So it’s good to get you on the podcast finally. I’m super excited of what we’re talking about.
But before we dive in to all the stuff I want to talk to you about today, can you just maybe tell people about yourself?
Travis: Oh, yeah. Absolutely!
I’ve worked in entertainment for the majority of my life. I started out actually as an actor, as a young man. And over the past few years, I kind of developed a career in non-fiction television. Some people call it reality TV. Most of the stuff I’ve done has been nature and survival and things like that. My big show on the air right now is called Life Below Zero on National Geographic.
Mad Fientist: I want to dive into how you found this whole financial independence thing and what put you on that path.
Travis: So, that… that happened really when I was about 40 years old, so ten years ago. And what had happened was my father was diagnosed with ALS. And he passed away. I was still $40,000 in student loan debt. I still had credit card debt. I came up as a starting artist. So I always thought that I was going to get a big break and suddenly land million of dollars from some, I don’t know, movie that I got to perform in or direct. I don’t know what I thought. I think I had what I now call lottery mentality which is very common actually in our culture.
I was broke. My dad was a schoolteacher as I said. And his pension went to my mom. So, me and my sister inherited $150,000 to split that he had in a Vanguard Star fund. So, we split that. I paid my sister for half the value of his Honda Civic, his 2005 Honda Civic and paid off my student loans and my credit card debt. And for the first time in my life, I had like $22,000 in the bank in savings.
I panicked because I had no idea what to do with the money because I was completely financially illiterate.
I mean I was very different from so many other people that are in this community. I was a classic financial illiterate basically. I didn’t invest. All I knew is that I needed to do something with my money.
So, I picked up a copy of William Bernstein’s The Intelligent Investor because I thought I was intelligent and intelligent was in the title. And it was so hard for me to understand. It was so complicated. And I was like, “Oh, no! I’m doomed. What am I going to do?”
So, from there, I just started searching on the Internet, and I found actually Get Rich Slowly. I had been using JD and Dave Ramsey’s approach to paying off debt before my dad passed away. And slowly but surely, I made my way around the financial independence community.
First, it was either Jacob’s book, Early Retirement Extreme or Pete’s blog. I can’t remember which. It probably happened between the same week or something.
And I read Early Retirement Extreme. And although that book was really truly extreme and super fascinating for that reason, it resonated with me because, as a struggling young artists, that’s the way I always lived. I didn’t want to live like that. I wanted to be rich. But I was good at living poor.
And then, I read Pete’s blog post, The Shockingly Simple Math which everybody points to. And I was like, “Wait a minute! This is a path that I can actually execute. This makes sense to me. It’s part of what I’ve already done in my life. All I have to do is apply a few of the new tips and tricks, and I’ll be on my way.”
Mad Fientist: That’s fantastic! Did it change your mentality at that point? If you’ve been living the struggling artist or starving artist lifestyle and probably just dreaming of the big pay day one day, to then read a book by someone who’s doing that on purpose and choosing that themselves, did that sort of empower you or make you feel more happy with your current existence?
Travis: I think what I would say is that it made me feel more comfortable with living frugally I guess because the message is that there’s something wrong with being frugal. The messages are, as we’ve all talked about, “buy new cars… buy cruises… buy diamonds…”
Mad Fientist: Especially in LA where you are…
Travis: Oh, yeah. And let me tell you something. I’m a senior executive now. And I drove my dad’s Honda Civic for almost 11 years. I would pull up to CAA, a creative artist agency, where you can only valet, and there’s like Teslas and Jaguars and Maseratis and everything, I would pull up in my little 2005 Honda Civic and the valets would turn their noses up at me like, “Who’s this joker/starving artist coming to get an agent?”
But then, because I kept the car really clean, and when I sold it, it only had 66,000 miles on it, they would pull it around all the time, they’d be like, “Hey, can I buy your car?” And I always felt vindicated then.
But to answer your question, yeah, I felt more comfortable being frugal. I think more than anything, emotionally, it made me feel relieved and like I might have a chance at not ending up eating cat food in my old age.
Mad Fientist: Right! Nice…
So, obviously, it was forced frugality for a while. But are you a naturally frugal person do you think?
Travis: You know, you and I have talked a lot about your frugality. And you typify to me somebody who’s naturally frugal, like there’s something in your nature that you just kind of go crazy if you have to spend more than you think you’re supposed to on something.
I don’t think that I’m like that. I think that I’m more of a value-driven spender. And that’s probably from the entrainment of being a struggling artist where I would have to constantly make choices, “Is this valuable to me or not? Do I want to spend my money on this or not?”
Speaking of my dad, there’s a story in my formative years when I was about seven years old where my dad taught me this really hard lesson about money. And I loved to go swimming in the summers. I grew up in Colorado. And so summers were really a great thing. And it costs a dollar to go to the swimming pool.
And my grandma, my mom’s mom—who of course I adored because she was my grandma—had recently come back from Las Vegas and gave me a silver dollar that she won out of a slot machine. And I cherished this silver dollar for two reasons: one, because it was a token from one of the people that I loved most in my life, and the other was that it had a magical quality to me. It was sparkly. It was this big piece of silver. I had dreams of what Las Vegas might look like and the idea of money pouring out of slot machines and getting extremely wealthy. Again, back to that lottery mentality which probably is an indicator of whether or not I’m truly a frugal person.
On a Saturday, I went to my dad and I said, “Hey, dad, I want to go to the swimming pool.” And he said, “Well, great! How are you going to pay for it?” And I said, “Well, what do you mean?” And he said, “Well, you’ve got a dollar. And it costs a dollar to get into the pool.”
And I said, “Well, I can’t use that. Grandma gave me this silver dollar, right? I can’t gave that up right.”
And he was like, “Well, you’re going to have to make a choice. Do you want to go swimming or do you want to keep the dollar?”
And as a 7-year old, that was an agonizing moment that I’ve never forgotten. But I chose the path of experience.
I remember very deliberately thinking, “I want the money, but I want the experience more.”
And so, I spent the dollar.
Mad Fientist: No way! Wow! I would’ve not called that. That’s pretty impressive. And was it worth it?
Travis: Absolutely! And it really set the stage for the rest of my life because I’ve always valued experience more than getting money in my pocket.
I’ll tell you one other thing that’s really kind of amazing about that story. I held a resentment against my dad for forcing me into that dilemma I think for most of my life. And when my dad was dying, he lost the ability to speak. My dad was a teacher, so he was a big talker. And it was never lost on him on that when he lost the ability to speak, the people around him suddenly could talk more, you know? He thought that was really funny; and so did we.
And I said, “You know, Dad, I’m going to take this opportunity and tell you everything that I can think of before you die that I possibly can so that there’s nothing unresolved in my mind when you’re gone.”
And I told him that story. And he said, “Come here, I want to show you something.” He had this little jewelry box that he kept money in that I used to steal quarters out of and stuff when I was a kid to go buy candy. He opened up the jewelry box, and he handed me that silver dollar that he had kept his entire life.
Mad Fientist: No way!
Travis: So, somehow, without us ever discussing that, he also knew that that was a seminal moment in my life.
Mad Fientist: That’s amazing! What an incredible lesson to learn at such a young age and to keep that with you. That’s amazing. You still have the silver dollar now. You haven’t gone out and spent it?
Travis: I’ve got the silver dollar in the jewelry box. Those are like a couple of things I kept of his belongings.
Mad Fientist: Nice! Oh man, that’s fantastic!
And yeah, frugality is an interesting thing. It’s something I’m still trying to figure out myself, what makes people naturally frugal. And the person that introduced both of us to this world is Jacob Lund Fisker from Early Retirement Extreme, we actually did something I think last week, talking about how INTJ’s personalities crave efficiency so much. And he linked to this really good article about INTJ personality types, and it talked about how they can’t handle any sort of inefficiency in any system. And I think that’s the thing that drives all of my frugality.
But it’s great to see you that you take a look at value. And even if something is maybe less efficient on the spending side or not as optimal from a financial point of view, you would still make that call. And I’m assuming that’s something that’s continued throughout your adult life as well?
Travis: Absolutely! I mean, it really is my personal north star where money is concerned.
I mean I think that my dad dying put a kind of fear in me, that I was going to be broke. It’s very strange. As a 40-year old man, even though I was 40 years old, and I had established myself in my life to a certain degree, the sense of like not having somebody to go run to in the event of a major emergency which is one of the functions that my father had fulfilled in my life was suddenly gone. And that was really scary to me. It was almost like I had to grow up or something totally unanticipated.
Did you have any kind of seminal moments like that in your upbringing where you had a specific lesson around money that changed your approach?
Mad Fientist: My dad bought me like four or five shares of stock when I was a kid. And this was pre-Internet days. So, I would wake up every morning and check in the paper to see how my stocks were doing. I remember that because I was so into the idea of like “Whoa! This money that we had, we could just put it into these stocks, and then it’ll keep growing and make more money.” So that was a big one.
But no, nothing as impactful as that silver dollar story. I’m so happy you shared that because that’s not something we’ve chatted about over the years.
Travis: No, yeah… I mean it’s just one of those that’s kind of buried in my personal story that comes out very rarely when I think about money.
I’d be really interested to see if somebody did a poll about how many INTJ’s there are in the FIRE community.
Mad Fientist: Yeah! Oh, that was my exact thought. I was like, “I need to try to figure out a way to do a poll maybe just on Twitter or something to figure out how many INTJ’s there are because I couldn’t agree more.”
And according to some of the things I read, that’s like one of the rarest personality types. But yeah, I think it’s a big portion of the FIRE community.
Travis: That would be really, really fascinating. I’d love for you to run a poll. I’m an INFP. So for the people out there that don’t know what we’re talking about, this is the Myers-Briggs Personality Test that puts your personality into certain quadrants, whether you’re primarily introverted or extroverted, intuitive or—what’s the other one?
Mad Fientist: Like feeling…?
Travis: Feeling… perceiving… judgmental (which doesn’t mean judgmental, you’re more like conclusive in your life)… and INFP is the second rarest personality type.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, I’ll link to all that in the shownotes. And I’ll link to the article that Jacob tweeted about because, yeah, it’s interesting stuff. And yeah, if I figure out how to do a Twitter poll or something, I’ll go ahead and do that and see if people can answer because I think it would be interesting to see.
Mad Fientist: But I totally want to go back to what you said about value because value is hard for me post-FI when I’m trying to figure out what actually I do value and what purchases do make me happier. And for someone who lets value drive their own financial life, how do you know what’s valuable and what you should spend money on versus what you should hold back on?
Travis: I think the ultimate litmus test is to always think about your own death which is a very stoic practice even though I wouldn’t have necessarily called myself a stoic. I literally do this regularly. I look at something that I may want or may want to do or something like that, and then I’ll ask myself, “Well, if I were going to die tomorrow, where will this land on my value scale?”
Mad Fientist: That’s fantastic! And it’s a perfect time for me because I just didn’t do something. And last night, before going to bed, I thought about it again, and I was like, “I really should’ve done that.” It was a family event. And since I’m coming to America in a few weeks, I didn’t fly back for it because it was just a week ago. Last night, I was thinking about it, and I was like, “I really should’ve done that.” I really regretted it. Had I had that sort of idea in mind—which I would’ve never asked myself that question that you just said, like “If I’m going to die, should I have done this?”, that wasn’t in my vocabulary. But had it been just a few weeks ago, that would’ve drastically change the decision I made. And I wouldn’t have had the regret that was actually keeping me up last night which is rare. It’s not a usual occurrence to be kept up by thoughts. But I was laying there thinking, “I should’ve done that.”
But have you found that you’ve been true to those values? Surely, especially in somewhere like LA, if you’re in the showbiz lifestyle that you are, it must be hard to constantly keep that in mind when there’s probably so many external pressures pressuring you into other things.
Travis: I mean it can be. I’ll give you an example. Last year, I turned 50. I remember also when I was around my late 30’s or early 40’s, I found this website of like a luxury safari in Tanzania. And I was like, “Oh, my God! I’ve got to do this. This looks amazing.” And I said, “Someday, I’m going to do that.”
And as my 50th birthday approach, I thought, “How can I celebrate this milestone?” And I was like, “I’m going to go on a safari.”
And it was really expensive, Brandon. It was not the frugal thing to do. And now that I’m part of a FI community, I was like, “Geez, the opportunity cost. I can be invest it and be safer in my retirement” and all these stuff. But again, I ran the thing like “If I’m dead tomorrow, which do I want?” And I was like, “There’s no way I want to walk off this planet without spending three weeks on the Savannah in Tanzania” because that’s an incredible experience for a human being to be able to encounter.
And by the way, it’s only because of where we are as a society, in terms of having jet planes and all these other stuff that we can even just jump on a plane and do that. It’s a very lucky scenario in that sense.
Mad Fientist: So, was it worth it?
Travis: A hundred percent! Like no question.
But then, I go to your point about Hollywood, I like clothes. I have a little bit of a thing for nice clothes. But I don’t really buy them very often. And I kind of agonize about that because the difference between a $75 pair of shoes and a $400 pair of shoes is real. The quality of the products is actually drastically different. But if I’m pressed to go “Well, you know, I should get a $400 pair of…”
I’m going to the Emmy’s this weekend, right? And part of me is thinking, “I should buy my own tuxedo. I’m a Hollywood executive. Why don’t I own my own tuxedo?” But I’m too cheap to do it because I’m like, “No way! I can use that $2000 to go visit you in Scotland. So I’m going to rent one for $110 off the Internet instead. Nobody is going to notice. I mean they might, but I don’t care.”
Mad Fientist: It must be a danger for some people because that sort of sounds like the yolo lifestyle as far as decision-making goes. So obviously, you have to trust yourself to some extent to not go crazy because you could’ve easily said, “You know what? If I died tomorrow, I would’ve wanted to be in a really nice tuxedo for my last Emmy appearance.” So is that a worry for some people?
Travis: Well, I think that what you’re asking in a way is about holding to one’s own personal north star versus the pressures of your community, your society. And that’s a huge thing.
I mean, I’ve introduced a lot of people to the FI movement. And they just don’t take on to it. They just don’t take to it. I’ll be really interested to see when this film comes out who is exposed to it that would not have normally searched it out and then does take to it.
What I’ve noticed is a lot of the people that don’t take to the principles of the value-based lifestyle, let’s say, or an efficiency lifestyle, are people who just cannot let go of the narrative that they’ve been sold by, frankly, the advertisers.
So yeah, I think it is a slippery slope if you’re a person who’s more interested in the accolades of other people than following your own true north.
And that’s something that I’ve definitely noticed about the FI community. This is not a community of people who give a shit what other people are thinking. I mean they do care about some people and things like that. But they’re not very susceptible to general societal drifts or pressures.
Mad Fientist: I completely agree. And I can’t wait to dive into the documentary because there must be so many other things that you’ve seen over the last year filming this that are going to be super interesting to talk about.
But before I do, I want to get back to your story. So you found this whole idea of financial independence. And it wasn’t too long after that that you decided to come to the Chautauqua, is that right?
Travis: Yes, that’s right. And deciding to go to the Chautauqua was a funny process for me. I’m not a person who’s like quiet about the FI thing. I tell everybody. I’m like, “Yeah, there’s this community. They’re frugal. They invest.” And people, their eyes spin around. They’re like, “What are you talking about?” But for anybody that would listen, I would tell them.
And then, I was talking to my partner, David, and a couple of friends. And I said, “You know, I think I’m going to go to this Chautauqua in Ecuador. But it’s kind of weird because it’s a bunch of people who are getting together in Ecuador to talk about getting rich.”
And I kind of was like, “I don’t know if that’s…I don’t know what I think about that.”
And then, I saw the schedule. And on the schedule was a day dedicated to community service. And when I saw that, I was like, “Oh, wait a minute! These people are up to something bigger. I want to do this.”
And that’s how I ended up there.
Mad Fientist: That was my first one. And it was weird enough for me to go down there, but I’ve luckily met Mr. Money Mustache and Jim Collins before and things like that. So to be an attendee especially in the early days before it sort of got really popular online and things, it must be a pretty difficult decision. I’m assuming you loved it and didn’t regret your decision?
Travis: Oh, no… not at all.
I mean first of all, that was one of the funnest weeks I’ve ever had in my life. It was just great. The people were incredibly—the people were just so smart and so fun and interesting—and happy.
That’s the thing that always blows me away whenever I get around a group of people that are in the FIRE community. I just have never seen such happy people in my life.
Mad Fientist: That’s true. It’s a great bunch to be around. And everybody is so interesting with interesting stories and goals and pursuits. And it’s always such a fun time.
So, yeah, I’m glad you made it down. We had some really great chats. I think we had our one-on-one together. I just remembered sitting out and looking over the jungle and just having this really deep conversation. And we’ve been friends ever since. And we continue to have these great, deep chats which is great. So yeah, no, I’m definitely glad you came down.
And that was sort of the genesis for the documentary, right?
Travis: Absolutely, yeah. In keeping that with that community service kind of thing, one of the things that I find really fascinating generally about the FIRE community is—and I keep asking this question—“What happens if you’ve got a hundred million millionaires, or 10,000 more millionaires, that are liberated from obligatory work? What can happen in the world when that happens?”
And I’ve asked a lot of people in the course of interviewing everybody for the documentary about whether there’s an obligation in some way to give back. I do feel that way. I feel generally, as a philosophy in life, that it’s not an obligation necessary, but it’s a productive thing for us to share our wisdom. I mean that’s kind of how the human species has flourished, is that we’ve shared and paid it forward and things like that.
So Pete, Mr. Money Mustache, you, Jim Collins and Jeremy from Go Curry Cracker were hosts. And when I got back, I thought, “What can I do to help with this? I’m not a blogger. I’m not a financial expert. But I make media.” And I thought, “Well, I could make a documentary about this.”
So, I reached out to all of you guys to see if you would do it. And you were all like, “Yes!” And I was like, “That’s awesome.”
And then, the hard realities of making a documentary started setting in. Also, I still have a day job. And I kind of got waylaid by my day job, to be frank.
Also, I had two problems. One was funding the documentary because documentaries don’t fund themselves. They don’t even really pre-sell usually. You have to make them first. And then, if you’re lucky, they’ll sell.
And the other problem that I had was I didn’t have an organic narrative to follow as a story.
What I had was everybody who’s in the financial community and everybody who’s become financially independent willing to share their story. But that’s not really a movie.
So, I kind of shelved the project while I was putting together a big TV show. And all of a sudden, I hear my partner, my current partner on the documentary, Scott Rickons on the Choose FI Podcast. And I was like, “Oh, shit! That guy’s going to do my documentary.” I was like, “This is terrible! I shouldn’t have put this off,” talking about putting things off for tomorrow.
And a buddy of mine was like, “Why don’t you just call him and just see what he’s up to?”
So, I did. And Scott and I ended up meeting. I was traveling, and he happened to be in Seattle when I was going through. So I stopped off. We had dinner. And we hit it off and decided to partner.
And the great thing about it was that he and his wife had already decided to embark on this journey of understanding the FIRE community and changing their lives over the course of a year which formed the back bone of the documentary to follow and allowed us to disseminate the information that we think is essential to the movement itself and the philosophy and so on.
Mad Fientist: That’s so great, yeah.
So, I was looking through past emails because I just wanted to sort of get a timeline of when all these stuff was happening.
And before I dive into that, I want to tell you one of the emails I came across which is a Chautauqua one. And the quote was: “I didn’t call in sick with traveler’s diarrhea for two weeks, and then immediately retire as adviced by the Chautauqua crowd.”
So, obviously, that was part of the advice some of us geniuses down there shared with one of the attendees. And luckily, she decided not to go that route.
Anyway, so I was looking through all my emails. And you emailed myself, Jim Collins, Jeremy from Go Curry Cracker, and Pete from Mr. Money Mustache on July 28th 2016. And that was sort of your proposition for this documentary. And as you said, you got busy for a year. And it wasn’t until September 1st 2017 that you ended up meeting Scott. So that was a whole year that went by. You must’ve been extremely excited to get that project revived after a year of working really hard at your day job.
Travis: Oh, yeah. I mean I was thrilled.
And also, the fact that Scott and I hit it off is kind of a miracle in and of itself.
Mad Fientist: Absolutely! And the funny thing is that Brad from Choose FI, he’s a long time buddy of mine. And I remember him. He sent me at least two emails saying, “Hey, I met this guy Scott. He’s doing a documentary. He’s great. You’re going to love him. He wants you to be involved.” And I just kept replying and saying, “No, that’s okay. I’m not interested” because I was like, “No, my buddy Travis is doing the documentary. I’m going to be in Travis’ documentary. I don’t know who this guy is.”
And I think it was like the third email, and Brad’s like, “No, seriously. Just have a chat with him. He’s a great guy.” And it was right around that time that I think I heard from you, and you’re like, “Hey, I met this great guy named Scott. And we’re going to team up on this documentary.”
So, I’m so glad you did because I got to meet Scott and Taylor at—I think it was the 2017 Ecuador Chautauqua. And exactly like you, we hit it off immediately. And I was like, “Oh, this is going to be fantastic especially since you guys teamed up.”
So, can you maybe talk about how you actually teamed up on this project? What roles do you guys each play in this project?
Travis: Yeah. So I’m directing the documentary. I’m also an executive producer. Scott and I, it’s a very small operations. Scott’s the executive producer—he and Taylor, and their daughter, Jovy, up here in the film.
Mad Fientist: So, you met on September 1st last year. When did it really swing into full gear in this thing.
Travis: So, they had already started kind of shooting. They had shot a couple of scenes. I can’t speak for Scott, but he told me this. I think he was relieved to have somebody else helping oversee it. It’s very difficult to put yourself in a movie and produce it and direct it. You know what I mean?
So, I think he was really happy. And since they’ve already kind of shooting, we just jumped right in. We’ve now shot across a full year. We basically just finished our principal photography. And we’re editing. We’ve got our first rough cut as of basically today. It’s our first…
Mad Fientist: Oh, wow! Congrats…
Travis: Thanks. We get a little ways to go. But it’s really great progress.
And you know, this is something that myself and my editor, Adam Barton, who’s just a terrific editor, we’re doing this on the side of our day jobs. Adam works full time in television as an editor. So, most of this has been done on weekend and short weeks throughout the year. It’s been a ton of work, but really rewarding. And we’re pretty happy with what’s coming together.
Mad Fientist: Oh, it’s great. I can’t even imagine what the process is like. I saw how much you guys filmed when we were together just for a couple of days in Dallas. And it as just a ton of footage! I just can’t imagine how you got all of that down into a couple of hours. It just seems such a huge task. But if you already have a rough cut, that’s pretty great progress, I would say, right?
Travis: Yeah. I mean it is daunting. We overshot terribly. But the cool thing about that is that we’re going to have all these extra content.
Mad Fientist: Oh, nice.
Travis: All of the interviews that I conducted, we’re going to turn those into long form interviews that people can actually watch outside of the movie.
Mad Fientist: Oh, great. Oh, that would be great.
Travis: …which I think people will really like.
Mad Fientist: I think we’re able to run through some of the cast of characters that you were able to talk to for this film.
Travis: Oh, wow! We’ve got you, Mr. Money Mustache, JL Collins, Jeremy from Go Curry Cracker, Kristy from Millenial Revolution, we’ve got Ryan Holiday who’s an expert on stoicism, the minimalists are in the film.
The sad thing is that we couldn’t get everybody in the movie. We’re trying to keep it definitely under two hours. Hopefully, something like—typically, you do like 90 minutes. So you can imagine how difficult it is to condense a story plus the information on the FIRE movement and whatever into a 90-minute thing.
Mad Fientist: Every time Scott would tell me more people you got involved, I’m like, “You probably couldn’t even introduced all these people in the 90 minutes.” I was wondering how you guys are going to tackle that problem.
Travis: It’s a problem, but we’re working on it.
Mad Fientist: Nice!
Travis: Vicki Robin is just remarkable. She wrote Your Money Or Your Life. She is just an incredible voice;
JD Roth, Doug Nordman—you know, Nords…?
Mad Fientist: Yeah, Nords from the Military Guide, yup.
Travis: Yeah. We also have Jocelyn Pearson from The Scholarship System, somebody who’s really a leader in tackling the student loan problem. So yeah… I mean there’s many more.
Mad Fientist: Sounds fantastic!
Travis: Who all ends up in the final cut remains to be seen just because we interviewed so many people. But I wanted to get as many voices as I possibly could from the community so that we could explore all the different degrees of what this is all about.
Mad Fientist: Is the documentary different than what you thought it would be way back in 2016 when you first had this idea?
Travis: Okay… so here’s what’s really crazy. No… it’s pretty much exactly what I thought it would be.
Mad Fientist: Nice!
Travis: But that’s just insane.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, that’s great. That’s fantastic. So you’ve been able to relaize your vision which must feel so good.
Travis: Oh, I’m besides myself that I was even able to do this.
The only thing that I didn’t really specifically 100% know would be who would fill the shoes of Scott and Taylor? What would that person be? And what would their journey be? And how would that all come together? That was the only thing that I didn’t really know. But Scott and Taylor are just lovely people. And they carried the film really well.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, I bet! You couldn’t pick two better people to be in it. I wouldn’t think so. No, that’s great.
And did you learn anything about the financial independence, early retirement scene that you didn’t know? You were pretty into the scene to begin with. And you’ve met a lot of the big players. And you’ve obviously read and listened to a lot of content over the years. Was there anything you learned through the process? Or was there any trends that seem to stand out that everyone was talking about?
Travis: Yeah, you know, I think that one of my biggest takeaways—and I kind of discovered this in talking to Vicki Robin—was that there’s an analogy between the FIRE community and the ‘60s, the people that dropped out of society to take drugs and reject the standard system and all that. Let’s call them the bohemians, right? The thing that I never quite understood which I was constantly kind of asking myself as I was making the film was: “Who are these people?” You and Pete, what is the common thread here that binds you guys.
And I realized that there’s this countercultural desire for freedom and a rejection of the standard narrative that’s very similar to what happened in the ‘60s.
Mad Fientist: This documentary is going to obviously take this thing to the next level. It’s going to reach people that blogs and podcasts never will reach. And it’s going to open…
Travis: Can I tell you something?
Mad Fientist: Yes, yeah.
Travis: It already is. This past week, we were featured in the New York Times. It’s now been picked up by Le Figaro which is one of the big French newspapers, El Ray which is one of the big Spanish newspaper. The BBC called today. And we don’t even have the trailer out.
Mad Fientist: Oh, wow! That’s amazing.
Travis: So it’s in the Zeitgeist. And you’re very right about that. I can tell you why I think that is, but go ahead… I’m sorry…
Mad Fientist: No, please, please. No, I would love to hear it.
Travis: Well, I think there’s a couple of things. One is there’s a general panic going on especially in younger people about the future. Because of the Internet, and we’re constantly bombarded with all these information all day every day, there’s a sense of insecurity about the future—I think greater than we probably have ever had as a society.
So, the social safety nets of social security, healthcare, everything is in flux—and potentially, in jeopardy. And also, the financial services community—I was about to get conspiratorial—they have forced the individual into a position of responsibility with their own financial future. And we are woefully unprepared to face that because we don’t teach financial literacy to anybody.
We’re taught to be consumers. That’s what this culture teaches us. You make money to spend money. That is the whole point of the game, “Don’t worry about it. Everything will work out.” And that’s a lie.
Mad Fientist: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.
Travis: So, there’s a sense that all of these is just crumbling I think. And so the idea of being able to have some control and some knowledge and some agency over one’s own life I think is very attractive.
Now, the question is going to be how much the community, the subculture, is going to be able to impact the standard narrative that we talked about earlier in terms of the slippery slope of like, “Well, gee, but I really do want to yolo. And I need my Instagram picture and all that.” How much is that going to be able to push in?
My goal personally would be 10%. I think that would be radical if we could get 10% of the broad population onboard with what we’re up to here.
Mad Fientist: Yeah, that would be insane. Just obviously, having a website of my own, I’ve received emails over the years. And just to see the amazing things those people have been able to do after realizing what’s possible and after starting to live this life that’s more directed to their values and their purpose and things like that, just to see all the great things that have been created just from that small subset of people, if you reached 10% with the documentary, I can’t even imagine what the snowball effect from that would be. Have you thought about that?
Travis: I mean I wish for it, but I haven’t thought about what it’s going to look like. It goes back to what I said: “What happens if you have 10 million more millionaires who are free? What happens to communities? What all can you do that is in alignment with your values that can have an impact in the world?”
I mean, one of the hard things about making this documentary is that you guys have already covered the ground of how to pursue the path to FIRE. And so how can we make all that attractive to a broader audience and relatable? That was my undertaking. And we’ll see if it works. I don’t know. It could be rejected. You never know.
It’s so exciting because Vicki and I were talking about the healthcare thing. She ardently wishes that the FIRE community as a whole would take up the healthcare problem in the United States because it’s like a thousand of us, put our minds to it and got really dedicated, we could literally change that conversation.
And that specifically interests us because healthcare is one of the big problems in the United States at least with the whole thing.
Mad Fientist: Absolutely, yeah. No, it’s really exciting to think about. I want to talk more about that because that’s something that we’ve chatted about over the years, living a life of purpose and pursuing the things that are important to you. I really want to dive into that in this call.
But I also want to pick up where we left off in your personal story because there’s so much more that I want to dive into there as well.
Shortly after the Chautauqua, you hit your FI number. But then you then decided to buy a house which then sort of threw a wrench in the old FI number. So I want to dive into that because that was definitely a value bet. It was definitely a conscious decision. It wasn’t like you just ended up with a house, and you’re like, “Oh no, I’m not going to be able to retire.” But I want to talk more about that because I think that was a tough decision for you, and I’d like to hear your thought process on that.
Travis: Yeah. And to be honest, I still question the decision. I reached financial independence per the 4% rule 25 times and all that in about eight years. That was extremely accelerated because I came into the community right when my career started lifting as well. So, I started saving money at a really accelerated rate.
I didn’t change my lifestyle. I kept driving the 2005 Honda Civic. And I stayed in a rent-controlled apartment that I had lived in for—well, I lived there with my ex. This is a crazy story. People were always blown away by this. I lived with my ex in a rent-controlled apartment in West Hollywood. And when we broke up, I didn’t move out. We split, and I moved into one room, and he moved into the other room. And I was traveling a lot from my work, so it kind of ended up working out. And now, we’re great friends, and he’s like family for me. So that was the emotional part that worked.
And then, in doing that, I kept my housing costs extremely low. I think I was paying like $700 a month to live in West Hollywood. But that allowed me to save a ton of money.
Mad Fientist: It’s crazy!
Travis: So, when I emailed you and you told you that I was financially independent, that was at my current lifestyle which was living with my ex as a roommate, driving a very old car and just really not—
I think I sort was feeling emotionally like I wasn’t quite flourishing in the way that I wanted to be. So I started looking at renting an apartment of my own. But because the cost of rentals in Los Angeles, when you start writing the math, it’s like, “Gee, do I really want to rent a crappy apartment for like $2300 or $2700 a month,” which is how much I cost here, “or should I consider buying a place?”
I looked for a year and a half before I pulled the trigger and bought a condo.
And it was a great decision personally. I’m really happy I did it. I’m glad that I have my own place. That all feels really great. But I still question whether or not it was the right financial decision.
Honestly, I think the regret is that it’s so expensive to buy anything in Los Angeles that like I’m financially independent, and I have a high paying job, and I have a good career, and I still can’t afford in a conservative fiscal sense the kind of place that I would imagine myself living in at this stage in my life.
I’m still living in an apartment in the middle of Hollywood. It’s not the greatest neighborhood. I don’t know. I think that’s where I struggle with it.
And then, on top of that, it did set me back in terms of me having hit my number. So, I actually just hit my new number again a month ago.
Mad Fientist: Oh, nice… congrats!
Travis: Thank you. So I’m now financially independent again with my current…
Mad Fientist: And this is something I want to dive into as well. You weren’t really sure what to retire to anyway. So it wasn’t like you were rushing to the exits. You have a great job that gives you access to the industry that is your passion. And you didn’t really have anything pulling you away from that at that moment.
I’m wondering if that’s changed since then or if that’s still the situation.
Travis: That’s an ongoing conversation I’m having with myself. I enjoy working. I mean making this documentary is like a dream come true for me. It’s really fun. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s really fun. And it’s something that I care about.
If I could do that all day every day, that will be unbelievable. I don’t know if that’s a realistic proposition just because of the way life works. You just don’t get everything you want every day even if you’re financially independent.
I definitely feel the tug of wanting to have more greater agency over the way my life plays out.
When I was a struggling actor, I had a ton of agency over my own life. I mean as long as I got enough money to pay my rent and buy some ramen noodles, I was free. And I loved that because it allowed me to pursue what I wanted to be pursuing.
I don’t know. I’m older now. And I kind of got sucked into the system a little bit. I am a little worried about the healthcare question. I haven’t really solved that for myself. If I quit my job—like I have great healthcare where I work. If I quit my job, what would that exactly look like? Do I have enough money put aside? I don’t know! I’m having those struggles which I think are pretty common.
Mad Fientist: How about identity? Do you worry about that? You have a prestigious job in Hollywood. You’re a big shot exec. Could you go to being an independent documentarian? And how would that feel? I’m sure you’ve thought about that. I know we’ve talked about it a little bit as well.
Travis: The identity question is huge for me because I’ve spent my entire life trying to build a career in the entertainment industry. And so it wasn’t like I had a bad job that I was stuck in a cubicle slogging away and just dreaming about the moment I could break the chains. I kind of got to where I wanted to go in many ways. So, I’m very fortunate on that regard.
And just throwing that identity out the window is kind of a weird thing.
I toy around with it. I’m not a famous actor. I’m not Brad Pitt. So I don’t walk out into the airport and people recognize me. I spent a lot of time in Alaska, for instance, working for one of my TV shows, and nobody cares about who I am. I mean nobody really cares about who I am in Hollywood either, to be real. I’m part of the working class of Hollywood. I’m part of the maker class. I’m not a celebrity. So my identity isn’t around that. It’s around what do I do all day. And will I still have the same level of access?
Mad Fientist: So, with your current work—you get to work in these remote Alaskan communities, there has to be some sort of similarities there between these two groups of people who—you know, one chose to go out on their own into the wilderness of financial independence, and then other people decided to go do that up in Alaska or something. So, have you noticed any similarities between these groups after working with them for so long?
Travis: Absolutely! One of the things that is a common denominator in all of my career that I’ve kind of noticed is that the subcultures that I’ve showcased and attracted to are people who seek great freedom. And the Alaskans are the prototypical freedom-seekers. “Last frontier… I don’t want no government… I can do this on my own… Get out of my way.” That’s Alaska.
And there’s a similarity to the FIRE community as we’ve discussed in terms of their desire for freedom and an autonomy.
Mad Fientist: So, what is the plan for the documentary then? I know you’re finishing up some edits. You’re hoping to get a trailer out soon. But what’s the timeframe? And what can people look forward to?
Travis: So, the plan right now is we’re launching our world premiere trailer at FinCon this month.
Mad Fientist: Can’t wait!
Travis: Along with our Kickstarter campaign to raise money to finish the film. I blatantly ask people to please support the film. Making a movie is extremely expensive. We’ve shot over the course of the year. The edit schedule is about four months. There’s all these stuff that we have to do in terms of coloring and mixing and paying a composer and things like that. So, we’re asking the community for their support with their Kickstarter.
And then, the plan from there—and this is a little bit of a trouble with documentaries generally—we’re going to be presenting for sale. We’re submitting it for the Sundance Film Festival. We may do a layer of direct sales to the community first in order to drum up enough interest and excitement from Netflix and people like that to purchase the film. The path for documentaries is you’ve kind of have to hit it from all angles and hope that something sticks.
So, the current plan is definitely to try to release it at least direct to the public by early 2019, probably January—unless we get into Sundance which would happen at the end of January, beginning of February. And that would change a big part of the way that the film gets seen.
Mad Fientist: Oh, that’s so exciting. And yeah, the Kickstarter, I’ll link to that in the shownotes. And I’m chatting with Scott right now to figure out something cool that I can donate to be one of the Kickstarter levels or whatever, however it works.
Travis: Oh, that would be awesome.
Mad Fientist: Cool bundle stuff, we’re working on that now. And hopefully, I’m sure there’s going to be tons of really cool things for any backers of the Kickstarter campaign. And yeah, I’m just super excited about it. I’ve never taken part in anything like that before. But just the production and all the guys you had on the crew, it was such a pleasure.
And I’ve seen some stills from the shots. And it just looks fantastic! So I have no doubt yours are…
Travis: And yours are great. You did a great job! You’re in a movie, Brandon!
Mad Fientist: Oh, man! That’s crazy. Thanks. Yeah! It was a nuts experience. It was great. And yeah, definitely, I’m used to being the radio voice—that’s easy—not being on camera. But no, I know you guys are going to make an incredible film. And I can’t wait to see the trailer in a few weeks.
Travis: The scene with you and Scott and Taylor is so great.
Mad Fientist: Is it?
Travis: Oh, my God! It’s so funny. It’s really wonderful.
Mad Fientist: Oh, nice. I can’t wait to see it. No, it was so fun to do. And yeah, I can’t thank you enough for asking me to be a part of it. And it’s been an amazing thing to see over the years, this thing go from your little idea that was in an email way back in 2016. And now it’s going to be a film. So congratulations!
Travis: Thank you. And I’m really grateful for your support and your participation and everybody else’s that participated in the community. I mean one of the things that I’ve always marveled at with this community is their generosity—of time, of spirit, knowledge. I mean it’s really incredible. It’s very rare.
Mad Fientist: Well, we appreciate you giving us a megaphone. It’s one thing to put something on a website on the Internet, but it’s another thing to make a movie out of it. And I think the reach from your movie is going to be incredible. So yeah, I appreciate the megaphone and the platform to do something hopefully great.
And yeah, like we said, if we get those 10%, that would maybe change the look of the country forever… which should be insane.
So, yeah, very exciting! 2019 is going to be a very cool year.
Before I let you go though, I ask all my guests: “What’s one piece of advice you’d give to somebody on the path to financial independence?” I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.
Travis: Oh, wow!
Mad Fientist: No pressure.
Travis: Okay. Let me think about that. What’s one thing that I would tell people.
Okay, I’m going to tell you the trick, the psychological trick, that was actually a mistake that I did that accelerated my savings rate more than anything else in my path. And that was that whenever I got a raise, I paid myself 10% of the raise based on the rule that I think I read in The Richest Man in Babylon, to pay yourself first 10%. I got it all backwards. I thought that it meant that I was supposed to take 10% of my raise and give it to myself and save the other 90% in the bank.
And this is how bad at math I am and why I shouldn’t really be talking about this stuff. But it worked perfectly. It gave me this boost where I was like, “Ooh, I got extra money. I can spend this on whatever I want,” but I was saving 90% of every piece of future income. And that had a massive effect on my savings rate.
Mad Fientist: And yeah, you get the benefit of the rate, you get the boost. And yet you’re able to reach FI in eight to ten years probably. So yeah, that’s…
Mad Fientist: That’s one math problem that you should be happy you got wrong I think.
Travis: I am actually. I’m very happy. I feel stupid about it even still talking about it. But it worked in my favor, so sometimes being dumb is a great thing.
Mad Fientist: Well, this has been great, Travis. It’s always fun to talk to you. And yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing you in Orlando soon. And I can’t wait to see the trailer.
So, if anybody wants to find you anywhere, they can obviously leave comments on the shownotes for this episode. But is there anywhere else you want people to stop by? PlayingwithFIRE.co?
Travis: Yes, so the film’s website is www.PlayingwithFIRE.co. I’m also putting out my own website, TravisShakespeare.com if people want to contact me directly. But you can also get a hold of me through the Playing with FIRE website.
Mad Fientist: Perfect! I will link to all that and definitely the Kickstarter too. So if you guys are excited about the documentary as I am, definitely go to that. And check out all the backer levels and help make this thing become a reality.
But Travis, thank you so much. This has been great.
Travis: Thanks, Brandon.
Mad Fientist: Alright, buddy. Bye.
Enter your details below to join the Mad Fientist email list and receive an instant download link!