“The Pickup Game” that celebrated its premiere at the Hot Docs in Toronto in April is a documentary every woman and man should see. Its concept is tearful, damning, and brutal. But it uncovers the reality we live in. It follows the multi-million dollar industry that teaches men how to seduce women. If the word seduction sounds romantic, it never appears to be the case, not even a bit. Self-described coaches travel the world to teach young students known as ‘Pickup Students’ to have the date of their dreams. While some of the students are unaware of the darker side of their coaching sessions, they fall for it while those who make a fortune lead the most outrageous concept in their mind – get as many women as they can, play them, and punish them in the end by taking them to bed.
During my interview with the dating coach Minnie Lane that took place during the festival at the TIFF Bell Light Box, Millie Lane went through all the frightening details of the pickup industry and the artists themselves which I am extremely happy to bring to your attention.
MOVIEMOVESME: What’s the nature of your job? Can you talk about it?
Millie Lane: I work now as a dating and personal development coach. So, I deal with more of the inner side of helping guys out with dating. So it’s about improving their self-esteem, their self-worth, recognizing their value, help them learn to listen, help them process their emotions properly. It’s about sort of uncovering blocks that are in the way of them naturally being confident and attractive. You know, because nobody’s born un-confident, nobody’s born scared to talk to people, so these are like conditioned things that stop us. So I try and find the blocks and remove them. Rather than what pickup does, which is add a character onto somebody.
MOVIEMOVESME: Can you explain who are pickup artists? Because people don’t know about them, especially women.
Minnie Lane: Yeah, well I think luckily, I don’t think it’s as bad in the U.K. as it is in America which is being captured in the documentary. A pickup artist could range from anything from somebody who’s using a few lines in routines that are sort of canned material, so it’s not genuine, it’s lies they’re using on all women, routines they’re making up to get women’s interest rather than being themselves. That’s the sort of lighter end of things. And then there’s this sort of slippery slope down towards much darker stuff, which is actually emotional and psychological manipulation.
So using tactics from NLP, hypnosis, to effectively sort of emotionally abuse women sometimes. And as we’ve seen in the documentary, the extent of this slippery slope is… It goes to the darkest of dark places and into sexual assault. So there’s no one thing that is a pickup artist, and I think, actually, it’s quite important to stress that not all pickup artists are rapists. They’re one eyed in this industry. I sort of joined by accident because I met a pickup artist in a bar who tried to pick me up, and I’d just come out of a degree in psychology, psychology and communications, and so we ended up in a big chat about female psychology. And he invited me to come along to one of these boot camps to be a conversation coach. So I initially went out of complete fascination, to just be given a key to this underground world and see what it was like.
There is some value in stuff that gets taught, I think helping somebody with their body language, helping them with their voice, helping communicate more clearly, help them dress nicer, have better posture. These are all things that are helpful. There were some aspects where I thought, “Oh, no this is nice,” and I want to help men be more comfortable with women. I’ve always really enjoyed helping people with their relationship problems, and I do feel sorry for guys. I think some guys have a rough time and it’s not uncommon for me to meet somebody who’s my age and has never been with a woman. I think that’s really quite a tragic situation, and I want, I really want to help these people. So, what was the question? What is a pickup artist? I’ve gone off on one, haven’t I?
Yeah, so there are some good parts in it, and there are some guys that are doing things that I wouldn’t teach and I disagree with, things like giving someone canned lines per day, but they’re not harmful. But then there are some pickup artists who are actually rapists. They’re not pickup artists. I think the real problem with the industry is that it’s completely unregulated so it’s hard for a student who’s looking for help with dating to be up to tell the difference between somebody who’s going to brush up on their body and communication skills and somebody that’s going to take them down a path and enter psychologically and emotionally abusing them.
MOVIEMOVESME: That’s the most tragic part of it, isn’t it: those wild men that go teaching how to pick up a woman using techniques, games, and everything else. I do think that they actually hate women but where does this insecurity come from? Why do they do that?
Minnie Lane: Well, you know, again there’s a whole spectrum of students. There are some students that just need a little bit of help with communication, there are some students that are just a bit unsure of themselves, and there are some who hate women, and despise women. That can come from a whole manner of things, that could be from having an abusive upbringing, it could be a slow build up of rejection that they don’t know how to process and so they turn to blame and anger, and make it the woman’s fault. Often these things start small, they start with a rejection here or rejection there, and after fifteen years of being rejected by women, this has snowballed into a giant ball of anger that they don’t have the tools to process properly. A huge part of what I do is I help people to process their emotions properly and channel them into something productive rather than turning into blame and anger.
MOVIEMOVESME: So they are men who are too shy when it comes to talking with women?
Minnie Lane: Yeah, actually most of my students, I would say ninety-nine percent of the men that come to me for help, they have good intentions for women, they just haven’t been very successful with women. You do get the odd one who wants you to teach them something horrendous, which I never do, but to stick up for the students, most of them that come to me, anyway, I can’t tell you about the people that join into these dark places in America. They’re not all bad people but they can become bad people very quickly because they get taught to play this character, and then it gets stripped of all emotion.
MOVIEMOVESME: What are the signs that could help women to recognize in a man whether he’s a pickup artist or someone who is genuinely fond of her? What do you think the woman should do? Is it the lack of experience or lack of trust in the man or the woman?
Minnie Lane: It can be. I think trust is a big thing, actually, especially a lot of women have quite strong defense mechanisms in place for men approaching them, and with good reason because a lot of men don’t have very good intentions. You have to have an automatic filter that’s gonna stop men getting too far, and I think a lot of women unfortunately are not very good at setting boundaries or even knowing where their boundaries are. My advice to women would be to recognize when you’re feeling uncomfortable and get to know your own boundaries because everybody’s got different boundaries. For some people, it’s completely fine to talk to strangers, some people don’t even mind being touched by strangers, but other women, they don’t want anyone within their personal space. Whatever your boundaries are is fine, but you need to know what they are, and get the courage to assert these boundaries and to just let people know in a non-aggressive way, this is where my boundary is. Then it’s when someone oversteps this boundary, you can easily get them out of there.
MOVIEMOVESME: Going back to the documentary, how did you end up being a part of it? There’s always a reason, what was yours?
Minnie Lane: Well, I wanted to go on the documentary because I felt when I was invited to be a part of it, I thought someone needs to say the inside story. Someone needs to say how bad it is, and can be, and explain slippery slope, and I’m a little bit shy to go on camera, I’m not great on camera but I sort of realized, you know what, I think it’s me that might have to do this, it’s no good saying, “Oh, someone needs to play that side of it.” So I wanted to be a part of it to raise awareness.
I think it’s the main thing, to raise awareness as a warning for students and as a warning to women because I think awareness is going to be the key in sorting this out. If women recognize, oh, this is what’s going on here, then that’s going to help them to say no because what’s dangerous about the guys is because it’s manipulative. It’s starts small and builds up. So it’s not easy for a girl once it’s gone a little way into it to then go back on it. It works by sort of fishing those, the sense of social obligation. To pressure her, very gently, like grooming, into a place where she feels unable to, where she feels trapped and unable to say no. If people are aware, they’re going to be able to nip it in the bud and get out of there quickly. But again, it’s not all bad.
MOVIEMOVESME: Don’t you think the same men who work as pickup coaches are the ones who ruin a genuine man’s reputation?
Minnie Lane: Yeah, definitely, and I think it’s that you know this is a trained thing with me too, is that now some good men are very, very nervous about all these women in case it’s taken the wrong way. A lot of my students now being very, very anxious about whether they’re sexually harassing somebody by going up and saying hello, and striking up a conversation. It’s difficult for them to know where the boundary is. How do you film a problem where women want men to make the first move but they also don’t want to be sexually harassed? The man doesn’t know if what they’re going to do is welcome. I think men need to learn how to have a respectful conversation with women.
MOVIEMOVESME: What do you tell your students that are shy so that they become confident?
Minnie Lane: The first step is getting to know themselves. I sort of create a safe space for them to really show me who they are and then through my acceptance of who they are, I help them to accept themselves as who they are, and help them go on a journey to work out what it is that they want, connect with themselves, recognize their value, and a lot of guys do not recognize their value. I’ll ask them, “Tell me your three best qualities,” and they can’t answer it. I essentially do what people’s parents should do, which is help them and accept themselves, recognize their own value, learn to communicate, be honest, listen to others.
MOVIEMOVESME: What would you tell parents that will help solve the lack of confidence in their children and boost their interest in social skills?
Minnie Lane: Well, I think really helping kids to be in touch with their emotions. I think that that’s something that should be taught in schools, how to process your emotions properly, to let people know that it’s okay to have feelings. It’s okay to be angry, it’s okay if something frustrates you, but to teach people how to channel that into something productive. Helping your child explore who they are, and accepting whoever they are, there’s a lot of pressure from society for men and women to conform to certain ideals. If a parent can break that down, and really help their child to know whoever they are it’s okay to be them. That is really the main message. To help your child work out who they are and let them know that it’s absolutely okay to be whoever they are. They don’t need to be anything other than who they are.
MOVIEMOVESME: How to distinguish between the good and the bad men, how women can continue trusting men after seeing this documentary?
Minnie Lane: What I think, actually, the key is is always work on yourself. The more honest, and genuine, and trustworthy you are as a person, the more you recognize it in other people. If you are a completely honest person, you know instantly when someone is lying to you, and to just really recognize when they’re feeling uncomfortable. Often in hindsight, we look back on things and we think, “Oh, actually, there was something a little bit weird when you first came over, and I did feel a bit strange,” and to just really listen to their intuition. Be aware whether somebody’s words and actions are in alignment. If somebody says, “Oh, let’s go and grab an ice cream,” and then they brought you back to their house, that’s a massive red flag. Pay attention to the red flags. If they’ve lied about taking you back to their house, don’t go in that house. Ask why they’ve lied about it. Try and have to courage to just speak up. I think it’s really, really important that women learn to speak, and again this is something that’s happened to me too. The only person you can really change is yourself.
So, if you’re a woman, know where your boundaries are, listen to your emotions, listen to when you’re feeling uncomfortable, and try to find the courage to speak up, and state your truth. I really, really urge women to watch the documentary because I think that awareness is the key. I think you start to see action. I picked up as soon as that guy started to chat me up in the bar, I just recognized what you were doing. I think that anybody can see this documentary will be able to recognize it very quickly.