My Six Days of Silence: A Hollywood Agent Puts Down His Phone (for Once)

Illustration by Tim Peacock

"Everyone should take a week and sit with their thoughts," says a UTA rep who quit all verbal and electronic contact at a Bali retreat.

In November, Peter Dodd, a motion picture literary agent at UTA, spent six days in silence — no talking, emailing or texting — at Bali Silent Retreat in Indonesia.

Dodd, 33, whose clients include Hell or High Water helmer David Mackenzie and Miss Sloane director Jonathan Perera, attended the retreat as part of the agency's Live Inspired program, which annually awards five employees with a one-week paid sabbatical and $2,500 to fulfill a philanthropic or personal goal. Potential Live Inspired projects can be broken down into two categories: Give a Dream, in which participants volunteer or engage in philanthropic enrichment; and Live a Dream, in which participants pursue a personal or professional goal.

Along with Dodd's experience, the program, established in 2016, allowed Marcus Bartlett, creative director of the UTA Brand Studio, to spend a week in immersive life drawing and sketching programs that spanned 80 hours over 6 days at an Independent Art School in Florence. Marcus' travel back to Florence marked the 20 year anniversary of when he has studied abroad in Florence. Also, Wyntesha McAllister, from L.A.’s call center, participated in a weeklong culinary program in Italy and has plans to pay it forward by sharing these skills with disadvantaged youth.

Here, Dodd reveals the lessons of his unplugged experience:

When I first arrived, I was nervous. I have always wanted to attend a silent retreat because it would force me to do something outside of my comfort zone. I'd heard there was a beautiful ashram that was non-religious and eco-friendly in Bali, and I wanted to see what I could learn about myself and others in total tranquility. But I'd never tried staying quiet for a week before and wondered what I would do for such a long period in silence. Professionally, I felt anxious because I always want to be accessible to my clients and was concerned about being out of pocket for that long.

The expectation at the retreat is that all guests are silent for the time that they are there. Upon arrival, you hand in your phone and computer, and they bring you to your bungalow, complete with mosquito nets. Following a tour — the 4-acre property is organized around a main building containing an eating space, meditation area and small lending library — the host hands you a pair of earplugs, which I politely declined because I usually sleep well. With the frogs and cicadas, however, I realized on the first night that a silent retreat is anything but! After that, I used earplugs and slept well.

The vegetarian food is all farmed fresh on the property and prepared by locals — it was delicious. Three times a day, you practice yoga and do an hourlong group meditation led by an instructor. We were also granted an hour or two for self-guided meditation. We repeated this process every day for six days.

I wouldn't say I felt lonely because we were constantly surrounded by other people, even though we never spoke to each other. It was surprising that I never felt isolated. The biggest issue for me was to disconnect from technology. My colleagues and clients were supportive, but being 5,000 miles away without a phone or checking email turned out to be harder than I thought. By day three, I accepted the fact that everything was going to be OK with my clients and I finally was able to really disconnect.

Looking back, the silence wasn't as challenging as I'd anticipated. After a while, you get used to it. I realized that speaking is only one form of communication. Silence forces you to listen to your innermost thoughts. Since returning, I've actively worked on my meditation practice, on incorporating that calm focus into my life and continuing to reflect on the relationships that are most important to me. It's easy to get stuck in the constant communication loop that our industry breeds. I think everyone, especially agents, should take a week to sit with their thoughts. You'd be amazed at what you can discover.

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.