Editor’s note: Stephen Simon is currently directing and producing the film version of Conversations with God [www.cwgthemovie.com]. Lisa Schneiderman, publicist for the film, is presenting a diary of the progress of the film. Stephen’s regular column, Movie Mystic will resume in early 2006.
The first day of shooting Conversations with God was filled with the high spirits of the cast and crew, along with typical Oregon winter weather. Cold and wet. It was the introduction of the crew’s long 14-hour days (a typical day of shooting usually starts at 6 a.m.), regardless of the weather. Nearing our halfway point of production, it has been a good reminder of Neale Donald Walsch’s life story, as he himself lived through those cold nights, doing whatever he could to survive and simply stay warm. It has been as if this cast and crew has had a small taste and can only imagine what it’s like to be homeless in the bitter winter chill.
Weather aside, production is running on course and as planned. Everyone is very pleased, especially our director and producer, Stephen Simon.
"There is a magic that takes place in virtually every scene," Simon said. "Casting happened by God and weather by Goddess!"
The scenes that depicted the homeless camp were shot at a beautiful place called Emigrant Lake, about 10 minutes from downtown Ashland. The lake was glistening. It was absolutely gorgeous. Freezing, but breathtaking. Surrounded by hundreds of barren trees, Production Designer Renee Prince, Set Decorator Travis Zariwny and crew knocked themselves out to create a scene that looked exactly like a homeless camp. It was an emotional day when Neale himself came to help tear down part of the set. He picked up a wooden spoon used by "Chef," played by Abdul Salaam El Razzac, for many of the cooking scenes. As he held this spoon in his hand, he described how it took him right back in time to a place that reminded him of waiting for that warm meal while at the camp where he once lived.
The day after Thanksgiving was a particularly special day, because it was a scene that Simon had mere moments to capture. The entire city of Ashland, Ore., was in this shot. Imagine a small town, much like Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life. "This scene had a message and a vision of who we can be when we operate at our very best," Simon said.
There are many poignant scenes, as one can imagine, depicting the life of a homeless man who turned his life around after his conversation with God. Several scenes touch upon the fear we can all relate to in life. Facing one’s biggest fear about survival, doubt and worry.
An excerpt from part one of this two-part series still holds true. The story being told here is one of courage, and also of setting a resonance that it’s time to believe in ourselves. It’s time to finally touch upon our inner resources, that still, small or loud voice inside, instead of so much of the world which is driven by fear, resistance, conditioning and programming that is no longer valid.
There are several messages and themes in this movie. After interviewing several cast members, Ingrid Boulting had this to say about one message that she derived from her role as "Sunny": "I think a very powerful message of this film is for us all now to step up into our true selves, where women aren’t looking for men to fulfill them anymore and men aren’t looking for women to fulfill them. That’s where unhappiness lies in relationships. This film touches upon healing that dynamic."
Creative Consultant Viki King notes: "There’s a line in the movie, ‘heal that and you’ll be free.’ When audiences see this, they will heal that which is wounding them and they will be free."
On to the weather again. Last night, it snowed. Big beautiful chunks of a little piece of heaven showering down on us. We were outside, of course and it was just what the writer and director ordered for that particular scene.
"The universe was winking down at us tonight," Simon said.
"We got the gift of snow," said Jesse Nye, first assistant director.
The theme of this film continues to make its way on set, daily. Tony Scardino, another extra, said, "I’ve been an actor for 25 years and it’s time for my grandchildren to see me in films that are sending out a good message. I love spiritual cinema and that’s why I’m here."
Once we started shooting the film, I again asked Neale Donald Walsch what the core message of the film was. He said, "I think the message of this movie is that everyone can have a conversation with God and that it can happen to anyone."
Along that same vein, I do hope that the audience who view this incredible film in October 2006 will be inspired in their own lives and be reminded that everyone can have their own link to guide them to the divine, to whatever one wants to call their special connection that helps shepherd them in the journey we call life.
See you at the premiere!