Paul Scheele: It is my pleasure to be able to introduce Stephen Simon. He’s a veteran producer whose career includes the presidency of two major production companies and the development and production of a myriad of well-known films such as: Smokey and the Bandit, The Goodbye Girl, The Electric Horseman, Somewhere in Time, the Academy Award winning What Dreams May Come, and the Emmy-nominated Lifetime television movie Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story.
He is also the author of the definitive work The Force is With You: Mystical Movie Messages that Inspire Our Lives. Stephen Simon has become the leading spokesperson for a new genre he is calling Spiritual Cinema. He’s co-founder of the Spiritual Cinema Circle.
Spiritual Cinema helps us examine who we are and why we’re here, and lets us form our own conclusions. These works help illuminate the human condition through stories and images. They inspire us to explore humanity when it can be seen at its very best.
Since its launch on April 1st, 2004, Spiritual Cinema Circle has become a worldwide phenomenon. The Circle distributes three to five DVDs of spiritual cinema a month to a worldwide audience and has been featured in major publications such as Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly.
Stephen is also co-founder and president of Moving Messages: The Institute for Spiritual Entertainment Incorporated, a non-profit educational corporation that develops and distributes feature films, television shows, and documentaries, as well as education and training programs.
Its mission is to use traditional and new media to express ideas that illumine and inspire individual and social transformation. With a focus on spirituality in film, he teaches several seminars and writes a nationally syndicated column called The Movie Mystic.
You know, your work is legendary, Stephen. You’re an amazing pioneer. You’re doing something, really, that’s never been accomplished in the film industry and your influence in the lives of people is remarkable. For our purposes, we’d really love to know how your life’s passions brought you to where you are today. Can you tell us, please, how you first began to discover what you’re most passionate about?
Stephen Simon: Well, I came to spirituality very young. My dad, who was a writer, a producer, and a director named, Sylvan Simon, worked in the ’40s, made movies with Red Skelton, and Abbott and Costello, and he had actually produced the original Born Yesterday. So, I believe that we choose who are parents are going to be in this lifetime and I chose a filmmaker.
My dad died when I was four, unfortunately, but I remember his presence being around me when I was very young. I wasn’t frightened by it, so the sense of spirituality and having something more was with me as a kid, and I grew up loving movies. That was my passion.
I came here to be a filmmaker. My mother remarried and who did she remarry? My stepfather’s also a film producer, so it was very much a part of my life. I grew up with movies like Lost Horizon, It’s a Wonderful Life, and films like that, that just fascinated me.
When I was 22, I walked into the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles and saw the very first screening, on the very first day in 1968, of 2001: A Space Odyssey. When I saw the last 15 minutes of that film, I just said, That’s it. Those are the kind of films that I want to make.
I spent a lot of time going down different routes, which we’ll talk about in a little bit. I’ve had a lot of failure in my life and, you know, when you hear that kind of a build up and that kind of an introduction, it doesn’t talk about all the things that went wrong as well.
I think that’s the key to all of these things because, yes, I have done all of those things, and those production companies that I ran – I was also fired from all of those jobs. I’ve been through a bankruptcy. I’ve lost everything else in my life again, so that’s happened twice. I went through a period of time where my ex-wife had a psychotic break around the time of my bankruptcy and I wound up raising four girls on my own.
I’ve made more movies that have lost money, frankly, than have made money, and I have known a lot of failure, and a lot of heartache. I’ve know what it’s like to have bills stacked up in the drawer, not so long ago, where they’re filed in order of when they’re going to be disconnected.
Out of all of that, came this passion of mine for making movies. As you said, I produced a lot of films over the years as an executive, as a producer, and as an executive producer. I’ve been involved with the making of almost 30 films in almost 30 years.
Somewhere in Time was my first film as a producer, a movie that I was passionate about that has a long story attached to it, which maybe we can talk about in a little bit. That led me on a 20-year journey to get What Dreams May Come made. I decided I needed to get out of film industry in Los Angeles.
I needed to get out of L.A. There were a lot of things that went into this, culminating in the last three years of me actually leaving L.A., coming to southern Oregon, writing my book, going on a tour, and really just being passionately determined that Spiritual Cinema was going to be recognized as genre, and it’s led to all of these other things. So, it is a complex story as we all have.
Paul Scheele: I would like to focus for a moment on some of the obstacles that you may have encountered around Spiritual Cinema. I mean there must have been some kind of roadblocks along the way and I’m curious about how you may have overcome some of those.
Stephen Simon: Well, most of those I have to say were of my own making because I do believe we create our own reality. Certainly, I created a reality for myself where I was trying to operate, and doing this kind of spirituality in the belly of a very, very, old line, old-fashioned, very conservative business, which is what the film industry is.
The obstacles: well, besides my own ego, and all of the disintegrations that I went through, I was dealing with an industry that doesn’t understand what we’re doing, and doesn’t care about it. Now, let’s talk about that a little bit. The Hollywood film community, the studios and the major independents, has undergone a massive transformation over the last 10 or 15 years in particular.
All of those distributors are now owned by major international conglomerates. People who really love films, people who have the entrepreneurial fervor and passion, have basically disappeared from the halls of power within the traditional film industry. The average Hollywood film in the year 2004 cost a little bit over $100 million to produce and to market.
They are going for home runs. They are going for huge, mainstream, blockbuster films most of the time. They’ve abandoned a huge piece of the audience. That’s kind of a dirty little secret in Hollywood. It’s not a very well-kept secret, but they talk about box office grosses, which are misleading because of the inflated cost of tickets every year.
In 2004, 100 million less people bought tickets for movies than in 2003. In 2003, for the first time in 12 years, 100 million people less bought tickets than in 2002, so ticket buying is going down. The reason for that is because of those of us who are interested in say a film like, The Hours, a couple of years ago with Nicole Kidman, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which was my personal favorite film of 2004.
Those of us who are interested in subject matter films, we don’t get those films on a regular basis any more. The studios and the major independents will generally put those films out in October, November, and December to qualify for Academy Awards, which are still very important, and can drive business, and are prestigious, and things like that. But, the other nine months of the year, generally, and again there are exceptions – last year, Eternal Sunshine was the one exception in the first six months of 2004.
The opportunity that presents for us as filmmakers is enormous and that’s why the Spiritual Cinema Circle has been so successful. It’s why films like What the Bleep, and Indigo have been so successful. When you can get through to our community and let them know there is a film out there made by people in the community that do understand the sensibilities, they will come.
Paul Scheele: I know you’ve mentioned the benefits that people are receiving. I know you can’t necessarily produce a list of that, but if asked, what are the benefits to Spiritual Cinema Circle members? How do you describe that?
Stephen Simon: Well, certainly the films themselves, we believe, illuminate issues that we’re all living with. We believe that we live in the most extraordinary times. The Chinese have this saying they live in interesting times and with all of the tumult, and all of the pain, and all of the fear, there is also enormously opportunity, and enormous evolution.
We are living in a time in which many people, particularly from old line, traditional religious thinking, feel that the end of the world is literally at hand, within the next ten years, and there is a lot of fear that goes into that. There are a lot of things that we have all come to this planet, we hope, to evolve.
People who are on a conscious, spiritual journey, and what we hope we are doing for people, is illuminating a lot of these issues that we’re dealing with. A spiritual teacher of mine once said, as the decade of the ’90s passed and as we went into the year 2000, The time for practice is over. The time for us taking a look at things and being remote from them is over.
We have an enormous responsibility, I believe, and an enormous opportunity to have a very positive effect upon the world. It doesn’t mean we need to make anybody bad and wrong. It doesn’t mean we need to replace anything. It means that our entertainment, our community, and the energy that emanates from it can have a very positive effect upon us, and with that ripple effect, which is why the ripple in the pond is the logo for the Spiritual Cinema Circle, why it can go out into the world.
We feel that these movies bring up issues, and bring up individuals, and bring up things that can provide a fascinating map for many of us to follow towards healing, and towards evolving as a species. That’s one of the things that we hope will come from the Spiritual Cinema Circle and we believe does from the response that we’re getting from our subscribers.
Paul Scheele: I have to agree. I really do.
Stephen Simon: Thank you. The other aspect of it is the community as we’ve been talking about, which as I said a couple minutes ago, it’s very difficult to be on a conscious, spiritual path of evolution and to do it alone. I’m not going to say it’s impossible, but it’s certainly difficult because you need other people to have feedback.
You need other people to bounce things off of because some of these issues are very challenging – none of us have all of the answers. Our peer group, our soul group, can provide those for us. One of things that we’re providing at the Spiritual Cinema Circle is this sense of community, the communities that I talked about.
People can connect with each other in various cities and towns around the United States, and around the world. As people were introducing themselves, when I was listening when people started the call, I heard a number of people who are members of our communities.
I’ve heard people whose names’ I recognize, and whose voices I recognize are part of our communities around the world, and that is something that we believe is a very strong and important part of it. I guess at the very bottom of it, at the core of it is this:
When you have a conscious spiritual community that is at least endeavoring every month, even though I know we are going to from time to time fail, but is at least endeavoring every month to create an exalted image of humanity rather than a debased one, which is what we get from so much mainstream media – so much hatred, so much anger, so much fear, so much of the value of money only for money’s sake, not for the values that go along with it.
If we endeavor, and continue to endeavor to uplift ourselves and uplift our community, then the resonance of that, we believe, will ripple out like those ripples in a pond, and have a very positive affect upon the world around us. It will encourage us, and more and more of us, to jump off that mountain and to say, Okay, look. I’m going to live my life and my passions and my spirituality every day. I’m not going to just work in a job where I hate the values and then maybe on the weekends or at night, be able to practice my spirituality, and then go in and grit my teeth during the day.
That’s really a painful way to live. I know. I did that for many, many years in the film industry. People would tell me, Don’t use the word ‘spiritual’ because people won’t understand what it means, and people will think you’re crazy. Frankly, most of the people that I worked with for those 25 or 30 years in the film industry think that I’ve really lost it.
They think, Oh, poor Stephen. Keep him away from the Kool Aid. They think that I’ve disappeared into some cult so to speak somewhere because they don’t understand the whole notion of what spirituality is, and how it can inform your life. I hope that answers the question.
Paul Scheele: It really does. It’s gorgeous, especially from the standpoint of having had the experience of your work. What I know about it is that you’re really not out peddling answers. What you’re really doing is very artistically raising questions, inviting our minds into lofty questions, deep questions the answers to which we absolutely have within us. But until we ask the question, how can we know that?
Stephen Simon: Yes. Thank you so much for that observation, because that is very much what we’re trying to do. The one thing that my life has shown me is that I don’t have the answers and every time I think I have the answers I wind up being wrong. Another spiritual teacher of mine once said, The ideal place to be in life, in your being, is being in a place of about to know.
You’re about to know something. You’re about to know, but you’re not quite there, and that’s really what life is all about. You’re right; that’s why I say that part of a definition of Spiritual Cinema is asking who we are and why we’re here. We don’t have those answers.
` Filmmakers that try to give those answers specifically, in films, wind up having a much harder time with the audience because these are questions that we want to ask, and have the audience walk out asking those questions themselves.
For instance, when I made What Dreams May Come several years ago, every time we would preview the film we would see some pretty intense arguments going on outside, after the screenings, with people who had a different viewpoint of this, and a different viewpoint of that. No, it said this, and, No, it said that.
It was wonderful. I’ve always said to people, I’d rather make a movie that 50 people love and 50 people hate rather than make a movie that 100 people think is okay, because part of pushing the envelope and map making is getting people’s emotions involved. What Dreams May Come fit very much in that category..
You sit and you watch things today, and you see the constant penetration of violence, and negativity has to a great extent numbed society out. People are having a much harder time connecting with their feelings. A lot about what’s happening with the feminine energy, and the ascension of feminine energy in the world, over the last 20 or 30 years in particular, is about being able to get back in touch with our feelings, and get in touch with feelings that we haven’t acknowledged to ourselves that we really even have.
I just went to Toronto to do some events over there last weekend and on the plane on the way up they were playing Finding Neverland, which is one my favorite films of 2004. It’s such an emotional film. I looked around the plane as it was coming towards the end of the film, and I had tears running down my cheeks, and I saw one or two other people.
Most of the other people were just staring blank stares as though they had numbed out with the film. I felt so much compassion for it because I understand that that is what being in the world can do. What we’re hoping is that spiritual entertainment will help because, certainly, we can’t do it on our own and we have a very small part of this, along with people who are working in nutrition, and people who are writing books, and people who are writing music, and body workers, and everyone else that does what they need to do on their path.
What you do with Learning Strategies, Paul and Chris, and Healthy Wealthy nWise does, everything that everybody’s doing in this arena is trying to help, I think, many of us really get back in touch with our own feelings.
Chris Attwood: Paul, I just have to make a comment. You know, Stephen, the thing that I’m hearing over and over again, and it’s such a beautiful point, that when one’s really aligned with one’s passions, when one’s really aligned with the reason that you’re here, which that so comes through listening to you, Stephen, that you are completely aligned.
And one of the things that’s absolutely necessary is to be able to follow your heart no matter what anyone may think, or what anyone may say even if people think that you’re crazy. It sounds to me like it takes a great deal of courage to be able to pursue the path that your heart is leading you in the direction of, even though you have no idea if anybody is going to respond to it.
Stephen Simon: I think it does. I think you’re right. I think it does. To a certain extent, it does take a great deal of courage. Then, on the other hand, I also think it’s inevitable for people who have these passions, because at some time in your life it builds up on you so much that either you get cancer, or you have a heart attack, or whatever happens to you in life, in mid-life crisis, when your shadow is completely filled, and you can’t keep putting those things back behind you.
You have to give them expression. I believe that is one of the things that is essential for us today, which is to, yes, live that passion and follow your heart. It really doesn’t matter at all what anybody else thinks of that as long as following your passion does not involve hurting other people, or exploiting other people, or damaging other people.
As long as it involves doing what you believe, it is a positive thing in the world. What you believe is something that is of value to the world, and that doesn’t degrade the humanity of anybody else. I think the universe is beseeching us to follow that path, and just saying, Look. Find your way onto it and we will put the wind at your back.
I can tell you that all of the wind that was in my face for 55, almost 56 years, I created myself, you know? I’m not a victim. I created that stuff. The wind completely changed direction when I let go of my own ideas of the way I had to do things, and let god, goddess, life, spirit, the universe, whatever you want to call it, let myself be guided by that.
I’m very convinced that if the moment happens again where I start thinking how terrific I am, and go back to those Hotel California days, this would all disappear very, very quickly. The only reason that we’re having the success we’re having is that the group of people who are doing it are all doing it with one very major intent, which is our hearts and our passions, and doing something wonderful in the world that we love, and we’re having a lot of success with it because of that.
Once we start going off from that path and start thinking, Oh, well, if we just round the edges off of this a little bit, and don’t take that chance, we can get a few thousand more people in. As long as we don’t offend anybody, then we can be a much bigger business. Then, we can sell it for zillions, and zillions of dollars, and go buy our own island in Tahiti, and just watch the rest of the world fritter away.
That’s not what we’re about. We are going to continue to take chances. We’re going to continue to do things that we think are experimental. We are going to do things we know some of our subscribers are going to love, and some of them are not, and we’re just going to say, Please, hang in there with us. Tell us what you think, which is very important.
Our subscribers rate the movies every month and we get a really good idea of what they’re liking, and not liking. But, there are still going to be moments in which something comes along and we say, Look, this may be a little risky, but we love this. We’re going to take a chance. Let’s see what our subscribers think.
Paul Scheele: Well, I love the responsiveness you have to us as customers. I think it’s fabulous. As we’re getting close to the end, there’s a question that we absolutely want to ask of you Stephen. At Healthy, Wealthy, nWise, we believe in the power of intention to manifest outcomes. So, what we’d like to ask is, what is your biggest current project, and what intention would you like us at Healthy, Wealthy, nWise, along with our readers and listeners, to hold for you?
Stephen Simon: You can make a wonderful film, but if it doesn’t get out into the world, if it doesn’t get distribution, and nobody sees it, then you don’t get the effect from it, so certainly from that standpoint. Also, to hold the resonance for us to make this film that we’re making, Conversations With God, which is going to be a very powerful, and very controversial look at this new image, the heart of the new spirituality, the different ways we are looking at God energy in the world.
When we really go into the story, Conversations With God: The Human Story, which is what we’re calling the film, to tell the story of how somebody can live in a park as a homeless man with a broken neck for a year collecting cans, and completely have to surrender, get this extraordinary message of Conversations With God, and come back out into the world five years later as a spiritual leader and an international best-selling author.
It’s not just that human story, but also the power of it. The advertising line that we’re using right now is, If it can happen to him, it can happen to you. We all have a conversation with God everyday, and when we take that power inside of us, and we take responsibility for it, the things that we can do in the world are enormous.
I’m going to start prepping that film in September and October, shoot it November and December. It will be available probably in the fall of 2006. So, I would ask for the intentions for the Circle, and for Conversations With God to manifest this beautiful new heart of spirituality that is going around the world.
Paul Scheele: I can definitely see that. What single idea, Stephen, would you like to leave with our readers? There have been so many great ones. I hate to force you to distill it down, but just one idea.
Stephen Simon: Well, the first thing that comes into my mind, so I’m going to trust spirit to see if this is what they wanted me to say, is that Voltaire had a line that was used and kind of changed a little bit in the movie, Oh, God, which is that God is a comedian playing to an audience that’s afraid to laugh.
The game is afoot, this evolution, this experience, this illusion we call life. We have an enormous opportunity to have a positive affect on our families, our friends, and on the world itself; by holding a new vision of who we are, by realizing that we are not debased, that we are a species that consciously loves and can consciously forgive.
We’ve evolved in ways that we never even dreamed and we will continue to evolve in ways that we can’t even think of now. To be together as a worldwide community, as we bring those ideas out into the world, and as we change the very nature of the way humanity has come to look at itself over the last 50 to 100 years, what a great vision that would be for the planet, and for our species, and for all of the universe, and all of consciousness everywhere.
Stephen Simon conducted in front of a live Tele-Audience.