Week 2, Day 7 on the set of Cities of Light
We began this week the same way we started the first, on a scene where we walk down to the Crystal Hermitage chapel. We needed this reshot not only for script continuity, but also my nervousness that first day. Needless to say I was quite relieved that we got a chance to improve that scene.
We then traveled about to get exterior shots, including what they call "plates", which will be used in the background with the interior car scenes, replacing the green screen image. So once again, you'll get to see my driving skills as we pass by people in the permaculture garden, activity at Rajarshi Park, and a yoga class on the sunset ridge against today's smoky background.
The way they set up the activity at Rajarshi Park (our business center which includes Hansa Temple) was very intuitive, assigning each of the 10 "extras" a time and speed with which to move. They have me park a certain distance away, which I have to remember for each take, and when Joel calls "action", we all spring into motion. We did a few takes, but very little rehearsal, as their sense of who goes where at what time worked out really well.
I made good use of my time with Elisabeth Rohm in the car, and got a great interview which I'll be posting soon. It has been an honor to get to know her, and her openness to God's presence and direction in her life.
After lunch they filmed the other two actors, David Sullivan (Juliet's brother) and Martitia Powell Palmer (Juliet's Aunt) in their scenes where they are on the phone or Skype with Juliet while she is here. Martitia's casting was another example of God's hand in play: the casting agent contacted her before putting the role out for a general casting call, just because he felt she would be right for the film. Little did he know that she meditates often at Yogananda's temples and shrines in LA! David and Matitia were able to meet Swami yesterday, and were very happy to be here as a part of the project.
We finished the day with Juliet meeting Jyotish and Devi in the Babaji Garden at Crystal Hermitage. What naturals they are on screen, giving crisp, clear answers to her questions. This film, not only beautiful in itself, will give people a very clear idea of what Ananda is, and how everyone fits in. We're trying to keep it as real as possible, not only to accurately represent it, but also to give the film a sense of authenticity - Cinéma verite, if you will.
Day 8 on the set
There is a huge 10,000 acre fire 100 miles North of here in the Plumas National Forest that is causing a great deal of smoke for all of Northern California. Yesterday we awoke to a smoke filled landscape, and I feared that we would lose a day or two because of it, but Divine Mother has cleared it up, giving us a rare sprinkling of rain in the night, with just enough to splotch the dust on the cars.
We're here at the Meditation Retreat for the whole day, the sky crystal clear. Juliet comes here to interview Jaya and Shivani, to find out about the early days of Ananda, and to meet Dharmaraj, and later Bharat, who will speak of his Sharing Nature work, and how we can feel God's presence in nature.
For those of you who haven't been to the Meditation Retreat, the stillness is very deep, and the quiet almost deafening. There are no power lines running through the property which adds to the feeling of serenity. I'm sitting in the garden, a bounty of shrubs, trees, flowers, and plants, rivaling the vibration of the gardens at Crystal Hermitage. The canopy of the great oaks and pines bring to the scene a very quiescent forest vibration, and the calm breeze tops of the experience of bliss.
As the days grow into weeks, even the most guarded among the crew are beginning to open up and smile with an authenticity that makes their faces shine. I've now finally met each of them, my life enriched with a new circle of friends. Some are more open to our vibration than others, but respect and integrity are the salient characteristics in all of them.
I'm waiting for the second part of my scene, completely dependent on the sun granting the correct light for us. I could be here a while, so I'm off to create my dialogue for my life story, condensed down as much as possible.
Asha, God bless her, is working nonstop to make sure each of us speaking on screen has the right content to work with, even though it often changes while filming. It certainly isn't time wasted, as it prepares each of us with many many words to choose from. What we are discovering is that it isn't going to be us preaching to Juliet that is going to touch the audience, but rather letting the camerawork capture the vibration, and the music convey it. People are going to be moved, and we don't have to cram every single bit of knowledge about Ananda down their poor unwilling throats.
Well, I think they're finally ready to film my short introduction of Juliet to Dharmaraj, Jaya, and Shivani, now that the sun is more at a beneficial angle.
Welcome to Alex and Devadasi Forrester's house, which has now become a Hollywood set for the entire day. Their house was designed by Alex following the ancient art of Vastu, and is a beautiful creation with tangible flows of energy. Their house is surrounded by a very large beautiful and bountiful permaculture garden, yet another idyllic setting that expresses the vibration of Ananda.
We are here primarily to film a discussion about and renunciation, karma, death, and reincarnation with Nayaswami Asha and Anandi. The beauty of not scripting these scenes is that it completely opens it up to the flow of Divine Grace on these deep topics, which are answered with a clarity and immediacy that anyone can relate to. The questions are real, ones that everyone would ask, regarding renunciation, celibacy, what do the yellow and blue clothing colors of renunciation mean, and the impact Swami's passing will have. As each of these topics could be a class unto itself, we're hoping that the succinct answers will serve to pique interest for those watching to learn more.
I don't have anything to say in this scene, but what a blessing to be here, soaking in the vibrations of wisdom, radiating peace and inspiration as best I can.
We've just wrapped that part of the scene, which raised the energy of the movie to a whole new level. Asha and Anandi's performances (I hate to even call them performances, because they are just being themselves) were incredibly moving, bringing forth the reality of God in a very powerful way. Truly inspiring, and a great example for which to go for inspiration in my coming scenes.
Today we've turned the community center into a green screen stage, where they filmed the dialogue scenes of Juliet and me on our way from the airport and driving around the community.
What intrigued me most today was to witness the art of light crafting. I imagined that I would simply roll the truck in front of the screen; lights, camera, action, and off we go! The main part of the day was spent positioning all the lights with filters, reflectors, shades and screens to mimic the natural light of an outdoor shot. They took great care to achieve the lighting they desired, as if tuning a giant musical instrument that can then resonate as beautifully as possible. They even worked with a large rotating screen with different sizes of slots cut out of it, which when turned like a pinwheel, gave the impression of driving under trees. The dappling light had to seem random and organic, without any obvious patterns.
The car had to be jiggled, so one of the grips sat next to the car with a levered 2x4 that could shake the car, simulating highway and Ananda roads. Once again, had to be organic, and just the right amount. I tell you, there is more intuition happening in this process than I ever imagined!
As for me, I had to turn the steering wheel, not too much, hands up on in the classic 10 and 2 o'clock positions, as I told my back story. Quite an interesting juxtaposition, sincerely trying to tell your life story in such a controlled, simulated environment.
They filmed from 3 different camera angles: straight on, from the passenger's window, and from the driver's. Interesting things happen in this repetitive process that is meant to be spontaneous. Since we are unscripted, the mind can get a little tired of going in the same track each time, and wants to veer off and try something different. Trouble is, it seldom is as good as the first time through. At any rate, they will have a great deal to work with in editing.
I'm quickly gaining more and more respect for actors who must endure extreme filming conditions. Today was pretty darn hot outside, and the community center was filled with lights. Add on to that being in our car, windows up, no air conditioning (or fan for that matter, as the car needs to be off), and you get an idea. Poor Elisabeth was in her executive jacket, playing the stoic NYC journalist, but held up incredibly well.
Tomorrow we wrap up the filming at the village for this session, and head off down the road to Sacramento, just in time for the heat! Wish us luck!
They gave me the day off, as they were filming scenes only with Juliet and Jyotish and Devi, Ananda's Spiritual Directors, and later Peter Goering, Property Manager for Ananda village. Later in the day, there was a "wrap party" where the crew were each given a name from the Mahabharata, India's great epic. I don't have the complete list yet, but Asha and Shivani put a great deal of time into choosing just the right name for everyone.
The crew was noticeably touched.
That evening we had our Funeral Service for Tim Kretzmann, who passed away just a few days before. I must tell you that the juxtaposition of the birth of this film, with the deaths of not only Tim, but also our dear friend Lila Hogendyk, have been quite a mixture.
We started at the river today, with some fantastic shots. If you've ever been to the river between Nevada City and Ananda, you'll know that there are some massive granite boulders that stand out prominently. They positioned us on one close to the river, and the cameras of course had to CROSS the river, which was quite a show. They built a bridge out of some 2x6x12 boards to bring people and equipment across, and some of the crew were lucky enough to enjoy a swim. Even Frank, the producer on site, was able to take a quick dip.
I'm pretty sure that irregardless of how our acting turns out, the scenery should be fantastic. The filming went well, and everyone crossed safely.
We spent the afternoon shooting a drive by scene on the highway, accompanied by a California Highwayt Patrol Car. We had to drive on I-80, back and forth by the cameras who were stationed on the Newcastle exit overpass. The 100 degree heat played havoc with all of us, and once again, so impressed with the amount of work it takes for just a few seconds on film.
A day off for me, as they filmed the office scenes with Juliet and her boss, played by veteran actor John M. Jackson. One of the Ananda extras who was part of the scene said it was very interesting to see the character of Juliet at the beginning of the movie, very closed and apprehensive about the whole idea of going to Ananda. I’m fascinated (and apprehensive!) to see real actors juxtaposed with us newbies!
Last day for this session, and a powerful one it is. We're at the Sacramento airport, filming Juliet's arrival and departure. We have about 15 extras for the scenes, and are in the new terminal here, thankfully staying slightly cool in the 108 degree day.
It's hard not to be moved by the goodbye scene that we are filming, as I've witnessed a transformation in the character of Juliet, which Elisabeth is playing with great power.
As I was preparing for this scene, I faced a conundrum. The role I'm paling was originally written as a fictitious gentleman, Roger (described as 'rugged looking" - ha!). Roger lived at Ananda, taught at the Expanding Light, and was widowed when his wife was killed in NYC in 9/11. Originally they were looking for underlying chemistry developing between Roger and Juliet. However, as I'm playing myself, complete with wife and daughter, any romantic would naturally be out of the question.
So how do I bid her farewell? If I get too personal, the audience might say "who is this schmuck getting all emotional over another woman? Is that how men are at Ananda?" However, if I am too impersonal, stiff, and distant, that doesn't play at all either.
Coming out of meditation, I realized that I could give the scene the feeling that it needed by feeling that I can express something much greater than myself - that the love flowing through me is not coming from a personal attachment, but from this greater source that comes from my attunement to Yogananda and Ananda. I'm truly hoping that it can come across on screen.
The deep blessing for me is that I have this as a resource to a much more conscious degree. As I finish writing this a few days into our 6 week break, I'm still resonating with that feeling. I've honestly never been so excited about a project before.
I've had such a closeness to the crew that it has been difficult getting used to life without these great souls. It sounds like everyone is planning on returning for the second session, thank goodness - I was getting ready to prepare my speech about not returning without them!