Two iconic directors have recently warned of an impending implosion in Hollywood. The forecast is bleak, with tiered tickets, shuttered movie studios, and the loss of artistic quality. With audience appreciation in decline and independents rising, are we likely to see a return to what made Hollywood great?
There is hope in the form of a recently published work, The Address of Happiness. In this book, author and former Hollywood executive David Paul Kirkpatrick tells a story of true love the time-honored way, using the basic elements of our humanity to bring in the audience. His story is one of unsuspecting surprises, deep symbolism, and a beauty that cannot yet be placed into words. It is soon to arrive on a screen near you thanks to Stephen Simon, producer of such films as Somewhere in Time and What Dreams May Come, who has picked up the movie rights. It promises to remind the audience that the goal of the movie is the story and the characters, not the directors and actors.
Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a Saturday morning with Simon talking about this and several of his other projects. Simon is no stranger to Hollywood and is a leader of the 'Old Hollywood' movement, a project dedicated to making movies for those audiences who were "raised on movies that focus on story and characters, not sequels, remakes, and technical gimmicks." He also oversees Spiritual Cinema Circle, a global community dedicated to films with a message. But there is more to Simon's vision for this movie.
"Don't fall in love with the gadgets..." he cautions us, "fall in love with the people." This is his secret to great movie making. The loss of an story as well as the lack of focus on characters is a lamentable loss in many movies today Simon tells me. He points to a better time when a movie was an artistic success if the audience never noticed the director, but walked out of the movie talking about the characters. "Forget the technology, just tell the story."
Simon has lent his name to the front of the book, not as a favor to an old friend, it as the chance to be a part of a "spiritual love story." Naturally, when the movie rights came up, he jumped. In an excitement few seem to have, Simon speaks about the story as "two souls starting" in the ethereal plain and making the journey to find one another. "The journey," two simple words filled with more emotion than my font can portray. That is his main interest in this film -- to tell the story of the characters; this is his reason to bring this to the screen. "That's the kind of entertainment I've always been attracted too."
Simon writes in the Foreword, "This book has helped me feel good again about simply being human..." This is his recurring theme as he points to movies like It's a Wonderful Life (and I point out, one of his, Somewhere in Time) are "very spiritual (but not religious) movies that make us feel better about being human." Why is this even necessary? Because so often, what is communicated about us as a species is rather dark. "But we are a species that consciously loves, consciously forgives," Simon contends. "My focus is to bring light." That's why he is focused on this book. The Address of Happiness will allow something of the Old Hollywood to return.
What first stood out, I asked? He is "always fascinated by this type of book" because he believes in the ideals of this book. Address has a cosmology where Love reigns and from Love come all things. Simon also believes in love at first sight. This sanguineness was rubbing my youthful cynicism wrong. "We cannot give up on this kind of storytelling," he assures me. "We have audiences asking themselves the big questions -- who are we and why are we here?"
Simon tells me it is much too early to talk about any dream team for the movie, but he does intend to work with David Paul Kirkpatrick. He misses the way movies were once written, with an almost single author and thus a single point of view. Now, movies will have a plethora of writers causing the movie to lose that solid point of view. As far as directors or actors, he insists he likes to be surprised. As Simon told the story of how Cuba Gooding, Jr., came to be in What Dreams May Come, I could hear the smile in his voice as he says, "You'll never know when you'll get surprised."
That is what this book-turned-movie will be too. Having had an advance copy, I was pleased to hear about the movie rights, and the more so when I discovered who picked up the movie rights. Growing up, I was introduced to Somewhere in Time. It is a movie I turn to, on those dark days, when I need something to show me beauty. The characters are as real to me as my family, their journey my own. My hope for this movie, as I expressed to Simon, is that even those who have never seen it, much like we do with Casablanca, will quote the movie 50 years from now because it made a monumental social impact. There is no doubt this movie will be one to ignite in the audience not just an emotional reaction, but also an emotional attachment. I can picture couples long married watching this movie, turning to each other and for the first time in years, seeing something in their partners long forgotten. It will kindle love and perhaps, a return to a Hollywood devoted to cinematic storytelling enriching us, rather than simply reflecting us.
"You don't get an opportunity to make this kind of love story very often..." Simon promises and he is "going to turn over heaven and earth to make this well."