This is Now is a narrative feature-length film shot in HD which explores the triumphs and difficulties of finding one’s spiritual path. As David – a restless 30-year old – wanders from Portland to Seattle, he meets a series of strangers and old friends who share when in their own lives they had a spiritual awakening, epiphany or life changing event. As he listens to their experiences, David begins to realize that what he’s searching for is already all around him in the present moment.
Cast & Characters
In This is Now, we meet a diverse cast of characters who range in age from 19-64, representing many faiths and of none. As he travels, David interacts with Pecos, a free-spirited poet with a gentle brand of haiku-like philosophy; Brittany, a young woman taking life as it comes; Greg, a father who survived the tragic loss of his twin daughters; David and Becky, a young couple who have just become parents; Gary, a Vietnam veteran intent on finding enlightenment; and Bridget, a beautiful stranger who David is convinced is the woman of his dreams.
I wanted the film’s performances to have a high level of emotional authenticity. For this reason, I chose to work with non-actors who portrayed themselves, improvised their roles and shared their own true life experiences with the film’s main character. I wrote outlines for scenes rather than dialogue, giving the cast the freedom to explore and take scenes in new and unforeseen directions. The resulting performances reveal the extraordinary depth of these ordinary people – their loves, losses, pains and joys – and imbue the conversations in the film with genuine honesty and empathy.
Style & Story
This is Now‘s visual style is strongly influenced by the French New Wave and the early work of John Cassavetes. Shot on location using only available light, the photography mixes static frames that capture the loneliness of the film’s central character, with hand held vérité-style shooting that underscores the intimacy of the film’s performances.
This is Now is not a religious film. It explores faith, the existence of a higher power, and different approaches to spiritual awakening without pushing any specific dogma, religious affiliation or didactic message. Our sincere hope is that audiences will all find something innately human in This is Now to connect with; to take what they like and leave the rest.
INSPIRATION / MAKING OF
A lot of things inspired the making of This is Now; books, movies, music, and the people we met along the way. Here’s a quick glimpse.
Certain spiritual teachers have had a big impact on me, and a few in particular were very primary in my thinking and life when I began to formulate ideas for This is Now. I passed some of these on to Jef Greilich, our lead actor, before shooting began. A bunch of these books made the trip with us and even show up as set dressing in a few scenes:
- The Sermon on the Mount by Emmet Fox
- Dharma Punx by Noah Levine
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
- A New Pair of Glasses by Chuck C
- When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön
- The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
I’m not a fan of academic film writing or criticism, but I love reading interviews with filmmakers. Hearing them talk about their lives and work in the first person feels like the closest I’ll ever get to sitting down with them at a cafe. Here’s some of the filmmaking books I was reading while we were making This is Now:
- Cassavetes on Cassavetes by Ray Carney
- Malle on Malle (edited by Philip French)
- My Method by Roberto Rossellini (edited by Adriano Aprà)
- Bernardo Bertolucci Interviews (edited by Fabien S. Gerard, T. Jefferson Kline and Bruce Sklarew)
- Jean-Luc Godard Interviews (edited by David Sterritt)
- Federico Fellini Interviews (edited by Bert Cardullo)
- Roman Polanski Interviews (edited by Paul Cronin)
Like most filmmakers, given the opportunity I will bore you to tears with facts, names, years, lists of “great films you need to see”, and anecdotal stories from the sets of my heroes. Just ask anyone I’ve ever dated. That said, I want to (briefly) call out the films and filmmakers that most influenced This is Now and tell you why.
Au’Revoir Les Enfants
(1987, Dir. Louis Malle)
This film single-handedly restored my faith in cinema as a transformative medium, and my desire to want to make movies. Au’Revoir Les Enfants is Louis Malle’s recounting of his early childhood during the German occupation of France in World War II. Malle never lets the film be one-dimensional. All the characters, even the ones you assume are evil, are given moments of unexpected humanity. But what really got me was the ending, when you actually hear Malle’s voice telling you that what you’ve just watched really happened to him, and has haunted him all his life. This off-screen confession is done with such dignity, tenderness and honesty that each time I watch it I burst into tears.
To witness a film this personal – so personal that Malle chose to use his own voice in the final scene – was a revelation to me. I think most filmmakers have, somewhere in them, a desire to make a film about their own lives, yet it’s a tricky line to walk between referencing your own history while not appearing too self-involved and solipsistic. Walking that line takes real courage and grace. Watching Au’Revoir Les Enfants gave me the courage to consider making a film that was boldly personal.
Like Picasso or Bob Dylan, Godard is a tough artist to synthesize. His oeuvre of over eighty feature films (and their wild incongruity) can either be a reason to love or despise him. But even the folks who dislike Godard have to admit that, somewhere in the pipeline, they’ve been influenced by him. He’s just one of those giants who effected every filmmaker that came after him in one way or another.
For me, there’s one word that consistently comes to mind when I think about Godard and watch his films: Fearless. Absolutely fearless. Nothing is sacred in a Godard film – not the characters, method, story, or performances. Everything seems up for grabs. Characters breaking the fourth wall? Check. Title cards in the middle of the movie? Yup. Black men shooting white women while delivering a monologue about socialism? Borrow my copy of Sympathy for the Devil and we’ll talk. This doesn’t mean I like all his movies. Some are masterpieces and others make me want to shake him and yell, “Lighten Up!” But what is consistent about Godard’s work is his amazing willingness to push boundaries, defy narrative filmmaking techniques (including the ones he invented), and expose and pull the rug out from under every expectation and prejudice we carry as a film-viewing audience. He’s kind of a cinematic terrorist in that way.
The things in Godard’s work that I most wanted to emulate in This is Now were the use of natural light and on location hand held shooting; free-style cinematography that exudes intimacy and a kinetic, joyful spirit; big, bold title cards; and a playful attitude toward the whole process. To not treat the film as something precious. Four of my favorites: Masculin Féminin, Band of Outsiders, Tout va bien, and Breathless.
In 2008, I was lucky enough to see prints of Faces and Husbands at the Dryden Theater in Rochester during a retrospective. I was floored. I began reading Ray Carney’s book (which is like getting a graduate degree in Cassavetism) and realized that – in addition to making profoundly honest and moving films – Cassavetes was also a great role model for independent producing and film marketing. He was always on the edge financially, mortgaging his home over and over again to secure funds for the films he wanted to make. And he made them his way, often operating the camera himself with close friends filling in as actors and technicians. No time limits. Improvisation welcome.
The locations you see in Cassavetes’ films are often his own home or the homes of actors and crew members. One hour, you’d be in front of the camera improvising a scene, and the next you’d be holding a boom pole. Casavettes loved his actors. He treasured them, and they came first. Yes, it was good to have a nice looking shot. Sure, let’s try and make the lighting fit the mood. But the bottom line was that all visual style considerations (even shots being in focus) were secondary to capturing the most honest performance possible.
I wanted This is Now to be shot with those same priorities. Actors first, everything else second. And I loved the idea that such a groundbreaking artist had done what we were attempting to do – to use what was available to us to create personal art that reflected our lives.
Last Tango in Paris
(1972, Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci)
I had just moved to New York City when I first watched Last Tango in Paris. It was the exact right time in my life, and the film hit every nerve I had in me. What was more stunning was finding out that Bertolucci was only 30 years old when he directed the film. I was 29 and still had to ask for help when wearing a tie and this guy was making a masterpiece about human sexuality, trauma, and relationships that puts most films that call themselves “erotic” or “adult” to shame. Last Tango in Paris combines a level of raw honesty in its acting with gorgeous, superbly thoughtful cinematography – a miraculous combination. After watching it a few times, I wanted to challenge myself to make the most mature film I could. One that wouldn’t wince at truth or censor itself, and that would be willing to confront and embrace truths that aren’t comfortable or pretty.
(2011, Dir. Chris Ohlson)
Chris Ohlson is my cinematic brother of 15 years; a great and hairless filmmaker in his own right. To say that Chris has had an influence on me would be putting it mildly. This is Now would not exist without him. Over the last decade, Chris has offered me the chance to shoot, edit and even act in his growing body of short, genre-defying films. In winter 2006, when my life emotionally collapsed, Chris flew me to Austin and we shot two short films in one evening. They were cathartic, brutally honest, and made entirely in his shitty apartment on Manor Road in East Austin. I had never let myself be as honest and personal in my filmmaking as I was in those films. Kind of like primal scream therapy on tape. A few months later, I went back to Austin and Chris helped me shoot another short film – one that helped me cross that line into personal filmmaking in even more ways than I’d ever done before.
In the fall of 2007, he called me and said something along the lines of, “I want to make a road movie. No script. Small crew. Four men on the road from Portland to Austin. Ten days. I can’t pay much, but I’ll cover the meals and lodging. There’s five hundred american dollars cash in an envelope for you. Will you shoot it?” Melvin chronicles the journey of a confused young man with a contagious laugh as he and an old friend wander the American wasteland, headed for a strange fate. The whole notion of going out to shoot a feature film with no script struck me as creative suicide. Added to that risk, Chris was self-financing the entire production, so any failure of ours to “find the film” meant that he would be accumulating some heavy debt and eating mac and cheese three times a day for a few years. The whole idea seemed to hinge on “this really cool guy I met working on this slam poetry documentary” who Chris was convinced could light up the screen and improv his way through everything. His name was Jef and he was “a great storyteller – does these crazy voices – wacky – did this one thing at a gas station – you just gotta meet him.” So Chris introduced me to this crazy guy who was going to play Melvin, Jef Greilich. This was the guy whose whirlwind energy and kinetic popcorn-mind-poetry was going to cut the narrative trail through whatever jungles we found ourselves in. So we jumped off the cliff together – Chris, Jef, Me, and Buckner the sound recordist. Four men in a car for ten days. And we had the richest creative experience I had ever had in my life.
Shooting Melvin (and getting to work as an editor on it later) taught me that you can make art from faith. And not only can you do that, but it can be FUN. I came back from that experience totally believing that I could take the same risk Chris had. And (surprise, surprise) with the same lead actor.