The sun has been on the horizon for six hours. Six more to go. We are somewhere over Greenland surfing an endless sunset back to California. Mandorla’s first screening in Europe came together at Studio 24 in Lyon a few days earlier, and it was very well received. What lingers now, in the stillness above the arctic circle, are the years and major life-changes it took to make it, and meeting the audience that is now emerging.
I arrived in Lyon four years ago not knowing anyone in person and with little money to turn the script, which I had quit my day-job for to write, into a film. What I did have was a firm belief that Mandorla wanted to be made here.
On my first day in Lyon I met Vincent Villuis and Sandrine Gryson of Ultimae Records. Robert Rich, our composer, had kindly introduced us by email. They readily embraced the project and without issue gave me a production office, a room in their home, and a place at their table. I was very touched by this, and still am.
Liz arrived to help as executive producer and art director and stayed with her cousin, Veronique. Her niece, Eva Ray, a talented young student at an acting school in Lyon, had already posted our call for cast and crew. Interest grew quickly under the banner of an “American Film Production” and Alain Blazquez, a noted and very talented actor in France, came on board for a lead role that I knew he was perfect for. Samuel Levy-Micolini became our production sound mixer and also brought us Alice Lockwood, a super well-organized script supervisor who I promptly promoted to first assistant director.
Within two weeks of arriving we had our cast, crew, locations, and gear, which coupled vintage anamorphic lenses with DSLR cameras for the first time. Our camera test video, with Alice in front of the camera, produced an epic look and was an overnight sensation on Vimeo and later featured on the EOSHD blog. After a week of rehearsals, we rolled. No permits. Lyon was live and our crew was cool and professional, orchestrated by Alice and our young Corsican production manager, Olivier Mas Rohart-Santini.
Suffice it to say that Mandorla’s production in Lyon unfolded in a series of miracles which, thankfully, we managed to capture on camera. As director, cinematographer, and lead actor by necessity, I had to collaborate with what the “Universe” was offering, which was often magical. I used the SunSeeker app to track the arc of the sun, our sole source of lighting, and plan the production around it. The actors stayed in character no matter where we were and the camera operators, Ludovic Cileo and Rémy Cizeron did whatever it took to get a shot while Sam and his team captured sound. Throughout, Liz helped me make it all happen.
Production ran for an intensive three weeks and was both exhilarating and exhausting. We always took one hour for lunch because in France this is sacred. Nevertheless, I lost a pound a day (even with good lunches) and never felt more alive. I left knowing we had the Lyon portion of the film “in the can” and the footage looked amazing.
Returning to California to shoot the rest of the film had its own challenges, personal and professional. After some major life adjustments, which, for me, informed and underscored the importance of the film and achieving one’s dream, the U.S. production came together with a great cast and crew.
Robert Rich generously offered us any music from his 30 albums, and Ultimae Records (Sandrine and Vince), the largest ambient record label in Europe, offered their extensive catalog as well. Other music artists came on board such as Michael Stearns, Radio Citizen, Andrew Souter, and God is an Astronaut. The result is we were able to curate an amazing soundtrack for Mandorla that feels as if it were composed for the film.
After key visual effects came together with Jordan Freda & Co. it was time for sound, one of my favorite parts of the film and storytelling process. Our mix at Skywalker Sound was very special, thanks to Randy Thom (his essay “Designing A Movie For Sound” is a must read), Shaun Farley, Zach Martin, Jon Null, Josh Lowden and team. Living and working a week at Skwalker Ranch, seeing the film come to life in the serenity of Lucas Valley, among sound legends like Randy Thom, Walter Murch, and Ben Burtt was in itself a dream come true for me.
After some magical color grading at Color-a-Go-Go with Kent Pritchett and Kim Salyer, our film was at last ready to show.
Mandorla premiered at the 2015 Julien Dubuque International Film Festival. It was there in Dubuque, in the heart of the American heartland, that we first began to see Mandorla connect with audiences. After every screening, people came up to Liz and I and said they felt we had put their own life and challenges on the screen. They said they felt the conflict between their inner world of dreams and spirit and the harsh outer world of reality. To see your film connect with an audience is one of the most gratifying things a filmmaker can experience.
Mandorla went on to win Best San Francisco Film at the San Francisco film awards, and an award of merit at the Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles. It was too late to be part of the ILLUMINATE Film Festival in Sedona, Arizona, but we were invited nonetheless to develop our next film in their inaugural incubator program, called Conscious Cinema Accelerator, which connected us with seasoned film industry professionals that were generous with their guidance.
In July we thought about screening the film for our cast, crew, friends, and family in Lyon, where it all started. We reached out to movie theaters in early August and were reminded that France is closed in August. Everybody’s on holiday.
It was difficult to find a modest-sized theater (80 seats or so) that was within our limited budget, but Alain Blazquez, our fearless actor, and others took up the challenge.
On the day we are to fly to France, Alain writes to say he reached out to Serge Tachon and Aurélie Malfroy-Camine at the Rhône-Alpes Studios and Film Commission. They were happy to provide Studio 24, which is a Hollywood-sized professional soundstage and theater with 450 seats(!!!). This was a large space to fill, but Liz and I hit the ground running, spreading the word to all cast, crew, friends, family, and fellow artists in the region to join us. And they did!
Pierre-Loïc Précausta and Camille Geoffray of Lumières-Numériques delivered our finished DCP (Digital Cinema Package) and people filled the theater. We told them that Mandorla was a personal journey within, and invited them to see for themselves. Afterward people came up and told us how they were touched by the story, and how they identified with it. Like Dubuque and elsewhere, this is our audience. If you are reading this maybe you are a part of it too?
Our plan now is to put together a limited tour in the US and Europe to screen Mandorla to audiences who want to see it. If you are interested, send us a note.
Mandorla will be released through digital channels (iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, and our own site) in March of 2016.
Stay in touch!
*Lyrics to "Time Stand Still" by Niel Peart, Rush.