the celestine prophecy on the big screen

the little novel that could

Back in 1993, first-time novelist James Redfield and his wife Salle packed up their Honda Accord with 1500 copies of his self-published book ”˜The Celestine Prophecy’ and set off for bookstores around the South. Thirteen years later, the worldwide bestseller that became a New Age classic is about to hit the big screen this spring in much the same manner as it started – with its author-cum-screenwriter-cum-producer following his intuition and letting the synchronicities unfold.

Set in Peru, The Celestine Prophecy follows an American man on the hunt for an ancient manuscript. The document contains Nine Insights into the emerging New Age spirituality of the coming millennium, and the American must battle the Peruvian government and church officials who are attempting to squelch knowledge of it.

With the story’s focus on the importance of synchronicity, it wasn’t surprising that James and Salle’s grassroots approach to marketing the tale paid off. “Our philosophy was to walk into a bookstore and give a book to the buyer – many times people in the store would ask for a copy as well,” says Redfield. And they told two friends, and they told friends, until a year later, the book was bought by Warner Books for $800,000 and rocketed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. As readers searched for meaning and spirituality outside of organized religion, The Celestine Prophecy became a publishing sensation and was soon the genesis of discussion groups across the nation.

Because Hollywood knows a good story when it sees one – especially when it’s not only a worldwide bestseller, but an action-adventure mystery to boot – it’s not surprising that by 1995 every film studio was soon clamoring for the movie rights. While the money they were offering Redfield was huge, what they wouldn’t give him was script approval, so that he could ensure that the film would be true to the book – and so he walked away.  “It wasn’t worth putting out a movie that was just going to be Indiana Jones,” he says, “and that’s what they wanted.”

Meanwhile, he went on to write such books as ”˜The Tenth Insight: Holding The Vision’ and ”˜The Secret of Shambhala: In Search of the Eleventh Insight, and God’ and the ”˜Evolving Universe: The Next Step in Personal Evolution.’ Then, in 2000, the timing was right for him to revisit the idea of bringing Celestine to the screen – with him in the role of screenwriter.  “All of that had to be written before I could then stop and go ”˜okay, I have to write the screenplay for Celestine myself,’” he explains.

Lack of experience in the medium didn’t stop him. “It was a download, just like the book,” he adds. Not that it came without bugs or kinks; Redfield wrote draft after draft until one day he showed it to his friend Barnet Bain, the producer of the Robin Williams film ”˜What Dreams May Come,’ as well as ”˜The Linda McCartney Story.’  Together, the two men tweaked the script until they were happy with it, and then began to approach producers. Nothing came together – that is, until they decided to raise the money and make the movie themselves. Then, in true Celestine fashion, “as soon as that happened, the synchronistic flow started,” says Redfield. “All the other producers came in, as well as the director and the actors.”

To helm the film, Redfield, Bain, and Salle Redfield (who served as Executive Producer) chose Armand Mastroianni, a veteran director who had worked on such projects as the television series ”˜The Dead Zone’ as well as a television biopic about Linda McCartney. Together they assembled a cast which included Matthew Settle as John Woodson, Thomas Kretschmann as Wil, Hector Elizondo as Cardinal Sebastian, and Annabeth Gish as Julia.  

As group dynamics are an important theme of the book, it’s no surprise that the crew said that it was the smoothest shoot they had ever worked on. Although things often seemed to come together only at the last minute, the “people who were right for the project” ended up on board. An interesting piece of synchronicity took place as they were trying to cast the integral role of Wil, a man who is written as half-German, who introduces John Woodson to the Celestine way of life. During negotiations, Matthew Settle (who plays Woodson) switched managers, and it turned out that his new manager was married to East German Thomas Kretchmann, the actor who played the Nazi soldier that befriends Adrien Brody in Roman Polanski’s ”˜The Pianist.’     

For many of the actors, the film was an opportunity to further explore and deepen their spirituality – especially Settle, the son of a North Carolina Baptist preacher. In a behind-the-scenes DVD, he talks about going through a “faithless” time and how, during shooting, “what I [was] going through in my personal life [was] what the character was going through.”

The overall feel and look of the film is spiritual as well. Visual effects were used by Director of Photography Michael Givens to demonstrate the energy shifts and change in consciousness as the film progresses. “It comes across as artsy and understated, and that’s the way it came to me to write. If you don’t look closely enough, you can think it’s almost too deep,” says Redfield. Which is why, much like with ”˜What The Bleep Do We Know!?,’ upon leaving the movie, audience members immediately want to go back and see it again. 

As a large component of the Celestine point of view is timing, why was it so important to finally make the movie now?  “A deeper spiritual awareness which is attainable more readily than ever before is the cure to the ills in the world,” Redfield says. Salle agrees, adding, “People we talk to really want to know their mission and purpose in life – no longer do they wonder if they have one, now it’s ”˜I know I have one and now I need to find it.’  In the past it was a luxury – now it’s a necessity.” 

“We think the film is a model energetically,” Redfield says – both in terms of the look and feel of the movie as well as the filmmakers’ philosophy behind the scenes. Hopefully this more conscious, spiritual approach to filmmaking will pay off – not just inspiring people to live their lives in the Celestine manner, but also in box office receipts, so that other films of this nature can get made.

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