For the last few years, our household has been a proud member of Spiritual Cinema Circle. Each month, we get a brand new DVD sent to us with four new spiritual films – they’re movies that inspire us, engage us, and help us connect with the big-picture and the preciousness of life.
All along the way, it’s been a joy to see the Circle’s co-founder, Stephen Simon, discuss the films and engage in conversations with members.
This guy is absolutely passionate about what he does! And it’s obvious that he’s doing what he is meant to do. As a filmmaker, writer, and producer – he’s following his joy, big-time. When I first got the idea to start a series of interviews with Joy-Followers, I knew I wanted to talk to Stephen. And was I delighted that he agreed!
In addition to being the co-founder of Spiritual Cinema Circle, he’s the author of Bringing Back the Old Hollywood and the producer of two films that grabbed my heart: Somewhere In Time and What Dreams May Come.
I’m excited to introduce a man I truly admire: Stephen Simon!
Michelle: Stephen, you are someone who’s so passionate about life. What is it that makes you come alive?
Stephen: First and foremost – my family. I have an incredibly close family, and I’m a very lucky man. My wife, Lauren – who’s the love of my life, my best friend, and my collaborator – and I have both been married before, and we combined our families with magical results. I have never been this happy or this content or had this much joy in my life. And I’m 64 years-old! Without my family, I don’t think anything else is nearly as important. On their deathbed, no one ever said they wished they had spent more time at the office.
Michelle: How cool. I can literally feel your gratitude.
Stephen: Next, it’s movies. They’re a part of my soul, my bloodstream, my DNA. Having been born into an old Hollywood family, I believe I was destined to be a filmmaker. My dad was a producer/director in the 1940’s. He made movies with Abbott and Costello, Lana Turner, Lucille Ball, and his best friend Red Skelton. And he was responsible for getting Frank Sinatra back into the movie business with From Here to Eternity. That also led Frank to becoming my “godfather.” I talk about that in Bringing Back The Old Hollywood. I grew up with Milton Berle, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Abbott and Costello, and the Marx Brothers – in our home all the time!
So, movies have always been a deep part of my soul. The films that always attracted me were ones that looked at our humanity – as to who we could be when we operate at our very best. It’s a Wonderful Life, for example; all of Frank Capra’s films. That has been a part of my chemistry since the day I was born, and I’m sure it will be a part of my chemistry until the day I die. George Burns had this wonderful answer as he performed into his late 90’s, when asked: “What is the secret to living a long life?” He always said the same four words: “Love what you do.”
I love what I do.
Michelle: How wonderful that you’ve always known this all along.
Stephen: Yes, I feel blessed that I knew what my passion was from a very young age. I’m a recovering lawyer, so to speak, and I worked in politics for a while, but I always knew I was going to be a filmmaker. As I mentioned, I grew up with a filmmaker as my dad. Unfortunately, my dad died very suddenly just before my fifth birthday, but my mother rather quickly remarried another film producer. This is why I’ve written Bringing Back the Old Hollywood. My wife has been very encouraging and insistent that I write down all these stories of what it was like to grow up with Frank Sinatra as my godfather and being a part of that whole world.
So, Bringing Back the Old Hollywood and Spiritual Cinema Circle are the focuses of my life.
Michelle: How is it, then, that you wish to impact the world?
Stephen: Movies are still a relatively new art form – they’ve only been around about a hundred years. I grew up on them, and I don’t want to see them disappear. For a lot of different reasons, independent filmmaking is on the verge of extinction right now. That’s why we formed theoldhollywood.com, so as a community – we can get together and prevent that. Part of my focus is making sure we don’t lose this.
People are looking for films that make them feel better about being human. And that is the goal of Spiritual Cinema Circle.
Michelle: Spiritual Cinema Circle is filled with big-impact films. For Bill and me, it’s a great vehicle to help us connect to the important things in life…in an entertaining way. At end of each film, we often say: “Everyone should know about this one!”
How would you say that your life is impacted by you following your joy and doing what makes you come alive?
Stephen: I look forward to getting up every morning and being able to do what I get to do that day. It’s a great gift, and I feel incredibly blessed and grateful for that. It gives me great joy to get feedback from people who say, “I miss the old Hollywood and those great old movies; I’m so glad you’ve written the book and are bringing them back.” That’s very impactful for me.
Also, it’s incredibly gratifying when people become subscribers to Spiritual Cinema Circle and love it and it means a lot to them. In particular, when a subscriber or someone close to them is going through a particular challenge in life. I’ll get emails saying, “My friend was going through a difficult situation and I remembered that last year there was a short film in the Circle that dealt with something similar. So I had my friend over to watch the film and it made such an impact on their life.” I love that, and it’s very much why Gay Hendricks and I came up with the concept for Spiritual Cinema Circle.
We wanted it to be a community where you get to keep the films every month and have them on your shelf. And then you have a library of films to share with friends who are going through particular experiences. We’ve distributed over 350 films since we started, and the films run the gamut of most of the human emotions people have. Once in a while we’ll see something completely new, completely different, completely original, and I think to myself: “Oh wow – wait until our community sees this!”
Michelle: That must so be fun for you!
Stephen: It’s great fun. And as you know, each month I have a subscriber and filmmaker with me during the discussion of each film. It’s fun to connect with a subscriber who has their own experience about how they look at films and talk with a filmmaker about what the films mean to them.
These movies demand a conversation.
Michelle: Yes, Bill and I always sit quietly at the end of each film and engage in rich and meaningful discussion about things like our childhood experiences, our beliefs, and our values.
So, what is it that keeps you motivated and moving forward?
Stephen: I’m made very aware by our community members about how much these films mean, and it’s a source of great joy for me because that is really what I set out to do. To create communities where people feel like their desires are being met. They’re looking for a particular kind of entertainment that they can’t get someplace else. That’s just great fun!
It’s difficult to be good at something that you don’t love, especially if it comes in a creative way. I have come to trust my instincts.
As someone wrote on the Spiritual Cinema Circle Facebook page: “You have to be yourself because everybody else is taken.” It’s a great line and it’s really true because you just have to follow your heart.
Michelle: Who inspires you or serves as a role model?
Stephen: The biggest inspiration in my life is my wife, Lauren. I’ve never had a connection with a human being where I felt so ‘known,’ understood, and loved…as I do with her. She is the most loving person, and I see how she operates with our combined family of six kids – most of them are adults – and a grandchild, and she is the matriarch of our family. I see how much love and attention Lauren puts into everything she does, every day. She is definitely my inspiration every day. And this love came late in my life – I didn’t meet Lauren until I was 57.
Out in the world, it’s Richard Matheson, who wrote the novel and screenplay for Somewhere In Time and the novel upon which What Dreams May Come is based. He was my first spiritual mentor and is still writing well into his 80’s. I love him dearly and he inspires me constantly.
My business partner, Gay Hendricks, is a constant inspiration to me, too. Gay actually came up with the initial idea for Spiritual Cinema Circle. Working with him, learning from him, are great joys in my life.
And filmmakers that I see making extraordinary movies. I’ve been inspired recently by Tom Hooper, the [now Oscar-winning!] director of The King’s Speech and John Adams, the great HBO miniseries. I love seeing incredibly talented people that are putting their talents to the use of the uplifting of humanity.
Michelle: Personally, I enjoy hearing about the people who inspire me, like you, tell me who inspires them!
To summarize, are there any words of wisdom you’d like to leave our readers with?
Stephen: Yes! I think it’s a really important time for all of us to be embracing our passion. When you find your passion and you declare it in the world, the universe will say “Are you really sure?” And a lot of challenges will come up.
It’s important for everyone to never be intimidated and never allow anybody to tell you that you can’t. If you have something that is a deep passion, then that is what you brought to this life to do. If you deny it, you cause yourself a lot of pain. Your soul really wants you to embrace your passion – as long as it’s a passion that’s positive.
If you’ve always had a passion about something (writing or cooking, for example) – if you declare yourself like that and you stick to it, then the universe finds a way of embracing you and allowing you to go out into the world to do what you want to do. That’s more important than anything else. Don’t let anybody ever say no. And never ever, ever give up!
There’s an incredible new documentary called Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. At 75, Joan Rivers is still out there, constantly in motion, and doing what she loves. In the film, her manager, Larry Thompson, says of her:
“To get struck by lightning, you have to be willing to stand out in the rain. And I’ve never known anybody in my life who is more willing to stand out in the rain than Joan Rivers. She’ll stand there and stand there and get drenched and whatever because she knows that lightning has hit her before and it’s going to hit her again.”
I’m so inspired by Joan’s constant desire to reinvent herself and to keep going and to keep making people laugh.
This is what I want to urge people to feel in their heart.
Of course, I live near Portland, Oregon, so standing out in the rain is a lot easier here than most places. Seriously, I wish everyone the passion and love and commitment to stand out in the rain when we need to.
And then of course we see the rainbows…
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Michelle’s final thoughts: Can you just feel Stephen’s passion and enthusiasm for what he does in life? I, for one, love to surround myself with people who are like Stephen – alive. You can engage more of his passion at TheOldHollywood.com and SpiritualCinemacircle.com, and be sure to also check out his favorite films of 2010!
Thank you, Stephen, for inspiring us all.