IF YOU MEET THE BUDDHA AT THE MOVIES - PASS THE
A manifesto for making a movie about the journey of enlightenment
by Daniel J. Coplan
What follows is something of a “mission statement” about
my feature film directing debut. The film “Echos Of Enlightenment,
a true book of the last days of Daniel, a once and future prophet”
has played a many film festivals around the world. It has been named
“Best Feature” by some, received much critical acclaim,
and guess what - audiences like it too!
The film stars Christine Harte (The Invisible Man, Port Charles, The
Bold & The Beautiful); Shannah Laumeister (61*, Bullets Over Broadway,
NYPD Blue); Jesse Goins (24, Becker, Soldier, Patriot Games, RoboCop);
Luis Saguar (Nash Bridges, Flawless, 8mm); Dennis Hayden (Wild Bill,
Die Hard); Stephen Furst (Animal House, Babylon 5); William Richert
(A Night In the Life of Jimmy Reardon, Winter Kills); Gordon Noice (NYPD
Blue); and, Jo Marie Payton (Will & Grace, Family Matters, Moesha).
It features the songs of Electrostatic and Nectar.
Here’s why I made it, what fascinates me about the subject matter,
the method to my madness , and I hope some insight as to why I did things
the way I did.
Enjoy the journey and we’ll see you at the movies!
MAKE THIS FILM?
George C. Wolfe said that “theatre is people sitting in the dark
watching people in the light talking about what it means to be human...
[it brings] something into their lives that they cannot create on their
own by virtue of what they have shut off...it gives us a feeling of
"The path to ecstasy begins with awareness of the breath.... The
breath becomes something wonderful to you, something that's always at
hand to remind you that you are indeed in the moment... and the moment
is rich." [Kali Who Swallows the Universe by Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati,
Parabola, Summer, 1998. ]
"What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters
compared to what lives within us. And when we bring what lives within
us into the world, miracles happen." Henry David Thoreau.
"You will soon witness a miracle." Fortune cookie.
I wanted to make Echos of Enlightenment because I want to bring the
gift of "ecstasy" into peoples' lives. I was tired of the
idiotic pablum that passes for motion picture entertainment, where before
the credits are over you already know the entire plot and how the film
will end. These films are so fantastic that they no have no bearing
on the everyday lives that we must lead. I became increasing irritated
by the lack of motion picture entertainment that was challenging, as
well as entertaining.
I wanted to make a movie that I wanted to see, something that would
raise the hair on my neck with wonder as when I saw Bergman’s
The Seventh Seal; Kubrick’s 2001, A Clockwork Orange; Lindsay
Anderson’s If; Chaplin’s The Gold Rush; and, Welles’
Citizen Kane for the first time.
Also, when I was 14, I was very sick -- standing 5'11" tall --
I weighed only 69lbs and was given hours to live, and while this has
some bearing on my film, it also gives you a window to my soul. Consequently,
it should not surprise you when I tell you that I have always been captivated
by the human ability to turn darkness into light. Sometimes this comes
about through great sacrifice, other times it’s as easy as chopping
wood and carrying water.
In making this film, I wanted to explore our transcendent ability, that
allows us, even in the most bleak and dark moments, the ability to create
miracles, there is always hope, and what lives within us is inexorably
entwined with the entirety of the universe, thus making our existence
and potential worthy of remark.
SYNOPSIS OF THE STORY
Everyday, somewhere in America a middle aged man leaves his home, his
family and never returns. Echos Of Enlightenment is the story of one
Everyone wants a piece of DANIEL GESAR. From the low life white collar
criminals he has represented during his last fifteen-odd years as an
attorney and the creditors who are tired of waiting for their money,
right down to his wife MARY who is sick of Daniel’s growing indifference.
Everyone wants a piece of Daniel Gesar and as a result, he is slowly
coming apart at the seams.
One day, after he endures a particularly brutal day in court and the
threats of former client, FRANK SAVAGE, Daniel vanishes without a trace.
The authorities tell Mary everything they know about her husband’s
disappearance, but unfortunately, all that amounts to is that they found
Daniel’s abandoned car on the Pacific Coast Highway. But where
is Daniel Gesar? Out of options, he has run away and those he meets
on his journey, will never be the same again.
Daniel alone has the vision, and during his flight, his own soul is
interwoven with the souls of many different kinds of people. He helps
an Hispanic waitress at a truck stop from a difficult situation; meets
RABBI DON CARLOS WHITE WOLF a scholar and mystic; SARA a fortune teller;
JOE a bigot; MARIE a bartender and, JIGONSASHE, a psychotic Native American
woman who accuses him of killing her baby.
Determined to find him, his wife Mary, retraces his path, meets all
the people he touched before he disappeared and makes a startling discovery.
We see Daniel run out of gas on the deserted Highway, after giving his
last money to a homeless person. He walks towards the ocean with a .45
automatic pistol in hand. He chambers a bullet and then... before Daniel
pulls the trigger, something remarkable happens.... something marvelous...
But what really happened to Daniel?
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NAME “DANIEL
Ursula K. Le Guin placed great importance on the naming of things in
her Earthsea Trilogy.
Soren Kierkegaard , on the other hand, states that once you place a
name on something your immediately limit it. Houston Smith similarly
suggests that the use of labels [names] acts to exclude, i.e., to say
“I am a Catholic” excludes all those who are not Catholic.
Thus, in choosing the name of our hero, I wanted a name that would honor
the importance of naming things and at the same time transcend and escape
the exclusionary and limiting affects of names.
The name “Gesar” has the following provenance, Gesar was
the King of Ling and a legendary ruler of Tibet. According to legend
he was divinely appointed and enlightened he came to earth to defeat
demonic powers. [ Penick, The Warrior Song of King Gesar, (Wisdom Pub.
The name “Daniel” is of Hebrew origin meaning divine judge.
Indeed, our hero’s inquiry into the meaning of his name, i.e.,
his existence, is but the first step in his journey of transcendence.
In combining the two “names” our hero Daniel Gesar has a
name that suggests a universality, as well as, a divine connection,
and thus a person capable of completely the journey.
A VISUAL DEVICE - 32 ATTRIBUTES/OPENING OF THE
Based upon an actor's listening exercise, I would have Daniel in the
background counting to 32. Whichever character is featured will be in
the foreground listening. When Daniel says "32" they open
At first Daniel will be very far away and very out of focus -- barely
audible. As the movie progresses, Daniel will come closer and closer
to his subjects. More and more in focus and more and more audible.
This is the arc of the film. At first we don't know much about Daniel,
as the film progresses we learn more and more. By the end we know Daniel,
clear and crisp.
Why "32"? Why opening of the eyes? According to Buddhist teaching
a Buddha has 32 attributes. [ The Proof of the Lotus Sutra, in Major
Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. II, fn.2, p.309 [10th Ed. 1989],
Nichiren Shoshu International Center, Tokyo.] The opening of the eyes
is symbolic of attaining enlightenment. When the characters finally
open their eyes, they are seeing with the eye of the Buddha.
WHY USE METAPHORS?
Perhaps the greatest theft in Western thought and education, especially
in America, has been the complete obliteration of the observance of
symbols and their meaning. Not only in our entertainment, education,
but most importantly in our lives. When one identifies symbols in their
life, they are in essence looking at miracles. Our banishment of metaphors
has made it impossible for us to see the miracles in our daily lives.
One of the gifts that Daniel brings to the people he meets, is the potential
of the gift of miracles. This is particularly true of his relationship
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF DANIEL'S ENCOUNTER
WITH PAUL AT THE 7/11 ?
When I was attending NYU, I was working either part-time or full-time,
one of the jobs I had was assistant manager at a camera store in Mt.
Vernon, New York. One day an elderly woman came into the store to have
some snapshots processed. For the life of me I cannot forget this woman.
Although I cannot remember her name -- my memory of her often brings
me to tears. There was something about her demeanor that exuded humanity
and dignity. So much so that I, a macho NYU film student, was brought
to tears by her very presence. I don’t think I saw her more than
two or three times at that store, but that encounter has lived with
me over the years. Before and after that encounter I have often been
impressed with the extreme human integrity of everyday people, it is
a phenomenon that haunts me and I want to capture a little bit of these
souls in my films.
As I began to practice Buddhism, I came across something in the Lotus
Sutra which resonates this experience. In the Lotus Sutra there is a
story of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging. His path was to bow and express
his profound respect for each person he encountered. [ Lotus Sutra 20:266-271.
] He did this in spite of contempt, verbal, abuse and even violence.
In short when viewing the world from an enlightened state, he was compelled
to bow and offer his respects to the Buddha nature that exists inherently
within all people.
Thus when Daniel encounters Paul and their eyes lock, Daniel who is
just beginning to see from an enlightened state, sees the true essence
of Paul "a good soul" who has the potential to express his
very own Buddhahood and is compelled to acknowledge and honor Paul.
Throughout his journey Daniel continues to explore and experience this
aspect of enlightenment.
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF DANIEL’S ENCOUNTER
WITH THE HISPANIC WAITRESS AT THE TRUCK STOP
I saw this happen one Christmas Eve, of all nights indeed. Some
friends and I had gone to Westwood to see a new film. We went to the
Fatburger before the show and while we were waiting this argument starts.
There is this Iranian man unloading on the African American woman behind
the counter. He insisting that she make him a chocolate milkshake, and
she keeps telling that their machine is not working, but he won’t
take no for an answer. They go round and round for like five minutes.
It’s twilight zone time, because while all this is going down,
the jukebox is blaring Xmas rock n’ roll. Finally, the Iranian
leaves cursing. The surreal moment was not lost on anyone, time stopped
for a second, everyone took their pulse, and then life went on.
Moreover, this scene further illustrates Daniel’s compassion for
the underdog, the people he has not been able to help as an attorney.
Secondly, the origin of the act of offering Daniel a piece of pie, in
return for his defense of the Waitress, lies in another story about
Shakyamuni Buddha. As the story goes there were two children, brothers,
who upon seeing the Buddha were so taken by his enlightenment they were
compelled to offer him a gift. They were poor vagabonds and made a pie
of mud. They offered it to the Buddha with great sincerity and it was
received with great compassion by Shakyamuni. They were later reborn
as great kings! [Tokusho Doji and Musho Doji: According to the Za-agon
(Skt Samyuktigama) Sutra, Shakyamuni was once going about begging on
the out skirts of the city of Rajagriha when he came upon two little
boys playing in the mud. Two Kinds of Faith, in Major Writings of Nichiren
Daishonin, Vol. II, fn.2, p.295 [10th Ed. 1989], Nichiren Shoshu International
Center, Tokyo. ]
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF DANIEL’S ENCOUNTER
This is again drawn from the life of the historical Buddha. Near the
end of his life, he was traveling to his final resting place. He would
preach sermons to people, as was his custom. Near the outskirts of Vaishali,
in a forest, he preached one such sermon. The forest was owned by a
courtesan named Ambapali. Hearing that the Buddha had come to her forest
she rushed to the spot and listened to his sermon. Profoundly moved,
she invited him to diner. He accepted treating her with the same respect
as the Nobles who had also come to hear him. Later some of the Noblemen
also invited him to diner. The Buddha declined stating he had already
been invited by Ambapali. [The Living Buddha, Daisaku Ikeda, p. 132,
Entry into Nirvana, 1995 Ed., Whetherhill, NY. ]
This illustrates the great compassion and respect that the Buddha had
for all people regardless of their class or rank in society.
Hence, Daniel’s encounter with Marie serves that same purpose.
WHY DOES DANIEL GIVE MARIE HIS GOLD WATCH?
According to Robert Bly, in his book, Iron John, the color gold in that
myth, is representative of enlightenment.
Thus, leaving Marie the gold watch is symbolic of the gift of enlightenment
or the “medicine.” The concept of enlightenment as medicine
has its origin in the Lotus Sutra. [Lotus Sutra 16:227-229. ]
I think that Religion and spirituality are last subjects to remain firmly
in the domain of the indi-filmmaker.
I’m very proud of this work. We live in very very cynical times,
particularly when it comes to religion and spirituality. Thus, it is
a difficult subject matter to say the least. It’s so easy to end
up with a cheesy film where people laugh in all the wrong places or
you have 90 minutes of preaching. I think I’ve avoided both of
these results by focusing on the human and emotional aspects of this
journey of Daniel.
This film is meant to be a puzzle, it has a mosaic structure, and you
will never be able to see the whole picture, unless you have seen each