End of Wk1 of shoot…

Yesterday we finished the first week of what will be a 5 wk shot on my movie, The Way, My Way – an adaptation of my book of the same title.

I was rusty the first few days. It took me a little while to remember how to direct a feature film, as against the theatrical documentaries I’ve been doing these past several years.

It’s been 23 years since I directed The Nugget, starring Eric Bana, and 15 years since I directed my supernatural thriller, Uninhabited. But with sixteen feature films under my belt I finally found my groove and recalled that at the end of a take, the director is meant to call out “cut!”

I’m fortunate to be working with one of the best crews I’ve ever had on a movie – and believe me, I’ve worked with some of the finest in the world.

DP (Director of Photography) Calum Stewart will, I have no doubt, at some stage join the élite pantheon of Australian DPs who have made their mark on the world stage. And I don’t say that lightly. How circumstances worked to have Calum do this picture is, quite simply, yet another instance of the Universe doing what it does best – bringing the right elements into alignment.

Second Camera and Drone Operator Scott Last, who’s done the stunning drone work for PGS and Facing Fear, here in Spain on the Camino is like a kid in a lolly shop. The visual opportunities it’s presenting him are spinning him out.

Mind you, Scotty’s usually spun out anyway.

Sound Recordist Nick Emond just completed a $60m movie and decided that he’d “get back to his roots” and do my film.

I saw him the other day carry two tripods up a steep hill in St Jean Pied de Port for the camera department. I was gobsmacked. That simply doesn’t happen on an ordinary movie. The camaraderie on this film humbles me.

Yesterday Nick was joined by one of Australia’s finest boom swingers, Gary Nucifora. We have some tricky dialogue scenes coming up in the next few weeks and I felt the production needed his vast experience.

The camaraderie on set is happening in large part because of “Cowboy” Dave Sutttor, who has stepped away from his role of providing vehicles and doing unit for the mega-budget movies which shoot in Australia to do my small personal film. Dave and I go back a long way, and I’m so fortunate to have him here.

As I am with my First AD, Rachel Artis Evans, whom I wrenched off the golf course and out of fifteen years of comfortable retirement to bring some sanity to this craaaazy production, as Ivan the Terrible would describe it.

(Ivan the Terrible is one of the pilgrims featured in my book. He’s a gorgeous man with a huge heart who made me laugh constantly during my pilgrimage. Beeel, what are you doing here??)

Rachel and I last worked on The Nugget and she is perfect for this movie. Every day I’m in awe of her genius in wrangling the crew, scheduling the day so that Calum and I get the best light, and most importantly, handling me – which as Jennifer will tell you, is no easy task.

Editor Rishi Shukla has joined us this first week to present me with a few cut scenes so that I can determine that the style and look and tone are working as I’d imagined. I am so grateful that he’s come – his presence here has given all of us in the technical areas great comfort.

Backing all this up in the Production Office is Line Producer Annie Kinnane, who is bringing to the production a structure and a fiscal control that’s enabling me to focus on what I need to do, and that is to direct a (hopefully!) great movie.

She’s being aided by Associate Producer Belinda Dean, who has just joined us here in Spain. Belinda has been terrific in organising some sponsorship.

Annie’s lot is not an easy one, because we have such limited resources – but she’s doing a great job in making those resources stretch as far as possible, so we get maximum impact up on the screen.

I can say already after week one, this will be a film that will look many times its budget.

Our daughter Nell is also here assisting us. She speaks both Spanish and Basque fluently, and she’s brought to the aid of the production what we call our “Camino Fixer,” Paco Plaza. He is a high level corporate executive living in Spain. They’re doing big picture stuff, helping organise Spanish Government grants and getting us permission to film in places which are usually inaccessible to film crews.

I can’t mention everyone working on this movie in this post, but a highly experienced Camino guide and author (Finding Love on the Camino), Deb Wilson, has joined the production and has done an amazing job in locking in logistics – accommodation, glorious restaurants etc. She’s English, but speaks Spanish and French fluently, and I’ve snaffled her as my assistant.

Everyday she makes my job easier through her care and exactitude.

I’ll also mention Tiffany Chuck, who’s doing standby props and wardrobe. Her enthusiasm, her energy and her laughter light up the set every day. And Camera Assistant Daniel Acora, who has stepped in at short notice and has become an invaluable part of the team.

And of course there’s Jennifer – who has an overview unmatched by us all, myself included often. Her wisdom and unfailing belief in this project, and me, is what keeps me going.

This film wouldn’t be happening without her.
She’s fearless.

It’s a small crew I’ve got, but every single person working on this show is top of their game, and a joy to work with.

I’ll do a separate post on cast and “actuals,” those pilgrims that I met on my walk 10 years ago who are coming back to play themselves.

But crew-wise, I couldn’t have a better team of people helping me bring this story to life.

Two days out from shoot, another strange occurrence…

I woke up suddenly last night.

A light woke me up. It was the light from my Fitbit watch, on my wrist. For some strange reason, it was rebooting, and the light had woken me –

In all the years I’ve been wearing a Fitbit, this is the first time that’s ever ever rebooted of its own accord. But last night it did, and it woke me.

I watched it, and once the reboot was finished, up came the time on the watch face – in big numerals:


That’s what came up on my watch face; 3:33. I did a Google search, to find out what 3:33 meant, and I discovered that I was being guided and protected by “one or more Ascended Spiritual Masters,” and that they had heard my call for help.

I have been calling for help in the past few days. The filming for my movie, The Way, My Way, starts the day after tomorrow and I have been going through periods of self-doubt and panic, and yes – fear – and then last night, this happened.

It was just so weird. Like meeting Dana Gassaway in the O Gato Negro restaurant in Santiago a few days earlier, and him telling me he stood on the star in the chapel at the Burgos Cathedral and he too lost his pain. (see previous blog).

To take my mind off things, and to relax, I’ve been reading The Way Some People Die. This is not a spiritual book, this is hard-boiled crime fiction, written in 1951 by Ross Macdonald, regarded as one of the greatest crime authors of all time – up there with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

The New York Times says that he took crime fiction into literature. And I agree. I’m bowled over by his use of prose, and his dissection of the human spirit.

Why aren’t I reading my script? I figure that the more relaxed I am, the better I’m able to tap into my innate storytelling skills – and reading Ross Macdonald reminds me what’s possible.

But getting back to my Fitbit rebooting, and waking me up to tell me it was 3:33. I don’t regard this as coincidence. I do believe now that our spiritual guides connect with us through such occurrences. I never used to believe this stuff, but now I do.

Walking the Camino was the first step in my shift in consciousness.

A chance meeting?

After completing my first Camino in 2013, and after receiving my Compostela and attending the midday Pilgrim’s Mass in the Santiago Cathedral, I then met up with the pilgrims that I’d walked with on and off during the past thirty days: Balazs, Laszlo, Rosa, and Ivan the Terrible and his Beautiful Wife Giovanna.

We went to Santiago’s classic restaurant, the O Gato Negro – and we had a long lunch, and I remember feeling a happiness I’d not felt since my wedding day (at that stage) some thirty-one years earlier.

As part of the film that’s now underway, a reimagining of my Camino Memoir, The Way My Way, we’ll be recreating that lunch in the same part of that tiny restaurant – and today we surveyed the location in preparation for the shoot.

So there were seven of us in the crew in the O Gato Negro today, combining our location survey with lunch, and we were at the same table in the same backroom where I’d had that lunch ten years earlier. A man sitting at a table across from us stared at me and called out: Are you Bill Bennett?

I said yes, and stood as he came over.

He was a big man, in his 70s, an American – and he said: I knew you were in Spain right now but I never thought I’d meet you.

He then went on to explain that he’d read my blog when I walked that Camino in 2013, then he read my book, then he went and saw my film PGS Intuition is your Personal Guidance System when it screened in San Diego in 2018 during its US cinema run. 

That was extraordinary in itself – that we should meet like that.
But the thing that knocked me out was this:

He told me that he read in my blog, then later in my book, that when I arrived into Burgos in 2013, I went immediately into the Cathedral. I was in a great deal of pain from my knee, and I found myself in one of the Cathedral’s chapels. There was a star on the floor of this chapel, made out of black and white tiles, well worn by the centuries. I stood on this star, then felt compelled to look up – and discovered that high in the vaulted ceiling above me was another star, made from leadlight glass.

Immediately I felt a rush run through my body, from the star above me, through the top of my head down through my body into my feet to the star I was standing on, then back up again. I described it at the time as a rush of divine ecstasy.

I then walked out of that Cathedral with no more pain in my knee. 

Anyway, this gentleman told me that a year later, in 2014, he was walking the Camino and he too was in pain when he got to Burgos. His pain was in his feet. He could barely walk. But he remembered what I’d written and so he made his way into the Cathedral and he found the chapel and he too stood on the star – and he too walked away with his pain gone. 

He told me this today in the little restaurant, and I felt incredibly humbled, I have to say. Humbled that I recognised once again that there are greater forces at work than I often acknowledge, and that these forces are working through me and through many others – as a reminder that “…there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” as Hamlet says to Horatio, and as I quote in PGS. 

I left that restaurant today feeling very strange – this gentleman, Dana Gassaway, said that he’d never been to that restaurant before but a Camino friend, Kelly Lin (a Taiwanese pilgrim and author), had suggested it, and had he not been in the backroom he would not have seen me (and recognised me from my blog.)

Not one hour earlier, I was speaking with one of our crew, Paco Plaza, (our brilliant Spanish locations fixer) about getting permission to film in the Burgos Cathedral, and I’d shown him photos of that star on the floor, and the domed star.

I’d explained to him what had happened. How after standing on that star the pain in my knee disappeared. Less than an hour later I met Dana in the O Gato Negro and he told me his story.

A chance meeting?
I don’t think so.
I don’t think so.

This film is coming together in ways that sometimes leave me in a state of awe and wonder.

Ten years later, I’m back to make a movie ~

Ten years yesterday, I walked into Santiago de Compostela and I stood in front of the Cathedral, like millions had done before me, and I called myself a pilgrim.

I had walked the Camino Frances, some 800kms from St Jean Pied de Port, but I’d walked most of the way in enormous pain with a knee that I would later discover was devoid of cartilage.

I’d walked bone-on-bone.

As I stood in front of the Cathedral I was expecting an epiphany as to why I’d put myself through what had been, at times, a torturous ordeal.

That epiphany never came.

So when I got back home to Australia I wrote a book, hoping that in the writing I would discover why I’d done the pilgrimage. That discovery never came either.

But I began to realise that walking the Camino had set in motion the impetus for change that would happen gradually over the next several years. The change was subtle, and stuttering, but cumulatively over a period of years the transformation was huge. So huge that I now divide my life into the years before the Camino and the years after the Camino.

And now I’m making a movie of that first Camino.

For the past few weeks I’ve been scouting locations during what we call pre-production of the movie. I’m here in Spain with the first troupe of crew – and I’m revisiting places that featured so prominently in my journey.

Yesterday I went back to the albergue in St Jean where I spent my first night before heading off the next morning. I walked through the ancient stone Porte and stood on the bridge where someone took my photo for me.

I walked into the Burgos Cathedral and stood on the star in one of the chapels of that magnificent structure and I looked up at the star above me, in the high ceilinged dome – and I remembered the flush of divine ecstasy that rushed through my body when I stood there ten years earlier.

One of the crew members asked me later how I felt about revisiting these places, reliving the experiences that would later change my life so fundamentally.

Strangely, I feel nothing.
It’s like it all happened to someone else.
I don’t feel in any way sentimental or charged with any great emotion.
I feel like an observer of someone else’s play, sitting at the back of the theatre, looking at it all through a Proscenium Arch.

Perhaps that’s because I’m about to make a film about me, my life, what happened to me – and I can’t afford to get too close. The only way I can make this film is if I stand outside the events, and the person that happens to be me.

As a director I have to look at this purely technically – I have to focus on the craft, and see this person as a character in a story that fascinates and intrigues me, and not because it’s my story, but because it’s a simply a story that I believe might have resonance to an audience.

As soon as I start to see this as my story, I’m dead in the water. It’s not my story. It’s the story of the millions of pilgrims that have walked the Camino before me, and the millions that will walk after me,

It’s a story of the inexplicable and mysterious capacity for the Camino to trigger personal transformation.

Crikey – tomorrow we leave!

Yikes – it’s come up so fast!

Tomorrow Jennifer and I leave for Europe. We’re going to Spain via Munich for a couple of days to see a dear friend who has swung his support behind the movie. Then on Saturday we fly to Madrid to meet up with Line Producer Annie Kinnane and Transport/Unit Manager Dave Suttor.

We’re spending a few days in Santiago de Compostela – the end point of the Camino – spending some time with Camino legend Johnnie Walker, who has very kindly swung his support behind our endeavour which, as the Mastercards ads say, is priceless.

Then we’re driving back to Burgos to meet the second wave of our team coming in.
Then we kick it off seriously.

I’d forgotten how difficult it is to make a feature film.

For the past several years I’ve been working on these theatrical feature documentaries – PGS and Facing Fear. And the next film in the series, on Hope as well. And whilst they’ve required all my skills and experience as a filmmaker, they’re go-karts in comparison to the Formula One of feature films. (If I can use an analogy from my recent newly acquired passion – F1.)

Making a feature film is a privilege.

Films last.
Unlike television which comes and goes,
films last.
I take that seriously.
I’ll have my name on this film and I take that very seriously.

Added to that is the complication that this is a film about myself.

I’ll write a separate blog later about how I didn’t want this film to be made, and how it came into being anyway – but for now let me just say that I don’t want to even think about the personal consequences of this film being poorly received.

I’m putting myself out there, big time.
I stand to be ridiculed as a filmmaker and as a person.
And I’m fine with that.
If you don’t step off the edge you can’t ever know what it’s like to fly.

But back to the production.

I now have the most perfect group of people to work with to make this film something very special. Each one has been handpicked not only for their technical expertise, but also for their “energy.” What they bring to the show energetically. And I don’t mean their enthusiasm, or vigor – I mean what they bring as spiritual beings.

And the cast is perfect too.

Like Nomadland, this is going to be a mix of actors and “actuals,” the actual pilgrims that I met along my way, and who have agreed to come back and play themselves in the movie.

Again I’ll talk more about the casting in a later blog, but just to say that the actors that are in this film will have to tailor their performances to the actuals. To the real people, if I can call them that. That’s going to be a huge acting challenge – to hit that level of truth and naturalism. But again, all the actors in this film are up to it.

Frances McDormand did it beautifully in Nomadland, and won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance.

This is the first feature film I’ve made in thirteen years. And it was ten years before that, that I made The Nugget, starring Eric Bana. I don’t make a feature film unless I feel absolutely committed to telling that particular story. I’ve never been a director-for-hire. I’ve always generated my own material.

Actually, no – that’s not true. I was a director-for-hire on the Sandra Bullock movie I did for Warner Bros, but that was only because the producers who hired me originally were Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. I really wanted to work with those guys. But then the film went into turnaround and they stepped back. Such is the merry-go-round of Hollywood.

Jean Luc Godard famously said: All I need to make a film is a girl and a gun. (In fact that’s the common belief, that he said that – but I’ve done a deep dive and he was actually quoting from the legendary DW Griffith, director of Birth of a Nation.)

But that aside, I have my girl, I have my gun –
That’s all I need to make a film.

It’s jazz, baby…

Something occurred to me last night.

Most films are orchestral. And by that I mean they are structured, they are ordered. Everyone in the orchestra has their own set and defined roles. They all play music under the direction of the conductor, and according to the score sheets in front of them written by the composer.

The music is formal, at times stiff, and as well, clearly defined. When you go to a concert hall to hear an orchestra play Beethoven’s Fifth, you know what you’re going to hear. Sure, there’ll be some subtle variations according to the interpretation of the conductor, but basically you’re going to hear Beethoven’s Fifth.

The other thing about films being orchestral is that they are large. They are large and they are cumbersome. And because they are large they allow no deviation. A pianist playing Rachmaninov’s 2nd piano concerto isn’t allowed to deviate markedly from Rachmaninov’s original score. And everyone else in that supporting orchestra knows their role and what to do and when to do it.

And when it all clicks it’s magnificent.
Orchestras can and do create transcendent music.
As do some films.
They create transcendent imagery.
And they stir emotions and the intellect unlike any other art form.

That’s why I love making films.

I’ve made my fair share of orchestral films in my time. I’ve walked onto sets in the US and the crew has been so large I haven’t know most of their names. I hated that. I’ve worked on films where, if you need to shift the unit to get a shot, it’s taken several hours, there were so many trucks. I’m not joking.

This next film I’m undertaking is not going to be an orchestral film.
It’s going be jazz, baby!
We’re going to be small and nimble and we’re going to riff.
We’re going to play off each other.
We’re going to create something fresh and vibrant and surprisingly unexpected.

A few years back I took my wife Jennifer to a restaurant in New York called Eleven Madison Park. It’s one of these fancy places where you have to book and pay six months in advance. But it was a special occasion – her birthday.

A fancy restaurant like that can also be orchestral. Large and formal and stiff. But what made this particular restaurant great, and interesting for me, was that they based their whole philosophy on Miles Davis – the legendary jazz musician.

Here’s a New Yorker piece on the restaurant, and the influence of Miles Davis:

The restauranteur compiled a list of eleven words that defined the music of Miles Davis, and he printed them up and hung them on the wall of his kitchen to remind himself and his staff that they needed “a little bit of Miles Davis” in their approach. Those words were:

  • Cool.
  • Endless Reinvention.
  • Inspired.
  • Forward-Moving.
  • Fresh.
  • Collaborative.
  • Spontaneous.
  • Vibrant.
  • Adventurous.
  • Light.
  • Innovative.

These are the words I’ll be bringing to this next film…

How to make a movie on the Camino

It’s been twelve years since The Way, a movie about the Camino starring Martin Sheen, and directed by his son Emilio Estevez, was made.

That film was the impetus for a lot of people to walk the Camino – and in commercial terms, the film made a lot of money. It did really well.

What’s interesting is that there hasn’t been another English language film made since. My movie, The Way, My Way, from my book of the same title, will be the first.

Why hasn’t there been another movie made since? There have been a lot of documentaries, and a few non-English speaking movies – but not an English language feature film.

One of the reasons is that logistically, it’s very difficult.

To capture the essence of the Camino, you really do have to traverse the entirety of The Way – 800kms. For a major production, that’s logistically difficult – what with all the trucks, finding accommodation for all the crew and cast (for a movie, that could be upwards of sixty people, usually more.) And anyone who knows the Camino knows that finding that number of beds – hotel beds, not albergue beds – is a big ask.

Film people wouldn’t ever sleep in an albergue!

The other thing that makes it difficult is that shooting a movie is disruptive. And you can’t disrupt the day-to-day operation of the Camino. You can’t “lock down” sections of the Camino to have your stars walk along an empty stretch of track, and stop pilgrims from walking through shot.

Pilgrims just wouldn’t cop that.

Then there’s the issue of the trucks. Any film production has a massive number of trucks. Moving them through historic towns and villages, often through very narrow lanes, would be a nightmare.

These logistical difficulties have haunted me these last several years.

I want my movie to be authentic, and truthful to the spirit of the Camino. I want it to be real. And whilst I admired The Way enormously, they got a lot wrong. You don’t wear jeans on the Camino, number one. The actress Debra Unger wore jeans and yes she looked great in jeans but it bugged the shit out of me the whole movie. So did the James Nesbitt character, the Irish actor. He wore jeans too. You don’t wear jeans on the Camino.

The actor playing the Dutch pilgrim had two trekking poles and he used them all wrong. That bugged the shit out of me too. Plus partway through the movie the poles disappeared and then he used a wooden staff. What happened to his poles?

I’m being picky, I know – and as I say, I admire the film greatly. And it’s done a huge amount to bring awareness of the Camino to a huge number of people. I aspire to that film’s success.

So what am I going to do?

For quite a while, this was going to be a big budget movie with star casting. I always felt uncomfortable with this approach, because of the logistical difficulties that I’ve mentioned. I always felt it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get that degree of verisimilitude that I sought.

And then Nomadland came along and for me, everything changed.

It won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress. It used a mix of actors and non-actors. It was shot in a way that I was familiar with, from my earlier films such as A Street to Die, Backlash, Malpractice, Mortgage, Kiss or Kill, In a Savage Land, and Tempted.

Suddenly I could see a way to make my Camino film without compromise.

And so that’s how I’m approaching it – with a stripped down crew, using many of the actual pilgrims that I met during my walk – they’re coming back to play themselves – and shooting it in such a way that the film captures the true essence of what it’s like to walk the Camino.

In a later post I’ll talk technical stuff – but just to say that it will be super wide screen – 2.40:1 format, and we’re using vintage Leica lenses – 1970’s and 1980’s glass.

Using these lenses will present some major technical difficulties for us, but the “Leica look” will be worth it. From an artistic point of view, I’m very excited by this. It will give the film quite a unique cinematic look and feel.

Once again here is a pic from that Camino I did ten years ago: