That’s the number of stars in the universe — Neil deGrasse Tyson
Now, think about this. Our star – you know, the one we call The Sun – has several planets, and at least one is inhabited (that we know of). And by “inhabited,” I’m not just talking “people” here. Our little world has all sorts of life forms roaming around on it. So the number of stars may also be a good representation of the number of living beings here with us.
All’s I’m saying here is – well, that’s a lot to manage, isn’t it?
So, it makes perfect sense that it would take a Council of Omniscients to manage it all, rather than just the one we’ve grown accustomed to hearing about.
And that is the opening premise of Gerald Brunskill’s surprising new movie “It’s Gawd!”
Gawd is the name of the Omniscient in charge of the part of the universe that includes our Solar System. And he’s about to be booted off the Council because his creation – humans – a rapidly advancing race technologically – are spiritually unevolved. A rival Omniscient named Tawd can’t keep his own sun lit and wants to take over Gawd’s magnificently-functioning solar system, wipe out the human race, and reseed the third planet.
“It’s Gawd!” is the story of Gawd returning to Earth (well, Hollywood) as a vulnerable mortal with only 365 earth-rotations in which to reconnect all of humanity – on “the you-tubes.”
And while the movie “It’s GAWD!” is wonderfully wacky, immensely fun, and apparently absurd (after all, Gawd is played by Tommy Chong) the message is deep, powerful, and loving. It resonates as the truth with a capital T.
How in the world did Hollywood produce a movie that resonates as the Truth about something as controversial as … well, GAWD?
According to writer/director Gerald Brunskill, it wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen overnight:
“It’s my opinion…it’s such a squandered medium. People that take the medium that I work in, and continue to regurgitate ‘Spider-Man’ movies and zombie movies, just squander such a powerful medium that could be used for good in the world, and it’s just a tragedy, really, what’s happened – especially in the last decade with the movie industry. You know, it’s all – it’s run by number-crunchers now, not creatives, and so they just look for franchises, things that will sell, and you know it took me fourteen years to get this movie made.
“It was an uphill battle the whole way. I just had to break every rule, and I just felt really compelled to do it, so, hopefully, I’ll be able to do another one, and that’s all I can really hope for.”
And, did you get any opposition to your ideas?
“From the very beginning. You know: ‘Don’t make a movie that could be interpreted as making fun of religion or treating it with disrespect, or anything like that’ Um, yeah – at every turn, there was opposition.
“I understand those that work in this business, I understand what they’re there to do. I mean, you know, it dawned on me in making this last picture, I mean, I have a lot of other things that I do, but making this picture – it really occurred to me that the job of the Hollywood Agent is to say no – is to basically be an obstruction in the path. For better or worse sometimes, you know, I think that some of the ideas that are maybe not worth pursuing – the hope is that they get tired and fatigued and fall by the wayside – and many of them do – but, some really good ideas are lost, and I just wouldn’t let this one go.
“The kernel of inspiration that came for this movie was through my travels and friendship with a best-selling self-help author, Neale Donald Walsh, who wrote the “Conversation with God” series. I’d written some music for him – oh, gosh, it’s going on maybe fifteen years ago – and we became friends through that and I ended up traveling the world with him on one of his book tours.
“And that’s where the idea originated from, and my thought was I have to – that book was a monumental paradigm shift for me in my life. I was at a place where I just had never heard any of those Sort-of-contemporary takes on the concept of The Divine, and though I’ve discovered many more since then, that was my entry and so it just really resonated with me.
“I set out to – I knew even back then that this medium was very powerful when used the right way, and I set out back then to expose those who wouldn’t normally come to this kind of material. I had no interest in preaching to the choir, you know, those already converted were converted, so I wanted to find those who would normally go see a raunchy comedy. That’s why it’s so very mainstream. Even though it’s quirky and weird, even the author himself said ‘Do you have to swear?’ and I said ‘Absolutely! That’s what the audience expects!’ and so, you know I’m going to make a movie that they want, that also has some of these messages interwoven.”
I found the movie the day it was released. The ad for it popped up on the Amazon website, and the image of Tommy Chong grabbed me – I’m a baby-boomer and remember groovin’ to Cheech and Chong movies and albums. But then I noticed how much Tommy looks like Neale Donald Walsh!
“Yeah, Tommy was an idea I had, pretty much for the duration of the film for one the very reasons you said, the baby-boomers are getting older, they experimented a lot in their early years, and so, by and large, they’re open-minded, they’ve had a lot of life experience, and now they’re contemplating what happens next. So, absolutely, this is a great audience and his following, um, could relate to it. And, you know, many of them have. I still get the comments from people like “man, I wanted a Cheech ‘n’ Chong movie” and “what the hell is this crap?” you know, like, but, for the majority, the people are really like yourself, are touched by it, and moved by it, and that’s exactly what I set out to do.”
I thought it worked brilliantly, and it made me very happy to see it.
“Heh. That makes me very happy – I really appreciate those thoughts. It’s been such a labor of love. And the labor, just to point out labor at times, uh – excuse me, I’m trying to grab some lunch here while we’re doing this…I hope you don’t mind my chewing in your ear. Um…so, that just thrills me to no end. You have no idea.”
The thing is, it shows that it is a labor of love, in so many ways. It was just as good watching it the second time, maybe even better, more fun…
“Ha-hah! Thank you – thank you very much!”
“I sort of teed it up to turn it into a series, and that would be great for me, I mean I would love that – and if we continue with the response we’re getting from Amazon, we just crossed a million streams on Tuesday, and that’s just two weeks! So things are really…so it’s going as good as I could have dreamed! So, fingers crossed!”
So now that the movie’s out, are you getting more people coming to you and willing to accept your ‘wild ideas’?
“Uh, that remains to be seen. I… yes, I mean the short answer is yes, but Hollywood’s a weird place. A lot of people make the promises and smile at your face and say ‘this is gonna be great’ and then you never hear from them again. So, you know when the deposit check is in the account and we’re putting together our next adventure, I’ll believe it. But I remain very optimistic!”
Are there a lot of people who are starting to see things like you do?
“Well, my hunch has always been that there’s a gigantic audience for spiritual material that isn’t too extreme, one way or the other – meaning not too Christian, not too Judaic, not too Islamic, or you know any of the Eastern philosophies. If you find sort of a middle of the road where there’s a common, universalist principle, and you have fun with it and still incorporate your humanity (which is part of all of us) I think that’s the largest group of people in the world – you know – that fall into that category. They believe in something, and they can’t quite articulate what it is, and they realize it’s sort of the antiquated teachings we all learn when we’re little don’t quite fit with our ability to reason.
“And I’ve said all along to all the executives that told me ‘NO’ – I’ve been out there, I’ve been with Neale. You know he has ten million books sold – and everywhere we go, the guy is mobbed and people say, generally, the same thing: You gave me a voice – you put a voice to the thoughts I had in my head but couldn’t get out. And I’m hearing that very same thing from people now on my movie – that’s probably the most common thread. And that’s because I’ve obviously borrowed and directly quoted things from that book and “A Course in Miracles” and many others, and so I know the audience is there. I know the audience is huge! I think it’s as huge as any other segment of the populace.
“Whether people realize that they are sort of evolving – and you know, people don’t want to admit – at least for me, when I started to question my earliest teachings and say ‘Uh, I’m not sure I really believe that – you know, verbatim’, right? I had a lot of guilt about it and I didn’t want to admit it to myself for a long time. So, when somebody like Neale finally articulated to me, it’s like the first time I let go of the guilt and sort of followed that road, and obviously, it allowed me to expand.
“So, it’s a very long-winded answer. I don’t know that people that run the entertainment industry have figured it out, but again, I think that the audience and the success we’re having is demonstrating that for them. And, at the end of the day, that’s just like a ‘Spider-Man’ movie – it’s just about numbers and statistics, right? That’s what they look at – they want to see franchiseable subject matter, and as long at it makes people money, then it’ll get made.
“And I’m all for exploiting that, by the way!”
Well, it certainly doesn’t hurt, does it?
“No. I’m not talking about money, personally, I’m talking more about exploiting the free market of Hollywood and their thirst for cash and profits.”
It would be nice to see them get on that train…
“It really would – I mean – even – I used ‘Bruce Almighty’ and ‘Evan Almighty’ as two financial models when I was pitching this to the studio. Both did over half-a-billion dollars in worldwide revenue! And I’m like – wow, why can’t you see that this is a thing? How can you not see this?
“But Hollywood just doesn’t want to make movies like that anymore. I mean, the studios don’t. They’ll tell me, ‘Oh, that’s Jim Carrey’ or ‘Oh, that’s Steve Carell’ – you know, they’re big movie stars – like, yes, certainly that helps. It definitely helps get people into the theaters, but I have no doubt that both of those movies would have done just as well had they been exposed to a big enough audience to see them. It’s easier to market it when you’ve got a movie like with Jim Carrey – you’ve got ‘HEY! Jim Carrey’s in it! OK!’ It’s easier, but they attribute it to the star potential and I fundamentally disagree especially in the days where huge stars can have huge flops. It’s really not about that- yeah, you might get ’em into the theater, but the minute people start going ‘This movie stinks!’ it’s over. And in these days with social media and the way we’re all connected on the internet, that spreads like wildfire.
“I’ve always had a very creative mind. I was a …I’ve been a musician since my earliest days. I emerged from college…well, partway through college, I emerged with an opportunity to change schools and go to journalism school at Northwestern – in Chicago – or go on Star Search with my band that had just auditioned and won … and I chose Door Number Two!”
It wasn’t much of a choice, was it?
“Yeah, it really wasn’t. So, we came up to Hollywood, and we ended up winning the thing, and I enjoyed a modicum of success with my band, where out of high school I was just too young to appreciate it – how rare that is. I mean, we had the time of our lives – don’t get me wrong – but it was a weird time in music. Business was changing and ultimately that became a road that was getting more and more difficult by the day to make a living.
“But you know, from there, I’ve been doing … I got into music for advertising and moved back to California to start writing music for television and film and that’s sort of where I got the story-telling bug, and that’s just around the time I met Neal. But you know, I’d always been a really creative person. I’m always showing to myself, I mean, I’m always stepping outside of my skillset, to learn something new and so I think that alone – as long as you can adapt and evolve, it’s really about problem-solving, you know?
“I mean, case in point, I mean this is a very small example, but we were very financially challenged on this movie, so I asked everybody – and anybody – to donate things. So, one of the things was – ok, when the cherubs need to generate enough power, they’re going to ride bicycles – ok! Perfect! – I got this company to donate twelve of these exercise bikes. So they shipped them in and we’re ready to shoot the scene, and somebody comes up to me and goes ‘Uhhh, the cherubs, the way their bodies work – uh, they’re little people – they can’t ride bicycles.’ And so I’m like, okay! We’ll flip ’em on their sides and they’ll turn ’em like a butter crank or something, and they’re all like ‘what?’ Man, you just gotta be willing to take every little…and make it an opportunity. You know? I like that.
“It really is a willingness to adapt – and so many people are unwilling to do so, and that really leads us back to – you know – our dogmatic teachings, the inflexibility of them. They need to evolve!”
Like, discussions of the afterlife are useless if we can’t apply it to this life.
“Isn’t that the truth! One of my great inspirations for both comedy, and directorially, I love Terry Gilliam -I’m a huge fan. But he directed “Brazil”, “Fisher King”, Uh! Which – Fisher King – is one of my models, cinematically, I used that as sort of a color palette and shot palette of how I wanted ‘GAWD’ to look and feel – not – I call it ‘Gawd’s Dirty Little Carnival.’
Monty Python’s “Holy Grail” –
“Ha! Wonderfully ridiculous!”
or “The Life of Brian”?
“Oh, man – I saw that in the theater! Ha-ha! I remember that movie, in particular – I was a teenager when I saw it, and, there again, it was crackin’ me up and I had tons of guilt about laughing at the jokes, you know? Was really conflicted about it. Now, of course, I just laugh my head off. So brilliant!
“Each person needs to find their own “permission” – heh! – to laugh at all of it – not in a disrespectful way! Actually, in an appreciative way… a loving way.”
I got a hint at the end of the movie that there would be something else…coming along?
“Well, that’s exactly right. That’s the setup for the series.”
I loved that you called him “Tawd.”
“Heh! Yeah, it’s just such a … I don’t know what it is about that name, but I always see him as sort of small and diminutive and
just the fact that he’s yes, an omniscient being, but the fact that his name is Tawd cracks me up every time I say it, but – yeah, the setup is obviously that Jay emerges from jail, with a gigantic cult-following, now that he’s sort of this anti-hero and he takes on this Christ-like presence, although he’s still trying to make sense of it all, you know, Gawd had told him ‘you’re the message, not the messenger’ and he struggles with that, because there’s obviously a lot of admiration to come with speaking the truth for those who understand it, and so yeah, as he struggles with that, Tawd comes to him as a megachurch preacher in the South, looking to exploit Jay and sort of change things for his own … and meanwhile now, Gawd lives in the fish – sort of a Mr. Ed-talking fish kind of thing.
“So my point is that everything I’m doing with this topic is not to offend – it’s to unite – and I think the best way to do that is through laughter. Love & laughter.
“There are certain archetypes, for sure. But you know, Josh Meyers – the guy who plays Tawd – is Seth Meyers’ brother. You might recognize Seth Meyers from the late, late show [The Late Show with Seth Meyers]. I’ve been trying to get Tommy and Josh on Seth’s show… it’s funny how we still haven’t really received a lot of national press on this. We got some buzz right away because one of our actresses was dating Kiefer Sutherland and *that* kind of went national, but I’m hoping these sort of remarkable numbers that we’re getting out of Amazon will … you know, out of all of Amazon properties, we’re at Number 14, and it’s remarkable for a movie this size, in two weeks! To get this much movement! And, again, to me, that shows both the popularity of Tommy – because we’ve really marketed through Tommy’s social media more than anything else, but also the thirst for this kind of subject matter.”
And, you’ve made it so obvious – “It’s GAWD!” – you can’t see the title without getting the humorous aspect. I know it hit me the instant I saw it. I wasn’t looking for it, but…
“You know, I love that – it gives me chills. I’ve always felt like, especially when I started hanging around Neal, that you get within someone’s energy like that and open yourself up to the possibilities, you know, these ideas just fell into my head, and I don’t take personal credit for them, frankly. I have a weird sense of humor and a willingness to explore ideas, but I don’t … you know this came from somewhere else. I truly believe that.”
I believe that, too – I deal with that every day…
“Are you … do you … practice?”
My calling is education and communication. In the corporate world, I was a liaison between marketing and engineering, because I could speak both languages. So, that’s what I do now – I try to translate what is otherwise ineffable into something people can relate to, and – oh my gosh – it’s hard. And when someone is doing it well, like you’ve done it, I just – I’m in love with that.
“Ah, you’re very kind. Well, again, you know I know that I have certain talents and I’ve very grateful for those, but I truly feel that I’m more of a vessel – and that’s fine with me. I mean that’s absolutely fine with me.”
I’d love to know who’s working with you on the other side…
“Me, too! Me, too! I would love to explore that someday, actually.”
I’m going to ask around – you know I know the people to ask. And if you’re cool with that, I will…
“Oh, you know, I’m more than cool with that! You know I had um… I lost both my parents. I lost my mom in 2010 and sort of exposed her to all of this stuff – actually had Neale over to the house a couple of times and she got to meet him and um… actually, I’m from Minnesota and I moved my mom to California in 2004 and she lived with me for the last six years of her life, and we became very, very close, and shared a great deal of depth beyond this world even though she was still on this side. And I really feel her presence, obviously – and my father’s as well – now, that their sort of energy is that combined, so I certainly feel like they’re helping.
“Heh – but someone else is at work, because there were other things happening before my mom passed, so I would love to know and connect with it. If I had sort of a place to direct my thoughts and energies, that would be beneficial, I would think. “
Well, it’s just a delight – I’m working with a woman in England. Her mediumship comes out in portraits. She goes into trance and is taken over by her guide, who then – because she can’t draw a stick on her own – draws the most amazing portraits of people on the other side – that the people that they belong to just go to pieces when they see them.
Early on, while we were talking, her guide drew a picture and told her to send it to me to see if I recognized it, and when I saw it – well, I recognised it as being me as a young girl, and – I’m a designer as well, so I pulled it into Photoshop(tm), then went on the internet to find a similar drawing by this artist when he was “alive”. I overlaid them, and the features, the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the proportions lined up – it was clearly by his hand.
“Oh….! Wow… I probably love this topic just about more than anything else, so I’m just entirely fascinated with it, and uh…so – it’ s so cool! It’s something that is just more a part of *this* side – heh! People should talk it about it more!”
I think so…it’s certainly makes you realize what an incredible adventure life is…
“Yeah! Yeah – and just if you sort of try to walk with it, versus against it, which is what so many of us do, myself included. You know there are many days that I forget that it’s all sort of mapped out and I should just work with it rather than fight against it. Even with the movie! I fought so hard for so long to get it made, and ultimately it was going to happen what was going to happen and then this particular period in human history, you know, with regards to what’s happening with our government especially and the election and all that’s happening and I think it couldn’t have come at a better time. You know, as if they would get it wrong -heh!”
I know the election affected me in ways I never imagined – was it as impactful out in California?
“Oh, yeah, absolutely, especially because, you know, I would say that very people – especially in southern California – really didn’t want what’s happened to happen. So…oh yeah, there’s still sort of a disbelief and every week brings another head-slap, you now? Like ‘Oh, gawd – I can’t believe *this* is happening – or *THIS* is happening!’ You know, it’s just one thing after the other…so yeah, it has affected a lot of people. Mobilized people and it has just reminded people that they have to bear some of the responsibility for what’s happening.”
Well, I’ve been shocked and dismayed that people I’ve known for 20, 30, or 40 years have turned into people I don’t even recognize with the name-calling, derision, and blame…
“Oh, yeah. Well, that’s both sides, that’s not just one side or the other. It is disheartening to say the least.”
So I say the way to fix that is to laugh more and love more.
“Ahhhh…I couldn’t agree more! I could not agree more.”
Well, I’m very tickled that you’re doing the work that your doing, I think it’s just fabulous and it certainly was great for me – great for me to see. And I can’t wait to write about it.
“Well, I mean please feel free, as you’re writing, to ping me – you know – with further questions or references or whatever you like – I want to promote this movie as far and as wide as I can. So if I can be of help to you doing that, I’m at your service!”
Uh…Have you got a stash somewhere of photos I could use to illustrate?
“I do! I’ll just send you a link to download a bunch of stuff!”
Cool! Jerry, it’s been so fun talking to you! I’m so excited about your work and I’m so happy it’s working out so well for you.
“Well, thank you very much and if you have any insights on who’s working with me on the otherside, I’d certainly be willing to know, because I would continue – you know, not just this particular storyline, but as you can imagine, I have others that are in the same genre, some not as comical, some … but, yeah, I just have lots I’m working on, so…”
I’m sure they’re glad to hear that, too!