By: Monteque Pope-Le Beau
Edited By : Colleen Page
To have a conversation with writer and producer D. J. Healey is to have a conversation with a profoundly humble man. His insights on life and the human condition are made more surreal when you realize that this is not just a storyteller telling an amazing story; this is a gentleman which has lived the story. The Art Of Monteque at the opportunity to sit down and discuss D. J. Healey’s film “Leaves of The Tree” which screened at the 2015 Soho Film Festival.
This is such an exciting time for you, thank you for giving us the opportunity to interview you.
D. J. Healey : Your welcome, but it is I that should be thanking you. Thank you for all your support.
It has been our pleasure and let me also take this moment to thank you for the gift of your book ” Kindness For The Damned: Intrigue, Love And Redemption In Sicily” we thoroughly enjoyed it.
D.J. H: Oh, well I am glad you liked it.
It certainly was a great read and it really makes you think about humanity and our place in it.
D.J.H: Well thank you for that. It was something I did when I was very ill. It was to have something to do and to explore and then also express my own feelings about spirituality. Going into exploration of what I thought being a Christian really meant and also bring out things that are from the Gospels and are historically true; that people forget about and tend to go on these debates to fuel and fire up prejudice without really remembering that being Christian means accepting everyone as God made them. As they are put on your path and not asking why or questioning why, but just knowing God has only asked you to love the people he has put on your path and not to question his wisdom or to pass judgment on them.
Well said sir! I would like to go a little further and ask you a few questions if you don’t mind.
What does the story of “Leaves Of The Tree” mean to you?
D.J.H: Well ….. To me it is a very personal story at one level because it is a fictionalization and a extreme dramatization of what I went through. I almost died of congestive heart failure in 2009. If not for my wife getting me to the hospital in time, I would have died! I had a very lengthy recovery and I went to rehab. Always wanting to go back to 60 to 70 hours work weeks. Flying all over the world. Feeling like I was important when really, I was just a patent lawyer. This story is really about transformation. A transformation of characters, a transformation of mindset; where Patrick has to go back to where he can find value in his life. It’s a transformation of Roberta who is use to the successful corporate lifestyle and the transformation of her life. It’s a story of his daughter Danielle. It’s a story where everyone is changed by the tree and the tree being really whatever you want to call it; the forces of nature, the forces of heaven… On one level it is a Dan Brown kind of story and on the other level it is a story of change and transformation with people coming to understand what really is important and what really isn’t. Whether the tree is God or whether the tree is spirit or whether the tree is a tree it becomes the vehicle that helps people make that transformation from being obsessed with things that really don’t matter to finding what really does matter.
In “Leaves Of The Tree” there are life changing elements through sickness, loss of purpose, belief, and redemption; even elements of what makes a family. Is this more or less a way of saying no matter what you will find your highest purpose or is it just a path of exploration?
D.J.H: I think you are correct to put it the former way where it defines a higher purpose. Where you will find what really makes you happy and what really is important. The tree helps people find their higher purpose among other things, but it has some surprising answers. Sometimes were blindsided by that which we think we want such as immortality, ambition or blindly trying to do the right thing. There has to be a balance just like with the Tao and the balance of the chi.
Yes, quite true.
D.J.H: There has to be a balance with all things; nature, spirit, and life. Without that balance it will make you miserable. You have to find what makes you happy, what is intended for you and learn what is not intended. It is not money it is however people; it’s love, it’s acceptance and it is honesty.
That is a extraordinary point of view. A very unique way of looking at it and showing how everything is in transition.
Nothing is permanent.
D.J.H: Right. Sometimes you have to the learn the hard way. I personally learned the hard way. I was like Patrick. I was toppled by a heart problem when I was at the peak of my career, when I was at the top of everything! I always thought as soon as I got out of the hospital and went to rehab I could work and go right back to what I was doing before. The reality was that I couldn’t physically and now I still can’t physically, but I don’t miss it because I realized what I was doing before was just helping people fight over money.
We are all on a journey to discover who we are, who it is we’re meant to be or do. You being a fantastic lawyer and brilliant intellectual how did you know that this was the new path you needed to take?
D.J.H: I didn’t know…. I think it’s like so many things in our lives we have to understand that we really don’t control the universe. What are the most important things in your life? Where your born. Who your parents are. Maybe it’s who your best friend is or who your spouse is. You had no control over who your parents were. You have no control over whether you were born in the US, India or Africa. You had no control over when you were going to meet that person who would become your best friend or soulmate. There is so much we do not have control over. Even our children, I have no control over….. none of us have any control over how our children are going to come out in this world. Whether they will be tall, short, blue eyed, green eyed or what their personalities will be. All the things in life that really do matter we do not have control over. We don’t control as much in our lives as what we think we do.
D.J.H: Once you accept that you don’t control everything in your life you are free to experience your life. I don’t view it as a new path so much as me realizing that I control….. some of the things in my life to some extent, but ultimately I don’t; and I’m not going to say okay, I’m going to do this for the rest of my life because this is my new life and this is my new path. I didn’t have a plan to write a book and I didn’t have a plan to make a movie. I don’t suggest that you ever make a movie by accident.
D.J.H: It was a extremely stressful experience and it was extremely difficult. Really.. it was!
D.J.H: But by the end we had made a movie by accident! Whether I will make another movie or write another book or do something else, I don’t know. I still like being a lawyer. My daughter wants to be an actress and I said “Why do you want to be an actress that’s incredibly boring?” and she looked at me and said “Dad your a patent lawyer you don’t know what boring is!”
D.J.H: I said “Well that’s a fair point.” You know I thought it was so boring I was only on set for an hour a day. Plus I wasn’t well enough to spend a lot of time on set, but I must say what we made together is something truly extraordinary and it was just by accident!
One thing I would like to add is this accidental movie for a first timer is truly an extraordinary movie. You hit it out of the ballpark with this film in my opinion. So I would have to say on behalf of myself and my colleagues well done sir!
D.J.H: Thank You, but this had to do with a first time team. A very important lesson I learned about movie making was one of the most important elements of the movie making process or sports is the team. Movie making is a team sport. It had to do with the people that all came together as a team to help make this possible, my cowriter and director Ante Novakovic, Donna McKenna our casting director, and Joanna Lu who is brilliant. If you ever want to produce a movie or get phenomenal locations; Joanna is your person for managing crew and locations. There are others who were just great, but it was truly a team sport and I always viewed what I wrote in my book as something that was two dimensional, a little bit funny, a little bit cute, and badly proof read, but when you’re unable to concentrate as well because of medical issues it can be hard. I found that it wasn’t an issue because of this wonderful team that came together and took this story and made it 4 dimensional. It was not me! It was this team of people who came together and all brought their different talents and views. Their vision was very much in sync with mine. They devoted themselves to it for a very long time and they gave their hearts and souls to it. It took well over a year. We just had a team that magically came together and there were all kinds of magical moments that just came together.
D.J.H: Yes, I’ll just share one and then I’ll shut up! We drove six days and came across this big old Italian estate. It was own by a super wealthy noble family that had owned this estate and several others for generations. They were not really intergrated into the town. They kept to themselves. No one really knew them. Joanna talk these people into letting us use the estate for the film. No one lived there, but it was their private property and they kept it very private. When we were on the estate we found out that it was built the year it was supposed to be built for the story. We had picked 1838 and written it on the back of a photograph on the first day and the estate was actually built in 1838. It was built by a family of Stonecutters which we found out had ties to my family from a great great great uncle that built this estate.
That is extraordinary!
D.J.H: Well, that is just one of several extraordinary things I could tell you about this movie. One of several extraordinary things that kept us going because they were so much more then just coincidences. Much more then what coincidences could ever be and it just pushed everyone to keep on going. It was the team that kept this movie going and it was the team that made this movie. I am very humbled and very grateful to them. I want you to make sure to note this was not my movie, it was the team’s movie and everyone had a role in keeping this thing going. Just like my wife who would urge us to keep going when things were at their lowest and I was ready to give up and take the loss. So this was a team, a family that came together; who was brought together to make this movie.
That brings me to another burning question, being that one of the most important subjects in the book and movie is family and with you talking about the team being family; I would like to ask what does family mean to you?
D.J.H: I have two sides to family and I work hard to keep both of them together. I have family who sometimes don’t seem to care, but their family. I have reached out to them because I knew it was important and that’s how my mother raised me. It is important to have a family and to always be a part of a family. I have always done that, at times it has been rewarding and at times it has been frustrating, but family is also the people who come together whether it is for short time or forever; who love you and who you love. Family is made up of all shapes and sizes. My best friend is a lady who I worked with when I was an young lawyer 25 years ago. We have always been dear friends. We’ve gone on many trips together just the two of us and there has never been anything other than the closest of friendships. We have become family and we are very close. The people in this movie many of them became family and one of the things……Here in one one more boring story, sorry.
That’s fine. You have great stories.
D.L.H: In Houston my wife cooked every single meal for every person. We had 60 plus people for a week and a half and she cooked every meal. She worked 18 to 20 hours a day cooking every meal! When we were in Italy we where with my cousins and we went out of our way to make everyone feel at home. We had wonderful meals and we had tour guides. So the people in the business would tell me “You don’t treat people like this, these people are your employees! They work for you! and I would say “That I could not process that they are employees that work for me.” Yes, I have to write the checks every week, but beyond that they are really my guest, my family.
That’s a wonderful way to live.
D.J.H: One of my mottos is to treat everyone better than the way they expect and ultimately you will get treated that way to. If you believe in God or whatever you believe in whether it is the creator, spirit or the universe; then we are all family and we all need to look after each other and treat each other as family.
I must say that is the most beautiful view of life I have ever heard.
D.J.H: I wish I could say I had thought of it, but it was really taught to us by many different people. In the Christian tradition that is what Jesus taught us. In the Buddhist tradition that is what Buddha taught us. It is the people who are and were much smarter, holier and have a lot more to offer the world than I ever will, they are the ones who taught me that.
Who or what gave you such a wonderful thirst for knowledge like you have?
D.J.H: I want to say that both of my parents were encouraging, but neither one was overly intellectual. Every since I was a small child I have always had this. I had encyclopedia Britannica’s and I would read them all the time. I can’t tell you that I read them cover to cover, but I pretty much read most of them. Even now what I do instead of listening to the music I listen to great courses. Ever since my heart problem it’s a little hard for me to read then it used to be. So I listen to audiobooks to compensate and I probably listen to forty or fifty of the great courses if not more. I always have at least 4 or 5 of them on my phone. I love that! I love history. It drives my wife crazy!
D.J.H: She believes in just sightseeing. When I was healthier I would go to Italy with a friend of mine who’s a professor. My wife said “Look you two just go and leave me out of it. I’ve been there, it’s nice, but you want to go and look at all the museums, the temples and explore the history; I could care less!” I’ve always been obsessed with trying to learn and maybe trying to find answers. I have to come to accept that there is knowledge, but not answers. Maybe I’m still grappling with learning to grow and becoming knowledgeable, but I will never find the answers. Well it is entertaining and fun.
In my family our motto is you have to stay in a constant state of perpetual learning.
D.J.H: I think that’s the best way to stay alive. Also to stay interested in life. It is also the best way to keep a perspective about life. When you stop learning you lose perspective.
D.J.H: You become obsessed with things that don’t matter.
That is very true. What advice would you like to give to young people who are getting ready to take their place in society?
D.J.H: I think one thing I have learned is that people are important, not things. How you treat people is more important than how you collect things. People treating you well is not relevant compared to how you treat them. So my advice to anyone is not to get lost in the culture of consumerism and things. Don’t start thinking they have to only treat people well who can do something for them or they have to take retribution against people who have done something bad to them. I think what it really comes down to is something I have in Father Hanks Prayer. I believe in God and I believe in Christ and that doesn’t really mean anything because other people believe in other things and that is all equal. What I feel very strongly about is when God puts people in my path, my job is to accept them as they are and love them as they are. For me to judge them or to criticize them is to presume that I know more than God and I don’t. I don’t know why he made them as they are and I don’t know why he put them on my path. I only know it is up to me to love and accept them as they are. That would be my advice to people and I guess the advice I would give a young person is in the dedication I did for my daughters ” Kindness is more persuasive than force. Generosity pays better than any investment. Treat others better than you expect and they will treat you that way too. Love yourself so that you can love others.”
Thank you for giving us this time and it has been wonderful having this conversation with you.
D.J.H: Thank you very much. I am very grateful an appreciative that you gave us your attention and support. [TAOMR]