IFH 425: Oliver Stone | Surviving the Vicious Hollywood Game



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Today on the show I bring you one of the most influential and iconic writers/directors in the history of cinema, three-time Oscar® winner Oliver Stone. Throughout his legendary career, Stone has served as writer, director, and producer on a variety of films, documentaries, and television movies. His films have been nominated for forty-two Oscars® and have won twelve.

Stone began his career as a screenwriter, though always had his eye on being a writer/director. He struggled years before being hired to write the true-life prison story Midnight Express, for which he won his first Oscar®. Stone further wrote Brian De Palma’sdrug lord epic Scarface, Year of the Dragon featuring Mickey Rourke, and John Milius’s Conan the Barbarian.

His first outing as a director was Seizure, an exploitation horror film he directed right out of film school, and the thriller The Hand, starring Michael Caine. Stone finally broke through as a director with his film Salvador, a violent look at the chaos of war as seen through the lens of an amoral photojournalist during the Salvadoran Civil War.

This is one of Stone’s most underrated works. It was critically acclaimed but commercially didn’t hit the mark.

After Salvador, he jumped right into directing Platton, the film that would catapult Stone into the stratosphere. Platoon would go on to be nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four including Best Picture, Best Director for Stone, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing.

Platoon was the first in a trilogy the Stone made about the Vietnam War, the other films were Born on the Fourth of July starring Tom Cruise and Heaven & Earth starring Tommy Lee Jones.

After Salvador Stone directed nine films in ten years. During that decade he created some of the most memorable films in cinematic history including the decade-defining Wall Street, JFK, The Doors, Natural Born Killers, and Nixon. 

Stone says his films are

“first and foremost dramas about individuals in personal struggles,”

and considers himself a dramatist rather than a political filmmaker. Politics definitely are a subject matter he enjoys making movies about. 2008’s W., a film about American President George W. Bush, was the first film in history released about a sitting president. This film wrapped up his trilogy on the presidency which he started with JFK and Nixon.

Stone’s filmography is peppered with notable films and masterpieces including 1997 road movie/film noir, U-Turn, 1999’s Any Given Sundaya film about power struggles within an NFL-style football team, and World Trade Center, based on the true story of survival during the September 11 attacks.

In 2004 Stone tackled another giant historical figure, Alexander the Great. His film Alexander, starring Colin Farrell, Anthony Hopkins, and Angelina Jolie, had a rough road and major studio interference.

Stone later re-edited the film into a two-part 3-hour 37-minute filmAlexander Revisited: The Final Cut, which later became a cash cow for Warner Brothersbecoming one of the highest-selling films in their back catalog.

In 2010, Stone directed his first-ever sequel, Wall Street: Money Never SleepsIn this film, he returns to Wall Street during the 2008 financial crisis. Famous onscreen villain Gordon Gekko Michael Douglas returns. Gekko teaches co-star Shia LaBeoufthe ins and outs of criminal investments.

Frost/Nixon’s Frank Langellaco-stars along with Susan Sarandon. I personally have a deep connection with his film Wall Street as it was the subject of the first short film I ever wrote, directed, and edited in high school.

Speaking to Oliver was a dream come true. Many of his films have impacted popular culture in a way that is uniquely his. During my time working at a video store, it seemed every film he released was a cultural bomb. Natural Born Killers was the first time I saw a modern director use multiple formats in one film.

His last film Snowden tackles the most important and fascinating true story of the 21st century. Snowden, the politically charged, pulse-pounding thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley, reveals the incredible untold personal story of Edward Snowden, the polarizing figure who exposed shocking illegal surveillance activities by the NSA and became one of the most wanted men in the world.

He is considered a hero by some, and a traitor by others. No matter which you believe, the epic story of why he did it, who he left behind, and how he pulled it off makes for one of the most compelling films of recent years.

During our epic conversation, we discuss his legendary career, working with the Hollywood system, his time in Vietnam, struggling as a screenwriter, how he deals with rejection, and his amazing new book Chasing the Light: Writing, Directing, and Surviving Platoon, Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador, and the Movie Game.

Chasing the Light is an intimate memoir by the controversial and outspoken Oscar-winning director and screenwriter about his complicated New York childhood, volunteering for combat, and his struggles and triumphs making such films as Platoon, Midnight Express, and Scarface.

Before the international success of Platoon in 1986, Oliver Stone had been wounded as an infantryman in Vietnam and spent years writing unproduced scripts while driving taxis in New York, finally venturing westward to Los Angeles and a new life.

Stone, now 73, recounts those formative years with in-the-moment details of the high and low moments: We see meetings with Al Pacino over Stone’s scripts for Scarface, Platoon, and Born on the Fourth of July; the harrowing demon of cocaine addiction following the failure of his first feature, The Hand (starring Michael Caine); his risky on-the-ground research of Miami drug cartels for Scarface; his stormy relationship with The Deer Hunter director Michael Cimino; the breathless hustles to finance the acclaimed and divisive Salvador; and tensions behind the scenes of his first Academy Award-winning film, Midnight Express.

Chasing the Light is a true insider’s look at Hollywood’s years of upheaval in the 1970s and ’80s. I highly recommend every filmmaker and screenwriter read this gem. Click here to read the book.

The main themes I took away from speaking to Oliver were struggle and fight. No matter how successful he got, no matter what heights he reached in Hollywood Oliver Stone had to fight to get each remarkable film in his filmography on the screen.

To this day he still gets rejected all the time. Throughout his career, he would jump from Hollywood studio to independent film. He wrote both Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July over a decade before they were produced because no one in Hollywood believed in what he was trying to say with those films. Platoon, The Doors, Midnight Express, Salvador, and Talk Radio were all indie films.

I hope this conversation inspires filmmakers and screenwriters to never give up. Oliver struggled for years taking jobs as a production assistant, cab driver, office assistant, and any other gig he could find to help him survive while he was chasing his dream. He wrote and wrote, meeting his goal of one to two screenplays a year, no matter what. Never give up, never surrender. As Oliver says

“Either you’re born crazy or you’re born boring.”

Enjoy my epic conversation with Oliver Stone.

Alex Ferrari 0:53
Well guys, today is the day I have been teasing this episode now for a little while now. And you guys have been clamoring to find out who the special guests I have on the show today is and a few of you guessed it, but if you don't know already, it is the legendary Oliver Stone. I cannot tell you how excited I am to bring you this interview. Talking to Oliver was like a dream come true because I'm such a big fan in his films. I've had such an impact on me, as a filmmaker as a person has made me think in different ways. He is such a unique filmmaker, an artist. His films, not only entertain, but they touch you they they make you think they quit. They make you question many things about our society about different areas of our society, from Wall Street, to war, to politics, to the presidency. I mean, he's talking about huge, huge stories, huge figures in history. In in, he's just there is really not a lot of other filmmakers who have a filmography, like Oliver Stone. The films that he has been a part of either as a screenwriter, producer, or director have been nominated for 42 Oscars, and they have won 12 he personally has won three Oscars. His first one came as a screenwriter for the film Midnight Express in 1978. And then he tells the story about how even winning an Oscar as a screenwriter didn't guarantee anything. He was hustling for the next five years trying to get his movies made. He wrote platoon and Born on the Fourth of July in the 70s. And he was using platoon as a writing sample to get him work on other little films like Conan the Barbarian, Scarface, and Year of the Dragon, which he all wrote. And they might be huge and monumental films today but when they came out, they were not well received. So he had a really tough go of it. And then he had this amazing champion called john Daly, a legendary producer, who gave him a shot to direct his script, Salvador. And then right from Salvador, he went into directing platoon as this little independent film that he was shooting in the Philippines with a cast that if you look at today, you will be amazed at who was in that movie, but they were all just young actors nobodies at the time. And his his story is just so remarkable. He's worked on films, and I'm just going to throw a few of these films out that you might recognize from him. As I've already mentioned, Conan the Barbarian Scarface, as screenwriters in Salvador Platoon, Wall Street. Born on the Fourth of July, the doors JFK, Natural Born Killers Nixon, any given Sunday, Alexander World Trade Center, W. Wall Street Money Never Sleeps, and the most recent Snowden. I mean, his his filmography is legendary. And I was truly humbled to sit and speak with an artist of his statute. for an hour, I was just so oh my god, it was just like a like I said, it was a dream come true. Now, I hope this conversation inspires filmmakers and screenwriters to never give up. Oliver struggled for years, taking jobs as a production assistant, cab driver, office assistant, and any other gig he could find to help him survive. While he was chasing his dream. He wrote and wrote, meeting his goal of one to two screenplays a year no matter what Oliver Stone is the definition of never give up and never surrender. And we also go into a deep dive of his new book, chasing the light, which is his memoir, from the beginning of his career, all the way up to the peak of Platoon, where he won four Oscars and was nominated, I think, for eight Oscars that year. And his entire career exploded after that. And I have to highly, highly recommend his book. Because I've, I've read it, and it is such an amazing, raw journey into Hollywood of that time, and then also just a peek into a career. That is just remarkable. And I will give you links on how to purchase the book in the show notes at the end of this episode. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Oliver Stone. I'd like to welcome to the show. Oliver Stone. Thank you so much for being on the show. Oliver.

Oliver Stone 8:00
Nice to meet you, Alex. Frankly, I heard about you yesterday, and Okay, here we are. Yeah, I know it's the fastest. That's how I heard about you. I put I put up Facebook and, or Twitter. And I forgot what? And you answered and you asked very nicely. First of all, that you were interested in the subject matter which was about about nuclear energy, but the fact that you contacted him and the invitation was very nice to join your show. So here I am.

Alex Ferrari 8:27
And I and I and I appreciate it very much. Like we were talking a little bit before the show started, you know I am a lot of the films in your filmography have had a major impact in my life. And because during the time when you were coming up in the late mid to late 80s and early 90s that time period was when I was working at a video store. So I was watching obscene Lee about so many movies and that period of time you were prolific. I mean, you were shooting you were making movies every movie a year almost movies in 10 years. Yeah, it was it was pretty insane. It was like every year you would get an every single movie you would do would be just like this monumental thing from Platoon, radio, talk radio, JFK Born on fourth in Wall Street and all those kinds of things. So they were really impactful into into my life. And I'm gonna tell you something when I saw Wall Street because Wall Street really just immensely hit me in 88 and 8788. I can literally recite to you the greed, the greed speech, I learned it from from that age and I've never lost that. I'm not like I've been rehearsing it. It's just always stuck in the back of my head. And that character and what you did with that, that film The the commentary that you were saying about things was remarkable

Oliver Stone 9:51
Over commentaries. Yeah, they were injured. I used to really work at the I cared about and a lot of people noticed that the commentaries are pretty pretty pretty remarkable, pretty deep. And I like that because it's the only chance we you know, after the critics finished with you, dry you out in the laundry room, it's really nice to be able to say, Hey, this is what I really intended, maybe it didn't come across, but to be honest with yourself, and also it helps you creatively because it, it gives you a feedback and says, Okay, this gives you feedback and it gives you makes you think about what you did and did not achieve. And often in the commentaries, I tried to be critical.

Alex Ferrari 10:30
Now, you have a new book called chasing the light, which I'm a little bit over halfway through and I love it so far. And I can't wait to finish the book. And I'm going to recommend it to everybody I know. That is a filmmaker to read it. So we're going to get we're going to get started with the beginnings of your career because the book takes all takes you all the way up to Platoon, if I'm not mistaken, correct that to the end of platoon. And you did a couple things after Platoon, just a few, not many, but you did a few other films after platoon. But the story of how you came up is a story that I hadn't really heard about before from I mean Salvatore's and and obviously Conan the Barbarian and, and Scarface, and in some of your older films is some of your older films as well. But the first question I have for you is, can you tell people because I really think this is important. How many screenplays had you written prior to directing your first film?

Oliver Stone 11:27
Well, no, I directed my first film out of film school, basically two years afterward, budget horror film called seizure, which I wrote. And I had come out of film school in 71. With the as a writer, director in my mind, and that's what I set out to be that was my dream. And you know, Godard and Barnwell and the European bag, you Italians, to Fellini, among them, I mean, the obvious ones, but they were all leaders in the culture. And I wanted to be one guy, they were writer directors, most of them attracted me to the concept. And I had been a writer before film school, when I was 19, I wrote a book called The child's night's dream, which was eventually published in 97. But so the writing in me was always strong. But then after my service in Vietnam, I explained this in the book, as you know, the intensity of that experience required a concentration at the highest level of your physical senses, smell, sight, sound, you walk in the jungle, and you know, you have to pay really 360 degree attach that intensity, in some way became the camera eye for me. Because I'd never concentrated on the camera as much as I did there. My camera in my head. And that's what I tried to reproduce when I went to film school on the GI Bill, which paid my tuition there, but it was, you know, going out and making a short film is is very chaotic. For most of us, it's, you have to get the cooperation of your fellow students. It's not easy. It's like a Chinese cultural critique session, you know, but it ECOWAS made films over the course of those two years. Some were successful, some were not. Short films are tricky, but you know, there are an art form in themselves and you'll learn a lot. You learn a lot physically, technically, you produce you, you edit you, you shoot, and you write. Now most of the kids were not interested in writing. That was what was amazing to me. There was no requirement at film school to go to screenwriting class. Not none at all. That always bothered me, because I went, I mean, maybe a few kids went. And I wrote screenplays during that period. And I learned from these teachers they were they were good teachers. They were NYU teachers. And I bought a lot of screenplays, and I read them because they were becoming more available in the 60s. So you could read the screenplay, not from American movies as much as from European films. It's very interesting that in a sense, that study of film starting with the Europeans and it only, you know, it was over the 70s it became more and more Americanized. And finally, they started to publish some screenplays. But some of the greatest screenplays in American film are no I have never seen any copies of them. acceptances unless you go to the studio vaults. So there's a big hole there. And screenplays, their screenplay writer was regarded as kind of a warm in the back room, and the director was a star. He was wearing the scarf, Bertolucci, and he would come out on the set. And he'd make up his ideas as he went along. And there was a kind of freeform improvisation That was fun. It was the beginning of a new thing. And yet, there was not the burden of money, the commercial feeling that you had to make your money back about that system, because these films in Europe were made for very little. So that was the environment in which I but I always was I was disciplined as a writer. So I, after I got out of film school and drove a cab and worked in various jobs, got married went through the whole hard hardship of trying to make it in the film business, which is very difficult. Even in those days, far more perhaps. And in that period, I kept writing screenplays. Every year, I set a goal for myself of at least trying to write one one and a half, maybe two screenplays and a couple of treatments to turn out stuff, sending them out to agents, no response. rejections, rejections. So you say how many I don't really remember, I would say about eight to 11, as well as long treatments. One of those treatments to cover up was my first break, it sold option option sold almost me and I got to work with Robert bolt, who was a great screenwriter of that time in Chicago and Lawrence of Arabia. Bought was a serious student, but he was overstyled screenwriter that you lay it all out on the page, your architecture is there. Every line of dialogue is there. It's a whole other way different than film school. So were you more of a treatment. So I was always between the two. I was trying to write the fallout screenplay. And at the same time I was. And when I became a director of finally in the business in 85, with Sal 86 was Salvador, and then platoon. I never have I still I stayed true to this screenwriter loyalty, which is right to script write it as much as you can get on paper before you do it. And I have that mindset. And I think a lot of people underrate that don't make money.

Alex Ferrari 16:42
Right? And then so your your second film was the hand, which was a with Michael Caine. And it was a horror film. And I always found it interesting that you started your career as a director with two horror genre films, essentially, horror movies was can you tell me how those how the hand came to came around

Oliver Stone 17:00
The hand is very similar to the hands an interesting movie, it's going to be actually released by shout factory next year on blu ray.

Alex Ferrari 17:08

Oliver Stone 17:09
It was buried at the time. I liked the movie. I saw it recently. And it's kind of it's very interesting psychological thriller, based on a book I bought by Mark Randell called the lizard's tail. But it was very similar to seizure, because it's about it's a similar story and that the main character, Jonathan frid, and the first one Michael Caine, and the second one, are haunted people haunted in the sense that they bring with their minds, they bring the doom onto themselves. They think they think the horror, they think the har, and in what in the case of the hand that he thinks his wife is leaving him, and he becomes insanely jealous. And he sees everything as that he loses his hand in a car accident, he sees it partly as her fault. He sees the hand, ultimately as a weapon of vengeance and a weapon of anger, to get it to get back at the people who took his hand as well as his wife. So it's pretty far out and very ambitious as a visually as a first movie. Very difficult to make a small hand work as, as a shark might. And I will put I was crazy to do it. But that was a kind of it was difficult for me. Prior to the hand, you forgot that I came through as a screenwriter in 1977. Eight with Midnight Express,

Alex Ferrari 18:31
Which is my next question.

Oliver Stone 18:33
Yeah. Okay.

Alex Ferrari 18:34
Yeah. So Midnight Express actually was what do you do consider Midnight Express to be the project that really launched your career?

Oliver Stone 18:42
Yeah. I mean, it got me into the Hollywood side of the business. I was in New York, I was dead in the water. I didn't. I tried. I tried. I tried, you know, to get to get all these rejections. I mean, I got hundreds of letters I can. It's no fun. I mean, going begging for things getting small jobs, production assistant here and there. TV work. I worked for almost a year well paid advertising film company for baseball films. I mean, I tried to make it happen. My wife, thank God was working at the UN and had a steady job. So that was we know we made ends meet. And I have to say it was a it was a I almost gave up hope many times before. By the time I reached 30 years old, I talked about it in the book, like 30 years old and you feel like in those days, you feel like you had to have started your career, you know, if not something was something was wrong. And I felt like I had failed in my life. And I go into that and why. And my father, my mother, my grandmother, all this comes into play it's so that's why I ended the film with protune. Because when I ultimately realized my dream, which is to have a success of international proportions, The unbelievable I mean, every country in the world it played, made big money, number three in America domestically. And then on top of it Academy Awards, and then it wins. And Elizabeth Taylor is out there on the stage, giving me a big kiss, you know, she was this, the movie star of my youth as a woman, she was the most glamorous. So you know, this was all unbelievable. And but I had been. So it was, it was a golden time. And that's why I wanted to end the book because that the dream had been achieved. And I showed you how it was achieved and how how much work was required, how much rejection. And I think it'd be very helpful to young people, I got to see the path that we had where I had in the 1970s. It's different now because in many ways, it's a different system, because now it's a lot technically easier to make a film, you don't have to kill yourself. It's much easier to turn out quality with a video camera. And it's up to you. It's much more inventive medium, and techniques are much, much easier. However, you have the audio, you have the consequent problem that if everybody's doing it, you have a huge volume and a limited distribution system.

Alex Ferrari 21:15
Right, right, exactly. It's easy to make the movie now that now the place you have to kill yourself is actually get anyone to see it or sell it.

Oliver Stone 21:22
Exactly, Exactly. I've seen so many so many young filmmakers have sent me stuff. I have piles of films that nobody watches, you know, it's really and there's some talent here some talent there, talents, but I i champion many films that have filmmakers that have gotten some distribution, but it never worked out. I mean, they they died off in the very hard to get through this barrier of distribution and publicity.

Alex Ferrari 21:52
Now you talk about champion, champion filmmakers. Can you talk a little bit about what john Daly did for you as a champion, because we all need a champion, especially in this business, if we can get one.

Oliver Stone 22:04
I dedicated the book to john. I mean, the book for me would took three years to write off and on. That was just a lot of work. I have to tell you, it's like making a movie in his own way. And I take writing very seriously insensitive, I just not scribbling now, I did this I did that. No, I'm looking for themes in the in the book, the themes of growing up themes of going to war and the themes of relationships with your parents, your mom and your dad, your grandparents, the history of that time what was going on World War Two, into Vietnam. And I think there's a lot of consequences at out of World War Two. I was born on the on the right at the end of it in 46. And my mother was a French citizen. My father met her on the street in Paris during the liberation and as an officer in the army, and married her and brought her back to the states in late 45 and early 46. pregnant. So there you go. I mean, it's a war baby, you'd say right. My mother was an immigrant in her way.

Alex Ferrari 23:14
But john, but john really

Oliver Stone 23:16
Is also an immigrant. I mean, I've always done well with immigrants. For some reason, the American movie business was not was was just not letting me get myself done. It was so frustrating by the time I made the hand. I was even with the success of Midnight Express, I was kind of a black sheet people knew me as outrageous somebody who broke barriers, who was trying to say things do different things was fighting for this Vietnam script that everybody said AI it's well written, but we don't want to make it's not gonna make any money. So I mean, that was kind of the guy who was one of those guys around that was known as difficult or not that I was crazy when I was, but I really was upset that things were not going. I wrote a script called born the Fourth of July and I'm platoon in both in seven in the 70s. I neither want to get mad. It was just frustrating because human they were making apocalypse coming home Deer Hunter nice films, but nothing to do with my experience on the on the on the ground over there. They're both the mythic films that come in home very realistic, but about a woman in a marriage in LA. The other two are gigantic films, but they have nothing to do with reality that I saw. I can say that, you know, Michael, Michael Cimino, I worked with him on your the dragon. Big Vision, Napoleonic vision, but reality not so much. And so Francis, also the Godfather.Anyway

Alex Ferrari 24:48
But john was the one but john was the one that kind of,

Oliver Stone 24:50
Well, it's it's just that I was out. I was kind of dead in the water. I may I wrote Scarface and you know, although it's claimed as a Now, at that time it It had a hard road it was I had fight with the producer. And he bad mouth me and around the business and frankly, it was filled with obscenity and violence and people thought I was crazy kinda. I'd done Midnight Express Scarface. Conan the Barbarian. These were tough, violent films. So people saw me as sometime the hand, you know, who is this guy? So it was tough. And I had to I left LA and I. I talked about my cocaine addiction, too. So that was a big problem at one point. But I gave that up. And then I fought my way back with your the dragon, which amino didn't do as well as they'd hoped. So my career was dead. And I said, I can't do it the Hollywood way, the LA way. So I'm going to do it this way. I was in New York at that I had moved back to the city. And I really set out to do Salvador, which was a gigantic film again, I'm crazy. Set is a civil war country in 19 8080s. We started in 85. Journalists, I knew Richard Richard Boyle, a wonderful, wonderful friend, Irishman, had been there and had had a whole story with the death squads down there, and with a woman, and he written about it in his notes, and I took that and with him made it into a screenplay. And I dedicated myself to making this movie at any cost, I would not quit until we made it, I was gonna use my own money I had. At that point, I'd accumulated some money from screenwriting. So I, I had enough to maybe get a bigger loan at the bank. I had a couple of houses when I owned, and so forth and so on. So I was scheming to make this film for $700,000. Now this involves helicopters involves Civil War, it involves involves death squads, but Boyle was so sure that we would get cooperation from the Silva in Salvador, which is a very cost wise, very inexpensive country to shoot him but they never shot a film. It was insane proposition that shows you how desperate I was, I wouldn't give up. And I wrote the script with him. And it was a good script, but nobody wanted to touch it. Because again, it was critical of the US foreign establishment. Oh, God, I just been so many rejections in my life. I can't. I have about 10,000 now. I think you know, I'm sick of it. I'm good at rejection. When you can, something of mine the other day important to me, and I kind of shrugged. It just doesn't add rejection. me. I'm trying to. I think that's the best advice I can give. I, john Daly was introduced to me as an English independent film that he just come to Hollywood, he was making his first steps. He was doing a film with the Falcon movie was Sean Penn. And he was doing he'd been involved with Terminator, the first one, but had had problems with Cameron and him had not gotten along and blah, blah, blah. And also he was involved with.

Alex Ferrari 28:00
Okay, so many. It's hard to keep track.

Oliver Stone 28:03
He was doing that he'd done a nice job with the Gene Hackman movie. Yes. gene editing with the basketball movie.

Alex Ferrari 28:10
Ohh the Hoosiers,

Oliver Stone 28:11
Hoosiers, I love that movie. And so he was he was trying to make films he had some taste. Although he was not known for he was a boxing promoter in Africa during the the alley fight one of them and he had a shady reputation and so forth and so on. But he was a lovely scoundrel. I loved him because he was a Cockney, he was unpretentious from the lower classes and he, you know, he he wanted he didn't have any respect for the establishment. So he was that kind of guy. He he read Salvador and he read it too. I swear this is true story. You never hear it. Very rare story. But he read both he and I, I went in to see him. By the way, I met him through Gerald green who those people who care Gerald green has another character and they were both kind of con men, but they're nice. They were good guys, but they were they were scraping by and I sat in that meeting and john said to me, God, bloody hell good scripts, both of them. Which one do you want to do for us all over? That's a piece of a classic dialogue because you just don't never hear that shit.

Alex Ferrari 29:13

Oliver Stone 29:13
No one says yes. Like that. No one says they all say maybe and then they forget. Or they all say no, but they don't really know what they're talking about. So anyway, I said I want to do Salvador because it's fresh. It's new. And I'm not going to do platoon because I almost made it three times. And it got destroyed on the way and never get made. It's a curse. It's a fucking curse. Phil. Phil here, Salvador. So I started on Salvador and he actually helped me get it made. And there was some road it's in the book. It doesn't end there. There was so many problems making that film. Jimmy Woods was great, but also an extremely pre Madonna and at that time, and I've become great friends with him. But my god, he made this he made the road. He was the star of the film. And anyway, we We pulled it together with about 4 million, 3 million and the money was always questionable. You never knew if it was going to show up the next day, that kind of movie it was. So paste it was pasted together. And you know what it works? Go see it again, please do.

Alex Ferrari 30:16
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. No, it's no it's a it's a fantastic film. I mean, there's a rawness to it. It's so raw, and it's so visceral. It is it's remarkable. So then you do Salvador and then then I get that almost killed me. Right? And then you just jump into another small movie.

Oliver Stone 30:46
90 speaking parts for civil war, helicopter fight battles, all kinds of shit tank battles. But we got it. We got we somehow finished it. And we ran out of money several times. It's a great story. Then john says to me, and we have fights all the way through the editing because john is concerned about the violence. And there was any length and all I had all the usual issues. Big Vision. Three hours, I had to cut it down to two hours and 10. And the violence oh god I had so they rejected it. Every fucking studio distributor in Hollywood rejected that movie that was heartbreaking. was good. It was a good movie, but too much violence too much

Alex Ferrari 31:29
At the time.

Oliver Stone 31:30
So what does he do? He says, fuck. I'm going to make my own distribution company. And he did. He made this Hemdale distribution company. And he literally distributed the film himself in April of 86. It doesn't it doesn't open I mean, he doesn't have any money to really distributed but at least it gets on the map. And there are some decent reviews that aren't people begin to see it and they get excited about it. But it takes time. Meanwhile, he says go make a go mate platoon in Philippines. So I'm going from Mexico, right to Philippines with $6 million now and I very little platoons a big movie. Again, I've been through the rough road now with my cinematographer Bob Richardson and Mike, and Mike and Bruno and various various people. And Alex Oh, so we made the movie at 6 million more efficiently than we did Salvador. Because we were more experienced. And we had all the usual problems with jungle and heat and sticky and rain and all that shit. It wasn't easy. But we plowed through it because we were tough. And, and, lo and behold, I mean, it really took off. I can't tell you how it took off right away. I mean, the moment there was nothing movie where it'd be be film in the Philippines, sort of a chuck norris thing or something. Nobody gave a shit. And you know, the moment we showed it, it was cut in a rough cut. People started reacting and Gee, oh my god, and there isn't anything like this. It's a reality that they did never seen before. A real a grid a reality, because I'd gone into the details of what I have experienced. And that was missing from film war films in general. I've seen a couple that close Korean films, Korean war films, but at that time, it was now it's almost standard, they do it. But it was hard to get the reality of the jungle and the perception of the jungle. And on top of it, it was critical. It was critical of the whole experience, which I think was the best part of it, it was a message saying this thing is a fraud. To say the whole fucking war was a fraud. There were three lies I mentioned in the book, I go into the details, you know, the concept of friendly fire people Americans right kill don't fire is much greater than people know, the concept of killing civilians in in Vietnam was huge. I mean, it was very abundant. And, and not always, but there was a lot of that going on, and accidentally spill overs and stuff like that. And number three, the biggest lie of all was that we're here to win. We're here winning. And that was never true. From the beginning. It was never true from 1947 on it was never true when we got involved with the French. So there was there's a lot of lying going on. And I go back into the concept, the theme of the lie and how the law influences American life. Because my parents had lied so much to me, at the age of 16, they rip apart. And I think we are the happiest family in the world. But no, it's not true. What's going on, boom, here's what's happening. Lie, lie, lie. This is what I learned in my life that people lie in not necessarily out of malicious intent, but out of comfort, or out of fear, various reasons. So that lie which extends from the divorce and 62 extends into Vietnam, for sure. Because that's all I see. I come back to the United States alive, fucked up. A lot of a lot of Vietnamese dope over there. But I learned a lot from actually from the black troops because they were really worried. To the music. I learned a lot about life humanity stain about love in a way it's it's an interesting story. That's suicide story. I got into some of that in platoon. Some of the Charlie Sheen's best friends are black and they kept me locked. They can't be human I say I say closer to me. And the character of Elias by Willem Defoe is very important too. He becomes a figurehead for the young man. You see him at the end of the war, he's divided, he very divided. He's a man of 242 fathers, he says, the sub two sergeants, the two sergeants represent polar opposites. And one of them one Sergeant kills the other. That's the crux of the movies, one sergeant, after he reports after he's reported for a war crime, but the other Sergeant kills that Sergeant under the cover of battle under friendly fire, and gets away with it, except that the young man sees it. And he has to get even. And it leads to its Dynamo, which is pretty strong, where you know what happens, I mean, it doesn't shut those, that kind of stuff doesn't get shown in more films. If you look at the ref, even the ones that followed, it's generally speaking to get the cooperation of the Pentagon, and the movie studios and all that you got to go along with the patriotic or the United States really cannot be criticized, or any of its wars. Now, considering that we relied our way into the six or seven wars since World War Two, I think the intelligence agencies have lied to us so much in the lie persists in American life. I this is a theme for me, obviously, you see it in JFK, and you see it in its, you'll see it again and again. And Snowden, my last one in 2016, I guess, the director who seeks out the lies

Alex Ferrari 36:50
And exposes them, and that's something that you've been that, since the beginning, since the beginning, almost,

Oliver Stone 36:56
I can't help it. And don't believe me, it's gotten me in a lot of hot war.

Alex Ferrari 36:59
I'm all I could only imagine what all over I can only imagine. Now, after the massive success of platoon by box off that success. And you know, Oscars and awards and all that kind of stuff you go into, in my opinion, a decade defining film, which is Wall Street, it really captures a segment of what the 80s were like, for people who wanted to kind of feel what it was like to be there at that time. And I feel that that's something that you do with a lot of your films, you you you define the era so beautifully, like with the doors and JFK.

Oliver Stone 37:34
I just set out to tell the story in the best style I could, I was able to get better and better at filmmaking. It's all about experience. You know, I'm no genius. And I said, I sat with my crew with Bob and Bruno and Alex, we set a style for each film that worked for that film. In other words, JFK was done in a very specific style for that story, as was Natural Born Killers. And so was in Wall Street was done this way. Born on the Fourth of July was very, very hard and almost cinema scope, vision of reality, literal linear story, we made it linear it was the book was not. So each film, I was never thinking about those as defining something. I think a lot of my work since then has also defined for me new things. But if people don't see it yet, they will wonder. I've gotten more and more into documentaries. I've done nine or 10. Now, eight or nine, including The Untold History of United States as well. I think one of my strongest efforts, it was done in 2012. And it was 12 hours long. It was the history of Untold History of this country from 1898 to 2012. with Mr. Obama. Please see it if you if you haven't seen it, you have to see it

Alex Ferrari 38:50
I highly recommend it. I highly, highly recommend it. Yeah, I see I saw when I came out back in the day and I see it. Yeah.I saw it.

Oliver Stone 38:59
You got to pay attention.

Alex Ferrari 39:00
No, it's Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Now, when you when you were making Wall Street, did you have Do you did you work at the Paris Mercantile Exchange when you were a teenager? Is that correct?

Oliver Stone 39:12
Have you ever had you know that?

Alex Ferrari 39:14
Well, I do I do a little bit of research. And is that one of the things that kind of drew you to that story? What made you make Wall Street because there's so much passion behind there?

Oliver Stone 39:22
Yeah, I worked on this on this stock on the cocoa and sugar exchange in Paris one summer. And my father was on wall street for most of his life from the 1930s on 1930 234. in that era, know it for you became he was he was a four walk right in the depression and then he became a stockbroker, an analyst, an analyst in those he worked his way up, it was the old system. He was the hell Holbrook character in a sense, or the more Nietzschean character from Wall Street. He was the old fashioned values the way do it the right way. Wall Street for him was a serious religion. It was The engine of American business and I mean, he meant it seriously because it was Wall Street was where you would go to get money, you would go to capitalize your business, for research and for and for capitalization. I mean, it's very important to build companies was his idea of America, it was building. And he saw Wall Street as the most positive factor, which I believe it was for many people, although, obviously, there's some privilege and abuse. Some people take advantage of two more. But my father was a good man. And I don't think he was money was not his goal. It was about his he was an intellectual, he wrote monthly letters, so he really cared about this. He wouldn't have, he wouldn't if he had lived past 85, he would have been, I think, surprised to see a Gordon Gekko type. When when I made the movie with the business was changing, I'd had friends who were making millions of dollars at that age at a young age, my age on Wall Street. Well, actually, I was that that time I was actually 43. So I'm saying that people were making money in their 30s in their some in their late 20s. This was unheard of in My Father's Day, all right now. And of course, it was revealed a new business was revealed the concept of businessmen like Gecko going into companies and getting their stockholders to vote for them and Bill breaking up these companies and in some cases, cannibalizing them, that is to say, taking businesses like big business and take a subsection of it and sell it off. cannibalize it. So what he does in the movie that Charlie Sheen's father is a union rep is a union rep at the airline, he thought he runs the union. I'm sorry. ignore that.

Alex Ferrari 41:39
It's blue star Blue Star, if I remember correctly.

Oliver Stone 41:41
Yeah, he takes on a tip from Charlie that was given to him. He takes advantage of the naivete of Charlie. Douglas, Michael Douglas does any buys into the company. It's one of his many things he's doing. He buys into the company and eventually gets control of it, and then breaks it up, destroying so many jobs. And I showed that it was a pain in that and I think that's important. And the father feels betrayed by the son. The father has a heart attack the son understands the, the scope of his mistake was is huge. So many people get hurt. And all his life, you know, he, in other words, he repents he gets his way, you'll see what happens in the movie, he, he goes, he changes. And he goes after Gekko reveals him to the SEC, and takes the fall, he of himself takes the fall he gets involved, he gets to go to jail. And presumably he's learned his lesson and comes out of jail. And he'll be a good man a better man. That's a true story. But the surprise of the movie, of course, was that first of all, they didn't want to make that either. Because who cares about business? There was not many movies before that. There were serious. This was and they they they distributed it very weirdly. So whole story they all right, right about the next book, but it that it actually hung around and it made money over time, it became a big cult favorite more than that it became a, as you say it affected a lot of young people who went into this and went into Wall Street. Some of them I've met since then some of them made fortunes on Wall Street, they owe me

Alex Ferrari 43:23
A small commission.

Oliver Stone 43:24
In a way I was my father's my father's continuation, because he was a broker made money for people not himself. The but the, the shock was at Michael Douglas, who was the supporting character, the bad guys just becomes the star of the movie in people's minds. And of course, Wednesday, fucking wins the Oscar. The film doesn't get nominated for anything, not even a screenplay. And there are many witty lines in it. But now he went to Michael and Charlie went his own way in his own career. And I think he was a talented young actor. But you know where he went, he went into it wasn't into girls and money. But he was the first part of the film. I don't think he was his second book.

Alex Ferrari 44:10
Fair enough. Fair enough. Now, let me ask you, what do you hope people take away from your life's work,

Oliver Stone 44:17
I have no such intention. I I make the films for to satisfy each inner need. And I try to make it as broad and, and entertaining as possible that you can never tell me if people walk away from Wall Street Oh, man. I'm here. I'm studying engineering and science. And I'm going to drop that I'm going to go to Wall Street and make a fortune. That wasn't the intention.

Alex Ferrari 44:36

Oliver Stone 44:37
So you can never offer the box office success is a misunderstanding between the audience and the other.

Alex Ferrari 44:45
All right, fair enough. Now, what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business in today's world.

Oliver Stone 44:55
I would just do it the same way I would write direct myself. I would take The limited amount of money I would make the most creative imaginative film I could. Because you have easier tools, less money is involved. I wouldn't necessarily do it on an iPhone and unless I had to, but you know what I'm saying? It's you can get beat you can make the film The question, of course, is how good is it? And will it be distributed? that's a that's a tough game. And in that regard, I can just say, show it and show it at the right places. I a lot of people take the film festival route, which is pretty long and hard. Because there's so many film festivals now. But you know, you got to do what you got to do to show it to people show it. I would add a few few layers to that. I would say, if you can afford it, go to acting school. Yes, reading drama. Study writing. Acting is very important. You know, I took a triad. I wasn't very good, but you must watch actors, you must understand them to some degree. By going to acting class and seeing the fundamentals how they're formed, how people shaped the characters and some succeeds. I'm done. You see a lot. So that's a very important thing. And I would that's a no an acidic why Melanie? Okay. I have, oh, I would end writing. Keep writing. write a diary. Write write about incidents in your life. Write about your take it and translate the personal onto paper. Now on paper. It's a whole other ballgame. You this happened? It was serious. It was violent. It was this. It affected you. But now is it here on paper? And that's, that's another transfer of energy is it's it's what it's about.

Alex Ferrari 46:46
Okay, now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life,

Oliver Stone 46:52
and read

Alex Ferrari 46:54
and read, read, read lots, read lots and not just film books?

Oliver Stone 46:58
She plays that scene, you know, structure plays, and movies. Oh, God, I saw how many movies? You forget movies. That's the problem in movies, you have to see more than once to really absorb them. As you know. You probably seen all the junk movies three four times.

Alex Ferrari 47:14
I've seen a few I've seen a few junk movies a few I've seen a few healthy movies.

Oliver Stone 47:18
I bet you missed frogs.

Alex Ferrari 47:21
I didn't miss frogs. Yes.I have not seen frogs. frogs.

Oliver Stone 47:26
Check it out. AIP 1974 five is a great movie is scared the shit out of me. I've never go back to horror films since then. Except for one the witch that that broke me up to I can't see horror films anymore. And that's why I didn't succeed in horror films because I was too much of a masochist. And I was always turning the the the horror was going inward into the guy's head. So to be a horror filmmaker, you have to be sadistic to some degree you have to want to nail the audience like Hitchcock did or dipalma.

Alex Ferrari 47:57
Now the lesson that took you the longest to learn you were asking me about something else? I'm sorry. Yeah. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the business or in life? Barbara Walters time? If you were a tree, Oliver, what kind of tree? Well, the longest to learn to love. Okay, that's great answer. Great, great answer. Now, where can people purchase your book chasing the light? everywhere? No, you can't. It's

Oliver Stone 48:28
For all I know, it's on Amazon. It's on. You know, iTunes, wherever you you check for your books. That's obviously the place to go. There are good bookstores in New York and LA and I guess in Texas somewhere. There might be that I'm sure I've heard it's in New York. I you know, the distribution in LA, I don't know it's spotty. This COVID thing is ruined so much. So many books that have not been open flat. You know, this book is doing well in spite of that. And we you know, it's there is an interest in it. And I think it's a good biography. But you can always get it somewhere.

Alex Ferrari 49:09
And when can we expect to sequel? And when can we expect the sequel? The next one?

Oliver Stone 49:16
I haven't, I have it in my head. I have diaries. It will take it out a year or two, too long story. It's a hard story. It doesn't end in 86. It's a great pie. And it's the realization of a dream. And it's the end of the act in your life, so to speak. You arrive, I was 40 years old. And I was on in my way I was on top of the world is feeling good. But it's a hell of a hell of a load to carry success. You don't have any idea how many people hit on you, or need things from you. And all of a sudden you're growing and your circle is growing and you have so many people in your life. It's a whole other ballgame.

Alex Ferrari 49:56
I can ask you one last question. throughout your career. You have worked within the studio system, somewhat, you know, finding money here and there. It's in the studio system. How do you work within that system and still maintain the creative fight that you have in all of your work and main fight for that vision?

Oliver Stone 50:13
You have to do it step by step. I don't, there is no formula. thing is I did enter into the into the studio system. You can't say platoon or Salvador were done inside that system. No, they were not. They were independent films. And they were recognized by the Independent Spirit people. But after that, yes, I had an entree and Wall Street. Yes, was made by Fox, what 20th Century Fox under rupert murdoch, and Barry Diller. And that was an eye. And then I worked. But I have to realize I always did what I wanted to do. I never, except for once or twice where I was compromised by the studio and I managed to always do it my way. Was my script, or I co written or even if my name is not on it, believe me. It was my It was my story. It was something I had totally stick put my stamp on. I never, I mean, I never I never worked from it never got scripts from the studio never worked. They'd say, Are you interested in this or lands? Sometimes it was a very big commercial film, but I couldn't do it. I couldn't get myself in. Because a commercial film in their minds and action film has to have a climax every 15 minutes or an action scene. And that's for putting a shape on it right away away. You know, Tom Cruise has to run here and he has to do that. And after 15 more minutes, yeah, you know, you it's it fucks you up? You got to do it. I found my way through it. I don't you know, talk radio was done independently again, with Garth Verbinski in Canada. And then president. The film that was followed by Born on the Fourth of July was done under difficult conditions with universal limited money. But Cruz was a movie movie star. And it was a story about a paraplegic. So obviously, they're not too keen on seeing Tom Cruise in a wheelchair for half the movie. You know, you understand these kinds of problems come up, always fighting about it. JFK, I sold it as a thriller. I sold it to Warner Brothers. They love the idea. It's a murder story. We they didn't think about nor did I have all the political implications of saying this. So but I had no doubt that I was following that a true path of Jim garrison who had started this horrible investigation that shocked the world, but he actually stuck to his guns. He was the first public figure a DA in New Orleans who actually did that. Nobody else opened their mouth about that awful crime that was buried in the bullshit of the Warren report. garrison had tremendous godson paid a huge price, that kind of thing. Nixon was done in from inside me, so made by Warner Brothers wouldn't make it it was made by an independent mariachis, not Mariota, Eddie Andy Vanya. Independent doors was made independent with Mario, because you see, I would go back and forth. These were independent producers became empowered in the 80s. From video sales, that was a whole difference. We have video sales, and that group of people Dino Doris was one of them. But Mary Oh, Andy, john Daly, they were able to carve out a little kingdoms from an Harvey Weinstein out of their little out of these video sales. And that became a business until it became abuse as all these things do. The numbers changed. And by the late 90s, the middle 90s the numbers were insane. And people were expecting too much. It's always the golden goose, you know, every okay video sale, and then we're gonna get we're mark up the prices. And we say it's worth this much. And it changes it distorts, and people accurate started asking for 15 $20 million, a picture, it all changed and became more corporate. And that's what happens. The corporations move in because the money is bigger. And these independent producers start to disappear. You can you can track the flow of them through time. And a lot of them disappear because the core studios or the corporations take over that business.

Alex Ferrari 54:19
Right. Oliver, I appreciate your time so much. Thank you so much for being on the show. And and thank you for doing being you all these years. Yeah. Thank you very, very much for that. And I recommend the book highly for everybody to read. So think it's going to fit

Oliver Stone 54:35
The question. Are you going to finish it because

Alex Ferrari 54:38
It's right. It's right here.

Oliver Stone 54:40
I won't finish it.

Alex Ferrari 54:41
Oh, no, I will. I will. I love I love books like this and you're writing in the book. I can feel like I'm there. And that's such a wonderful experience. And you're here and I'm hearing stories like I'm a movie geek. So all these kind of stories I love listening to and the inside stuff of stuff and I want That was when I picked up the book I expected to be like, you know, this is an Oliver Stone book. If it's anything like his movies, he's going to be raw, and he's going to tell the truth. And that's exactly what I've gotten so far, as far as I've gotten in the book. So I really do appreciate you putting this book out. And I hope this book and the show inspires many filmmakers and screenwriters out there. So thank you so much for your time, sir.

Oliver Stone 55:21
Remember the lie?

Alex Ferrari 55:23
Is the is the theme is the theme. Thank you, my friend. Merry Christmas.

Oliver Stone 55:27
It's a line of dialogue. And Nixon, by the way,

Alex Ferrari 55:30
yeah, of course,

Oliver Stone 55:31
it Nixon says that he's a great scene. Okay. Take care of yourself, Alex.

Alex Ferrari 55:34
All right, my friend. Thank you again. Thank you. Bye bye. I want to thank Oliver Stone so much for coming on the show and sharing his filmmaking journey with the tribe. As I promised this was going to be a legendary episode of the indie film hustle podcast, and I hope I did not disappoint you guys. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, including how to read Oliver's new book chasing the light writing, directing, and surviving Platoon, Midnight Express Scarface Salvador and the movie game, all you have to do is go to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/425. And if you want to get a free copy of the audio book, just head over to free film book.com and sign up for a free trial of audible and you can download all of his books for free and listen, I will also put that link in the show notes. As a filmmaker Oliver Stone really loves to stir up controversy he is a larger than life figure. And again, such a unique filmmaker that was able to play it and still is able to play within the studio system, but many times is much more at home, outside the studio system working with less money and making independent films. And again, I hope this interview inspires filmmakers and screenwriters out there to never give up and never surrender their dreams. Thank you so much for listening, guys. As always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. Stay safe out there. And I'll talk to you soon.



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Where Hollywood Comes to Talk

Oliver Stone

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Platoon, Wall Street, JFK)

Edward Burns

(Brothers McMullin, She's the One)

Richard Linklater

Oscar® Nominated Writer/Director
(Boyhood, School of Rock)

Eric Roth

Oscar® Winning Screenwriter
(Forrest Gump, Dune)

Oscar® Winning Writers/Directors
(Everything, Everywhere, All At Once)

Jason Blum

(Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver)

Oscar® Nominated Producer
(Get Out, Whiplash)

Chris Moore sml

Oscar® Nominated Producer
(Good Will Hunting, American Pie)

(Menace II Society, Book of Eli)

Marta Kauffman sml

Oscar® Winning Writer/Director
(Last Samurai, Blood Diamond)

Emmy® Winning Writer & Showrunner
(Friends, Grace and Frankie)

Free Training of The Week


How to Direct Big Action Sequences on a Micro-Budget

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Join veteran director Gil Bettman as he shares the secrets to directing big budget action on a micro budget.