EXCLUSIVE: Three-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone has gone back to his roots for Chasing the Light: Writing, Directing, and Surviving Platoon, Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador and the Movie Game. Just published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the book is a personal reminiscence, the coming of age of a great filmmaker. Stone describes in detail everything from his experience in Vietnam, liberal drug use upon his return that once almost got him tried on drug smuggling charges, finding and losing love, and scratching his way from being a part-time cab driver to an Oscar winner for his Midnight Express script in just 18 months.
Chasing the Light is a gracefully written memoir with plenty of dish about the formation of a great career. Bottom line: Sure, talent helps, and Stone had it both as writer (Midnight Express, Scarface) and director. But the real keys are an iron will to succeed and a willingness to steamroll or find ways around those in the way. Stone regarded films like Salvador and Platoon as life-and-death propositions, risking much to create edgy pictures reflective of the pent-up rage he honed in the jungle patrols of Vietnam and channeled into storytelling. Here, Stone revisits those days, and much more.
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DEADLINE: Why the urge to write your own coming-of-age-as-a-filmmaker story? Who is the audience you are aiming for?
OLIVER STONE: I wrote a self-confessional novel when I was 19, which was published in 1997 as A Child’s Night Dream, so I’ve always had the writing bug in me. I consider myself a writer and a director. Sometimes I co-wrote, and sometimes I directed things I didn’t write, but there’s a side of me that’s my mother, another that’s my father. My father’s side is the writer’s side. My mother’s side is the director’s side. So, let’s say there’s an urge in me to write, and hopefully this is not my last book. But this is my first real attempt at confessional type of literature since that book I wrote at 19 years old.
And then, over the years, people have asked me many questions, as I’ve been to different colleges, universities all over the world. How I got started, how I wrote my first scripts — how do you do things in the film business? I wanted to write some conclusions that I’ve come to. There is, at times, a teaching element in this book. I remember stopping to explain what a sound mix means to Platoon and how it’s very important not to do a certain kind of mix, and it’s very important to learn how to say no to experts, expert technical people. Because they’ll tell you do it this way, and you have to learn how to say no, and sometimes that’s very difficult. So, there are a lot of lessons in the book.
DEADLINE: It is always refreshing to see that even a filmmaker with three Oscars on his mantel started with little, and you capture your desperation in recounting films like Salvador, where you bluffed your way to the finish, doing crazy explosion scenes with nervous actors, keeping the completion bond company at bay and finding money in dribs and drabs…
STONE: Sometimes it’s as simple as, “Just get it done. We’re struggling here, this is the end of the line, we have to shoot this at any cost, and we have to get it right.” Sometimes it was not the most subtle direction. … I felt like, in Platoon, that the script was written, it was there. I wasn’t a director yet, but I was learning to be a director, and how to direct actors and such. It was about getting it done for a price, a low-budget price. You’re old enough to remember, to have a sense of how low those budgets were for both Salvador and Platoon.
DEADLINE: Shoestring, for sure.
STONE: Salvador was half [the budget] of Platoon, so you can imagine how insane a proposition it was. I use it as a lesson to teach that if you want to make a movie, sometimes you can will it. You can just will it into being because you want it so bad. I mean, how crazy were we, [co-writer] Richard Boyle and I, to go down to [El] Salvador to lobby a corrupt government with a right-wing military into giving us their military equipment to make a film halfway about them crushing the guerrillas? And then the plan was to go to Mexico and do the other side of the story. That’s insane, but you see, out of that willingness, out of that desire to get it made at any cost, sell my mother … well, probably not that, but mortgage my house. I had a new baby. I was 39 years old, and I had two failures as a director. It wasn’t easy, you know, to put it all on the line, and I was willing to. Thank God, my ass got saved by John Daly, who I give credit to for both films, Salvador and Platoon.
Also, part of the reason you write a confessional type of book like this is that you really want to come to terms with yourself and, what is the meaning of my life? So I decided to end this in 1986 because, in a sense, that was the first part of my life — achieving a dream at any cost. I had an approval issue with my father, of course, like a lot of people do, and unfortunately, he didn’t see it. He didn’t live to see it, but it was, as I say at the end of the book — at Chapter 10, right before the Oscar, the closeout of the book — I say I’ve reached a place where I’ve come to terms with what Vietnam was for me and what it did to our country. But I say there’s a bigger story here, and it’s a story that we were responsible for the bombing and the murder of some 3 million civilians, and that is a much larger issue than the story of my platoon.
DEADLINE: There is an enormity to that discussion that certainly goes beyond a personal recollection…
STONE: And there’s that paragraph where I write that I was scared of these thoughts, scared of where it would take me. You have a sense of where I’m going to go in time, where I’m going to end up, like, being much more critical of the political structure than I was then, but these were baby steps. This was that first inkling. Politically, I moved from my father’s conservative world, you know, the Wall Street, Eisenhower-type. Gradually. Vietnam didn’t change me overnight, like it did Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July.
DEADLINE: You had a better perspective than most, being in a platoon, in firefights and getting injured in battle…
STONE: It took me years, and you know I was exposed to the Jane Fondas of the world, but it was going back to Salvador, going back to the Central America, seeing Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica and Guatemala, seeing the American military presence there and the spooks in the CIA that convinced me that this was a repeat of what I’d seen in Saigon as a teacher in 1965. So this is what motivated me.
DEADLINE: You taught in Saigon before you enlisted. I will never forget seeing Platoon for the first time. I worked for New York Newsday, had to stay over because of a snowstorm and my Transit Authority supervisor father stayed with me and we went to the movie. We couldn’t talk for a while afterwards, and I recall feeling sick when your alter ego Chris tells his platoon mates that he wasn’t drafted, he actually volunteered for this nightmare. When you were stuck in the mud and the rain, an elusive enemy all around you, what was your lowest moment? Did you regret having put yourself in harm’s way?
STONE: You said lowest moment? No, I didn’t [regret it]. I was 19. Like many adolescents, suicide was certainly in my mind. I’d failed. I’d written a book with my last hope to justify myself in this East Coast competitive world. I wasn’t making it at Yale. My father was pissed at me. Tuition had gone up in smoke. [That book] was a chance to say, “Well, I do have something to offer,” and it was this book. When it was rejected, although it was considered seriously, it devastated me.
Frankly, I thought I’d overstepped, I’d become too narcissistic. I was writing about myself, pretentiously. I really thought I needed to see what the world was really, really, really like. I’d seen enough of it in Vietnam [while teaching], because the war was starting up then. But I didn’t see the real jungle. So I said, “I’m not going to shoot myself, I’m not going to put a bullet in my head, no. But I am going to take this risk, and I’m going to go out there and see what happens, and if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.” I did have that fatalism about it, you know? Also, I was a good Christian at that point, too, in the sense it was up to God. I don’t know that I could say that now, but [back then it was] roll the dice.
DEADLINE: So regret did not haunt your every step, when you saw the lack of a cohesive plan, and carnage all around you…
STONE: No. No. I wouldn’t do that. I didn’t bitch at all. On the contrary, I volunteered an extra three months. I put 15 months in because I wanted to be out of the Army so much. My problem with the Army, and I wrote it in Chapter 3 pretty clearly is that, I hated the rules, the regulations. I hated the Man, the authority figure, the bullying, the constant bullying which is all over the Army, and that’s why I wanted to get out of it. That’s why I related to the Black soldiers the best, because they had the same attitude. They didn’t believe in the war. They thought it was bullshit. So when I see them, I make a point of that connection, because it kept me … and if you saw Platoon, you know that that was the music, the grass, this was very important to [Chris]. And then the prison experience after the war, right away, on top of it, drives home this … split in America that you saw in the young people in the ’60s. You see it again now. I mean there’s a big split, the same split.
DEADLINE: You mean your incarceration after you got back and tried to find your footing and got caught with weed on a return trip from Mexico, facing federal smuggling charges and a five- to 20-year sentence? Besides real experience that grounded your writing on Salvador and Platoon, what did your war experience give you? From your description, the locations and shooting of those two films with challenging actors sounded as miserable as your description of Vietnam warfare. Both seemed pretty awful.
STONE: Yeah. Salvador was the most chaotic film I ever made, next to maybe Seizure, my first film, no question, but Salvador was a classic, and I don’t think people would believe some of the stuff we did. You know, we set out with very little money to make 93 speaking parts of civil war, assassinations, death squads, everything, the works, a war, a battle. It’s a big deal, and we did it with just … wishes. I wrote somewhere about what the jungle did to me. … I’m just looking for it. …going to film school was a different experience, this is Page 63, because now I had a new acquired savagery from seeing it for real in Vietnam, an instinct I learned, and I knew in my gut that this savagery was necessary to see, to feel, to hear, everything, above all, the six inches in front of my face. My senses were now joined with this new thing, this 16-millimeter camera, Bolex, Arriflex, whatever you could get from the school equipment store, which would become my ears and eyes to record everything around me.
My eyes had grown omnipresent and nervous in the jungle. They’d become 360, ears attuned to the slightest shift in sound … and then it goes on to talk about you use those senses in the jungle, that that’s what I learned, to f*cking think and feel and be and react and use the space around you. And of course, I had the cerebral side from my education, my upbringing, but it was too cerebral. I couldn’t function. If I was cerebral, I wouldn’t have survived. In fact, I got my ass kicked for the first few weeks in the jungle. I was the newbie, like Charlie Sheen in the picture, and you see it, and the idea in Platoon was that the boy, Charlie, goes to the dark side too. He becomes a killer. And he takes away from the war part of Elias, who existed, and a part from Barnes. Somebody told me they didn’t think that those sergeants ever existed, but I make clear in the book that they existed. But in different units, and I brought them together in my imagination.
DEADLINE: You tell a story about how a Filipino production manager on Salvador moved rigging which you told him not to do, and it took two hours to put it back. You wrote that you kicked him in the butt, and then he came back and hit you with a bag that supposedly had a gun in it, and you were told there was a rumor that someone was going to put a contract on your life. How frightened are you in these moments?
STONE: Well, frankly, I’d been through a lot on Salvador. I mean after Salvador, we were used to anything happening. Mexico is rough, too. I mean there was a lot of shit with Jimmy Woods … there were contracts out on Jimmy, I think. You had to take it with a grain of salt. Hey, I was almost killed, actually, on Seizure, on my first film, which I didn’t much talk about. But the special effects man came after me with a machete. When you’re struggling, it’s part of the deal. I was tough, at the end, I mean that we toughened up in the jungle. It was hard. Every day mattered. We couldn’t lose an hour, and this jerkoff was … every day, the fire trucks were late. He had excuses and blah, blah, blah, and I just, I wanted … I’m the only guy who pays when we’re late. In other words, if we don’t get the day in on a low-budget film, you got to cut from script. And the script was sacred to me. I was fighting for my script, so any attack on the time on the film was an attack on the script, and that was the most important thing. You can see that I would go crazy. Sometimes, we didn’t even have 50 percent of the crew working. It was that hard.
DEADLINE: Hey Oliver, what happened with the guy trying to kill you with the machete?
STONE: Oh, in Seizure? He never found me. I knew he was looking for me. He was drunk, and I was … and they got me out of the house because they didn’t want to have a confrontation. He was insane. He was fired. There was a whole story behind it, too, but…
DEADLINE: You describe in detail the complexities of working in rough locations with Jim Belushi and Jimmy Woods on Salvador. On Platoon, what did you need to do to coax Charlie Sheen to be the best version of Chris and Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger to turn in those intense performances?
STONE: I think it was there in the script … and in the book I write that I don’t think I made that huge a contribution as a director because I was learning the ropes. It was more about getting the shots, setting up the whole thing. It was in the script, what Charlie was. Yeah, there were a couple of talks [with Charlie] and I’d outline it, and then I had Dale Dye, who was doing a lot of the technical work, and he had a very good memory of all the details. He was a real lifer, a Marine, and they were getting all the equipment down and figuring out how to walk in the jungle, how do you operate? For me, to get reality, it was enough just that they never slept, so I pushed them hard on the sleeping part and we tried to keep them up. We broke all the f*cking SAG rules, as you can imagine. There’s no 12-hour turnaround when you’re working like that. God, and we lost a few actors at one point. I talk about that [in the book]. I wanted to get them just physically worn down. But they loved it. I mean, they got into it. They were actors. They loved being military. They never had had that experience in their lives, and here was the real thing, or as close to the real thing as they could get. Berenger, Dafoe … were leaders, but there was an eclectic cast from all over the country. They all helped each other. It was wonderful to see. So it was not really like what films would become for me later, with rehearsals and this and that where you build the concept of the movie. It was already there, in the writing. It was in me and Dale. If you take a look in our faces, we knew what was going on. We knew how it would look, how it should look.
DEADLINE: You’ve said a key to making it is not being willing to compromise your vision. You discuss the conflict over whether to have Chris kill Barnes after that crazy firefight, this after he knows that Barnes killed Elias. You write: “Should Chris Taylor not kill Barnes? Walk away? Leave his miserable soul in hell? In movies the hero is never supposed to stoop to the level of the villain – never. It’s a rule instilled in theatrical dramaturgy and, more viscerally, in movie blood. And yet, in the screenplay, I left myself both choices. And when it came time to shoot the film and edit it a decade later, I did what the brutality in me demanded. I killed him. I killed the bastard because I wanted to.” You said it shocked the audience, that some who thought they were watching your personal story called for you to be prosecuted as a war criminal. Oliver, what do you think would have happened to Platoon had you chosen the other path and not had Chris kill Barnes?
STONE: Oh, I think it would’ve been accepted as a movie, but for me, it wouldn’t have been the same thing. It wouldn’t have been as brutal. You see, the movie had to be brutal on an essential level, and you know, I can’t say … it was never a huge issue. No one questioned it, but I did because it was a hypothetical situation: What would I have done? If the platoon had descended to that brutality, which I believe it would’ve under the extreme conditions it was under, it would’ve happened. And by the way, it started to happen a lot more. There’s a lot of fraggings, much more than the Pentagon ever, ever admitted to. I you go into the history of it, they’ll admit to some several hundred fraggings, but it was far more than that, you know? You know what fraggings are, right?
DEADLINE: Killing your commanding officer?
STONE: Yeah. A lot. A lot of that was going on. At one point, the Pentagon issued a report. It was about ’71, I believe, saying that the war in Vietnam had to be terminated, ended or brought to a close because the American troops were on the edge of mutiny, like the French troops were in World War I. It’s a document that you can find in the Pentagon, which means the troops in the field were not cooperating with their officers as much as they used to. They had turned against the war. They thought it was useless because they knew that Lyndon Johnson had quit, and [Richard] Nixon was making all kinds of noise about peace with honor. There was no reason to die in Vietnam. So it got very difficult after ’69. I wasn’t there. I left in ’68. But I was seeing the beginnings of it. After Martin Luther King got shot, there was a lot of dissension.
DEADLINE: You write that you contemplated continuing Chris’ story after Platoon with another movie.
STONE: Oh yeah.
DEADLINE: What were you thinking happened to that young man after he returned, injured in that nightmarish battle?
STONE: As I said in the book, I called it Second Life, and I had written something similar to it, but it was too Sam Peckinpah with too much violence. It would have to have been a different kind of movie. I felt my life in New York was not the usual life of a draftee. When I met Ron Kovic to write Born on the Fourth of July in ’77, I found somebody … now, I hadn’t done Platoon yet, so I had written Born back in ’77. But when I met him, I said, “This guy is more what I think I’m looking for. This is the return home. This is as stark as it can get.” I went with his return, and that kind of vitiated the need to do my return.
DEADLINE: You discuss studying film at NYU on the GI Bill, where Martin Scorsese was what sounds like this hippie professor. You describe making this short 16mm mostly b&w film with no dialogue, Last Year in Vietnam, that contrasted a soldier’s time in the jungle with the New York streets in the winter. You showed it to the class, which was silent at the end. Except for Scorsese, who jumped the discussion by saying, ‘Well, this is a filmmaker.’ You describe it as your coming out, the first affirmation you got, your diploma. Very touching. I wonder how you felt when you watched his film Taxi Driver, which dealt so effectively with a former soldier trying to figure out where to place his rage…
STONE: Oh, Taxi Driver was brilliant. Paul Schrader wrote the script and Marty did a great job. It had nothing to do with me. I wore a green jacket like that, but the guy in their movie was … I don’t know if he’d been a vet. No, I don’t think he’d been a vet. He had not been a vet. He was wearing a veteran’s jacket or pretended to be, but I don’t think he was.
DEADLINE: I thought he was.
STONE: His behavior was psychotic from the get-go. I think it was a wonderful movie, but and some of the details of the taxi are absolutely correct, but it’s just a coincidence because I didn’t start driving until ’70 … yeah, I started driving in ’70, ’71. It was Marty’s first big, big, big movie, and it was a classic. As to what he was like in class, very dynamic, but he wasn’t the Marty that has become this legend in Hollywood. It’s more like he was just a guy on the make, you know? He was great with his energy and his devotion. I compared it to Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest in the sense that he treated movies as sacred, and at the same time, he would talk about them with enormous enthusiasm. But he knew, I think … we all … I knew, at least, that he knew that most of us would not succeed in this. We were dilettantes, masturbating. It wasn’t going to work out for most of us.
DEADLINE: Your experiences writing Midnight Express are fascinating, from getting high and giving an unfocused Golden Globes victory speech that director Alan Parker told you would cost you the Oscar, to winning the Oscar. You write about being upset with the film’s subject, Billy Hayes, who later criticized the movie, saying he did in fact have Turkish friends and that he had smuggled hash into Turkey numerous times. You felt betrayed by how his story changed after the movie came out.
STONE: Well, I heard about it for the first time that he smuggled four times, out of Turkey in 2017 when the documentary came out. So that was almost 30 years after? He comes out and he says, you know, blithely, like, and proudly … you know I’m a drug warrior, it was my fourth time. Well, if I had known that, it would’ve changed the whole nature of the movie. For me, and for Peter Guber and Parker, he was this kid that was innocent. I mean not innocent, but he was naïve, and we could understand that he’d been really … he screwed up, like I went to prison for the same thing, right? And I was not a smuggler. But I was shocked, and so I played off of my own experience, as well as that I felt like I related to Billy.
But it turns out … and he never mentioned this, it was like a scheme and he’d done it before. So when I read that, and plus all the criticism the film had taken … some of the critics hated the movie from the get-go and always did. They still mentioned it because it was a very controversial movie, and it still has a lot of heat, tension to it. You can still see that movie and still be sitting there at the edge of your seat.
STONE: So some of these critics just hated it because it was vulgar, very popular, and they used Billy’s allegations against the movie. And so Billy was being real smug and saying, you know, “I tried to tell these guys the real story, but they didn’t … they wanted to make a movie,” and blah, blah, blah. It’s all crap. He didn’t mind at all. He vetted the script. He was there. I think Alan Parker threw him off the set. I don’t know. I wasn’t invited, as you know. But when things went well, I think Billy was seen as a promoter even then.
DEADLINE: You wrote a bunch of other memorable scripts, including Conan the Barbarian. I’m imagining that collision of testosterone between you and John Milius and Arnold, can you describe that chemical mix? There must be a good story in there somewhere.
STONE: I wish there were, but unfortunately, you see, after Dino [De Laurentiis] took the project from Ed Pressman, he never came through. He said he would respect our script and all that, but it was just a joke. No, John didn’t even consult. I mean, yeah, I saw him a few times, but I had no say. It wasn’t anything like a collaboration, and Arnold was new to the movies. He was very happy with John, and except for that experience I write about, going and taking him to the beach, I never really had much to do with the movie.
DEADLINE: I’m sure that seeing your words taken in ways you can’t control would be tough, but did you have any idea Arnold would shortly become one of the biggest global stars, Austrian accent and all?
STONE: Well, as I said in the book, I wouldn’t underestimate him because he’s pretty shrewd. You knew he wasn’t going to be Al Pacino, but he was going to be governor of California.
DEADLINE: How surprised are you that people still quote lines from Scarface, with a big remake in the works? Why does that movie, which Brian De Palma directed from your script with Al Pacino as Tony Montana, have such staying power?
STONE: I’ve been hearing for 30 years another movie was going to happen. Are they really making it?
DEADLINE: They say they are.
STONE: Son of Scarface? I don’t know. That’s ridiculous. No, Scarface was just, it had street cred. That’s real and I knew it at the time because I saw it on Broadway, and I could see the crowds were stirred up by it, mostly Black, mostly Latino and New York Puerto Rican and Black, and the white drug crowd, they were reacting. But it was hated by and it was dismissed by most of the critics. It was just like a Midnight Express kind of movie, you know, vulgar.
So, for me, it was, as I said, it was a disappointment because of my fight with [producer Martin] Bregman. Marty and I split, and he was my mentor in many ways, and it was important because I had a script with him. So my hopes went down the drain, and that really, that hurt, and also I got cut off. I mean, they were pissed at me for giving Al my notes, and they never forgave me, Marty and Brian [De Palma] both. So, you know, for me, it was a tough time. I didn’t enjoy it at all, and the script was not admired at that time except … because most of the people in the industry were not street people. So I considered it, in the end, an inside-the-park home run because it really did work, and people loved it in its crazy way, and it’s gotten me a lot of free drinks and a lot of … I got into Salvador’s right-wing party with it, and I used it … many times, it came in handy.
DEADLINE: After your Vietnam experience, and Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, I was surprised to read that at one point Don Simpson offered you the job writing Top Gun. You write about how movies like Patton glorified war, and killing. How would your version have differed from the gung-ho one that we saw on the screen and which has a sequel coming when theaters reopen?
STONE: Top Gun? I saw it again, recently. I think it’s enjoyable as a beautifully made film by Tony Scott. I mean he certainly had a style about him and a class, the music, you know, the big guns, the whole macho thing. But ultimately, if you pay attention to the movie, it’s a very dangerous message because it basically encourages the concept of war, the concept of competing against Russian pilots and beating them and teasing them in the air and doing all those things that are crazy. This is serious business, and Americans always treat war like a bit of a fantasy, like a video game. That’s what I think is most dangerous about it, and it’s been most dangerous about the films we’ve made since 2001. The whole patriotism thing of the Patriot Act. I mean, it’s just gone crazy. There’s no sense of reality in these TV things or movie things that I’ve seen. I have not seen any back to reality.
DEADLINE: You made two really interesting movies about presidents Richard Nixon and George W Bush. Is the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency movie a gold mine?
STONE: Oh, it could be except he’s changing the script every day. He can outperform any movie. It’d be crazy to make a movie [now]. He’s quite a performer, you know, he reminds me of King Lear. He’s quite mad, in a way. He’s, you know, “Which daughter loves me more?” You know he wants to be loved so much, and he’s so tyrannical. I don’t know if he realizes some of the things he says, but it’s so dopey.
DEADLINE: Trump puts out this tough-guy vibe, he doesn’t have to wear a mask because he’s so tough, and yet people bring up his many deferments from Vietnam due to bone spurs, right?
DEADLINE: Since we look back on Vietnam historically as a wrong war, is it fair to second-guess or hold it against those who found a way out of going?
STONE: Well, there is a certain rot in my generation. Trump is part of it. He’s another one who didn’t go, but look who else didn’t go, Mr. Bush. Well, he was one of the worst who … he lied. He basically, you remember that whole Dan Rather story. A lot of it was true. Bush, I’m talking about Junior, the young one. He was the worst president we’ve ever had, far worse than Trump. He, too, skipped the draft and pretended, all that stuff. He had a deferment in the National Guard, Air National Guard, and he never showed up. It’s disgusting. But so did Clinton. So did that whole generation. I don’t know why. I mean, it just seems like none of them … yeah, they apparently hated the war. They apparently saw through it, but why, why, why do they, when they get into power, do they make war, create these tensions and situations that lead to these disastrous outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why? It’s like you’re not even being true to yourself. If you’re going to defer, if you’re going to skip a war, have at least a moral cause to do it and live up to it. So, I don’t respect either … none of them for that.
DEADLINE: You write a lot about Michael Cimino being a seminal figure in your early career. You worked with him on Year of the Dragon. An underlying theme of your book is about the number of times you got knocked down and got back up. He made one of the great American movies in The Deer Hunter, but it felt like he never recovered from Heaven’s Gate. Why was he not able to get back up?
STONE: I think my analysis of him in the book is that he’s a mystery man, and you know there seems to be … that there was an unknown factor with Michael, and I think I tried to give that impression. He was very much into himself, unto himself. He kept it in. Heaven’s Gate, I think you’re right, was the big fall in his life, and I don’t think he ever came to grips with why. What was wrong with the film? I think he always thought it was not fair. So, he had a grudge, to some degree. What I wrote about him was, he’s the one who resurrected Platoon when I had given up on it, and he said it’s going to come back, and I’m glad he said that, And he also said he’d be my producer, and he didn’t come through on that when the project fell through a second time with Dino De Laurentiis. That was heartbreaking because we came close, very heartbreaking when the MGM said no to Dino and all that stuff, oh, what a dirty story, and then I had to sue to get it back. Oh God. I’m very lucky to have made that movie. Nobody thought that movie would do anything. Neither did I, frankly. Neither did I. I lost hope in it. In fact, when John Daly asked me, in an incredible moment in time when he said, “Oliver, which one do you want to do first, you know, Salvador or Platoon?” He asked me Salvador or Platoon? I didn’t hesitate. I said Salvador because I felt if I said Platoon, it would somehow be cursed again and fall apart. You know that’s true.
DEADLINE: Well, in reading your book, you describe that Platoon moment of Oscar triumph as an ugly duckling transforming into a swan.
STONE: Yeah, there’s something to that. It really did last through a lot of rejection. I mean, it’s embarrassing. It felt like it was a piece of toilet paper going around.
DEADLINE: To put a point on Cimino’s inability to bounce back the way you did with numerous setbacks, is it most important for a filmmaker to have unshakable confidence?
STONE: Well, he had it. He had a lot of confidence. Even later in time, back in the ’90s, when I got to be a director, I tried to help him. … Mario Kassar gave us some money to make his movie about the horse, The White Stallion. I think it was $14 million, but he just … he was too difficult to deal with. He was arrogant, and I don’t know that he ever gave it up. He never could eat humble pie or didn’t seem to.
DEADLINE: I read your New York Times interview where you spoke about the difficulties of the business right now as it tries to rebound from COVID. You were quoted as lamenting all the restrictions, but I’ve covered them closely and they seem necessary because insurance is almost impossible to get and if your principal actor falls ill, you’re shut down for weeks. What’s your feeling right now about production restarting and the prospect of you making a movie in a world that seems to have changed so dramatically?
STONE: Yeah, it doesn’t look like it’s in the cards. Frankly, Mike, I don’t follow the Hollywood issue as much anymore, so I’m not really up to date on what they’re doing and not doing. It’s a very difficult … it’s impossible to make … I mean you saw the films we made, early, we were working without nets. That’s the way I worked. I blew the explosives on Platoon. I blew so many explosives. I mean, they’d never let me get close to that now. There would be so many different advisers, so much medical staff. I don’t think we would’ve been able to afford it. That’s all I can say. It’s just moved into another era, and of course with CGI, it’s become even more artificial.
DEADLINE: What is your feeling about this influx of streamers as an alternative to moviegoing?
STONE: Like everybody else, I’ll watch them, I’m a good audience for that. I have a big screen at home. I watch them, and I still would’ve enjoyed going to a movie theater because I like to be with people, especially for comedies or big epics, big films with big themes. I’d rather be in a theater with people, for sure.
DEADLINE: I remember writing a few years ago, about you coming very close on Pinkville, which would have been a return to Vietnam for you, focusing on the My Lai Massacre.
DEADLINE: Whether it’s that or something else, are there any dream projects that you’re determined to make?
STONE: Right now, no. I finished a book, and I’ve got these two documentaries on my hands. The hunger is not there, not yet. Maybe it’ll come back. It was so difficult to make Snowden. Totally difficult to get that one done. It’s just exhausting, but we’ll see. You know I’m young in spirit. We’ll see.
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