While Oliver Stone is most famous for writing and directing political thrillers like “JFK,” “Nixon,” and “Platoon,” he has a lot more to say than just conspiracy theories. At a master class during the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Stone took audience questions about everything from opinions on gun violence and war movies to his motivation and process as a filmmaker. Here are the 5 best things he said.
I have my own script that I’ve been working on — this is my third go-around this year. I’m going to go right now and work on it some more. It’s very personal. But it was started in 2007, it was about 200 or 300 pages long, it was too much, and then in 2009 I rewrote it again. It takes me a few weeks of complete absorption — sometimes more. And now I’m going to go on a third pass, and I think this might be the one that gets me where I want to go. It’s also the years: You mature and change over the years, you know a subject differently. So don’t abandon what you start. If you have a good idea in film school, stay with it. Sometimes it doesn’t come together right away, but maybe a year or two later, maybe later in your life, you’ll come back to it and say, “That was a good idea. I just didn’t attack it right.”
On the difference between movies on Vietnam and movies on Iraq:
The Iraq War was not successful at the box office. It did get some awards with “The Hurt Locker,” but people in the country didn’t respond. Sometimes wars have to recede — my Vietnam films were made about 20 years after Vietnam. It had gone from memory — people don’t remember it as it was. There’s something about chasing the news that is not working. There’s gonna be a couple of Afghanistan movies… and it always tends to be about the heroism of Americans. You can’t get it financed unless… “The Hurt Locker,” at the end of the day, there’s no judgment in that movie. That bothered me. Because these Americans just do their job. They could be anywhere. They could be in Texas, they could be in Afghanistan, they could be in Iraq. They’re good at what they do. So, is that the point? I mean, you could say: With “Zero Dark Thirty,” they did their job. You know, come on. What kind of a job are you doing? What are you fucking doing with your life? You’re invading other countries. You’re hurting other people. Do you feel good about that? Sometimes these movies just don’t feel like they’re adding up. They don’t deal with the consequences. Because it’s an embarrassing and often a disgraceful situation. In America, that’s why more and more subject matter is completely remote from reality, because we can’t deal with reality. Reality is too tough. Many people have said this, I’m not the first, but how many films have you seen about unemployed people? Not that people want to be depressed, but maybe we could find a way to show pictures about people who are actually in our economy, blue collar or white collar, and they’re working, and we’d like to see their struggles, but in a way that’s entertaining and that lifts us and that makes us see something that we don’t normally see in the daily newspaper that grinds us down.
Why he would rather work with the rascals than the studios:
I’ve often had success working with scoundrels — people who don’t pay their bills — because they’re ballsy. They got guts. They take chances. In fact, six of my movies are in bankruptcy right now. But that’s what happens when you deal with rascals. If you deal with studios you get more stability, but they own everything. And they don’t pay you often what they’re supposed to. So I think making films is a very radical action if you can pull it off and get people to see it. It is still a pirate action. Now working for a studio, if they give you a lot of money, because then they’re invested, you’re just a cog in the wheel. But if you can pull off your kind of movie where you’re signing it, you’re the author — that’s significant.
On whether or not the “Scarface” screenplay sells violence:
“Scarface” celebrates the gangster ethic: an immigrant who comes to the country and has a ferocious dedication to his vision of the American dream, and he’s gonna make it. And the way that you make it in Miami or anywhere in America — the immigrant way — is generally illegal. And you do it the faster way. And that’s the way he justifies it. But, I would say this about the film, if you look at it closely, is when he gets to the top, he’s offered a deal by the U.S. government types to kill a political figure in South America. […] He’s told to kill him, and he’s about to kill him, but he pulls away because he sees that his innocent child and wife will also be bombed as well, so he calls off the assassination, which results in his downfall. So in spite of being a gangster, he does have a residual integrity.
On violence in his other movies:
In “Platoon” and “Born on the Fourth of July,” you see the effect of violence. You see a single bullet tear through a man’s chest and sever his spinal cord, and he’s paralyzed for the rest of his life. That shows you the effect of violence on a life. I totally respect violence, I fear it, I don’t want it to come into being. So when I went back to do “Natural Born Killers,” it was misunderstood, but I was doing it as a satire. I was accused of selling violence, but the truth was I was trying to make fun of violence. It was ridiculous how the media and television were selling violence. All the violence in that movie is too over the top as to be unbelievable. There’s nothing realistic about that violence. Nothing. But people took it literally. They kill 55 people, but they’re heroes because they exist inside a system in which the media, the jail system, and the police authorities were more corrupt than they are. So the two young people are living a love story. I was really attacking this system that I thought had gone crazy and exploitative. That was the target, it was a satire, but it was misunderstood.
Watch full class below: