The following is a recent Q&A from my Facebook and Twitter pages. 

Q: From Jack Forbes
Oliver, the Yellow Shirts in Thailand want to displace the current Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and her Administration, with an unelected "People's Council" and have gone to great lengths to disrupt elections and disrupt commerce in Bangkok to achieve their goals. They demand "reforms" pertaining to elections procedures and perceived corruption, but have little to show for what reforms they wish and what corruption they suspect. The military is, so far, taking a "hands off" approach but has not ruled out a coup. Yingluck is making her case for democracy, asking the protestors to vote and to integrate into the Thai political system to resolve political differences. There seems to be no end in sight and experts believe that civil war is possible for the near future. What is your take on all of this?

My take is as an outsider I’ve traveled many times to the country and admire their collective sense of harmony in all things. Makes this recent civil strife almost incomprehensible to me. I’m hardly knowledgeable about the complex interior politics of the country, but my feeling is generally ‘the majority rules’—in other words, live with it. As bad as Thaksin may have been and may be, I would imagine time has, and will, softened his impact. Things change. Do not fracture this beautiful country.

Q: From Ben Bracken
It seems everyone successful in film has a connection to some rich people or a rich dad in the film business that gets them in the door. I have neither. I have no money, just the ambition to succeed everyday in a world where 20% of American males ages 25-54 are unemployed. I'm not lazy and will never collect unemployment, so I work everyday at a shit restaurant for $4.95 an hour plus tips (that you never get anyway) and work harder than anyone you've ever met. I have self taught myself to be a DP, an actor, and barely afforded to put myself in school for screenwriting. I don't know anyone famous or anyone's rich uncle to help me get my foot in the door. So, my question to you, Mr. Stone, is a simple one. Would you please hire me? I don't care if it's shoveling the elephants shit on the set of Alexander or getting you coffee. I will still be the hardest worker you've ever seen. I humbly thank you for even reading this as I know you will probably not respond to my question as I've seen the other questions people way smarter than me have posted about you and your work. Either way you're still one of my heroes. Thanks, Ben Stiller

This is a tough question but I’ll try to answer it. Just to keep things clear, I had no strong connections to get me into this business. I wrote my way in, and it took many scripts and much rejection until some of them were read and gradually I was able to find more and more work.

That said, when I actually penetrated it as a writer and then moved, after a few setbacks, onto being a director. I found that many young people and outsiders were vying for jobs as assistants and interns, but that the union rules were pretty strict on this matter, and that the best way in was through the assistant directors’ department. After the union regulations were fulfilled, the producer, production managers, and assistant director would interview new people for roles as assistants and interns. Generally speaking the job is a tough one—long hours—and often takes place far off the set around the trailer camps and various messengering jobs. Often people would be frustrated that they didn’t get enough time inside or close to the set (On the other hand, being inside the set all the time can be—believe me—quite boring and I think many people would be disappointed.).

Perhaps the best way to approach this is to work on low budget films as a production assistant, where one probably gets a lot closer to the action. I worked on a soft porno back in the early 70s in NYC hauling heavy dollies up and down staircases in New York City.

When, and if, we do start up a film, we crew up like a pirate ship or whaling expedition for the journey. At that time the producer/production manager/assistant director make their choices as to whom they want to work with. Sometimes I weigh in.

Q: Ben Norbeetz
Why in many of your films do you repeat certain phrases, ideas and metaphors. "Kiss the snake with no hesitation" was in the doors and alexander and a motif in Natural Born Killers, your close up shots on a single eye was apart of both any given sunday and the doors, the "world is yours" is in scarface and alexander. is there something all of your works mean to say?

Each motif is different and probably for a different reason. I wasn’t aware of the similarities until you brought them up, but certainly, I think the idea of the snake in “Doors,” “Alexander,” and “Natural Born Killers” represents a sensitivity to the issue of fear. That by going through the fear, one finds a courage that was not available before. Jim Morrison was writing about the snake long before we made the film. And of course the analogies of snakes and dragons appear again and again in mythology. Although I walked among many rattle snakes in “Natural Born Killers” and lived through my share of snakes in Vietnam, I’m still not comfortable around them.

As to eyes, I’ve been shooting close ups of eyes for so many years I don’t know which exact mention you have in mind. I think it’s a striking visual. The eye is the window of the soul and often speaks an inner truth to us that is beyond the word. And people’s eyes in general, if you look closely at them, reveal much. Movie stars often have blue eyes, because I think they give more access than brown/black eyes.

As to the “World is yours,” well, that’s a subjective frame of mind, and it can well be true if you believe it.

Q: Patrick Dailey
Please give us some details about the new "Alexander : The Ultimate Cut" blu-ray/DVD. Will it have new features, new transfer, etc. Thanks!

I can tell you the new “Alexander” is 8 minutes shorter and has some structural changes of significance. I think it’s cleaned up. It’s a real final to me. In the 2007 version I was trying to get out all the stuff that I wasn’t able to get out in 2004. And then I was able to look at the 2007 version in various film festivals around the world (San Sebastian, Taormina, and New York.) After seeing it in public like that, I was able to go back and see some of the things that I had added were not necessary—as well as remove some of the complexity that still existed. That’s why I trimmed it. I’m very happy with this new version and it’s definitely a final one. There is no new transfer—not necessary because everything was beautifully transferred the first time.

Q: Attila Peter
Of all the empires which one would you prefer?

Very good question. I think as a Roman it would’ve been very dangerous to stay alive. There seems to have been a poison in the air, and in the capital too many Romans were killing each other. I think in some ways the British Empire must have been perhaps one of the best, at least if you were an Englishman! But not a native. The idea of going to Eton or Oxford, joining the military, or being a businessman when most people around you are ethnocentric, you think of yourself as superior. It’s an amazing illusion—but produced some amazing results.

We’re now living in the American Empire. So you make up your own mind. Many are happy with it and comfortable. Depends on your consciousness of our history. If interested see “Untold History.”

As to the best Empire, I’m not sure, but I think the Mongol Empire of the 13th/14th centuries makes a lot of sense. Although bloody (who wasn’t at that time), they had an amazing degree of intelligence. As tribal nomads and outsiders, they brought to the sense of empire a newness and ability to see beyond parochial concerns. And because they were a small tribe they were concerned about their universality. They truly brought a modern order to feudalism and tribalism, and their influence is still strongly felt today in the East.

I also deeply respect Alexander’s Empire because of his respect for local laws and customs—as did the Mongols—and the fact that he did not loot and rape the place, as the English and Americans, in their benign way, did. So I vote for the Mongols.

Q: Matthew McKenna
Is there a person or persons who have been a major influence on your life?

Huge question. We can talk in the personal sphere or artistic sphere, but let’s say we’re talking of the American political sphere. I’d say Roosevelt and JFK. And in a negative way Reagan, LBJ, Nixon, Bush (father), Bush (son), Truman, and Eisenhower. Without a doubt the U.S. has had its share of awful Presidents who’ve really destroyed what this thing could’ve been after WW2. Please see “Untold History” to understand my feelings. These are people who have directly influenced our life in a very powerful way.

Q: Mary F. Nugent
On behalf of WH Wisecarver: I was on the Capital Hill in 1991 when JFK was released. It was surprising to me the controversy and re-evaluations it provoked amongst my younger peers. In lieu of your recent post on the prohibition of being able to do your MLK movie and the rehash of contrived political thrillers in today’s films, do you see a time when real thought provoking cutting edge films can be made in Hollywood again?

You’re asking a bit of a rhetorical question. Films don’t necessarily have to be cutting edge to be thought provoking. For example, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2011) was a beautiful film about older people that really had a point. It wasn’t cutting edge in the sense of what people normally think, but who cares as long as it move you and provokes your feelings and thoughts. I said earlier on another post I really was struck by “All is Lost,” I think that “Blue Jasmine” in its way make you think about people that I knew in New York. It’s a great character study. I think good movies are coming along all the time from abroad, from here, and I wouldn’t dismiss the industry for that. We filmmakers are always struggling to get something fresh and different done. Few of us succeed. But we try.

I think that the concentration on money, as with the rest of the culture, has hollowed out the business. I know that studios are just not developing dramas unless you’re a top of the line director, and they rarely do that without making you compromise. It’s hard to get things great things made in that way. If the directors stick to their guns and develop stuff they really believe in, I think it’s possible to get films made. I know that we have many more markets available to us, as well as different forms of financing, but sometimes you have to assume you’re not going to make much money making a film, and you’re going to live with whatever distribution you can get. So I think it’s a very harsh playing field—but good stuff does get turned out because people are ‘burning’ to tell a story. I sometimes feel we’re the like that medieval acting troupe in Bergman’s “Seventh Seal.”

Q: Nathan Paul
Oliver as a filmmaker myself I come across a predicament often behind the camera. Do you ever sacrifice continuity of a shot for your vision?

Yes, I often do. The logic of the technician is often in conflict with the heart. Especially as the sun is going down and fast decisions have to be made. Best to make those decisions early in the day.

But as you can see from my editing, it’s sometimes discontinuous, and probably far more interesting because of it.

Q: Matt Higgins
How is it that you were able to turn your horrific experience of being a combat soldier in Vietnam into something productive- producing great films that brought Vietnam into the focus of the American mainstream, instead of becoming one of the many casualties of PTSD?

Well, I probably did have my share of PTSD, but I didn’t know it at the time because it wasn’t called by that name. I think that terminology started in the late 70s (not sure). I think the fact that I met a good woman who helped me reintegrate, and I did gradually join back into a film school at NYU and was inspired. I think willpower played a role in it. There was much rejection. Remember, it took 10 years (‘76–‘86) from when I wrote “Platoon” to when it was actually filmed, as well as 10 years (‘79–‘89) for “Born on the Fourth of July.”

This is the point of the artistic journey isn’t it? To take the ordinary and the oppression that’s sometimes served up to us, and make of it something celebratory.



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