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 Platoon, 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 Sunday, a 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 film Alexander 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 Sleeps. In 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.”
Please enjoy my conversation with Oliver Stone.
Listen to more great episodes at Next Level Soul Podcast
Follow Along with the Transcript – Episode 120
Oliver Stone 0:00
I wrote Scarface and although it's acclaimed as now, at that time it it had a hard road it was I had fight with the producer and he badmouth me and around the business and frankly, it was filled with obscenity and violence and people thought I was crazy good.
Alex Ferrari 0:30
I've been able to partner with Mindvalley. To present you guys FREE Masterclass is between 60 and 90 minutes, covering Mind Body Soul Relationships, and Conscious Entrepreneurship, taught by spiritual masters, yogi's spiritual thought leaders and best selling authors. Just head over to nextlevelsoul.com/free. I'd like to welcome to the show. Oliver Stone. Thank you so much for being on the show. Oliver.
Oliver Stone 1:04
Nice to meet you, Alex. Frankly, I heard about you yesterday. And okay, here we are.
Alex Ferrari 1:11
Yeah, I know. It's the fastest.
Oliver Stone 1:12
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 1:32
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 ly 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
Oliver Stone 2:06
10 movie in 10 years.
Alex Ferrari 2:08
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 80. In 8788, I can literally recite to you the greed, the greed speech, I learned it from my memory from that age, and I've never lost it. 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 commentary that you were saying about things was remarkable. Oh, the commentaries.
Oliver Stone 2:57
Yeah, they were injured. I used to really work at the, I cared about them. And a lot of people have noticed that the commentaries are pretty, pretty,
Alex Ferrari 3:05
Oliver Stone 3:06
Pretty deep. And I liked 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 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 commenters I tried to be critical.
Alex Ferrari 3:34
Now you have a new book called Chasing the light, which I'm a little bit over halfway through and I'm I love it so far. And I can't wait to finish the book. And I'm gonna recommend it to everybody I know. That is a filmmaker to read it. So we're gonna get going I wanted 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 the to the end of platoon. And you did a couple of 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 Salvador 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 had written prior to directing your first film?
Oliver Stone 4:32
Well, no, I directed my first film out of film school, basically two years afterwards, budget horror film called seizure, which I wrote and I hit 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, go dar and Barnwell and the European bog, your Italians, to Fellini, and my Mmm, I mean, the obvious ones, but they were all leaders in the culture. And I wanted to be what they were writer directors, most of them tracted me to the concept. And I had been a writer before from 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 attention, that intensity, in some way became the camera eye for me, because I 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 Ito has made films over the course of those two years. Some were successful, some are 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 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. 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 or 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 really interesting that, in a sense, the 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've never seen any copies of the acceptances unless you go to the studio vaults. So there's a big hole there. And screenplays, that screenplay writer was regarded as kind of a worm 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 he's 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 to film school and drove a cab and worked in various jobs, got married, went through the whole heart 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. Wow. Bolt was a serious student, but he was of his style and screenwriter that you lay it all out on the page. The architecture is there. Every line of dialogue is there. It's a whole other way different than film school. So where are you writing the more of a treatment? So I was always between the two I was trying to write the full out screenplay. And at the same time I was, and when I became a director of finally, in the business in 85, with 786 was Salvador, and then platoon. I never I still I've stayed true to this screenwriter loyalty, which is write the script, write it as much as you can get it 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 9:47
Right! And then so your your second film was the hand, which was 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. Can you tell me how those how the hand came, came around and
Oliver Stone 10:05
The hand is very similar to the hands and interesting movie, it's going to be actually rereleased by shout factory next year on Blu ray. Yeah. 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 Rendell called the lizard's tail. But it was very similar to seizure, because it's both it's a similar story in that the main character, Jonathan freed, 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 on to themselves. They think they think the horror, they think the horror, and in the case of the hand that he thinks his wife is leaving him, and he becomes insanely jealous, and he sees everything as 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 a shark might. And I will put I was crazy to do it. But that was the kind of it was difficult for me. Prior to the hand, you forgot that I came through as a screenwriter in 19 7070. With Midnight Express,
Alex Ferrari 11:36
Which is my next question. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. So Midnight Express actually was was it? Do you? Do you consider Midnight Express to be the project that really launched your career?
Oliver Stone 11:47
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 to try, you know, to get to get all these rejections. I mean, I got hundreds of letters. It's no fun. I mean, going begging for things getting small jobs, a production assistant here and there. TV work. I worked for almost a year well paid and an 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. And 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 I by the time I reached 30 years old, I talk about it in the book, it's 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 and so that's why I ended the film we put to him. Because when I ultimately realized my dream, which was to have a success of international proportions that are really unbelievable. I mean, every country in the world did play, made big money, number three in America domestically, and then on top of it Academy Awards. And then it wins. Elizabeth Taylor is out there on the stage, giving me a big kiss, you know, she was 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 thought 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 art, do you have the consequent problem that if everybody's doing it, you have a huge volume and a limited distribution system.
Alex Ferrari 14:20
Right, right. Exactly. It's easy to make the movie now that now the place you have to kill yourself, it's actually to get anyone to see it or sell it.
Oliver Stone 14:27
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, their talents, I champion many films that have filmmakers that have gotten some distribution but it never worked out for I mean, they they died off and the very hard to get through this barrier of distribution and publicity.
Alex Ferrari 14:57
You talked about champion your champion Being 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 15:09
I dedicated the book to John. I mean, the book for me would took three years to write off and on, and it was just a lot of work, I have to tell you that it's like making a movie in his own way. And I take writing very seriously in the sense of I just not scribbling out I did this, I did that now. I'm looking for themes in the in the book, The themes of growing up themes of going to war, 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, early 46. Pregnant. So there you go. I mean, it's a war baby, you'd say right, French. My mother was an immigrant in her way.
Alex Ferrari 16:19
But John, the John really
Oliver Stone 16:21
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 sheep 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, I was kind of the guy who was one of those guys around that was known as difficult or not that I was crazy, but I was, but I really was upset that things were not going. I wrote a script called born the Fourth of July and I put tune in both in seventh in the 70s. And neither want to get mad. It was just frustrated because he were 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 were both mythic films coming 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 17:53
But John was the one but John was the one that kind of,
Oliver Stone 17:55
Well, it's it's just that I was out and I was kind of dead in the water. I may I wrote Scarface and you know, although it's claimed is now at that time it it had a hard road it was I had fight with the producer, and he badmouth me and around the business and frankly, it was filled with obscenity and violence and people thought I was crazy. I done Midnight Express Scarface. Conan the Barbarian. These were tough, violent films. So people saw me as some kind of the hand. You know, what, who is this guy? So it was tough. And I had to I left LA and 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 dragging 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. The journalists I knew Richard Richard Boyle, a wonderful, wonderful friend, Irishmen 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 going to use my own money I had. At that point, I 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 that I owned, and so forth, and so on. So I was scheming to make this film for $700,000. Now this involves helicopters involved Civil War. fobs involves death squads, but Boyle was so sure that we would get cooperation from the salvage in Salvador which is very cost wise. is 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 wants to touch it because again, it was critical of the US foreign establishment. Oh god, I've 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 got something of mine the other day important to me. And I kind of shrugged. It just doesn't end 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 with Sean Penn. And he was doing he had 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 21:03
So many. It's hard to keep track.
Oliver Stone 21:05
He was doing that he'd done a nice job with the Gene Hackman movie. Yes. Gene editing with the basketball movie. Oh, the Hoosiers. 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 and in Africa during the the ALI 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 poetry and I swear this is true story. You never hear it. Very rare story. But he read both The night I went in to see him. By the way, I met him through Gerald Green who those people who care Joe 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, money how good scripts both of them. Which one do you want to do first, Oliver? That was that's a piece of a classic dialogue because you just don't never hear that shit. Never. No, no one it 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 film. So 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 us he made the road. He was the star of the film. And anyway, 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 believe it was so paste it was pasted together. And you know what it works? Go see it again. Please do?
Alex Ferrari 23:16
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 remarkable. Alright, so then you you do Salvador and then
Oliver Stone 23:30
Then I get that almost killed me.
Alex Ferrari 23:33
Right, you know, and then you just jump into another small movie,
Oliver Stone 23:36
90 speaking parts for civil war, helicopter fight battles, all kinds of shit tank battles. But we got it. We got we got 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 all gone I had so they rejected it. Every fucking studio distributor in Hollywood rejected that movie. How was heartbreaking? It was good. It was a good movie, but too much violence too much at the time. So what does Daly do? He says fuck them. 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 distribute it 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 make Petunia and Philippines so I'm going from Mexico right to Philippines with $6 million now and I very little platoons a big movie but again, I've been through the rough road now with my cinematographer Bob Richardson and Mike, and Mike and Bruno and a very 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 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, we're be film in the Philippines, sort of a Chuck Norris thing or something. Nobody gave a shit. You know, the moment we showed it, it was cut in a rough cut. People started reacting and gee, oh my God, I've never seen anything like this. It's a reality that they didn't never seen before. A real a grid a reality, because I had 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 seeing a 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 killed by their own 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 the 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 lie 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 what 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 the actually from the black troops because they really were into 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 they kept me human. They said they say closer to me. And the character of alias 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 is divided, very divided. He's a man of two for two fathers. He says the sock two sergeants, the two sergeants represent polar opposites. And one of them one sergeant kills the other. That's the crux of the movies when Sergeant after he reports after he's reported for a war crime, and the other Sergeant kills that Sergeant under the cover of battle underfoot, friendly fire, and gets away with it, except that the young man sees it. And he has to get even and it leads to his dental mom, which is pretty strong, where you know what happens? I mean, it doesn't, those that kind of stuff doesn't get shown in more films. If you'll look at the rest, even the ones that followed, it's generally speaking to get the cooperation of the Pentagon and the movie studios and all that each you got to go along with the patriotic or the United States really cannot be criticized for any wars. Now considering that we've lived our way into the sixth or seventh wars since World War Two. I think the intelligence agencies have lied to us so much in the lie persists in America one, this is a theme for me, obviously, you've seen it in JFK, and you see it in it, you'll see it again and again and it's known my last one in 2016. I guess I'm the director who seeks out the lies
Alex Ferrari 29:40
and exposes them and that's something that you've been that's paid since the beginning since the beginning almost
Oliver Stone 29:46
I can't help it and don't believe me it's gotten me in a lot of hot water.
Alex Ferrari 29:49
I'm all I could only imagine well all over I can only imagine now after the massive success of platoon by box off that success. And you know, Oscars and all wars 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 30:24
I just set out to tell the story in the best time I could, I was able to get better and better at filmmaking, and 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 well as 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 linear linear story, who 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 I highly recommend it. I highly, highly recommend it.
Alex Ferrari 31:43
Yeah, I see. I saw when it came out back in the day, and I see it. Yeah. I saw it's got to pay attention. No, it's Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Now, when you when you were making Wall Street, did you have do you? Did you work that the Paris Mercantile Exchange when you were a teenager? Is that correct?
Oliver Stone 32:02
So have you ever had you know that?
Alex Ferrari 32:04
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 32:12
Yeah, I worked 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. 1930s on 1930 to 34. In that, Eric, no, at four, he became a, he was he was a floor Walker 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 Hal Holbrook character, in a sense, are the more Nietzschean character from Wall Street, he was the old fashioned values the way to 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. That was his idea of America 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, people, 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 on Wall Street. Well, actually, I was at that time, I was actually 43. So I'm saying 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 businessman like Gecko going into companies and getting their stockholders to vote for them and built 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 runs the union. I'm sorry. Ignore that.
Alex Ferrari 34:29
That's Blue Star blue star, if I remember correctly.
Oliver Stone 34:31
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 and he 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 there was a pain of that and I think that's important, and the father feels betrayed by the son. The father has a heart Take the son understands the scope of his mistake was his huge so many people get hurt. And all his life he you know he, in other words, he repents he gets in 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 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. It happened. 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. It's a 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. And 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 36:13
Oliver Stone 36:15
In a way I was my father's my father's continuation, because he was a broker made money for people not himself. The the, the shock was it Michael Douglas, who was the supporting character, the bad guy, so to speak, becomes the star of the movie in people's minds. And of course, when ZIL fucking wins the Oscar, the film doesn't get nominated for anything, not even true screenplay. And there are many witty lines in it. But no, it 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 a second.
Alex Ferrari 37:00
Fair enough. Fair enough. Now, let me ask you, what do you hope people take away from your life's work,
Oliver Stone 37:07
I have no such intention, I make the films for to satisfy a inner need. And I try to make it as broad and, and entertaining as possible. But 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. Exactly. So you can never offer the box office success is a misunderstanding between the audience and the author.
Alex Ferrari 37:35
All right, fair enough. Now, now, where can people purchase your book Chasing the light? Everywhere?
Oliver Stone 37:46
For all I know, it's on Amazon, it's on 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 the 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 have opened 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 38:25
And when can we expect the sequence? And when can we expect the sequel? The next one?
Oliver Stone 38:32
I haven't, I haven't in my head, I have diaries. It will take a year or two. It's a 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 enact in your life, so to speak. You arrived, 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 it's 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 39:13
I can ask you one last question. Throughout your career, you have worked within the studio system. So 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 39:30
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 in and Wall Street. Yes was made by Fox with 20th Century Fox under Rupert Murdoch and Barry Diller and that was an eye and then I 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. It 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 it never worked for me. I never got scripts from the studio. It never worked. They'd say, are you interested in this or that it's 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, you're putting a shake on it right away. You know, Tom Cruise has to run here and he has to do that. And after 15 more minutes, you know, you it's it fucks you up. You got to do it. I found my way through it. I don't talk radio was done independently, again, with Garth Stravinsky in Canada, and then President. The film, then it was followed by Born on the Fourth of July was done under difficult conditions with universal limited money. But Cruz was a 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 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 DEA in New Orleans who actually did that. Nobody else opened their mouth about that awful crime that was buried in the bullshit or the Warren report. Garrison had tremendous guts and 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 Marriott Eddie Andy Vanya. Independent doors was made independent with Marriott, because you see how we 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, that group of people, you know, the rest was one of them. But Mary, oh, Andy, John Daly, they were able to carve out a little kingdoms, from Harvey Weinstein out of their little out of these video sales. And that became a business until it became abused 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, I mean, okay, videos L and then we're gonna get, we mark up the prices. And we say this worth this much. And it changes, it distorts, and people actually started asking for 15 $20 million, a picture, it all changed and became more corporate. And that's what happens. The corporations are moving 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 code studios or the corporations take over that business.
Alex Ferrari 43:36
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 please.
Oliver Stone 43:52
The question is, are you going to finish it? Because the point is,
Alex Ferrari 43:55
It's right. It's right here. I won't finish it. 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 and I'm hearing stories, like I'm a movie geek. So all these kinds of stories I love listening to and the inside stuff of stuff. And when I 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 44:38
Remember the lie
Alex Ferrari 44:40
Is the theme is the theme. Thank you my friend.
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Links and Resources
- Oliver Stone – Official
- Read his book: Chasing the Light
- Listen to Chasing the Light book on Audible for FREE
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