Oliver Stone Talks Politics of Drug War and Creating Savages
At a recent press event in Beverly Hills, director Oliver Stone sat down with reporters to discuss Savages, his latest crime drama based on the 2010 novel by Don Winslow. An outspoken proponent of shooting on film as opposed to digital, Stone was asked about what he thought the next generation of filmmakers might be like now that film is no longer the foundation in Hollywood. While acknowledging that digital projection is more consistent, the director was quick to point out the paradox in the industry’s rush to embrace digital technology. “The irony of the whole situation is that film is still to me, in my opinion, without a doubt, fifteen to twenty per cent better than the digital. In its range, in its blacks — the depths of its blacks — when you see this movie, the colors pop.”
Digital pioneers like James Cameron, Michael Mann and George Lucas have been effusive in their praise of the new technology, but for Stone, the alchemy of the silver and the retention of the film stock itself make it a superior format. “There’s no comparison. I’ve seen the digital. It’s good. It’s just not at the same level of life and that’s because it’s a medium that’s different,” he said. “I was at that Lucas conference in 2000 — early in this decade — up at his ranch, when he was pushing the Star Wars [prequel], the new film — and the LA Times wrote it up and I was the bad guy because they led with my protests against digital. I said, ‘What’s going to happen to film?’”
Calling the demise of Kodak “a national tragedy,” the director was adamant that he would like to see the old ways maintained. “We’ve got to keep making film. I really feel strongly. We can’t give up,” Stone said. The Natural Born Killers filmmaker also admitted he would not be giving up his Blu-Ray collection any time soon: “I really think it’s hardware and it’s important and I don’t want to live in a Cloud all my life,” he quipped.
In an effort to tiptoe around spoilers, Stone was reluctant to answer questions that might reveal too much about Savages’ plot, but he did speak about how he prioritized the ruthless amount of cutting he had to do in order to bring Don Winslow’s novel to the screen. “We cut a lot. The book is 120 scenes. I think we only, in the movie, had 30 scenes to play,” he said. “We had to consolidate so much and there are so many things different in the movie than the book. You have to read the book to understand that, but definitely the book inspired me. I think [Don] Winslow did a great job of writing it and knew that world and he really gave me the desire to make a movie about it that was fresh.”
Stone also confirmed that scenes with Uma Thurman (Kill Bill), who was originally cast as Blake Lively’s mom, and footage that delved into the home life of Benicio Del Toro’s character were among those cut from the final print of the film. “We have some good deleted scenes that you’ll see one day and they’re fun, but they had to go.”
In an earlier interview with the cast, Lively told reporters that Stone enjoyed arguing with the actors about their characters. When he is told this and asked if he indeed likes to argue, the director grinned. “I’m glad she thinks I did like it — because I was smiling probably,” he joked. “Blake was one of the most aggressive in terms of questioning everything in the script. She was different than the concept in the book,” he explained. “She was more of a flower child than the girl who was more punk rock in the book, so we had to make — she always wanted to emphasize the heart and the hope and I like that. I like what she did very much.”
When Stone was asked about the experience of working with Salma Hayek (Once Upon a Time in Mexico), the director said she had made an indelible impression on him at their first meeting. “I met her years ago, when I did U-Turn and she — the first time I met her — she said, ‘You son-of-a-bitch! You didn’t even see me! You gave it to Jennifer Lopez!’ And I was stunned. I didn’t know her,” Stone explained, waiting for the assembled group of reporters to stop laughing before he continued. “And you know what? Fifteen years later, I went right to her. I said, ‘This is the one!’”
While reticent to discuss the plot of Savages, Stone was more than willing to talk about the extensive research that went into pre-production. “I did go to Mexico. I did talk to a few people who were heavy down there on both sides of the fence, legitimate and otherwise.” His research also included getting to know some of the boutique marijuana growers in California. “We do have an independent growers market here, which is like a boutique business and they’re very good people. They grow great stuff — the best I’ve ever had in forty years,” he laughed.
Stone also didn’t shy away from criticizing current Mexican President Felipe Calderon for declaring war on the cartels. “He’s a disaster. He was equivalent to George Bush in so far that he did steal the election. That party stole the election. I have no doubt [Andres Manuel Lopez] Obrador won,” he said. “I really don’t from what I’ve read and it’s a shame because he brought what George Bush brought to this country. He brought a nightmare to Mexico by declaring war on these guys.”
As the writer of the cult classic Scarface, Stone is also cognizant of the impact that movie had on popular culture and criminals eager to emulate the Tony Montana character. “It’s funny, when I did Scarface, you would have thought that was a cartoon, but it’s — they model themselves after him and he became — the Scarface character became a bit of a — as you’d call it — a cliché.” But, the director was also quick to note that this “larger than life” fashion of living is in no way confined to the criminal underground. “We’ve seen entertainment become politics and we’ve seen people acting out in ways that are extremely violent and destabilizing — including bankers,” Stone quipped. “No rules apply. We’re in an era of no rules.”
Savages opens in theaters July 6.