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Dialouge: Oliver Stone & Darren Aronofsky

Interview conducted by Anne Thompson from concerning Darren Aronofsky's "Batman", Darren's scifi film, the MPAA, and filmmaking.

Aronofsky: Where are you from?

Stone: Manhattan. You?

Aronofsky: Brooklyn. I have a confession to make. Twice after I saw your movies, The Doors and Natural Born Killers, I got dumped by girlfriends I took to see them. So now whenever I go to one of your movies, I donít even go with a male friend. For the last several films, Iíve seen them completely alone.

Stone: Beyond Borders is going to be a date movie, youíll see. Itís a true love story. Iíve never done something like this. Itís an attempt to do a Doctor ZhivagoĖtype movie.

PREMIERE: How does one achieve authenticity in a film?

Stone: You must stop at nothing. The hard part of directing: You must be a god in terms of creating the structure and environment that everybody will live in. You are the master builder, the architect, so itís going to be as real as you make it. There are a thousand things that are going to come at you that are ersatzósets, designers, a cinematographer whoís full of shit and says the light is great and itís not great. . . . There are a thousand traps. Youíve got to keep that bullshit detector going.

PREMIERE: What prevents you from getting what you want?

Stone: Life wears you down, and then the films are stripping away at something inside yourself. Each film takes something from you; youíre giving up part of your soul every time.

Aronofsky: Thereís that fear that the energy wonít come back, because after you finish a movie youíre so exhausted, and then when you think about how much pain it was to do something, you donít know if youíll ever have the courage again to do it. Then, believing that that energy, when you do the next project, hasnít been corrupted or compromised. Whatís so amazing about Oliverís workóif I may call him OliveróMr. Stoneís work . . .

Stone: Please do. Call me Ollie if you want.

Aronofsky: . . . is that the truth behind the passion is so clear throughout the films, over and over again. The reason those films were made was because of your love for the subject matter. I feel Iíve done that twice with Pi and Requiem for a Dream, two films that I believed in that everybody told me not to make.

Stone: (Laughs) Those are the ones.

Aronofsky: Exactly. How many times have you done that, like, ten times?

Stone: Itís harder when your wife tells you not to make it. Believe me, the pressure is hard when your sonóheís a big movie fan, heís always got an opinionóheís always in my face: ďWhy do you always have to concentrate on the evil side, Papa? Why do you make it so bloody and R?Ē R-rated films have been the best this business has ever madeófrom A Clockwork Orange to The Wild Bunch.

PREMIERE: Youíve both had trouble with the MPAA ratings board. Requiem for a Dream got an NC-17 rating, yet Darren was able to release it the way he wanted it.

Stone: How did you pull that off?

Aronofsky: Artisan realized that what made Requiem for a Dream commercial was the controversy. If you pull back and tone it down, you actually undermine the viability of it. They could have very easily said, ďYou have to do this R,Ē but they were pushing me to make it more extreme. Artisan said ďscrew youĒ to the rating and released it unrated.

Stone: What made them go NC-17?

Aronofsky: Probably the sexuality in that final climax of the movie. Right now, as weíre cutting an R-rated version for Blockbuster, itís just toning down the sexuality. A little bit less of the double-headed black dildo, to be frank.

Stone: [MPAA chief] Jack Valenti has done a marvelous job of trying to defend the business. Parents are generally happy with the MPAA; itís worked. But there is a flaw in Jackís plan. We lost the NC-17 to the X-rated porno. NC-17 was supposed to be the adult category, but it was misunderstood.

PREMIERE: What are the different ways in which you feel censored?

Aronofsky: There is a place for the MPAA in this society, and itís important that people know what theyíre going to see when they go to a movie, and so I want them to be rated. But itís clear that [when] the MPAA judges a film, violence is okay at any level. But as soon as it turns into a realistic type of violence, showing the extreme of violenceóthatís when you start running into questions. So many PG-13 films have so many guns and so much violence, and as long as you donít show what the gun does to the human body, itís fine. A real handgun going off is fucking loud, and itís terrifying.

Stone: The behavior of the politicians this last season was outrageous to me. Theyíve gotten away with murderóMcCarthyism in a way. They didnít pass any legislation, but for Al Gore, whoís a Democrat, to say, "You guys better clean up your act in six months," thatís a threat. They use it as a political issue, and then the mediaówhich should be defending us because they also need the right to freedomómake this an issue again and again, and scold Hollywood. They want to create dramatic friction between Hollywood and Washington, but they have no concept of the moral consequences. The Hollywood Eight, the [studio] executives that went to Washington, were all kowtowing to [Congress]. Whatís going to happen is that when [a script] comes across [Warner Bros. president and COO] Alan Hornís desk and itís got some sex and violence, theyíll detach that from the rest of the script, even if itís organic and justified. They wonít make it because an R will be more problematic economically. So itís a chilling effect. And who is John McCain to tell us whatís right or wrong, whatís culturally correct or not? Who the hell is he? Just because he served his country and went to prison [in a POW camp]? This is a form of tyranny. It really is censorship, and itís working.

PREMIERE: Whatís the status of the Natural Born Killers lawsuit?

Stone: I was deposed in the lawsuit. A lot of detail, a lot of paperwork. They are trying to prove intent to murder in a civil caseóthat I wrote and directed this thing with the intent that other people would see the movie and [commit] murder. Weíre in the final stages. It went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and it was turned back because they decided that neither side had gone deep enough. So after four years, we hope to get a summary judgment in March. If not, we go to trial in Louisiana.

Aronofsky: Thatís disgusting. Thatís basic First Amendment. Canít they go after every book or piece of art thatís controversial?

Stone: Of course itís the First Amendment. Once you make art a product that can be as defective as a vacuum cleaner, youíre fucked. Because, they told me I could sue on the basisóif I looked at a Picasso and I got fractured . . .

Aronofsky: You saw Guernica and now you want to go bomb people.

PREMIERE: Can a movie make a killer out of somebody?

Stone: Anything is possible. But do you legislate on the basis of zero out of a million? When a child falls and cracks his hand on a file cabinet, do you outlaw file cabinets? Seventeen kids could die every year playing high school footballódo you outlaw football? There are accidents all the time. Do you outlaw elevators? I mean, thereís no end to it.

Aronofsky: Once you start saying that a film can make you a murderer, what does it take for someone to actually go and kill someone? Itís that decision. No matter how many films, no matter how much shit gets shoved into your head, I always go back to that. There is ultimately an individualís choice.

PREMIERE: Darren has made these indie movies with a great deal of freedom, and now Warner Bros. has asked him to reinvent their Batman franchise. What should he look out for?

Stone: Unfortunately, the very first obstacle is that the expectation level on Darren is very high, where he has come from nowhere and made two powerful films one after the other. How does he maintain that intensity and purity in a form that is very commercial? It can be done. The script has to be as intense and pure as your other two were, but perhaps incorporating more characters into that world and seeing that world with integrity. If you maintain that integrity in the script and you fight for it, theyíll let you do it. I believe that. But if they really donít like the script, theyíll move on and youíll lose that turn, but it wonít stop your career. But itís a big number that you bit off. I mean, in the old days we worked our way up more. Now young first-timers are given $100 million movies. My largest budget has been $62 million, Any Given Sunday, which was a lot. But stand your ground, and I think youíll win.

Aronofsky: The master.

Stone: But listen to the others. Donít put in earplugs. [Ex-Warners cochairman] Terry Semel read the script for Any Given Sunday and said, "Youíll really make a mistake if they lose the game at the end. Theyíve gotta win." I said, "Well, thatís the sports clichť." But, at the same time, I was thinking it would work too. Itís just better to winóthe audience feels better. And the film probably made more money because they won.

PREMIERE: You both really push film technique. Itís like youíre trying to make movies faster and condense information.

Stone: Thatís true. Let the story tell itself. Follow the story your way, and it will become a technique. Each film has been shot a different wayóand with a different approach.

Aronofsky: I was most impressed with the style in U Turn, because it was so out there, and there were so many different media and techniques. I guess the worst insult is to be called an MTV film because MTV is style without substance. The thing is to take what they do and then reapply it to narrative.

Stone: Natural Born Killers was MTV for an hour and a half. To keep the narrative going past MTV length is the key. You have to change the pace in a movie. You canít go the same pace at that speed. I always have a lot to say and I have to compress it, and some people object to that energy level because it blows them out. I just think fast, and I think the audience is bored with most movies that are conventional. So I just try to keep them a little bit surprised and off-balance.

PREMIERE: Are there films that you want to make but you canít?

Aronofsky: What Iím writing right now is my heart of hearts, my dream picture. Itís this science-fiction filmóthatís the best way to position it. But itís really, really bizarre and weird.

Stone: Is it expensive?

Aronofsky: Itís a cheap science-fiction film. It needs to have a star because itís very metaphysical, so [it has] a lot of ideas as opposed to action and special effects. I guess the only way to do it is to push everything forward as far as possible.

Stone: You should reverse it, though. You should say, ďPass or failólet me make it.Ē You can go and raise the money, you have a thousand sources, and if you say itís controllable costs, you can go to the Artisans of the world that are popping up everywhere. You have enough of a record now of delivery and responsibility. Thereís no reason on earth, if you believe in this movie, that you canít really make it. Unless youíre not ready in your heartóand thatís happened to me, too. You work on a script and everyone says, ďThatís a great script.Ē But you know in your heart the script is not great.

Aronofsky: Do you think that thereís something that you canít ever possibly make?

Stone: Iíve come short. Iíve aborted several scripts Iíve written. Evita was a heartbreaker. The Peronists put on a lot of pressure. We needed Argentina to make the budget work with [original star] Michelle Pfeiffer.

PREMIERE: Is there another movie that you really wanted to make but you couldnít?

Stone: Never happened yet. Everything I wanted to make, I got to in some way. I went back to Born on the Fourth of July [after] ten years, Platoon [after] ten years. JFK, an experimental movie. Nixon, I had about $3 million against my credit cards and with 30 days to go, I was negotiating to get the copyright back, the change of title, they call it. Producer Andy Vajna helped me get it. It was insane. But I did íem; I did them all. Except for what I have left to do. I know what I want to write. I have notes. Iíve been working on it for years, off and on. Iím ready to go soon. Iím talking about a final movie. The final movie.

Aronofsky: What do you mean, a final movie?

Stone: A funeral oration.

Aronofsky: For yourself? Youíre writing your epitaph?

Stone: I want to write one movie where I write everything out and not worry about the consequences.

Aronofsky: Awesome.

Stone: And walk away. Fuck it. Sunset time. You donít have to make movies all your life.