Chasing the Light: Writing, Directing, and Surviving Platoon, Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador, and the Movie Game

Chasing the Light: Writing, Directing, and Surviving Platoon, Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador, and the Movie Game

By:  Oliver Stone

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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.

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  • Format: Hardcover

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780358346234

  • ISBN-10: 0358346231

  • Pages: 352

  • Price: $28.00

  • Publication Date: 07/21/2020

  • Carton Quantity: 12

O
Author

Oliver Stone

OLIVER STONE is the multiple Oscar-winning writer and director of Platoon, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July, Natural Born Killer, Midnight Express, and many other films.
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  • reviews
    “…the Oliver Stone depicted in these pages — vulnerable, introspective, stubbornly tenacious and frequently heartbroken — may just be the most sympathetic character he’s ever written… neatly sets the stage for the possibility of that rarest of Stone productions: a sequel.” —New York Times Book Review 

     

    “Fantastic…the dual theme of chasing and being chased by the light is central to Oliver’s life story…there are luminescent passages throughout this book to crack open the reader’s consciousness to a second reality…Chasing the Light is not a superficial trip down memory lane like so many memoirs by famous people; Stone is a wonderful writer, and as with his films, he takes you deep to places you may wish to avoid but are essential for true sanity. The great thing about this memoir is his passion for truth and life that courses through its pages.  He seizes the reader by the throat and shouts: Consciousness!  Wake up!  Don’t let sleep and forgetfulness make you into one of the living-dead!”—Edward Curtin, Global Research   

     

    "Chasing the Light is a deep book, illuminated and relentless, prose at its best…What Oliver Stone has written will last, because I have never seen anything like his insights into the way the film industry works.."—Werner Herzog 

     

    “Oliver Stone is a giant provocateur in the Hollywood movie system.  His autobiography is a fascinating exposure of Stone’s inner life and his powerful, all devouring energy and genius that drove him to become one of the world's greatest filmmakers. Stone rattles cages. He pricks the bubbles of the namby-pambies. He provokes outrage. He stirs up controversy. He has no respect for safe places. Oliver Stone is larger than life. Chasing the Light says it all.”    

    —Sir Anthony Hopkins

    “Oliver Stone's narrative, his life story about the heartbreaks, the near misses, and finally the triumphs is a Hollywood movie in itself. I thank Oliver for writing Chasing the Light, especially for my NYU grad film students—or anybody else with artistic dreams of working in this thing called the movie business. Oliver, in honest and sometimes brutal fashion, lays it out—what it took for him to get to where he hoped to be—a  successful writer/director working in Hollywood; the road it took is hard AF. Bravo.Bravo.Bravo.” 

    —Spike Lee

    “…riveting… a gripping read, and it is made all the more compelling by Stone’s incredible honesty about himself as a person; about his feelings, including embarrassing feelings that most people would leave to the therapy couch; and about his triumphs and failures. Oliver Stone, first and foremost, is an amazing human being, and to learn about him in his own words, with all his humor and candor, is a delight.”—Dan Kovalik, CounterPunch 

     

    "Oliver Stone's story is the story of my generation writ large." 

    —Paul Schrader, screenwriter of Taxi Driver 

     

    “Oliver takes you on a journey of desire, success and failure and ultimately success, deeply personal, with an uncanny self-effacing vulnerability that is not necessarily associated with Oliver; this is a companionable book of profound, usable insights." 

    —Julian Schnabel     

    "In his gripping memoir, Chasing the Light, Oliver Stone continues to blaze with the light he did so often catch. Even though I already knew a bit how it turns out up to now, I found it hard to put the book down, as if he himself, in his struggles and defeats and victories, is the most intense of his own powerful films. It is utterly poignant today to follow his relentless pursuit of personal, artistic, and political freedom in constant confrontation with the still darkly looming forces of ignorance, selfishness, obsessive power, cruelty, and greed, forces that have brought us to today’s existential crises. His odyssey was especially thrilling for me, a long hidden witness of the struggle from my “ivory tower” of academia, to feel able to honor his front-line battles, seeing what had gone on behind the courageous exposēs I enjoyed so much at the time, forcing our national consciousness to face the atrocities of Salvador, the Vietnam of Platoon, the treason of JFK, the greed of Wall Street, and so many more great efforts to focus the light of conscience upon our national decadence. The battle for the soul of our ideal nation and the lasting beauty of our world is not won yet, of course, but this honest and passionate  account of one man’s determination inspires all of us who will never give up, as Oliver himself so clearly has not! Read it with delight and amazement, and keep after the light!" —Robert Thurman, Jey Tsong Khapa Professor Emeritus of Indo-Tibetan Buddhology, Columbia University

    “…very visual and descriptive…Stone might be considered the first veteran content creator of the modern era…well worth the read for anyone interested in the drive it takes to achieve your long-term goals.”—Wes O’Donnell, InMilitary 

     

    “Stone knows how to grab a viewing audience—and readers...Stone recounts his life of ups and downs well; besides being an accomplished screenwriter, he’s also a fine prose writer. To be continued? In the often tacky world of movie memoirs, Stone’s will stand out for its hard-earned insights, integrity, and grace.”—Kirkus Reviews 

     

    “Every bit the stylish, unapologetic, and at times self-aggrandizing document one would expect based on his flamboyant films… readers more interested in artists’ early struggles than in their glory days will be fascinated.”—Publishers Weekly 

     

    “If you were expecting a glitzy, conventional Hollywood memoir from maverick director Oliver Stone, who has written and/or directed some of the most significant pictures of our time, you would be wildly mistaken.  This is a frank, no holds barred, and truly fascinating account of his struggle to make these movies, and a must-read for everyone with strong convictions and something to say who wants to know what it's like to navigate the `system’.”—Peter Biskind, New York Times bestselling author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and Down and Dirty Pictures 

     

    "A compelling coming of age story by the filmmaker who most courageously exposed the conceits and deceits of the American Empire in decline. Oliver Stone’s journey from naive warrior for madness cloaked as civilizing virtue in Vietnam to his Academy Award triumph as the forty year old director of Platoon is the establishing shot to a lifetime of work that brilliantly shattered Hollywood’s obsession with American innocence no matter the horrid consequence."—Robert Scheer, editor-in-chief, Truthdig"Raw, savagely honest, as dramatic as any of his movies, Oliver Stone's memoir defies all the Hollywood clichés."Mail on Sunday "Chasing the Light shows a man who still runs towards the gunfire. This is, you will gather, a tremendous book - readable, funny and harrowing. It's also full of movie-making gossip, scandal and fun. If you want to know what...

  • excerpts
    Introduction

    I’m moving swiftly through the cobblestone streets of a small, sixteenth-century Mexican town complete with churches, plazas, and stone bridges over a meandering stream traversing this small gem of a location. 

         Hundreds of extras and technical people, as well as actors, are waiting in the heat for me to decide where, when, how. I’m in the middle of Zapata country, in Morelos state, two hours south of Mexico City. 

         On one street, I have 150 Mexican army soldiers dressed as Salvadoran troops circa 1980. On another street, neighing and pawing the pavestones impatiently are seventy horses with riders gathered from the best vaqueros in the state, a rebel cavalry. I’ve decided they’re going to charge over a bridge onto the main plaza for a final overwhelming of besieged government forces. There will be multiple explosions which we’ve set along the line of the charge. Between the two sides are several dozen villagers, civilians gathered as extras, who will scatter in all directions on cue. 

         My principal actors, playing journalists, are going to be right in the middle of this charge, watching the cavalry pound down the side of the street right at our cameras. I’ll stay with my nervous star because he’s terrified of getting hurt with this crazy director who’s nearly gotten him killed several times already (according to him), and whom he doesn’t trust because he thinks I’m this gruff veteran of another war (in Vietnam) who believes that all actors are namby-pambies. He thinks entirely, of course, of his face and our imminent gas bombs, any of which could disfigure him and ruin his career when they’re detonated. 

         The sun is high and hot. I’m ready to call “Action!” After some fifteen years of trying to direct a film like this, today is a dream come true—the vision of a six-year-old boy under a Christmas tree loaded with toy soldiers and electric trains—my very own world. I am the engineer, and I have the power to decide today who dies and who lives in this theater of my making. It’s everything that made the movies so exciting to me as a child—battles, passionate actions, momentous outcomes. 

         And yet, as exciting as it is to be a god for a few days, behind our film’s props, scenery, and manpower is a forbidding dilemma. We’re out of money. Fifty or sixty of us, foreigners, are stranded in Mexico, living off credit and borrowed time. We started six weeks ago on a vast enterprise requiring ninety-three speaking roles in two languages, some fifty locations, tanks, planes, and choppers to shoot an epic-scale movie about the El Salvador civil war of the early 1980s. We’re working in three different states in Mexico, separated by great distances, shooting, among other things, a massacre outside a large cathedral in Mexico City (standing in for San Salvador), death squads, the rape and murder of nuns, and this scary horse charge—all this for a ridiculous fantasy sum of less than $3 million! Truly, we’d been crazy to start this. 

         And now the money people are driving out from Mexico City to basically take control of the film from me and the producer, because we’re clearly over budget—by how much no one yet knows—with two weeks left to shoot. Authority has to be reestablished. The people in LA are calling in the “bond company”(Urgh! The very words terrify most producers), who’ve guaranteed “completion” of the film as an insurance company might value a human life until its death, which we’re fast approaching. Despite my exhilaration at getting to this moment, I am also massively depressed that this might be my last setup on a movie on which we’d gambled so heavily and now seem to have lost. 

         “Action!” I yell so they can hear me several blocks away without the radios. “Charge!” The orders are repeated in Spanish over bullhorns by my assistant directors. 

         Then comes the growing sound of pounding hooves on those old cobblestones—four metal shoes to a horse, 280 coming from a distance, heading ultimately for our camera crew. I’m praying no one falls off his damned horse in these narrow streets; he’d surely be trampled to death. 

         “Get ready!” I yell out, unnecessarily, to the two actors playing journalists with their 35mm cameras perched to shoot the oncoming charge. My lead is jittery. The other actor is solid, though, and determined to shine as the first of the riders appear around a corner, roaring toward the bridge, firing rifles as they ride all out. Brave men. The first horses are now flying over the bridge, a fiery red explosion to their side. Two or three men fall off in choreographed spots without injury. The horde keeps coming. The momentum of the cavalry charge is the most important thing, and I know we’ve got it. I can feel the violence of this moment. It’s too good, too real. 

         Then, with seventy horses over the bridge, my lead actor bolts. A little early perhaps—the riders are still fifty yards away—but who wouldn’t be scared? Like a giant wave coming down on a ship, the noise alone is enough to terrify even the hardiest soul. And yet the supporting actor, motivated by a moment of greatness, stands firm as a rock, “photographing” this classic moment. At thirty yards I scream at him to run—“Get out of there!”—as my brave cinematographer and I know we won’t escape unless we do it now, sprinting out of the path of the horses. We go! 

         At twenty yards, my intrepid and nimble second actor jumps to safety just in time. It’s chilling. The sound alone and the jittery images will work. It’d be a spectacular moment on film. Too bad the first actor left a little too early, but . . . that’s his “character” emerging in the movie. Not exactly a Hollywood hero. 

         “Cut!” I scream. A tremendous energy is expired before the horses and the crew reassemble, breathing hard, the horses’ flanks heaving, instructions in Spanish yelled out between crew members, many adjustments made. 

         Now that we’ve broken the ice, I call for a second take. We’re on a roll; over the next two hours, we do the charge four more times, covering all kinds of angles as the cavalry swarm over the government troops (mostly Mexican stuntmen), turning the tide of the battle in favor of the rebels. 

         That is, until—in the film—the United States embassy, on alert, intervenes by phone in this crucial battle of this civil war and authorizes the newest tanks and weaponry from America to be released to the government side. With three tanks, some air cover, and artillery, there’s enough firepower to turn back the temporary rebel tide and ensure a government stabilization. We’re planning to shoot this over the next two days as we try to complete the battle before our financial lifeline is cut. But I tighten when I see my producer walking toward me with his perpetual frown of worry. With British understatement he quips, “I’m not frowning, am I? . . . We got the million.” 

         Wow! Life. Breath! A million dollars from a Mexican investing syndicate friendly with ...

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: Hardcover

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780358346234

  • ISBN-10: 0358346231

  • Pages: 352

  • Price: $28.00

  • Publication Date: 07/21/2020

  • Carton Quantity: 12

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