Oliver Stone on ‘Scarface’, JFK, writing, directing & his memoir ‘Chasing the Light’.

Oliver Stone’s intimate memoir Chasing the Light: Writing, Directing, and Surviving Platoon, Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador and the Movie Game is an autobiography documenting the first half of his life and career which delves deep into his childhood from growing up in New York and ends with his Oscar winning film Platoon (1986) which won Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1987. “I was going so fast, in between films, I didn’t have that leisure time to think about what I’d done.” Oliver Stone said, referring to his detailed memoir. The book discusses the controversy that erupted on the set of Brian de Palma’s Scarface (1983), written by Oliver Stone, in how Oliver provided advice to the film’s leading man, Al Pacino, with ideas on how to portray the character of Tony Montana – a Cuban immigrant in Miami. One of the golden rules during filmmaking is how the director is the only individual authorized to speak with actors regarding notes and guidance while on a movie set. There was a conflict of interest that erupted on the set of Scarface when writer Oliver Stone discussed notes with actor Al Pacino, undermining the authority of Brian de Palma. “Brian de Palma did a great job directing it.” Olive Stone said, when he appeared as a guest on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, Episode 1511 which aired on YouTube, July 22nd, 2020. Oliver and Joe discuss a wide variety of topics revolving around American history, since the legendary filmmaker has made movies centering around former Presidents like Nixon (1995), JFK (1991), and W. (2008). Moreover, the celebrated filmmaker made movies like Salvador (1986) which centered on an American photojournalist (James Woods) trapped amid political turmoil in El Salvador, as well as World Trade Center (2006), which focused on the attacks of 9/11 at the Twin Towers. But it was the war film Platoon (1986) – which depicted an accurate account of the divide between American soldiers at war with Vietnam – that won Oliver Stone the award for Best Director at the Academy Awards in 1987 and became the climactic highlight event that ends his autobiographical memoir with glory and success.


Oliver Stone’s highly underrated documentary series, The Untold History of the United States (2012), is also heavily discussed on the podcast, in addition to the wide variety of conspiracy theories involving the assassination of John. F. Kennedy – the 35th President of the United States – who was assassinated in 1963. Stone spoke of his upcoming documentary about President JFK, “I made a documentary, it’s almost finished. We went back to the case again. We’re taking all the information from the assassination records review board that came out. They passed the JFK Act, congress did, it’s amazing. They allowed the board to exist for 5 years, and they went through a lot of detail. They weren’t out to prove anything, but they found a lot of detail that we put into this documentary.” Oliver Stone also revealed why Scarface was considered a box office failure upon its initial release in 1983. “White people did not like that movie when it came out. It was the Blacks and the Latinos in the inner cities that went. They loved it. That was the kind of audience we had. We were a bad boy movie.” Oliver Stone goes on to explain how the movie underperformed based on Universal Studios’ expectations since the production went three months over its $25 million budget. According to Oliver, the production phase of Scarface was tiresome, but the tediousness paid off in the long run, since the film has garnered a cult reputation in the modern day, having found its audience with future generations in the new millennium, over three decades after its initial release in the early ‘80s.


Oliver Stone discusses the pseudo-war on drugs in addition to the controversy behind how the character of Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is depicted as a protagonist even though he’s an immoral person with villainous traits. “He’s a hero because he’s free. He’s not a hypocrite. He’s a man who’s free unto himself. The people around him are corrupt. The cops are corrupt. The system, the bureaucracy that presses down on him. The drug war is an invention. It’s an enormous bureaucracy. We always create wars. War on drugs.  War on poverty. We make too much of a bureaucracy. I noticed this in Vietnam. It bothered the shit out of me.” Oliver Stone speaks about the rise and fall of Tony Montana after achieving the American dream as an immigrant in Scarface. “Pacino (Tony Montana) is a hero because he sees it all. It’s all bullshit. He calls it out. A lot of people picked up on it. They knew the war on drugs was a lie.” Al Pacino portrays a Cuban immigrant whose rise from rags to riches is fueled by his confidence of seeing through the corrupt political system as he takes over a massive drug cartel without the fear of repercussions from the government, since he believed everything was contaminated. The cause of his death upon the film’s climax wasn’t because of his unlawful ambitions any more that it was from him succumbing to greed.

YouTube Clip from the JRE Podcast with Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone differentiates between the mindsets of a writer and a director and how they’re on different sides of a coin when it comes to their opposite personalities while contributing to the making of a film. “The writer and director side, they’re two different people. You can’t be the same person when you’re doing it. Writing is very much the inner loneliness and solitude. Directing is very much being external, being warm, being inviting, working with people and collaborating. It’s a totally different exercise in your mind. I think I’m double minded.” Oliver Stone’s most recent feature was Snowden (2016) starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency employee who leaked classified documents to the media and blew the whistle on the NSA’s illegal surveillance methods. In total, Oliver Stone has directed 20 feature films and 8 documentaries. With the exception of some gems in his filmography like U-Turn (1997) and Any Given Sunday (1999), or the controversial Natural Born Killers (1994), the majority of Oliver Stone’s films are incredibly educational and informative as they involve world history and politics. His memoir, “Chasing the Light”, is currently available for order.

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