Oliver Stone’s filmmaking career is to be venerated and exemplified for withstanding doubt and criticism in the face of failure and success. The thunderstorm of his life that pertains to filmmaking is vast enough to cover a 2nd autobiography, serving as a sequel to 2020’s Chasing the Light, his memoir. What resonates the most are the trials and tribulations of his early career, and the patience he displayed until he tasted bits of success thereafter. Good things wouldn’t have occurred for Stone in the ’80s, had he failed to persevere through poorly received freshman and sophomore feature film debuts.
His first two films, Seizure (1974) and The Hand (1981) were both Horror pictures; clear efforts displayed by a filmmaker who couldn’t help but make movies, no matter how bad they were. Oliver was willing to be bad; he just needed the opportunity exercise his development as a cinematic visionary. Investors were willing to gamble on his vision and trust his inevitable progress through the trial and error of attempts at feature filmmaking. Unbeknown to Oliver, he was taking baby steps toward a near future stardom of A-list, Internationally acclaimed, cinematic masterpieces.
Like Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone had his hands on the screenplays of films that are now garnered as cult-classics. Films that were made by seasoned directors of ’80s cinema. What True Romance (1993), From Dusk Till Dawn (1995) and Natural Born Killers (1994) were for Quentin (the latter directed by Stone), Scarface (1983), 8 Million Ways to Die (1987) and Year of the Dragon (1988) were for Oliver. The Brian De Palma and Michael Cimino for Stone’s scripts were equivalent to what Tony Scott and Robert Rodriguez were for Tarantino’s. Visionary directors taking the words of another creative’s emerging voice, and executing it onto the silver-screen with their own signature stamp, is a reliable correlation that can be deduced from both careers of Oliver and Quentin. The fact that these directors wrote compelling stories for the screen, prior to their own elaborate careers, is not only similar in comparison, but driven closer to home, since Oliver Stone directed (and re-wrote) Tarantino’s screenplay for Natural Born Killers.
Tarantino has alluded to the fact that he was satisfied by his initial status as a film director due to the release of Reservoir Dogs (1991) prior to True Romance (1993). The latter being directed by the legendary Tony Scott (Man on Fire, Days of Thunder). This chronology solidified QT as a director first, and a writer 2nd. One contemplates whether QT’s perspective has changed, now that the mastermind of cinema has declared a possible 10th and final film, while promising novels, books and plays in exchange. A concurrence can be made that Quentin prefers the status of a writer in this stage of his life. Is this because he’s realized writing is more of an intellectual living, in comparison to the grueling chores and labor of 12-16 hour days of directing? Or has the director, now full-time writer, built a successful track record of critically acclaimed films, arriving at the point where he’s created the bandwidth and earned the right to speak the opinions of his strong personality. Perhaps, he feels an absence of desire to make movies, because he has nothing left to prove, even with his adamant admittance of a theory that film directing is a young man’s game; you don’t get better with age. Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006) might have something to say about that; Marty was 65 when he won his Oscar.
Are Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone writers by nature and pure desire? Or did the writings of their early careers derive from the lack of opportunities to direct films, prior to getting their start. If so, did these exercises written in times of bitterness or joy, failure and success, trial and error, place them in the inevitable position of gaining momentum to write immortal works of literature, simply because they got into the habit of doing it, out of necessity? Or was their writing habit something innate, congenital since birth. In his Master Class, Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Casino) expressed how aspiring film director’s turn to writing because they need to feed their hunger to tell stories. Take away their camera and they’ll be forced to put pen to paper, not because of an innate desire to write, but using the form as a vehicle to drive an embedded passion for storytelling. Little did Oliver Stone know, that after decades of turmoil, he’d be awarded with an Oscar for Platoon (1986). An equivalent scenario exists in the early Tarantino phase of the ’90s, coming off of car-camping for several months (or years) while working at a video store in Manhattan Beach, in conjunction with a failed attempt at a feature film debut (My Best Friend’s Wedding) would lead to a fairytale of a player’s life; a Mulholland dream with winning an Oscar for Pulp Fiction (1994).
If it’s always darkest before the white thread of light at dawn, and, if it’s true that most people throw in the towel before their time has come, then, one should attempt to consciously comprehend the fact that good things are right around the corner for those prepared. The careers of Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino continue to be used as lights of hope because their blood, sweat and tears paid-off. Their success shows that all one needs is an opportunity, and hopes their preparation from years of experience has ripened them as filmmakers ready to lead an army of cast & crew with sincerity and integrity. And if not granted an opportunity to become an above-the-line player, 2nd or 3rd in command, they should take comfort in the fact that they’ve been granted an opportunity to grind below-the-line, because they love making movies, and the world loves viewing them.