Working closely with Stone and the film's producers, Veloz wrote "Natural Born Killers" (NBK) when he was a newly minted graduate of USC Film School. Veloz's screenplay was based on an original story by Quentin Tarantino, but was significantly expanded and modified. Veloz's script for NBK was a satirical condemnation of media violence. As filmed by Oliver Stone, however, the film seemed to some commentators to glorify violence.
After the critical and box office success of NBK (the film grossed over $50 million domestically, making it the 25th top-grossing film of the year), Veloz was a hot commodity in Hollywood.
Veloz leveraged his success into an opportunity to direct his own script, an adaptation of Jerry Stahl's autobiographical book Permanent Midnight. Starring Ben Stiller as Stahl, "Permanent Midnight" (1998) presented a harsh portrait of a fast-lane, cocaine-fueled lifestyle. The movie grossed only $1.2 million domestically, and was Veloz's last venture as a director.
Veloz's next feature was "Behind Enemy Lines," a big-budget war/action movie starring Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson. Released on schedule shortly after the World Trade Center tragedy of September 11th, 2001, "Behind Enemy Lines" turned out to be something of a surprise hit at the box office. It grossed over $58 million domestically, proving to be popular with audiences, despite how critics felt about it.
REVIEW: Permanent Midnight [Rating: 3 stars]
Starring Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Hurley. Written by David Veloz from the book by Jerry Stahl. Directed by David Veloz. (STC) Opens Sept. 25.
Call it the "When Smart People Do Dumb Things" syndrome, to the infinite power. Back in the late '80s, TV writer Jerry Stahl was a man on his way up. Unfortunately, he was also in the process of cultivating a heroin habit "the size of Utah," which eventually led to him blowing all his money, ruining every relationship he had and shooting drugs directly into his neck.
Stahl's downward spiral and eventual recovery have now been followed, in true Hollywood style, by a far-above-average biopic. Permanent Midnight, ably adapted for the screen -- from Stahl's own memoirs -- by first-time writer/ director David Veloz, showcases a genuinely startling dramatic turn by Ben Stiller.
All three of Permanent Midnight's primary players were on hand for round-table interviews at the Four Seasons Hotel during the Toronto International Film Festival. Many of the questions aimed Stahl's way had less to do with the details of his addiction than with the Kafka-esque sequence that precedes the film's final credits: clip after clip of Stahl appearing on an endless string of TV talk shows, with a superimposed graphic identifying him as "Jerry, Former Junkie."
"Yeah, well, I decided from the beginning I wasn't going to play coy or holier-than-thou," Stahl points out. "I mean, how humiliating could it possibly be? I've done, seen, been a whole lot worse. That scene could be seen as me doing penance, gaining redemption, but I don't know if you can get redeemed by going on Oprah."
Says Stiller: "Even after everything, Jerry is a very morally centred guy, and a great writer. If you think this movie is impressive, you should read the book -- see what we had to take out."
Stahl's canny and horrific memoir is indeed the antithesis of a fun ride, but it did manage to net him a post-rehab development deal, attracting the interest of both Veloz and gonzo producers Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy, the driving forces behind Natural Born Killers.
"I knew Jane already," says Veloz. "In her book -- Killer Instinct -- I'm the dazed former Mormon lying on the floor after getting bawled out by Oliver Stone. So one night she calls me up and says: 'Hey, somebody gave me this book, and I'm on page 15, and two people are having sex with chunks of opium up their asses. We have to option this!' "
The rectally lodged opium, sad to say, didn't make Permanent Midnight's final cut. But the rest of the movie is just as dark and weirdly entertaining as the material warrants, further benefiting from the fact that no one involved seems inclined to cut Stahl much slack just for being an addict, including Stahl himself (who has a cameo as a burnt-out methadone clinic counselor).
As he puts it: "I lost a lot of years, and I don't want to coast on the dumb stuff I did forever. I don't have any particular ambition to end up being the Shine guy of heroin chic."
Not unless it nets you an Oscar.
Stahl makes a face. "Not even then," he says.
In an interview with Tin House, writer Jerry Stahl discussed the film "Permanent Midnight," which David Veloz adapted and directed based on Stahl's autobiographical book by the same title. [Original URL: http://www.tinhouse.com/conservatory/interview.html]
JS: Let's just say, in some ways, I was a different kind of asshole on-screen than I was in print. David Veloz, the director, who also wrote the screenplay, took things in directions I might not necessarily have gone, but that's why they hired him. He was one of the original writers of Natural Born Killers, which is one of the few movies I've actually watched nine times. So he seemed like a great choice. And the producers, Jane Hampsher and Don Murphy, produced NBK with Oliver Stone. But it is, as they say, a process. In the first draft of the script, for example, the writer had me tying off with toilet paper, which was slightly problematic. Apparently, they don't teach the dos and don'ts of heroin abuse at USC Film School. I ended up as kind of an on-set needle wrangler, teaching Ben how to find a vein, get a register, cook up Mexican tar, and vomit like a man. Thank God I'd done the research.
I had to chuckle when Kansas Senator Bob Dole singled out the new Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers as the embodiment of Hollywood's evil love affair with sex and violence. You see, an old high school buddy of mine wrote the blasted thing.
Now that his work has become the stuff of presidential politics, my friend David Veloz, lead writer of the Killers screenplay, probably won't soon hear the end of it.
Listening to the sound bites on the evening news, you'd think this bright young man who played clarinet in the Hart High band and joined the LDS Church at age 17 had somehow turned into the sort of hideous monster who peddles "nightmares of depravity" -- Dole's vernacular -- to an impressionable public.
Though he declined to comment on the record, suffice to say that Veloz, now a 33 year-old Santa Clarita father of two, finds the assertion preposterous.
His movie, unlike most mass-market mush, challenges all facets of American pop culture that contribute to aberrant social behavior -- including the media.
Natural Born Killers is the frighteningly intense story of Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) and his common-law wife Mallory (Juliette Lewis), two ruthless sociopaths who take 52 lives before they are apprehended.
Comic book visions of childhood nightmares, oblique camera angles and a repeating switch from black and white to color create the illusion that Mickey and Mallory live in a world where fantasy and reality collide.
Raised in dysfunctional families heavily influenced by television, Mickey and Mallory don't know right from wrong. They seek notoriety -- the kind of notoriety that Charles Manson, Richard Ramirez and Ted Bundy found when network TV thrust the famed serial killers into the nation's living rooms.
Fleeting images of Lyle Menendez, Waco, and even O.J. Simpson punctuate the story, as if to chastise both the media's sensationalism of real-life brutality, and our bizarre, couch-potato obsession with it. It is not just Mickey and Mallory's world where fantasy shadows reality; it is the whole TV generation's.
Mickey and Mallory aren't the tale's only villains. Everyone bears guilt, from the cops who cross the line to the Geraldo-type talk show host Wayne Gale (Robert Downey, Jr.), who has built a career on feeding his fans what he has taught them to crave: glorified violence.
Gale and the killers need each other. Gale needs Mickey and Mallory, to win ratings. Mickey and Mallory need Gale, to win fame.
But Mickey rebukes Gale when the latter feigns righteousness during a prison interview with the serial killer. "You're not even a man," Mickey chides. "You're media."
To Mickey, the media is worse than the killer. It fosters the cycle of violence. The media foists violence onto youngsters who grow into violent adults, in turn supplying broadcasters with fresh acts of violence to foist onto the next generation of TV junkies.
Mickey and Mallory ultimately grab Gale's camera and gun down the media whore in front of his own television audience.
"Killing you and what you represent makes a statement," Mickey says. "You're not the monster -- you're Dr. Frankenstein."
Could it be that Messrs. Dole, Stone and Veloz are all saying essentially the same thing? That killers aren't "natural born," but made? And that the media is the Dr. Frankenstein who makes man into monster? And that neither the media nor the sociopath can exist without an audience?
Why do we keep giving them one?
Hollywood may be guilty, but no more so than those of us who line up at the box office. If we didn't want TV Guide, it wouldn't be America's top-selling weekly.
Little will change until we take our lives off remote control, until we wean ourselves from Beavis and Butthead, until we quit giving a damn about Marcia Clark's stupid hairdos.
Natural Born Killers is violent and disturbing. Its messages are too intense to digest in one sitting, too complex to exhaust in one brief newspaper column -- let alone in a ten-second sound bite.
It's not a film for children or thin-skinned adults, and if you're just looking for entertainment, it's not for you.
Go see Batman instead. Some people get blown up, but you don't really see them die.
Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident. His commentary appears on Wednesdays.
Did the Universal postproduction guys know this was happening? Almost certainly; there was no way you could ignore the smell that was coming from a place where someone was living that had no ventilation. Did they care? Well, I think they started hinting to Don; but as I've mentioned before, Don's not really the kind of guy who responds to either subtle or not-so-subtle hints. (As our friend Dave Veloz puts it so eloquently, "Don just lives in a different emotional matrix than the rest of us.") I think that he finally moved out on his own steam, but not before he'd gotten them to give him a day of sound mixing in return for his departure. Once the student loans ran out, he paid for finishing most of his film by selling off the excess mag tape he found lying around in the hallway.
"...The basic weakness of NBK, as it stands now, is that Mickey and Mallory are pretty much cardboard cutouts who simply have a lot of neat dialogue."
"And three?" asked Don.
"And three, they've got to be able to handle a lot of insanity. Because the more we get to know Oliver Stone, the more I'm sure he's a madman."
I combed my brain day and night trying to figure out someone who fit the bill. FInally, I narrowed it down to one choice.
"I have an idea, Murphy. Dave Veloz."
He looked at me like my brains had suddenly started leaking out my ears or something. "Have you lost your mind? Jane, Oliver Stone is expecting us to bring him someone 'wild and crazy.' He wants some biker to walk in covered in tattoos and BO. Dave Veloz is a Mormon. He's married with two kids. He doesn't even drink tea. And you want to fix him up with Oliver Stone?"
"Okay, I'll admit there are flaws to my plan. But Dave is extremely talented, he's got a really distinctive voice, he just graduated from USC, and he's desperate for his first writing gig. I can't explain why, but it's an emotional matchup that just feels right."
Don shrugged. "Well, it's not like we have anybody better. But Dave's a friend. I just hope Oliver doesn't put the poor guy into a mental institution."
I took a couple of Dave's student scripts over to Oliver that Friday afternoon, hoping to say hello to him at the same time. I'd been sitting in his lobby for about fifteen minutes when his assistant, a smart young recent UCLA grad named Azita Zendel, came out to talk to me.
"Oliver would really like to see you," she said, "but something very important has come up, and he won't be able to." She seemed like someone who was desperately trying to hold it all together at the moment.
Just then, I saw a very pretty and rather famous young actress go flying out of Oliver's office, scrambling with her belongings as she dashed for the door. I glanced at Azita, who looked like she was on the verge of panic.
"Is everything all right?" I asked. "I could wait--"
No, no, that won't be necessary. Everything is fine. I'll give the scripts to Oliver, and I'm sure he'll call you about them soon." She grabbed the package from my hand and rushed back into Oliver's office.
[Pg. 88:] I didn't know what was going on, but I was sure that it was probably business as usual in the life of a superstar director. I expected that Oliver would get back to me in a few days after he'd had time to read Dave's scripts. But the next day, I got a call from Oliver.
"I'm sorry I couldn't see you yesterday when you came by, but I'd taken some 'smart drugs,' and I passed out," he said. "They had to call the paramedics. I didn't remember anything until I woke up in the hospital..."
This was more information than I either needed or wanted. "Are you okay?" I asked. All I needed was for Oliver Stone to die on my right now.
"I'm fine. And I've read those scripts you brought me. I think they're terrible."
Holy sh--, this guy was insane. This morning he's in the hospital, and this afternoon he's reading scripts? More than that, if he hated David's work, I didn't have a backup. I was thinking frantically, trying to calculate a fallback position, when he preempted my next move.
"So, do you think David could come in and meet with me on Monday?" he said.
I could tell that Dave Veloz was probably sticking his finger in his ear to pull out the wax that had built up and was clearly blocking his hearing when I called him that afternoon.
"You want me to what?" he said.
I hadn't told him about sending his scripts over to Oliver, since I didn't want to get his hopes up for nothing. But now that Oliver had read his stuff and wanted to meet with him, it seemed like a good time to fill him in on what was happening. I decided it was wisest to leave out the bit about the nurse, however.
"He wants someone 'wild and crazy' to come in and do some work on NBK while he's shooting Heaven and Earth, so I sent him some of your scripts," he said.
"And he liked them?"
"Well . . . uh . . . well, he wants you to come over and meet with him. I guess that pretty much says it all, doesn't it?"
Dave stumbled around for a few moments, trying to come to terms with the weirdness of the situation. Sure, he'd been looking for his first writing gig, but he never expected anything like this.
[Pg. 89.] "Okay," he said.
"That's great," I said. "So listen, Dave, here's the drill. He wants a résumé from you."
"It's pretty short. It's just got my screenwriting degree, the scholarships I won, the script that got optioned to Warner Brothers. . . ."
"It was part of the scholarship--Warner Brothers automatically got an option on the script that won."
"See, there's kind of a problem here, because Oliver wants someone who's completely outside of Hollywood. I kind of took the liberty of portraying you as this crazy Mormon out in Canyon Country who couldn't find Hollywood with a map. You must've done something else to earn money while you were in school."
"I painted housed."
"That's good--I like it."
"Would you like me to show up barefoot and wearing overalls?"
"Nice touch," I said. "See you at Oliver's office Monday at two o'clock."
Listening to myself on the phone, I started to wonder. Was whatever Don Murphy had contagious?
Don has this rather peculiar habit of waving things manically in his right hand whenever he's nervous. Books, CDs, videotapes--anything will do. At 2:30 the following Monday afternoon, Don was frantically ventilating the lobby of Oliver's office with a copy of Time magazine, while I was nearby pulling my hair out in clumps. For the first and maybe only time in his life, Oliver Stone was on time. David Veloz was not.
Oliver kept walking out of his office, shouting, "Where is he? Is he here yet?" When Dave finally showed, he was completely cool and collected. Don and I were both ready to clobber him with hostility when he arrived; his excuse had something to do with traffic. He wasn't bothered by our anxiety, or by his impending meeting with Oliver. Dave has an unflappable exterior that shields some really dark and complex stuff, but at first blush, he looks like a big, affable mountain man who's uncharacteristically contemplative about everything he says.
Oliver liked him immediately. "So, Veloz, are we going to make this 7-Eleven movie?" was the first thing he said when we all sat down. A bit of chitchat was exchanged, typical in a meeting with Oliver, during which times I've concluded that he not only asserts his command of the room but also sizes up the weak points of his prey, tucking them away for future use.
"Tell me what you think of the script," he finally asked Dave.
"Well, I see Mickey and Mallory like wolves," Dave said. "They're predatory, and they mate for life. They might kill each other in a fit of anger, but they wouldn't let anyone else--they'd protect each other to the death."
Oliver seemed to like this. "I'd like to explore Mallory's past. Her relationship with her family, her father. It's something that Tarantino only hinted at in the script." Indeed, in the original Quentin draft, we get only a brief flashback of Mallory's father and mother as they're being killed, before Mickey and Mallory take off on their spree. Oliver wanted to look down into what motivated that moment, to get at "the darkness of their souls," as he put it.
Dave agreed to give it a shot. Oliver told Don to do the deal with Dave, and then sent us all away.
I honestly don't think Oliver was expecting anything to come of Dave's work. He told him at the time that if we wound up using any of his material, we'd bump him up to WGA scale and give him a screenwriting credit, but he wasn't promising anything. Dave understood this and was pretty realistic about the whole situation. For him, it was an opportunity to get to work with someone like Oliver Stone; he knew that whether anything came out of it or not, it would be an interesting experience.
But we were both worried about the direction Oliver was pushing the script. The one thing we'd agreed on, after Dave read the script and before we went into the meeting, was that WE DIDN'T WANT TO MAKE AN OLIVER STONE FILM. What was fresh and exciting about NBK was that it wasn't full of whining, apologetic I'm-a-killer-'cos-Daddy-spanked-me bullsh--. I think Quentin wrote the script the way he did because he thought it was cool to have unapologetic violence on the screen, but for Dave and me, it was in interesting challenge to cast someone as the hero of the script who had dark impulses, and then make an audience identify with them. It'd been done before, in everything from Richard III to The Honeymoon Killers, but it was definitely an out-of-fashion dramatic practice in a Hollywood that wanted likable protagonists who made the audience feel good about themselves and the state of the world. Well,the state [Pg. 91] of the world was [expletive]-maybe no more or less [expletive] than it's ever been, but [expletive] nonetheless--and it wasn't getting any less [expletive] by pretending that characters like that didn't exist. It looked like NBK might be taking a dire turn into a whining social-commentary film we just weren't interested in making.
"So, uh, what do you think, Dave?" I asked when we got out of the meeting.
"I don't know," he said. "Let me take a stab at it."
It took only two weeks for Oliver Stone to reduce Dave Veloz from a stable, reliable churchgoing Mormon to a borderline psychotic Pepsi-swilling mess, rolling around the floor in his boxer shorts and wondering if he'd ever be able to do anything right again for the rest of his life.
Oliver took off for Thailand. Within a few days, Dave had delivered twenty pages that Oliver loved. He began to expand the characters of Mickey and Mallory and give them a flesh-and-blood relationship. It was Dave who conceived of presenting Mickey and Mallory in an ordinary domestic situation. Mickey gets mad at Mallory for taking off her wedding ring when she washes her hair. The whole thing seems perfectly romantic and sweet, until you pan over to the corner and see that they've got a female hostage tied up in the background. It was also Dave's conceit that Mickey Knox, as someone who was playing to his outlaw image in the media, would remember his past as if it were a television sitcom; but the painful reality of the family situation, with its domestic violence and child abuse, would keep breaking through the canned laughter and the bland video surface. Thus was born the Rodney Dangerfield scene, which most people credited with being the most inspired scene in the film. (They credited Quentin, who had nothing to do with it.)
Initially, Dave felt great. Oscar-winning screenwriter/director Oliver Stone loved his work. Then he sent another batch of pages, and this time the phone calls in the middle of the night began coming from Thailand. "What are you doing? You're ruining my script!" Oliver would scream at Dave. "What's all this romantic sh--? I'm making a prison-break movie!" Then the next call: "What do you think this is--a prison-break movie?" Dave didn't know what to think. He'd call me up and I'd talk him down [pg. 92] for hours on end, trying to help him figure out what Oliver wanted. But I was just as stumped as he was.
"Maybe he's just been doing so many 'smart drugs' again that he doesn't remember what he's saying from one time to the next," I told Dave.
But I wasn't sure about this last point, and I told Don how I really felt. "It seems too calculating. Oliver's way too savvy and too much of a provocateur to dismiss that easily."
"What do you think he's doing, then?" Don asked.
"I don't know, but I know he likes to push people's buttons," I said.
"No sh--," said Don. "The way he called us up with that Mike Simpson news--I almost exploded."
"It's kind of Zen," I said.
"Get out of here!"
"No, I'm serious. In Zen practice, it's the teacher's job to push the student into realization by contradicting everything he thinks he knows. Kind of like taking the cane away from a blind man, then turning him around and pushing him down. Every time Dave thinks he's got it, Oliver pulls the rug out from underneath him."
"Have you been doing some of those 'smart drugs,' too?" Don asked.
"No, look, he's driving Dave crazy, but he's also getting better work out of him than anyone ever has. Dave keeps reaching deeper and deeper inside himself to find something that will make Oliver happy again, and regain the approval that made him feel so good in the first place."
"So what you're saying is that Oliver Stone gets really good work out of people by torturing them."
"Well, kind of, yeah, I guess."
"Oh, I can see right now that this whole thing is going to be a [expletive] picnic," he said.
In addition to trying to keep Dave Veloz glued together during this time, we were also worried about something else--namely, how to keep Oliver interested inNBK while he was halfway around the world shooting another movie. He was nothing if not impulsive. What happened if he decided he wanted to do something else when he came back? Studios regularly pay millions to develop movies they never make--paying us off wouldn't be unheard of. And, after all this, we wanted to make sure that NBK got made.
So I decided to provoke him, just like he was provoking Dave. Knowing [pg. 93] that Oliver was not the greatest feminist in the world, I sent him Bricks Are Heavy, a CD by L7, my favorite all-girl band. It was full of angry female anthems and lyrics. I attached the following not:
Dear Oliver: This is the music I see for NBK. You'll probably hate it. I certainly hope so. --Jane
At least it would get his attention.
But secretly, I think Oliver was chortling about the whole thing. He'd been [expletive] over in Hollywood enough times himself to appreciate Don's response to the cheap, thuggish tactics they'd pulled on us from the start. If he hadn't been, I'm quite certain he would've laid into both of us a lot harder.
And in return, I was starting to have some respect for what he was trying to do as well. As I looked over where he was leading Dave with the script, I was starting to like it. He was obsessed with making Mallory's character a strong and vigorous one. In one of Dave's drafts, Mickey rescues a helpless Mallory from her prison cell. Oliver didn't want that. "Mallory should save herself," he told Dave. Since he'd long been criticized for having female characters in his films that were not the strongest or best-drawn people in the world, I really respected him for not only being conscious of his weak points, but trying to address them. Even though I was sorry that some of the ease and wit of Quentin's original script was disappearing, what was happening felt good. I started to see how Oliver invested himself in his work and, in doing that, created something he could get passionate about. Because if you didn't believe in what you were doing, as we were quickly finding out, this whole Hollywood thing was just too damned hard.
Almost down to the last person, Oliver manages to surround himself, film after film, with the same group of incredibly smart, talented, and resilient people. One of the reasons for this is Oliver's innate insecurity--he needs to be around people he feels he can trust. Also, I don't think he wants to have to learn to push a new set of buttons every time he goes onto a set. And having seen him in action with Dave Veloz, I knew that these people were probably used to having their minds [expletive] with and their confidence undermined on a day-to-day basis. He might get your best work out of you; but when it was all finished, you had to have the confidence, the intelligence, and the self-esteem to put yourself back together and tell yourself it'd all be okay again--at least, until the next time.
While it's a good script, it's very different from the original Quentin draft. And yes, there is an Indian scene, which I think Oliver lifted directly from The Doors. The songs I'd given him were written into the new script as a virtual score, and much of Dave Veloz's first third of the script--all of the Mickey and Mallory history and relationship stuff--had been left intact.
"Well, on our last day in Albuquerque, Oliver wanted to have a send-off dinner at his favorite restaurant with all the regulars on hand--Clayton, me, Bob, Pimpowski, Dr. Feelgood, Dave Veloz, and Heineken Sue." (Dave had been on hand to see the Drug Zone being shot, one which he'd been responsible for penning; Heineken Sue was one of Olive's girlfriends, dubbed so by Dale Dye, who noted, "The girls got teeth on her that could open a Heineken.")
In the memo, I told Oliver that it looked like he'd lost faith in his own vision, and indeed he probably had. The horrific failure of Heaven and Earth only months before had shaken his creative confidence, and he'd removed all the elements he'd initially conceived with Dave Veloz: the Mickey and Mallory stuff, the things he was really driven to probe during his alteration of Quentin's original script and that now formed the emotional backbone of the characters and the story he was trying to tell. Now he was backing out of it, was trying to reinstate the story and sequence of events that Quentin had drawn in his original draft. Trouble was, it was too late for that. The tone of the performances and scenes were much too heavy for that kind of random, offhand, going-nowhere-fast structure and pace. It made for an ungodly blend of emotional textures.
Further, the style of the film had been allowed to completely overtake the material. I think Oliver was looking back to JFK, his last big success and remembered with fondness the praise he got for the technical innovation he displayed in that film. Because it seemed like he was now trying to take it ten steps further in NBK. Well, it was stylish, you could certainly say that, but it was also completely intelligible. Who the hell were these people Mickey and Mallory, and what in God's name were they doing?
Friday, August 26, 1994. Don and I hooked up with Peter Rice and go to Mann's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard to watch the 8:00 P.M. showing with a crowd who paid $7.50 to get in. Despite having watched the movie forty or fifty times by that point, it felt like a completely different experience when viewed through the eyes of people who were paying to get in. It wasn't just some film we'd made anymore--it was a movie. People were laughing, stomping, cheering, throwing things at the screen. And as the crowd emerged from the theater, they tended to be stunned and reaching for words. Like it or hate it, NBK seemed to elicit an extremely thought-provoking response.
We came out of the theater to see Dave Veloz waiting to get into the 10:00 screening. Already, the midnight screening was sold out, and people were lining up for that one, too.
"Can you believe all this?" said Don.
"No way," said Dave, looking around at the mass of humanity pushing and shoving to get in to our movie. "I just can't."
We still had From Hell at Touchstone, Keith Gordon was adapting Savage Night for us, and we'd acquired a book for Dave Veloz to adapt as his directing debut. We weren't just surviving, we were flourishing. Within a short period of time we had projects all over town at virtually every studio, and inadvertently Quentin had bankrolled it all.
We were all two years from the experience of shooting NBK, but there was no doubt as you saw the interviews of Woody, Juliette, Downey, Tommy Lee, Tom Sizemore, Oliver, Dave Veloz, Don, and me that we were all still traumatized when we looked back on what we'd been through in the making of the movie. It was an experience that none of us would ever be able to shake off.
Dave Veloz used his break on NBK to turn into one of Hollywood's most sought-after screenwriters. He has written a film about Mexican Sub-commander Marcos for director Luis Mandoki, an action film that Ridley Scott will direct, and even an update of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre for Oliver Stone. He is working with JD Productions on Permanent Midnight starring Ben Stiller, which will be his writing/directing debut.
When he's pressed for time, Stone likes to develop a good first draft with another writer and then come in and do the rewrites himself.
Jane Hamsher describes how this step took place on Natural Born Killers: "Oliver wanted to do some rewriting on the script, so he called and said, 'Jane, I want you to get one of your wild and crazy friends to work with Richard [Rutowski] and me on the rewrite.' I really had to scratch my head because he wasn't offering that much money. There was one guy, David Veloz, who was just out of film school but had written a couple of good screenplays and had the sensibilities to write extreme material that still retained its humanity. [Veloz had converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while in high school.] It turned out to be a very long and arduous process for Dave. He'd get these weird calls from Oliver in Thailand at all hours of the night--he was now on what we refer to as the 'Oliver Stone roller-coaster ride.' Oliver would goad him, punch his buttons, rake him over the coals about what they'd written, barely listen to anything Dave had to say in his own defense, and then they'd do it again. Dave would call me and I'd do my best to help him draw some sense out of the contradictory things Oliver would tell him, and all the time I'd be thinking, 'Sh--, I'm glad this sn't me.' Little did I know, my time would come. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, Dave wound up contributing some very good stuff, and Oliver rewarded him by giving him some other projects so that he could make some decent money. It established his career."
Web page created 7 March 2002. Last modified 1 July 2005.