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Oliver Stone

Filmmaker

Oliver Stone

Biography Page 2

Director, Screenwriter, Producer

After graduating from NYU in 1971with a bachelor's degree in fine arts, Stone wrote 10 different screenplays. During this time, he worked as a cabdriver and a xerox messenger to support himself. With no agent to represent him, he was having trouble getting noticed as a writer. Finally in 1973 at the age of 27, a Canadian production company bought one of Stone's screenplays. The script was a horror story about a fantasy writer whose characters come to life. Although the company hired a writer to rework the script, they asked Stone to direct the film. With a budget of a mere $150,000, Seizure was produced and released in 1974. 

Upon completion of Seizure, Stone dropped into a state of disillusionment and further frustration. He began working at a sports film company, which he hated, meanwhile continuing to write screenplays. During that time, he completed a total of fourteen screenplays, five of those about Vietnam. Finally in 1976, as the United States was celebrating the Bicentennial, Oliver Stone began to put his demons of Vietnam into words by writing a screenplay called Platoon. Producers optioned the script, but since another movie about war titled Apocalypse Now was currently in production, the company decided to put this movie off. Columbia Pictures did eventually assign Stone to write a screenplay for an upcoming film of theirs, Midnight Express, which was produced by David Puttnam and directed by Alan Parker. 

Midnight Express was a low budget picture based on the real-life escapades of an American College student named Billy Hayes, who was vacationing in Turkey and was jailed in a Turkish prison for trying to smuggle hashish out of the country. The film was released in 1978 and it received controversial reviews by numerous reporters, the biggest criticism being given to Stone himself for the screenplay. This controversy however, helped to make the film a commercial success and may have been a factor in the film's five-academy award nominations. The movie took home one award, presented to Stone for best screenplay adaptation. He was also awarded both the Golden Globe and the Writers Guild Award for the screenplay.

He was becoming dependent on drugs, was falling into the party scene and needed an escape. While in Paris, he began to work on a screenplay for a remake of the movie Scarface

After his success with Midnight Express, Stone began to receive steady work. During that same year, he began to write a script of a memoir by Ron Kovac (a paraplegic Vietnam War vet). The screenplay was called Born on the Fourth of July, and was to star Al Pacino. Although all the props, the set and even the cast were ready to film the movie, the funding for the picture was not there and the project was dropped. 

In 1981 Edward Pressman, a producer for Orion Productions, contracted Stone to write and direct a suspense/horror film titled The Hand. The film was based on a novel by Marc Brandel called The Lizard's Tail, had a $6.5 million budget, and starred Michael Caine. The story focused around a cartoonist who looses his drawing hand in an accident and becomes obsessed with the thought that his lost hand is stalking his enemies. The film received mostly positive reviews from critics although it was not successful at the box office. Stone found that after the failure of The Hand, the steady work he was receiving before had disappeared. All those seeking him out the year before were now looking towards others.

In 1982, Stone once again found himself working with producer Edward Pressman, although this time the film was much different than before. Pressman had written a script to Conan the Barbarian in 1976, and after finally settling on the rights to the character, hired Stone on to write a second version. He also felt that Stone could be helpful in getting financial backing for the film. John Milius was hired on as the film's director and wrote a third script for the film. After completion of the script, Stone moved to Paris to try and get away from the Hollywood scene for awhile. 

He was becoming dependent on drugs, was falling into the party scene and needed an escape. While in Paris, he began to work on a screenplay for a remake of the movie Scarface (proposed by director Brian De Palma). The film was originally produced in 1932 by Howard Hawk, and was a gangster film. Re-written by Stone in 1982-1983, the story focused on a Cuban refugee named Tony Montana. Trying to live out the "American Dream", Montana rises to the top through the trafficking of cocaine in Florida but eventually succumbs to his own greed and in the end is killed. 

The biggest area of critical concern about the film was that of all the violence. Many critics felt that the film dwelled far too much on violence and selfishness, although some hinted that the movie did resemble the effects many businesses and Hollywood itself could have on people. After Scarface, Stone worked out a deal with Producer Dino De Laurentiis that would be to the benefit of both parties. In exchange for Stone writing a script for a 1981 novel written by Robert Daly titled The Year of the Dragon, De Laurentiis promised Stone he would make Platoon. Year of the Dragon was similar to Scarface in that it centered on drug trafficking. 

The story was about a New York detective's one-man crusade to try and put an end to the Chinese Mafia and its drug-dealing network. The movie was released in 1985 to poor reviews and numerous boycotts (mainly by Chinese-Americans whom found the film raciest). Year of the Dragon turned out to be a box office flop, and as a result De Laurentiis neglected to keep up his part of the bargain with Stone. He was unable to find an American distributor for Platoon and therefore the film could not be made at that time. 

In the summer of 1976 Stone was broke, down on his luck and had no prospects for the future. He spent 12 hours a day working on the script, which he completed in approximately five weeks

Oliver Stone's next picture, Eight Million Ways to Die (1986) also turned out to be a flop in the box office. Frustrated by the way things were going, he decided to establish a mark as an independent writer-director (rather than trying to get big-budget film deals). Stone found his first subject matter by looking through some pictures a friend had taken while covering the civil war in El Salvador. Stone co-wrote a semi documentary about a photojournalist's experiences and eventual self-discovery in El Salvador

Many in Hollywood did not welcome the script and Stone could not find any financial backing for the picture. He decided to put a second mortgage on his house and finance the film himself, but was saved by support from British producer John Daly whom offered to direct the movie free of charge. Salvador was filmed on location in Mexico for under $5 million, and starred James Woods and Jim Belushi. Although the movie received fairly good reviews, wide range distribution in the United States was hard to secure. It was not until after the success of Platoon, when Salvador was re-released in theaters, that it was widely distributed.

David Halberstam, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Vietnam War, proclaimed Platoon as "the first real Vietnam film and one of the greatest war movies of all time." The first script for Platoon was written in the summer of 1976. At the time Stone was broke, down on his luck and had no prospects for the future. He spent 12 hours a day working on the script, which he completed in approximately five weeks. 

The script itself was generally based on Stone's own experiences in the war, along with the characters being based on people Stone had met during that time. As stated before, the script was rejected several times as well as being placed aside for other projects by many studios. Finally, Platoon found financing through a foreign production company called Hemdale, which also produced Stone's previous film, Salvador. Orion, the distributor in the U.S. provided $2 million for the production of the film. Platoon was released into theaters in December of 1986. 

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