Womens Issues and the Rain of Boogers
Michael Miner got his start in Hollywood by penning the scripts for such pictures as the original Robocop and Lawnmower Man 2; his sophomore directing effort, The Book of Stars, is a quietly powerful drama a universe away from the fare for which he's known. He spoke with us via cell phone as he wound his way home following a big-deal Tinseltown meeting, punctuating his remarks with the occasional "Can you hear me now?"
OC Weekly: The Book of Stars seems like such a departure from your other pictures. Is this the kind of material you'd prefer to be doing, or do you consider it more of a sidestep?Michael Miner: Well, I got kind of sidetracked into genre pictures after Robocop. I'd love to do more projects like this. But then, I'd love to say it'll rain boogers on Hollywood next Tuesday and have it happen. There's so much kismet involved in getting any movie made, at least any movie that's of note. That's what happened with Robocop, actually; a lot of big studios passed on the project, and then Orion, which had just won a bunch of Oscars and was doing really well, took a shot. A lot of people are doing worthwhile stuff; I see some great scripts in the classes I teach, and they can't get a deal. Unless you're somebody like a (Robert) Zemeckis, there's no guarantee you'll get any breaks.
The Book of Stars is earthbound, but you have stuff in outer space and stylized fantasy sequences; it's pretty ambitious for an indie. Were there ever times when you felt like you'd taken on too much and the project could fall apart?
We really got lucky in so many respects. Every step of the way, things just kept working out. Just as we were losing the light for the day, we'd finally get the shot. Mary [Stuart Masterson] was terrific, and Jena [Malone] ended up being perfect for her part, better I think than Natalie Portman, whom we also met with, would have been. I begged Delroy Lindo, on my hands and knees, to be in the picture, and he was fantastic. He was horrible to work with, and I'd work with him again in a second. The effects company we worked with wanted a big effects sequence for their demo reel, so they gave us something like $200,000 worth of effects footage for more like $30,000. Everything went great until the very end, when things fell apart. The people in Seattle failed to sell the film theatrically, so they radically altered the editing. The version you can get on Amazon now and the version on HBO is very different from the version you'll see at the festival. It's five minutes shorter. I think we made just about a perfect film, frankly, and I thought what they did was a tragedy. I'll never speak to them again because of it. It was like a long out in baseball—when a ball is just about to go sailing over the fence, a perfect home run . . . and then somebody catches it, so it's out.
Five minutes is a lot of film. Why do you think they cut so much out?
Well, I think we're dealing with a bunch of 40-year-old white guys who probably have never heard of [Red, White and Blue director Krzysztof] Kieslowski, a filmmaker who influenced me a lot. I don't think they really understood irony or women's issues. [What happened] was a tragedy.
So, it sounds like this will be pretty much the only chance people will have to see the film as you intended?
The ONLY chance, definitely.
You said Delroy Lindo was horrible to work with. Why?
Well, this is a very feminine film in certain ways, with the two sisters and the kind of feminine refugee guy, and I thought the film needed a real lion, like Delroy, to counterbalance the femininity with some really masculine energy. Delroy was perfect for the part, but he's a real method actor. We only had Jena for seven hours a day because she was a minor, and there are all kinds of laws about that stuff. Of course, seven hours is just about when Delroy is getting warmed up, that's when he's really getting into the scene. So there were difficulties there, but I'm really glad he's in there.
Lastly, I had to ask: Have we seen the last ofRobocop?
Good question! I suspect not, but I can't say for sure. We've been approached recently about doing a remake. My writing partner and I were kicked off the first sequel because of the writer's strike, and I thought that from there, they kind've screwed up the franchise. I'm still very proud of the first film; I think it's a classic. They show it in museums now, when they do shows about robotics. So when people approach me about doing a remake, I don't know what to tell them. It must be like somebody approaching Kubrick and asking him to remake Dr. Strangelove. I mean, I've made the movie I wanted to make, you know?
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