All movie lovers and every fan of a good yarn should love Milius, the new documentary about the legendary New Hollywood writer and director John Milius. Last week we managed to catch up with the film’s two directors, Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson, to talk about the man, their film and points between.
The film was a labour of love for Figueroa and Knutson who worked for the first three years on the project with no funding. Although Figueroa’s IMDB explains that he “rebuilds motorcycles when not working on projects”, his goatee makes him look like he could be wielding a sabre in 17 Century France with the Three Musketeers.
Zak Knutson is an actor, producer, writer and editor, as well as the film’s co-director. For the last ten years he has been producing films for Clerks luminary Kevin Smith, although in a previous life has worked as a bouncer and Universal tour guide. Together they run Chop Shop Entertainment. They both thought that John Milius would make the ideal candidate for a documentary film.
The lack of recognition for Milius’s talents and achievements was a key driver for their project says Knutson: “Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola are all household names. They all look to John Milius as the ultimate story teller, but we look to them as the ultimate storytellers. But John Milius isn’t a name that is household.”
“Everyone has been influenced by John Milius in pop culture in some way,” he continues. “Whether it’s knowing the lines he wrote in Apocalypse Now or it’s through knowing that he created the MMA, which is the fastest growing sport in the world, or that he’s the model for Walter in The Big Lebowski, which everyone over the age of 10 has seen. And knowing that John isn’t that well known, but should be.”
“John Milius has this amazing character that isn’t found in Hollywood any more. You used to have John Ford, John Huston, Sam Peckinpah and all these characters, but now there is Tarantino and a few other guys. From John’s generation there were a lot of characters and he was the craziest of them all. Where you have someone who’s the craziest, you’re probably going to have a good story.”
Figueroa is careful to point out that gossip and sensationalism wasn’t the main motive for making the film. “This man has accomplished a lot, it is a bonus that he is a wacky character as well.”
A more concrete inspiration for the film was a 16 page interview with John Milius by Ken Plume for IGN. “Within that interview is the blueprint for the documentary,” says Knutson. “I was reading through that interview – and I knew John and considered myself a pretty big movie nerd – thinking I didn’t know a lot of this stuff. If I don’t know this stuff, then a lot of people won’t, so this could be a fantastic documentary.” Plume, a friend of Zak and Joey, set up a meeting with John Milius and ended up being executive producer on the film.
Milius is stuffed with interviews with modern Hollywood legends. This includes people whose schedules are booked out years in advance, like Clint Eastwood and Francis Ford Coppola, as well as those who are famously media-shy, such as Harrison Ford. Initially, they got a few interviews from their friends who knew John Milius, but found it a hard slog to get more. Figueroa explains, “We decided we needed to get some big names to legitimise the project, and make people feel it’s real and not just two dummies with a camera.”
The ploy worked. Once they had signed up Swartzenegger and George Lucas, more people seemed happy to join the throng. However, working with these luminaries meant the project took a long time to put together. It was two years before Martin Scorsese had time to talk to them. Their interview subjects would also recommend others. “Originally our list of interviews was 15 or so,” Figueroa recalls, “but it grew to 65 in a heartbeat, and we could have kept going.”