It was after about two years of work on the film in between other projects before they got finance. Their executive producer, Scott Mosier, found a new production and management company, Haven Entertainment, who agreed to fund the film. This financed a host of essentials that helped speed up the completion of the film. “It was a labour of love and we were going to do this however long it took.” says Figueroa.
It was an advantage to have access to John Milius himself from the outset – something that not every documentary filmmaker can boast. His eloquence and ebullient personality made the prospects look even brighter. “We were like, ‘Wow. This man can speak!’” says Figueroa, who explains that they saw the film as the opportunity for a master storyteller to give a very personal testament.
Sadly, 48 hours before they were due to start talking to the man at the centre of their movie, everything changed. You’ll have to watch it to learn exactly what happened, but Milius was not going to be able to expound on his life and career at any length. Figueroa explains, “originally John Milius was going to be our driving force, but that got derailed. We then had to find his voice, to dig up old audio and video. But as every documentary filmmaker will tell you, you just have to adapt.”
At the start of the project, Figueroa recalls Milius had made them agree to two stipulations before giving his support. “One, you have to tell the truth. Two, you can’t show me with any guns. At the time we thought ‘OK, we can do that.’ But as we dove into the project we realised he was messing with us.” As Knutson puts it, “it can’t be done. There’s even a picture of him with his daughter, who’s just a baby, in one hand and a gun in the other.” When the pair went to visit Milius in home, he ended up pulling out weapons that had been secreted all over the house. He then took them out to lunch… at the gun shop.
This gigantic – frankly outrageous – personality made sure the film would hit the target, whatever the input from its subject. This leads directly to one of the key questions raised by the movie – why did John Milius not quite fulfil his potential after his successes in the 1970s and early 1980s? In those early days he wrote and directed some great work, but faded from view after 1984’s Red Dawn. Why?
The man himself likes to blame his lack of success on Hollywood’s liberals who hated his rightwing libertarian politics. Figueroa and Knutson defer to Arnold Swartzenegger who says in the film that your politics doesn’t matter in Hollywood, it’s the bottom line that counts. “I’m not sure how much of his personality would be accepted in Hollywood today.” says Figueroa. “It’s not necessarily his politics, it’s his personality which is a throwback to Old Hollywood. Then directors were looked at in a different light, as The Artist.”
If the 1970s allowed John Milius to be himself and succeed on his own terms, Knutson believes there are three specific qualities that tie the man to the decade. “Firstly, he looks at himself as an artist, more so than anything. He also wants to be seen as a personality: ‘My films are a representation of me’. The other thing is collaboration: ‘I make movies, but want to make movies with other people, and I want input from my friends.’”
This final point is one that goes straight to the heart of what makes Milius such a great subject for a documentary. Despite his gun-waving and cigar-chomping antics and even his words of mercury, John Milius comes across as a decent man, and one who is well loved by his long list of friends.
Zak points out that “Oliver Stone couldn’t be more different politically, yet he loves John. Harrison Ford doesn’t do documentaries, but within 48 hours of calling his manager he said ‘no problem’. Everyone felt that way.” Having a charismatic personality at the centre of a documentary won’t guarantee that it’s interesting, but it certainly helps. Especially when you’ve got a talent as big as your mouth.
Milius is out in UK cinemas on Friday 1st November, and out on DVD on 18th November, 2013.
Read our review of Milius here.
Watch the trailer here: