Oliver Stone recalls filming in PH in new memoir

Published August 14, 2020, 9:46 AM

by Janet Nepales

Oliver Stone

Los Angeles —The memoir “Chasing the Light: Writing, Directing, and Surviving Platoon, Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador, and the Movie Game” of 73-year-old award-winning director-writer-producer Oliver Stone talks a lot about his experiences in the Philippines while filming both “Platoon” (1986) and “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989).

“I’d found a new home out here after my first family came to an end, and although I had no claim, I felt welcomed back,” he told us in an interview. “People smiled with genuine happiness; there was such a thing in life as joy, and it could be had — here and now, it need not be delayed.

“I plunged into rainforests outside Manila with a small Filipino crew under the local producer, Jun Juban. We knew with our budget we’d have to be a guerrilla version of ‘Apocalypse Now,’ which had experienced well-documented problems in the Philippines, among them trying to shoot in the typhoon season. But the jungle itself was pure, and I could imagine cutting trails deep into it, leading actors down into the riverbeds and up into the valleys. I fell in love with the landscape and the people.”

Cast of ‘Platoon’ with Oliver

He told us, “The Philippines gave birth to my new life in a way. It was my beginning as a director. Right from ‘Salvador’ in Mexico to the Philippines was exciting beyond belief. I had been to the Philippines the first time in 1983 with Dino De Laurentiis so Alex Ho and I planned out the whole thing. I went to many places, beautiful people, and beautiful reception, not much of a film industry. They made a lot of films but it wasn’t like very expensive films. But they were wonderfully cooperative.

“Jun Juban was the head of a production company and gave us the crew and enormous amount of support. I love those crew members. They were so loyal and so tough, to go through that jungle experience, the heat and the everyday problems that we had were enormous. We always were short on the rainwater, the fire trucks, and all the problems of the munitions. We had the cooperation of the Philippine army.”

Oliver returned to the Philippines for “Born on the Fourth of July.”

“It was another amazing experience. There we went up north to Ilocos Norte. We shot in a town. It was where Marcos had built a huge hotel. The Marcos people had built a huge hotel and I think we stayed in that hotel. But we shot all along that area, which was another amazing experience with Tom Cruise.”

Oliver pointed out that the memoir is about “the first 40 years of my life and the coming of age and realizing a dream that was in my heart that I wanted to be a filmmaker and make films from the age of 23 on.”

What did he learn in the first 40 years of his life that he was able to apply to the rest of his life?

“All the conclusions are important,” he replied. “That is what writing a book like this makes you think about all these things. There is the theme of love, what is love? I talked about it briefly and it’s important and I say, I was talking about Elia Kazan’s life and my feeling of that was remarkably like my own, where I say, we don’t sometimes know what love is, but we learn what love is through the essence of love.

“And that’s an important concept and I think I learned that, maybe not by 40, but certainly I learned it later in my life. But that relationship, why is a man and a woman together? Mom and Dad, me and Najwa (Sarkis, his wife from 1971-1977), me and Elizabeth (Burkit Cox, his wife from 1981-1993, with whom he had sons Sean and Michael Jack), these are crucial questions. That is the heart of the memoir, it’s a very important question. (He is presently married to South Korean Sun-jung Sung since 1996. They have a daughter, Tara.)

“There’s also the issue of risk,” he added. “I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t realize how torn up I was. I didn’t realize that I was my mom and my dad but they are different people. I didn’t fully realize it. I was French and American, I understood that, but then I really didn’t understand the fundamental difference that I was a child of divorce. These are key questions. And also the taking of risk is a big theme, risk.

“Here I go off at 19 for the first time to a country I don’t know, in Asia, which opens my eyes to the world, a completely different world. And then I return at 21 as a soldier, take a risk that most people would not take, a risk. I didn’t care, my life was on the line. From that risk, you see me drift back into a marriage that’s comfortable and I talk about the comfort of Najwa and my life. And I talk about taking the risk and I knew I was dying inside.

“My dream was dying, I talk about that, at the divorce at the time I was about 28 years old. And then at the age of 30 I realized with my grandmother’s death that this is not. I am not living the life I was supposed to live. This is an important revelation. And then at 39 years old, after much up and down with success and failure, huge failures too, and tumultuous, I felt like a roller coaster. At 39, with nothing going, my career is dead in Hollywood, what do I do? I go off to Salvador with a crazy journalist. I invest my own money. I make a movie that is insane, about civil war, two different countries, two different languages, 93 speaking parts, battles, helicopters, planes, bombs, civil riots, Jesus Christ. And very little money.”