Veteran Filmmaker Marcus de Leon of such hit titles as The Big Squeeze and Walkout has graciously agreed to tell us a little bit about himself, as well as give us a sneak peek of what his new film, There and Back, is about. So, sit back, relax, and take a look at his Petticoat Personality Test. Find out what his favorite book is, the movies that inspire him, and his personal thoughts on what makes a great female character.
What is your favorite book, movie, and/or TV Show?
“White Jazz” by James Ellroy — my personal Greatest Novel of All Time. A 400+ pager, epic tapestry of crime fiction set in a brutally real world. I love stories like “White Jazz” or Ellroy’s “L.A. Confidential” — they delve deep, narratively and uncompromisingly into the contradictions and complications of human foible; where characters run dangerous gambits and unintentionally get themselves in too deep. What fun watching them think and claw their way out.
Name a movie that inspires you and why.
“Chinatown” (1974). A fabulously intricate plot. Plots, really — all of them taking us deep into humanity’s darkest recesses. You think the movie is about one thing, then it’s about another, and finally something else altogether that’s beautifully setup very early on yet right to the end you never see it coming. All gift-wrapped in scintillating dialogue, perfect casting, understated performances, and a beautifully cinematic look.
What is a book that you can read over and over?
I’ve read Ellroy’s “American Tabloid” like three times — a personal record. It’s so dense with plot intricacies and history, it never ceases to “feel like the first time!”
Was there any movie you found yourself going to the theater to see on numerous occasions?
I’ve watched “The Road Warrior” (1983) maybe a dozen times, not counting countless partial watchings, to fully grasp its cinematic audacity. I also incorporate it into screenwriting workshops I teach — and never get tired of a single scene!
What was on your summer reading list when you were a teenager?
An English Lit professor at Santa Ana College (California) — it was a summer class — had us read and analyze novels like Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” I otherwise would never crack open. I loved that class. Years later, while driving from Nebraska into Kansas I had to divert myself a hundred miles to see the very same patch of prairie she wrote about. I’ve rarely been so excited about a spread of empty, nondescript land.
What Movie/TV Show or book character turns you on?
Max, the alienated, pissed off, uncompromising loner played by Mel Gibson in “The Road Warrior,” “turns me on” (for strictly cinematic reasons). He is alone, always ready to match the world’s volatility, and always uncompromising.
What character turns you off?
I never got Gatsby. I know that qualifies me for literary knuckle-dragger status, but I never got him. Or the damn book.
Is there any kind of music or any songs that inspire you?
Not “any” kind, but it sometimes feels that way. For every story I write I’m driven by music, and it’s radically different for each story. I’ll do a playlist and listen obsessively. Generally, the kind of raw rock and roll you’ll hear on SiriusXM’s Underground Garage channel or the thump of Electric Area channel always inspire me to abandon fear and just go for it. Even when I have no idea what “it” is.
Is there any Movie or TV couple past or present you absolutely love?
Is this where I’m supposed to get mushy? No, I won’t do mushy… in public. Privately, I love the Rutger Hauer & Jennifer Jason Leigh would-be couple in “Flesh + Blood,” in part because they fall in love under exceedingly perverse circumstances, and then never get to actually be in love. The violent world they inhabit won’t let them.
If you could be or live as a character (Book/Movie/TV Show) for one day, who would you choose?
Dave Klein in “White Jazz” — I’d like to see how long I’d survive as a partly crooked police detective in organized crime-besotted 1950s Los Angeles. He lives for a few hundred pages. I’d be happy to stagger half-upright through Chapter One, riddled with bullet holes.
What are you reading and/or watching right now?
Right now? I’m watching “There and Back” over and over and over… as I edit the movie. It’s my life at the moment. It requires all. My escapist reading is the website Real Clear History. Say, have you seen the new interactive map of Antietam?! The site has it all: Napoleon, Nazis, Nam, Nazareth, Nixon — even history that doesn’t start with the letter “N.”
Do you have any film recommendations?
Okay, one: Sit back, settle in, check out “Picnic At Hanging Rock” and ask yourself, or somebody, afterward, “What actually happened to that girl?”
Any guilty pleasures?
No, none. Okay, a few. Well, maybe… too many. I refuse to admit I’ve watched “Blue Crush” and “Wild Things” multiple times. The latter beats the heck out of the former for acting and story. And while the latter has Denise Richards and Neve Campbell consummating in a swimming pool, the former has Kate Bosworth pretending to surf large waves. Between these two cinema classics, the guilt is like quicksand.
If you could see one book adapted into a movie or TV show, what would it be?
I’m a screenwriter. How can I keep this one short?! I’ve been hired by Hollywood studios to adapt books into screenplays and I attest it’s very difficult to capture the essence of a great book not already structured akin to a feature film’s three acts. Then there’s executives who see it all differently, producers who hate your choices, the casting quagmire, dubious direction and every other which way an adaptation can go very wrong.
I think the only reason there are so many good films from books is that there are so many more bad films from books. I mean, filmmakers try so often, like a broken clock you can’t help but get it right every so often!
Part of me dreams about adapting Fred Exley’s one-masterpiece-wonder,“A Fan’s Notes” and Bill Buford’s hilarious, violent “Amongst the Thugs.” Another part of me doesn’t want to be blamed by adoring readers like me after the great-book-to-crappy-film process has unfolded.
I harbor no urgent dreams to see favorite books adapted into usually-disappointing films. The book “Into the Wild” is a well-woven collection of true stories exploring the need of some to disassociate from society, and how their naiveté, part and parcel of the disassociation urge, is what causes things to go very wrong. The movie, with its lavishly ponderous focus on one enigmatic character, went very wrong.
Yet the screenwriters who adapted “L.A. Confidential” did a masterful job with that epic book. But if someone were to offer me “Catcher in the Rye” for adaptation, I’d run in the other direction. Look what happened to “On the Road”: The movie didn’t come close to capturing the book’s essence of impulse, humor, liberation and wisdom and the movie was roadkill, bad pun intended.
If you could teleport/time travel to any time period, when and where would you go and why?
Okay, now SilverPetticoat’s found my Achilles Heel per fantasies. Yeah, I want to go back to a lot of times. A top wish would be to join Julius Caesar in his campaign north into then-primitive Germany and then the British Isles. As documented in “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” it seems like a surreal, perilous, bloody journey into the unknown.
Today, he could just hop into an Air Italia first-class cabin for breakfast and do it all before lunch.
Equal representation of women in media has a long way to go. A great female character is layered and feels human, like a whole person (rather than an object or a stereotype – so not just “strong”). What is an example to you of a great female character?
This year, 2014, the Oscars people are having a hard time finding even five solid roles to nominate for Best Actress. I find the dearth of strong female roles inexplicable. But with no mind to that, since I’m not out to save anyone’s world but my own, I spontaneously created the lead roles of Cybil and Amber in “There and Back” and I could not be more proud of how Liana O’Boyle and Nikki Gallagher have brought them to life.
Is to too, too self-indulgent to cite those two characters no one outside our editing room will see till later in 2015?
Okay, so maybe it is. Then I’ll go with Jean Seberg in the title role of “Lilith” (1964), a woman both in control of her sexuality enough to let Warren Beatty’s character psychologically destroy himself with love and lust, yet out of control enough to be endlessly what-will-she-do-next fascinating. It’s a brilliant performance deserving of far more recognition.
Or Karen Black in “Five Easy Pieces.” At first she’s kinda ditzy trailer trash; bit by bit she becomes the only character in the movie grounded in a humanistic reality and not self-obsessed; it’s an incredibly subtle powerful performance. You sense she might have shocked the screenwriter with his own character.
Go back into the 1940s-1950s American film noirs or any Douglas Sirk movie; great female roles abound!
Are there any writers that influence you?
The aforementioned James Ellroy, who once gave me shit for an innocuous question I asked at one of his bookstore readings in L.A. His masterly grasp of sprawling, historically-set multiple plot lines and ensembles of fictional characters is about as bad ass as I’ve ever seen.
Are there any filmmakers that influence you?
No, but some of their films do. Francis Ford Coppola’s “Rumble Fish” (with Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Diana Scarwid, Nicholas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Larry Fishburne and Diane Lane) was a box office debacle but is one of the most visually compelling studio films of all time. The black and white shadow lighting is wow.
If you could own one classic first edition book, what would it be?
I have a complete collection of Charles Dickens novels, all in matching green bindery, dated 1898. I’m pretty stoked about that, not least because I bought it when I was 19 years old from my boss who was an interior designer. She used it to — are you ready for this? — stage model homes.
Yes, potential homebuyers would walk through Orange County models and subconsciously note lovely bookshelves with actual books. But no one noticed a whole row of them were a 100 years old complete set of Dickens.
Do you want to know what I had to pay her? For the entire collection? Five dollars.
What is the best classic film?
Can I go obscure? “The Reckless Moment” (1949), a taut crime-drama-romance Hollywood noir largely filmed on Balboa Island, California, near where I grew up. I saw the film in grad school thanks to UCLA Professor Janet Bergstrom, who taught an inspiring film noir class and hopefully still does.
Is there any movie that made you cry?
I’m an embarrassing cryer, but I get over it quickly. And forget even quicker.
What TV Show have you binge watched?
Easy! “Action!” A little-seen 1999 half-hour comedy about a movie producer named Peter Dragon, brilliantly played by Jay Mohr. It is uncompromisingly jaded, cynical and hilarious. In one scene, Peter Dragon, who is straight, has to allow a closeted gay action superstar actor to give him oral sex. He does this so the actor doesn’t publicly come out of the closet before they can get a green light on another movie, film it and rush it into theaters. But the very next morning the actor is so moved by Dragon’s “gesture” he goes on an a.m. talk show to announce he and Dragon are both gay. And this was on primetime broadcast TV, Fox network. It lasted I think 6 episodes before cancellation.
What do you think is the best book to film adaptation?
“L.A. Confidential”! Glad I’m not the one who had to crush that epic novel down into a movie, not that I would have been offered it. Considering how they got almost all the best from that massive tome into the mere movie, it’s a truly brilliant adaptation.
Do you think video games can be considered art?
Absolutely. They are creation. Being an interactive creation takes nothing away from being creation. That’s why I have a problem with people trying to influence video game content for their own political or philosophical purposes. Even video game censorship is a slippery slope, as we’re seeing in other censorship efforts. If you don’t concur with the art you’re looking at, at least appreciate that it’s making you think about why you don’t concur. Or just stop looking at it and go make your own.
What fashion trend do you wish would come back?
Super, extremely, very, microscopically skinny ties. For women, I’d add the miniskirt, but it’s never gone away since appearing in the 1960s, a rather surprising fact, since everything has gone away, like, fortunately, midis.
Has there ever been an ending to a story you wish you could rewrite?
There are many endings i wish did not exist, period. That’s what I love about Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” It doesn’t give you the, “Okay-here’s-what-happened” ending. It leaves mystery.
Who was your teen celebrity crush?
I found them all too ridiculously, uninterestingly pretty and oversold. I always preferred that introverted nerdy girl skulking in a faraway corner of the high school cafeteria over a tray of bland food she wouldn’t deign to touch.
Who is the best superhero?
The one with character flaws far exceeding physical prowess, of course. Wait, who’s that?
What do you geek out for?
Currently, and this is very boring: Apple computer accessory hardware. I need it to do what I do as a filmmaker. Before I did hands-on digital filmmaking, I scoffed at gizmos. Now they’ll draw me over from across a room, wide-eyed and slobbering.
What movie or TV Show best represents your sense of humor?
No brainer: “Team America.” Nothing, but nothing sacred.
What is the funniest movie you’ve ever seen?
Besides “Team America,” a shout out to two hilarious, underrated movies with Christian Bale: “Harsh Times” and “American Psycho.“ He’s all-in and genius in both.
If you could pick a combination of three fictional characters the most like you, who would they be and what traits do they have that mirror your own?
Not completely fictitious, but how about the three leads in “Goodfellas”? Ray Liotta’s = Fun loving, adaptable, able to laugh at almost anything. Robert Di Niro’s = Coldly calculating, reserved, observant. Joe Pesci’s = Wild and reckless, with a bit of a self-entertaining sadistic streak. Other than that, I’m a pretty boring normal guy.
Thank you for this most challenging interview since I didn’t make the cut to be a Walmart greeter. But then, they forgot to ask what movie character “turns me on.”
ABOUT MARCUS DE LEON
“Marcus De Leon is a Hollywood screenwriter, working over the years with studios such as Columbia Pictures, Universal and HBO Films, and he’s an indie feature film writer-director. His newest movie is “There and Back,“ a family road trip drama currently in post production and due to premiere in select film festivals in 2015. Information on the film can be found at http://
ABOUT THERE AND BACK
SYNOPSIS – A 23-year-old woman returns from New York to Tucson. When she discovers a sculpture her grandfather had made for her is missing, she enlists the nearly-accidental help of her adopted sister and brother to take her on an afternoon roundtrip to Phoenix to find it and buy it back. They depart on a very unexpected, totally unplanned road trip — with no money — that takes them to incredible places they’ve never seen.
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