AS: What goes on when you get a script and you want to design it? Is it different for each film?
JM: It is different in each one. In the olden days, when they knew how to make movies, the script would go to the supervising art director. It would go to Cedric Gibbons, or Anton Grot or one of these guys. Because the first thing you need to know is how you’re going to make this movie. But now someone will decide they’re going to make a movie and the first thing they’ll do is hire a production manager who will go out location scouting. So you got a guy who’s not a scout and not a designer scouting locations that may or may not be necessary. Just because the script says “swimming pool” doesn’t mean they need a swimming pool. They could have scouted River’s Edge based on the script and they wouldn’t have found a single location that I was going to use.
So the first thing that you have to do is convince them to throw away all the work that they’ve put in so far. Maybe it was worth it for them to put in all that work because it got it off the ground.
AS: In Home Alone there were all those gags with the doors opening and the laundry chute- were you involved with those things?
JM: The most interesting thing was we had an entire effects sequence for that movie that was planned out. I storyboarded probably two-thirds of it. Chris, the director, storyboarded a bunch of it. And it was going to be- the idea was that [Macaulay Culkin] fell asleep eating ice-cream and he woke up but he didn’t really wake up.
AS: Like a dream-sequence?
JM: It was exactly that. A nightmare sequence. On the piano were all those nutcrackers. They chased him around the house and eventually chased him into the trash compacter and turned it on and squeezed him down into a cube with his face on it and then that went down the laundry chute. When he got to the laundry basket he popped up. And then remember the furnace in the movie? That’s why I went to all that trouble with that furnace. He was afraid of the furnace. When he pops out of the laundry basket the furnace tears itself loose like a big octopus and starts chasing him. He goes up the stairs and winds up on the roof and there’s a battle. He’s in the middle of the battle between the furnace and the tarantula. The tarantula comes out of the chimney or something- it’s huge. So then they’re fighting over him, they’re pulling him in different directions- it’s wonderful stuff. The guy that did Night of the Comet with me was going to do it. We hired him, we brought him all the way out there, and then the studio canceled the sequence.
The movie did not start out as a Fox picture. It was a Warner Brothers film and we got in a big fight over the budget. And part of it was they didn’t understand why we needed to build a house. Now these are studio executives at Warner Brothers not understanding that in a movie that stars a child, takes place at night, and is nothing but gags, that you need a set. It’s like, Well why don’t you shoot it in a house? You know, a film where the sled has to go down the stairs and out the door.