We used to describe it as True West meets Firestarter. It’s about two brothers who have pyrokenetic powers fighting over a girl. That’s the plot. But we built a carnival which I’d always wanted to do. We did these huge circus banners. We made everything. We built what Vince called a Putt-o-saurus, a miniature golf thing with a Mayan dinosaur theme. Unfortunately it’s one of those movies that was the winner of that sort of boobie prize, costing the most money making the least money that year. It cost like $30 million and made like $50,000 or something. It was only released in a couple of theaters and in my opinion it ran afoul of studio politics. It only got released in a couple of theaters even with these big stars. It’s a beautiful film, take a look at it some time.
AS: You mentioned doing sketches and storyboards. What is your usual process from when you first get the call?
JM: For every job it’s going to be different. It’s my belief, and this is giving away a trade secret, but I think most people, including directors of photography and directors, are not capable of visualizing the way you and I do. If you can draw, not just draw something that’s real but think of something, put it down on paper, that’s a skill that not many people have. It’s my observation that if you can draw a good enough picture, or present it in a smart enough way, and then show it to the director or DP, even if they initially say they don’t like it chances are they will shoot it that way. They won’t be able to drive it from their head. So that’s why I always tell the students you’ve got to learn to draw. At least draw well enough that you can express emotion in the drawing. How low the ceiling is or how far off in the distance it goes. This is the point of master shots. You don’t need a master shot to be on the screen very long to give people a sense of where they are and how people are supposed to feel. So that’s why you draw. You can do the same thing by showing pictures. I had an experience I can tell you about on the picture River’s Edge. You probably know River’s Edge.
AS: I’m a big fan.
JM: Well the thing about River’s Edge, I actually heard about that film from a girlfriend of a girlfriend. Someone I was dating had a girlfriend who was a writer who had read the script and thought it was wonderful and she tried to push me to the director. And I had never done anything like that. I had only done science fiction, fantasy, and this and that. But I read the script and I was knocked out. I had never read anything so great. I’d heard that the director was obsessed with creating the movie that was on the page. The guy that wrote it was crippled and the director felt there was something magical and that this had to be rendered just as it was on the page. Which I though made sense except in the art direction. Because the implication is that the movie was supposed to take place in suburbia. It was based on a real story that took place in Milpitas which is lower-middle class, with California track homes.