“The Film Business Is [Maybe] Dying’’ 5 Insider Tips With Sean Stone
“We all know it’s the golden age of TV, but where does film go from here? I turn on my TV and get a million channels, including YouTube and platforms you’ve never even heard of. We have so much content that even major stars aren’t getting theatrical releases or prime placement on Netflix. And people tend to be watching more series than movies, it seems. But I’m a believer in the 2-hour movie experience. I can go to sleep after a movie. I can’t after a TV show, until I binge through all 10 hours, and even then, I’m left wondering… what happens a year from now in Season 2? So I have to figure, if I still love watching movies, there are millions of people around the world just like me.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Stone, who has acted in his father Oliver Stone’s films since childhood, including The Doors, JFK, Natural Born Killers, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Savages. Sean Stone majored in American History, studying at Oxford and Princeton University, graduating from Princeton in 2006 after completing his thesis on the New World Order, which he converted into a book in 2016. Since then, Sean has directed several documentaries including Fight Against Time: Oliver Stone’s Alexander, A Century of War, and Hollywood D.C. Sean’s first feature film was the documentary-style psychological horror Greystone Park (2012), which he wrote and starred in. He has since starred in A Star for Christmas, Union Bound, and the upcoming Night Walk. Sean co-hosted the third-season of the popular TV series Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura as well as the online program Buzzsaw on Gaia TV. He currently co-hosts the news program Watching the Hawks on RT. Most recently Sean Stone wrote, produced and starred in the martial arts comedy Fury of the Fist and the Golden Fleece, with Danny Trejo, Michael Dudikoff, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Bill Goldberg, Tommy Davidson, Richard Grieco, Tiny Lister, and many more cameos, released by Comedy Dynamics on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Steam, YouTube, and more. Stone’s short film Singularity won the International Cinematographer’s Guild Emerging Cinematographer Award for his Director of Photography Eduardo Mayen in 2008. Stone’s film Greystone Park won Best Film at the LA Horror Fest 2012. Stone was recently nominated Best Actor at Idyllwild Film Festival 2018 for the short film Battle Fields.
What is your “backstory”?
I’d have to say it’s in the bio… acting as a kid on some major film productions, but at the same time, living a very ordinary childhood — school, friends, sports. I think my backstory is a study in extremes. One day on a set in Thailand with helicopters flying over a rice paddy and soldiers carrying prop machine guns, the next day in a 3rd grade classroom, learning about Native American tribes and dreading gymnastics after school.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
The problem with most movies is that you immerse yourself so deeply that through the pain and the joy, you tend to forget all the moments that were most nerve-wracking and humorous. But in hindsight, I still think we did a very daring and novel thing in making Greystone Park, by breaking into the eponymous asylum to shoot B-role! We had originally tried to access the abandoned location with permits, but when the State shut us out we were desperately searching out mental hospitals that gave us that same texture of feeling lived-in but desolate. So one night the DP, my two co-stars, our stunt coordinator and I broke into the hospital and wandered around, picking up some amazing B-roll of the dilapidated building and furnishings… but then both my co-stars got possessed! It was wild watching first Antonella Lentini transform, laughing hysterically as though she were instantly high. She came back down quickly, but next thing I knew Alex Wraith was also laughing eerily, shaking his head as though to slip someone’s grasp, before he slammed his head into a metal cabinet like a juiced football player about 6 times. I pulled him off the cabine before he collapsed, passing out for a few seconds, but he woke up. He ended up with a concussion from the experience.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We just put out Fury of the Fist and the Golden Fleece which is a fun ride, featuring cameos from icons like Danny Trejo, Tiny Lister, Richard Grieco, Michael Dudikoff, Ron Jeremy, the London Brothers, Taimak, Tommy Davidson. Just so many actors who committed themselves to playing in this comedic homage to the ’80s action hero cinema, but it’s a total romp. We laced the movie with a lot of conspiracy theories and social commentary because the Fist is the ultimate macho male, a former porn star whose giant cucumber is a weapon in its own right. It’s full retardation, but I think anyone with a sense of humor can enjoy it.
Gravitas is releasing my documentary A Century of War in the fall. It deals with the industrial decline of America’s cities and our economy since the post-War era, while we remain fixated on foreign interventions for oil and other natural resources. And next I’d like to make a screwball rom-com, and a coming of age story about 9/11 and the Iraq War.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I know you want me to say actors, but I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews the last few years for my programs Watching the Hawks and Buzzsaw. Interviewing authors, scientists, economists, professors, spiritual seekers, ET contactees, conspiracy theorists… these are the people that fascinate me. I dare you to watch a single episode of Buzzsaw and not be intrigued, as far out or crazy as some of my guests may be.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
One of my favorites is Phantom of the Opera. It was the first musical I ever saw, with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman on Broadway when I was 4. I was enamored by the story of a man who was outcast from society on account of his horrible physical deformity. But love prevails in the book and helps transform him to accept his fate. I so loved the story that I wrote a script at 17, based on a combination of the musical and the book, but no sooner had I completed it, I learned my grandmother’s old friend Joel Shumacher was making it into a movie! I was devastated because I so wished to share my script with him and convince him to do my version. Ironically, I ended up visiting his extraordinary set when my father was shooting Alexander at Pinewood Studio in London, and I befriended Emmy Rossum who was playing the lead role.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am eternally grateful to my father, for challenging me throughout my life — in my school work, my use of time, my work and sport commitments, and for taking me to so many foreign countries to learn different cultures’ customs. But I have to say that my mother also deserves my deep gratitude for always being supportive and encouraging of me. In a sense, she has believed in me in ways that I am only beginning to realize.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I am someone who believes knowledge and awareness are half the battle. If we become aware of something, it tends to make us more inclined to do something about it. So through the vehicle of my news program in particular, as well as my documentary A Century of War, I’ve tried to raise awareness on issues that aren’t necessarily emphasized enough in the mainstream news cycle. In particular, I think issues like the drug war, prison reform, homelessness, veterans’ health, animal protection and shelter, plastic pollution and clean energy, all really resonate with me. But also on the foreign policy front, I am very much opposed to the idea of an American Empire. I’d like to see us as a role model for the rest of the world by dealing with our domestic problems, raising our standard of living, decreasing our prison population, and building up our infrastructure and economy, rather than bullying other countries into ‘how to behave’. I try to convey these messages through my public platforms.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Well unfortunately I have no excuse because my father taught me all these things…
“The film business is [maybe] dying.’’ We all know it’s the golden age of TV, but where does film go from here? I turn on my TV and get a million channels, including YouTube and platforms you’ve never even heard of. We have so much content that even major stars aren’t getting theatrical releases or prime placement on Netflix. And people tend to be watching more series than movies, it seems. But I’m a believer in the 2-hour movie experience. I can go to sleep after a movie. I can’t after a TV show, until I binge through all 10 hours, and even then, I’m left wondering… what happens a year from now in Season 2? So I have to figure, if I still love watching movies, there are millions of people around the world just like me.
“It all starts with a good story.” But it doesn’t end there. I’ve learned that it does start with a good story, but just because you get it, doesn’t mean the next guy or gal will. So the real lesson is to listen to others when sharing the script and heed their notes. If three out of five people are giving you the same feedback, they just might be right, as much as it hurts to admit it to ourselves.
“It’s never as good as you think it is, and it’s never as bad as you think it is.” This could apply to just about anything — our day, our looks, our health, our relationships, our work. Life is change, as cliche as it may be. So while we may be riding a great wave of positivity today, we can’t assume it will last. I guess that’s where the back-up plans come in, but more so than that, self-confidence. And I think that starts with believing in our quest, our journey, while having utter faith that the universe is guiding us where we need to be.
“People never really think about you for more than 10 seconds.” I think my dad hit the nail on the head with that one. We really are more important to ourselves than we are to others. Occasionally we make a deep, pronounced impact on others. But most of the time, they’re just thinking, ‘hey, he’s all right,’ or ‘he seems like a jack-ass,’ or something in between… then they’re onto the next thought. Meaning we have only a few seconds to make the mark we want on people and leave them with the impression we’re hoping for. But the good news is, in media and film, we have many chances at a ‘first impression’.
“People like you more when you smile.” This derives from my grandmother, and I do believe it. It’s not to say a shit-eating grin will get you in everyone’s heart, but a genuine positive attitude and charisma goes a long way with people. Ultimately, media is a business, and we want to work with people we generally like to be around. So it never hurts to show off a can-do, positive, relaxed smile.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
To be honest, I would love to have Branson’s ear for a meeting, first and foremost to talk about plastic pollution and how we’re going to right that ship for humanity. I know some good people working in the field who have the technology to recycle the existing plastic, as well as to replace it. I know he’s passionate about the oceans, with the Ocean Blue charity, so I think that would be an important meeting. But I’d equally be fascinated to talk with Elon Musk about the future of space. I really believe our galactic destiny is calling, and the more we commit ourselves to space travel, the more we can use scientific spin-off to help heal our problems at home, including high-density clean energy. So I hope they read this message to them…