“Rebel Yell” {archive}

PremiereOctober 1998

Who taught you the most about filmmaking? Who inspired you?

Cable access was where I learned about editing and everything. The people I learned the most from were the people that I collaborated with as a writer: my writing partner, Owen Wilson, and Jim Brooks, who was one of the producers of Bottle Rocket.

What was the wildest business meeting you ever had?

My first meeting with James Caan, he showed up kind of late at night on the location. I was asleep, and there was a knock on my door. So I put on a robe and switched on a dim light, and there he was. He was really amped up, like he was ready to roll. He had on blue jeans and a baseball jacket with the sleeves pushed up over his elbows. And he wanted to talk about the scene that we were going to do in a couple of weeks. He had this angle on it; he wanted to incorporate some karate elements. He said, “Let me show ya, let me show ya.” He pulled me into my bathroom, and it’s really dark, and he put me in this lock, and he starts doing these throws, and I could just see myself in the mirror. I was thinking “What the hell is happening here? I’m getting my ass kicked by Sonny and I’m wearing a robe.”

Wes, how did you get Bill Murray to star in Rushmore and cut his salary?

Owen and I had always thought of Bill Murray for the role. We had heard his agents couldn’t reach him, you’d have to wait several months to get a response, but Touchstone’s Donald DeLine encouraged us to go after him. A week after we sent him the script, I was talking to him on the phone. He did the movie for scale, maybe half of his usual back-end deal [a percentage of the receipts]. All we had to do was work around his schedule, which pushed us into overdrive — we had to start early.

What do you make of the value of test screenings?

We tested Bottle Rocket in Santa Monica. Truth is, when we walked into the the theater, I knew we were in big trouble. It’s a strange movie with no movie star, which never tests well. Before the screenings, Sony had no expectations, and after the screenings their feelings were confirmed. Even with Jim Brooks fighting for us, we never got another shot at it. I don’t think [Touchstone is] going to have us do much of that stuff for Rushmore.

Many Americans have a deep-rooted prejudice against people who do a lot of things well: “How dare you go and make a commercial film when you’re supposed to be making these different kinds of film for very little money?”

I don’t even think that excess is a bad thing. There are movies where I don’t think it matters if they are guilty of excess — I’m glad those movies have been made.

Oliver Stone said that he submits a cut that is so outrageously over-the-top that they’ll ask for trims and he’ll wind up with what he wants.

Who said that? The MPAA?

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