Today’s post comes from filmmaker/singer/songwriter Justin Pierre and was originally written on Aug. 21, 2012. Motion City Soundtrack plays in Lawrence, KS on Tuesday October 16 at The Granada. Here’s Justin:
Warning: this is a long story partially about Tony Scott and his film True Romance, but mostly about me.
I’m sure most of you heard yesterday that Tony Scott died. It is always a bummer when someone whose work you admire is no longer around. The manner in which he died threw me quite a bit and I started thinking about things, as a person does when something of this sort happens. My heart goes out to his friends and family. I didn’t know the guy. I just enjoyed his films. One in particular had an incredible affect on me as both a human being and as a potential filmmaker. That film is called True Romance.
I had a year-long love affair with True Romance in 1995. I had attempted to go to college at Moorhead State University in Moorhead, MN the year before, but I was not ready and flunked out in less than 3 months. The constant alcohol and marijuana consumption may have had something to do with it, but mostly I was lonely and came to realize that I had no friends. I am not trying to be dramatic. This is just how it was. I had a lot of acquaintances, but no actual friends.
During this time I discovered Quentin Tarantino by way of Reservoir Dogs. A group of us would sequester into one of many rotating rooms (in order to avoid raising suspicion from the militant R.A.) in order to devour malt liquor and marijuana on “40s Night” while watching different types of gangster films like Goodfellas or Menace II Society. One night somebody brought Reservoir Dogs to the party. None of us had ever seen anything like it. It was so brutal and funny in a totally irreverent way. And like most film nerds, we began to incorporate lines from the movie into our daily lives. It was all we could talk about. A few weeks later someone mentioned that the guy who wrote and directed Reservoir Dogs had a new movie coming out in October. That movie was Pulp Fiction and we all went to see it, and it blew Reservoir Dogs out of the water.
I had been getting into film more and more over the last few years and began purchasing film dictionaries (that’s what I called them) by Videohound. Theoretically this gigantic book listed every movie ever made along with the writer, director, cinematographer, producer, actors, etc… After seeing Pulp Fiction, I looked up Quentin Tarantino and discovered that he had written two movies that he had not directed: Natural Born Killers and True Romance. I had seen Natural Born Killers and it made me feel sick. But I had not seen True Romance. I wrote down the title and then immediately forgot about it.
A few months later I had dropped out of a free college experience (my mother still reminds me of this occasionally) and moved into a house with some pseudo-acquaintances and spent half my entire life savings on Mountain Dew, ephedrine, and video rentals. I stayed up for several days in a row watching movies and attempting to record songs on a 4-track in my room. Sadly, I was the weird roommate who nobody ever saw. Eventually I rented True Romance.
True Romance is a perfect movie. I define a perfect movie by the following criteria: It is well written. It is well directed. It is well acted. It is well shot. It moves you emotionally to the most extreme end of whatever emotion you feel while watching it. And most importantly, you can watch it over and over again and have the same reaction to it or discover something new you hadn’t noticed before.
I lost my shit when I saw this movie. This was a movie full of people who talked like me; who referenced other things in order to be understood by/or relate to one another. This was a love story I wanted to live. I wanted to be a hero and save someone. I wanted to stand up to the bad guys. I wanted to come out ahead. I wanted the girl. At 18, I viewed myself as a failure as a human being. And as embarrassing as it is to admit, True Romance really got me excited to the possibilities of it all.
I used to rent six films a day from Video Update on Rice Street in Roseville, MN. I had two VCRs and would record every film I viewed. I still have over several hundred VHS tapes with 3-4 films per tape lurking somewhere in storage. On the occasion that I found a film deemed too good to be recorded, I would trek over to Suncoast in Roseville and purchase it. True Romance was purchased and viewed about 100 hundred times, 70 of which took place in 1995.
I studied this film. I would rewind and fast forward to specific points of interest and watch certain moments repeatedly. I would memorize whole sections of dialogue, mimicking the various accents of the actors. I would study the lighting of those beautiful haze-filled rooms. I would try to figure out why scenes were cut the way they were. I wrote out the entire screenplay by hand over the course of a few days while pausing the VCR every few seconds and then acted out all the parts during the daytime in my room when my roommates were at work.
Even after I moved out of that place and broke my television, I would just listen to the audio of the film. This is where I discovered that the sounds of the roller-coaster swooshing by were the same sounds of the fighter jets in Top Gun, another Tony Scott film. (This is just a theory of course, but I urge you to give it a listen and see what you think.) I simply consumed this film and enjoyed every second of it.
Eventually I moved into a semi-sub-ground-level apartment in Dinkytown, bought an actual typewriter and began writing screenplays and short stories. I devoted myself to becoming a writer/director. I knew that my funds would eventually run out and that I would have to get a job so I started looking through the want ads of the City Pages for film related work. If I remember correctly, at this time you could also call the Minnesota Film Board and listen to listings of films being shot in the area that needed PAs. I am not sure how I found out about it, but I ended up getting my first PA job (making coffee) on a film called Snow that was directed by Eric Tretbar and shot by Phil Harder.
I was paid nothing, but I actually got to observe an entire feature film get made. Since everyone was working for free, people would sometimes not show up and the PAs would have to take over random jobs. One day I had to assist Phil and he explained in great detail how you were supposed to handle a lens and that before you let go of it the other person had to acknowledge that they had it and so forth. I learned the differences between wide angle and telephoto lenses, and a multitude of various jargon that escapes me today. But the best part of this whole experience was that I got to talk with Phil about things. I mentioned that I wanted to make movies and he suggested that I go to this cheap and little-known college in Minneapolis called MCTC because they had tons of equipment and not a lot of students. I hated the idea of college, but the possibility of getting my hands on actual film equipment was one I had to investigate.
Eventually, I went back to college and made a handful of short films on actual 16mm. I ended up getting two jobs to help fund the films and my college experience 2.0. Somewhere along the way I ran out of money and couldn’t continue shooting film, so I switched to screenwriting as all I would need for that would be paper and pencil. My screenwriting teacher was a man named Hafed Bouassida and in the midst of everyone trying to write the next Pulp Fiction (or in my case the next True Romance) he gave me the simplest, most angering, yet most important bit of advice I have ever received: Write what you know. And though I never made it in the screenwriting/filmmaking world, I took that advice to my songwriting and perhaps that’s why I write songs about stuttering, asthma, and alcohol. I know these subjects well.
Perhaps my ramblings have nothing to do with Tony Scott. Perhaps they have everything to do with him. But his death prompted me to think about things I hadn’t thought about in a while.
Everyone has a story about the moment when they knew what they wanted to do with their lives and this just happens to be mine. I knew I wanted to make movies after seeing Twin Peaks, but my obsession with True Romance gave me that extra push to go out and try to make it a reality. I haven’t given up on making movies. I have just been sidetracked by music, for which I am eternally grateful.
Eventually, I did get the girl. I didn’t get to save her though. She ended up saving me. And although our story is not as action packed as Clarence’s and Alabama’s, it’s still a pretty damn good story. I even wrote a song about it. It’s called “True Romance.”
Previously for Scene-Stealers Justin has mounted an impassioned defense of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and he helped us . Motion City Soundtrack’s new album Go is awesome and its out now.