Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
Making this film was the strangest thing I’ve ever done. And
I’ve done a lot of strange things. I realize now that getting
a movie made requires a combination of relentless madness and basically
complete and utter delusion—a sort of autopilot type of delusion.
Think Sweet Pea in a Popeye cartoon, sleepwalking while construction
planks position themselves just in time!
See, I wrote a book and that in itself was a bit of a ridiculous venture—a
bunch of ramblings on paper that before my eyes, to me at least, began
to take form, shape. One day I looked at it and said, man, this kinda
looks like a book. Of course the movie was a bit more planned but not
all that different.
With all this James Frey stuff going on I get asked a lot about the
whole “memoir” thing. If I had actually read Frey’s
book I’m sure I’d have an opinion, but my case was, well,
my case. My book was about people I knew. People I loved. Maybe not
then as much as I’ve come to love them now, understand them and
understand myself more. Writing about anyone can be tricky. With my
movie I desperately tried not to “cartoon-ize” anyone.
I’ve learned that writing about anyone, with even the noblest
intentions, is a bit of a contradiction in itself. As I mentioned,
my book was my memory of a time and people—certainly not theirs
or my autobiography. Scorsese, one of the greatest directors in the
world, did a film on a guy who flew airplanes and that was a tough
sell for me, so a film on me was not an option!
The way I approached the book and the film was with a scattered, rose-colored
and convenient memory. I set out to simply tell a story, using my book
as a landscape—an emotional bank of sorts. Whenever I needed
something I’d dip back in and remember the way my childhood friend
Antonio looked at me the day he got out of prison. All those years
of friendship taken away from us, looking like someone who knew exactly
what he wanted to say but there was no way he was ever gonna say it.
The memory of that look from Antonio haunted me during the entire movie.
Channing Tatum, who plays the role of Antonio, had it down. We never
even discussed it but he did. Special things can happen in moviemaking.
Unexplainable things. Here’s one: On our first day of filming
everyone was a bit nervous. We had no rehearsal time and the majority
of the people were meeting on set. One of the first scenes we were
doing was where Monty (Chazz Palminteri) has a seizure. His son Dito
(Shia LaBeouf), best friend Antonio (Tatum), girlfriend Laurie (Melonie
Diaz) and mother (Dianne Wiest) are all there.
Before filming Channing asked me what he could do. What are the limitations?
I was like, listen man, we don’t put marks on the ground and
all I know is if I was as nervous about losing a person like Monty
to a seizure, well, I’d flip out and I don’t know…probably
kill someone in the room, not knowing what to do with myself. Channing
was like, “Okay, but I might really flip out!” I was like,
not as much as I would. So we do the scene with no words for fun. I
read out the lines and was curious if that might force the aggression
issue a little more. Because we didn’t have to care about sound,
all the actors were free to ask questions and talk out loud while filming
Next thing you know Channing is yelling to me, Dito (the director)
not Shia (Dito the actor), “Dito I’m gonna fucking bug
out! I’m gonna really bug out!”
I scream back, “Do what you gotta do!”
Melonie is appropriately nervous, Shia is confused and when Chazz hit
the ground Channing flipped out for real! He grabbed a table and threw
it through the glass door! Glass shattered all around on a barefoot
Dianne Wiest, who never broke character for a second. Her blood is
on the ground, everyone is screaming...crying...man, I was in heaven!
We rolled until the film ran out.
The second we cut everyone ran in, screaming at me and Channing. “What,
are you people freaking nuts?!” Before I could even think to
take Channing’s back, Chazz stepped right up and did it. I sat
back and watched Chazz tell everyone to leave Channing alone. He’s
just a kid acting out a scene. Shia looked concerned about why he wasn’t
involved, Dianne was not entirely sure if this guy was dangerous or
not and Melonie was shaking. I get the chills thinking about it because
what I witnessed was Monty, Antonio, myself, Laurie and Flori all mixing
fiction, reality, film and real life. I sat back, looked and was like,
man, this is kinda startin’ to look like a good movie.