Gary Powell is one of the most in-demand, experienced and respected stunt co-ordinators in the film business. His career has encompassed films such as BRAVEHEART (1995), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996), TITANIC (1997), SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998), three Harry Potter films, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007) and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008). I talked to him about his career, focussing on a certain secret agent he has collaborated with seven times (including the new film SPECTRE) - Bond, James Bond.  

When did you first entertain the idea of being a stuntman? 
I've been around stunts my whole life because my dad (Nosher Powell), brother (Greg Powell) and uncle (Dinny) were all stunt people. The first time I ever did a stunt was for the Carry On TV series when I was ten years old. I happened to be there when they needed someone to ride a horse in a scene involving a jousting tournament. For whatever reason, the actor was a bit nervous riding a horse, and because he was only a little guy, I was the only one small enough to get into his costume. That was my first stunt and I got paid 35 pounds, which I used to get myself a ten-gear racer. 

When did you become a professional stuntman? 
I actually didn't turn professional until I was 27. When I was 14, I started to get into the stunts again but I actually liked the special effects side of things more. I used to love making models and blowing them up. As a kid that appealed more to me than jumping off of things. I helped out with the special effects on a few films, but then I wanted to do my own thing and I went off and did some DJ-ing and working on construction sites. But then a bit later on I realised that doing stunts was the easiest thing for me to do.

What do you think are the components of a good stunt? 
My rule of thumb is that it is has to make sense in the story. To me the best one-off stunt ever done and ever filmed was the opening to THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) when Rick Sylvester jumped off the cliff on skis. It will never be beaten. And it was part of the story, so it did its job too. 

Are there certain qualities that make a good stuntman? 
There are a lot of stunt people in the world, and the good ones are passionate about what they do. That's important to me, because quite a lot of people do these stunts because they want the bragging rights, but when you see them working, they're not any good because they only care about the money. You can tell the difference between those who care and those who don't a mile off. 

How do you the feel about the image of stuntmen as adrenaline junkies? 
Some are, but my team and I definitely aren't. We calculate everything as much as we can and we are not daredevils. You get a lot of daredevils and the stunts don't work out as expected and the results are what they are. We earn the money but we want to go and spend it at the weekend. 

You once said that you don't like working with fearless people. 
A lot of the stuff we do is straightforward, but a lot of the stuff we do, if it goes wrong, it's going to be really bad. If you can't see and eliminate that danger, and if you don't have any kind of fear when you're doing a stunt, well that's dangerous and I don't want to be anywhere near you. Even on the silliest stunts I get nervous. I want to get it right my end because everybody else has done their job, and when it gets down to 'Action!' it's down to me. If I get it wrong, I could have wasted the time of about 300 people. 

What do you personally get the most out of doing stunts? 
When I was performing stunts, the bigger the stunts the better for me because they would get your heart pounding. When I did the barrel roll on THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999), it was a pretty tricky thing. I was going about 60mph, and I went about 14ft in the air. If the boat hadn't gone over and clipped the Sunseeker, that would have been a nasty result. We did have a bit of a mishap in one of the rehearsals when the boat came down on top of me. I got carted off to hospital with a suspected broken neck and back, but luckily I was just bashed up a bit. I used to love being set on fire. I used to love everything. It was such a good buzz.

How are things different now you're a stunt co-ordinator? 
It's a sort of a natural progression to become a co-ordinator after doing so many years of stunts. Some people just carry on doing the stunts themselves instead, but I just got to the point where I just couldn't do what I used to do. I was always known for doing a good job so I didn't want to become like the boxer who did one fight too many.

Was it hard to ease into being a stunt coordinator and not be doing the stunts yourself? 
When I first became a stunt coordinator, it just felt that like I was getting people to do stunts that I wanted to do – riding cars fast, getting set on fire – but I get a kick out of organising a good scene now. For example, on CASINO ROYALE (2006) the script read 'What follows next is an amazing foot chase.' Martin Campbell and I sat around for weeks coming up with ideas. Then we found the construction site in The Bahamas, we had a model built and started planning what we could do. I'm seeing as it is being done, but it's not until I see it with an audience, and I am seeing and hearing their reactions, that I truly know I've done a good job. It's a great kick to have organised a sequence like that.

Is it hard to stay creatively challenged? 
For me, that's the goal. Much of the time it's all scripted, and I have minimal input, but sometimes it's a blank of paper and ''What can you do?'' Then we can really get to work.

Are the Bond films special for you in that they always try to go one better than the last film? 
Yeah. That comes down to Barbara and Michael, who really care about the product, as did Cubby Broccoli. Obviously they have budgets to work around but they always give you as much as you need to do the best job you can.

What goes through your mind as 'Action!' is called on a stunt scene? 
You've dreamed up a stunt, and it's always something a bit daring, but when you're about to do it you're thinking ''Why the hell did I think of this idea?'' Youe heart is pounding. Now I am a co-ordinator it's more of a laugh and less stressful, but I have to make sure everything is rehearsed and everyone around me is protected. Whenever I used to get asked to do a stunt I would always say ''Yes'' because I always knew I could do it. But now it's nerveracking because it's my friends I'm asking to do stunts, and I don't want them to get hurt. When someone says ''Action!'' I'm probably the most nervous person on the set, despite my cool and calm exterior!

Do you enjoy arranging the stunts more than performing them? 
I have to say it's a bit of both. When I first got into it, all I wanted to do was do stunts. But like I said, I got to 37 and I realised I wasn't doing the stunts as well as I did when I was in my twenties. It was a real effort and it was taking its toll on the body. The passion and drive was still there but the enjoyment was less because it was hurting more. The enjoyment of being a co-ordinator is probably a bit more because when it is successful, it's a greater pleasure. 

It must be a great calling card to be able to say you arranged the stunts on the Bond films. 
CASINO ROYALE is all you need to say really. I'm always comIng back and forth from America, so I'm going through Immigration a lot. They always ask what I do, and when I tell them I'm a stuntman on films they instantly ask ''What films have you done?'' When I mention CASINO ROYALE, they always immediately stamp my passport and let me through!

I read that you had a very good relationship with Sam Mendes on SKYFALL (2012) and SPECTRE (2015). What other collaborations with directors have been especially good? 
Martin Campbell is the one I have worked with the most. We really get on and he's really supportive and trusts me with what I do. Martin has really taught me a lot of things, and not just the stunt side of things, but also the directing side. He has been a huge help.

Campbell said Daniel Craig took to the action side of the role like ''a duck to water.'' Is that your recollection too? 
Yes. Getting that call – ''Right, you're going to be the next James Bond'' – has to be every male actor's secret wish. I don't think there's a male actor in the world who would deny they would want to be James Bond. It has to be the ultimate role. So when he got it, he knew what he was letting himself in for, and he came to us and we trained for three months prior to starting the film. He was also doing physical training in his own time. What helped in a roundabout way was all the negative press he was getting – 'The Blonde Bond', 'He's Going to Ruin the Franchise' - it all made us determined to prove them wrong. Which we definitely did, and it was a nice payoff.

He totally reshaped his body for the movie. 
We actually had to slow him down! He was getting so big that we were worried it was going to affect his movement. He was not a lover of heights but he was up there on the construction crane 90 to 100ft off the ground every day. I told him ''You don't have to do this. We have doubles who can do it.'' But he said ''No, I feel like I'm cheating the audience if they can see it's not me. If you say it's safe for me to do it, I'll do it.'' There wasn't an ego there about doing everything. 

How was working with Pierce Brosnan on his Bond films? 
Pierce was great. I totally enjoyed my time working with him. He really put the work in. I remember when we were doing all the stuff on the Thames for THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. It was January and February, and freezing cold. He was in the boat and getting soaked, and not disappearing into his trailer between shots or anything. 

You've worked with so many big time directors and stars. Has there ever been a time when you got starstruck? 
I just try and treat them as everyday people. We're all on the same page when we are making a film. It keeps it nice I think, if the feeling is that everyone is on a level playing field. The one person I met briefly who I have to admit was a true Hollywood legend was Paul Newman. I was working on BRAVEHEART (1995) and he came onto the set one night to meet Mel Gibson. That's really the only time where I just stood there in awe.
Your relationship with the lead actors must be close and unique in a way. 
We try and get them to understand that they can talk to us openly, and that they can say if they have a concern. And that we're there to have a good time too. It's all very relaxed. The closest one makes the cups of tea kind of thing! I really think they appreciate it. 

There must be a huge level of trust there too. 
Definitely. There's a huge amount of trust. I'm in charge of their lives for the next six or seven months! I remember working with Ryan Reynolds on GREEN LANTERN (2011). We had one scene which was at the start of the film where we had to fire him a hundred feet up in the air. Ryan said to me beforehand ''I can see the papers. ''Here lies Ryan Reynolds.'' '' Before we started rehearsing it I showed him a video of what I wanted him to do and he looked at me like I was crazy. Afterwards he couldn't have been happier with the result.

The actors must want to pat you on the back once they see themselves in the film. You help to make them look good. 
They do! We put them through a program, and it's hard work. It's definitely not easy. If they want to look good in the film, it's like anything else, they have to work hard at it. We sit down and go through what I need from them, how they want to look, what they are comfortable doing, and we make a template that we work towards. 

Were you a Bond fan yourself before you joined the series on GOLDENEYE (1995)? 
The first one I saw was DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971). I didn't know what it was or that there had been films before. I thought it was great. I remember the stunt with the Mustang and it was the first time I had ever seen Las Vegas. It really made me want to go there. It wasn't until I saw THE SPY WHO LOVED ME that I realised there were other James Bond films. By that time I had family working on them so I fully understood what they were. 

Was it a source of pride getting the gig on GOLDENEYE? 
It was, because it's the ultimate phone call for a stuntman. It was so much fun. I remember Simon Crane telling me ''You've got to learn how to drive a tank.'' I asked ''What film are we doing?'' He said ''James Bond.'' I said ''Great!'' We looked at the storyboards for the tank chase and what we were going to be doing, and it was just amazing. We finished the film and it was all said and done, and I was sitting in a cinema watching it with a few of the stunt guys. There's a bit in the tank chase where I had to do a 360 in the tank. There was a guy sitting behind me and he said ''Well that can't be real. It can't be done. It must be CGI.'' I was dying to turn around and tell him it was possible because it was me doing it! I could just imagine the look on his face. 

Was that the moment where you realised your career had gone to a different level? 
When you do a James Bond film it's forever. We're still watching DR. NO (1962) over fifty years later. You're etched in history if you work on them. It's a pretty great thing I must say.

The Bond films since GOLDENEYE (1995) have often had different directors each film. How does the arrival of a new director impact upon what you do? 
It can be quite huge really. Each director has his own vision. It's my job to give them what they want, regardless of whether I think they are right or wrong. There are things that the diehard Bond fans want to see, and the director is going to get the backlash if he doesn't give it to them. 

With CASINO ROYALE, did you feel there was a different focus on the style of action and stunts? 
Having worked with Martin Campbell on GOLDENEYE, he called me in, and we went through how we were going to attack the action in the movie. It was clear this was going to be a different film, even though it was still a James Bond movie. Martin's brief was that it was going to be a grittier and more realistic film. When we did the fights, Bond had to bleed, he had to get hurt, get injured. We couldn't do fights where they punch the crap out of each other for twenty minutes and at the end their hair is perfect and they don't have a mark on them, which has been done before. That was the focus, and it's actually the way I like to do things. I'm not into the martial arts Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles style of doing things. The Bonds are the perfect fit for me. 

What are Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson like as producers? 
I couldn't wish for two nicer people. They are the producers with a job to do and the budget to look after, but they're great people to work with. I remember we were sitting down on location one day somewhere and Michael comes walking up and handed out cigars to each and every person on all the different departments. It was just a nice way of saying ''Thanks for all the work you've been doing.'' They really are a caring bunch of people. Because they've been involved in the films their whole lives, they really care about the end product. They're not trying to cut corners to reduce the budget. They spend every bit of money of the budget to ensure they get the best product at the end.

What was your favourite memory of working on SKYFALL (2012)? 
I had to take my hat off again to Daniel again. Like I said, he has a fear of heights, but when we were doing the fight on top of the train, he was up 15 or 16ft on top of the train, which was rattling along at 50mph. That's intimidating. When we were doing the scene on the bridge, we had doubles and he didn't have to do it, but he said ''Fuck it. I'll do it.'' You could see that the devil on his shoulder was saying ''Do it!'' while the angel on his shoulder was saying ''Don't do it!'' It's funny to see him fighting against himself to do it. 

How do you feel about the use of CGI in films? 
I actually don't mind it. As long as it doesn't take over the film and pull the audience out of it, I'm fine with it. When you have a live-action film and there's a whole CGI sequence, the audience knows it, and it just takes you out of the film. 

The Bond films use CGI very responsibly. 
Yes, you never know what's CGI and what's not. We use it for removing wires, rigs and set extensions but you'd never notice.

A lot of the films you have worked on have been blockbusters, but you have also worked on smaller films too. Are they a different challenge? 
Sometimes, yes. Your commitment is still the same, but you may have five stuntmen instead of fifty.I do like to do smaller projects sometimes because they keep me grounded, and you have to survive on your wits and not be so reliant on technology. It's also useful to observe and learn how directors achieve things on a much smaller budget and schedule.

I spoke to Gary by telephone on 24th December 2012, and would like to thank him for his time. 


Steve De Jarnatt is the director of two of the great cult movies of the 80s: MIRACLE MILE (1988) and CHERRY 2000 (1987). He has also led a fascinating life, from assisting Terrence Malick in the projection room of DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) and directing the rarely screened and semi-legendary noir short TARZANA (1977), to a prolific and impressive career in television, and his current career as an acclaimed writer of short stories and his post as Assistant Professor at Ohio University's MFA Film Program. In the third and final part of our interview, I spoke to Steve about some of his unmade projects, his work on television and his current career as a writer.   

Part one can be read here, and part two here.

What were some of the other pitches you made alongside MIRACLE MILE to Tony Bill?
Oh God, I don’t remember much of that. But I was trying to do the Moe Berg story back then I think. I’d tried to option the first biography on him, and I made up half the events since the book was pretty sketchy on details). A film has yet to been done about him, though it has been in development hell forever. Moe was a catcher in Babe Ruth's day. He made an All Star team or two. He wasn't a great player, but he was good with pitchers in the bullpen. He was also a Princeton educated Doctor of Linguistics who spoke dozens of languages and was the top spy for the OSS in finding out how close the Nazi’s were to building their own bomb. He also knew the man who started baseball in Japan, and helped spawn it. He even took spy photos there too way back in the mid-30s. I remember I fictionalized a love story between him and the daughter of the Japanese baseball founder, and Moe, privy to top secret Manhattan Project stuff, gets word to her, warning to get out of Osaka, which was the original target for one of the bombs, but weather nixed it as the target. I had it as an Appointment in Samarra situation - she leaves to stay with relatives in Nagasaki, where the bomb gets dropped.

What was your experience like on THE PURSUIT OF D.B. COOPER (1981)?
That was another one that I almost did. Jeffrey Fiskin (CUTTER'S WAY) wrote a great script, and I went off scouting locations in Wyoming and other places. I had a three picture deal at Orion, and when the film went into turnaround there, the William Morris Agency was ‘packaging’ it and they wanted me to meet with Henry Winkler. The conception of DB Cooper was that he was an ex-Green Beret, and a highly physically capable guy, and I refused to meet with Winkler or consider him. I’d wanted Treat Williams and Robert Duvall, who both ended up doing the film. I did find out about power in Hollywood though. Winkler had made scadillions of money for the agency on Happy Days. He was a very valuable client, and I was a snot nosed auteur – an up and comer – but had yet to actually do anything. Anyway, I was out with the second unit in pre-production waiting for a storm to come in Arizona, and I turned on the news. Gossip entertainment personality Rona Barrett came on and said ''Henry Winker is to play DB Cooper.'' Noone returned my calls. They just left me stranded in Scottsdale. After that, John Frankenheimer came on and fired Winkler. Later on, he left the film, and Roger Spottiswoode replaced him. 
How close did you come to directing PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (1985)?
After STRANGE BREW (1983), Marty Brest went to bat for me, telling Warner Brothers they had to hire me to direct the Pee Wee movie. I took myself seriously, and having just come off STRANGE BREW, I couldn't see myself directing the script, which wasn't that great. They hired some guy called Timmy Burton. I don't know whatever happened to him! He sort of owes his career to me I guess. But he did a great job. He really made it his. David L. Snyder was hired to design it, as well as my storyboard artist Paul Chadwick, who is now an illustrious graphic novelist. Looking back on it – I was young and starting out, and studio bosses were begging me to direct a major studio feature film – it was so unbelievably arrogant of me. But I just wanted to make MIRACLE MILE.

Can you talk about the unmade scripts you wrote for a GREMLINS 2 and a JAWS 4?
GREMLINS 2 was set in Vegas. I’d rewritten a script that was on the way to Vegas. I was rewritten by many minions and then they set it in NYC, using an excellent writer called Charlie Haas. That’s how it goes in the biz. I did try to develop TV shows with Joe Dante and his producing partner Mike Finnell later in the 90s. Great guys.

I was hired to do JAWS 4 by Universal studio head Frank Price. I set it in Malibu with surf punks. This was before POINT BREAK, so it was more of a homage to the great book Tapping the Source than the Bigelow film. All I remember was that I did a reprise of the opening from the original film. I had a boy and girl drunk on the beach, and the girl goes out in the water, while he's passed out on the shore. I had it seeming like it was Elizabethan England. It is revealed that it's a wench and a lout at a Renaissance Fair. A huge shark starts coming up – dum – dum – dum – dum – and just before it gets her, an even bigger megladon shark bites the first shark in two. To be honest, it was no great shakes. Frank Price later had a fist fight with Sid Sheinberg, his superior at the company (and also the husband of Loraine Gary, who played the wife of Roy Schneider in JAWS and JAWS 2), soit was a double whammy of no part for Mrs Sheinberg and all of Frank Price’s projects being shit-canned ended that. I also remember having an office on the backlot of Universal and an older woman receptionist from the office pool. I had gone off to direct CHERRY 2000, and when I came back, noone could find my office or the woman, but were they were sure it had been moved somewhere else on the vast lot. I never did find them. I used to muse about that woman coming in for the next ten years to my empty office, every once in a while answering the phone – ''No. Mr. De Jarnatt isn’t in. Can I take a message?'' Then retiring.

Is it true you discovered Mickey Rourke?
On one movie that I came close to directing - Wayward Angel – I did in fact fight to give Mickey his first meaty part. I think he’d done a tiny role in a TV movie, nothing else. I wanted him to play the lead in a Hell’s Angels film. Joe Gores (HAMMETT) adapted a non-fiction book about the Vice President of the Oakland chapter who was kicked out of the gang for shooting another Angel in the belly seven times. After he went 'straight', they kept burying bodies on his land, and he eventually ratted on them. The studio, United Artists, was hoping for an ON THE WATERFRONT, with a tough, tender leading man rebelling against the mob – but it was really just glorifying a rat. I was hoping to bring writer Kevin Jarre, also new to the film world, onboard to try to do a GODFATHER I & II epic chronicle, but there was no time.

The studio pulled the plug because a new studio head came on in the wake of the HEAVEN'S GATE (1980) money suckhole. Mickey remembered that I was the first person to really champion him, so after DINER (1982) and two scene stealing scenes in BODY HEAT (1981), he blew up bigtime. He was the hottest thespian in town. I worked with him on HOMEBOY, his semi-autobiographical boxing film. I was the director for a while and hung out with him (both a lot like Entourage and nothing at all like it) and was going to direct. The cast at one point was Mickey, Chris Walken, Matt Dillon, Sean Penn and his brother Chris, and Mikhael Barishnikov and Mickey’s then wife – Debbie Feuer (from TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. It eventually got made with Alan Parker’s DP Michael Seresin directing. I do remember I kept playing Willie DeVille for him all the time. He could only hear Bruce Springsteen at the time. I was happy though to see Willy with a part in the final film.

How does directing TV compare to directing features?
It has no connection whatsoever. In television, the showrunner is king. I did that a lot. I wrote pilots and got ready to have my own show. A couple got close to getting ordered. But as a TV director, you don't have power. You're a traffic cop. It can be fun and rewarding or it can be hellish. Directing ER was great.

Does it give you a new set of skills?
It can absolutely turn you into a hack. When you do something like MIRACLE MILE you know you're going for a work of art. With television, you're just making your day. You have to come in on time. You can be as creative as you want sometimes, but within certain parameters. You have to shoot in the style of the show. You could be directing a seventh season episode of a show and anyone on that set can direct it better than you probably. You do develop the skills of how to go on location and shoot effectively and do decent stuff. A bag of tricks that is good to have. It's all about staying on schedule.

Which TV episodes are you especially proud of?
I did a pilot for Fox about a rock band. It was called Planet Rules. It wasn't about a band's struggle to the top. It was about when you're already in a big band like Pearl Jam or U2 and you are trying to stay on top and save the world, but still fighting with your brother. It was a bit like Entourage, before Entourage. I wish it had gotten picked up. John Hawkes was in it. He was wonderful. I remember we went to bat for Mark Ruffalo at the network but they said no. I also did a pilot episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour called The Man from the South. It was a remake of the famous episode with Steve McQueen where he has to light a cigarette lighter ten times or he gets his finger cut off. We had John Huston, Kim Novak, Tippi Hedren and Melanie Griffith in it. The show got picked up but I was so focused on MIRACLE MILE that when Universal offered me $300, 000 a year to write, produce and direct TV, I turned them down. I was a young, arrogant, snotty auteur.  

Why have you not directed another film?
A bit of it is that it took eight years to get MIRACLE MILE made! It's not the actual making of movies that gets to me, it's the looking for the money, taking all the meetings, and doing what you need to do to get a film made. It's so soul crushing. I would love to go make a movie, but television is so fast paced and you can do two or three things at once. A lot of people who go into TV never want to go back to the indie world. I’ve moved into writing serious fiction. I got an MFA, and I had a story included in The Best American Short Stories etc. I am now an Assistant Professor at Ohio University’s MFA Film program.

Can you see yourself directing a feature again?
I dunno, maybe I will get inspired to try one more feature. But it would be small, not an overly ambitious one. And I have a few decent scripts I’d like to see get made, but with other directors. I've been attached to some movies, and I have looked at some scripts,but my creative heart now is in writing short stories, and I'll write a novel before long. There's no money in it but that's where my desire to tell stories and move people lies. I actually don't go to the movies that much.

I spoke to Steve by telephone on 18th September 2012, and via email during October 2015. I'd like to thank him for his time. 

Thanks to Scott Bradley.


Steve De Jarnatt is the director of two of the great cult movies of the 80s: MIRACLE MILE (1988) and CHERRY 2000 (1987). He has also led a fascinating life, from assisting Terrence Malick in the projection room of DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) and directing the rarely screened and semi-legendary noir short TARZANA (1977), to a prolific and impressive career in television, and his current career as an acclaimed writer of short stories and his post as Assistant Professor at Ohio University's MFA Film Program. In the second part of a three-part interview, I spoke to Steve about the making of his magnum opus, MIRACLE MILEPart three will focus on Steve's TV work and unmade projects.   

Part one can be read here.

Where did the initial idea for MIRACLE MILE come from?
It came out of the nightmares of my generation. I guess today people think the world is going to end from economic collapse or terrorism or something like that, but all those pale in comparison to the nuke threat of the Cold War. You had it drummed into you that you had to duck, roll and cover, and that we were going to be at war. We were going to brush
the radioactive dust off the cans and live to fight the Russians again some day.

I'd always loved the Miracle Mile section of L.A. and the tar pits, so they came into the idea. I also remember going to a 24 hour Preston Sturges marathon at the El Ray Theater and coming out at 4 in the morning. The marathon was great because Sturges always had the same cast. You could fall asleep in the middle of one movie and wake up during the next movie, and you'd see the same actors! That stuck in my head somehow. L.A. goes to sleep at 10 in the evening and it's hard to find a restaurant. The streets are empty. And I had been spooked by lonely pay phones ringing on empty streets. So that kernel lead to the 'You're Chicken Little and you're not sure if things are happening or not' main thrust of the film.

When did you write it, and how long did it take to get made?
I wrote the first draft in late 1979. It took eight years to get it made. There's a whole other career I could have had. 
(C) Steve De Jarnatt
It's surprising to hear you wrote it in 1979 before films like TESTAMENT (1983) and THE DAY AFTER (1983).
I don't think there was a single nuke movie when I wrote it. Mark Rosenberg, who was running production at Warner Brothers, was quite a character. He used to be in the radical underground group SDS - Students for a Democratic Society. He wanted to use MIRACLE MILE for The Twilight Zone or something, but he wanted the lead character to wake up at the end and it was all a dream. Everybody always wanted to change the ending.

How close did it come to production before it actually got greenlit?
It probably could have got made at Warner Brothers but they wanted me to work on it a lot more. After I bought it back from them, Mark Rosenberg offered me $400 or 500, 000, or whatever it was, to buy it again. I think this might have been 1982. That was top dollar, what Robert Towne or William Goldman was getting at that time. But I turned it down. I think I said if they could get George Miller, who had not long done THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981), to direct it, I would sit on the sidelines. But that didn’t happen, and I really saw no other choice. I didn’t have any money, never had. I didn’t know what it would mean. I just had to make my baby. Warner Brothers was very generous in giving it back. I remember that Tony Bill was the producer at Warners, and he was the guy who found new film-makers coming up, like Marty Brest who did GOING IN STYLE (1979) with him.

What were some of the influences on you whilst writing and making MIRACLE MILE?
Like everyone else I was influenced by Hitchcock. Not so much his artifice, where he wanted to control it so much and it could be a bit stilted, but the whole idea of a guy being over his head and not sure what is going on. I'm not a big fan of going out there and shooting in a shaky, fake documentary style. Something like THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) is brilliant, but real documentarians don't make their cameras go out of focus and slop their cameras all over the place. I definitely like clean, hard-lit films, with elegant, well planned camera moves.

Was there any significance to BIRD OF PARADISE (1932) being on the TV?
Kathy Orrison, who was married to Sherman Labby, the BLADE RUNNER storyboard artist, told me about the film. It's a love story set against a volcano, as opposed to a love story set against an impending nuclear attack. I always like to put little background bits in there. The character speed reading the Cliff Notes version of Gravity's Rainbow always gets a

At what point when you were dreaming up the story did the love story aspect come into it?
I went in and pitched it to Mark Rosenberg. I said ''It's the middle of the night. Someone calls the wrong number. You pick up a pay phone … They're calling from a missile silo and they say they're going to shoot their missiles off in ten minutes. After that it'll be seventy minutes before the Russian warheads arrive.'' It was always going to be a real time movie from that point in the story. I can't think of anything worse than the world ending and being alone. Running off to Antarctica with the guys from the diner to ''fuck penguins with Jacques Cousteau'' was not something the audience would believe was going to be any better. From the phone call to the end was always in the script, but we shot a whole other version of the opening 'meet cute'. The stuff we used was stitched together in the filmmaking process, and I'm still unsure of parts of it. We did a lot of reshoots. It's a little bit montage-y and telling you, not showing you, that they are in love. In an ideal world they'd have some more scenes to build on. We would have taken more time. There are some glimpses of an alternate version in the out-takes on the Blu Ray.

Why did you want to mix genres in the film?
I wanted people to just be stunned and affected by the end. It's a very frustrating movie. The guy doesn't save the day. He's flailing a gun around for quite a bit which is a bit
preposterous. He makes some wrong choices. He doesn't get away and he drowns in tar, luckily with the one he loves. Some people just hate the movie because he does so many frustrating and stupid things, but he's just a trombone player, an average guy – not a Bruce Willis character.

There was a critic in England who thought the film had the biggest lurch in tone ever. It starts off as a sappy romantic comedy and it turns into something less fluffy. Back then you could get away with it. Nobody today would expect that ending. You're not allowed to have things so bleak. I fought for eight years to get that ending but today I don't think anybody would make it.

(C) Paul Chadwick
How would you describe the film?
I try to get people to watch it without knowing anything about it and I implore them to stick with it past the 80s love story! It's supposed to operate as if it could be a dream to some degree, but then on another level it's definitely real. You're treading that line. In the middle of the night it's always a dreamscape. You're not sure if it's really happening. In the department store too much time has gone by and he comes to the point where he is a faux Chicken Little. He's going to be in big trouble but at least the world isn't ending. Then we dash that ‘out’ - and pull you back into doom.

What message were you trying to convey with the film?
I was absolutely thinking ''What can I do to scare the world to death about a nuclear war happening?'' People think the Cold War is quaint nowadays but I remind them that a nuclear attack is much more likely to happen tonight than it was back then. Everyone was totally attentive and on top of it back then. The missiles are still pointed and ready to go
today. All it could take is some Russian down in the missile silo, drunk on vodka after his girlfriend has broken up with him, being unpaid for a while, hitting that button. I don't think nuclear disarmament will ever happen until a city gets blown off the map.

In what ways is the film autobiographical?
Not at all really, but in the original draft, the lead character was in his 40s or 50s, like a Gene Hackman figure. There was once a Paul Newman possibility for that version actually. Harry Washello hasn't seen his ex-wife in fifteen years and barges into her home in the middle of the night. There was a kid involved too. It wasn't two people meeting and falling in love, and then the world ends. In some ways, that version had stronger emotion, and
some people didn't forgive me for changing that character in the script. I changed that willingly though, and nobody made me do that. I did it for personal reasons I think. A long relationship had ended, and new love was of more interest than going back for the old. The reconciliation factor though, was transposed to the grandparents, which is a bit autobiographical, and was inspired by my mom’s parents in Denver.

(C) Paul Chadwick
Other than that did the script change much over the years?
No, it was always the same structure, starting and ending at the tar pits. The same scenes were always there. I think in a very early draft I might have written 150 pages before the phone rings, which was way over the top. That was never turned into to the studio. It was just part of my process. I sometimes write 30,000 words now before boiling a short story down to 8,000 words.

Why do you think the film took so long to get made?
The ending. To not have it work out, well, that wasn’t done then - and would never even be conceived of today. But 70s movies did that. I was forged in that era, so I thought that is what you went for in films. When people offered me the money, I wouldn't compromise. I tell young filmmakers now ''Don't be that pigheaded. Play the game. Do one for them, and one for you. A la John Sayles. Make some money, work the system and then you can make more movies.'' I think people had respect me for not compromising, but they also wanted to know that I was going to get in the game and play it. Back then there were a lot of interesting indie films being made. Today it's so limited. There are the big comic book movies. Even the indies are pretty expensive, unless you are going to make something for $150, 000. It's not that independent.

Once quite a few nuclear dramas became popular were the studios more interested in MIRACLE MILE or in letting you have your complete vision?
My heart kind of broke when THE DAY AFTER (1983) went huge and TESTAMENT (1983) proved to be a a good movie. MIRACLE MILE was already regarded as one of the ten best
unproduced scripts on the first such list in American Film (now we have The Black List, which gets published), and there was definitely a flurry of activity after THE DAY AFTER, but they still wanted it to have a happier ending.

Did you have to make any small compromises to get the film finally made?
John Daly at Hemdale was a tough character but he really should be more appreciated. He won the Best Picture Oscar two years in a row with PLATOON and THE LAST EMPEROR (1987), and he made a lot of good movies like HOOSIERS (1986) and RIVER'S EDGE (1986). He had good instincts. He was also a good guy - to me anyway. John would often come in and take films away and re-edit them, but when he saw that I had put every penny I owned into the movie he said ''If you care that much about the movie, I'll leave you alone.'' He gave James Cameron a second chance after PIRANHA II (1982) and made THE TERMINATOR (1984) with him. He gave Oliver Stone the chance to make SALVADOR (1986) and PLATOON (1986) after THE HAND (1981). If you ever want to get paid or see some of the profits, you can forget it, though! That's why the company went bankrupt. There are only two cuts that he made in the film, and they are pretty minor. One was the Wilson character carrying his sister at the top of the elevator, all bloodied. And we had done a version of the ending where the white light at the end sort of coalesces into two diamonds and floats away. John said ''That's too upbeat! Let's cut that out!'' It didn't really matter though, as I was ambivalent about that particular ending anyway.

What was the final budget?
It was $3.7 million, below the line, and $4.4 million above the line, total. I'm sure Hemdale sold it for $8 or 10 million and claimed it cost that much or more!

How was the shoot?
(C) Steve De Jarnatt
It was a very hard shoot, but great. There was a lot of pressure. The completion bond company was sympathetic to me but they said ''This is impossible to do on this budget. When you get two days behind, we will fire you.'' There was a director, I don't know who it was, waiting in the wings to come finish the film. But somehow we managed to stay on schedule. On CHERRY 2000 I had been refereeing actors and the DP made things a miserable experience, but MIRACLE MILE was the opposite experience.

The actors were all you could ask for. The DP, Theo Van De Sande, was fantastic. I had wanted him on CHERRY 2000. I had seen his reel, and it was very eclectic. He didn't just work in one style. I have used him on a TV pilot and many other things since. He's the guy to have with you in the trenches. You need someone fighting as much as you to get everything onscreen.

It was seven weeks, all nights, with usually a dawn shot to be gotten each morning before we wrapped. I then went and did a lot of second-unit shots on my own dime. I would go spend amounts up to $25, 000, and sometimes John would reimburse me, but I would just go and spend it on doing more shots. At the end, I was $150,000 in debt, owing labs and vendors, and credit cards etc. I did not go bankrupt though. I paid back every dime.

How did you decide on the look of the film?
I storyboarded it many times over the years with Paul Chadwick, who now does graphic novels like Concrete and The Matrix. I looked at every film that had been shot at night. We didn't wet the streets at night, and we used no smoke, only a little neon. So we managed to somehow avoid the typical 80s look. We would be inside shooting an interior and then at the end of every night when dawn broke we would be getting shots of the lead character running around LA with the sky changing.

(C) Donald Burghart
Was the look of the film influenced by THE TERMINATOR (1984) at all?
I guess a little bit but THE TERMINATOR was using that filtery, blown out look and I wanted something cleaner and more dream-like. Certainly the kinetic, cinematic cutting of TERMINATOR was great at the time. Probably that and THE ROAD WARRIOR were the best action templates at that time and something to try and emulate.

What would you change about the film if you could?
I think the main thing would be the 80s hair styles! I would like to CGI them all. I cringe every time I watch the film! I wish I had been more particular about the hairstyles and clothes, but at the time – these actually seemed cool believe it or not.

How did you come to cast Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham?
After TOP GUN (1986) Tony had a lot of heat and so it was possible to get a low-budget film financed with him in the lead. Tony knew Mare, and though the studio wanted to go with a more glamorous bombshell, they seemed like a real couple and were tremendous to work with. You couldn't hope for anything more. Anything I asked them to do, they were there. I kept doing all these little pick-up shots for like a year after and saying to them ''Hey, we're shooting on the weekend. Can you come down and shoot this bit?''

Is Tony proud of the movie? I know you have done Q and As together over the years.
I know it was his favorite of the films he had done for a long while. I actually got to do some E.R. episodes with him, and I am developing some projects with him too. Interestingly, after being friends for many years, and having children in their marriages, he and Mare recently became a real couple. I was astounded. Life imitates art! So happy for them.

How did you assemble such a great supporting cast?
(C) Donald Burghart
Lauren Lloyd was the casting director, and she did an amazing job. Alan Rosenberg, Mark Rosenberg's brother (also SAG President for a few years), played the young streetsweeper and he was sort of playing a version of his brother, a political guy. We got some really good actors: Claude Earl Jones (also in CHERRY 2000), Earl Boen (THE TERMINATOR), Mykelti Williamson (later Bubba in FORREST GUMP), Robert Doqui (ROBOCOP), Kurt Fuller (who went on to do a million things), Denise Crosby, Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez in ALIENS). We rehearsed the diner scenes like a one-act play. There is a glimpse of that on the Blu Ray extras, and recently we were able to get eleven of the supporting cast together at Johnnie's after 26 years. It's unchanged from how we art directed it, and left it.

How did Eddie Bunker end up in the film?
Yes, Eddie with the sawed off shotgun. He knew how to use one. He was a wonderful guy. He came in and read. I still have his audition tape, and many others, and I will be putting them up on a MIRACLE MILE website later this year. Theo van de Sande's wife, Michele O'Hayon, was developing one of his books, Little Boy Blue. I wanted to do a TV project with Eddie about a halfway house with prisoners coming out and going back in, but nothing much became of it.

How did Tangerine Dream come to score the film?
I remember writing the script in the middle of the night, endlessly listening to their SORCERER (1977) soundtrack. Their music is very connected to how the film came out of my head. Tangerine Dream is always this one guy, Edgar Froese, and then one or two or more other people. For MIRACLE MILE it was just Edgar and Paul Haslinger, who is scoring films now but who was a classical music prodigy at the time. I got to work with them and it was a wonderful experience. Sadly, Edgar passed away unexpectedly this year. A huge loss to the music world. Paul and he were discussing trying to put out the true underscore on a limited issue vinyl (the CD score has added instrumentation to supplement the film score) but not sure if it could have happened anyway.

Was the film well received at film festivals?
Yes, it did well at Toronto and Montreal. It was the first big year at Sundance and people liked it there, but it got swept away in the tsunami of SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (1989). The paradigm of independent film was being changed for the 90s. There was HEATHERS (1988), APARTMENT ZERO (1988) and others. There were about eight independent movies at the festival that were really good, and MIRACLE MILE had its fans but got a bit lost in the shuffle.

Were you happy with the reviews the film got?
It got some great reviews, especially from New York critics, but it got trashed by others. It was very well liked in England and other countries but it didn't play long there either.

How did the film do commercially?
They sold it as an action movie, an end of the world film, and a bit of a love story. It opened wide in New York and L.A. It did good business for two weeks. I think it held its own against ROADHOUSE (1989), but then INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989) came out and FIELD OF DREAMS (1989) and some other films, and they just wiped us out of the theaters. But people found it on VHS and DVD and I'm very happy for it to be a cult thing. Contrary to popular belief, the film did not lose money - except at the box office. But between foreign territories and VHS it made $10-12 million I think. I was owed $400, 000 in residuals and a deferred salary, but I only saw a fraction of that many years later after the Hemdale bankruptcy settled out. No complaints. I got to make it.

What was the impact of the movie on your career?
It was perceived as not making any money, although it was profitable. I was still offered movies afterwards, and I arrogantly turned down them down. I did end up going into television. I wrote fifteen pilots for the networks, and four of them got made. I was very close to getting my own show on the air. I worked on the staff of The X-Files (briefly), American Gothic and others and then directed and produced about 50 shows. So, I sold out and played the game in the end, but it was time to go out and make some money. After MIRACLE MILE, I owed something like $150, 000.

How does MIRACLE MILE impact upon your life now?
The film seems to have found an audience out there who appreciate it. Along with my lesser film CHERRY 2000 it played at the American Cinematheque, and it also played at the Doomsday Festival in Tribeca and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I have a list of about 30 places around the world it has played recently. So thrilled it still is something anyone wants to see.

I spoke to Steve by telephone on 18th September 2012, and via email during October 2015. I'd like to thank him for his time. 

Please respect the copyright notices and do not reproduce the photos without prior permission. The copyright holders and myself thank you. 

Thanks to Scott Bradley.