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.

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