Eric Stacey: Filmmaker
Jessica Gilbert: Eric, it’s wonderful to have you in TSM, and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do an interview for the magazine.
Eric Stacey: Thanks for your interest in learning more about what we’re up to.
Jessica Gilbert: What inspired you to get into filmmaking?
Eric Stacey: My dad worked in the movies and he was always off somewhere on location or at the studio – So movies, filmmaking and my dad were always part of the same cloth. When I was a kid, he put a Kodak roll film camera in my hand and I started taking pictures. This was when I was around seven years old, so I was hooked from a really early age back when the only place people made movies was where we lived – Hollywood. Also, I guess I fell for the romance of the movies. What I saw from my perspective was a guy – my dad – who was always going off to interesting places, and hanging out with interesting people and who everybody else seemed to admire. It was hard not to want to have that kind of life, except that there was a period where I wanted to be a race car driver.
Jessica Gilbert: Tell us a little bit about your filmmaking background.
Eric Stacey: One Saturday afternoon when I was five or six, my dad took me to see the original King Kong with Fay Wray. As the film was unfolding, Dad started telling me how a team of special effects people made the King Kong move and that the “monkey” was really only six inches tall. He ruined the picture for me by destroying the illusion of King Kong’s menace, but gave birth to the filmmaker in me. As a kid, I got acting jobs in films at Warner Brothers like East of Eden with James Dean. I’m often tempted not to tell people about my experience growing up in Hollywood because they think I had some special privilege, but that’s anything but the case. I’m still “getting started” making films today when most of my friends are retired and taking cruises or playing golf. Today, anyone with a Canon DSLR can make movies telling great stories, but back then you needed sound stages and cameras that weighed over a hundred pounds, and twenty trucks of equipment to make a movie. My dad really gave me my start in the business. He got me jobs as a bit player, as a caterer’s assistant, and eventually as a production assistant on films in Europe before he died over forty years ago.
Jessica Gilbert: Can you recall the first film you ever made?
Eric Stacey: The first film I ever made was a documentary on drag racing. That was before anyone knew what drag racing was. Two of my friends and I went up to Bakersfield Top Fuel Drags for a weekend and came back with a few hours of 16mm film. I sold a clip of a dragster crashing in flames, but the rest was a bust. We lost all our money. It was an important lesson. My second film was much better. It was called The Ceremony. A friend wrote it and I shot and directed it- a story about a ten year old kid who falls victim to the peer pressure of a neighborhood gang which forces him to kill a neighbor’s dog as part of the initiation into their club. I’d been working on the original Planet of the Apes as one of the “humans” at the time. That’s where the budget came from. The Ceremony started getting me jobs. First, as a Line Producer at the American Film Institute, and then at the UCLA Media Center where I made films for The National Institute of Mental Health and the National Endowment for the Humanities among others.
Jessica Gilbert: Tell us about your film Purple Mind. What made you want to create this type of film? How did you come up with the name?
Eric Stacey: Well, ever since the sixties I’ve been interested in social issues. By the time Vietnam became such a controversy, I’d been in and out of the Navy. I saw a lot of young guys go off to that war who never came back, or came back shattered and broken. During the late sixties and early seventies, I’d been concentrating on establishing myself somewhere in the film industry – not protesting or standing up for my beliefs in some way – so I’ve always looked back at those days with a sense of regret that I hadn’t been more active in speaking out against that illegal and ill-fated war that took 50,000 American lives.
So, just after moving from LA to Portland, Oregon in 2005 I’d started making some small documentaries, and as the war in Iraq was turning into another Vietnam I began rewriting a story about domestic violence. I’d written it years earlier, changing the main character from a redneck wife-beater to a combat soldier returning from Iraq only to deal with a case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which threatened to destroy both the soldier and his family. At the time, the script was titled “Sandbox,” and as I started showing it to a few actors, I got really good responses. Then, when Emily Bridges read it and said she wanted to do it, that was the moment that turned “Sandbox” from a writing project into an independent feature project. A really low budget indie feature project that attracted actors from New York and LA, as well as Portland. I was really committed to doing the film, but in spite of there being no money for the actors or crew, the project managed to attract a small but really great group of enthusiastic filmmakers who believed in the project enough to spend a few months essentially working for free.
We shot the majority of the film on The Imperial Cattle Ranch in Maupin, Oregon, a 30,000 acre cattle and sheep ranch with forty mile horizons and endless quiet, where if a guy were to go crazy on his family, there would be no one within twenty miles to hear the screams. So, in a way, the first hour of the film is a bit like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, but then it takes a turn – but I don’t want to spoil it for any of your readers, so that’s all I’ll say. As far as the title Purple Mind, that came about one night in Maupin as we were all sitting around the bunk house – yes, really, the Ranch’s bunk house – and we – the cast and crew – were tossing around titles for the film. I think it was Ian Rickett – a USC film student at the time – suggested that PTSD was kind of like a soldier earning a Purple Heart for being wounded in war, only in our character’s case it was a Purple Mind, for coming home with mental wounds instead of physical wounds of war.
Jessica Gilbert: What other films are in the works?
Eric Stacey: I have a pet project called Affidavit, which I’ve been developing off-and-on for over twelve years. It’s a behind-the-scenes story about a Special Forces soldier who had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during Iran-Contra. I don’t want to say any more than that, but if we get it made it should create quite a stir.
Jessica Gilbert: Who are some filmmakers you admire and look up to?
Eric Stacey: Well, I’m old-school, so I would have to say that list would include names like Stanley Kubrick; Oliver Stone; and Terrance Malick because they’re all pioneering filmmakers who have in some way stood up to the pressures of Hollywood to tell courageous stories which have endured. I would also add John Cassavetes and Dennis Hopper to that list for being among the first real “independents” who led the way for the waves of independent filmmakers of the last forty years. On the other hand, how could any list like this not include Orson Welles, the genius who created one of the great films of all time, Citizen Kane; a film too clearly critical of a man powerful enough to black-list him from making films for the rest of his life.
Jessica Gilbert: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why?
Eric Stacey: Well, it seems to me that when human beings stick to their own kind they are a peaceful and harmonious and loving bunch. But as soon as you broaden that to include folks who are somehow different, whether it be their color; their language; their religion; their sexual orientation; or their wealth, suddenly far too many tend to see those folks as the “other.” I know this sounds a bit like playing God, but if I had the power to do something in the world today, it would be to help people see that there really is no “other” – there are only people who all share universal hopes and dreams of belonging. I’ve tried to do that in some way with every film I’ve made, and I’ll keep trying till my last breath.
Jessica Gilbert: What is one of your favorite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?
Eric Stacey: It’s got to be Howard Beale’s speech from Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant screenplay for Sidney Lumet’s Oscar winning film Network – Beale:
I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be! We know things are bad – worse than bad, They’re crazy! It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone!’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone! I want you to get MAD! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad! You’ve got to say, “I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!” So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now, and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”…Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!…You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!
Or this one, also from Network – Beale: “Television is not the truth. Television is a goddamned amusement park. Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers, and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business.”
Jessica Gilbert: Anything else you’d like to share? And where can our readers find out more about you and your work?
Eric Stacey: My dad was from the school that taught, “When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do.” But as I’ve lived my life, I’ve found that people who pretend usually wind up unhappy or in trouble. So, for me, it’s “What you see is what you get.” Most of my films of the past fifteen years are available on Amazon, and they’re all up on our website at www.landfallprods.com. There’s more about Purple Mind at www.purplemindmovie.com including my blog. And, of course, there is a Purple Mind fan page on Facebook. I hope to meet some of your readers and fans there.
Jessica Gilbert: Thanks so much again for doing an interview for TSM and wish you the best of luck with all your film projects in the future.
Eric Stacey: Thanks Jessica. It’s been my pleasure.