Screenjabber's Mark Searby Speaks with director Dito Montiel (above) about his latest film, Man Down, starring Shia LaBeouf and Jai Courtney
How did you come to the project?
Strangely a friend I have sent me this script, the original draft of it which was pretty insane. It was written by a guy who kind of experienced a bit of it. It reminded me of an old Twilight film in a way. When I was first reading it I was thinking “Oh Wow! I never read scripts that feel post-apocalyptic.” That’s not my thing although I love it. I was really touched by where it went and the idea of the father still being able to see his son through everything. It just touched me.
It was written by Adam G Simon. Is it correct he was homeless when he wrote it?
Yeah. Yeah. As I was reading it was pretty nuts and very delusional in some ways, and I imagine he was experiencing it a bit as a writer. Strangely when they had the premiere in Los Angeles at the ArcLight [Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard] it was opposite where he used to sneak in to take showers at the gym across the street.
You previously worked with Shia LaBeouf on A Guide To Recognising Your Saints and he is playing the lead role of Gabriel Drummer in Man Down. Had you two been looking to work together again since that first film?
We talked from time to time. I love him. He is totally nuts and I love that. Every once in a while we would send something back and forth. When I started messing with the script [for Man Down] a little bit I was thinking “Gosh! Shia would kill this.” He is just out there. He is a great enough actor. He has kind of got it all for it. So I sent it over to him and I said “Hey man, take a read and if you don’t like it don’t worry and if you do then give me a call.” He gave me a call an hour later and said “Let’s do it.” Then we ended up out there.
I heard he really did get pepper sprayed during the boot camp sequence. Is that true?
Oh yeah. That’s very Shia. He wanted to do it and it isn’t a gimmick or a publicity stunt it’s just him. He wants to experience things. He was like “I really want to be shot with pepper spray.” And I’d be like “You sure?” and he said “I want to do it twice.”
I found Sergeant Miller, played by Tory Kittles, very intimidating in Man Down. He was barking out orders during the boot camp scene. He is a scary guy.
Tory is great. I didn’t know much of Tory and his name came up and I looked him up and said “Oh my Gosh! How great is this guy?!” When he first came to set... we had a lot of real Marine’s on set and off set and I remember Shia saying “Tory seems like such a nice guy. I hope he is going to be tough enough?” Me and Nick Jones Jr [Military consultant] went over to talk to Tory and said “You didn’t give it to that guy [Shia LaBeouf]” He said “OK no problem.” At the end of the scene Shia said “Damn man! That guy was really hitting me” and I was like “Yeah he was” [laughs]. He is also a great actor and I love Tory.
There is a haunting feel to the scenes where Shia and Jai are walking around the abandoned buildings. What was it like to film in those areas of New Orleans?
It was very strange because the truth is we ended up in New Orleans because of the tax break. We had to find a way to make a budget work that wasn’t a big budget. We don’t have the money for big CGI things. So we were looking around and unfortunately because of [Hurricane] Katrina, New Orleans is still pretty ravaged... well parts of it. There are parts of it that are beautiful and have come back but there are still areas that are pretty creepy. Where Shia lives with his family [in the film] are almost like these cookie cutter houses that all look the same. They look like a Twilight episode of Pleasantville. Nobody lived in them. There was like fifty houses and nobody lived in them. They [location management] said “They have just built this. It’s housing projects.” I said “These are the nicest housing projects I ever saw in my life.” They said “It’s because across the street Katrina destroyed it [housing projects] years ago and they just finally finished building the houses. It’s still standing across the street.” I said “It is?” and we went across the street and all these buildings that had been destroyed and rotted and trees were growing inside them, and you could not ask for a more post apocalyptic place and it was real. Film wise we could have production go on one side of the street where it’s really nice and then go across the street to where it’s ravaged. It was really strange being in such a beta down place and it was literally fifteen blocks of these destroyed buildings just sitting there. Since we finished filming it has been torn down.
There are some dark moments in the film, especially the scenes with Gabriel returning from military duty and trying to assimilate back into everyday life. Were they tough to film?
Yeah it really was. For the sake of independent film making, we shot it in twenty three days, you’ve got to move as quick as you possibly can. Literally day one we had to film Shia with the little boy in the room. The little boy was seven years old. His name is Charlie Shotwell, an incredible little actor. I’ve never found anything so hard to film because as a human being I want to say “Cut!” But as a film maker you say “keep rolling.” It was really difficult. The subject matter is very touchy.
What has the feedback been like from people who have suffered from PTSD?
When we finished the movie the producers put it out to probably about twenty five different groups, all military based, and it’s been absolutely incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like it. A room full of two hundred and fifty hardened people who have been through a lot and are in tears and saying really incredible things. That’s the most rewarding thing ever. I’m not trying to be patronizing or self congratulatory here, it is just beyond moving. The feedback has been just incredible.