Exclusive Interview with Montana Amazon Producer, Bruce Stubblefield

Interviewed by Daniel Chia for The Montana Amazon Tribute Site

First published 16 December 2010

Copyrighted © 2010 The Montana Amazon Tribute Site

 

Mr Stubblefield, I am honoured to be able to interview you on behalf of the Montana Amazon Tribute Site. You have almost 30 years of experience in the film industry, and have worked in so many aspects of filmmaking. Your filmography is mind-boggling, having worked in the Sound Department, including as Sound Editor in as many as 40 to 50 films, in films such as The Blind Side, Surrogates, Payback, The Santa Clause, Speed, Twister, and Dances with Wolves. You have also worked as Editor on more than 11 films and as Editor, you've often had a hand in directing a second unit on many of those films. As for Montana Amazon, it is the third film that you have worn the Producer's hat. Can you give us a brief biography of yourself, and how you came to have such a varied portfolio in the film industry?

I was born in Glendale, CA, but raised in a number of places, due to family moves occasioned by my father's work. I lived in New Jersey as a child. I went to three different high schools, in Menlo Park, CA, then Mexico City, and finally in La Canada, CA. During high school and the first year of college (UCSB) I thought I wanted to be an actor. My first year of college disabused me of that notion. I ended up at UCLA, where I got my degree in Film Production.

At UCLA, I took a lot of post-production courses, mostly taught by the beloved genius madman, Ed Brokaw, RIP. They gave me enough knowledge to pretend to know much more than I did, and thus was able to work in post-production immediately after College. I was fired from a job as a projectionist at a screening room for telling a DP who was constantly complaining about the focus, "If you had shot it in focus, it would BE in focus." I tried to use the knowledge about interpersonal relations gained from this experience to better advantage as a picture editor. I edited or co-edited about a dozen films for some of the most notorious producers of the 1980's, including Roger Corman, Moshe Diamant, Charles Band, and Earl Owensby. Because these films were made with a minimum of assets, as picture editor, I received the classic "B-movie" graduate school training in maximizing every frame I had.

At the same time, I always had in interest in physical production, and began to find editing a bit confining, so I decided to try my hand at production. I worked as an Assistant Director and Production Manager on various features, TV and industrials, and then went back to Corman to produce "Rock & Roll High School Forever." Although the film had very little to do with the it turned out to be a whimsical and entertaining teen musical comedy.

By this point I was starting a family and decided I needed more steady, responsible work, so I went into sound editing and supervising, which I already knew quite a bit about from my picture editing days. One thing I learned working on a fair number of reasonably big-deal films was that Goldman was right, that "nobody knows anything." I didn't think I was any smarter than most of the people I worked for, but that they didn't seem to be any smarter than I was. I continued with sound supervision and editing until my sons were in high school, then decided to go back to producing, which was obviously a lot more challenging than sound supervising.

 


D.G.Brock, the director of Montana Amazon, said in a recent interview that Montana Amazon was a passion project of yours and that you were the driving force behind getting this film made. How did the script land in your hands and what was it about the story and script that made you so passionate about getting Montana Amazon from script to screen?

It was written by a friend of mine, P.D. Hughen, who was working on some film I was editing on location in N. Carolina. P.D. is a kind of savant with character and dialog. His screenplays have a magical dream-like quality while being completely of the conscious world. I was passionate about it because it was unlike anything I had ever read, I was fascinated by these people for no reason I can explain, because it was funny, twisted, blinkered, and very wrong. In it's original form, it was kind of hard for most people to read, so my friend Elin Guthrie did a great re-write that made it look and feel like screenplays that originated on earth, but still lost none of the genius and charm. D.G. did a final and quite brilliant re-write that made it work better as a film and made it shootable on the money we had. In the end, though, there were almost no lines of dialog, no major characters, and few or no plot points that hadn't originated on P.D.'s home planet.

 

How long did it take from the moment you read the script till the time it was greenlit, and what were the major challenges or obstacles that you faced?

It took 18 or 20 years from the time I first read it until we made it. I fussed and moaned and developed it sporadically over the years. It was never "greenlit." No one would touch it, I just decided to put up or shut up and either get the money to shoot it, or stop talking about it. It was pure recklessness and creative desperation, in service of a great project that would otherwise never have been made.

 

Montana Amazon is such a unique film that it does not fit into any one genre. How would you personally describe the film, and is there any other film that you can compare it to in terms of genre or tone?

We've called it "Raising Arizona" runs over "Little Miss Sunshine." Someone at a film festival thought it was The Three Stooges meets Samuel Beckett. I'm afraid other people are much better than I am at comparisons.

 

What was it in D.G Brock that you saw when you chose her, not only to rework the screenplay, but to direct it as well?

I didn't know anyone else who could do it. I didn't know anyone else I could trust with such difficult material on such an inadequate budget. I still don't. Her combination of dramatic intuition and mastery of film making logistics and priorities is unrivaled. There are plenty of very talented directors out there, but I'd like to see another one since the Cohen Brothers who could do what she did with those resources.

 

Haley Joel Osment and Olympia Dukakis not only act in Montana Amazon, but they were credited as Executive Producers as well. How did you get them on board ?

I hired the formidable casting director, Ronnie Yeskel. She sent it to Olympia's manager, along with an offer, who for some reason didn't think he needed to protect Olympia from it, so he passed it to her. She loved the script and immediately agreed to do it after meeting with D.G. I suspect that's what gave Eugene Osment, Haley's manager, a reason to consider it when we called him with an offer a few days later. He liked it, Haley liked it, and that was that. As great as I believe the script was, the key word here is "offer."

 

It's safe to say that Haley and Olympia have never played characters quite like Womple and Grandma Ira respectively in their varied careers. What was it in them that you saw that made you feel like they would pull it off with as much aplomb as they did?

They were both just D.G. and my intuition. Everyone knows what a formidable presence Olympia is, plus we'd never seen or heard of anything she couldn't do. Haley also preceded himself, but mostly as a child actor, so that was a bit more of a jump, but not if you've ever taken a good look at his acting. He's a bit understated, even for film, so I think sometimes people just see his sweetness, vulnerability and charm, rather than the concentration, commitment and chops he brings to the table. Alison Brie was purely D.G.'s genius intuition. Deb said, "She's Ella," and boy was she right.

 

How long did principal photography take on Montana Amazon and what were the challenges that you faced as Producer once filming started?

We were scheduled for 30 days including travel, but ended up doing it in 27 or 28, and adding a more extensive second unit a few months later. We had literally about half of the money we should have had to do what we were trying to do. It was held together by the work of many talented and dedicated souls, especially by DP James Mathers, Line Producer Melitta Fitzer, Prod. Designer Jeanette Bately, and most of all, of course, D.G.

 

Director D.G. Brock said that the final cut of the film "would not have been a success without the extreme patience and editing talents of Peter Devaney Flanagan, Ethan Holzman, and Bruce Stubblefield, who is a former editor and has a very good eye for cutting." As this was a project that has been close to your heart for so many years, you must have had this visual of what Montana Amazon would look like long before the filming even started. Has the final cut of Montana Amazon turned out the way that you have always visualized it to be?

Not really, but I always envisioned it as something that we would have a lot more money to spend on. As it is, I think it looks fantastic and I couldn't be happier. When you slash the budget, you always end up losing brilliant things that the audience won't miss, even though they would have greatly enhanced the experience.

By the way, D.G. left out Steve Rickert, our first editor, who did a very good job and killed himself, but was just not on the same page as D.G. But he should be mentioned.

 

What are the challenges ahead now for the film? Is it difficult to get an independent film like Montana Amazon to the big screen as it has to compete for screen time with studio films, which have the budget, hype and clout that small independent films may not have?

It's harder than it has ever been. The internet is a giant ball of information that no one much absorbs. Social Media is helping us, but everything costs. Developing content, pushing the content out, attracting attention, not to mention paid ads and publicists, all are expensive. The effective yield (to the producer of a non-studio film) of money spent on any and all of these media is not particularly appealing. Yet without it, no one knows about your film.

 

IMDB lists 1 April 2011 as a release date for Montana Amazon. Is this confirmed?

All release info is still in flux. We'll be selling the film internationally at Berlin in February 2011. Our domestic release will depend upon what we get done in the next couple months.

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