Lionsgate Premiere releases Man Down at AMC Empire 25 on December 2nd, 2016.
NYC MOVIE GURU: When it comes to finding the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually as well as emotionally, which of those elements is most challenging to tweak in the editing room?
Dito Montiel: I'm never conscious of that. Whatever works. Unfortunately, I don't always think of entertainment---not for any ethical reasons. If it feels good, I hope that somehow it conveys something. When we did a Q&A when the movie Boulevard came out, different Q&As play to different crowds. When I did a Q&A in the small town where I'm from, there were different questions. In Los Angeles, we did a Q&A with a more film-educated audience, I got questions like "Why was there a light keep flashing red in that scene? I seems significant!" and I was like, "Oh, that's flashing red because a train was coming in the background!" They read into that, and I'm glad it worked for them. It's just an emotional thing for me, always.
NYC MOVIE GURU: So, you basically follow your gut instinct?
JM: Yeah, it's not as planned out.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you do to protect that gut instinct and your soul as a filmmaker?
DM: Oh, I'd love to lose it---you have no idea! It's nice to have friends like Shia LaBeouf and people like Channing Tatum. Every time I talk to them, it's always about some weird indie movie. I'd be like, "You'd hate to do..." and I'd mention one of the big Hollywood movies. They'd say, "I'd love it! Transformers 5? I'd really love to do that!" I love movies and TV, I grew up on them, but I'm not a film school person. I got kicked out of high school. It's always been an instinctual thing. Schooling probably would have been nice, but I just didn't have the option.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How important is it for the audience to be able to relate to the protagonist in Man Down?
DM: It's the same as for me to relate to something. I haven't been to war. With Boulevard, I'm not a 60-year-old man who's coming out. With this film, it was originally a draft by a guy named Adam, and I read it. Before I started working on it, something was touching me about it. For me, it was that when I was growing up, my father had epilepsy. We were told to put our fingers in their mouth so that they wouldn't bite their tongue during the seizures. When they're having grand mal seizures, they're unaware and they bite---it was hurting and I was like, "Please, can you stop for one second?" and he stopped. For me, he broke through something that was incredible. So, that seems like an odd way to relate to this film: that the father still sees his son through a catastrophe. That was my way of relating as opposed to imagining entirely what a person might go through with PTSD or anything like that. Shia has his own opinions and he brings them all there. The instincts that he has are pretty remarkable, so that makes life easier.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you feel about decent characters in film?
DM: I love decent characters. Years ago, I made a movie called Fighting, and it's the first time that I ever worked with a studio. They said that it has to be PG-13, and I didn't know the rules. They told me that the word "Fuck" can only be said once and it can't be a verb. I said, "That sound insane! This is about a guy who's a street fighter, he can say fuck just once and it has to be like 'Fuck yeah!'?" I worked on the script and got rid of every curse that he would say because he was a decent character and I loved that about him. He's decent, so he wouldn't curse---like when you're at your grandfather's house, you don't curse. I feel like I've always worked with decent characters that I write usually---they do tend to end up in tricky situations, though. It might not actually be that much fun to see just a nice guy going to a store, but I'd like that movie.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Does finding the right tone all about finding the right casting?
DM: It can be. I love Woody Allen movies. Even if I don't like one of his movies, I'm still happy that I went for just that one scene. It's the same with Spike Lee. I'll see every movie of his. I heard an actor once joke that, "If Woody Allen casts you for something, you kinda get an idea of what people thing of you." I'm always looking for someone, if there's point of what a character is going through, I'd like to find an actor who fits the role. I like things to feel very natural. I kinda know what it is on the page in my head. It's a very cordial thing with actors: we just hang out and take a walk. They don't need to read for me. So, tone is a combination of a lot of things, but, of course, an actor has a lot to do with it.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which actors from the Golden Age of American Cinema would you like to resurrect to work with?
DM: I'm not a classic film junkie. I always joke that I don't have very good taste in just about everything. Black-and-white movies? I don't even believe them.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Are your more of a futurist or a traditionalist when it comes to how movies are becoming increasingly available on the small screen instead of the big screen?
DM: It's always sad to see anything close. When Tower Records closed, everyone was sad that a chain was closing. So, there's a nostalgia, of course. But, how cool is it that little movies can exist? Sure, everybody can make movies now, but not everybody can make them good. Who knows what's good anymore? Half the stuff that I like, nobody likes, and the other half I hate, but everyone loves. Every can have a shot at making a film, which is kinda cool. There is a place for those beautiful, big films that I'll be first in line to see.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think there will ever be World Peace or is that just something for beauty pageants?
DM: Wouldn't that be nice? It is definitely something that should be left for a beauty pageant. They'd have good answers---probably better than any that I'm going to come up with!
NYC MOVIE GURU: Where in the spectrum of optimist vs pessimism would you say you are when it comes to our future?
DM: I would always like to consider myself to be an optimist, but it's tough to be an optimist with so many things that have been happening lately.