THE MAKING OF PLATOON
HOLLYWOOD – In our new series ‘The Making of…’ we go behind the scenes, using previously unseen letters, diaries and documents, of a major motion picture landmark of cinema. This week Platoon.
The original idea for Platoon came to Oliver Stone when he was a schoolboy in 1956. He writes in his unpublished autobiography A Stone’s Throw:
I was a dreamy kid. I’d look out of the windows and wonder about movies I’d like to make. I don’t know if it was seeing something on television but I really wanted to make a film about a young marine who goes to a South East Asian country and becomes torn between two rival Sergeants. Of course Vietnam wasn’t going to get going for some years, but when it did I knew that this was the perfect opportunity for me to research the script that I still intended to write and so that’s what I did.
Martin Sheen was originally approached to play the role of Chris Taylor but after several years had passed with Stone unable to secure financing Sheen pulled out. This is the letter he wrote to Oliver Stone:
I’m sorry it has to end this way but I simply can no longer commit to the role of ‘Chris’ in your film, Platoon. I’m getting too old for the role and as written it resembles too closely my part in Apocalypse Now. I feel guilty about leaving you high and dry so I have a suggestion to make and I hope you will take it in good spirit. I have a son who is a very accomplished actor and physically resembles me in some way. I wouldn’t want to be accused of nepotism so I’d insist you audition him properly, but it might be a solution for you. I’ve included Emilio’s address should you want to go with that.
The filming took place in the Philippines which was then under the rule of the dictator Marcos. Condition were tough and Tom Berenger, who played Sergeant Bob Barnes complained of Oliver Stone’s commitment to realism in this letter to his girlfriend Lisa Williams:
Ollie is one tough son of a bitch. He sent us through basic training so that we would move like soldiers and achieve a basic sense of realism, but now we’re doing the fight scenes, we’re beginning to worry. He wants to use live ammo! He says squibs always look fake. I have to shoot Willem [Dafoe] and goddamn it, if he doesn’t actually want me to shoot him! When I questioned him, he yelled at me to ‘respect his process’ as he reloaded my MK 47. What could I do? I’m not going back to the soaps! I aimed to miss vital organs, but give Ollie his due, the dailies look great and we’re all very happy. Willem has been flown back to the states for surgery. Apparently the bullet is lodged in there quite tightly.
Music would play a fundamental role in the success of the film and Stone commissioned Georges Delerue to score the picture. However, the composer of such iconic French films as Jules et Jim and Le Mepris would run into difficulty with his American director. He wrote to Francois Truffaut:
These Americans! Sacre Bleu! as we French say all the time. The emotional core of the film is when the Sergeant is shot but reappears chased by the enemy and dies in a Christ-like pose. M. Stone told me to write something like Samuel Barber’s Adagio. It’s a saccharine piece of twaddle but what am I going to do. I try my best but every time I play him my work, he says ‘no! I want it like the Barber piece’. Finally I told him to just use the Barber piece and that’s exactly what he ended did. I should have stayed in Paris, but now at least I’ve got the job of doing the music to Three Men and a Baby.