Dale Dye (On the Set of Natural Born Killers)
[ What’s your Hollywood-style background? ] ^ I retired from the Marine Corps and was looking for some way to get involved in the motion pictures business. I had always been a big movie fan – especially military films. My favorite Sam Fuller’s Steel Helmet, actually – excluding Platoon of course. But I had always noticed that Hollywood had done warfare badly. Not only the combat, but military people. All the dumb clichés about the “dumb but lovable sergeant” – give me a fucking break. And from my 20-some years of experience, I knew the real thing was more interesting than anything these low drag, low fucking speed, non-hacker bullshit artists could come up with. The Mafia wasn’t hiring, so this was something I thought I could do. Maybe I could go to LA and be a technical advisor. So I knocked on doors, did a couple shows for practically nothing and tried to get my way inside Hollywood. I wasn’t doing very well. But then I read in Variety that Oliver Stone was going to direct “the definitive Vietnam war movie based on his own experiences.” So I spent the next couple weeks buying people dinners and drinks I couldn’t afford trying to get to Oliver, because I knew his agent wouldn’t give the time of day. So I finally got his home phone number – I think I still have the bar napkin. But I called him up and told him that if he was going to make this movie, he needed me. When we finally met, he looked at me, I looked at him and we knew neither one was a bullshit artists. We were going to do it, we were either going to blow the $40 million movies off the screen or die in the bush trying. I shit you not.
[ What exactly is you mission on Natural Born Killers? ] ^ I’m a little out of character on this one. I’m usually a military technical advisor, but here I’m kind of the “violence and mayhem coordinator.” I work very closely our stunt coordinator Phil Neilson and the guys in the weapons department and that sort of thing. Oliver has a concept wherein his characters, Micky and Mallory Knox, are kinda paramilitary in their approach to serial killing. Very efficient, very well armed and so he saw a role for me to give them a hand. So, I’ve been training Woody and Juliette to handle weapons efficiently, that sort of thing.
[ Does that kind of limp-wristed shooting really bug you? ] ^ Yeah, you could say that. “Don’t weenie your weapon,” that’s what people know me for.
[ Did you also work on Heaven & Earth? ] ^ I had a much more central role in that film because my business was to train all the soldiers – air, artillery, armor, infantry – and it was just a mob scene. It was staging the Vietnam War from 1954 to 1973. It was a piece of cake.
[ Do you help design the particular killings and the techniques Micky and Mallory might use? ] ^ Right. In particular where it might involve weapons. Soldiers are inherently students of violence because it’s the nature of the beast, so along with Phil Neilson, who arranges all the pratfalls and stunt work, I set up the violence. Oliver has a proclivity to reach out and snatch me up and ask, “Okay, so what would you do if you’re going to come in here and kill four people and rob the store?” So then I have to put myself in the mind of Micky or Mallory and decide what would be in character for them to do. Who would they shoot? With what? Why? In what order? I also have to determine what each round would do to the victim and explain that to the make-up guys. An example would be a scene we did in a pharmacy. It was scripted that the pharmacist would be this big obese guy who would get shot and have his intestines blown out of his stomach. Oliver is into that sort of imagery. So I had to come up with a type of weapon for Mickey to use that would stitch this guy open and yet would still be logical for him to have. Micky can’t exactly walk in with a howitzer – it gives the gag away.
[ Are you concerned with sticking to weapons that Micky and Mallory would have access to? ] ^ In this particular film, Oliver is taking a lot more license than he usually does with things like that. Oliver is a cinema verete kinda guy when it comes to those questions; how could this be and where would he get it? But in this particular, because we’re dealing with an allegorical situation, and one in which Oliver has imagery in mind that he wants to adhere to, I’m just asking that question in my head. Where did they get all these weapons? And my answer is that because Micky is a gun nut, he’s robbed a lot of gun stores for some pretty exotic stuff. He knows he wants some heavy hitting gear and he knows where to get it.
[ Is there more or less of a challenge in staging a scene between two people rather than a full-scale battle scene, such as the prison riot at the end of the film? ] ^ It is probably, given the situation we have on this picture, easier to do the one-on-one kind of stuff rather than the riot scene. Face it, we’re going into Statesville maximum security prison. But usually those more intimate scenes, where an audience can pick everything apart, where everything is in the foreground right on camera, is much more difficult. Also, you’re usually dealing with principal actors and they have a major ego-driven concern that they not look like worms. So I kinda “de-worm” them. Make sure they’re holding a weapon right – and I’m a great believer that there are enough people out there who know how to handle a weapon to know when you’re aiming and when you’re not – so I make them pick up the front sight and hold it at the target.
[ When you bring details like that to Stone’s attention, will that really dictate how a scene might be played? ] ^ Yes. Oliver has been a soldier, so when he sees someone do something that’s weenie-looking, he brings in the frankfurter patrol – me. But with actors, there’s a tendency for me to over-show them how to do something and that takes their initiative away, their spontaneity. Oliver’s very sensitive to that because he wants to see what they’ll bring to the role. So I kinda have to walk the line. I can’t say, “Here, that’s exactly what you have to do,” but I have to let them work with different techniques and find one they feel is right so they can develop their own style.
[ Teaching someone to be a grunt in Vietnam is one thing, but what’s the training procedure on serial killers? ] ^ It’s a very personal type of killing – not the soldierly thing where you can just fall back on “I was just following orders.” Instead, this person has made a decision to take a life. And I think there is a moment, and least in my experience with people who have shot other people, when you know. So I have tried to instill this in the actors. With Woody, I call it “snake eye.” There is a moment when you get snakey, and you look at him and the audience knows and you know and he knows his shit has just gone in the tubes. I try to get him to that moment, that’s an internal thing. Now, with Juliette I touch a different button. She is much more blasé about her violence than Mickey is, he’s more business-like about it, and so I get her to not let us know when it’s gonna happen, to surprise us. I deprogram her intentions, now those are all internal things. Mechanically, it’s a matter of using all sorts of different weapons and so it appears to me that these are folks that know how to use weapons, they’ve played with them, they’ve picked them up, it’s part of their personality, they’re very close to these things. We gave them a big bag of weapon choices, so I had to train each one of them how to efficiently use those weapons so they’re not fumbling with safety catches or not knowing how to finish out and unload it. That’s a matter of mechanical efficiency, change magazines. I was careful about that with Woody, he knows there are no bottomless clips in weapons, they have a finite number of rounds and then you have to reload them, and so he wants to see that, and we did see it with Woody in the pharmacy and he reloaded both weapons. It has to come to them automatically or it begins to become a talk show, it begins to interfere with their acting, that’s the reason I have to drive it out of them before they get on stage and decide what they’re gonna do to begin their dialogue, they need to be able to concentrate on that and not worry about fumbling with weapons.
[ A serial killer’s whole intention is to get very close to their victims, whereas soldiers are trained to pick someone off a thousand yards away. Does that create a dilemma in how you relate to them and train them? ] ^ No, not at all because soldiers are also trained to kill very close up. I think what you’re talking about is the psychology of a killer. I’ve read a lot about that, and I think there’s a moment of communion between the victim and his killer, and you try to get to that moment when the victim knows that he has got the most mortal bond there is with this guy because this man or woman is about to take his life. I don’t know how much of that we are seeing in Natural Born Killers, it’s certainly there and it’s certainly is a close range deal. I don’t know of anybody that’s shot at very long range in this whole film, or knifed or anything else. It is a very personal one on one sort of thing. I’m driving more toward what Woody and Juliette are like at that moment than I am any of the victims. Oliver has this tendency to say the victim is shitting themselves, or he pees in his trousers at that moment. There is some validity to that, depending on the psychology of the victim, whether he’s a brave soul who will stare in the killer’s eyes and say, “Do it if you’re gonna do it,” or whether he’s the kind that just comes apart. That’s Oliver’s call and I can push him either way, but I think in my mind it’s the moment that Mickey or Mallory decide that they’re gonna take this life.
[ Does the fantasy aspect of the film make your job tougher or easier? ] ^ Easier, because I can come up with better excuses if something doesn’t look quite real. Oliver has taken more license with this film than any other that we have worked on together. But that can either help you out or kick you in the nuts. You have a lot of freedom, but that can lead you over the edge into a situation that will bother filmgoers. This is a film that can easily go over Joe Six Pack’s head, so you’ve got to stay grounded in reality. You don’t want this to be an art house film.
[ If you and Lee Ermey [the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket] got in a fight, who’d win? ] ^ Me. Lee would tell you otherwise, but that’s the truth. We’re friends, members of the Siemper Fi club and I like him, but I’d still kick his ass.
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Dale Dye (On the Set of Natural Born Killers)