Would you enjoy the experience of sitting down with a number of titans of filmmaking as they all share tall tales of a larger-than-life peer? Then rush off to Netflix and look up the documentary MILIUS in their streaming category. The real-life Bill Brasky in question is John Milius, the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter of Apocalypse Now. He's also the writer-director of Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn.
Milius came up at USC alongside George Lucas and Randal Kleiser and as such, was among the filmmaking brotherhood that included Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg. Unlike the majority of his peers, he was a conservative and the documentary contains many tales that revolve around his love of guns. (A particular favorite involves him taking a loaded weapon to a notes meeting with a studio head, laying it on the desk and saying, "Just so we all know where we stand.") Despite the tales that paint him as a confrontational bear of a man, Milius clearly has a big heart.
It would be a crime to spoil many of the great stories offered in this documentary. Though many tales paint him as a force of nature, there's also little doubt that few have a way with the pen as he does. When a producer needs someone to write "bigger speeches" to convince Sean Connery to sign onto a film, Milius's name alone sways the actor's opinion. When Milius is on his game, the pages seem to flow out of him like water over Niagara Falls. And when the writer falls on hard times, you feel the weight of that tragedy.
Milius's large personality and outspoken politics led to him falling out of favor in Hollywood for many years. At one point, it's recounted that he was in the awkward position of begging David Milch for a staff writer job on Deadwood. When Milch balked at putting the legendary wordsmith in a mere staff job, Milius responded, "I've got a kid going to law school." Rather than hire Milius, Milch pays for the screenwriter's son's tuition. A few years later, Milius sends him a check for the full balance. Spielberg recounts that Milch's reaction was "The sonofabitch is the only one who's ever paid me back!"
Directors Joey Figueroa and Zack Knutson have weaved together a compelling, entertaining and ultimately moving portrait of a self-described "Zen anarchist." Even if you don't know John Milius's name, chances are you've seen something he wrote. (The "Indianapolis speech" in JAWS is his draft of the scene, trimmed down by actor Robert Shaw.) If you have any interest in screenwriting at all, this should be at the top of your "Must Watch" list.