Updated: Mar 25, 2019
Not long ago, my buddy Luke wrote a great review of the '80s apocalyptic thriller, Miracle Mile. This movie has been a favorite of mine for many years, and I love introducing people to it. Luke really came through for me the other day, independently setting up an interview with the director of the film, Steve De Jarnatt. Shortly thereafter, we fired up the VCR and revisited the tape which ignited our love for Miracle Mile all those years ago. During the viewing, we formulated some questions, which we emailed to Mr. De Jarnatt. He graciously answered them all.
In case you're coming into this interview with no knowledge of the film, here's the original theatrical trailer. You positively need to see Miracle Mile.
What was the genesis behind your idea for writing Miracle Mile?
Primarily from nightmares I had about nuclear war being under way – (growing up in the ‘duck and cover’ days ) They were pretty vivid - and I think making the film was a way of exorcising by demons. (and the Cold War ended – but of course – today we are in the throes of possible annihilation again)
Tangerine Dream did an incredible score for Miracle Mile. How did working with them come to be?
I wrote the film to their first score – Sorcerer – blasting it non-stop in the middle of the night. When the film was cut – we’d used 85% at least of various Tangerine Dream cues in the temp tracks. We sent it to them. (just two people at the time – the founder and always member – Edgar Froese – and his new protégé –Paul Haslinger ) They dug it – and luckily the company that made the film – Hemdale came up with extra $ to have them do it. I got to go over to Vienna and work with them. It was a wonderful experience.
A special vinyl edition I believe is coming out Saturday April 21st – at record stores for Record Day – but perhaps only in the UK. A CD of both the published – version of the soundtrack – and the actual underscore – on a two CD unit was issued recently.
Over the course of thirty years, Miracle Mile has established itself with a profound impact among avid fans of cult cinema. Why does it have such an enduring appeal?
I think there might be a few reasons. It is an odd duck – starts as schmaltzy love story – then pulls the rug out from under that – then teases with action etc. – of films you think you know – but ultimately avoids any of the outcomes you expect. The 80s-ness of it helps the appeal today I think. (though I would like to go in and CGI Mare’s red mullet wig – if I could)
The threat is still there – and I think we all wonder what we would do in any end time situation – and who we would want to be with. (and die with – if we must ). I have heard that people like to show it to their friends who’ve never seen it – without any set up. (best to not know too much if you can – going in). Not for everyone – but the hard core fans – really seem to love it.
This film was released during the Cold War. How do you view Miracle Mile in light of the Trump administration and the U.S. conflicts with Russia, Syria and North Korea?
I wrote it in 1979 ( turned it in to Warner Brother - last week of the decade ). The Cold War was still on then – but by the time the film came out 10 years later – it was no longer on people’s minds.
It was once a GO picture on a bigger budget at Orion – but one of the founders of the studio – was a SALT II talks negotiator – and said – we’ll make the film – but you have to change it so the Russians attack. We can’t launch first. I tried to tell them – “Well it’s a 15 minute film then.” The time lock – of maybe we are shooting our wad in a few minutes – and the Ruskie’s picking it up and launching back – gives the real time – of 70+ minutes. Otherwise it won’t work. It went into turn around. Could not even try to make that one work.
Just for the hardcore fans of this film: Who did the voices of Chip and the supervisor on the phone conversation that started it all?
The voice of Chip in the film is Raphael Sbarge. A great working actor (Risky Business etc) We relate an interesting story about shooting it though – (on the Blu Ray commentaries) – that the actor (nameless) we had cast to do it live with Anthony Edwards – was out of it – (?) and doing a horrible job – so he was sent home and Tony had to do that great performance – with the script supervisor reading the lines. The film doesn’t work at all – if you don’t buy into this scene. Whew !! We dodged a missile.
In this advanced age of immediate communication, do you think if Miracle Mile were set in the present day, it would play out the same or differently?
Funny you should mention that. I am working with some people – exploring a “re-envisioning” of it for a new film. (or limited series) Would still want to have some reason that the cell phone system is temporarily down (solar flare etc) in the days before the story – since having instant access to info – in our age – is a movie I don’t know how to make or want to see. (or else – is already another film that has been made) MM is about a regular guy being – chicken little – and having to go on a nocturnal LA odyssey- with a lot of doubt about whether he is right about it – or losing his mind.
Theoretically, what do you suppose would have happened to everyone in Johnie's after Harry leaves them and they vanish from the narrative?
Another thing that has been pondered and discussed. We joked about it in the Cast Reunion sequence in the Blu Ray extras. I may explore this in a short story. (I am mainly writing fiction now). But also – don’t want to give too much hope that this event is survivable.
If you were to ever direct a feature film again, what genre would you choose?
Mmmm. Have some other dark ones. But something lighter perhaps. But with a contained story – and few characters. I am working out a thing for a limited series in LA – that would be pretty sprawling though. A love letter to places that have been lost – and the fever you get when you decide you want to become a film-maker.
What are some of the differences between your original script and your re-write?
The original script – Harry was a trombone player- but was older – (think Gene Hackman back then – or Bryan Cranston maybe today) He was in town for a few days – and hadn’t seen his Ex in 10 years. So the reconciliation story (of the Grandparents) is the main story. Not the –meet cute – fall in love – die in tar – story. Everything else is virtually the same. Though he has a kid as well.
If people do want to do a re-make – we’d like them to go back to this one for the template. It was the version that made the very first – 10 Best Unproduced Script in Hollywood List (now the Blacklist I guess) - back in 83 ?? There were a few other smaller things – actually blowing a finger off – to wake yourself up – and the first missiles falling nearby – and being duds – etc.
Why do you think the viewer is sympathetic to Harry, as it could be argued that he makes questionable decisions at times?
He is just a regular guy – an average joe. Not Bruce Willis in an action franchise. (or even Goose from Top Gun) If he didn’t make some mistakes – there would be no movie. Some are very frustrated by his choices – but I guess I invited that reaction – by having it play out with my ending.
How did it feel to turn down $400,000 from Warner Bros. for your re-written script, instead choosing to adhere to your own vision?
I had no money at the time – and so it wasn’t that hard. I didn’t really appreciate having it then. No regrets whatsoever. Not sure they would have ever made it – as Twilight Zone- The Movie ( pre- 4 parter that was made) or anything else.
In 2015, you sat with an audience for a very special 35mm print screening of Miracle Mile. Describe the experience.
Yes – at The Aero – that was great to run my best print (with a couple shots not in the final film) – for an appreciative audience. Also my noir short Tarzana – (35mm black and white) with Eddie Constantine and Timothy Carey, Carel Struycken and others. In June had another wonderful experience – running the film in theaters all over France. Selling out the Cinematheque Francaise etc.
Are there any modern apocalyptic films that you feel took their inspiration from Miracle Mile?
I have heard from many people that Cloverfield seemed to borrow some plot elements. Tried to watch it – but I loathe the shaky-cam style. Looking for a Friend for the End of the World (?) I quite liked. Odd film. (felt more like my other little cult item – Cherry 2000) And reviews pointed out a comparison in some that I read. I haven’t seen Meloncholia – but have heard some say that has a resonance maybe.
Thanks so much for this excellent film, Mr. De Jarnatt. You can, and should, pick up a copy of Miracle Mile today!
Finally, here's my VHS tape of Miracle Mile; it's an ex-Hollywood Video rental. The tape is being guarded by My Pet Monster. He looks tough, but would he survive a nuclear apocalypse? Hopefully, we'll never have to find out.