Exclusive: Director Dito Montiel Opens up about ‘Man Down’ and Shia LaBeouf

Dito Montiel

Dito Montiel shares his personal motivations for directing the dramatic military thriller ‘Man Down’ starring Shia LaBeouf.

I caught up with Dito Montiel between advance screenings of his latest movie, Man Down, a dramatic military thriller starring Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman, Jai Courtney and Kate Mara. We touched on everything from the December 2 film release to his early artistic career in music, which led him to prose and filmmaking.

Can we lead with a little about the soul of the movie?

Well, I can tell you why I did it. My father had epilepsy when I was growing up, and when he’d have seizures I would put my hand in his mouth thinking that was the right thing to do, so that he didn’t bite his tongue off. I was saying, “It really hurts.” And he let go for a minute so I could get my hand out. That seems like a strange way to get into this film, but the idea that everything in the world can basically go to hell, but a father can still see his son — that was what drew me to the film.

Dito MontielShia LaBeouf as Gabriel Drummer in Man Down. Lionsgate Premiere.

How’d you and Shia get involved?

I read the rough draft and liked the idea. And then when it started to feel like it was coming together, I thought, “Damn, Shia would really be great here.” I called him and said, “Hey, take a look at this and if you like it, then we’ll do it.” I got a call a couple hours later and he said, “Let’s do it.”

Dito MontielGary Oldman as Counselor Peyton in Man Down. Lionsgate Premiere.

Costarring Gary Oldman — that seems intimidating and amazing.

He’s a trip, ya know. I mean, it’s one of those weird things: they show up and blow you away. He’s a very continuous character throughout the film. Every once in a while he and Shia would say, “Let’s just keep going,” and they literally did the whole movie in one take. It’s crazy. I was grabbing the script going, “Holy shit, they got it. They’re still at it!”

With multiple timelines in the script, how’d production move?

We shot the movie in 23 days. We shot probably the most difficult part of the film right up front. We moved to the next location, the postapocalyptic world, and we shot out that world. We went to the Marine situation and then the family situation. So we’re in four different worlds in the movie. We are messing with time and character.

Dito MontielNick Jones Jr., Gary Oldman and Shia LaBeouf on the set of Man Down. Photo by Cook Allender.

Did you use military consultants or was there any military in the crew to keep the realism?

Me and Shia have a very good friend, Nick Jones, who is a sergeant in the Marines. That’s the kind of stuff you can’t mess with. That’s the reality. We wanted to make sure we had very real people. Shia became very close to Sgt. Nick Jones.

The war has hit home, and these days implosion doesn’t feel farfetched. Any feelings or observations on our current culture and society from screenwriter Adam Simon or yourself?

Adam is more into the dark world, so I bet he’d say, “Yeah.” But I think what this film is dealing with is something that unfortunately has never gone away, ya know. It just seemed to be more in the limelight during the election because it helps get votes. PTSD… It’s universal, but our story revolves around a military situation where it’s probably more prevalent.

Dito MontielShia LaBeouf as Gabriel Drummer in Man Down. Lionsgate Premiere.

The scenes with Captain Peyton (Oldman) seem to underline that war has grown unnatural as humanity has matured and that there is possibly a link to PTSD. How well did Shia get into the mind of such a character?

I don’t know if anyone can get into that head better, if it’s humanly possible. Some of it was hard to watch and almost impossible to film.

We played the film to quite a few audiences of veterans and we’ve done some panels with an audience who suffer with PTSD, and doctors. One of them was a guy who is a Vietnam vet with PTSD and he said, “Now it sounds glorious to say you’re a Vietnam vet, but try and get a girl in the ’70s… The second you say ‘Vietnam’ they wanted to run for the hills.”

Good or bad, I’m glad that people may have conversations after the film.

Shia’s known for being a character. Is there a quick story you can share from the shoot?

When he had to be sprayed with pepper spray, he really got sprayed with pepper spray. And then he wanted it twice for a better shot and said, “I want the strongest you can get.” I got the strongest, and he burnt his face up.

Dito MontielShia LaBeouf, Jai Courtney and Clifton Collins Jr. in Man Down. Photo by Cook Allender.

Were there many hiccups from start to finish?

There’s always hiccups, but we had a good team and you don’t always get to make a film with people who just want to make a great film. I can’t give you the exact timeline, but I got a rough draft, I spoke to the producers, I said I wanna do my pass and I did it, and the actors came onboard and we went and shot it in New Orleans in 23 days and cut it pretty quick.

Any added stress to directing a movie you didn’t write?

It’s all the same to me. There isn’t a single iota of a cut that I didn’t sweat over, ya know. But it all means the same to me.

How’d Clifton Collins Jr. get hooked up with Man Down? To be bold: Is he the one with vital information?

One of the producers, Steve, knows him and he called and Clifton said he was in. Clifton is the man, ya know. He’s fucking great. He definitely has some information…definitely a piece you couldn’t leave out.

You started in the NYHC music scene fronting Major Conflict, then moved to writing A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and then to filmmaking. Was — or is — there a flow from one to the other for you?

My father was a typewriter mechanic from Nicaragua. We were very simple. I was pretty young when someone turned me on to hard core, and I got to go down to a show at a club called the A7 and I saw a hard-core band and they were kinda…not very good. But they were really fun and intense.

I came up in a very do-it-yourself world. I worked at Tower Records and I had a coworker who ended up getting a job at Thunder’s Mouth [Press]. I sent him about 200 pages that I had handwritten and copied in a copy machine and said, “This is my book. Will you put it out?” And they did! That was A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. So then I had a book… We talked about making it a movie

It sounds corny, but that DIY mentality from when I was 13 never left me. end

 

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