Matthew Modine on Stanley Kubrick and the new “Full Metal Jacket Diary” iPad app
In what I think is a first for this site, presented here is a one-on-one interview with actor-filmmaker-photographer-author Matthew Modine on his new Full Metal Jacket Diary iPad app, which premiered last week on iTunes. It is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology and applications being created exclusively for the Apple iPad. This innovative re-invention in digital publishing is already making many people reconsider what an app is and what it’s full potential could be. That this app is also about a first person experience on the making of a classic Stanley Kubrick movie makes its debut doubly exciting.
I met Matthew Modine last fall when he visited KCRA in Sacramento to promote a screening of his thought-provoking DSLR film Jesus Was A Commie. In the weeks leading up to his visit I had been exchanging e-mails with Matthew and his FMJDiary producing partner Adam Rackoff, who was telling me about the app project. As an owner of the published metal jacketed edition of the Full Metal Jacket Diary, I was filled with curiosity and excitement for this re-imagining and expansion of the book.
Matthew had no shortage of praise or time to talk about his two years with Stanley Kubrick. When the app came out on iTunes last week Matthew and Adam remembered my enthusiasm for the Diary and invited me to ask Matthew a few questions about it and the whole Full Metal Jacket experience.
MC: Firstly, what drew you to want to adapt your book into an iPad app, in effect, transforming it from a book into a documentary film experience?
MATTHEW MODINE: I was asked by the Full Metal Jacket Diary iPad app producer, Adam Rackoff. You see, I had no intention of making a paperback version of my book. The book has serial numbers on the back of each copy, 1-20,000. That’s it. I’m not making anymore of the “metal” jacket books. I wanted to create a keepsake. A collector’s item. So when Mr. Rackoff asked me if he could make an app, I thought this could be an interesting way to bring the book to a wider audience and still maintain my goal of protecting the metal books.
MC: Is the app the same thing as the book, except in a different form, or does the app include new material?
MATTHEW MODINE: The FMJ Diary iPad app is filled with a ton of additional material including some personal notes and Polaroids from Kubrick to me. It also include hundreds of additional photographs, an original musical score, sound effects, and so much more! It’s a very different, more immersive experience than the book.
MC: I love the Full Metal Jacket Diary. It’s the only book told from the first person about what the experience was to be on a Kubrick set. And you are amazingly open about yourself in the book. Did you have this in mind when you embarked on the film or how did the book come about? And why did it take so long after the film to be published? Was it Stanley Kubrick’s early passing?
Thank you. I never had any intention of publishing my diary. Why would I? But I did want to do something with my photos. I found a publisher that would agree to make the unique “metal” jacket version of my book. The publisher said I would have to caption the photos and tell a story of working on the film with Kubrick. I said that I had kept a journal on set, and a personal diary of all that was happening in my life. He asked me to transcribe this material and we realized that there was a remarkable story being told from a point of view that had never been heard before. I’m very sad that Stanley never saw the book. My goal with both the book and the iPad app was to create something Kubrick would be pleased with.
MC: Shortly after Stanley Kubrick passed away Peter Bogdanovich put together an oral history called “What They Say About Stanley Kubrick” for the New York Times with people who knew and worked with Kubrick. During it you described the funeral and how you had a different perception of the man than the other people in the room. I would assume it was because you had spent so much more time with him over the year and a half making of FMJ. But you seemed to see him in a much more personal and human vein than so many other people. And of all the top name actors who worked with him, you sounded like you has warmer feelings for him than many of the others.
I love artists. They really are very different than other professionals. I can’t tell you why. Stanley was an artist. My relationship with Stanley was a unique experience for me in my life. I know Stanley was different with me, and I think Stanley was very different with the people he knew. I saw how he would adjust his personality and intelligence to the level of the person he was communicating with. Because he was blazingly bright, he wouldn’t want to appear to be talking down to someone, unless he needed to or became frustrated by them. Stanley appreciated effort and didn’t tolerate laziness or lack of effort. This he had in common with my father. This is a long way of saying that my relationship was different from the many others in his life. So of course my comments would be different from the views of others in Bogdanovich’s essay.
MC: The production of FMJ went on so long and had several delays and shutdowns. Did having the Rollieflex and taking photographs provide you with more of a purpose to the process rather than sitting around on a chair and waiting for your scenes or shots?
MATTHEW MODINE: Yes. Very much so.
MC: How did you come to chose the Rollieflex? It’s not a speedy camera to use. The image in the screen is reversed, so it takes some getting used to. Focusing is not fast. And it uses 2¼ x 2¼ square 120 or 220 film, so you’d only get 12 or 22 photographs out of a roll. When everyone else was using a Nikon through-the-lens 35mm camera, what drew you to be so “old school”?
MATTHEW MODINE: The camera was a gift from a close friend. He felt that if I could master the Rolleiflex, it might be a great way to break the ice with Kubrick. If Stanley felt that I understood photography he might feel that I was a kindred spirit. When Stanley saw my camera he thought it was too dated and cumbersome. He talked me into a Minolta camera and told me what lenses to purchase. I didn’t like the Minolta. I’d fallen in love with the Rollie and its medium format. I’m dyslexic and it’s a camera made for someone who sees the world differently.
MC:Stanley Kubrick’s sets were so secretive. Did you ask him about taking photographs on the set and what was his reaction?
MATTHEW MODINE: It was his idea to let me take photographs. I didn’t realize at the time what a privilege it was to be allowed to take photos on his set.
I know that Stanley Kubrick had a lifelong love of cameras and photography, both still and motion picture. Did this give you a closer affinity in your relationship?
MATTHEW MODINE: No. The photos from Kubrick’s early life weren’t available until recently. He was very good. But I knew that from being on set with him for two years. I learned so much about lighting and camera movement and placement. It was a master class working with him.
MC: What did he think of your photos? Did you ever show them to him or did he ever ask if you were getting anything good?
MATTHEW MODINE: He was quietly impressed and kept several dozen of the prints shot from the film’s sets.
MC:Do you take photographs on the sets of all of your films? If yes, will we ever see any of these? If no, why?
MATTHEW MODINE: I have taken photos on other sets. But today films move so quickly there is no time. I feel like I am not focusing on my work as an actor when I take a camera out and start shooting. Splitting your attention is never a good thing to do. You have to focus on the job at hand. I’d love to visit other sets and take pictures.
MC: Every leading actor who worked on a Kubrick film said the experience changed them as an actor. Did you find that? Did you look upon your work or your approach differently after FMJ?
MATTHEW MODINE: Yes. There is no question the experience marked me. For good. I’m very lucky to have had the chance to work with a master of cinema.
MC: Getting back to the app, the FMJ app is something entirely new. You seem to be blazing a totally new trail with this project. How has the process and the journey been?
MATTHEW MODINE: Yes, Adam and I, and the team he put together to design and build the app (Jason Parry and Taeil Goh) are all very proud of what has been created. It’s a new word in apps. The FMJ Diary app is an “app-umentary.” I believe it will be the start of a whole new area of exploring the creative process of filmmaking. Taking the “extras” on DVD’s to a deeper, more immersive level.
MC: Tell me a little about Adam Rackoff? How did you get to know him and how has this project been?
MATTHEW MODINE: Adam Rackoff and I met when he was working for Apple Computer. He orchestrated a discussion at the Apple Store in SoHo, NYC when the FMJ Diary was released in hardcover. It was part of the “Made on a Mac” series. Adam is an artist that found himself working at Apple and was waiting for the opportunity to get back to his creative ambitions. Since we met, we formed the Cinco Dedos Peliculas production company. In a two year period, we have developed two apps, the FMJ Diary and Punky Dunk Project. We have made an award-winning film, Jesus Was a Commie, and worked with animator Bill Plympton on the restoration of Winsor McCay’s 1921 film, The Flying House.
MC: Are you a computer techy guy? And if you weren’t before, are you now?
MATTHEW MODINE: I use the computer to write. Emails. Scripts. Books and articles. Twitter (@matthewmodine) That’s about it. I love the world of apps. I think its a brave new frontier.
MC: Why the iPad? Are you a Mac guy?
MATTHEW MODINE: Yes. Is there another computer? The new iPad with Retina display is the only tablet computer that can display my images in high definition.
MC: You’re currently appearing on the screen The Dark Knight Rises, which has some spectacular sequences in it shot in the 70mm IMAX format. On my blog I’ve written about Stanley Kubrick as being a filmmaker whose love of cameras and “new toys” inspired his moviemaking. With 2001 it was to explore telling a story with widescreen 70mm in an entirely new way. With A Clockwork Orange it was to use lightweight Arriflex cameras, the portability of the Nagra sound recorder, and low-light lenses. With Barry Lyndon it was to recreate the 18th century to render it as a painting of the period using special lenses and light to create his canvas. With The Shining it was the Steadicam. If Stanley Kubrick were still with us today do you think he would be able to resist exploring the images that he could get with an IMAX camera?
MATTHEW MODINE: Stanley was alive when IMAX was available. If there was an appropriate story to be told utilizing IMAX cameras, yes, I’m sure Stanley would have used one. It’s fun to imagine 2001: A Space Odyssey with IMAX technology. With Kubrick’s shooting ratio, it would be frightening to budget. The film in those cameras is not inexpensive.
Alternatively, I think the ability for Stanley to use CGI and digital cameras would be very interesting and exciting for him. A man with his imagination, having the ability to literally create whatever he envisioned would be an amazing gift. Or maybe not. Like Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry so simply said, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”