EXCLUSIVE: Variety editor Steven Gaydos on Monte Hellman, Alfred Hitchcock and the “Road to Nowhere”

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: “Road to Nowhere” already has led Steven Gaydos to some pretty special places. He’s hoping the journey has just begun.

Gaydos, who serves as Variety’s executive editor, recently penned a film-noir script that centered around a young director embroiled in a true-crime mystery. He pitched the idea to his friend and former colleague, acclaimed director Monte Hellman. To Gaydos’ surprise, Hellman bit on the idea, and the two were in business. They hired a cast that included Shannyn Sossamon and Dominique Swain. They filmed around the world, shooting in California, North Carolina, England and Italy. Earlier this fall, they unveiled the picture at the Venice Film Festival and received raves.

“Monte only knows one way to make a movie, which is ahead of the pack,” Gaydos said. “He does not tether himself to popular taste. But I think he has made a movie that popular taste and time will prove is a really appealing movie.”

As Gaydos works to secure worldwide distribution and prepares to screen at more film festivals, he spoke with HollywoodNews.com about Alfred Hitchcock, May-December romances, and the sad state of independent film distribution.

Hollywood News: This is Monte Hellman’s first feature-length film in 22 years. How did you lure your director out of “retirement?”

Well, Monte and I go way back. I actually worked on a movie for Monte in 1974, which is one of his legendary films, called “Cockfighter.” We became friends, writing a lot of scripts together than didn’t get made, and a few that did. I co-wrote “Iguana” and “Better Watch Out” or him, also known as “Silent Night, Deadly Night III.” So we’ve collaborated and stayed friends and creative buddies over the decades … through his marriages and mine, we are good mates. [Laughs]

But the funny thing is, over the years, with all of the good, original script ideas I’d had, nothing ever seemed to really light his fire. I always seemed to be working on things that I had found — novels and such. One day I called him up and told him this idea for a script, and he just went nuts. He said, “That’s a movie.”

To go full circle, when I first met Monte, the only writing lesson he gave me was to give me a copy of “North By Northwest,” and he said, “If you can write one of these, then you are in.”

HN: [Laughs] As if it’s that easy.

Yeah, right. It took me 40 years. [Laughs] I guess this film is a little bit like “North By Northwest” in the sense that it is an entertainment, it is a thriller, it is a puzzle, and it is a little bit tongue-in-cheek. The difference, I think, is that like real film noir, it cuts deeper and does turn very dark and tragic.

HN: I also enjoy films about filmmakers.

Oh, good. Then you’ll likely enjoy this. It is unlike any other film anyone has ever made or seen. It has thrown a few people off, and it has completely dazzled a few people. It is very early in the life of the film, having just premiered in Venice. … What press there was, what critics were there, we seem to have fucked with a few heads and made some people just completely go on a real trip.

HN: Without revealing too much, can you tell me what the film is about?

Oh yeah, sure. It’s a pretty simple story told in a complex way. A young Hollywood filmmaker – kind of an indie guy – reads a true-crime story about an older government official in North Carolina. He and his girlfriend had gotten involved in some kind of kick-back scheme … something really big and bad. The whole thing goes sour on them and leads to the death of a policeman who has come to arrest the man, as well as to their double suicide. So it’s a May-December romance that leads to a murder and double-suicide.

[The filmmaker] is completely blown away by this story and the mystery of their relationship … especially finding out who this young girl was, and why she would be with this older guy. He gets the money to make their story into a film, casts a big Hollywood star in the role of the man and a complete unknown in the role of the girl, and he goes to North Carolina and starts making the movie. Yet over the course of making the film, he develops a relationship with the girl. But he also develops a relationship with the truth.

In the course of that, he discovers that the girl is not who he imagined that she was, and his relationship with the truth is neither about the girl nor the story that he thought he [would be telling]. So this is his awakening to the layers of truth — both in his relationship to his art and to the woman who is now in his life — and to the story that he is now immersed in telling.

HN: It sounds Lynchian.

Do you know, it’s funny, everybody always compares it to [David] Lynch, but I think it’s a generational thing because with Monte and I being older farts, it’s much more Hitchcockian. Lynch is a guy who deals with dreams, and this movie is not about dreams at all. It’s about looking so hard into reality that it kind of fractures. It’s linear, and precise, and not dream-like. Maybe it’s the woods, and it asks about the nature of truth. “Mulholland Drive” was about moviemaking and a girl, it was tragic, and it was film noir. I mean, I understand why people would use Lynch as a reference point. But I think if you go into the movie with that, you are doomed to be disappointed …

HN: Now, that’s interesting.

… because it is not Lynchian. But if you go in with “Vertigo” as a reference point, I think you’ve got a better compass point for the movie. It’s much more “Vertigo” than “Mulholland Drive.”

HN: What are you discovering as you work to secure distribution?

That we have made an extremely progressive film in an extremely conservative time. That’s the challenge that we face. If we can get past the nervousness and the conservative arbiters of taste, and get to the young audience, we think we have an amazingly appealing movie. …

Monte has reinvented filmmaking with this film. We’re now looking for a company that has the spirit of reinventing film distribution. Because that’s the kind of company we need, that has a pioneering and bold and ballsy view of what makes a good movie. Monte has made an extraordinary film. … And his films, without exception, have all gained in stature and reputation over the years. So he has made a film that is going to have a value over a long period of time. I just hope there’s somebody still alive in American independent film distribution with cojones and vision and a love of film that says, “We’ve got a way to bring this film to young people an connect them to this really ambitious, elegant, meticulously executed movie.” The funny thing about everything that I am telling you, though, is that it’s easier said than done.

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