Director and writer James DeMonaco relieves the glory days of theater-going experience with his new film, This is the Night.
When you think of a James DeMonaco project, the initial thought that comes to mind is the horror genre. With all of his success as a writer and director of The Purge franchise, you wouldn’t necessarily think of him as someone that would helm a coming-of-age story about theater-going experience centered around Rocky III. But that’s exactly what DeMonaco did with This is the Night.
This is the Night is a true love letter to not just Rocky III, but the theater-going experience which feels like a dying industry especially hard hit by COVID-19. The Illuminerdi had the chance to talk to James DeMonaco about his new film, This is the Night, and why Rocky III was chosen for the film to center around. We also reminisce about the glory days at the cinema before the internet.
The Illuminerdi Sits Down With This Is The Night’s James DeMonaco
The Illuminerdi: This is the Night. I want to chat about this because I’m really excited about it. I grew up a cinema fan. I remember the horror movie boom in the early ’90s. I remember skipping school and going and watching these matinees, right? It gave me this feeling. What inspired this idea? It really is a true love letter to not just cinema, but the theater-going experience.
James DeManaco: Yes. You just nailed it. That’s what it was born out of was what going to the theater meant to me as a child. It changed my life. I saw Apocalypse Now, I think I came out of that knowing I had to be part of whatever I’d just seen. My dad took me to Apocalypse Now at a very inappropriate age. I joke with him saying, why did you take me when I was eight to Apocalypse Now?
But he did, and I’m happy he did because it changed my life, but theater going, it was almost operatic. It was an event. You too, going to the movie, it was something an event, even buying the tickets, waiting in line, and getting the certain popcorn, certain seats, and melting the Sno-Caps on the popcorn, and I think that’s gone away, sadly, that event fullness of going to the cinema, and it’s been accelerated because of COVID, the dying out of cinemas, which we’ve heard about.
Jaems DeMonaco: The people in our business. We know that theaters are in trouble, so I always wanted to have a love letter to not movies and what they meant to me, but also the cinema. I do remember, it’s very autobiographical that Rocky III in my very Italian-American hometown of Staten Island, was an amazingly huge event. So I always wanted to encapsulate that because it is kind of oddly specific, Rocky III, of all movies, but people were standing up and cheering.
We saw it two times in a day, there were fights. It was a kind of chaos and madness in Staten Island at the time. Yeah. I wanted to just encapsulate that in the film about the sanctity of the theater-going experience and what it meant to me. We got this great cast of Frank Grillo, Naomi Watts, Bobby Cannavale. I would say it’s a coming-of-age story because we follow these three 16-year-old boys on this night, but it’s a coming-of-age story for a whole family, not just three boys. I hope people see it and enjoy it.
This Is The Night Always Centered Around Rocky III
Was the idea always to use Rocky III?
James DeMonaco: Yeah. Dude, always. It’s weird. For me, it was always Rocky III. There’s something about the Rocky character that really inspired people in my community. Even my agent from Florida said it was a big event there too, and they’re not Italian-American down there in his neighborhood.
Listen, it made a lot of money, so people did like it, but it was, at some point… I’ll say this, we almost couldn’t get the rights of using any Rocky III imagery. There was some fear legally, and people were asking me, oh, we love the script, can you just substitute another movie? But I could never make it work.
Listen, other movies were powerful, but powerful in different ways. Like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Dog Day Afternoon, but these are not movies that people stand up and cheer at. I needed that kind of inspirational element, so some people said, oh, maybe The Karate Kid, but it didn’t feel right to me as the worship of Stallone that occurred here in my own world. We fought through the legality of it, got the rights, and luckily it ended up being Rocky III.
It’s crazy, I can’t even recall back about another film about watching a film. The only one I could think of really is The Last Picture Show.
James: DeMonaco: Yes. That’s it exactly. Yeah.
This Is The Night Director James DeMonaco Is Surprised There Isn’t More Films About The Cinema Experience
How long has this idea been marinating with you?
James DeMonaco: A while. At least 15 years. I had it before The Purge. Then I had directed another movie called Staten Island, New York with Ethan Hawk, and that did okay. We did a festival thing, but it didn’t blow up or anything, so I knew I needed something a little more commercial, then The Purge was born.
I think the success of The Purge allowed me to say, oh, maybe I could write this very personal movie right now, because I knew before that, getting the financing for something like that was going to be quite hard, so the success of The Purge allowed me to reenter an older idea, but I’m with you, I always was so afraid, in that time, that someone was going to say, hey, I’m going to make a movie about watching another movie and what it did to me.
Other than, as you said, The Last Picture Show, Cinema Paradiso is about just the cinema experience in a way, but other than that, I’m hard-pressed to find another film about theater. Very strange. Yeah. Thank God though, because I would’ve had a nervous breakdown.
It’s quite interesting too because there are specific moments in this that just recall in my head, like I was saying, my own theater-going experience. You’re right, the event of going to a theater, it’s lost. I remember waiting in line for Star Wars: Episode I, at 16, waiting all day and then rushing to get a seat.
James DeMonaco: Exactly. All lost. The routine is gone, even driving or taking the bus or the train we take to the theater, all those little things add up to making into an event, like a rock show or something, or a Yankee game, for me, but it’s just gone away. Now we do everything on the computer. I know my seat.
Something about waiting on that line. It’s weird to say because I’m not a guy who wants to wait for a rollercoaster, but if there was a movie line right now, I’d go wait on it because there was something about the anticipation. I always say the part I love the most was watching the people from the previous show leave and trying to monitor their expressions like, did they dig it? Were they scared? That was always fun, and all that stuff was kind of lost.
This Is The Night Was James DeMonaco’s Way To Purge The Purge
James DeMonaco: Absolutely. I just said this in another interview is, I said, I’m purging The Purge. I need to cleanse my palette. I think I shot it after The Purge three, so it was pretty intense four to five years of just writing Purge, purging, writing The Purge, sitting on set, and purging. It’s a dark world to live within, it’s a dark nihilistic conceit.
I always say this movie really is the anti-purge. The Purge inspires people to do the most heinous thing, murder. I have the movie in my movie, and this is denied, the movies inspire people to become better people, to rise up and face their fears. They do good things, right? They tell the girl they love them. Not to get into the details, but so it’s my anti-purge. It was a way to cleanse the purging palette. Yeah.
Yeah. It feels very much like that old-school Amblin vibe that they used to have, and I absolutely dig the movie. You’re right, it’s completely inspirational and, as I said, it really does harken that, almost like a lost era now, of the theater-going experience, it’s kind of crazy.
James DeMonaco: It’s scary, man. Yeah. It’s like an artifact of a lost time, which is so scary. It just worries me that, and especially with COVID accelerating what potentially could be happening to theaters with less and fewer people going, and that was happening, like I said, before COVID getting worse now.
I hope it comes back. I hope people, when this is all said and done, really want to get out on a Friday and Saturday night, and go back to the cinemas and not just to see, listen, I can’t wait to see the next Matrix, I want to be first in line, but I also hope they go see small films too, foreign films. I hope theaters don’t become relegated to just showing Marvel films and giant films and maybe horror films because people still go see horror films, which is great, but we got to get people back to dramas and action films and get them there.
This is the Night is available to own or rent from Universal Home Entertainment. Have you already seen This is the Night? Do you have any favorite theater-going experiences that you want to share? Leave a message in the comments below or let us know on Twitter!