They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and in the case of Sean Stone, son of legendary filmmaker Oliver Stone, that certainly is the case.
The 27-year-old, who has appeared as an actor in 13 of his father’s films, including “Salvador” and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” is a budding filmmaker as well. He directed and produced DVD documentaries for his father’s “Alexander” starring Angelina Jolie and Colin Farrell, and has acted in, directed and produced several short films.
He makes his feature directorial debut with the psychological suspense thriller “Greystone Park,” available on VOD and on home video through Xlrator Media.
The film stars Stone, Alexander Wraith, Antonella Lentini, John Schramm, Monique Zordan and Monique Van Vooren as well as a cameo by Oliver Stone, who tells the story of a vengeful spirit during a dinner party scene.
Sean Stone and Wraith wrote the script, which is much like “Paranormal Activity,” where reality and fiction collide, and it is left up to the audience to figure out what is real and what is imaginary.
Allegedly based on true events, the film follows three aspiring filmmakers trying to document unexplainable events in an abandoned New Jersey insane asylum known as Greystone Park. Urban legend has it that anyone who ventures into the forsaken hospital will suffer the consequences and face their own horrors. The trio stumbles across a mysterious realm of escaped patients, ghosts and demonic shadows, as they try to uncover the truth behind the mystery.
The affable Stone is following his father’s footsteps in other ways. Like his conspiracy-minded father, he has a proclivity to court controversy. Earlier this year, the filmmaker publicly blasted President Obama, calling for the Commander in Chief’s impeachment. He also is a recent convert to Islam and has filmed some documentary footage in Iran about fairy-like creatures called Jinns.
He recently spoke by phone about his work as well as his political and religious beliefs.
Q: Were you influenced by films like “The Blair Witch Project?”
Stone: Quite the opposite. I‘ve never a fan of found footage. I saw “Blair Witch” as a kid, and then I saw the documentary that was done on History Channel that explained there was a documentary about the real Blair Witch, and they created a whole back story for it. Once I found out that “Blair Witch” wasn’t real, that it was all staged and phony, I then refused to watch that film for about 10 years. What happened was Alex Wraith and I met one night over dinner, very much as you see in the film. He had been exploring Greystone, which is a big, abandoned mental hospital in New Jersey that he found to be very haunted, but people always doubted him. So he started taking the pro zoom camera with him to document his journeys and he wanted to make a film. So when I met him, he was telling us about this project and showing us the footage, and I’m thinking, this is really cool. I like the style of how he shot it. It’s really urgent. It makes you feel like you’re inside with him. The next night, he and I broke in and we carried the camera to document the journey and things started to happen and that became the basis of the story.
Q: Were you inspired by the “Paranormal Activity” movies?
Stone: This all happened before “Paranormal Activity” came out. I felt like it’s stylistically very different from where we want to go to because we want to keep it like a documentary. We’re not going to say that we die at the end or this footage was found. We’re going to say this is our experience. The audience is challenged to decide for itself.
Q: A lot of these abandoned places are dangerous. Were you concerned about your safety?
Stone: We did risk our lives. There are Satanists who worship there. We found signs of them. The scariest thing was were we going to run into Satanists who carry around machetes and weapons for rituals. That was my fear the first night when we began hearing footsteps. We did risk a lot because besides the demons, the floors are falling apart and we inhaled a lot of asbestos. When you’re young you want to have the experience and you take that risk and find your courage to keep going. I think it’s an honest portrayal. Some people might wonder why we didn’t just run away. But when you’re in that position, you have to decide if you have courage and are going to keep exploring or are you going to turn tail and go home. And we kept going.
Q: How much of this was scripted?
Stone: We had a script. We had key lines that we always had to hit. Some of them were cliché. But we know we had a story we wanted to tell, and we shot it in real haunted places. When Alex gets possessed and disappears on us, that really happened. That’s not acting. Sometimes it was scripted and sometimes it wasn’t. That’s the fun of the film is that you’re going, “Are these guys really reacting to a shadow or is that in the script?” Even if it was in the script, it did happen at some point. It’s meta-reality. It’s a different language of cinema.
Q: Given that you’ve been in most of your father’s movies, was it tough to convince him to be in yours?
Stone: Originally, I was going to have someone else play my character and have an actor play my father. Once we decided I would play myself, I said there’s only one way this would work. So I told him, “I’m going to play myself in the film and I’d love for you to portray yourself.” He thought about it and said, “I’ll do it for you.” We made it brief and made it fit into his schedule. He was in and out in three hours. He was very respectful of it.
Q: What was your own view of paranormal before your friend Alex told you about his experience?
Stone: The transformation you see of my character in the film echoes my real experience with it. I would entertain the idea but I was skeptical about it. I remember stories, even my father’s Crazy Kate story (that he tells in the movie), I’ve heard over the years, but you’re not sure whether they’re trying to scare you or if they have a worked up imagination. I never had an experience like that before. So I’m very much like the character in the movie and I believe.
Q: Your conversion to Islam was in the news earlier this year. How does your interest in the paranormal mesh with your religion?
Stone: Completely. I always connected the two because whenever I would go into these places we would pray. I found a lot of faith through the act of going (into haunted places) and experiencing the paranormal phenomenon. The Muslim world accepts that. They call these entities Jinns. They’re like genies. They believe these entities inhabit another dimension and they have no problem with that in Islam. My conversion was just a reaffirmation of my faith in one God. The religion is a formality. What matters is you show respect to God and your faith in God. I had to go through a lot of soul-searching in this journey.
Q: What can you tell me about this documentary you were working on in Iran? Does it have a title?
Stone: No. It’s about the Jinns. And frankly, I’m not sure which direction we’re going to take it in because we have a lot of documentary footage from our expeditions here as well that I put together. I’m continuing to explore. But I’m mostly working on some feature film projects here in America. So I haven’t been able to go back (to Iran) recently to keep exploring the Jinn world.
Q: You’ve called for the impeachment of President Obama. Have you thought about whom you’d like to see as president?
Stone: I’d love to see (former pro wrestler and Minnesota governor) Jesse Ventura as president. I really like him as a man. He’s one of the most honest, moral men in politics.
Q: I didn’t know he was running.
Stone: Not this time, but he’ll be open to it in 2016.
Q: What will you do on November 6? Are you going to vote?
Stone: No way. We have to take the country back into our hands. We, as citizens of this country, have to reassert the integrity of our nation, and there’s a lot that we need to do. I don’t think either presidential candidate is doing the job that needs to be done.
Q: Have you met (Iranian president Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad?
Stone: Briefly. I only met him one time.
Q: What’s next? Are you going to do more acting or directing?
Stone: Both. Writing and directing has always been my first passion. That’s where the focus of my energy is at the moment.