'This is the Night' honors true movie lovers
September 21, 2021
Audience goers likely know James DeMonaco’s work from The Purge films, but he recently broke away from the franchise to make a highly personal piece with This is the Night. The movie honors a small-town Staten Island community when Rocky III premieres on the island, and how the opening night affects the group of friends and family.
I caught up with DeMonaco during the film's opening at Angelika Village East before starting its VOD run on September 21st via Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, to talk about the story's origins — and his love of Rocky.
"I do indeed love Rocky. It came from loving movies so much. The specificity of Rocky and Staten Island and Brooklyn, and that Italian-American experience. It was an event when a Stalone movie opened there. Eddie Murphy actually does a whole stand-up routine about it. He talks about the fact that he doesn’t wanna be on the streets when a Rocky movie opens up on Staten Island," he chuckles. "I did see it twice in one day and waited hours for tickets. But I also did want to represent any movie someone could be watching. Any movie that could’ve inspired anyone over the years. So yes, this was really inspired by my obsessive love of movies and the fear of the theater going away. It terrifies me."
The most magical part of the movie theater experience for DeMonaco?
“The whole thing," he admits. "We try to replicate the experience at home and it is impossible. I mean, really the whole thing: Buying the ticket, getting there, adds to creating an event out of it. If you watch it at home you miss out on the immersive theatrical experience. We lose so much where the phone can ring, and we get pulled in different directions. I miss during the movies looking at a stranger and sharing a laugh, and a horrific moment. It’s something about the beam of light that transports to a different time and place. I worry that it's going away. It’s really a ritual for me. I can’t even eat the candy until the movie starts.”
DeMonaco says in addition to his love of film another somewhat inspiring piece of his life that made it into the film is his own family.
"Some of Anthony is me. I tried to get to a girls’ sweet 16 just as Anthony does. I was also eating raw eggs and doing pushups after I saw Rocky. The brother character is based on a close friend who was struggling with sexual identity at the time. It’s so much different now. But on Staten Island back then, there was a hyper-masculine world, and coming out to a dominant dad was really tough. We have screened for a younger audience and people ask why we didn’t give a name to the identity issue and that’s because transgender wasn’t a word. Or at least it didn’t reach Staten Island. My friend was really struggling with that, and the movie truly is inspired by the people I had around me."
The coming-out story portrayed in This is the Night is a unique portrayal, largely inspired by the specific microcosm of Staten Island.
"[It's] a tough hyper-masculine culture of cops, firemen and mobsters, and the Stallone character Rocky is from a hyper-masculine world. A friend came out to me, struggling with 'how do I create this identity?' I always thought what an interesting thing it would be to depict that in the hyper-masculine world of Staten Island…" ruminates DeMonaco. "My friend, he too was inspired by film, and all of that added up to different things for different people on this big night of Rocky premiering. It caused people to face their demons, or face their father, and it all spawned from all these people seeing Rocky."
The film feels big but small all at once. DeMonaco's advice for making an all-in-one-night movie — something he honed during The Purge experiences, is:
"It’s hard for costuming and continuity. You need replicas of the same outfits. What I like about it is that people are in a bottle. It forces things to come out. It tightens the screws. You are stuck in that evening. It can be hard on crew shooting a lot of nights, and it’s especially hard with a younger cast who has a curfew, but you just find other things to shoot, and it’s probably not harder than any other type of movie."
"As far as the writing of it," he continues, "just keep writing, read books, and watch movies. Work through the badness to get something good. Keep ironing the same spot ‘til the wrinkle is gone. Give your script to a lot of people. Listen to them. Listen to ten people and you will hear a similar pattern of thought. The more people you give it to, the easier it is to find that clue and see a pattern of something that’s similar in what they are saying."
In This is the Night, is there one particular character that goes through a bigger change watching Rocky than the rest?
"I think that Christian is the most changed. Not only does he decide to come out to his mom, and finally face the truth, but she also really draws him out. He goes to a club and speaks to the man he has a crush on. There’s also a hint of magical realism to his night and that helps accelerate the process of his coming out. Of course, realistically, that arc wouldn’t all happen in one night, but through the inspiration he’s feeling, it works for the movie."
And how did Rocky change DeMonaco's own life?
"Aside from eating raw eggs, seeing Stallone writing and directing really meant something to me. I had Scorsese and Coppola in the Italian-American canon of filmmakers, but something about Stallone doing that was quite inspiring, and having met him through this was a dream come true."
The most thrilling part of tackling this new genre for DeMonaca was the comedic challenge.
"I think it was much different than Purge. It was a little like my first movie, featuring Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’onofrio (Little New York). I hadn’t done something with this sweetness. Dealing with this innocence and nostalgia and keeping it in the right pocket was a challenge. I haven't done humor, and doing The Purge films for the last seven or eight years… I’m not the funniest, so that was a new thing and a challenge."
It feels like we could all use a Rocky right now... DeMonaco's thoughts on a new hero for the next generation?
"It’s so weird not having the communal experience of a movie. We’re not all watching the same things anymore, except for maybe the Marvel films. Everything is so individualized. We are losing the kind of characters that inspire us and make us better. We don’t have that woman or man we can all look up to and cheer for. The last movie I remember seeing where people were up and cheering was Creed. It was so great to see. It’s rare that we get that when it’s not a superhero — not someone who puts on a suit or has a special power. I’m not taking anything away from those movies, but it’s not a real person. Maybe I could try to do that; like a Tony Stark, but it could be someone like Rocky. I’ll try."
We really hope you do.
This is the Night is now available On Demand and Digital.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/