In the director’s short film, “The Lotus Gun,” she imagines two women, Nora (played by LA Weekly cover girl Lauren Avery) and Daphine (Dasha Nekrasova), surviving together in the post-nuclear American wilderness of 2077. They don’t have much, but they have each other (and their own marijuana plant), until a stranger appears and shatters their solitary existence.
Filmmaking runs in the family for Milius. Her father, John, wrote “Apocalypse Now” and helmed such classics as “Conan the Barbarian” and the original “Red Dawn”. She recently graduated from USC’s MFA film program, and The Lotus Gun was her thesis film there. Not surprisingly, it’s screened at a number of big-name cannabis film festivals.
The Lotus Gun is presented by Film School Shorts, a public television program that airs across the country. (Cards on the table: I’m the production coordinator for the show.) Milius spoke to Cannabis Now about dystopian drug culture, cannabis props, and the rolling papers of the future. Watch the film and check out our interview!
How does cannabis fit into your vision of a post-apocalyptic future? Why did you choose to feature it in the film?
It’s a Western trope. For instance, in a lot of the spaghetti Westerns, Clint Eastwood is always smoking a cigar. I based Nora a bit on Clint Eastwood in various Westerns, so I thought it would be cool to update the idea so she’s always smoking a joint. She’s also based on my good friend Jennifer Herrema, who is also always smoking a joint.
One of my favorite genres is Noir, and even in updated versions of the genre like ‘California Noir’ (for example the Altman movie “The Long Goodbye” which I really like), the hero is always smoking and lighting cigarettes all the time in every scene. So for this we have Nora always lighting or smoking a joint.
Also in the past in America, we were a farming economy, and the kind of crop that I imagined would be the most valuable currency in the future, when there are no banks, would be food and marijuana. So pretty much everyone would grow weed no matter who you were or how you lived.
The girls grow a really small, self-sufficient little garden of vegetables and weed, but the cult-people have this kind of overgrown farm that’s worked by slave girls. They also grow the sci-fi radioactive strain of Datura flower that becomes part of their whole way of life/religion. Nora and Daph just smoke weed in a natural way while the cult people get supernatural with their drug use and they use it to enslave people, mainly girls. So how people grow/harvest/consume weed in the movie kind of indicates what kind of people they are.
“The Lotus Gun” also features a plant-based liquid drug that’s portrayed rather negatively. Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration for that?
This is where it gets a bit sci-fi, but the idea is when the bombs went off, these Datura plants — which are real plants that people can consume and have gnarly trips on — got zapped and a species of them grew that are radioactive. The psychedelic properties of the flowers would go wild, but it also had the effect of making the flowers glow with this purple blue light, and the liquid drug they distill them into also glows.
So unlike marijuana or the flowers in their original state, it’s a very artificial drug that’s almost like from outer space or something. It came to be out of this violent end of the world and so it’s sort of cursed with this powerful but dark effect. The commune folks use it in their nightly rituals; they’ve made a religion out of it. It symbolizes their philosophy in a way in its artificial quality. It’s not that they use nature in a harmonious way — they abuse it and force the will of man upon it, which is kind of how they live in nature versus the harmonious way the girls live on their own amongst the natural world.
How did you obtain the cannabis plant that’s featured in the film?
Luckily our professor who runs the production design department at USC, Victoria Paul, had just wrapped a show or knew someone who wrapped a show and she had a ton of faux weed plants right when we were going to need some, so she lent them to our production for free. Our Production Designer Marcello Dolce and Art Director Katie Pyne spruced them up and put some real touches on them.
Some people I know have a few growing in their yard most of the year, so we borrowed some of that for the close up plant that Daph is trimming in the beginning. I think we may have planted a real one for that one. The ones at the compound are the spruced-up faux ones, and luckily the natural brush up at that property in that little clearing also looked similar in the background, so it looks like there’s just tons.
Real talk: Did Lauren and Dasha smoke real weed, or is it prop weed? If prop weed, what did you use?
Because there is so much non-stop smoking in the movie we had a handful of things so the girls could use whatever they wanted. I think they probably had a few real ones but I wouldn’t really know which ones…
Mostly the production design team and I rolled an insane amount of “joints” out of American Spirit tobacco because that’s what everyone smoked. We rolled it with this special printed rolling paper, because the idea is that people in the future use book pages as rolling papers because no one can read, so they have no other use for the pages. Except for Dennis, the cult-leader. He can read, but he lies to his people about what the books actually say.
Anyway, so we had tobacco in some of them and they made ‘actor’s tobacco’ ones too which is this awful herbal cigarette stuff, but it’s easier to smoke if you have to smoke a lot. We had a bit of everything available so they could choose what they wanted and not get ill.
I pulled an amazing still from the film where Lauren is smoking a joint, and you can clearly see the word “goddess” on the paper. Was that intentional?
I’m guessing that is from the first shot of her, which I wrote in the script and spent way too much time making happen, so I’m glad someone noticed it! It’s actually the first line of The Iliad that appears on her joint, which is “Rage Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses…”. As I mentioned before, in this world no one knows how to read, they use books for rolling papers so the idea is she tore the first page out of a book and it happened to be “The Iliad”.
I always am into the first line of books as a symbol of the entirety, and so the first shot of a movie or the first shot of a character is important in that way too. In a boiled-down way, “The Iliad” is a story about a war that is started when someone steals someone else’s girl, and that’s also what this movie is about. The idea that certain circumstances never change and will always present themselves in human life and all stories are all reincarnations of each other, I think is a cool idea. I realized that these stories had that in common, so I wanted to include it somehow.
I had the idea of the joint burning with that line on it. It’s from a specific translation, and for that close up we used actual real book pages because they looked better and were naturally aged. So I bought like 10 copies of that version of “The Iliad” on ebay and tore the first page out and made those specific joints just for that shot, which I was still making up the night before we started shooting. I got a little obsessed with getting that line right on the joint.
The other thing about them using books for rolling papers is it really conveys this dismissal of the past. They have no use for history or the past civilization, they’re not thinking about it being gone because they have no connection to it. How long would it take for people to forget how the world really ended anyway? Something about them literally rolling up the past and smoking it without care is a big gesture. This book, a very important foundation of Western civilization and culture, is useless except for its function as rolling paper. But they are still doomed to relive the same stories — whether they know it or not.
Tell me about your experiences in cannabis film festivals. Do the audiences there differ from those at “normal” film festivals?
I think it’s at the point where almost every human being in America smokes weed in some way, so it’s not like the people who are into those fests would be so wildly different than the kind of people that go to any film festival! I was really lucky to have the movie play at some really cool unusual festivals. Both the New York City Cannabis Film Fest and the CannaBus Culture Film Fest were in New York and they had a super eclectic line-up. The programmer, Tim Mattson, is really good at finding very different styles that represent the variety of marijuana in culture these days. I was just really happy they liked the vibe of the movie and got how marijuana symbolizes a sort of freedom and is this essential thing in the movie, even though the plot is not exactly about cannabis. It kind of flows through the whole movie in the background, so I was happy they got its significance. It is in every scene, but it’s not something the characters ever talk about, but it’s very present and important.
What’s you favorite film about cannabis?