For my first feature, I wanted to make something ambitious, adventurous, and thoughtful. While scouring ideas from the cosmos one day – actually while driving my beautiful slumbering wife and our six-month-old daughter on holidays – my mind flooded with fragments: a timeless warrior poet in the modern day, a fusion of photography and painting (with Kevin Rolly, who did the art in the movie, in mind), a barrage of sarcastic yet daring music by Barber, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev, and the title Magnum Opus – “great work” in Latin, a unified and crowning achievement – framing the artist in the emerging story. The theme wanted to include the inner struggle between the artist’s call and the warrior’s way, with the character’s sole anguish of war centering on the death of a child. The principal elements of the film were there from inception.
Scott Stoddard wove these seeds into a script, a beautiful labyrinth, and he identified the war context as First Iraq in the early 90’s, conceived an artist’s series on Dante’s Inferno, outlined the core four leads, and mingled in fragments from news surrounding the Snowden intelligence release. Six weeks later, the spine of the film emerged. While the film is quite solidly a drama, I also needed adventurous and fierce momentum. I was fortunate to work with exceptional talent in the cast and crew who could drive momentum in every choice through the film. Having experience conducting orchestras, it was a foregone conclusion that I’d integrate a score into my first picture.
What I find most compelling about this story is its contrast in intimacy and vast scope, individual integrity and national intrigue, and that it quietly asks what is it to be patriotic; when faced with an impossible choice, what would you do? What does it take – who does it take – to make those choices. Who risks themselves for what they feel and believe is right, never remaining complacent.
Our characters embody different approaches to patriotism and liberty, serving a unified – if largely destructive – outcome. Daniel Cliff is a soldier and an artist, a man of integrity who wields instinct and intellect, regardless of personal consequence, to pursue what he sees as right. Cliff’s purported opposition regards the safety and protection of the American public as his highest ideal, also conducting himself with selfless intent, and so Magnum Opus offers at its core the conflict between right and right, and the consequences of impossible choices. They both are the best among us, in serving as they each believe will benefit us all at great risk and cost to themselves, even though we may decry their actions. Magnum Opus is about an impossible choice, so I chose to make a movie that aims to capture that.
Enjoy the film,