MenWhoStareAtGoatsA few weeks ago HeyUGuys spoke with Jon Ronson, author of the book The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was the basis for the recently released film of the same name.

Our conversation started with a discussion of Let The Right One In. Ronson had met Thomas Alfredson the night before, and was understandably excited. As it turns out, Let The Right One In is Ronson’s favourite film.

After our initial geek-off, which also led to the revelation that Ronson had disliked 500 Days of Summer so much that he walked out, we got onto the subject of Men Who Stare at Goats.

There are a number of events in the in the film that weren’t in the book. While explaining how these came about, Ronson also gave an insight into the adaptation process.

Peter [Straughan, the screenwriter] deliberately distanced himself from me while he was writing it. Just took whatever steps were necessary to turn it into a fictional narrative. Pretty much everything that’s in the film, that’s not in the book was an invention of Peter. With a few exceptions actually. [The LSD at the end was Grant Heslov’s idea].”

Although Straughan and Heslov invented a few scenarios, the film is worryingly true to its source material, which is an investigation into the bizarre techniques used by the US military. The morning I spoke with Jon he had received an e-mail from Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon, the author of the real First Earth Battalion field manual, and the inspiration for Jeff Bridges character, Bill Django. He read it to me:


At this point it’s probably good to say that all the things Bill Django did in the movie are real; but my dear fellow do you really think I wore a red pony tail with my uniform, and walked about with flowers in my hand? Do you think I used black money to buy hallucinogenic for my soldiers?


You’re doing an excellent job of getting the word out.

Your Bud Jim

Go Planet“

Jon was pleased to read the letter, and explained why.

He didn’t like the book so much. He really didn’t like how I linked it with Abu Ghraib. I personally think I did it in an ethical way. I didn’t make any claims that weren’t true.“ Ronson continued, “there are bits he didn’t love about the book, but he decided to go with the film because he saw the possibilities, or thought, “˜why not’, something good might happen. He loves the film and he’s just really happy, so it’s a really nice happy ending to the story.“

Ronson’s background is as a journalist and documentary film maker. Because of this his experience when he visited the set of Goats was quite alien to him.

It was totally different, and I was really amazed at how slow [it was]. Spending 2 days on set in Puerto Rico exhausted me. I can make a whole film in two days, and they probably made about two minutes of the film. You wait for hours, and I never quite understood why, because everyone was incredibly busy, but nothing much was happening.“

Despite this, Ronson’s career seems now to be creating a career for himself in Hollywood, with four scripts in the works. One of these is a collaboration with Straughan, telling the story of Ronson’s time in the Frank Sidebottom band. Ronson spoke about this collaboration process,

It took about a year to write it, and me and Peter definitely work together well. I’ve got weaknesses because I’m not a screenwriter, and Peter’s an effortless screenwriter.“

Again, the script is a fictionalised account of real-life events. Ronson actually published a real account of his time in the band in The Guardian some years ago. We discussed how it would be possible to turn that story into a film,

Without giving too much away, I wrote that article in about two days, and it took about a year to write the film, so it’s a lot better, but there is a narrative structure, even in that article. You’ve got the fairy tale bit of getting up on stage and being invited to join the band, and then you’ve got the band collapsing because they try to become too mainstream, too professional.“

Although Ronson made it clear that we shouldn’t expect the film to bare too much similarity to the article with one sentence, “We’ve obviously massively changed it“.

Ronson was unable to talk about all the scripts he was working on, but did give details about one of the others, a film about computer hacker and one man international incident, Gary McKinnon.  Ronson explained how it came about.

I was the first person ever to interview him, about a couple of years after he was arrested I did the first ever interview with him and then I’ve met him a couple of times since.“ He continued, “I’ve written two drafts of that, and it’s out with directors at the moment. So it’s quite possible it could get made. It’s a good film, it’s a nice sweet, I’ve tried to make it quite warm. I sort of learned from Goats really, from the movie, I think people want to feel warm towards the people in the film.“

We finished our conversation talking about the adaptation of Them. The project has been gestating for around four years now, and although Edgar Wright is attached to direct, it is still nowhere near going into production. Ronson told us what he knew.

Edgar’s attached to three different films, and nobody’s going to do anything other than wait to see what Edgar wants to do next. I doubt Edgar even knows himself what he wants to do next.“

Men Who Stare At Goats is at cinemas now.