Writer/Director: Tom DiCillo
Cast: John Turturro, Sam Rockwell, Catherine Keener, Lisa Blount, Dermot Mulroney, Rica Maartens, Annie Corley.
Festivals: Venice, Sundance, Seattle, Toronto, San Francisco.
US Distribution: Trimark.
Music by Jim Farmer.
Books: Notes From Overboard, film diary and screenplay.
Box of Moonlight was supposed to have been my next film after Johnny Suede. I wrote it to get out of NYC, away from the Lower East Side rubble without a cause that had been the focus of so many films I’d worked on.
But, it took over 4 years to raise the money. It wasn't until the relative success of Living In Oblivion that I finally I found myself in Knoxville, Tennessee actually directing my 'second' film.
I spent a lot of time as a kid in small towns all across America. Box of Moonlight is an attempt to revisit that emotional landscape. There are elements of my childhood in it as well as my belief that a healthy stint of juvenile delinquency can be a productive phase in anyone's life.
I tried to maintain the family of actors who had come together on Living In Oblivion as much as possible. I wrote the part of Floatie, the slightly dented phone-sex operator for Catherine Keener. Dermot Mulroney found some real depth with the small town bully, Wick.
The core of the film though is the relationship between Al Fountain (John Turturro) and the Kid (Sam Rockwell). My respect for both actors is tremendous. Both could not have had more different acting styles. Sam had auditioned for Johnny Suede and I’d been so impressed I kept him in mind for this film. It was Turturro’s performance in Quizz Show that made me really push to get him into the film.
It was a tough shoot. It astounded me that shooting scenes of such pastoral beauty could require such effort and exhaustion. The day before we shot a scene of Turturro swimming in an abandoned rock quarry we learned someone had just drowned in it. The rescue diver who’d gone to retrieve the body was bitten by a water moccasin and also died. I did not tell Turturro any of this as he could not swim.
Turturro's character was based somewhat on my father whose relentless insistence on my learning math inspired the flashcard scenes in the film. He and my mother lived nearby and when they visited the set I put them both in the scene where a crowd has gathered beneath a tattered billboard where someone has seen the face of Jesus. To my amazement when I later saw the footage, I saw my father (a devout atheist) cross himself unbidden.
The film was accepted by the Venice Film Festival. During the screening the audience was completely silent. I was convinced it was a disaster. Then the lights came up and the entire audience rose in a lengthy ovation.
Nothing affects me as much as hearing, to this day, how strongly this crazy film has touched people. The ones it does, it touches deeply. Some critics minimized the film as a “hippy fairytale.” But, even a cursory glimpse of Sam Rockwell’s damaged and troubled Kid shows that nothing could be further from the truth.
Independent Filmmaker & Musician
My favorite movie of all time is box of moonlight. I have the soundtrack, but the one song I really want is “Cerveza”
I have searched everywhere and can not find it! How can I purchase a copy of that song?
Steve (Very loyal fan!)
I’m really pleased you like Box of Moonlight so much. Unfortunately Cerveza is not currently available. I wrote and performed it myself during the editing of the film. We needed some background music and we’d run out of money to license anymore songs. If I remember correctly my editor, Camilla Toniolo sings on it.
I have no idea where the original complete song is. It would take some work, and some money to find it. But, I’ll keep my eyes out. If I make any progress I’ll let you know.
Thanks for writing. No need to call me Mr. DiCillo. The only people who ever called me that were annoyed highschool teachers and policemen.
Love this movie. I grew up and still live where it was filmed swam in that same quarry, shopped in the same stores,and ate at the diners .knoxville is a beautiful home and this movie takes me back to 97.thanks
Great to hear from you. I feel the same way you do about that part of Tennessee. Shooting in Knoxville was kind of a happy accident, but also one had some forethought. I needed a location that gave me flexibility in terms of weather–if the financing got delayed for a few months at least I could still shoot there and have it seem like summer.
But, from the moment I got down there and started driving around I felt something very strong. The surrounding countryside is almost mythically lush and beautiful. And that quarry. Man, some stories there for you. Turturro could not swim. I’d promised him he’d never have to be in water that was over his head. When I chose the quarry as a location I reported back to him and in response to his question about how deep it was I replied, “20 feet, in some places.”
Of course in most places the quarry was over 300 feet deep. And the week before we shot there a swimmer died after being bitten by a water mocassin. And the rescue worker who went down to retrieve the body died as well.
But, I have great memories of the shoot, especially from the amazing people who welcomed us so completely and so openly.
Thank you very much for your film. It too touched me very deeply and strongly. There were so many wonderful scenes but I particularly enjoyed watching Al and the Kid meet the Dupre sisters by the rock pool and their time together back at Kid’s home. The awkwardness of these scenes was really moving, and it made me realise that many kids, or adults for that matter, are often unable to immerse themselves in these types of experiences. I think your film would also be of great benefit in therapy for anyone who has had difficulty in developing capacities for play, relationships and engagement in life. Thanks heaps, Sam.
Thanks for writing in. I’m interested in your comment. That was much of my intent in the film; to find a beauty and simple joy in some of the most commonplace aspects of life. Jumping into a clear pool of water, eating a tomato–THROWING a tomato. You know, it doesn’t take much–just a little mental and emotional adjustment and that childlike sense of wonder and goofiness can come back.
I don’t quite see film as therapy but more as simply taking someone on a journey. Don’t get me wrong; therapy is good–in a therapist’s office. For me films should should have no walls, no chairs and no couches so to speak. But, I understand your point.
I’m glad you liked the film. It was a bear to shoot but I’m proud of what ended up on the screen.
Last night, my college aged daughter and a couple of her girlfriends came over to hang out with dear Dad. I promised them dinner and a movie. The dinner was steaks and potatoes and the movie was your contemporary classic Box of Moonlight. Another generation soon joined the ranks of those who loved the movie. It strikes many an emotional nerve but does so in a manner that evokes a lot of laughter and and a few tears. The acting is superb, each actor/actress so successfully conveying the emotional essence of the respective characters. The context was quirky but the message was clear. The juxtaposition of scenes of the gritty working class neighborhoods in contrast to the lush green rolling hills of the countryside was intriguing in and of itself. Of course, the fact that it was filmed in and around Knoxville and Maryville would have made it worth a watch for me as I have worked and resided in those two communities for many years. A wonderful woman named Ruby Love was the nanny to my two daughters for all of their minority. One day she told me her son Randy was flying a helicopter for a “Hollywood movie”. So it was a treat to get to see Randy’s name on the credits too. Incidentally, the scenes filmed from the helicopter were fabulous. While watching the movie, my younger companions howled in laughter at the scenes from Bambi’s Nightclub. Of all the dives in East Tennessee, you managed to find that one, lol. Just curious as to whether you spent more time there than was absolutely necessary for the production of the movie?? Belated though it might be, may i say a job well done. John
I really enjoyed your comment. It was inspiring to catch a glimpse of the obvious trust and interaction you’ve established with your daughter. Not too sure how many parents could convince their grown children to sit down and watch a movie with them. Maybe it was the promise of dinner.
But, I am pleased to hear the film was appreciated. It was a real departure for me after Living In Oblivion and most people seemed stupefied by it. For me it was worth making just to see John Turturro do his little dance around the fire.
I think you can tell from some of my other comments here how much I loved that part of the country. I can honestly say Bambi’s was used for shooting purposes only. But on our scout to see the location, one of the dancers (a single mother with two children) asked me if I wanted a Donut Dance. Perhaps you have heard of this. I politely declined but I wrote about the experience in a book about making the film called Notes From Overboard.
I had a lot of interaction with many of the people who lived in the area. You might find the book of interest. You should be able to find a copy floating around on the web somewhere. Randy is in it, including the part where he was turned around talking to me while flying straight at the side of a mountain. Also, his gut-dropping swoops down to roof top levels just for the hell of it.
On that same road out to Bambi’s there was a place that sold used CD’s and DVD’s. I got turned on to some cool music there by the extremely enlightened staff. But, one of my favorite encounters was with the guy who was living in the little cinderblock shack at the top of the tomato field. When we walked up and asked him if we could shoot the tomato fight scene on his land he said, “Sure.” Then he added, “I’ll be gone on that day but I’ll leave the door open. Y’all can just come in and use the house. Use the VCR if you want to; I got a lot of good tapes.”
I never got a chance to get inside to check his film collection but I appreciated his hospitality. Thanks for watching the film. And thank your daughter and her friends for giving it a shot.
I have shared your movie with so many people in a variety of contexts. The scene of the kid’s open front door with the back side of the trailer open inspired me years later to buy a double wide mobile home (couldn’t find just a half) and set them 20 feet apart. Later, when I read about what your inspiration was for that part I was pretty surprised.
It’s an awesome and complex film and I find fresh meaning each time I see it.
Dear Mr Dicillo:
I am so happy to have happened upon this website …
The reason that I found it on a Google search, is that I was searching for the precise quote that The Kid said when the box with the moonlight was accidentally opened.
So you like it, Mr Dicillo, when people reminisce about Box Of Moonlight? I hope you read this, then.
Let me tell you MY story: when the film first appeared, I was in Manhattan with three other girlfriends and we were looking for a movie to see, in one of those giant movieplex places. (My taste was not the same as my friends – case in point, a few years later, I dragged one of my friends into the same multiplex theatre to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch and I was totally enchanted by the story and the music and she was certainly not!)
With Box Of Moonlight, I saw the poster for it and I focused on it, even as my friends wanted something far more mundane. Somehow, I won them over. I am not saying they loved it (hey, you can’t please everyone) … but it matters not. I was totally enchanted. The film left me feeling all the things that I wanted to feel from a movie. I wanted to be in the scene jumping in the water or jumping over the little fire.
To this day, I am enchanted by Sam Rockwell’s performance. I think it was genius. The rest of the cast was great – I am a big fan of John Turturro, not to mention the others. Floatie was touching, innocent and sweet.
The film was magical for me, I have the DVD and I love watching it on my TV but nothing beats a theatre.
Thank you so very much!
This is my favorite movie.
Last year I found myself alone on the night of the Forth of July.
You guessed it, I put in Box of Moonlight. Had a good night after all.
One of the many seens I love is when the hub cap rolled off Kid’s car. Classic!
Thank you for this quality movie
Thanks Ernie. I’m glad you liked the film. I can’t tell you how difficult it was to get that hubcap to come off. There was a “special” rig the prop guy designed that was supposed to make it come off at the right time but it never worked. I finally just gave up. We did one last take with no “special” rig and the hubcap came off all by itself.
What can you do but laugh?
Hi there Tom! Box of Moonlight is my favorite movie of all time. Thanks for making it! I have a dedicated home theater in my basement and I have the movie poster for the film on display as you enter the theater. As my wife is a “professional” wrestling fan, I sometimes find myself looking at her like Al looks at the Kid when “wrestling” is on TV. 🙂 Anyhow, two quick questions for you:
1) Any chance this will get released on Blu-Ray? 1080p/24 would sure show off those great outdoor scenes you captured!
2) Any info on where the “got a really good deal” half trailer home is located? I live in near by VA and it would be cool to drive down the road and see if it is still there.
Thanks again for the exceptional film!
Great to hear from you. That is quite a blast of support about Box of Moonlight. I sincerely appreciate it.
I don’t think there are any plans to release the film on Blu-Ray. I think you’re right though, some of those images would be amazing.
The half-trailer is now a major theme park called Box of Oreos, with long lines of people paying hefty prices to sit in Kid’s damp Barco-lounger and eat a tomato right off the vine. Just kidding of course. No, the actual trailer was in a rural area just outside of Nashville. It was originally a full-sized trailer and our production team cut it in half. However, recalling that we made the film in 1997 I have major doubts it is still there.
Who are some of your wife’s favorite wrasslers?
I am quite the fan and was not aware of this site. I discovered you with “Oblivion” and then saw “Box” and then “Blonde.” I went back in your library to watch “Suede.” As you’ve heard before, “Box of Moonlight” is such a special movie that is just gorgeous in the way it makes your heart feel. And also, for me, I love the sort of Rod Serling ending it has. Sam Rockwell was on the map for me after this film as his performance (not to take anything from John’s quite necessary stiffness, done so well) is the heart of this film. His ignorance is truly bliss and even inspiring, should I say. He makes you want to get off the grid. Due to it being under the radar for the masses, I talked of the movie to my fiancé and when I finally found a copy, she has embraced it as a dear favorite. There is a strange yet warm surreal quality to your films that are a signature on all of your films. For example, the fireworks at the end of Box and the woman reunited with her dog in Blonde are truly fantastic moments. The way you transcend the minor characters to a place of happiness brings us the audience to a place of happiness– in this strange, yet sometimes warm and surreal world. Thank You. I discovered this site trying to google a Blu-Ray version to keep forever but you already answered that question. But… are there any one sheets? I tried to order a poster for my girl off of Ebay but it’s not nearly as interesting as the actual Box (no pun intended) artwork. Kinda 80s even.. Well, anyways… Thanks for creating this masterpiece that we adore.
Hey Mr. P-body,
Thanks very much for this comment. It is heartening to hear that you have responded so strongly to my films.
I doubt there is a Blu-Ray version of Box of Moonlight, which is too bad because some of the visuals came out quite beautiful. After a film has what is termed a less than successful theatrical release distributors tend to not spend any more money than they have to.
In fact, Living In Oblivion was actually the last film of mine to be made available on DVD. I had to force the distributors to do it.
I don’t know of any one sheets of Moonlight. I was not happy with the poster and artwork for the US release. I had a huge fight with the distributor who insisted on the insipid, graphically challenged image. The artwork for the international release was much better. You can see an image from that poster on the cover of the book I wrote about the making of the film called, Box of Moonlight, Notes From Overboard. It has more of the surreal quality you mentioned.
So, I guess we should be grateful the film is even on DVD.
I appreciate the kind words.
Thank you for this fine ride of a film! Box of Moonlight was one of the first independent films I fell in love with. Last night, my husband watched it for the first time. As it ended, he turned to me, “Want to walk to the store?” I nodded, “Oreos.”
Your movie still thrills new audiences and fills them with youth.
Thanks for writing, Heather. I appreciate your comment a lot. Hope it didn’t take too much coercion to get your husband to watch. And don’t forget, pour a bunch a milk over them oreos.
My best to you both.
BOM was on the Sundance Channel the other day and I watched it again. Love that movie 🙂
It would be cool to see if Kid’s trailer was still there.
Mark – Based on the visuals, I think the driving scenes to get to Kid’s trailer are off of Hwy 81. I had just driven it about a week prior to watching the film and was like, “hey! I recognize where they are!” Next time I go that way, I’m going to have to check and see if Kid’s trailer is still there 🙂
What is it about the strange chemistry of Box of Moonlight? After listening to a /Filmcast episode where they discussed films they’d watched the most times and what kinds of films are rewatchable, I thought of Box of Moonlight, which I can watch anytime and never gets old – one can always tumble straight into that world where we all have our own “Splashy” Lake. What a fabulous labor of love that film is. Hard to articulate its peculiar magic. Maura
I can’t say I know the answer to the chemistry question, Maura. But, I greatly appreciate your comment. It is sincerely a pleasure to know the film has such resonance for you. Labor of love is true. I waited 4 years for Sam Rockwell. I’d almost cast him in Johnny Suede but went with that other unknown Mr. Pitt. But, even after I had Sam, Catherine Keener and John Turturro it still took that long to raise the money.
Reading your comment assures me it was worth it.
Hey Tom, I absolutely love everything about this film and have watched it a zillion times and it never gets old! Sam Rockwell was so awesome in this. His acting skills are mindboggling to me. The entire cast pretty much nailed everything!! Some of my favorite scenes are the burning Lay-z-boy, (LMAO!) The underwear sniffing scene where it’s apparent that Turturro lost it but Rockwell somehow managed to stay in character. LOL. Love the old guy who, (drowned a cat there once.) and Doris at the rental agency, the psycho preacher, floatie, man, pretty much everybody! The soundtrack is awesome as well. Anyway, blah, blah, blah but this film reality hit home with me. When I first saw the film, I was living “off the fuckin grid!!” in Yucca Valley, C.A. and almost all of those characters in your film I’ve actually met in person and hung out with out there in the high desert! LOL! I love how Al eventually softens up and finally gets the kid fireworks. I don’t understand anyone who doesn’t get this film in its entirety. So relatable in so many different ways, beautifully shot, edited, directed, scripted, cast, you name it, it’s all there. The only gripe I’ve heard about the film is the part about Al’s infidelity with Floatie. It would be more understandable if Al’s wife was portrayed as more of a tyrant but she’s so loving, accepting and supportive and encouraging of all of Al’s quirks that it’s hard to let Al off the hook on that one. Such a fun movie! The deer riding shotgun says it all! LOL. “He kid, how much further?”” Haa!!” 🙂 OMG How a bout the girl limping into Bambi’s? LMAO! Brilliant! Thanks for such a great film. Every summer when I pick the first tomato off the vine, I quote Al Fountain. 🙂
Thanks very much for your great comment. Man, you really know the film. There are many stories to tell about some of the things you mention. Burning the Lazyboy was my idea, partly to get back at an uptight assistant director but mainly because I love setting things on fire. I wrote a book about the making of the film which is available online somewhere. You can google it. But, it goes into a lot of detail about many of the things you pointed out. It’s called Notes From Overboard, A Filmmaker’s Diary. You might enjoy it.
People taking issue with Al’s “infidelity” is puzzling to me. The film is about allowing oneself to be completely open to what life has to offer. Now, certainly I’m not suggesting that people should do this in a selfish, narcissistic way that causes pain to other people. But, in Al’s case his encounter with Floatie is actually therapeutic to Floatie, Al and even to his wife, Deb. Floatie is having severe doubts about her value as a person and her sexuality. Al’s attraction to her gives her a different sense of herself. He doesn’t force himself on her nor does he take advantage of her insecurity; their attraction is mutual and rather delicate. Usually in stories like this the “infidelity” is seen as a crime, or something that results in some kind of punishment. I simply wanted Al to have a moment where he enjoys himself and gives pleasure to another human being. The hope is that when he returns home he will now recognize he can do the same with his wife; and be more open to recognizing the value of her and their son.
And honestly, his wife Deb is such a strong character that I think she might even appreciate her husband getting a little funky–for once.
Just found this website while attempting to look up one of the songs in the movie while kid was driving the Taurus. It had an interesting kind of punk rock sound to it. Anyway, Box Of Moonlight is also one of my all time favorite movies because there are so many similarities in comparison to my life. We’ve got a rock quarry here in NW Louisiana called “The Blue Hole” way out in the country where all types of characters from all over the area conglomerate to get away from it all. It was complete with a giant rope swing & pine trees along the edge that we used to climb up and jump out of about 40 ft. Above the water. To top it off, there was man made clay wall about 5 ft. underwater, about 100 ft. Out from the edge that we used to swim out to, with our bud long necks just to hang out and flirt with the girls. I was about 20 years old and I was driving a 1959 Austin Healey “Bug-eyed” Sprite back then. It was one of the best periods of my life, complete with a “Floatie” I met one afternoon down the road from the Blue Hole. Oh, the things we did that night at the Blue Hole, in the Blue Hole and on the trunk of my Austin Healey. We had the whole place to ourselves, a bonfire and not a stitch of clothing on the entire night. It was probably the closest thing to Woodstock I’ll ever experience. Aside from my memories, Box Of Moonlight is the only movie that even comes close to comparison. I’m 48 years old now, barely getting by, living in my 1963 10×50 mobile home. I’m ALMOST off the grid and still deciding wether or not to demo the wall on the East side of my trailer….
You should write your story. Don’t try to exaggerate or embellish it–just tell it exactly as it happened. Sounds pretty amazing. And definitely in the spirit of Box of Moonlight. I really appreciate your comment, and your enthusiasm for the film. The whole point in making the film was to try and present some of those moments like you describe.
If you need any help in finding the names of some of those songs on Al’s Mix Tape just let me know.
Hi, David, the song you are referring to is “Cuts You Up” by Peter Murphy, from his 1999 album Deep ( Peter Murphy was previously lead singer and writer for The Bauhaus – if you are into film you may have seen Peter Murphy – but not the other band members, caused a huge rift- anyway, PM was featured in singing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in the classic opening scene of The Hunger with David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve directed by Tony Scott, 1982 I think. )
Just watched Box of Moonlight for my first time, and honestly don’t know how I ever missed it! What a life affirming film! The casting is outta sight, and absolutely nobody but Sam Rockwell could even touch what he did in this role.
The characters are quirky but totally true to life and they really make an impression. I grew up in Jonesboro, Arkansas, so a lot of the feel and characters resonate with me.
I wish we learn more about Bucky’s life, I feel he also has an important story to tell but we only catch a glimpse of it. I am planning on picking up your book Box Of Moonlight: Notes from Overboard! Thank you for such a wonderful film, I hope everybody sees it at least once in their lifetime, and the sooner the better!
Hey Liora, thanks for writing in with your info on Peter Murphy. I’m glad you liked the film and I agree with you about Sam Rockwell. The only other guy who came in and auditioned for me (dressed in a buckskin Davy Crockett outfit) was a very young Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
I’m a big Peter Murphy fan and was glad to get Cuts You Up in the film. There are a couple of other punkish tracks on the mix Al Fountain finds; I’m still not sure which one David was referring to. There is a cool track by Wall Of Voodoo called Mexican Radio; also Red Right Hand by Nick Cave.
Hey Tom, how’s it hanging?
Today I watched Box Of Moonlight once again, and I got as refreshed as the first time I saw it.
Such a deep message within a really simple context; in that sense, reminds me of Hesse’s Siddhartha, or the short stories by Khalil Gibran: a truly life teaching and a clear example of spiritual searching.
That kind of films that provides you not only a pleasant moment while watching it, but also a lot to ponder later.
For all of this, thanks to you and all the people involved in the project.
Cheers from Argentina,
It hangs well, Patricio. Thank you for asking.
Also, thank you for your observations. You are one of the first people to mention the value of the underlying layers and currents that run below the surface of the film. I never like art that “teaches” but I do like ideas that show a character’s glimpse into a deeper awareness, whether accidental or not. Most of the things that happen to Al were things I experienced as a kid and it took me 40 years to consider putting them in a film.
And, as you observed, I had a lot of help. Not the least of which came from the amazing performances of John Turturro, Sam Rockwell, Catherine Keener and Lisa Blount.
Hasta la proxima.
I’ve always loved this movie and seeing the scenes shot near where I grew up in Maryville and Knoxville, TN. I’ve never been able to figure out which quarry the swimming scenes were shot. Was it Meads Quarry or Fort Dickerson or some other quarry ? thank you!
I loved shooting the film around Knoxville. I share the same appreciation you do of the beauty of that area. I can’t remember the exact name of the quarry we shot in. I don’t think it was Fort Dickerson. It was about 30 minutes out of Knoxville. The day before we shot there a swimmer was bit by a water moccasin and drowned, sinking to the bottom 400 feet down. The scuba diver they sent down to get him drowned also. We were all a little jumpy the day we shot there.
hi, Tom, where is Bucky’s Outfit these days? Just curious!
Hi, Tom! Love your new video.
Been meaning to ask, what ever happened to “The Painting” you mention on the Director’s Commentary? And Bucky’s outfit? And The box???
Hey Liora, thanks for all your comments and questions. The questions are good ones. As far as all the items you ask about the only one I know for sure is The Box. I saved it for a few years, with the Circle Rentacar keychain, and sent it to a friend Elaine, who loves the film. The rest of the stuff is…I have no idea where. Which is too bad because a lot of work went into Bucky’s outfit. The painting is probably in a Salvation Army somewhere.
I’m so glad you liked the film and the new video.
Hello Tom, and greetings from New Zealand. I’m pleased to see so many people who have let you know how much they enjoy and are touched by your film. I came across ‘Box of Moonlight’ from looking up many of the movie’s mentioned in the ‘Down and Dirty Pictures’ book, and i have to say it’s only one in a handful of movies which i can’t fathom why but i’m always drawn to come back to and watch again by myself. It seems there is a small community of people here who perhaps share in that same feeling.
I went to the US in 2012 for an OE and i rented a car and traveled from Nashville to Cade’s Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains. I find watching this always takes me back to that feeling of that drive. The scene where Kid drives Al’s car (to the tune of Peter Murphy) to when they arrive at his trailer always gives me a funny and queasy, almost anxious feeling. Like you need to experience simply getting into a vehicle and driving with no destination in mind and no hangup’s with clock time. Beautifully shot!
An excellent ensemble of cast and choice music!
Great to hear from you. Sounds like you had a cool drive through a distinctive part of this country. I’m glad you found some resonance in Box of Moonlight. I could tell you some stories about shooting the film around Knoxville but you might be able to dig up a copy of the book I wrote about the making of the film. It’s called Notes From Overboard, Box of Moonlight, and it details the 30 day shoot.
The driving stuff was very important to me. I spent a lot of time choosing those locations and choosing that music. I figured Al Fountain was not the kind of guy who would go out and buy music, but he might be someone who would listen to a “mix tape” someone left in his rental car. That gave me the opportunity to put some of my favorite cuts on there. I think there might even be a soundtrack CD out there somewhere. But, Peter Murphy’s Cut You Up was aces. I also loved the way Mexican Radio worked by Wall of Voodoo and nothing can beat driving music like The Wayward Nile by the Chantays.
Sam Rockwell had the part for 5 years while I struggled to get the money together. Catherine Keener and Dermot Mulroney were in from the beginning and John Turturro was a long sought after late addition. Almost all the others were fine local actors we cast from around the area.
Never been to New Zealand but it has always been calling to me since my first girlfriend was from there. She left me just after I turned 7.
I’m sorry it has taken so long to reply to your beautiful note. It is wonderful to know the film has affected you so much. In this current, strange state of the world it seems to me even more important than ever to connect with things. To connect with people, with pleasure and beauty; with all the amazing simple things all around us.
The film was a departure for me. It was my first film outside of NYC. It was not about wannabe rock stars or crazy actors on a tiny set. I wanted to get outside of the city. To get outside. The film contains many elements of my childhood. As a boy I moved to numerous small towns across America. Al Fountain is based largely upon my father. Bobby’s struggle with math was the same as mine. I had flashcards too–they weren’t that big but they felt that way.
It is interesting to me the people that responded to this film. Critics did not like it. I guess they thought I was going to make Living In Oblivion for the rest of my life.
My personal belief is that artists are many things.
And I’ve noticed that certain human beings are the same way. I’ve noticed that it is these people who allow themselves to enter the world of Box Of Moonlight and enjoy the journey.
Thankfully, you are one of them.
I send my best,
Just saw this movie for the firs time after renting it from the local Poughkeepsie library. Great film. The reason I’m writing is to say how blown away I was by Rockwell. It is a wild and brave performance, fully alive and hilarious. A tribute to your writing and directing that these actors all delivered such rich performances.
Have you seen Once Upon a Time in America?
Wondering where you grew up, Tom?
I love when you say on the director commentary about the healthy juvenile delinquency stage. I also think it’s a necessary stage in adolescence /young adulthood. I know people who did not have a peer group, and/or missed this stage entirely (like Al -type people walking around today most likely also missed it).
I grew up in Hollywood Florida then moved to Arkansas when I was 9 where I stayed till college. My delinquency was in and around Jonesboro Arkansas and Memphis, TN which was just an hour away. A group of us have reconnected on Facebook recently, talking about being punks, Freaks, artists etc. in a small Southern town….sharing current interests, old photos, incriminating trippy items………….and it’s been great fun!!
I just love your take on Natural America, small town america. The mystery, the gothic elements….It makes me feel better about some of the emotionally difficult elements of growing up in the Bible Belt. (the “west memphis 3” could have been me or any of my friends- we were the victims of Satanic Panic in our own ways too )
My father was in the USMC, Liora. He retired as a full Colonel after 30 years. We moved to a different state every two years, mainly from the east coast to the west as there are very few, if any Marine bases in the middle of the country. So, it was the intensity of backwoods North Carolina for two years, then the pop surf culture of Southern California.
But, your experiences sound formative as well. The south is not a place that welcomes change. With Box of Moonlight I was more interested in showing some aspect of America that I’d experienced as a kid; some beautiful wild things along with some strange and disturbing things. My best friend and I hid in a tomato field for 5 hours after the cops came to find out who’d been throwing tomatoes down on cars on the freeway.
I completely agree with you about Sam Rockwell’s performance. I’d met him years earlier when he came in to audition for Johnny Suede. I remembered him and held out for him for 5 years as I tried the get the financing for Box of Moonlight. Sadly, I have not seen Once Upon a Time in America.
Sometime in the mid 90s I moved to Knoxville and ended up working 10 yrs doing art department and producer stuff for the many video production houses there. Some of the folks I worked with talked about this interesting film they had just finished working on called Box of Moonlight, and that I had just missed it.
Anyhoo, here we are 20 years later and I just managed to see this little gem. What can I say other than LOVE IT.
The trappings of East Knoxville during that period, and probably still, were perfect for the Drip Rock motif.
Between then and now I did manage to see Living in Oblivion which, of course, hit home for obvious reasons. Loved it too.
Thanks for your vision and for sticking with it. Considering all the crap that hollywood releases these days, it’s good to see a director/writer with heart who is still working.
I appreciate your comment very much. It is too bad the timing was off when I was in Knoxville. I’m sure we would have welcomed you to the crew.
I loved working in Knoxville. I met some amazing people there. The guy who owned the tomato field went away for the week and told us to do whatever we wanted; he even left the door to his little house open and invited us all in to watch his TV.
Glad you liked the film. And I’m glad you connected to Oblivion. I’m still kicking at it, man. Crazy times out there.
My best to you.
First off, thanks for doing this forum. I have so many questions about your amazing films. I just stumbled upon it tonite even though I had been to your website several times before.
I just wanted to say how much I have truly enjoyed this movie over the years and how meaningful it’s been to me at so many times in my life.
I first saw this in 1998 on HBO and immediately was intrigued. I was 22 and fairly depressed about life, feeling pressure to finish college, get a job, figure things out, and ultimately find something in life that made me happy. I eventually bought a VHS and couldn’t stop watching it. It seriously has the feel of a vacation or something which is why it’s one of those rare films you can watch over and over. I guess it’s more the feeling and mood of the film that is just so real and enjoyable that prevents it from being boring, even when you know the plot and events. It’s very rare for a film to be able to do that, and usually, it’s only small portions of a film that has that addicting quality (for me).
I see a lot of myself in both Al and Kid, if that makes any sense at all. I am pretty uptight in a lot of people’s eyes but am also a free spirit deep down and artistic. It really strikes a chord on so many levels, not just about myself, but about life in general, how different so many people are, how absurd life can be, how quirky people can be, and how it’s never too late to realize any of this and change anything.
I decided to watch the movie again after now being 38 with 2 kids and being much more in the position of Al. It’s still just as magical and touching as the first time I saw it. Even though I had pretty much memorized the film and hadn’t forgotten much, I still embraced the feeling and mood and situations like new.
Life just seems to be so fleeting and impossible to hit pause and appreciate things, and your movie seems to really help a person stop and take a look around and enjoy life and realize the possibilities.
Anyway, thanks for making this and thanks to all the actors and crew. This movie is a classic.
In addition to my last comment, I also had a couple more and a few questions and a theory 😉
I also have always been really impressed with the soundtrack and other sounds in the film. I think I read before, but wasn’t it done by one of your good friends or family members?
I also heard a rumor in 99 or so about something that happened on set. I can certainly understand you not answering it, but I heard that Sam and John had different acting styles and that Rockwell’s free spirited acting kinda pissed off Tuturro to a point where he eventually got fed up with how seemingly unprofessional Sam seemed and punched him. Is that rumored tension and different professional styles at all true?
Also, I watched The Way Way Back a year ago or so and couldn’t help but see it as very similar. Sam Rockwell was in a very similer role but to a much younger person (like it’s a box of moonlight when the Kid is a little older and is old enough to be a dad to an uptight and depressed kid instead). Did you at all see it this way? And if so, do you still talk to Sam and ever discussed this?
Thanks again! I so love all of your films. Can’t wait for more.
After watching Box again and parts of the Way Way Back, I’d say it’s less of a Kid sequel than i mentioned previously but still similar if you can picture the Kid becoming much cooler, more mature, and finally living on the grid (sorta). The movie certainly doesn’t have the feel of Box at all of course and has a much much less indy feel, and I can say without a doubt that Sam Rockwell couldn’t possibly pull off the same performance as in Box with him being older, and his physical transformation also makes him more frat boyish unfortunately. I still enjoy most of his roles since of course and am curious to see him in the new poltergist.
I’m about to read Notes from Overboard (It finally comes in the mail tomorrow) and cannot fucking wait! I was wondering if you had any commentary such as advice, recommendations, or clarification about anything in book (before or after I read it). I’m sure it’s great on its own for a guy who loves your movies, though if you have any preface to the book or things you forgot or wanted to add, I would love to hear it! Even the most mundane of things would probably be very interesting to myself and so many others.
Great to hear from you. I’m glad you get something out of my films. It means a lot to me. I think you will enjoy Notes From Overboard. No words need to be said before reading. It is a diary of my experience making the film.
The new book, written by Wayne Byrne is not a picture book though there will be photos in it. It is primarily a wonderfully loose and detailed look at my first 7 films. Wayne does a wonderful job illuminating each film, then he and I have a conversation on each film that ranges far and wide and back again. Many things are revealed. I’ve read it now a few times and I’m still learning things.
Not sure when we’ll get it out but we are pushing.
Thanks for the comments.
Thanks for the reply. I finally got the book today and really enjoyed it. With Box being one of my favorite films, it was really awesome to read about some of the ideas and struggles behind it and gain a glimpse into the creative process and how the actors, etc work. I also really enjoyed some of your insights/reviews of films from that time period that you went and saw and the background on the local experiences in that area. You definitely captured the essence of odd, small town existence.
Im now really curious how the film sounded for the pre-realease with Brian Eno, etc or how it would have sounded with Egon (I actually didn’t know that was an actual person’s name outside Ghostbusters). As I mentioned before, one of the many reasons I love the film is the soundtrack, so I would say without a doubt that Jim and your choices for music were spot on. I’m also a musician myself and so really appreciate such a perfect selection for the mood and scenes of the film.
I can totally understand you reasons for not wanting to do another film diary from your Intro note, but am so glad you did for this one and hope you reconsider for future films.
Thanks again for making such an original, uncompromising, and meaningful film. I am a lifelong fan and promoter. If you have any photos or other film relics to share, I would love to be emailed any of them.
Then, Jesus! Why’d you have to offend the tomato patch dude twice?
Of course I forgot to say how fucking hillarious this film is too which is very much a part of what makes it so watchable again and again. I guess the true-to-life themes and humanity of it makes me forget to mention that. Even after seeing it like a hundred times, I still laugh at so many of the scenes and lines.
Sorry for such a barrage of comments. I just really can’t say enough about this film. It’s a true gem in a sea of mostly mediocre and watered down films, and a near perfect performance for everyone involved.
I won’t say anything else. Thanks again.
Just saw your movie for the first time. Amazing I know. I was really moved by it and cannot wait to share it with my husband. I’m not sure I can add anything original to all the many wonderful thoughts and reactions already mentioned above.
I will say that I really appreciated the selection of music that seemed to propel the story on. The mercurial nature of the selections really accented the scenes of the film. I especially liked the piece that was played when Floatie, Purlene and The Kid are taking turns jumping into the Quarry. And is reprised during the end titles. Reminded me a lot of Mike Nesmith’s album The Prison. I didn’t see the piece on the soundtrack. Do you happen to remember what it was and who wrote it? I’d love to add a copy to my collection. Or explore the artist’s work further.
Thanks for making such a wonderful film. I can’t wait to see it again and immerse myself in it’s quirkiness and joy.
Thanks for your note. I’m glad you enjoyed the film. I’m pleased also that you noted the music. Putting music to images is one of the most exciting aspects of the editing stage for me. Most of the music in Box of Moonlight that Al listens to is culled from stuff I’ve been listening to for years. But, much of the other music in the film was composed by Jim Farmer. He composed the piece of music you are referring to. I agree, it is a really beautiful composition that elevates that scene into something quite special.
Sadly, that piece is not on the soundtrack. I really don’t know how you’d be able to get a copy. But, I will check out Mike Nesmith’s album on your recommendation.
Dear Tom, I watched this GREAT Movie ten times in the last week and it’s only Tuesday. In fact my dying wish would be to watch this movie. It knocked my favorite movie “Easy Rider” out of the saddle, and now that I think about it there were many similarities. I love finding some of the spots on Google Earth and reminiscing past experiences of my own life in Myerstown Pa. I’m 62 in September but one might say I’m a nut that fell from the same tree as the Kid. Thank you very much for making my life better with this feel good movie. Your new friend. Rodney
This is a great comment. You made me smile, brother. I’m glad you responded so strongly to the film. It came from a deep place and took a lot of years to get made. If you like the Kid you’ve got to give some credit to Sam Rockwell who put in at least as much as I did into the character. Thanks for writing, Rodney. I appreciate it.
Greetings from Cork in Ireland.
Box of Moonlight showed in a small independent Theatre called the Kino Cinema when it was first released. I worked there and watched the film a dozen times. Used to watch it up in the projectionist box with myself and pat the projectionist sipping on some cold beers.
Still my favourite film of all time.
For me it’s all about the kid closing the box and believing the moonlight is still inside. As they say in Cork – pure class boy !
thanks very much for writing. I’m glad you enjoyed Box of Moonlight. It was a tough film to make but there is a lot of joy on the screen. I like the image of you watching the film in the projection booth, drinking beers and patting the projectionist.
Excelente película Tom, muy muy buena! La energía de Urano en su esplendor, gracias!!!!
Hey Paul, thanks for this note. I really appreciate it. I loved shooting in Knoxville. I looked for several years before deciding on Knoxville for the world of Box of Moonlight. I wrote a book about the making of the film, Box of Moonlight, Notes from Overboard, in which I go into more detail than I can here about how amazing the locale was; the landscape, the hills, the woods and rivers, the surrounding towns and especially the people. If you say I did you proud then I am honored.
That is hilarious you watching Living In Oblivion. I’m glad you enjoyed it. That film was not intended to be my second film; Box of Moonlight was. I had the money, I lost it, I had a lead actor, I lost him–on an on, year after year until I couldn’t take it anymore. And it was only at that point, when I’d completely given up all hope of ever making another film that I got the idea for Living In Oblivion and made it for nothing. And, it was only after that entire experience played itself out that I was able to get the financing for Box of Moonlight and finally make it.
I will check out your films. I send you my best.
Thank you, Juan. Muchas gracias.
I was just writing about this film on a Facebook page called The Obscure Cinema House. I was an extra in it, all on one night shooting the same fight scene over and over at a strip club then called Bambi’s. The repetitive shoots were tiresome, but the other extras and Dermot Mulrooney, whom I met there, were very interesting. Strangely, four of us, totally unknown to each other before this, had all had pet skunks.
I was selected as a background bar patron, standing outside in front of the club with some others while The Kid was attacked. The scene was, as you mentioned, filmed later in the year than had been intended. Instead of summer it was actually a brisk November (I think). The casting lady had decided I should wear a cut-off, open denim jacket, which, you may imagine, provided little warmth. All the same, I gave my little role my all, swatting at the occasional imaginary mosquito. Between takes we took shelter inside, but not quite long enough to shake the chill.
When the movie came out I invited several of my co-workers to come see my contribution to it. We watched it all the way through and, I think, all of us enjoyed it. But we never saw me anywhere. When it came out on video I rented it and went through that scene frame by frame. I’m in three of them, when a black actor closer to the foreground moves to one side. So, frame for frame, I suspect I made more than any of the stars!
One question that has nagged at me all these years: why did you drop Wick’s back story? His anger toward the Kid then seemed irrational.
And one point, though it may spoil one of your more interesting anecdotes: people do die in flooded quarries here rather often, but much more likely as a result of alcohol than of poisonous snakes. There are water moccasins in West and Middle Tennessee, but none in East Tennessee; we have only copperheads and timber rattlers.
This is my favorite movie of all time. I was first introduced to it by my good friend Jerry who was the ultimate movie fanatic, he basically lived in poverty because he spent all of his money on Laserdiscs, remember those? (He passed in 1999, was medium functioning Autistic with severe social phobia, basically just stayed home and watched movies, like the Rain Man of cinema). Anyhow, he’d show me at least 2-3 movies every time I’d visit him, and he said Box Of Moonlight was his personal favorite, and it became mine too. I’ve since watched it at least 20 times, and showed it to as many people. Everyone liked it or loved it, maybe not as much as myself and Jerry did, but nobody disliked it. I don’t even know why I like it so much, probably a combination of the chemistry between the actors, the scenery, soundtrack, just little things all added up together to equal this masterpiece of a sleeper hit. The U.S. flag on the wall is the same I had when I was a kid, the pull out sofa Kid crashed out on after taking home Al was the same we had, just little things like that. The supporting cast like the waitress who asks about the hot water, Doris from Circle Car Rental, the outside of Bambie’s Bar, the final shot of the film of Al’s son with the fireworks. It just works for me. Thank you for making this film.
May I ask if there’s any particular reason you chose Cuts You Up by Peter Murphy during the driving scene? Love it.
Tom this is a great movie and you should be very proud of your team,
Thank you for making this movie, after all those difficulties. I watched it about 15 years ago, then again yesterday. As a bit of a stiff-necked engineer myself at that time, it did have a softening affect on me, positively and lastingly, as I raised my kids. This time around I had the DVD from Netflix, watched it, then found your commentary on there too. I’m so glad I heard all you had to say.
A few things. I perceived the personality of The Kid as containing the full blossoming of the humanity and depth-of-feeling that were only shriveled seeds inside of Al Fountain. Together the two men formed a well balanced “one”.
There were so many scenes “teaching” Al about another way to think and live. The most affecting for me were when The Kid reacted so strongly to the poisoned dog story… and then the scene at the trailer home, after the fight at the strip joint, where they are sitting in their bloody clothing.
Condemning the dad’s decision about the dog was a real eye-opener for me. At first I was just accepting of the dad’s logic. Then, after that strip-joint fight, the excruciating feelings of The Kid with his bloody face, displaying the deeply painful emotional hurt, the feelings of anger, the need for revenge, and the need for a friend to help. Just pure emotional truth of what we’d all feel in similar circumstance, expressed by a very real person. Those two scenes were the most memorable introduction to Sam Rockwell, and I’ve followed him ever since. What a performance. I thought, wow, that guy is really going to be a big star.
In your commentary you talked about the dance moves created by John Turturro. For sure, great! What I’ve noticed about most of his movies, he usually tries to sneak-in a dance-move sequence. I think he loves dancing…. very funny and entertaining, and he’s good!
Over the years, at work corporate group meetings with new people, we sometimes went around the table with “get to know you” questions. One question that pops up a lot is “favorite movie”. I always tell them Box of Moonlight, for sure.
Hi Tom, I wrote this in 2015, and last May 2019, I developed sever sepsis. I had to have surgery on my neck, cut my spine so the antibiotic could kill the abscess. Vegetative growth on two heart valves, kidney failure. I popped out of my body like cork in a champagne bottle 3 times after surgery in the ICU. I was up in the air looking down at the doctors and nurses, and then bang slammed back into my body, and I rang in pain like a bell. A month in Wellspan York, and a month in a nursing home on antibiotics, 3 bags a day. and when I left 6 month on amoxicillin, and I was in a wheel chair. In the back of my mind Box of Moonlight was there waiting till I got home, that and my Soft tail Harley. I wanted to let you know you and the movie gave me hope, courage, willpower. I battled every day in the gym and I’m 75% back. One week to recover for every day in the hospital “September”. Thank you Tom.
We started watching “Box of Moonlight” many years ago–I say “started” because we now watch it every few months. My husband suffers from severe depression and anxiety and there are a few movies/TV shows that perk him up. This movie is one of them. We love the music, we love the journey, we love the quirks, the characters, everything.
We watched it again yesterday as it snowed during the pandemic here in Vermont on May 9. The other movie cures? “Cat Ballou,” believe it or not. (He had a crush on Jane Fonda when he was a youngster.) “Bridge on the River Kwai” is another. (A favorite from a high school humanities class.) “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” rounds out the list and that just makes me sad but who understands what the heart wants, right? We also rewatch “Parks and Recreation” regularly, along with “The Office,” of course.
I just wanted to thank you for making the movie and for putting together this website/blog, which I can’t believe I just found. We can’t wait to watch it again!
It is hard to imagine that anyone who has seen Box of Moonlight would feel anything but very positive about it. It is among my all time favourite films. Sometimes it is as if magic occurs and everything comes together to create something so perfect. I couldn’t even tell you why it is so great because as well as the cast, locations, script etc, it is also the little details like when the kids are playing outside the motel.
I feel like this film as well as others you have made should be more available and be preserved in HD. Seems like a job for the Criterion Collection. Has there been any interest in preservation or HD versions?
I hope you’re doing well and thanks a lot for the film. It has meant a lot to me.
Tom I am from the Knoxville area and in fact we were sort of operating in parallel universes when box of moonlight was being filmed.k
I was working on a very small film called ‘driver’ which was shot in the ritta community then about a year later I helped produce a film entitled ‘exiting left’ which was shot entirely on location in Knoxville I was also location mgr for the shoot. Funny thing is at our donors kick off party we watched ‘living in oblivion ‘ after the guest
S had left. You nailed it! We lived that experience! If you want to check out ‘exiting left”its on imd.i love’box of moonlight!’ it’s a priceless indie gem of the ’90s. I had such fun g
Tagging locations. You did us proud with box of moonlight! Hope you’re doing well and best to you! Paul
Dear Mr DiCillo,
I just want to thank you for that beautiful film. Since I watched it for the first time, late at night on German television twentyone years ago, there was not a single year without watching it at least twice. So all in all I must have spent around 100 hours in the company of Mr Fountain and the kid. Each time it deeply touches me. It makes me wanna embrace life, talk to people I never met before, jump naked into a chilly lake (a lake without poisonous snakes, I hope). And so I do all these things.
I wish you all the best!
This film is by far my absolute favorite. I watch it about 4-5 times a year, as well as a viewing every July 4th. I cannot properly convey how much this film hit me. I feel like I know the characters and can relate to some of the shenanigans Al and Kid get into.
Thank you so much for making this, you really don’t know how much joy this film has brought me.