The Movie & Story > AP Short Story & Screenplay

Interview with Screenwriters Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana


Interview with Brokeback Mountain  Screenwriters Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana
by Joey Guerra, January 12, 2006
Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry    

The epic romance between two humble ranchers at the heart of Brokeback Mountain is striking potent emotional chords with critics. The film is only now opening in wide release, but it has already earned a slew of prestigious nominations and awards.

Brokeback Mountain has been named Best Picture by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle. The National Board of Review has also given directing honors to Ang Lee and a supporting actor prize to Jake Gyllenhaal.

Brokeback topped the Golden Globes nominations, considered a strong indicator for the impending Academy Awards.

The film earned nods for Best Motion Picture--Drama, Best Director, Best Actor in a Motion Picture--Drama (Heath Ledger), Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams), Best Screenplay (Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry), Best Original Score and Best Original Song. The list of honors and nominations goes on and on.

"It's encouraging," McMurtry says, calling a few hours after the Globes nominations were announced. "Encouraging and slightly surreal," adds Ossana, also on the line and a frequent McMurtry collaborator.

In its second weekend, the $13 million film earned an estimated $2.4 million at just 69 locations, averaging more than $34,000 per screen. Brokeback's overall total is now over $22 million and it still has the highest per screen average of any movie currently playing
in wide release.

The 69-year-old, Texas-born McMurtry's screenwriting credits include Hud, The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment, all of which were based on his original novels. He earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for his novel Lonesome Dove, which was also made into an acclaimed, wildly popular miniseries.

Ossana began a writing partnership with McMurtry in 1992 that has grown to include books, films and television projects. She first discovered Brokeback Mountain several years ago, while staying at McMurtry's Texas home.The film is based on a 1997 story by Annie Proulx and was originally published in The New Yorker.

Here, McMurtry and Ossana discuss the film's auspicious beginnings, the struggle to get it on the big screen and its ultimate mislabeling as simply a "gay" film. What initially attracted you to Proulx's short story?
Ossana: "It was the writing and the feelings it gave me. I think Larry felt the same way."
McMurtry: "It was a great story of the West that hadn't been written. We wanted to be part of bringing it to a wide audience."

AE: Tell me about the seven-year process of trying to get this movie made, with several unsuccessful attempts at casting and landing a director.
McMurtry: "Diana is very tenacious. Once she starts something, she doesn't let it go."
Ossana (laughing): "It's a blessing and a curse! When I first read that story back in '97,
it was instantaneous, pretty much, my sense of how powerful it was, that this is a great story that should be out in the world in a major, major way. It had the power to touch many people.You know how when you read a great piece of literature or see a film that really moves you? You want to tell people about it. You want them to see and feel the same things you felt. That's pretty much what I felt. I had to just demand that (Larry) read it. He doesn't read short fiction because "
McMurtry (interrupting): "I don't write it. I can't write it, so I never have learned to read it, either."
Ossana: "He read it, and he thought it was wonderful. We optioned it from Annie and wrote our script. I knew it would be difficult, but we believed in it so strongly, and the material was terrific. We felt very lucky to be a part of it. I don't know. I couldn't let it go. I guess I maybe became a little bit obsessed with it. It was a struggle. There were moments when I felt some discouragement or frustration, but I never lost belief in the potential of this. Never, never. Not once did I doubt it. Larry, at one point said to me, 'This is a great script. It will find it's way, Diana.' And it did.Maybe I was a little nave at first. I thought somebody's going to see that these are really great parts for actors. This is something that will stretch their talents and challenge them. I think they all saw that, but Larry's belief is that their agents or representatives just dissuaded them."

AE: The story and the film are incredibly similar, but there are several key differences in scenes and in character development. How did those changes come about?
McMurtry: "They were suggested by the story. We just amplified various small, subtle suggestions from Annie and made them much larger."
Ossana: "It might have been a single sentence that triggered it. We scripted the story first, and it was only about a third of what the final script ended up to be. "Because Annie suggested things--she just makes a quick reference to the waitress, Cassie--we felt she was important. Here's another woman that Ennis has disappointed. All of those things just sort of felt natural and added up, in our minds, to a pretty darn good script."

AE: The synergy among the actors, director Ang Lee, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, music composer Gustavo Santaolalla and yourselves is amazing. It really makes the film come together in a very unique way.
Ossana: "It's a thing of beauty, and it's a collaboration, full-on, in every respect. We were all on the same page. I was on that set the whole time, and I saw it happen. It was very gratifying, I gotta tell ya."
McMurtry: "It's pretty rare for it to be as successful as it was this time."
Ossana: "I think it's luck, because all movies are hard to make--even bad films. They
all take a lot of energy, and I think a lot of people are very committed. From Annie's
story, to our screenplay, to this film and the actors and everyone, we had sort of convergence and continuity of vision--a collective vision. We all matched one another."

AE: What do you make of the debate over the film, the possible resistance from middle America and the "gay cowboy" label?
McMurtry: "It's not fair at all. It's not accurate at all."
Ossana: "We just listen to it and hear it. I personally don't have a take on it."
McMurtry: "We think the movie will make its way."
Ossana: "They can talk all they want, (but) they need to have the experience of seeing that film. Then talk about it. Let it process, and then talk about it. It actually takes a couple of days for it to process, once you've seen it, which is pretty much the same way as reading the story."

AE: Everyone involved with Brokeback Mountain--from the actors to the director--has said that simply labeling it a gay film is inappropriate and too narrow.
Do you agree?
McMurtry: "We never thought of it as just a gay film or an art-house film. We thought of it as a major, major American story."
Ossana: "It is what it is. It's clear that it's two men who have fallen in love. That's something so obvious that it almost doesn't need to be stated. It's like having a gay sister and introducing her, 'This is my gay sister.' It's so much more than that. It's like saying Lonesome Dove is a story about a cattle drive."

Whatever the label, it's clear that Brokeback Mountain's tale of tragic love is ringing true with gay and straight audiences alike. Proulx, McMurtry and Ossana have crafted a lyrical, poetic story that will provoke thought, inspire discussion and--hopefully--move mountains throughout the new year and for many more to come.


--- Quote from: brokebackmountain on Jan 12, 2006, 03:24 AM ---Ossana: "They can talk all they want, (but) they need to have the experience of seeing that film. Then talk about it. Let it process, and then talk about it. It actually takes a couple of days for it to process, once you've seen it, which is pretty much the same way as reading the story."

--- End quote ---

This comment from Ossana is right on the mark!!!!!

Thanks a lot fot the interview link. I've always like to know what the writier thinking about their project.

The knowledge gained from this reading. It is very helpful and I will put it to use in everyday life.


[0] Message Index

Go to full version