From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ang Lee comes an epic American love story, Brokeback Mountain, the winner of the Golden Lion Award for Best Picture at this year's Venice International Film Festival. The film is based on the short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx and adapted for the screen by the team of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. Set against the sweeping vistas of Wyoming and Texas, the film tells the story of two young men -- a ranch-hand and a rodeo cowboy -- who meet in the summer of 1963, and unexpectedly forge a lifelong connection, one whose complications, joys, and tragedies provide a testament to the endurance and power of love.
PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR ANNIE PROULX'S SHORT STORY "BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN" WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE NEW YORKER IN 1997. IT WON A NATIONAL MAGAZINE AWARD, AMONG OTHER ACCOLADES. THE STORY WAS SUBSEQUENTLY PUBLISHED IN MS. PROULX'S 1999 COLLECTION CLOSE RANGE: WYOMING STORIES. THE SCREENPLAY ADAPTATION WAS WRITTEN BY THE TEAM OF PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR LARRY MCMURTRY AND DIANA OSSANA.
Ang Lee: To me, Brokeback Mountain is uniquely, and universally, a great American love story.
Diana Ossana: In October 1997, I was in Texas staying with Larry McMurtry and some friends, one of whom had given me The New Yorker with Annie Proulx's short story. Two-thirds of the way through reading the story, I began to sob, and I sobbed all the way to the end. I was floored. Emotionally exhausted, I went to sleep, got up the next morning and read it again because I wanted to see if it affected me as much in broad daylight as it did in the middle of the night. Its effect on me was even more profound. I took the magazine downstairs and asked Larry to read the story.
Larry McMurtry: In 1997, Diana brought The New Yorker downstairs and asked that I read Annie's story. I don't read fiction much anymore, so I was reluctant. But in her tenacious way, she asked that I humor her and read it. After I was finished reading it, the first thing I thought was that I wished I had written it. It was a story that had been sitting there for years, waiting to be told, and Annie finally wrote it. It is one of the finest short stories I've read. The place, the landscape, the men and the way they speak are drawn precisely and convincingly.
Diana Ossana: He read it and said it was the best short story ever published in The New Yorker. "Well, do you think it would make a screenplay," I asked. And he replied, "I think it might." And I said, "Why don't we write Annie a letter?" And he said, "Okay."
Larry McMurtry: We wrote Annie a short letter, asking her to option the story to us so that we could adapt it for a screenplay. She responded within a week, and we launched into writing. So by the end of 1997, we had a screenplay.
Diana Ossana: We immediately optioned her short story with our own money. That's the only time Larry and I have spent our own money on an option. We wrote the screenplay in less than three months, and have been attached to the project ever since. That was how this all started. We tried for nearly seven years to get it into production. Various directors came on board at different times, and several actors wanted to be in the film, but no actors would commit. Then Focus, Ang and James became fully involved in late 2003. And now here we are.
Tim Cyr: When I read the short story, I could identify with the traits and feelings that the characters had, especially coming from a background of ranching - where everything out there is looked upon as being different if it's not traditional.
Shane Madden: Being raised on a farm, yeah, you had to hide it. It hurt to try and hide it. There were times I used to bang my head against a wall. [I read the story, and] I was losing it after the first six pages. It hit me deep inside.
Judy Becker: The short story made me cry, and the script made me cry too. Brokeback Mountain is a love story, and it's also about whether or not you have the inner strength to fulfill your life.
Randy Quaid: In 1997, I was in a gym, on a treadmill, and I was looking for something to read. I saw a copy of The New Yorker, opened it up, and started reading this story. I was just so taken with it that I swiped the magazine, took it home, and finished the story. I think what impacted me the most was the fact that we're all alone in this world, and we all have that same human need for love - to find somebody that fulfills us. Annie Proulx is a fabulous writer, and her classic love story always stayed with me. When I read it, I thought it'd be perfect for Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana to write [the screenplay adaptation]. [Later,] I heard they were.
Diana Ossana: I think the thing that startled me the most was the emotions the story made me feel. It affected me as a woman, and I felt it would surely affect anyone else, no matter what their sexual preference. The feelings are universal - love, loss, pain, regret. Through the centuries, people haven't changed in their wants and needs and desires. Annie trusted Larry and me very much. Larry and I have written two novels, and many more screenplays and teleplays, together. The West is rich in character, experience and the history of our country, and we like that. We talk about what we're writing quite a bit before we start. The process is pretty straightforward. We discuss things a lot; we argue, but the arguments usually result in good things. We're really very different from one another. That's clear just by the way we write; he's on a manual typewriter and I'm on a computer. He seems more interested in the women characters than the men, and seems to feel that I have more intuitiveness about the men than he does. He's strong in dialogue - that's clear from his books - and character. I feel that my strengths are the inner life of the characters, and how to convey that through the dialogue. I have a real strong sense of what's going on with them inside, always.
James Schamus: Larry and Diana's screenplay took a spare, brief, and intense short story and managed to maintain its purity while vastly increasing its scope - not an easy task.
Michael Costigan: In Hollywood, Larry and Diana's script was known as one of the great unproduced screenplays. I had read the story, which was incredibly moving. I too thought, "How do you do this [as a movie]? How do you depict this?" The script broke me in half when I read it the first time. I gave it to my wife, who had the same reaction. I think people were afraid of it; these emotions run really deep. Each person who would read the script was deeply affected. The hope was to make the movie and have people be impacted and affected by these characters and by their story, the way all of us were by just reading the script. It's a movie that had to be done well, or not at all.
Diana Ossana: As powerful as the story and script were, with good parts for actors, I knew that it would take actors who were smart and brave to commit to this and go places emotionally that they'd never gone before - and a director who would understand this, and who would be willing to make this challenging movie on a modest budget. I never really lost faith, but I didn't think it would take seven years. I think I was more frustrated by the fact that people wouldn't truly commit. They'd read it, they'd love it, they'd waver or anguish about it - and then something that paid more money or whatever would come along, and they'd just let it go. And then I'd simply press on, contacting more directors and actors, sending it to people to read and to consider. It was a long, hard, rocky road to get to this point. James Schamus read the script and expressed interest in helping get it made while he was still with Good Machine, trying repeatedly to get a studio to give it the go-ahead, but none of them would.
Ang Lee: If a project is not scary and sensitive, then it's probably less interesting to me. After Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, we were on our way to make our next project, and James Schamus mentioned to me that he just came upon this interesting material. I read the short story, which I wasn't aware of when it was first published. I had tears in my eyes at the end, and it stayed with me. I [then] read Larry and Diana's screenplay, and it was a very faithful and great adaptation.
James Schamus: In many ways, it's a truly grand, old-fashioned movie about two heroes, fighting against all odds to preserve their love. We always approached Brokeback Mountain as nothing less than an epic American story.
Ang Lee: Two years later, I asked James, "What happened with Brokeback Mountain? Did it get made yet?" He said, "We haven't been able to make that movie." Lucky for me. I said, "You know, it's stuck with me over the years. I can't get it out of my mind."
James Schamus: I tried for years, as an independent producer, to make the film, but could never get any studio to give us the green light. Then, one day, I woke up and thought, "Hey, isn't it David [Linde]'s and my job to get movies greenlit here at Focus?" Then I knew I was in trouble!
Ang Lee: James got the rights, and I started thinking about making the movie right away. Before I knew I could physically do it, I jumped on. I just knew, in the bottom of my heart, if I let it go, I would regret it for the rest of my life. Legendary writers who are very much alive and still working - that's a lot of pressure. In the back of my head was, "This will not please them; this will; that will…" Structurally, this was very challenging; it's an epic short story. But, as a filmmaker, you're creating a special enclosed space and time - your own world.
James Schamus: One of the great things Ang brings to the story is the humanity and attention devoted to every character. This isn't just a story about our leads; it's about their wives, their children, their communities.
Ang Lee: I decided to take a risk and go with a younger cast. It's a 20-year story, and you cannot recreate youth that easily. I decided to go with [actors in their] younger 20s. The young have innocence and freshness, and believe in what they're doing. They make the effort, and you don't over-instruct them. Nothing's more rewarding for a filmmaker than when young actors listen and [then] come [up] with great results.
Jake Gyllenhaal: I met with a [different] director about the movie years ago. At the time, I was a teen, so it wasn't a realistic prospect. I was immediately drawn to Brokeback Mountain because love stories haven't been told this way in a long time. Movies I've seen in recent years have avoided the struggles and the trials that it takes to actually be in love and keep that going. When I heard that Ang Lee was going to make it, I thought, "I have to do this movie."
Diana Ossana: Larry and I were very impressed with Jake's versatile and intuitive work in The Good Girl and Donnie Darko.
Ang Lee: I already knew him as a great young actor. I met Jake in New York, and he said, "I want to be in this movie so badly." He was totally motivated.
Anne Hathaway: An actor friend of mine said, "Read this script." I did, and it was a heartbreaking and very real love story. I thought, "I've got to be a part of this." I went to a bookstore and found Close Range. I read "Brokeback Mountain" first and then went back and read the rest of the stories. Annie Proulx revealed a part of American history to me that I didn't know existed.
There's a line in the short story, and the screenplay: "If you can't fix it, you gotta stand it." Although the story is Ennis and Jack's, and they're the best example of it, that line really applies to all the characters in the movie; it's a human truth. This screenplay shows that not having the freedom to be who you are doesn't just affect you; it affects the people that you let into your life. I didn't know this [at first], but "Ennis" means "island." Ennis is a man unto himself, and he keeps to himself the most of anybody in Brokeback Mountain - and that still affects people. He can't access his emotions and be with the person he loves most in the entire world.
HEATH LEDGER COMMITTED TO PLAY ENNIS DEL MAR FOR ANG LEE WITHOUT HAVING MET OR SPOKEN WITH THE DIRECTOR.
Heath Ledger: I trusted that story in Ang's hands. I loved the script because it was mature and strong, and such a pure and beautiful love story. I hadn't done a proper love story [prior], and I find there's not a lot of mystery left in stories between guys and girls; it's all been done or seen before.
James Schamus: Heath brings an astonishing combination of vulnerability and strength to the part of Ennis.
Larry McMurtry: In my youth, I would sometimes watch five or six movies a day. Now I don't watch movies much anymore, but when Diana asked that I watch the first twenty minutes of Monster's Ball to see Heath's performance, I said all right. That's the only performance of his I'd seen. After seeing him in that role, I felt certain that he had what it would take to play Ennis Del Mar - he was that powerful.
Diana Ossana: Larry and I had actually imagined Heath in the role for a long while. It's a serious gift having him play it.
Ang Lee: I feel very fortunate to have Heath in the movie. He's a natural. He has great coordination, he's very dedicated, and he does his preparation. He meticulously aims towards a certain target and firmly believes in what he's doing. He and I talked about how Ennis doesn't speak much. Deep inside, he has a big fear from a childhood traumatic experience, and from his awakening to his own sexuality, which is not allowed to be expressed in the West. Ennis has to cover that up with his attitude and, sometimes, violence. He can get very violent, because of how scared he is. So he's a scared kid inside, playing a Western kind of cool. Heath not only had to carry his own character and the whole character of the West, but carry the movie - and he underplayed powerfully.
Michael Costigan: A lot of what Annie Proulx wrote has been captured in Larry and Diana's screenplay, and certainly by Ang, in terms of the landscape and how it plays subtly - and then not so subtly - into the story of Ennis and Jack. They are able to find each other in an idyllic place, Brokeback Mountain, that's very much outside of society. They then have to go back down into society, into the world. Their bond is so strong - yet absolutely fragile.
Randy Quaid: Two human beings make a connection, and realize that they affect each other in a way that no other human being affects them.
Ang Lee: Everyone has a yearning for love. Maybe you have that taste of it that you keep wanting [to get] back; maybe you never have that. It's a poignant story - "would have, should have, could have…"
Marit Allen: After reading the script, I was so haunted by it that I had to do it. The whole idea of love that never resolves itself - I think everybody has something like that in their lives. It was very important to me that people see this as a universal story. The screenplay is very true to the short story, with added depth to the central love story.
Michael Costigan: Because of the story, and then the screenplay, we got great actresses for the supporting parts. The female characters are sometimes right and sometimes wrong, which adds to the complexity of the story.
Michelle Williams: [My character,] Alma has been expanded upon [from the story], but faithfully translated and cared for. Diana was a great guide if you ever got a little lost, because she'd lived with these people for seven years and takes them very seriously - as seriously as if they were real. She was able to talk about them as if she'd met them.
Diana Ossana: Adapting Annie's story was extremely easy and yet extremely difficult. It was easy in the sense that we had the blueprint right there with her writing - of the story itself, of the characters, of the specific way they speak, of the specific place they were from, and the landscape that formed them. The difficult part was to stay true to all that while turning this into a feature-length film. First we scripted the entire short story, and then we imagined and proceeded to flesh out the female characters so they would have depth and a presence on-screen. We also continued to build upon the stories of Ennis and Jack, many times creating an entire scene based upon a single sentence in the story.
Jake Gyllenhaal: I was surprised at how similar the script and the story were, although Lureen's story was not as substantial as it is now.
Anne Hathaway: One day, I was playing a scene where Lureen is a bit older and slower and her voice has dropped a bit. Diana Ossana came up to me and said, "You know what? You're Kristal; you're the girl who works in Larry McMurtry's book store in Texas, and you're just her." To hear that I was anything that resembled a real person from Texas made me feel good, because I'm from New York.
Diana Ossana: Anne is quite a young lady. She's very well-mannered and refined. She went into character and just embraced Lureen. She had the accent down, she had the stance down, she had the gestures down. She looked like somebody straight out of Texas A&M University.
Ang Lee: She's an amazingly sophisticated actor for her age. [For Lureen,] everything's great when she's young, [but when] she turns bitter, her makeup starts to get thicker and her hair gets higher - and lighter, too. Each time she shows up, the hair is a different 'do and a different color, so we're charting the character accordingly.
Anne Hathaway: I loved [having] the blonde hair [for the later scenes]; I got so into it that I was Farrah Fawcett-ing all around the set. I couldn't get out of character when I was in the wig; I couldn't stop talking in the accent. Joy Ellison was wonderful. We would do exercises where she broke down all of Lureen's dialogue into basic Texas syllables. We would say the lines together.
Jake Gyllenhaal: Joy set up three voices, three separate marks in the script, for Heath and I. Our voices change; they get progressively deeper.
Joy Ellison: Ang and I spent a lot of time talking about the voices and the accents, because he was very concerned about the authenticity of this - as he is with everything. We divided the periods into three sequences, which was a challenge for the actors because shooting was out of sequence. They had to maintain continuity. We named the voices Voice One, Two, and Three. In one day, the actor might shoot a scene in Voice Three - the older, deeper, slower voice - and then the next scene might be Voice One, which had more vitality and was perhaps higher.
Diana Ossana: A true luxury would have been to shoot the movie in continuity, but we didn't have that luxury. This is a very specific story, with very specific dialogue. The way they spoke, the timbre of their voices, had to be realistic.
Joy Ellison: Ang's attention to detail is phenomenal. Every so often [during the shoot], he'd turn to me and say, "Joy, was that a little thick on the accent?" And he was usually dead-on. It's a rare privilege to find a director who's so careful and keen about the authenticity of something.
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ON FILMING BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
ANG LEE (Director) LARRY McMURTRY (Screenplay; Executive Producer)
DIANA OSSANA (Screenplay; Producer) ANNIE PROULX (Author)
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