Alright guys, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is finally here, and trust me, I'm extremely happy about it! But even though the film is currently shattering box office records, it's definitely not the only winter film to get excited for.
So while I'll be joining you all in witnessing the epic battle between the Light and Dark sides of the force, I'll also be getting ready to witness what I think will be one of the greatest and most Oscar-worthy movies of all time—The Revenant!
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as American frontiersman Hugh Glass, The Revenant follows Glass as he searches desperately for the men who left him to die—and killed his son.
It's an epic historical drama, full of action, danger and a ton of grotesque scenes! The Revenant might not be as mainstream as other films right now, but it's definitely got the potential to dominate the awards season. It might even get Leo that Oscar we've all been rooting for him to get!
To learn more about The Revenant, and all the hard work that went behind making it, I got to have an awesome conversation with one of the writers of the film—Mark L. Smith!
AG: When you were writing The Revenant, did you already have specific actors like Leo and Tom in mind, or did that come afterwards?
Mark: That came afterwards. It's easier for me to write without being too specific, because if not you start putting in mannerisms and things that kind of just fit one guy.
AG: So your previous writing credits have mostly included horror or thriller films. How did you take a similar writing approach when writing the screenplay for The Revenant?
Mark: Well it's funny, because the first thing I ever wrote and sold was a western to Mel Gibson and Paramount, and then I wrote and sold a few dramas. But it was hard to get them made at studios. At the time, back in like '05, they were making a lot of horror films, so I just wrote Vacancy. I thought "Okay, this has got a better shot at being made". And because of [Vacancy], people wanted me to do more horror. I was never really a horror writer, it just kind of became my thing for that brief time.
But I had started writing The Revenant almost around the same time as Vacancy. And for me, everything I write always kind of starts with character. I feel like character translates over to any genre. I could have taken Hugh Glass and put him in a hotel like in Vacancy, and we could have done a lot of the same things [laughs]. As long as you have some strong characters to build out of, you can kind of do whatever you want.
AG: By the way, I'm a huge fan of Vacancy!
Mark: Oh, thank you I'm glad! I really liked the first two-thirds of the film, and the studio changed our ending, like the last 20 minutes. So I had to rewrite it and I never liked it as much.
But it's funny, it was kind of a film about violence and we tried not to show violence. And I thought casting Luke [Wilson] was so perfect because he's the least expected guy for this kind of movie, and he's so good in it.
AG: You've worked with other writers and directors for other projects, but what was it like working with Innaritu for this one? I know he's a very...intense director.
Mark: [laughs] Yeah he is! But it all comes from a place of wanting perfection. He'll put it 23 hours a day, and he doesn't understand why everyone can't you know? So it just comes that, from his passion, he just wants everyone to care as much as he does. So that's kind of where I think his drive comes from. But as far working and writing together, we were never on a schedule, and I had already written a few drafts before he came aboard. So the story was already laid out, so he and I just worked on specific things, and it was great. He brought so much to it as far these personal things that meant a lot to him, that I never could have done on my own.
AG: The Revenant is a very brutal film to make, from harshly freezing weather to animal carcasses, to eating raw liver. How much of those brutal moments did the writing actually call for?
Mark: Every moment was in the script, every single thing. Part of that is because of how Alejandro shoots a film. It's all so perfectly choreographed, every motion every move is designed months in advanced so that when they start shooting it's already- there's really no place for improvisation.
When I wrote the first draft, I knew that what I needed to do was come up with these survival things that would catch people's eye. I knew that I needed to give kind of cool and insane things to put Glass through, like him riding a horse off a cliff and then having to sleep inside the horse because he'll freeze to death otherwise. Or having to cauterize his throat with gun powder because the bear tore it open and he can't keep water in. These things that you see, they're all in the script and they're all kind of described that way. Alejandro is so great, he makes it feel so real which sometimes can be more brutal, because it doesn't feel like you're watching a movie. It feels like you're actually there, which can sometimes make it tougher to watch, you know?
AG: So was there any moment during the writing process where you were looking at the writing and thinking "Can I get away with this"?
Mark: No no, I was careful to talk to people—I talked to some historians about that world and what was going on, and experts as well just to make sure that this was real. The only thing that I think I really changed after talking to somebody was I had Glass in the river for a long stretch of time. And someone told me that during the winter the water would have been too cold and he would have suffered from hypothermia. So we just cut that up so that he was in the water a shorter period. But that was really it, everything else we stayed very true to.
AG: This movie really pushes the envelope. How exactly did you push the boundaries while working on it.
Mark: One of the things I tried to do was make the script as visual as possible. Like in some scripts, you'll have a battle scene, the tow armies charge each other and the script says "the biggest battle you've ever seen, the most amazing fight" and that's kind of it. In our script, the first attack, it was probably five or six pages long. And I had to make sure, because there's not a lot of dialogue in it, I had to carry it through action, and so I had to make sure that all of those moments kind of stood out so that most people would want to turn the pages and forget that nobody was really saying anything. I just kind of concentrated on all the big action moments.
AG: What were some of the hardships of working on The Revenant?
Mark: For me, none. For them, it was brutally cold! I mean, thirty degree below zero, and they have to shoot with natural lighting. Even if it's night time, they're out in in those elements. I watched Leo get dumped in freezing rivers and get pulled out, have heaters put under his clothes and then get thrown back in again. So for the cast and crew, the hardships were there. For me, if I needed to do some edits to fix anything, it was always seventy-two degrees in my tent, so I had no hardships [laughs].
AG: Was there anything that you had written that you had to take out?
Mark: I mean there are elements, like any time that you have a director like Alejandro who has his own vision, things that he'll want or that he'll not want, or just because of pacing. There's been nothing, now that I've seen the film, that I would make me say "I wish we could put that back in", I just think he [Innaritu] is so great, and that the script turned out the way it should.
AG: Did you guys have a specific location in mind while working on the film?
Mark: We knew it was taking place on the upper Missouri river, so we knew we needed that kind of landscape. Alejandro went out scouting for a year, trying to find the right spot. When that became Calgary, we were using the mountains and landscapes because we kind of knew what we had to play with. But the story never really changed, it stayed exactly the same.
AG: Did you ever go on set?
Mark: Yeah, no I did. Whenever everyone else was freezing though, I would take my coffee to the warmth of the tent and I would hide out and feel guilty [laughs]. But it was amazing to watch, there was such a huge production. The first battle scene was like 200 extras, and when you walked on to the set you felt like you were stepping back into the 1800's. It was so real, I mean fires burning, and wild dogs, and Native Americans—it was just so cool to watch! It was a lot of fun.
AG: I heard the conditions were really rough man! Was there anything that caused you guys to halt filming for a little bit because it was too cold, or the weather wasn't right?
Mark: Well, yes and no. They never stopped because it was too cold, they would shoot through it. They were worried about cameras breaking down, but if they could shoot they shot. People just kind of suffered through it, amazingly. We did stop in May about two or three weeks short, because Calgary completely ran out of snow. The snow melted, and we didn't have enough to do the final winter scene, so there was a two-month break in the middle of August.
Then a smaller crew went down in Argentina and finished shooting down there. So that was the biggest setback.
AG: So Tom Hardy star opposite Leonardo DiCaprio as John Fitzgerald, a sort of 1800's criminal. Can you tell me about his character?
Mark: He's a trapper who has survived a Native American attack earlier in his life, and so he's kind of partially scalped. He's someone who is- he's almost driven by fear in a lot of ways. He's very gruff, very violent and ready to fight. But a lot of that comes from the fear that's within him, because he's always worried about something bringing the next attack on him. That drives some of his worst actions.
So yeah, that's who he is. He's not really a villain at the beginning. He's not a great guy, he's not a guy that you'd want to hang out with, but some of his logic makes sense. You understand him and can relate to him, but as the film goes by, he becomes a little darker and more of a villain.
AG: What was the relationship on set between Leonardo and Tom? How did they bring you characters to life?
Mark: They're both such incredible actors, and they're good friends in real life, so it was fun to watch them play off each others. They both knew their characters so well, and they'd get lost in their characters, so the interaction between them just felt so real. It felt very authentic and very true to life. That was one of the things that was such a pleasure to watch, two actors kind of at the very top of their game, battling it out, it was very cool.
AG: What were your favorite moments working on the film?
Mark: It was probably that after I had written the script, and it had been around and had almost been made a few times over the years, and then finally to walk on set the first day of shooting and watch these scenes take place. And know that after a long journey, [this moment] had finally arrived. That was definitely a big moment for me.
AG: Did you and Innaritu ever disagree on something in terms of the writing?
Mark: No really no, we all had kind of the same goals. And I always feel like it's the writers job to serve the director. It's his vision, so you can give opinions and discuss things, but in the end- for me at least, the writer should always kind of just help the director find what he's looking for.
AG: Last question, what is your favorite scene in the movie?
Mark: I really like the father/son moments with Glass. Probably when Glass is holding his son and telling him to hold on, to fight. And then you have the same moment later when Glass is about to die, and his son is telling him the same words back. Those [scenes] were the most powerful to me.
Thanks to Mark L. Smith for this incredible interview and closer look at The Revenant! You can see The Revenant when it comes to select cities on December 25, and everywhere on January 8!