Winter's Bone audio commentary by writer/director Debra Granik and cinematographer Michael McDonough 1 DG--I'm Debra Granik, and I directed Winter's Bone. McD--And I'm Michael McDonough. I was the director of photography on Winter's Bone. DG--This film was shot entirely in two counties in southern Missouri, during the winter of 2009, February to March, and it was a twenty-four and a half day shooting period. McD--One of the things that comes up right away is that the title of the film, and the book it‟s adapted from, is Winter's Bone, and that sense of winter was important for us to catch. And it was important to you, Debra, that we actually filmed in Missouri, for the people who we were going to work with in the film, many of whom were locals, and their accents, and the dialect. We had toyed with the idea of filming in other states, but ultimately came to the conclusion that shooting in Missouri was crucial, more important even than the aspect of winter. We could have filmed winter more easily in other places, but we thought we could create winter through the camera. DG--And southern Missouri is a muse for the author, Daniel Woodrell, and there's no way that this story could be detached from its home turf. McD— The location was an actual homestead. The Layson family, with whom we worked closely, allowed us to film on their property and in their homes. So this is one of the Layson family homes which was empty at the time, and we art directed it. Mark White, the production designer, helped us create this home. DG--For the art direction in this film, we had so much life material to work from. We had so many details that were shown to us, and Mark and his team took very astute notes. They watched and looked at all the details. And then they were able to cull props from the families, to take suggestions from a kid about what her real toys would be, and they were able to make this house come to life in a way that was bit-by-bit from the turf. McD--This is Ashlee Thompson. This is the exterior of the house, which is separate from the interior we just shot--this was Ashlee's house. This was her dog. She was cast from that family. DG--There's background music playing quietly in various parts of Winter's Bone. Ree's family has the radio on, and there are two songs playing in this early morning period. One is by Van Colbert, and the other is Marideth Sisco, and these are two musicians from the region who contributed to the soundtrack, and to the overall musical ambience of the project. McD--You have to talk about the dogs here. DG-- The dogs--this property was endowed with, I think the number is eleven dogs, seventeen cats, plus horses. We had a choice. We could have restrained these dogs, and tied them up, or tried to get them to be quiet or in a back room, or we could let them run free, and live their lives as they normally do. We chose to let them run, and they usually added a very lyrical quality to the shots. McD--Members of the crew took several of the dogs home to various cites in the US. DG--This is Forsyth High School. Many of the staff here contributed ideas, and helped us be able to film scenes that would be relevant to Ree's life. This is the high school that Ree attended, and would still be going to if she had stayed in. It's also a kindergarten through 12th grade school, and she has dropped her siblings off in their classes. ROTC [Reserve Officer's Training Corps] is a very significant program in this part of the country. It is present in many high schools. And it was something that impressed us visually. We ended up getting to know some of the members, students as well as instructors. McD-- A lot of questions came up at various screenings regarding the baby class and the ROTC class. Many people in the US, school kids as well as adults, aren't familiar with these things. DG--This is Shelley Waggoner, an actress from the region. She plays the role of Sonya. McD—She‟s a relative of Ree's, living in the next house within the holler, within the valley. So they are the closest neighbors to Ree. DG--Shelley was very familiar with the kind of land that we were filming on, and could step into Sonya's shoes quite easily. Being so familiar with the region, she really understood how to work with the script. McD—We get the sense of winter here from the hardscrabble on the ground, the lack of leaves on the trees, and the color palette. There may be some sun out that day, it may be relatively bright, but we‟re still trying to convey this palpable sense of winter. DG--Hardscrabble is the kind of rock that we find on this property and throughout the region. It has always made agriculture hard. It is a kind of land in which survival is not obvious, and it defines the region in a way that people can speak about very eloquently. Nothing comes easily, and people have to be extremely resourceful. Ree's family would be one of those families. McD--Between the landscape, the cutting of the deer meat right there, and the chopping of the wood, it's setting up the sense of what these people's daily lives are like. DG--This is Garrett Dillahunt, playing the role of the sheriff. This porch was a very rich shooting location for us, because this house is hand-built. It has a lot of textures. No two surfaces are the same, and I know for you that is a huge plus. As the camera is recording this, there are luminous surfaces, dusty surfaces, and different shapes. Nothing is exactly pristine and sterile. McD--There's always something for the camera to look at. When you go in for a close- up on the actors, there are interesting backgrounds wherever you look. We go in for a couple of close-ups right after this. DG-- This scene is where Jennifer Lawrence, playing Ree, sets the tone for her character, and sets up a standard for this hero, which is that she's not going to say much, but her words will have a lot of impact. McD--She's obviously thinking a lot. A lot of what she does is thinking before she speaks. There's also an American flag in the background, which comes up a lot in our films, in a different way than in many other American films. The usage is different. DG--We don't tend to add them. This scene also shows that Ree has grown up around meth, and she understands that it poses one of the greatest dangers to her family's existence. She knows that her dad has been messed up with it, and understands the larger ramifications of what that means. McD--Jennifer plays a lot of the scene in her face. Some things are unspoken, but so much of it is done internally, through the power of her face, through her eyes. 2 DG--Two more local actors are present in this scene. This is Isaiah Stone, playing Ree's brother Sonny. He lived down the street from where we were filming. And Ashlee, who was of that property, welcomed him and started showing him the ropes. McD--This was an empty house on the property, which the art department turned into Ree's house. All the details were observed in other places, and brought in here to make a rich filming environment. DG--We have to call out the sweatshirt with an animal emblem, the deer, that Ree is wearing here. Shirts with animal emblems were prevalent in the area, and many of them were very beautiful, and caught the attention of the costume designer, Rebecca Hofherr. This one was outlined with glitter. The woman who lives on this property, Kat Layson, added that particular detail. Rebecca really liked the shirt, and we asked to borrow it. McD—Ree‟s jacket would have been a local farmer's jacket for which Rebecca swapped a brand new Carhartt jacket, so we had this fantastic lived-in jacket for Ree to wear throughout the film. [note: in this case, Ree‟s jacket was prepared by the wardrobe department. Other used Carhartts and clothing were obtained from local residents.] DG--So here we're going to meet two other Missouri-based actors. This is Lauren Sweetser, from northern Arkansas. She and a bunch of her peers had been involved with a very vibrant actor‟s workshop in the area. McD--And Floyd is played by-- DG--Cody Brown-- McD—Who is also from that program. DG--He is very much a part of this world, and knows it well. These two actors developed the material in a workshop format. They improvised a lot in the rehearsals, some of which we incorporated, and then they stuck to the script. We didn't get to include all of the scenes that we filmed with them. This strand of the story had been richly developed in Daniel's book. Only a little vestige is in the film. McD--The friendship between these two. DG--Yes, as well as how the character Floyd entered into the Ree/Gail relationship. MCD--And again, this is a live location, close to our main Layson's farm location. DG--Lauren and Jen became good friends as the production went on, and they had a genuine rapport. They found a way of working in which they were giving each other a lot, and simultaneously playing it close to home. There was an authentic rapport that they could have as friends, being close to the same age. I think both actresses appreciated that they had the Kentucky/Arkansas representation. And that also meant that they had no trouble pronouncing the script. McD--In which there is a lot of language that is specific to that area. DG--And though Kentucky, Arkansas and Missouri accents would be somewhat different, both these women had really nuanced ears for pronouncing, interpreting and embellishing the dialog. McD—We filmed a lot of Ree traveling through forests and various fields. Only a small amount of it ended up in the film. DG—We‟ve got the hardscrabble and the dogs setting the scene here. This is Frank Layson, Sr.‟s property. This house was so rich for us. We could use one side of it to represent one character‟s house, which was Teardrop, and the other side served as Blond Milton‟s house, because the two sides looked very different. McD—This is the introduction of Teardrop, an important character in the film. When we came into this room in pre-production, we had the notion that we‟d be on the other side of the kitchen, filming one way. Then we started the rehearsal somewhat in a hurry, and we ended up standing by this door in the corner as the actors rehearsed. And we found that this was a great place to play it from, even though it was a really tight corner. That enhances the sense of Ree being trapped in this situation, and she has to work her way out of it. Physically the camera found itself trapped in this corner to shoot the entire scene. DG—And I appreciated it that in this kitchen, because it has been lived in for a lot of years, the fingerprints that are there, and the ornaments on the refrigerator, are from a lived life, and I think the actors appreciated that, and the crew. It enhanced our ability to immerse ourselves in the fiction. McD—You look at John, and you see the work he put into his makeup, his tattoos, and his hands. And it‟s the same with Ree. The level of patina on the actors is matched by the level of patina on all the surfaces of the house. DG—John‟s commitment to absorbing things, mannerisms, and as you said the markings on his body, was profound, and he responded strongly to Daniel‟s writing, and loved the words that were written for Teardrop, and delved deeper and deeper into this material. McD—He came in with a very strong sense of the character, before we started filming. Here he‟s right on top of he camera in this corner. He‟s inches away from the lens. I think it enhances the sense of anxiety that happens right at this moment. DG—I remember that the entire crew jumped when John lunged at her. He knew what he was going to do, but no one else knew. McD—I think it‟s a fantastic entrance for his character. DG—This is Cinnamon Schultz playing Victoria, and she also hails from Missouri, and was able to take in that environment, and really make that kitchen hers for that day. McD—You wish you could have had more scenes with both of them together in the film. DG—Very much so. McD—Again the t-shirt. That‟s an eagle print on that shirt. DG—And I believe that you made her jewelry. McD—Some of it was. We got into making jewelry that weekend for relaxation, and some of the actors ended up wearing it on camera. DG—So many of the actors we worked with had eyes that either shot bullets, or spoke the in-between lines. McD—We drove by this location every morning on the way to the main shoot, and we were trying to figure out how to get it in the movie. We ended up having a weekend just to shoot these landscapes. 3 DG—This is some of our most clear footage of hill country, showing that she is walking up and down—it is not a flat terrain. McD—There‟s distance between these farms. DG—This is Glen and Pat Kenyon‟s property, on Lone Star Road. This property was another visual artwork before we ever set foot on it, just in terms of the textures. McD—It‟s one of the first places we saw in pre-production, probably two years before we started filming. We photographed it extensively. DG—Including the donkey. McD—The donkey, Buddy. DG—This actress is going to reappear--Casey MacLaren. She plays Megan. She‟s also one of that group of young southern Missouri actors. She comes from the West Plains area, and helped us hugely in the development of the film, by improvising with other local actors in the auditions. McD—The little details of the yard, the smoke coming out, and the laundry, enhance the tension and the sense of mystery, along with the score by Dickon Hinchliffe and the underlying sound effects. DG—This is Kevin Breznahan. He plays Little Arthur. He makes it a point to let it be known that he‟s from Queens, New York. McD—A lot of the actors in this film had a small amount of time to make an impression, to get their characters across. DG—Kevin bonded with the property owners of this place, Ray Vaughn and Mary Jarvis, and I think that immersion in the dialog, plus some coaching, fueled him. He was willing to do many permutations and different kinds of takes, to keep it real for Jen. Jen has remarked that this scene was very rich for her, because no two takes were exactly the same. And Kevin told me during the filming that Jen was really upsetting him, that he didn‟t want to feel it, but he did. The degree to which she was imploring him in a very naked way got under his skin. Local residents also supplied the details of the set here. The ferret is a pet called Pearl, and this small house really came as is. That‟s not to say that things weren‟t added and arranged. It just means that they didn‟t attempt to overhaul it as much to shape it. The sound of footsteps and crunching, crunching on gravel, on asphalt, on wooden porches, this soundscape of the film was cultivated by Damien Volpe, who tried to draw forward every sound that would be in this world. He has a long-running creative relationship with Dickon Hinchliffe, and I think they feed off each other in great ways, and generate a lot of ideas. McD—This is an important part in Ree‟s journey, going to see Thump, the patriarch of the whole clan. There‟s a certain sense of foreboding on her way to Thump‟s house. DG—This is Dale Dickey, playing Merab. Dale has roots coming out of eastern Tennessee. She‟s another actor who blew our minds from the get-go. When she auditioned in a small room in Los Angeles, she made the scene so very vivid that we thought one of the bigger strokes of luck had fallen upon the film-- McD—In getting her on board. The voice and the language are amazing. For the camera, so many of the faces in the film, when you get into close-up, you could spend all day filming. John, Dale, Jennifer. DG—This scene is another instance in which the actors let it be known that they were getting so much from each other, and that the onscreen chemistry was working. I‟ll never forget Dale telling me that her resolve was weakening, because Ree was standing so strong and being so direct with her plea. She went into the scene thinking that she would play certain parts of it one way, and some of that got eroded and manipulated or altered. That‟s a great thing to have happen in a scene, actually. That means moment by moment- McD—She‟s really listening, really paying attention. DG—Yes. This is the Fox property, and this is another close neighbor of Richard Michael, the core scout, liaison and diplomat of this film, coming from the same region. McD—This is a moment where Ree has been told to wait and sit, and it was a perfect time for a wide shot, to show the beauty and the details of that yard, and a sense of danger as well, in some of those close-ups. DG—Sam Fuller has a phrase that I misquote all the time. He talks about “the bullet of emotion.” When that happens to the actors, when those bullets fly, you can‟t ask for more. McD—An interesting technical point—You talked about the eyes earlier. The digital colorist I worked with in post-production, Tim Stipan, showed me this technique of cutting out the eyes, isolating those, sharpening and brightening them a little. Right here, when Dale comes back, the first thing, you go right to her eyes. Normally, digital sharpening is something you‟d never touch, but used selectively, like right here, Merab‟s eyes are absolutely penetrating into Ree. And likewise, Ree back to her. DG—The eye exchange. I want to comment on a phrase from the script, “come the nut- cuttin.‟” McD—I think we used that phrase every day, in multiple contexts. DG—Jennifer was willing to call her Mom and Dad, and discuss the nuances and the meaning of that term, so she could feel confident saying it. It made me feel, as an East Coast person, that my language was paltry and uneventful. 4 DG--This is Ashlee Thompson‟s house, and these are her toys. McD—They are poor people, but there are many things in their life that are rich. Ashlee has many things that city kids don‟t have. DG—This is the powerful presence of Billy White, playing Blond Milton. He is from the area, and he had not had previous acting experience, outside of his youth. We met Billy and his brother Clay during pre-production. He auditioned and worked on the scenes, and committed very deeply. And you were an early responder to him, in the auditions. McD—I was very emotional by the end, at the thought of where he had gone, personally, in his journey as an actor in the film, coming on as a non-actor. Seeing his performance to the camera really moved me. DG—He had knowledge of this area, and of the things that are difficult about living there, and he had awareness, as a young person, about the last fifteen years, and what has gone on in this region with methamphetamines. McD—One of the things we strove for was authenticity, and working with people like Billy helped that. DG—To get a low-budget film to work, so many neighbors and people in the community have to come forward. For example, a local family made the use of this burned house possible by agreeing to let us film it. McD—There‟s a certain stigma attached to a burned-out house, which could be seen as a crank house. To be given the access to that shows a great level of support. DG—We could never reproduce this in any kind of art department. McD—Not on our budget level. DG—Frugal films don‟t blow up things. McD—Not intentionally. They used the sound effects here, laying in these little sounds of the corrugated tire moving. DG—Damien holds things to a higher standard. He really wants the sounds to be of the place. Sometimes that requires return trips to record things. Certain birds have to be from Missouri, and they have to be from that county. He‟s very meticulous. McD—The richness of the landscape--it looks like someone spent two days with a Sharpie making that truck behind her look like that. We get there and it it‟s just there. It‟s just like that. And it‟s almost a unique look. DG—This the other side of Frank Layson Sr.‟s house, which is so different architecturally, in its use of diverse materials, metal and wood. McD—Here‟s another example of striving to make the film feel like winter. It was probably seventy degrees that day. It‟s a bright, sunny day. We don‟t have time to say OK, we‟ll wait for another day to shoot this—we have to shoot today. In the post- production process we tried to get across the sense of winter, and chill. And the wind helps. The landscape itself helps. DG—Both the sounds and the hardscrabble are present here. Though a lot of things are filmed tightly and in close-up, there are moments when that holler had to be shown in its full splendor, and its triple football field length. This is a lyrical part of Daniel‟s novel, in which Ree transfers crucial information to her younger siblings. This is more evidence of a regional characteristic of resourcefulness. It's imperative for this family to know how to obtain wild game, and to feel that they will never starve, that they will always have the skills to survive. McD—Right. DG—In these scenes, Jennifer took the lead in directing the children. She had to make it believable that she was their older sibling. McD—And really make them listen to her. DG—Yes. McD—There are religious elements in the background here—“like you‟re praying,” “look at the cross.” DG--Isaiah Stone had never acted before. He‟s a very soulful young person who opened his heart to us, and to the process, and was extremely cooperative, and applied himself. And with Ashlee, I would give her the same accolades. She became very committed to cooperating with the vagaries and intensity of film production. McD—Absolutely. DG—Babies and animals. We were very lucky that we had twin brothers from the area playing Baby Ned. Jennifer and Lauren really worked on that aspect. They conferred with the parents, and practiced. Though they don‟t yet have life experience in raising children, they wanted to incorporate that into their work. McD—There are challenges in filming with children and young adults on a 25-day schedule, where the amount of time you can work with them in a day is limited. Babies especially. DG—I have to comment on the lighting here. You had to make specific choices about how you were going to deal with night in a rural setting. McD—It‟s not like New York City. You walk outside in the country and close your eyes, and that‟s what‟s there—nothing. Apart from moonlight there is no available light. We had to say that close to the houses there would be some house lights, some yard lights, some sense of where the light would be coming from. 5 DG—Here we ebulliently bust into really vivid music. This is Marideth Sisco, a lifelong resident of the Ozarks, a singer and musician, a scholar of her region, steeped in its ballads. Almost everyone in this room is a friend of hers. And if they were not already a friend, they were drawn into the friendship circle of the picking session. McD—And these picking sessions are completely authentic. We saw probably half a dozen during the couple of years of pre-production. DG—And that‟s how we met Marideth, through the chance encounter of being invited to one. Sheryl Lee is playing April in this scene, and this is the inside of the Fox house. McD—So this would be Thump‟s yard, which we walked up to earlier. This is the same house. DG—Doubling inside. These are local residents playing cards, which is a common occurrence at a picking session. Parlor games are also played. It‟s a night for relaxation, a lyrical part of everyday life. It means something to get together, and not have a television, not have your hand-held device present, not have all the din and clatter of the electronic world. McD—Coming up is the owner of the bar that we film in later. DG—Yes, Sir Denny. Sheryl open-heartedly agreed to come down for this shoot, and I think she really enjoyed the atmosphere of this evening in which her scene took place. And she developed a quick rapport with the musicians, to make it gel. Anne Rosellini produced the film, and co-wrote the screenplay, and we were partners in the casting and every aspect of making the film. When Sheryl read part of this scene, she had such a velvety, rich storytelling voice that for the first time every bit of the blocking that she describes in the bar came to life in my head. And I said “that‟s not to be neglected. She would do a beautiful job with it.” And so she did. McD—Monologs don‟t play a large part in our films, so you have to get someone who can pull that off, who really has that storytelling voice. DG—She delivers this scene very quietly, which contributes to the sense that this is hushed information. With her voice she literally set the tone for all interpretation of this scene. We were in a very tight bedroom here. I don‟t know if you remember the degree of the crouching and the squishing. McD—We had a certain amount of that in the film—quite a bit. The fact that the majority of the film was shot hand-held allows for getting the camera into these places. DG—Now, that sneeze—You and I know that any story has to have humor. Sometimes you have to look really carefully for the humor. The editor, Affonzo Gonçalves, chuckled because Ree had just said, “be very quiet,” and then the actor sneezed. It‟s not laugh aloud, it‟s not crazy humor. It‟s lyrical. That‟s one of the gifts that Affonzo brings to his work. He‟s always looking for the lyrical, and to make sure that it stays in the film. McD—He‟s looking for pieces that other people might instantly throw away as a mistake. He does that with camera movement, and whatever the actor‟s saying, oftentimes going for those little moments, because they bring so much authenticity. DG—And when he responds to a performance, he becomes the protector of that performance. As you say, looking for, even, an eye shift, or the denial of the gaze, different things the actor has tried in the different takes. He tries not to miss anything. McD—We and the actors worked with a local hunter, who would hunt for game—deer, squirrel, and rabbits. And then he would butcher them on his property and use or sell the meat. We worked with him in pre-production, filming a couple of examples of skinning and butchering animals. DG—We all had to take a workshop. As urban people, we had to be tutored in so many different aspects of conducting ourselves. We had to be shown everything. None of us had operated a wood splitter. McD—Right. This was one of the richest scenes for me in the whole film, with John‟s approach, with the way the lighting worked, with the sound that‟s going on, and the danger that‟s inherent in using that kind of machinery. DG—This is Mother Nature‟s HMI lamp. When breath and hair is backlit, everyone in the production is in a state of delirious pleasure. McD—Maybe I didn‟t see it on the day, but looking back afterwards, the look on Ree‟s face when she turns there is one of the amazing things Jen brought to the film, just these looks that she had. DG—In my long-term creative collaboration with you, Michael, I feel that I can never see hair light and not understand its value. McD—It‟s fantastic. Sadly, at one point the sun goes away. We lose the hair light, and we don‟t have the 18K standing by to re-instigate it. It‟s gone here, but by now we‟re into the scene. There‟s a lovely glow behind him, which takes the place of the edge light, and I‟m not too upset about that. That‟s one of my favorite close-ups of John. DG—I know that Jennifer relished working with John, not to give the same compliments for each scene, but there was this chemistry in which his intimidation, his surliness, his inapproachability put up a barrier, and really made her do her work. It‟s an example where the equation is thriving, where one actor‟s intensity is eliciting and requiring intensity in the response. In this scene Ree confronts meth directly. And it is a specific choice, an act of will, an act of wisdom, a survival instinct, to keep it away. McD—A little technical note: this is a single camera shoot, primarily, so you‟re over one actor‟s shoulder, and then you‟re reversing. They‟re shooting double the coverage, twice the amount of stuff, but they‟re both constantly giving each other something, for the whole duration of the scene, even when they‟re not on camera. DG—This closet scene speaks to something crucial to this story, which is that Jessup, Ree‟s dad, is missing. And how do you bring up details of a missing character? How do you let little bits about him be known? We realized that boots were important to men in the region, a part of how they present themselves, and Ree would have known those boots, and the contexts in which her dad would have worn the different boots. This scene also involves a local actress, Valerie Richards, and she took a risk—she had never acted before. She came on board to play the mother, Connie. Connie does not speak in the film. She is depicted as someone who is suffering psychologically, and is depressed, and unable to help Ree. And that‟s a very hard thing to do. McD—The script doesn‟t give too many clues as to how to play that, so you have to rely on the person coming in, to bring something to the table. In the casting session Valerie brought something that right away felt real, and believable. DG—It must be a daunting experience for someone without a lot of prior acting experience to be involved in something where the actor that you‟re working with is expressing a huge amount. McD—So much emotion is coming out of her. To know how to react to that. 6 DG—In this scene, also, you and I felt that it was important that the woods, Ree‟s family‟s land and the surrounding land, are shown in their glory, so that we understand why it matters to Ree, why the stakes are high. McD—The landscape is a character. DG—We didn‟t get to include half of the wide shots that we would have liked to have, yet when it got down to the nut cuttin‟, those three had to be in there. The difficulty of filming on hardscrabble is not to be minimized. Again the sound, always that crackling, crunching. McD—I think the art department did a good job with the various cars that they used, in terms of how they told you something about each character--the bondsman‟s car, the truck that Ree‟s driving. DG—This is Tate Taylor playing the bondsman. He has life experience growing up in Mississippi. So he also could read the script with ease, and get in it and make it his own. We also conferred with local bondsmen and bondswomen and got advisement about how this bondsman would operate with a young person, who he would have mixed feelings about. Tate was very responsive to making the bondsman multivalent. McD—He had great enthusiasm for the part. I think he would have walked there to play it. DG—Billy White is in the background of this scene with his brother Clay. Clay was working at the place where the crew was staying, and he introduced us to Billy. McD—The color in this scene reminds me of a 1950s French gangster movie. There‟s a color quality that they were getting in France in the 50s and 60s that I think this replicates. Colors like this help tell the story. DG—These are the unplanned moments that small people bring to a film, ringing a bell in the middle of a scene. McD—You hear the sound off-camera, and there‟s a reason to cut there. DG—You and I really relished the wind on this day. McD—There‟s a subtle movement in the hair. Mitko Panov, one of the teachers at NYU, made some amazing films in Macedonia, where it was almost as if it was a still, until you noticed a little bit of hair moving. DG—Those are among the first things that the moving camera loved when it started— moving foliage and moving hair. McD—This was a great day. I loved this location. DG—This is the cattle auction in Springfield, Missouri. Jack Frost, who runs this facility, made it all possible for us. We filmed on a day when the auction was really happening—we didn‟t shut down the facility. McD—We see action, and Ree walks around the corner, and this dog runs in front of her. It was not part of the crew, and nothing to do with us. And then of course we have to film it—it becomes part of the scene. DG—Many locals agreed to participate in this scene, and they let us film them as the auction was taking place. Immediately when we got there we understood that we were in a sound bonanza. And James Demer would be employed beyond what any sound person can handle. McD—He‟s our location sound recordist, whom we‟ve worked with for years. The sounds of the cattle and the auction were then taken and manipulated and enhanced by Dickon and Damien. DG—Up on this catwalk— McD—In pre-production I had noticed these rails. They were very smooth, and I figured we could use those to dolly the camera backwards and get this smooth tracking shot back with her. So we had skateboard wheels running on top of those rails with the camera. I like the switch from the sickly green fluorescent light of the auction itself, to this steely blue, cold environment. We used a lot of stockings on the lenses in this film. You can see that here, the halation, and the glow that happens around highlights from that. It plays well in this scene. DG—There was so much kinetic motion in this stockyard--the way that the cowhands moved the cattle. McD—We used only available light as well, the daylight spilling into the scene. And again, this. We set up this scene to shoot right after the sun went over the horizon. So this is magic hour. DG—The director‟s least favorite time. McD—You were saying to me every five seconds “Can we go? Can we go?” And I‟m looking at the sun. And as soon as it was over the horizon we went for it. Then you have a twenty-minute window to shoot this whole scene. I think we got two passes at it, trying to get coverage. DG—This was a very hard shoot for everybody. It was hard for the actors, hard for Dale, who found it very difficult to be rough with Ree and fight her. And it was hard to film. McD—We had a couple of hours of rehearsal when the sun was up, but as soon as the sun was down there‟s a really small window to shoot it in. There was a lot of tension, but I feel that the tension works well in the scene. DG—We‟re back on the Fox family property, and this was a barn that both of us had fallen in love with, given its unlimited objects, shapes and textures. McD—Basically, it‟s a barn that‟s used to repair cars, and had a roller garage door. When we read the book and developed this scene, we were thinking “barn.” And we looked at so many classic barns, and photographed them in pre-production. When we found this one on the Fox property, which doubled as the yard for Thump and the interior for the music scene, we just had to use it. I‟ve never seen a barn like it. DG—The degree to which the barn was filled with cast presented both abundance and a challenge. We had these faces, these participants and actors. You and I wanted to film everybody extensively. McD—There‟s a lot of coverage in this scene. DG—A lot of coverage. McD—It‟s a whole night‟s filming. DG—And a rough night at that, with rain. McD—We came into the barn, and there were some carpets around. There‟s a piece of carpet draped over this edge, and that told us that that‟s where Ree should be sitting, where she should start the scene. DG—This is Ron “Stray Dog” Hall, a local man who plays Thump Milton. We met him during our scouting. He consented to read the material and discuss the story with us, and then participated. He had a very specific take on this scene. In some ways, this scene ended up quite different from how we had imagined it, because this version of Thump is not just one thing. The degree to which he is listening is palpable. He appears to be balancing and weighing things. McD—He has stature. A lot of actors were considered, some big names as well. But it was such a small part that it was hard to get those people interested. Then when we cast from this local pool, and Ron came in and read. It was jaw dropping. He had the stature, he had the voice, he had the gravity, and he could read the lines perfectly. DG—And he brought some of his friends. The man who walked behind him is Bobby Pittinger. Ray Vaughn is present here. McD—Amazing local faces. DG—Brandon Gray is another young man from the workshop that the other MSU students had participated in. McD—We couldn‟t not use the garage door going up as a way to introduce John Hawkes, Teardrop, showing up in this scene. The structure of the scene is, “let‟s get in there and see what the actors want to do.” There are certain elements that you bring to any scene in pre-production. And that would be one of them, the door introduction to John. The barn, lit by fluorescent lights, and car parts, was an incredible space. DG—Fluorescents and Kino-flos are a director‟s friend. It‟s hard not to get addicted to them. In this case, they fit the bill. McD—We found some other lights in there, and put them up. The gaffer, Nina Kuhn, hung those lights. There were a couple of Kinos, but a lot of it was done with full green fluorescent units that were lying in the back of the barn. As I remember, at some point, once we turned around on John here, the rain started. That was beautifully introduced with the soundtrack. By the time they‟re leaving, you‟ve got this subtle drumming of the rain going on, which adds an element of danger or coldness to the scene. DG—It was tricky to figure how to integrate it, because rain does stop and start, and yet it can‟t really stop and start in the confines of the scene. Stray Dog‟s outfit is his own clothing. Rebecca Hofherr went into the closets of local people by invitation, to discuss with them what they would wear, and pick out things from their own wardrobe. It meant a lot to the look of the film, and it was also a way to have discussions about the content. It opened up a lot of doors, to be able to ask a lot of questions, and have people advise us. 7 McD—Originally you might see Thump as a dark silhouette, a character in a long black coat or something. To have this biker gear there, with all the highlights, all the details and all the leather, was an amazing addition to the character. DG—Seeing Ree‟s face here makes me think of Maya. McD--Maya Hardinge, our makeup artist. DG—She is willing to take a lot of risks, understanding that some scenes require the rawness of cold skin, and using no makeup. She‟s willing to push the boundaries, and investigate what the film calls for. She worked very closely with the actors to get certain details right—issues with the nails, and things that needed discussion to develop. McD—In the shot of Ree cutting potatoes, right at the start of the film, there‟s very little difference between the potato skin that has come out of the dirt, and Ree‟s hands. They look almost the same. DG—Depicting injury is tricky. It‟s very complex on the continuity side, for both the continuity people and the makeup crew, and Maya worked hard to monitor how this woman would heal, to make that realistic. McD—That was a wonderful connection between Ree and Teardrop, with the reach over and the hand, saying what a bunch of words didn‟t have to. DG—The sound of the porch, the doors, these were the details. Everything like that mattered to Damien. McD—In the details here, you can feel her pain. In one of the houses there‟s a broken mirror. So we played into the mirror, finding these interesting broken reflections. DG—All given to us. McD—Yeah, it‟s all there. DG—That‟s what a real location keeps giving. McD—And it‟s a challenge to shoot. But again, being hand-held really helps, to find shots and move fast. I like the frozen broccoli as the ice pack. DG—The dream catchers that are seen in the house were an early inspiration. When we first arrived and met the family that lives on this property, they had a collection of them. From day one, that was a part of the atmosphere—a little unexpected for me. This is a waterbed. Recently, someone mentioned that they liked that detail. McD—It‟s not so obvious. There‟s a nice sound effect that comes in when the kids lie down. DG—When I think about the through line of the tooth, I think of our beloved mentor, Boris Frumin. He would show us how in many older films an object that is pertinent to the story can have a through line of its own, often reoccurring three times. We didn‟t exactly get to fulfill that with the tooth, but we got it there twice. This brings up a set of questions right away. Why a different film gauge? What are we doing? McD—It seems obvious to me that this is a dream sequence. She has fallen off into a drug-induced sleep, and she‟s concerned for the landscape that she might lose. The animals are concerned. DG—This is our only opportunity to convey the inner thoughts of Ree, which a novel can do so richly. This is pressing on her so hard, this dilemma about what to do. Should the land be given up under duress? What would it mean for her family to sever this hundred and fifty year tie to this land? That entire context can be beautifully delineated in a novel. McD—We had to imagine it in a dream. Boris would always encourage us to try to get a dream sequence into a film. Tarkovsky‟s films are fifty percent dream sequence. There was a challenge, and I‟m happy that we did it. DG—It was shot on Super-8 by our colleague Richard Sandler. The trampoline is Ashlee‟s trampoline, as is the tree house. McD—We‟re working, technically, in a documentary/drama style. Michael Burke is the focus puller. Ordinarily you would be laying down marks, and the actors would hit those marks. In the way we‟ve made our last couple of films, knowing when to pull focus from one person‟s face to the other is an art, it‟s a sense. The actors aren‟t going to do the same thing each time--there are no marks. So the focus puller has got to sense when to pull to the other person. I think Affonzo Gonçalves pointed out early on in the editing process what a beautiful example this particular scene is, of being able to go with that. DG—Fonzie was blown away by Michael Burke‟s work on the focus. And we were as well, working with him. We could not believe how adroit he was, and how tireless in his commitment. 8 McD—Sergeant Schalk. DG—Russell Schalk is Sgt. Russell Schalk in real life--Missouri based, a very experienced recruiter. When we spoke to a variety of recruiters about how to do this scene, we got educated. We had to leave a lot of East Coast bias behind, and understand what this means to young people in the community, and the components that go into this discussion. He was very brave. He knew his script well. He knew how to recruit; he knew how to discuss things with a young person. He knew the rules of recruitment. All this was his life experience. And then Jen very gently kept the parameters of the scene the same. Every time, she knew what she would ask. She knew the arc of the scene. They had to really listen to each other, each take, because he wasn‟t always answering exactly the same way, so she had to work with his answers. And I remember seeing him take this leap, as the room got really quiet, and we said, “rolling.” He had to use a lot of will to block out that tension of the filmmaking protocol. McD—This is an example, one of several in the film, of an actor and a non-actor together in a scene. The direction is to really listen and really answer. And the actor has the ability to navigate through the scene and push it in certain directions. You get such authentic answers out of the non-actor, if they‟re listening and answering. DG—Russell Schalk has this life experience. We can‟t imitate that or impersonate it. He has it. It‟s a contribution to the film when someone brings his or her life experience to it. McD—This shows how the makeup developed in the few days after she‟s been attacked. DG—We also got a lot of advisement from people involved in the Marine Corps ROTC program in this high school. McD—One of the things you‟ll notice with a lot of the interiors in the film is that we deliberately lit from the exterior, which is what daylight naturally does, lighting from outside. So our film lights are outside. There may be some lamps inside, but the main light is coming from outside. And it lets us work really freely with the actors inside. There are not all the trappings of filmmaking. You can look at multiple angles without seeing film equipment. And it lets you work fairly quickly, and, more importantly, naturalistically. DG—It‟s a benefit if the crew that you‟ve assembled is willing to work with that kind of speed. A low-budget film requires that. DG—Again we slam into some very vibrant music. This is a band headed by Rick Reding, a local musician with long, long family roots to this area. He and his bandmates auditioned for this scene. He really worked at it, he and his colleagues. Performing for a film is very different, because of the repetition. Sir Denny graciously allowed us to film in the bar. McD—So we get little nuggets like the way the car pulls up, or the reflection of the fluorescents, or the neons in the glass. We tried to play with that throughout the film, reflections and people being seen behind things. DG—The Upper Deck is a bar in Rockaway. Rockaway had its heyday years and years ago as a riverside resort town. One thing I appreciated about this bar was that there is a very alive local music scene. When we came here to scout, we saw all these flyers about which night, which band would be there. That felt really hopeful. It made me feel excited, that in off the beaten track places in the United States there is a huge array of music being made and performed. McD—On this day we started out in a small town. There‟s a scene, which will show up later, that we filmed a little bit up the street from here. We had this exterior of the gas station. We had the interior of the bar. We had a small crew, three grips and three electrics, and we were very stretched that day. And we had to get in and light the bar. There‟s a certain amount of film lighting that went into the bar. So this was definitely one of our more challenging days. DG—Here Ray Vaughn was extremely helpful in crafting his own lines for this scene, and how he would confront Teardrop. He tried many variations to get the right one. It was powerful to see people really dig and scrape at something until they got it right. It was serendipitous that Richard Michael‟s son-in-law needed a new windshield. McD—He had a crack in his windshield, so he was quite happy for us to stick an ax in it. DG—And John knew we only had one take on that. You popped the camera on yourself. McD—Yeah, we shot two cameras on that. There are very few scenes in the film in which we had two cameras, but that was one of them, because we had one chance to break this windshield. Here is another challenging scene where we have very minimal lights. I‟m trying to keep the mystery of the graveyard, but you‟ve still got to be able to see it. DG—Another thing I‟ve gleaned from you is the notion that fall-off is under-utilized. As the ability to light up vast spaces became possible for so many films, they lost the art of also allowing darkness to be there. This is an extreme case, of course. McD—This film is confidently described as a nourish thriller. Those are elements. A lot of the mystery and the danger is in the darkness, in what you‟re not seeing. We had to go for these dark night exteriors in the country, partly out of necessity, but partly out of design. DG—The breath factor was a big deal for this film. There were some nights that were truly cold, where we shot deep into the night, and the breath was there. Sometimes it depended on what angle we could be at. It‟s a telltale sign of winter, so when we had it, I felt a lot of appreciation. McD—This is some driving footage that we did in a classic style, with a process trailer. I was pleased with how the timing worked out, and how the police car light, et cetera, played on the actors. There were also fires going on in the hills that night. Some controlled burning had gotten a little out of control, and there was a lot of smoke in the air, which added to the atmosphere. DG—Garrett Dilahunt and John had a few notions about what they would do with this scene. McD—They had worked together before. DG—Yes, and had a good working relationship. McD—This is another example of the understated score adding to the tension of the scene. You often talk about score abuse. In almost every film that we see, there‟s just too much score. And here I feel there‟s a good balance of building the tension, but not telling you what to feel. DG—I don‟t want the score to be a leash around my neck that yanks at me. I feel that Dickon goes in the other direction, of trying to find a soundscape. McD—The quietness, and the time that the actors are taking, makes this a tense scene. This is a scene with guns, but it‟s so quiet and it‟s so slow, and it‟s so controlled. DG—The bullets that are going to fly here really are eyeball to eyeball. The bullet is not going to be issued from the gun. It‟s betrayal, it‟s truth, and it‟s those emotions. McD—There‟s a lovely look he‟s about to give. DG—That was a line that people relished. McD—“Is this gonna be our time?” DG—Western heroes—There‟s something so seductive about their minimalist speech. You wonder whether these phrases will become emblematic of the film, phrases that get to the core of something, maybe getting to the core of Teardrop‟s character, as John experienced it and thought about it. 9 DG—John appreciates that people tell him that their feelings about Teardrop change during the course of the film. He delights in the idea that the character never goes through some major redemption or moment of epiphany where he changes his ways. But if you see his different facets, your opinion of him changes. McD—It‟s the audience members themselves that change. DG—This is the understated way in which Teardrop lets Ree know that he values her, by virtue of that compliment. It‟s an admission of affection, of loyalty. For some of the very charged parts of the film it was hard to pick the music. You know it when you hear it. We came across a very beautiful song called Palm Of His Hand, written by Daniel Lee Parkin and performed by Dirt Road Delight. This infused the scene with a sensibility that worked well the pictures and with Ree‟s feelings and memories. This is the kind of music that built up to making the soundtrack. We got really taken with it. The scene is filled with props loaned to us by the host family. This figurine was carved by Ashlee‟s real-life Dad. The love letter that was written on the back of the photograph in this album meant so much to us. It was written by Marjorie Layson to her husband, Frank Layson, Sr. These are people we all got to know. When Jennifer looked at that, it seemed right to have her read it. McD—It‟s wonderfully lyrical. Given the style of hand-held camera that Debra and I have developed over the years, this fluid as opposed to shaky cam, you have to have a camera operator who will get your sensibility, and shoot the kind of shots you would get if you were doing it, and that Debra would want. I knew that Alan Pierce, who I‟ve worked with for many years, would be the natural choice. He was fantastic on the film. DG—Haystacks became crucial for another reason. They were the natural playgrounds for these kids. They show what kids will do to keep life from being dreary. 10 DG--Every icicle mattered to us. That was a particularly good one that we couldn‟t have planned. McD—It was a challenge to get the women into the frame on the porch and light them up, and work against that really bright background that we had going on. I‟m pleased with how it turned out, even the side-angle silhouettes. DG—It struck me and Dale Dickey, that in Woodrell‟s book, he put these complicated „ands‟ into all his characters. Merab is completely capable of committing physical violence against Ree, and gets angered when Ree crosses a line with her, and she has a conscience, and she‟s capable of doing the right thing. She can look at the bigger picture and identify with Ree. Compassion will always be a mystery. It‟s always rewarding when it crops up in a story. McD—We planned this as a complex day, and we planned to shoot this part of the scene after the sun has gone down, at magic hour. So, again, it gives us a twenty-minute window, if that, to cover this whole first part of the scene. DG—Chainsaws—Something else that some of us had to be trained in using. This is the Cook family property. The Cooks have been on this land, and the surrounding land, since 1830, another set of neighbors to Richard Michael. McD—These are their cows, which we placed in frame before we shot this. DG—They assisted us on this evening tremendously. They brought the cows into the pasture. McD—This is classic day for night. We don‟t have the means to film at night and light up the pond where the scene‟s going to take place, so we break the scene down, and we start filming in the daytime here. So this is midday. It‟s seventy degrees, and it‟s bright sun. It was the one time I was really happy for bright sun in the film, because that gives us our moonlight, and that gives us our chance to expose the film a certain way, and time it down later to get that nighttime effect. So we had to break this scene down into certain kinds of angles, shooting at certain times of the day. Some of the close-ups coming up later are shot actually at night, where we can look up and have nighttime sky behind us. But right now we‟d have a bright sky, if we could see it. It‟s a digital film. We‟re shooting on the Red One camera, before it had the MX sensor, so the range of exposure is not quite so broad as it is currently. DG—The crew was in waders. They were in the water, and they were valiant. McD—This is a pond where cows come down and drink, but it‟s also full of cow runoff. It‟s not a pleasant pond to be in. DG—Unless you‟re a cow. McD—Here are some of the shots we shot at night, after we had shot during the day. It‟s great work on the actors‟ part to keep that sense that they had in the wide shot eight hours ago. They‟re bringing it back to the fore for these close-ups, a good eight hours later. DG—This was a hard scene for everybody, not just for the content, but also for figuring out a way to attack it so that they were performing a task, and keeping it to that. I guess that‟s our most formidable breath shot in the film. McD—Again there‟s the sense of mystery. This father figure has been so well drawn throughout the film that you believe that you‟ve seen him, but you‟ve never seen him. And here all we‟re seeing is this little piece of hand. There‟s levels of how much we need to see. What we see leaves just enough mystery to keep people on edge. DG—I struggled with how to put this in the context of my own storytelling desires. When the film played in Germany, and I heard comments from Scandinavian and German audiences about the historically long and rich tradition of dark fairy tales, in which the heroine or hero has to return with an emblem that shows that they completed the journey that they had to take. This emblem serves to prove their self-worth, that they did complete it. So the concept of the dark fairy tale helped me put this scene in a larger framework of ancient storytelling. McD—It‟s fable or epic journey, the Greeks as well. There are so many examples of the hero going off and having to come back with something. In this case it‟s hands in a sack. Again a little found element here, the sense of what‟s left behind in the oil from the chainsaw floating on the surface. 11 DG—This bag, of course, -- McD—the “thank you, have a nice day” bag— DG—the obligatory happiness bag of the United States. Everybody in this vast country knows that one does not have to look hard to find a bag such as that, and that was the bag that was the nearest. It was not until afterwards that we realized its impact. McD—The significance of the text. DG—A lot of people who find themselves investing in Ree as a character, and enjoying her resolve and her moxie, feel very satisfied that she can stare him down, finally. This feeds into that Western feeling, that the person with the worthy cause prevailed. McD—She has a great switch in this scene, from the first moments to that last moment. DG—Here we are back in Jessup‟s closet. I always wonder how many people see the banjo the first time. The banjo was such a loaded symbol. It wasn‟t in the script originally. It wasn‟t in Daniel‟s book. It was one thing that we said we could never have in the film, that after Deliverance you can‟t put a banjo in any film that deals with hill country. And yet, every time we went down for these scouting trips, the banjo would be played so beautifully, it was like an angel‟s song. Seeing the degree of extremely talented banjoists that we found, we had to put it in the film in the end. We came to feel that the banjo needed a second chance. The clips on Ashlee‟s garment were something she suggested as the normal way of doing things. We had incredible cooperation from the family hound, Nickdog. McD—He‟s the archetypal hound dog. DG—The inclusion of these baby chicks came directly from the day that you and I had been in the Layson‟s home around Easter time, and the children had been given the chicks. And that was something that stayed in our minds. We photographed it extensively. You took some beautiful photographs that day. McD—It‟s also a nice metaphor for the end of the film, the moving on and the nurturing. DG—This is a tricky content area of the film. It relies on a specific set of details. We didn‟t know if the idea of what was in that brown bag would come across. The editor had to put a lot of effort into solving what part of it could be communicated. In the novel, the details of how the bail worked, and who was involved, are completely fleshed out. McD—Luckily, Tate‟s such a memorable character in his voice that you would go back to his earlier scene, where he explains that someone came in and laid some money down. 12 DG—John is an accomplished guitar player, and music is a big part of his life. He was willing to do this scene, and create a riff that Teardrop would doodle with. He didn‟t have a whole lot of time. I wish I had thought to provide a banjo for him very early in the process. Again, there was a willingness to delve in and try. You and I have been asked about certain photographic influences. When you have a porch and a handmade house, you‟ve got the prerequisites for Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. McD—And Shelby Lee Adams, who photographed extensively in West Virginia. DG—This was so loaded, the discussions we went through about how to end the film, and what the ending point for Teardrop‟s character would be. I had to fight so many vanilla impulses to get him to stay. Jennifer even tried calling out to him, “will you stay for dinner, at least?” McD—We don‟t have that in. DG—No. McD—I was happy that we kept in what we did, which is that he knows. DG—Of course, viewers can decide for themselves. In this car ride away, we don‟t know what Teardrop‟s ultimate destiny will be. McD—Which is also refreshing, for an American film. DG—Hand-built stairs, the scrabble. Once again, the texture of this world couldn‟t be richer. The wind was working for us, so we‟ve got our lioness here, protecting her pride. Ashlee surprised us all--in the middle of the take she stands up. She gets the banjo. McD—I think you can just see Jen‟s face, she‟s wondering what is going on, what is she doing? That‟s a reset that I really love. It‟s not quite right so she—there we go. DG—We had a very patient crew. The script supervisor knows that this isn‟t in there. No one is saying, “Wait, what‟s going on?” We just let it roll. The banjo can even sound beautiful with open strumming, in its natural G chord. DG—The credits of any film make you so aware of the elaborate collaboration that goes into making a film. And of course this is no exception. We had people who stuck with this film from the very beginning, Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan, the producers. Then we had extremely astute frontline action. We had a line producer, Kate Dean, who navigated so many different arenas of the filmmaking process, and helped build a positive relationship with the local participants. McD—When you guys were busy making the film, Kate was the one who navigated between the local people and the crew; she was the conduit between them once we got into production. DG—Creating a soundtrack for this film and collecting the music for it became a large part of the project. And in the aftermath of the filming, Marideth Sisco, who‟s singing in the credits, went on to draw in her musician friends and other musicians, to flesh out a rich collection of music associated with the film. This collection is available online, and from Light In The Attic records, on a CD that they‟ve issued. Steve Peters and Jonathan Scheuer were involved in shepherding that project and producing it. There are substantial additional dialog credits that are listed here. That‟s because we had local people massaging and adding and contributing to the dialog in certain places. One of the major contributions was from Ron “Stray Dog” Hall. His own wording, his own take on the scene is visible in the DVD extras, in which he provided another insight into that barn scene. We were lucky enough to record it. As the credits roll, one of the most important categories is the local families. I hope we‟ve stressed enough throughout this commentary that this film could never have been made if it hadn‟t been infused with the advice and lived experience, and contributions on both the technical and creative levels by local participants in the Forsyth community. The film was posted here in New York City, and that was also a hugely positive and creative process. That‟s another crew and team that you end up collaborating with. When they know their stuff, and they‟re so talented at it, it becomes a very mesmerizing process. It is extremely technical, and arduous and detailed, and yet with people of that level of commitment, it‟s actually quite thrilling to see a film come together in the post process. Winter‟s Bone has been distributed by Roadside Attractions, and we have to acknowledge that this was a wonderful effort and visionary labor on their part, because it‟s not easy to distribute a small film, and they did a remarkable job. McD—I think as we‟ve gone along we‟ve put together a bunch of crew that we would love to work with again and again. DG—We‟ll end up with an acknowledgement, a shout-out to Missouri, and the Missouri Film Commission, because we will never forget the experience of being able to do this project in Southern Missouri, and what that meant to all of us who participated in this film.
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