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In an awards season filled with macho pursuits of glory through boxing, social networking or regal speeches, best picture nominee Winter’s Bone quietly stands out as the little indie that could. Onscreen and off, the power of determined women is palpable in the ambient adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s Ozarks-set novel. Critics have said co-writer/director Debra Granik and co-writer/producer Anne Rosellini’s script achieves a jarring sense of authenticity, crystallized by best actress nominee Jennifer Lawrence’s wrenching portrayal of a young woman determined to save her family’s home.
The Hollywood Reporter: Was there one particular script that inspired you during the writing process?
Anne Rosellini: One that we quite enjoyed was really kind of more of a treatment: La Vie de Jesus — The Life of Jesus. It’s by Bruno Dumont. What we loved about reading his project, after we saw the film, is it’s basically a short story with scenes described really beautifully and photographs of the place and characters. It was not so much an actual script, but we found it to be really inspirational.
THR: How did you approach co-writing an adaptation of a novel? What was your process?
Debra Granik: For sanity, we kept it on one laptop in Final Draft. Anne was physically driving the process of transcribing, and we would sit there together and say it out loud. The first version was very close to Daniel’s book, and we realized as a result that the film had to be very snow-laden. Our production designers were putting a huge amount of energy into how we were going to manufacture snow. Finally, we were like, “That’s a lethal word.” So we did a global delete of “snow.” Anne and I also responded strongly to hearing the script read back to us. I remember several occasions where the scene was just not working, was too wordy or needed to end sooner.
THR: How did you work to capture the ambience of the Ozarks?
Granik: We researched this film for about three years, going back and forth to the Ozarks. We would always come back with new photographs of people we’d met, locations we’d found. We would take what we found and bring that to the script. We didn’t look forward to the idea of trying to imitate or re-create someone’s house. Instead, could we find a house that Ree would really live in, according to the details and material of circumstances as written in this novel? There were lives that were being lived that were very close to the circumstances in which Ree was living. So there is a child there that plays her younger sister, a child where we are filming in her real house — an onscreen house. But we are not writing in the script she happens to have a very large pink pony and a brown pony. When the production designer asks her, “What are some of your favorite toys?” she pulls out these two ponies. In the script we write, “Ashlee emerges from the house with her pink pony and her brown one.” … I’m working on a very precise location with real lived experiences.
THR: Was there one part of the script that changed most from the first draft?
Granik: The book and script were written with Ree having two brothers. Close to shooting time, after we had auditioned as many boys as we could find, we realized that the girl who was our guide to her property kept appearing in rehearsal footage. She was really working with Jennifer Lawrence and showing her things, and Anne and I said: “Oh my lord, what has blinded us? The second sibling should be Ashlee!” Those are very unnerving changes because you lived with a script for two years, and the book has existed with this other character written.
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