Q + A with Debra Granik, director of WINTER'S BONE
What drew you to want to adapt WINTER'S BONE and direct it as a film?
I read WINTER'S BONE in one sitting. I had not done that with any book in a long time. I wanted to see how this girl, Ree, was going to survive. It felt like an old fashioned type of tale, with a character I couldn't help but root for, and with an atmosphere my mind was actively trying to conjure. It also felt fresh in that I do not often get a chance to imagine life like Ree's, whose circumstances lie outside the confines of my own.
How did you work with the Author, Daniel Woodrell, in the making of this movie?
To launch this project, Anne Rosellini, the producer, and I met with Daniel Woodrell in his home base in Southern Missouri and embarked on our first scout with him. We looked at creeks, caves, and homes of all kinds. We photographed yards, roads, and woods. Katie Woodrell, Daniel's wife, arranged for us to meet singers, storytellers, folklorists, and all manner of scholars and practitioners steeped in Ozark culture--past and present. Also, we had an informative and heartbreaking discussion with the sheriff about what the meth problem has been like over the last two decades. After this visit, we were very enthused. We had also learned that to move forward we would need a guide, a local person who could carefully and respectfully introduce us to a community that might, over time, be persuaded to work with us.
Tell us about working with Jennifer Lawrence.
Jen took this role into her heart and worked very hard to enter Ree's world. She used what she's got from her Kentucky roots--family that could help her with hunting, wood chopping, and other skills she wanted to have for the shoot. And to my ear, she already had a beautiful way of pronouncing American English that seemed right for Ree. Though the script had some very foreign phrases for us, Jen was familiar with some of them, having heard similar phrasing growing up. When she arrived in Missouri before the shoot, she worked closely with the life models and the family on whose property we shot the film. She learned how to operate the equipment, learned all the dog's names, and bonded with their children. In her role, she plays an older sister to a boy and a girl. Jen developed her own way of working with the kids. She made things real for them. She could also improvise and rehearse with them to put them at ease. Jen is very invested in working with her fellow actors and crew, which means she is always learning, absorbing, and challenging herself. I feel very lucky that we had the chance to make this film together.
How do you see Ree as a character?
Ree is focused on her commitment to see her brother and sister through their childhoods. She is willing to fight to keep her family from falling apart. I see her as a lioness trying to protect her pride. She is also a teenager who experiences helpless feelings when adults around her make deadly choices, and are drawn down into a way of life that destroys them. She can't do much to get her dad out of the meth world or help her uncle with his chemical dependency and nihilism, yet she still cares about them. That is wrenching for any young person. The only thing left for her is to try to be different.
How did you come to know these characters and what did you to try to create a realistic, natural feeling environment in which to tell this story?
We started by doing a search for a family living in a setting close to the one described in the book. We knew we had to find a family who would let us see their house, their clothes, their objects, their dinner, who would let us see them hunt, take care of their animals, and fix day-to-day problems as they arose. We ultimately found this family and neighbors who were willing to answer our questions and show us their day to day lives.
What were some of the challenges given the subject matter?
There are challenges inherent in working far from home. First, ways of communicating differ. It is not always possible to roll into a new place and use film crew jargon. It's easy to make faux pas. There are different protocols, different ways of asking and answering. We needed a liaison, and the community needed an advocate, so we did not inadvertently overlook certain issues or antagonize people. We needed help on every front that city people need when thrust into a rural setting.
WINTER'S BONE and Down to the Bone (Sundance 2004) both have women characters who struggle in very difficult circumstances in the central roles. Is this a coincidence or are you drawn to this?
I am drawn to looking at characters who have to solve the puzzle of how to make their lives work. Often that involves a lot of hard choices. I am very attracted to comedy as well. Not broad style comedy, but the kind that takes note of the absurdities of life. I like to see a character navigate this with lyrical, good-humored resilience. What wows me are people who soldier on within difficult circumstances. I want to see how they are going to do it. Someone once told me that in some lives a person appears to make great strides, reach heights, and in other lives it takes an equal amount of resolve and effort to move a centimeter. The cycle of effort, obstacles, trying again...these are the lives that I want to document and portray.
Why did you choose to shoot this film on the RED camera?
I deliberated long and hard with my long-time collaborators, Anne Rosellini (co-writer and producer) and Michael McDonough, (director of photography), trying to choose what camera to use for this film. The details of the Ozark landscape called out for a beautiful, high-resolution instrument of photography, which is not easily managed on a small budget.
What was your reason for shooting in Missouri?
We never wavered from this dream. The story was so deeply set in Missouri that to try to simulate or recreate it would only weaken our confidence. For author Daniel Woodrell, his region is his muse. We needed to "stay close to the willows." We needed the actors who played Ree's relatives, etc. to be of this place. We wanted the accents to be "bread and buttered," as Ree says. Early on, trying to be cooperative and good sports with production companies, we contemplated selecting a shooting location by shopping for the best tax incentive programs. Woodrell gave us his blessing to shoot in the craggy foothills of upstate NY, a region he felt could from certain angles resemble Ozark terrain. And while we did get interested in remote areas of Pennsylvania and other states, all ripe for great photography, Southern Missouri kept calling us. And ultimately the State of Missouri came through with a very decent incentive, which enabled us to film on the story's home turf, and not forsake the very real help that a tax incentive program can offer.
Return to "Winter's Bone" Index
MOVIE RENTAL DEALS