Monday, August 20, 2007
for the entire interview go here:
Best known for the classic crime revenge novel Death Wish and the series of movies it inspired, Brian Garfield(1939) is a versatile and accomplished writer. Having published nearly 70 books throughout a career spanning nearly five decades, he has been nominated for and won numerous literary prizes. These include the Edgar Allan Poe Award of the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) for his novel Hopscotch (1976). The story was the basis for a movie of the same name starring Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson, which in turn was nominated for a Golden Globe, the Writers Guild of America Award and yet another Edgar.
Boasting over 20 million copies of his books published worldwide, other notable Garfield works are The Thousand Mile War: World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians, a nonfiction finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History, and Wild Times, a finalist for the American Book Award and the basis for a television miniseriesstarring Sam Elliot and Dennis Hopper. Most recently, his crime novel Death Sentence (1975) was adapted to film by director James Wan (the Saw trilogy) in a 20th Century Fox production starring Kevin Bacon, John Goodman and Kelly Preston.
Garfield’s resume, however, is just as accomplished when it comes to Westerns. A past president of both the MWA and the Western Writers of America, his work in the genre includes the Golden Spur-nominated novelArizona (1969) and the nonfiction handbook Western Films: A Complete Guide (1973). On the eve of the release of Death Sentence, Garfield took time to talk with Saddlebums about his career as well as the past, present and future of Westerns.
Can you tell us more about your experience working in movies? How have you felt so far about the screen versions of works such as Death Wish and The Last Hard Men?
At this writing, I haven’t yet seen the new 20th Century Fox movie from my novel Death Sentence, but I’ve seen clips and have studied Ian Jeffers’ shooting script. The movie may be too gory for my own taste, but it makes the point I wanted it to make, and everything I hear about it from reporters who’ve seen it is that it’s an exciting and disturbing movie. That sounds good to me. But a writer of books has to keep in mind that a movie is not his/hers – writers do not make movies unless they write, produce and direct the movies. A movie is created by hundreds of people. If you want a story to be your own, write a book. In that context, I'm happy with most of the film adaptations. I didn't like the sequels to Death Wish and The Stepfather, but beyond getting paid for the rights, the sequels weren’t “mine” in any real sense. I loved making the film of Hopscotch, partly because the director and the other producers and the actors and I worked together on it and it became clear that we all had the same movie in mind. That doesn’t happen often, but it’s great when it does. Bottom line – I’ve been very lucky with films (nearly twenty of them have been produced) and I don’t agree with those who say, “Isn’t it terrible what Hollywood did to your book.” Hollywood hasn’t done anything to my books – the books are right over here on the shelf, untouched. My wife and dog and banker and I are glad all the movies got made, and actually I do like quite a few of them – as movies.
I’m particularly fond of a couple of made-for-TV movies and a mini-series that haven’t been shown much on cable (we’re trying to rectify that) –Necessity, Legs, Relentless, and particularly Wild Times, the mini-series about the Wild West Shows. We used early Edison footage of the Buffalo Bill show to replicate the arenas and events. Producer Doug Netter was a New Yorker, and said since I was a Westerner he wondered if I’d like to select the actors for most of the leading roles. That was a rare privilege and I was delighted when Sam Elliott, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Penny Peyser, Pat Hingle, L.Q. Jones, Dennis Hopper, and several other of my favorite actors from Westerns agreed to appear in it. I think its Wild West Show scenes are among the best ever filmed (Sam Elliott spent MONTHS teaching himself and his horse to perform dressage.) I worked on location with that movie, and with Hopscotch and with The Last Hard Men and with a few others; met a lot of great people – stayed in touch with James Coburn and a few others – and wouldn’t have had it any other way. For this movie lover, it was educational and fascinating. But I gave up being a hotshot movie producer after ten years’ intense and tense effort got only one and a half movies produced (Hopscotch was the whole one; the half was The Stepfather – a movie our company developed, but Don Westlake wrote the screenplay and we had to sell the “package” to get it produced, so I wasn’t involved in the actual making of it. I think it’s a splendid thriller, and am happy my name’s on a bit of it. But producing films eats time and energy. I like the movies, but would rather spend the time writing books.