Wild Production Notes
In WILD, director Jean-Marc Vallée (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB), Academy Award® winner Reese Witherspoon (WALK THE LINE) and Academy Award nominated screenwriter Nick Hornby (AN EDUCATION) bring bestselling author Cheryl Strayed’s extraordinary adventure to the screen. After years of reckless behavior, a heroin addiction and the destruction of her marriage, Strayed makes a rash decision. Haunted by memories of her mother Bobbi (Academy Award nominee Laura Dern) and with absolutely no experience, she sets out to hike more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail all on her own. WILD powerfully reveals her terrors and pleasures --as she forges ahead on a journey that maddens, strengthens, and ultimately heals her.
Fox Searchlight Pictures presents, a Pacific Standard production, WILD starring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffmann, Kevin Rankin, W. Earl Brown, Mo McRae, Keene McRae.
The film is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (YOUNG VICTORIA) with a screenplay by Nick Hornby (ABOUT A BOY), based on the book by Cheryl Strayed. Producers are Reese Witherspoon, p.g.a. (GONE GIRL), Bruna Papandrea, p.g.a. (MILK) and Bill Pohlad (12 YEARS A SLAVE); executive producers are Bergen Swanson (THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT), Nathan Ross (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB) and Hornby. The filmmaking team includes director of photography Yves Bélanger, CSC (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB); production designer John Paino (WIN WIN); film editors John Mac McMurphy (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB) and Martin Pensa (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB); costume designer Melissa Bruning (DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES); casting by David Rubin (GRAVITY); visual effects supervisor Marc Côté (IMMORTALS) and music supervisor Susan Jacobs (AMERICAN HUSTLE).
Thinking she’d lost everything, Cheryl Strayed walked out of her broken-down life and into the deep wilderness on a 1,100-mile solo hike that would take her to the edge. Strayed’s experiences became the beating heart of an inspirational, best-selling memoir that was about more than just an inexperienced hiker’s crazy, grueling experience walking from the Mojave Desert to the Pacific Northwest via the rugged Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). With its mix of punk spirit and vibrant honesty, it also became something rarely seen: a portrait of a modern, messed-up woman coming-of-age by embracing the call of the wild in her own way. On the trail, Strayed faced down thirst, heat, cold, feral animals and all of her worst fears, but even more so, she faced up to change: pushing through to carve her own path out of grief and a haunted past.
Now Strayed’s acclaimed book comes to the screen directed by Academy Award® nominee Jean-Marc Vallée (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB), adapted by critically lauded best-selling author and Oscar®-nominated screenwriter Nick Hornby (AN EDUCATION) and starring Academy Award® winner Reese Witherspoon, who optioned the book as soon as she read it. Together, they set out to capture a story that unfolds largely inside one woman’s head –a flood of memories, fears, ideas, songs, poems, anger and awe – but travels a vast distance.
Wilderness epics have been around since the beginning of cinema. But from the 1912 silent film THE CONQUEST OF THE POLE to JEREMIAH JOHNSON to INTO THE WILD to 127 HOURS, nearly all have traced the paths of men far from civilization. But the fact that WILD takes a different, less expected direction drew a devoted group of filmmakers.
Says Witherspoon, who produced the film with her partner Bruna Papandrea: “WILD is about so many things that touch people. It's about life, love, loss and family. It’s about how a woman who thought she was completely broken, but found a way to reconstitute herself.”
Director Vallée adds: “WILD is the story of a woman who wants to change her life and decides to do it in a very drastic way by going on this hike on the PCT. It becomes quite a journey, a journey of discovering herself and facing life and asking herself all the hard questions. But it’s also a journey of redemption – that’s the thing.”
WILD began with Cheryl Strayed’s own personal story – that of a woman still reeling from the sudden loss of her inspiring mother, a wrecked marriage and a headlong dive into unabashed self-destruction who decides to put a halt to it all and takes a seemingly preposterous adventure. With zero outdoors experience, a monstrously heavy backpack and fueled by little but her own ragged will, Strayed set out to hike the PCT, the longest, toughest and wildest through-trail in America, completely alone. Barely a few minutes into her trek, she considered quitting. But she persevered and during those few months, she found reminders of joy, courage and beauty amid the fear, exhaustion and peril. It was an adventure that helped her put her life back together again and emerge with a raw but remarkable story.
Recalls Strayed: “It was a huge physical undertaking for me to hike the PCT for 94 days, but it was also very much a spiritual journey. I turned to the trail as many people turn to the wilderness -- at a time when I felt lost and desperate, when I was in a place where I didn’t know how to move forward. In many ways the trail taught me to literally just put one foot in front of the other again.”
Strayed’s story meant a lot to her personally but she couldn’t have foreseen how deeply her writing would tap into other people’s longing for a transformative experience. As soon as Wild was published in 2012 it hit the best-seller lists and drew critical raves, as much for its irreverent yet movingly candid style as for its adventurousness. The New York Times Book Review called it a “literary and human triumph” and The Boston Globe said Wild is “an addictive, gorgeous book that not only entertains, but leaves us the better for having read it.”
One person who read the book several months before it was published was Reese Witherspoon, the Academy Award® winning actress and producer who was just starting up her own film company with producer Bruna Papandrea. Though streams of manuscripts were passing through her hands, Witherspoon’s reaction to Wild was instantaneous and fervent.
“I read the first half of the book on a plane and I was just in tears,” Witherspoon recalls. “Then, I just couldn’t wait to get back to the book and I read the rest on the flight back. I said, ‘I don’t know who Cheryl Strayed is, but I need her number immediately.’”
Witherspoon called Strayed and told her how deeply she related to the memoir and how much she believed the book could touch many different lives. “I told Cheryl this is a rocket ship, so hold on – you are going to go so far with this book,” she remembers. “I found her to be every bit the spiritual and emotional person that you'd expect. She’s no nonsense, cuts through all the b.s. and just tells it like it is – the same things that people really responded to with her book.”
Witherspoon asked Strayed if she could option the film rights – and she and Papandrea soon began the process of trying to develop the story in a way that would do it justice. They knew they were headed into rough territory, not just to the PCT with its infamous harsh passages, but also into an emotional wilderness that many people who have never hiked a step have journeyed through.
“It was essential to us to maintain the purity of Cheryl’s book,” says Papandrea. “The book was so popular because whether you’re from a broken family or you’ve lost someone close to you or you’ve struggled with hardships, this is a story that reminds us we can save ourselves. Cheryl gets her life back because she chooses to walk back into the world. We wanted to tell that story.”
They joined together with Bill Pohlad (12 YEARS A SLAVE, INTO THE WILD, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) and River Road Entertainment to develop the script. “Bill and River Road gave us the ability to then find the best home which was Fox Searchlight,” says Papandrea.
As the project came together, executive producers Nathan Ross and Bergen Swanson came aboard. “I really loved the book,” says Nathan Ross, who also produced DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, echoing the response of so many. “It’s a physical journey but it’s just as much a very emotional journey and Cheryl comes out of the whole thing a better person in every way.”
For Swanson, whose recent films include SHAME and THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, the film also hit a personal note. “I’m a native Oregonian and the movie is set in a world I grew up in, one you don’t see often in film,” he says. “For Oregonians, Wild becoming a best-seller nationwide has been really special because it illuminates how meaningful our natural environment can be and what it’s like to really get in touch with the wild.”
To adapt the material for the screen, the filmmakers turned to a writer who had also fallen for Strayed’s book: the English novelist and screenwriter Nick Hornby. Hornby is best known for his own funny, poignant and deeply popular novels about contemporary life and love – including High Fidelity, About A Boy and A Long Way Down. He also garnered an Oscar® nomination for his adaptation of the memoir that became Lone Sherfig’s acclaimed AN EDUCATION.
He was drawn to Strayed’s style as soon as he turned the first page. “There were several things that electrified me about the book when I read it,” says Hornby. “Tonally, Cheryl writes in the way that I most identify with: she's never humorless, but she's also serious and passionate and she speaks directly. I loved her candor and her ability to talk about the various messes she'd made without self-pity or self-loathing. I loved her optimism, her determination to find the light even though its source seemed a long way away. I loved her very deep connection to the arts, to music and books. For me, Wild felt like a Springsteen song, specifically a song from ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town,’ and I wanted very much to try and capture that sound in the script.”
As he dove in, Hornby hoped to distill Strayed’s mix of heartache and irrepressible bravery. “I think the big thing was the rawness -- of the pain, the loss and of the journey itself, the loneliness of it, as well as Cheryl's unshakeable sense that this insane project will somehow pay off. There's a kind of magic in the book, too,” he points out. “The bad stuff is buried in the past, but the trail itself is peculiarly beneficent, despite all the physical pain and the relentlessness of the difficulty. And there’s redemption, of course. We're all looking for that.”
Intriguingly, Hornby is not an outdoorsy person – which he says only helped him relate to Cheryl’s absurdly unprepared state as she took on the PCT. “I have no experience of the wilderness. None,” he confesses. “But one of the things I loved about the book was that it was written for someone like me: the shock of it all, Cheryl's unpreparedness, speaks directly to those of us who spend all our time – I refuse to say too much time – thinking about writing, books, music, movies. That was my way in. One of the reasons the book works for so many readers is that it's not a book written for trekkers . . . and I figured that it was Jean-Marc and the crew who would have to deal with the scary stuff. I could look at the trail on the internet and think about it in my North London office.”
Hornby structured the film to bring all of Cheryl’s memories, doubts and past experiences with her on the trail, seeping into what she’s experiencing in the present tense. “I think the book is less internal than it looks. Stuff happens,” he notes. “It's unusual, to say the least, to find a book about nature which contains a lot of sex and drug abuse! And Cheryl meets people along the way, and those meetings are themselves transformative.”
He goes on: “But I needed to mess with the structure a bit. I wanted to unravel the back-story in a different way. In the book, Cheryl talks about the death of her mother right at the beginning, and everything springs from that. That makes perfect sense because her prose is so compelling, and you want to go anywhere she wants to take you after that. But without the prose, I decided that we had to create a kind of mystery in the story - what has messed this young woman up so badly? So we spool back from the divorce, until we get to the wellspring of everything, Bobbi's death.”
Strayed was exhilarated to have her story in Hornby’s hands. “I really can’t think of a writer I respect more than Nick,” she says. “I’m such a fan of his work. He’s funny, smart, wise and he’s also got a really good heart. I think he was the exact right person to undertake the transformation this book had to go through to become a script. He wrote a beautiful, brave screenplay.”
Witherspoon was equally impressed. “Nick did an incredible job of really capturing Cheryl’s voice and structuring the film into a non-linear narrative,” she says. “He created it as a mystery that unfolds, as you figure out why Cheryl’s on this long journey. He has an amazing ability to distill human relationships down to their emotional essence.”
Papandrea notes that Hornby was able to get under the skin of a female character as well as any he has explored. “Nick writes so brilliantly about modern men,” she muses, “but AN EDUCATION is very much a female-driven coming-of-age story and that was equally wonderful. So it’s interesting that he has been drawn to women’s journeys in the cinematic space.”
Meanwhile, as Witherspoon and Papandrea began talking about a list of potential directors for WILD, one name resonated with them: Jean-Marc Vallée. At that time, he was still in EARLY STAGES OF POST production on DALLAS BUYERS CLUB – and the hoopla surrounding that film was yet to occur. But they were riveted by the energy of two previous films: C.R.A.Z.Y., the suspenseful story of a gay man growing up with a conservative father in 1970s Quebec, and THE YOUNG VICTORIA, an intimate look into the early reign of Queen Victoria. Both featured radiant performances. After ongoing conversations with Bruna, Fox Searchlight and Nathan Ross, Vallée read Hornby’s script and they were off to the races. Vallée was so taken with the story and its potential, he was eager to make it his next film.
Says Ross: “Jean-Marc is really great with the kind of storytelling where an individual is going through a multi-layered transformation. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB was a similar kind of situation in the way he followed a character through intense physical and emotional changes.”
“Choosing a film to direct is choosing your lifestyle. When I get involved on a film, I want to wake up in the morning with a smile on my face and happy to do my job. The way to make that happen is to choose the right project. Funny enough, I don’t think that I chose WILD. WILD chose me. That’s how privileged I feel to be part of the WILD team, and like everyone else, how lucky I felt to be at the service of an amazing story to tell the world: Cheryl Strayed’s story that humbly reminds us, despite how tough and cruel life can be, we can always put ourselves in the way of the beauty. ‘Yeah right’, you’re probably thinking. ‘Double f*cking yeah right’, I’m telling you!” says Vallée.
As soon as he came aboard, Vallée plunged into the creative end of things. “Jean-Marc and Nick worked together for two months transforming the script into Jean-Marc's vision of the film,” says Witherspoon. “It became full of visual metaphors. Jean-Marc is such a thoughtful, emotional filmmaker – and he really focused on creating an evocative atmosphere.”
“From the moment I read the script, then the book, I wanted to be friends with Cheryl. That’s how I felt as a reader, and even more as a director. I wanted to hang out with her and hear more about her journey on the PCT, hear more about her way of telling herself. With no censorship at all. How does she do it? Mankind ordinarily tries to blame it on the others first. It’s always other people’s fault, right? Not with Cheryl. Her humanity made me feel good. Her story made me cry and laugh and think about how small we are in the whole picture, how small we are on this planet, how small we can be in the wilderness, but how grounded and connected we are at the same time, to nature and to each other, how big and powerful and beautiful we can be. Cheryl picked the perfect word to describe herself, to describe her journey, her life,” notes Vallée.
Vallée’s affinity for finding beauty in unlikely places and not flinching in the face of darkness was especially important to Witherspoon. “It was as important to Jean-Marc as it was to me to really show every element of Cheryl’s journey, high and low,” says the actress and producer. “We wanted to show both how extraordinarily physically and spiritually challenged Cheryl was, while at the same time, to show how inspiring and beautiful her experience was.”
“How do I get this film to be as emotional as the book that it’s based on? I guess the answer was to try to be truthful and faithful to the material, to Cheryl’s voice. That voice is the strength of the book. It had to be the strength of the film. Cheryl has such a way of talking about herself – her take on life, on death, love, her cruel honesty, her compassion, her desire to embrace life, to heal, to grief, to try to understand, what the hell is wrong, “what the f*ck am I doing?” she wonders after just taking her first step on the trail,” says Vallée.
Vallée says he came at the story first through where it intersected with his personal life. “It was such an emotional story for me,” he explains. “I lost my mom in 2010 to cancer. She was 72, not 45, but I really related to how Cheryl wrote about grief and her process of mourning. I also come from a very humble background with really strong women in my life, so Cheryl’s life resonated with mine. It was an easy choice for me to be in service to this story.”
Vallée continues: “How wild I was going to be as a director was something else. Wild enough to honor Cheryl’s words, her life, I guess, but humble enough also to let it be, to be simple and not overdo it, to be at the service of her story. That was the ultimate challenge. This project was appealing to me because of its strong, emotional content but also because I knew that I had the kind of material in my hands that allows a director to have fun with the medium, with the language, the editing, the music, the sound design, the shots, from the widest spectacular landscapes to the most intimate close-ups of Reese’s face and body.”
“WILD’s story was told through the point of view of a strong female character on a solitary journey, no way was I going to make it different. What she sees is what we see. What she hears is what we hear, what she thinks and dreams of is also what we see, and what we hear, since we decided to use a voice over. Cheryl’s thoughts and comments were going to accompany us through her journey. I loved that. I have always been a big fan of voice overs,” says Vallée. “And I have always been a believer in the use of source music in film rather than score music. To my great joy, Cheryl was a music oriented girl. That would allow me to have fun with music, try to find the right tracks to spin as a director-dj wannabe who tries to tell a story with existing songs that are part of the world that we’re trying to depict, that will help defining the characters. There was no doubt in my mind: WILD was for me. I wanted to direct this film badly.
Working again with DALLAS BUYERS CLUB cinematographer Yves Bélanger, the two brought their distinctively minimalist cinematic style – utilizing hand-held digital cameras and natural light – for the first time to a wilderness setting. These raw, unadorned visuals would later be woven into a tapestry of present-tense encounters – human and otherwise – with ghostly flashbacks and stream of consciousness to recreate a story that heads inward even as it explores the outdoors.
For Jean-Marc Vallée it was impossible to imagine anyone other than Reese Witherspoon portraying WILD’s lead character and driving force. “As with Matthew McConaughey in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, she just connected with the character so deeply,” he says. “Reese’s love for the book was so clear and deep, she really had a profound grasp on who this woman was. She was also up for an incredible challenge, ready to go completely out of her comfort zone. She came at it with a very moving humility. There was no ego, just a desire to get inside this woman alone.”
Though Cheryl has an array of human encounters, both eye-opening and frightening, for much of the film she is on her own – which meant Witherspoon was on camera in nearly every frame. Bruna Papandrea says she knew Witherspoon would give it everything she had.
“I think there are a lot of similarities between Reese and Cheryl in that they both have a toughness but also an incredible generosity of spirit,” she observes. “And they’re both very open and not afraid to talk about the hard stuff in life. One of the things that really excited me as a producer was the chance for people to see Reese in a way they have never seen her before. She is stripped bare here – physically and emotionally – and I think she’s magnificent.”
Witherspoon came at Cheryl as someone who takes a seemingly naïve, possibly even ridiculous, go at the PCT trail because, no matter how far she has fallen in her life, deep down she still believes she can kick-start her own salvation.
“She could have made other choices. She could have just become a drug addict, gone down that rabbit hole and never returned,” the actress and producer points out. “But she decides not to. She pulls herself out and that is incredibly inspiring for anyone who is struggling with their life in any kind of way. So many people feel that they are alone and have no one to help them. This story gives voice to the idea that you can save yourself and that’s a really powerful thing.”
There was little doubt that the role would bring with it extreme athletic demands as Cheryl navigates across rock, river, ice and snow. Witherspoon brought a love and respect for the outdoors that helped her to tackle them, but even so, playing Cheryl meant encountering the wild – in the harsh deserts, high mountains and also her own head – in all kinds of new ways.
“If I would have been a person who didn’t love the outdoors, this role would have been impossible,” she laughs. “As it was, it was extremely challenging on every level, and far more physically challenging than I ever anticipated. There was climbing up the side of a mountain and balancing in river crossings and marching through chest-deep snow and falling into a freezing river. I had no idea it was going to be as hard as it truly was. But it was also very, very rewarding.”
Many of those rewards came from moments that took Witherspoon into the darkest corners of her psyche. Shooting the moment that opens the film – when Cheryl disastrously loses her boot on a high pass – felt like approaching a major life crossroads to Witherspoon.
“I have to say the spot where we shot that scene is one of most beautiful places I've been in my life,” she recalls. “Being on the edge of that mountain while contemplating all that was happening to Cheryl in that instant was intensely emotional. It’s the first moment when she decides nothing is going to be able to tear her apart. It seems to her that the universe keeps trying to shred her to pieces. And now she decides she just absolutely will not let it.”
The heart-stirring vistas rife throughout the shoot were a constant inspiration for Witherspoon, and a reminder of why the untouched spaces of wilderness called so strongly to Cheryl, even at rock bottom. “It fills you up,” the actress says. “To see the incredible beauty of our world makes you believe everything might really be OK. I think that’s how Cheryl came to feel.”
Having Strayed herself on the set also helped. “She was a real touchstone for me,” Witherspoon explains. “Sometimes the only thing that gave me a toe-hold in a scene was looking over at Cheryl and seeing in her face that she lived through this. You see all that she’s been through in her eyes. And you hear it in her voice. And following that was the biggest gift to me as an actor.”
In fact, Witherspoon became so embedded with the character that when someone would call out “Cheryl” on the set, she would answer simultaneously with Strayed.
Strayed was impressed with the way Witherspoon brought her own perspective to the role. “Before shooting began we spent a lot of time together just talking about our lives, and I think, like any artist, she was figuring out how to make this role her own. I shared with her all kinds of stories from the trail, from my life, and she did the same with me. We really, really got to know each other. I’d describe Reese as a seeker. She’s a very down to earth person, but also very smart and wise.”
On the set, Strayed was taken aback by how real it became. “When we shot the scene where Reese falls to her knees and cries, I was standing behind the monitors watching her do four or five takes and I cried with her every time,” says the writer. “It was such a strange thing because I knew exactly who she was in that moment because she was me – but, at the same time, she was also Reese in her own moment where the universe has brought her to her knees. That’s the power of art.”
Witherspoon notes that while Cheryl took a lot from the solitude she found, she took just as much from the people she met along the way, encounters that become key to the film. “I love how all kinds of different people come into her life on this solo trek,” she says. “It reminds me a little of Bergman’s WILD STRAWBERRIES, where she’s on this journey and she keeps meeting people who bring up something she needs to address in her life.”
The way Jean-Marc Vallée shoots, using hand-held digital cameras that move continuously through 360 degrees, was also a revelation for Witherspoon and sparked even more risk-taking in her performance. “I've never done anything like it before. It's very unorthodox,” she comments. “As an actor, it helps frees you of old patterns. You feel like you're always in the moment and anything is possible. We could be in a wide shot one minute and a close-up the next, just as I might be sobbing one moment and ecstatic the next. It was a really exciting kind of process.”
Ultimately, as she entwined deeper and deeper with the character, Witherspoon found that Cheryl’s infamously weighty backpack and ramshackle boots became a part of her own soul. While the backpack is often a source a comedy in the film, it also became a metaphor for Cheryl learning to shoulder the weight of the past and keep walking on.
“The boots and backpack became a part of me,” Witherspoon notes. “The backpack came to feel like it was my arm or leg. Sometimes I would forget between scenes it was even on my body. Sometimes the prop master would have to say ‘you can take it off.’ As Cheryl says in her book, there’s something amazing about realizing that everything you really need in life you could carry on your back. It is so liberating. It's a beautiful idea.”
Throughout production, Witherspoon’s feet were chewed up, her body left aching and, much like Cheryl had, she passed through some dark and fearsome interior places but was constantly invigorated by the hard-won transformation she was projecting. “It was never easy, but it was the kind of thing where when you get to the end of the day, you just feel like you’ve accomplished something,” she concludes. “I felt so lucky to be able to tell a story like Cheryl’s.”
Casting the past and the future
While Cheryl is the core of WILD, the film is populated by a diverse group of characters, both from the life Cheryl has just left behind and those she meets on the path forward.
Among them, the one person who has impacted Cheryl in the most shattering and enlivening ways is her mother, Bobbi, whose brief, sudden battle with cancer sends Cheryl’s existence into a steep nosedive. Taking the role is Oscar®-nominated and three-time Golden Globe® Award-winning actress Laura Dern, who recently won a Golden Globe for HBO’s “Enlightened.” Known for her versatility and commitment, Dern came up on the radar for Witherspoon and Papandrea early on.
“This role was the most important casting, because Cheryl’s deep connection with her mother is so essential,” Papandrea points out. “We were looking for someone with the rare qualities Bobbi had: a free spirit with an enormous amount of love, but also a woman who has come through being abused. If you’ve ever met Laura, you realize very quickly she has that kind of spirit. She’s very open and we also felt there was a likeness between her and Reese that could work brilliantly.”
That likeness became a profound rapport on the set. Witherspoon was stirred by what Dern brought to the role. “Laura completely transforms herself in every role, and this is no exception,” says Witherspoon. “She spent so much time trying to learn about Cheryl's mother. And then I think she tapped into what makes her such an extraordinary life force, so that you understand why Cheryl feels like she’ll never be okay again without the love that her mother gave her. Laura was just incredible at portraying that ferocity of love.”
“What a presence. What a voice, what a laugh. Contagious. Even though Laura has so much experience in front of the camera, it feels like she's acting for the first time when she hears action. She looks so excited, so thrilled to do her job, to try something new, something different, something crazy, something emotional, you name it. Laura is such a trooper,’ say Vallée. “Not only did we shoot all of her scenes, but we managed to create new ones to try to give more presence to Cheryl's mother in the film. Improvised scenes that we shot on the fly, between sets, during a makeup test, or a break. And every single one of them is in the film. Thanks to the great Laura Dern.”
Dern consulted Strayed’s other writings about her mother, especially in her book Tiny Beautiful Things. She also talked with Strayed who said she always felt that WILD was a mother-daughter love story, an idea to which Dern relates personally. “I am very lucky because I have an extraordinary mother to whom I am very close, and I have several times even played the daughter of my actual mother. So I’ve considered the mother-daughter relationship in many different ways, and it’s one that means a great deal to me,” Dern says. “I’d never seen on the page before the kind of devotion Cheryl carries for her mother and that interested me a lot.”
The more Dern got to know Bobbi, the more she was awestruck by her. “I think what moved me most is that through all of the challenges of self-discovery and an abusive marriage and raising children on her own in poverty, she had no sense of martyrdom,” says the actress. “There was no victim in her at all. She felt blessed to be alive and to have the chance to redefine life for herself and her children, and to find joy in the unknown. And that is so powerful and inspiring to me as a woman. Just to get close to her through Cheryl’s memories felt like a great privilege.”
Dern knew instinctively Witherspoon was the right person to play Cheryl. “When I heard that she read the book and overnight knew she had to make it into a film, I understood how impassioned she was,” Dern explains. “She knew this was the right moment in her life that she was ready to explore this kind of role and story, and that is really exciting.”
Still, Dern says she didn’t always envy what she saw Witherspoon weathering. “I was often watching Reese in the freezing cold, carrying the heaviest backpack in the world, totally cut up, bruised, in physical agony, thinking ‘I’ll be over here when you’re ready for a flashback.’ It all looked so exhausting and scary and cold, I don’t know how she did it.”
Dern faced her own challenges trying to encapsulate Bobbi’s huge presence in the brief space of Cheryl’s memories. “We set out to capture several different eras of Cheryl and Bobbi’s lives,” she points out. “So there are the years after Bobbi separated from her husband and the college years and then the brief period when Bobbi was sick. All of it was essential to understanding Cheryl, and Jean-Marc was so creative at coming up with ways to condense Cheryl’s entire childhood. We were recreating a lifetime of experiences, and that was a wonderful, exciting kind of challenge.”
Other key figures from Cheryl’s troubled past include her husband Paul, played by Thomas Sadoski, who drew acclaim in the theatre before being cast in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom.” As Paul, Sadoski plays a man still enthralled by Cheryl’s spirit despite his dismay at her behavior.
Sadoski was drawn to being part of an authentically tight and loving relationship that, nevertheless, might be damaged beyond the point of return. “These are two people who love each other very much but can’t really be together anymore,” he notes. “I think sometimes in life you have to let go of a great love to become the person you’re supposed to be.”
He especially enjoyed forging the contours of that relationship with Witherspoon. “Reese has this unbelievably easy presence and an honesty that seems so effortless,” he comments. “It’s amazing how available she is, how open she is, how trusting and generous she is as a scene partner.”
Vallée loved watching the two of them together. “Thomas’ face says so much,” relays the director. “He doesn’t have to say much to give a very, very strong performance.”
Playing Cheryl’s younger brother Leif is Keene McRae who realized that his character and Cheryl had very different reactions to their mother’s terminal illness. “Leif basically is just not around, he doesn’t want to deal with it emotionally, which leaves Cheryl as the one who is right there with her, watching it all happen,” he says.
Rounding out the characters from Cheryl’s Minneapolis life is her best friend Aimee, portrayed by Gaby Hoffmann, recently seen in OBVIOUS CHILD and in the HBO series “Girls.” Hoffmann says of her character: “She’s really the most stable person in Cheryl’s life. They’re friends three to four years after her mother passes when Cheryl is at the bottom of a spiral. She’s just really lost and Aimee’s trying to do anything to help get her back on track.”
Like so many people, Hoffmann found herself relating to the book, despite having a very different life from Cheryl. “I certainly have never taken such an adventure at that level, but I did spend most of my 20s feeling lost and attempting to retrieve or discover or expose myself to myself,” she says. “That kind of spiritual, psychological journey resonates with me and I think with a lot of people. It’s something so many women and people in general go through.”
Among the people who change Cheryl while on the road is Jonathan, a chance encounter who brings a moment of connection when she emerges from the woods in freewheeling Ashland, Oregon at the time of Jerry Garcia’s death. Taking the brief but pivotal role is Michiel Huisman, the Dutch actor known for WORLD WAR Z and Vallée’s THE YOUNG VICTORIA.
“Reese and I loved him in YOUNG VICTORIA,” says Bruna Papandrea. “He’s perfect as the first person Cheryl has been sexual with sober in a very long time. We really wanted someone who could reflect the free spirit of that time and place. And Michiel is also gorgeous.”
Says Huisman of Jonathan’s reaction to Cheryl: “He’s intrigued by her presence. She’s very direct and he likes that.” He continues: “I really liked Jonathan but it wasn’t just his character that drew me to WILD. It was this funny, sad, beautiful story. I loved being part of it.”
Another person who helps sustain Cheryl when she most needs it is Greg, a fellow PCT hiker with far more experience. Kevin Rankin, known for his work on television’s “Breaking Bad,” “Trauma” and “Unforgettable” and who also was in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, takes the role.
Rankin acknowledges that when Greg meets Cheryl – as he’s emerging bare naked from a dip in the river – it seems unlikely she’ll ever finish her hike. “Greg has been planning for years to do this hike, so for Cheryl it’s sort of a moment for her to see how deep in over her head she is, how unprepared she is juxtaposed with someone who is fully ready,” he says. “But that all changes.”
The nude scene unfortunately had to be shot in Oregon in near freezing temperatures. “It’s supposed to be a hot California summer but it was maybe 40 degrees, maybe,” recalls Rankin. “I had to get mentally prepared for that!”
The very first person Cheryl encounters when she’s desperate and starving in California near the start of the trail is Frank, a man working in a remote field who makes a dangerous-sounding offer to take her home in his truck. Taking the surprising role is W. Earl Brown, a renowned character actor best recognized as the hotheaded Dan Dority on HBO’s “Deadwood.”
Brown says the role came naturally to him. “I know this guy. I'm related to this guy; I grew up on a farm in Kentucky. It’s actually why I became an actor because when I was hauling hay at 12, I thought ‘I can’t do this the rest of my life.’ So, ironically now I’m playing a farmer,” he muses.
For Brown, Frank’s encounter with Cheryl is an omen of what is to come: a facing down of all her fears. “That’s what her journey is about,” he says. “In the beginning, I think she seems pretty naïve to undertake something so huge, with no preparation. She’s jumping off the cliff, not knowing if she has a parachute. But previously she was just anesthetizing her fears and pain, just slapping a bandage on it with the drugs. Now, on this trip, she’s facing it all in a very immediate way.”
One of Cheryl’s most surreal encounters disrupts her travels with comic relief when she is “interviewed” by a man named Jimmy Carter, wanting to profile her as a “lady hobo.” Mo McRae, last seen in THE BUTLER and the television hit “Sons of Anarchy,” had a blast with the role.
“Jimmy Carter is a very interesting person -- one of many interesting characters that Cheryl comes across,” says McRae. “He’s a journalist who writes for The Hobo Times. And he mistakes Cheryl for a lady hobo, which is something very hard to come by. So he’s pretty excited.”
McRae defends Carter’s enthusiasm. “I mean, aesthetically everything about Cheryl screams hobo,” he notes, “and Jimmy is a hobo aficionado. She tries to say she's not a hobo . . . but obviously she must be if she doesn't have a job or home and what looks like her whole life is in her backpack.”
But McRae also sees Jimmy Carter as a kind of reflective mirror for Cheryl. “I feel like Jimmy Carter represents in a weird way the eye of society,” he sums up. “He immediately attempts to put her in a box. He wants her to be what he sees her as. And anything that she says that contradicts that -- he's not receiving it. And that’s kind of where Cheryl is in her life with everyone. She wants to be seen in a new way.”
Earth, Wind and Fire
Life on the trail
Life on the trail
From the beginning it was clear that WILD had to be shot on the road and trail to capture both Cheryl’s disorienting immersion into the wilderness and her journey towards embracing all its revelations and unknowns. In many ways the production would come to echo her rites of passage.
Though the PCT winds from Mexico to Canada, the film would shoot primarily in Oregon, which features the full array of Western landscapes – and would ultimately become Strayed’s home – as well as in California’s parched Mojave Desert.
“This film is about a woman in the wilderness and that’s where it had to be shot,” says Jean-Marc Vallée. “We shot on the PCT as much as we could and in some other locations nearby, but we were always searching for that kind of beauty Cheryl writes about. We shot as early in the morning as we could to capture that morning light and we shot as late as we could to grab the sunsets.”
Vallée was especially intrigued by contrasting Witherspoon’s tiny frame against these monumental landscapes. “Sometimes I had the impression that I was making a Western,” he muses, “a John Ford film but with a tiny female figure cast against these vast vistas.”
Collaborating with Vallée on those vistas was a close-knit team, several of whom worked with him on DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, including cinematographer Yves Bélanger and production designer John Paino. Bélanger has been developing a unique, instinctive photographic style that creates a hyper-real experience – by using only handheld digital cameras and shooting without any artificial lighting. Now, however, he would be adapting this methodology to the great outdoors.
“We did this on DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, using only camera lenses, no lighting, no tripod, no dollies or cranes, just real locations and available light,” Bélanger says. “But for WILD, the scope had to be bigger. We felt it could be really beautiful using this approach in these stunning landscapes. It’s a trip to some really beautiful places, but it’s also a trip inside the human soul.”
He goes on: “This technique is very liberating for everybody. The actors love it because once you start shooting you don't stop, and they feel a lot more connected because it’s just them and the camera.”
As he did on DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, Bélanger utilized the Arri Alexa camera, but this time he added new Zeiss Master Prime lenses, which he says gave him unprecedented detail both for up-close faces and panoramas. He also used just a few mechanical lights for sequences that required it, such as shooting in the pouring rain. “We still kept it very, very raw,” he explains.
Everything was shot in the same way, from Cheryl to the mysterious fox that follows her. “Jean-Marc and I never underline anything as important,” says Bélanger. “We shoot it all very simply. So with the fox, we shot it as just a fox in the world, although it might be a metaphor.”
“Shooting outdoors most of the time, in the wilderness, in the cold, or in the heat, was obviously a challenge. Nature was Cheryl’s main obstacle during the first weeks of her hike. Nature was the obvious enemy. But Cheryl’s ultimate obstacle, Cheryl’s real enemy, was herself. Shooting one main character that represents the hero and the villain at the same time was a thought that I was concerned about. The major obstacle that Cheryl encounters during her journey comes from her mind, from her past. As she's hiking the PCT, she remembers different moments of her life, moments that got her on the trail and that slowly reveal her. They represent about 35% of the film. The rest takes place on the trail. A woman alone on a trail with a backpack and her thoughts, how do we capture this, how do I film her? I wasn’t sure at the beginning of the shoot. What was the right way to shoot Reese, the right lens, the right distance?’ asks Vallée. “Handheld was the way to go, no doubt about it (except for the final scene that we shot with a Steadicam operator). Finding the right distance between the main character and the audience is something that I discovered in the cutting room. Are we waiting for her on the trail as she passes by? Are we following her with a hand held dolly back? Are we behind her and walking with her with a hand held dolly in? Are we seeing her from behind and stay there as she walks by and becomes smaller and smaller in the frame, in the wilderness?”
Vallée continues. “Since we weren’t sure about the right distance yet, the cinematographer, Yves Bélanger, and I covered our backs on the set. We shot most of the scenes in different ways in order to allow us in the cutting room to find that distance. The hand held dolly back won. Most of time, we’re close to Reese and we’re walking with her. We’re close to her face, we can easily see what she’s looking at, and get a feeling of what she is thinking of. And sometimes, it was as important to see her “small,” far away from us, see her among the wilderness, among the beauty. And it’s funny how I get emotional when I see these wide shots of nature among which there is this tiny girl, with a back pack as big as her on her shoulder, slowly walking her way to God knows where, God knows why. The power of storytelling, I guess, that’s what gets me emotional, knowing more and more of Cheryl’s story, of Cheryl’s character, touches me even more when I see these beauty shots of nature.”
The way Vallée and Bélanger work together set the tone for the entire cast and crew observes Papandrea. “There’s a looseness and a fearlessness where they’re willing to try anything,” she says. “They’re not wedded to anything but able take opportunities for shots as they go. There’s such freedom – and for a film that is about a woman finding her own freedom in the wild, that was great.”
Executive producer Bergen Swanson adds: “The way Jean-Marc and Yves shoot is based on this idea of really removing the encumbrance of a big movie-making machine. They try to get it down to the essence of a director working with the actors and recording what they see on camera.”
For production designer John Paino, Vallée’s style is alluring. “What appeals to me about Jean-Marc is that I would call him a poetic realist,” he comments. “He deals in reality but he edits it down, he likes to take away everything superfluous to the themes of the story.”
Paino says his main goal throughout was to blend Cheryl’s past and present worlds. “You have the beauty of the natural world against the world of cities where Cheryl has come from,” he explains. “But we didn’t want it to be that one was entirely gritty and horrible and the other was beautiful and transformative. We wanted them opposed a bit but also meshed in Cheryl’s mind.”
He goes on: “We embrace the artificial colors of the city. In the natural, there are so many blues and greens so we stayed away from those in the city. But there are blues and greens and yellows in Bobbi’s house, because for Cheryl, that was a very warm, sunny time.”
Paino did a lot of photographic research – first with the PCT and its environs to make sure every location, whether on the trail or not, appeared authentic right down to the trail markers. But he also took up Cheryl Strayed’s offer to share personal photographs with him.
“Cheryl was very generous with pictorial references of her early life and she didn’t hold anything back and it was very informative,” he says. “We had some snippets of the homes where she grew up that were really, really helpful. They helped us decide where to push certain things like colors and textures. It also really hit home how poor they were. Cheryl even lent us her breadbox – which her father made for her mother – for the kitchen scene which was amazing.”
The PCT became a character in and of itself –embodying the rough-hewn allure of the American West. Winding through some 25 National Forests and 7 National Parks, it rises to 13,000 feet in the Sierra and dips to sea level at the Columbia River, passing through such diverse and inimitable territory as the Mojave Desert, Sequoia National Park, Tuolumne Meadows, the volcanic terrain of Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier, the forests of Crater Lake – all the way to the Bridge of the Gods, the cantilever bridge that crosses the Columbia River from Oregon into Washington state.
Some locations were so remote that the production had to hire donkeys and horses to haul in equipment, but it was all worth it. “Crater Lake is something you can’t double,” notes executive producer Nathan Ross. “There were a number of iconic locations where it was critical that we be able to shoot and that you couldn’t possibly green-screen. We had to be at the Bridge of the Gods because that is such an emotional high point in Cheryl’s story and it had to be authentic.”
The production had the cooperation of the Pacific Crest Trail Association and worked with several consultants affiliated with the trail, who provided everything from location advice to maps. “When it comes to the Pacific Crest Trail and information about the Trail, we're it,” explains Liz Bergeron, Executive Director and CEO of the Pacific Crest Trail Association. “We have a number of staff who have hiked the entire Trail or large parts of it, and staff who work on the Trail everyday as part of their job. So there's really nobody who knows the Trail like our organization does.”
She goes on: “What really surprised us on WILD is how hard everyone on the production was working to really make this experience feel very authentic and real.”
That authenticity went right down to the clothes, which fell to costume designer Melissa Bruning (DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, LET ME IN) to explore. Bruning also worked closely with Strayed, poring over her photographs from the PCT and even borrowing some her mother’s actual jewelry for Laura Dern to wear. For Cheryl’s hiking outfit, Bruning manufactured most of the items to match what Cheryl wore at the time. “We created many different versions of her vintage shorts – in various stages from new to wet to grungy and dirty,” the designer says.
Cheryl’s boots were a coup. “The boots that appear on the book cover have become iconic, so it was important for us to recreate those,” Bruning notes. “I approached Danner Boot Company here in Portland, and they were able to recreate for me that same boot. They had a bunch of them manufactured within ten days. It was something amazing that I didn’t even think was possible.”
For Cheryl’s backpack, the inspiration was also the real “monster,” which Strayed still keeps as a memento. Since that time, packs have become more high-tech and lightweight, so the production had to custom-make several copies of the original because that style isn’t sold anymore.
The authenticity went right down to the skin, as Reese Witherspoon engaged the same tattoo artist who did Cheryl’s divorce tattoo two decades ago to draw the same designs on her.
The tone of the clothing also subtly shifts through the film, with the young Cheryl starting out in light, colorful, playful dresses that give way to more sensual look during her marriage giving way to a dark, grunge look when she starts experimenting with heroin, which is then all stripped away when she leaves for the PCT with nothing but shorts, fleece pants and some basic tees.
“I approached it as if the trail was always reality and the flashbacks have that kind of slight fantasy of nostalgia, of remembrance,” Bruning explains.
The mixing and melding of reality and flashbacks became especially vital to the editing process. As he has on DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, Vallée oversaw the editing. “Martin Pensa and I have a way of challenging each other,” says the director. “I like that he’s 20 years younger than I am, so he has different references to draw on and he’s always pushing. For us, it is always about finding the right level and quality of emotion, that right rhythm.”
Going through the footage, Pensa recalls being astonished by Reese Witherspoon’s performance. “She is amazing in this role,” he says. “And she really went through it. It wasn’t smoke and mirrors. It was a truly tough physical and mental experience during which she evoked so many different emotions, many of them unspoken. I was really impressed with what she did.”
The crux of the editing was staying inside Cheryl’s head throughout, mirroring the way a person’s mind moves back and forth through time and memories when they are alone. “We wanted the film to reflect how people think. We don’t think continuously, but we have these little moments of flashing back to a memory, of humming a song, of talking to ourselves, of going from one thought to something completely different,” he points out. “So that’s what we were trying to re-create.”
“Cutting WILD was the most emotional cutting experience I ever had. I have never cut a film with a box of tissues next to me. Tears falling on the keyboard, Jesus, you should have seen me, a mess in the cutting room. But a happy mess. I was crying and smiling and laughing at the same time, happy to cut this film, to discover ways of cutting it to make us feel like we’re in Cheryl’s mind, working with it in mysterious ways sometimes, wild and disconnected like the brain can work, trying to gather all the different pieces of the puzzle, and also, just trying not to interfere with the magnificent performances of Reese and Laura and the other actors, trying to let the shots breathe and live as long as they did, trying not to cut but to show what we captured on the set,” Vallée says. “That how I feel today as a director, like the guy who’s job is to capture what’s going on in front of him, not interfere, not influence, just witness and capture…beauty. I want to capture beauty. Thank you Cheryl Strayed.”
Pensa says that he loves the constant creativity of working with Vallée. “Jean-Marc is a very passionate man, a very, very strong artist. I deeply respect his choices, his way of seeing things. To him, it’s never finished until it feels right,” he explains.
Part of what had to be right was the music. “When I asked myself how I was going to use music on the PCT, the answer wasn’t that obvious. Since Cheryl didn’t listen to any music while hiking in 1995, since she had no music device on her, why bother to change that? There will be no music on the PCT, just like her reality. But I found myself in the cutting room wanting to cheat sometimes, to go beyond that concept. I wanted some music other than her singing or humming. But I didn’t want to use score music. I didn’t want to give the audience this impression of “film watching”, you know, that’s often how I feel with score music, I become aware of it, aware that I’m watching a film, that someone is playing music that the characters don’t hear. I try to avoid that in every film I direct and I wanted to avoid it badly in WILD, and here I am in the cutting room trying to use source music as score music, trying not to be spotted by the audience, trying to keep this impression of realism that source music gives, trying to get away with it. So I played music on the trail in a ghostly fashion, with a reverb effect, very low in the distance to give the impression that it’s coming from Cheryl’s mind, as if she was trying to remember a song, or some parts of a song. And it became some sort of a convention to slowly introduce a flashback scene and to slowly get out of it,” says Vallée “But the main direction with music was to use it only during flashbacks. When there is music, it’s because it’s playing in the scene from a sound device, a car radio for instance, or a CD player. What Cheryl is listening to in her life, is the music that we hear during the film.”
“Music is a way that marks special moments in Cheryl’s life and her memories,” Vallée notes. “Since the film takes place in 1995, we tried to pick some great songs from that period. The Simon and Garfunkel song ‘El Condor Pasa’ is also something that is a contant presence with Cheryl on the trail. You hear her humming bits and pieces of it, but you don’t hear Simon and Garfunkel singing it until near the end.”
Those kinds of sudden rushes of feeling is what Vallée most wanted to bring to the film in the design and through Witherspoon’s performance – to get to what readers experienced when they first picked up Strayed’s book and were transported to a visceral, primal world where just taking another step could be a rousing triumph.
“There is something about being in the wilderness,” sums up Jean-Marc Vallée, “becoming part of nature, learning to see it not as an enemy but as a friend, experiencing the beauty and the quality of the air that can be life-changing. Cheryl went into that and kind of lost herself for nearly 100 days. She was alone with her demons, her dreams and her past and it led her to ask: ‘What do I really want to do with my life?’”
About the Cast
Academy Award® winner REESE WITHERSPOON (Cheryl Strayed) has created the kind of unforgettable characters that connect with critics and audiences alike, making her one of Hollywood’s most sought after actresses. In 2012, Witherspoon partnered with producer Bruna Papandrea to launch Pacific Standard Films. The new production banner hit the ground running, setting up an adaptation of the bestselling novel Gone Girl, as well as a range of comedies and dramas.
She will next be seen in THE GOOD LIE, directed by Academy Award nominated director Philippe Falardeau. Witherspoon stars in the role of ‘Carrie Davis,’ an American woman assigned to help four young Sudanese refugees, known as ‘Lost Boys of Sudan,’ who win a lottery for relocation to the United States. The film is slated for release on September 10, 2014.
Next, Witherspoon will star in the crime-thriller INHERENT VICE, alongside Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Joaquin Phoenix and Maya Rudolph. This will be the first adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s detective novel and is set for release in 2014.
Witherspoon was last seen in the Atom Egoyan’s drama DEVIL’S KNOT, with Colin Firth, based on the notorious ‘West Memphis Three’ case. She plays ‘Pam Hobbs,’ the mother of one of three young murder victims. The film debuted at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. Prior to that, Witherspoon starred in Jeff Nichols’s coming-of-age drama MUD, alongside Matthew McConaughey. The film premiered to rave reviews in competition at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and its domestic debut at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Previously, Witherspoon was seen in 20th Century Fox’s romantic comedy THIS MEANS WAR, directed by McG. She starred alongside Tom Hardy and Chris Pine as victims of a love triangle in which two CIA agents, who are best friends, discover that they are dating the same woman. Witherspoon was also seen in the period love story WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, with Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz.
In 2009, Witherspoon was heard as the voice of ‘Susan Murphy’ in the 2009 animated film MONSTERS VS. ALIENS, and she also starred opposite Vince Vaughn in the hit comedy FOUR CHRISTMASES. In 2010, she received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Witherspoon strongly supports the passage of the International Violence Against Women Act, which creates a comprehensive approach to combat violence. Witherspoon has been active on behalf of the Rape Treatment Center at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Save the Children. She currently serves on the board of the Children’s Defense Fund, with whom she has been involved for many years, raising money and awareness for their many programs. Since 2010, Witherspoon has been actively involved in Stand Up to Cancer and recently hosted their annual benefit.
In 2006, her extraordinary performance as ‘June Carter Cash’ in the 20th Century Fox bio-pic WALK THE LINE, earned her the Academy Award for ‘Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role,’ as well as the BAFTA Award, Golden Globe® Award, Screen Actors Guild Award™, New York Film Critics Award, Broadcast Film Critics Award, People’s Choice Award, along with eleven other awards.
She is also known for her indelible performance as ‘Tracy Flick’ in Alexander Payne's ELECTION, and the loveable ‘Elle Woods’ in the break out hits LEGALLY BLONDE and LEGALLY BLONDE 2: RED, WHITE & BLONDE.
Her other notable films credits include SWEET HOME ALABAMA, which was the largest opening at the time for a female-driven romantic comedy, Mira Nair's VANITY FAIR, Gary Ross' PLEASANTVILLE, and the teen cult classic CRUEL INTENTIONS.
LAURA DERN (Bobbi) has proven to be one of the great actresses of her generation, touching audiences and critics alike with her moving and heartfelt performances. In celebration of their family legacy in film and television, Dern, her mother, Diane Ladd, and her father, Bruce Dern, were awarded with the first ever ‘Family Star Ceremony’ on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the ‘Hollywood Legacy Award’ from the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.
Dern recently appeared in the film adaptation of John Green’s novel, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Starring alongside Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, and Nat Wolff, Dern plays the mother of ‘Hazel Grace,’ a young girl who falls in love as she battles terminal cancer.
For her lead role as ‘Amy Jellicoe’ in the critically acclaimed series “Enlightened,” which she also executive produced and co-created, alongside writer and director Mike White, Dern received the Golden Globe Award for ‘Best Actress in a Television Series’ in 2012 and a Primetime Emmy® Award nomination for ‘Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series’ in 2013. The series also garnered a Golden Globe nomination for ‘Best Television Comedy’ in 2012 as well.
In September 2012, Dern was seen in Paul Thomas Anderson’s THE MASTER, which also starred Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, and in 2010, she was featured in Dan Rush’s EVERYTHING MUST GO, with Will Ferrell and Rebecca Hall. Also in 2010, Dern appeared in Universal Pictures’ LITTLE FOCKERS, which starred Robert DeNiro, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, and Barbra Streisand.
In 2008, HBO’s “Recount,” which was directed by Jay Roach and written by Danny Strong, revisited the controversial 2000 presidential election in Florida. Dern starred alongside Kevin Spacey, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley, Jr., John Hurt, Denis Leary, Bruce McGill, and Tom Wilkinson. For her performance as ‘Katherine Harris,’ she earned a 2008 Golden Globe Award for ‘Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television,’ as well as nominations for an Emmy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
In 2007, Dern starred in Mike White’s YEAR OF THE DOG, alongside Molly Shannon, Peter Sarsgaard and Regina King, and in 2006, she starred as three different characters in David Lynch’s feature film INLAND EMPIRE, which received a “Special Distinction Award” at the 2007 Independent Spirit Awards.
In 2005, Dern filmed Todd Robinson’s LONELY HEARTS and appeared in a supporting role in the Don Roos’ HAPPY ENDINGS, with Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lisa Kudrow, Tom Arnold, Jason Ritter, and Bobby Cannavale.
Dern also appeared with Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson in the 2005 Dreamworks film THE PRIZE WINNER OF DEFIANCE OHIO, directed by Jane Anderson, and in 2004, Dern starred opposite Mark Ruffalo in WE DON’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE.
Dern appeared in a diverse selection of roles in three very different films in 2001. She starred alongside Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer in I AM SAM, as Steve Martin’s suspicious dental hygienist girlfriend in NOVOCAINE and opposite William H. Macy in Neal Slavin’s FOCUS. That same year, Dern also had a cameo appearance in Universal Pictures’ JURASSIC PARK III.
On television in 2001, Dern starred and produced Showtime’s “Damaged Care.” Earlier that year, Dern appeared in Lifetime Television’s “Within These Walls,” opposite Ellen Burstyn. She also starred in Showtime’s “Daddy and Them,” a film written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton.
In January of 1999, the Sundance Institute presented Dern with the ‘Piper Heidseick Award for Independent Vision.’ Each year, this award is bestowed by the Sundance Film Festival in recognition of the original voice and vision of an actor whose work reveals commitment to independent spirit and artistic merit.
In 1996, she starred in Miramax Films' critically acclaimed black comedy CITIZEN RUTH, directed by Alexander Payne. CITIZEN RUTH was screened at the Montreal Film Festival, where Dern was awarded ‘Best Actress’ for her role.
In 1993, she starred opposite Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum in Steven Spielberg's worldwide phenomenon and record-breaking box office success JURASSIC PARK. Later that year, she starred opposite Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner in A PERFECT WORLD, which Eastwood also directed.
In 1992, Dern received both an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination for her performance as ‘Rose’ in the acclaimed film RAMBLING ROSE, directed by Martha Coolidge and co-starring Dern’s mother, Diane Ladd. RAMBLING ROSE was the first and only film that a mother and daughter team earned Academy Award nominations for the same project.
In 1985, Dern won the Los Angeles Film Critics' ‘New Generation Award’ for her performances in SMOOTH TALK and MASK. In 1986, she starred in David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET, and in 1990, she played the lead role opposite Nicolas Cage in Lynch’s WILD AT HEART, which won the Palme d' Or at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival. Dern's other film credits include Robert Altman’s DR. T AND THE WOMEN, OCTOBER SKY, FAT MAN AND LITTLE BOY, HAUNTED SUMMER, TEACHERS, FOXES, and LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, THE FABULOUS STAINS.
Dern made her directorial debut with a short film called “The Gift,” which aired as part of Showtime's "Directed By" series in October 1994. The cast included Mary Steenburgen, Bonnie Bedelia, Isabella Rossellini, Mary Kay Place, Peter Horton and Diane Ladd.
In 1997, Dern was nominated for an Emmy Award and won an American Comedy Award for her guest-starring role on "Ellen." She received a 1998 Golden Globe nomination for her role in Jane Anderson's Peabody Award winning film, "The Baby Dance."
Dern received the Golden Globe Award for ‘Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television,’ as well as Emmy and Cable ACE nominations, for her starring role in the 1992 telefilm "Afterburn." Her other work on television includes Showtime’s critically acclaimed film noir series “Fallen Angels,” for which she received an Emmy nomination, and Showtime’s original film "Down Came a Blackbird," which she also produced and starred opposite Vanessa Redgrave and Raul Julia.
Dern resides in Los Angeles with her two children.
THOMAS SADOSKI (Paul) stars as ‘Don Keefer’ on HBO’s Golden Globe-nominated Aaron Sorkin series “The Newsroom,” which just finished its second season. Set at the fictional Atlantis Cable News channel, the series revolves around the team behind ‘News Night,’ the network’s flagship broadcast. It also stars Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer. Earlier this year, Sadoski filmed THE DRAMATICS, which was written by Kat Foster and starred Rosemarie DeWitt.
A veteran of the stage, Sadoski has earned rave reviews for his performances in a wide variety of Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. His most recent return to the New York stage was in the Broadway production of Other Desert Cities, a role that earned him an Obie® Award and Lucille Lortel Award when it originally premiered Off-Broadway at the Lincoln Center.
Sadoski’s other Broadway credits include Neil LaBute’s Reasons to Be Pretty, for which he originated the role Off-Broadway and received nominations for a Tony® Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Drama League Award and a Drama Desk Award; The House of Blue Leaves and Reckless, which was his Broadway debut opposite Mary-Louise Parker.
Sadoski’s Off-Broadway credits include Sam Mendes’s Bridge Project productions of As You Like It and The Tempest, which was performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Old Vic Theatre and on a seven-country international tour; Becky Shaw, for which he received a Lucille Lortel Award nomination; This is Our Youth; Gemini; Stay; Where We’re Born; the world premiere of Elizabeth Merriweather’s The Mistakes Madeline Made; Jump/Cut and The General From America.
Additionally, Sadoski starred in a critically acclaimed version of David Sedaris’ one-man show SantaLand Diaries at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater. The show was performed for two consecutive seasons due to popular demand, and it was performed for four years at the Williamstown Theater Festival. He also starred in the world premiere of Michael Golamco’s Build, directed by Will Frears at the Geffen Playhouse last fall.
Sadoski’s additional television credits include roles on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Ugly Betty,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Law & Order,” and “As the World Turns.” His film credits include 30 BEATS, THE NEW TWENTY, “Circle Drawers,” LOSER, HAPPY HOUR, and WINTER SOLSTICE.
A graduate of Circle in the Square Theater School in New York City, Sadoski has worked extensively in helping to develop new theatrical works at New Dramatists, The Lark, The Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center and the Sundance Institute.
He currently resides in Los Angeles.
MICHIEL HUISMAN (Jonathan) is a Dutch actor who is best known for displaying his talents as both an actor and musician during the four seasons of HBO's hit series “Treme,” playing ‘Sonny,’ the street musician with dreams of breaking into the New Orleans music scene. Since the end of the series in 2012, Huisman has continued to work internationally in a wide range of film and television roles. He recently filmed THE AGE OF ADALINE, opposite Blake Lively. The film is due for release in 2015.
This year, Huisman will be seen in the second season of the hit BBC America series “Orphan Black,” playing ‘Cal Morrison,’ a rugged and resourceful outdoorsman. He will also be returning for the second season of the ABC series “Nashville,” reprising his role as bad-boy music producer ‘Liam McGuinnis,’ and he’ll be appearing in the fourth season of HBO's “Game of Thrones,” playing ‘Daario Naharis,’ the leader of a band of mercenaries and a love interest to Emilia Clarke's ‘Daenerys.’
His previous film credits include Paramount Pictures’ film adaptation of Max Brooks' best-selling novel, WORLD WAR Z, opposite Brad Pitt; the independent feature THE YOUNG VICTORIA, with Emily Blunt, and Janusz Kaminski’s AMERICAN DREAM.
GABY HOFFMANN (Aimie) was recently nominated for a 2014 Independent Spirit Award for her work in CRYSTAL FAIRY & THE MAGICAL CACTUS, co-starring Michael Cera. Hoffmann has recently appeared in VERONICA MARS; HBO’s acclaimed “Girls,” which was created by and stars Lena Dunham; the television series “Louie” and the Amazon.com web series “Transparent.”
Hoffmann rose to prominence as a child actor, debuting in the Kevin Costner classic FIELD OF DREAMS. She later appeared in UNCLE BUCK, Nora Ephron’s THIS IS MY LIFE, and SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. Hoffmann began her transition to teenage and adult roles with the films NOW AND THEN, 200 CIGARETTES, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, MAN WITHOUT A FACE, VOLCANO, and Woody Allen’s EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU.
Her other film credits include BURMA, GOODBYE WORLD, OBVIOUS CHILD, THE SURROGATE, MARY, NATE & MARGARET, CONFIDENTE, TZAMETTI 13, LIFE DURING WARTIME, BLACK AND WHITE, COMING SOON, ALL I WANNA DO, and SNAPPED.
In 1994, Hoffmann starred in her own NBC sitcom called “Someone Like Me.” Her other television work includes the films “Freaky Friday” and “Whose Daughter is She?” as well as appearances in “The Good Wife,” “Private Practice,” and “Law and Order: Criminal Intent.”
After graduating from Bard College in 2003, Hoffmann concentrated on a theatre career, appearing in plays such as Third at the Lincoln Center, Suburbia on Broadway, and 24 Hour Plays, alongside Jennifer Aniston.
In 2008, Hoffmann appeared in the documentary CHELSEA ON THE ROCKS, a tribute to the legendary Chelsea Hotel, where her mother raised her. Hoffmann’s childhood at the landmarked Chelsea inspired the children’s book Gaby at the Chelsea.
The award winning DALLAS BUYERS CLUB marked the third film for actor KEVIN RANKIN (Greg) in 2013. He also appeared in Roland Emmerich’s WHITE HOUSE DOWN, in which he played opposite Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Jason Clarke, and Joey King, and Wayne Kramer’s PAWN SHOP CHRONICLES with Matt Dillon and Paul Walker.
Rankin recently made his feature producing debut and co-starred in the independent film CONGRATULATIONS, directed by Juan Cardarelli and Eric Levy. He also appeared in Matt Reeves’ DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, with Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, and Andy Serkis. His previous film credits include Robert Duvall’s THE APOSTLE and Ang Lee’s THE HULK.
The Louisiana native’s breakthrough performance was a recurring role, appearing alongside Seth Rogen and Amy Poehler, on the cult classic television series “Undeclared,” created by Judd Apatow. Rankin also had notable recurring television roles on “Friday Night Lights” and “Justified.” He also had guest arcs on the final seasons of “Six Feet Under,” “Big Love” and “Breaking Bad” as well as regular roles on “Trauma” and “Unforgettable.”
Among his many film and television credits, W. EARL BROWN (Frank) is most recognized for his portrayal of ‘Warren’ in the classic comedy THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and for playing ‘Dan Dority’ on HBO’s “Deadwood,” in which he also worked on the writing staff.
Recently, Brown appeared in the feature films THE LONE RANGER, director Ivan Reitman’s DRAFT DAY, the Oscar nominated THE MASTER, and THE SESSIONS. His other notable film credits include films like BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and SCREAM. In addition to his acting credits, Brown wrote and produced BLOODWORTH for Samuel Goldwyn Films in 2010.
Brown also has appeared in television shows such as “American Horror Story,” “Bates Motel,” “Justified,” “NYPD Blue,” “Pysch,” “Six Feet Under,” “Seinfeld,” “The X-Files,” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
Also this year, he did motion capture and voice over work on the critically acclaimed video game “The Last of Us.”
In addition to his film and television work, Brown writes and records with his Los Angeles band ‘Sacred Cowboys.’
From a complex Black Panther leader opposite David Oyelowo, to a big contract professional ball player opposite Liev Schreiber, actor MO McRAE (Jimmy Carter) has been booking roles in some of hottest projects in film and television.
He was recently seen as ‘Eldridge Huggins’ in the highly acclaimed feature film THE BUTLER, directed by Lee Daniels and starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Melissa Leo, Alex Pettyfer, and Robin Williams. Currently, McRae also has recurring roles on the hit FX series “Sons of Anarchy” as ‘Tyler,’ and Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” as ‘Deonte Frasier.’ In 2012, he also appeared in the pilot “Prodigy Bully.”
Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, McRae is the oldest of three children. He developed an affinity for the performing arts while attending Washington Preparatory High School, where a drama teacher encouraged him to pursue acting.
Immediately after graduating high school, where he made the decision to become a full time actor, McRae took a job as a bagger at Ralph’s grocery store on Third and LaBrea in Los Angeles. While working his day job, McRae dedicated his spare time to a program called ‘Assemblies in Motion,’ using poetry and music to help educate and empower the underserved community. While at an event for ‘Assemblies in Motion,’ he was approached by an agent who offered to work with him. McRae signed with him a week later and immediately started booking jobs.
Within weeks, he had landed six national commercials and quickly booked his first feature film, the critically acclaimed, Oscar nominated THIRTEEN for Fox Searchlight Pictures. He went on to appear in Sony Pictures Entertainment’s GRIDIRON GANG, and the indie film EVERYDAY BLACK MAN.
McRae has also made his mark on the television front, appearing on television series such as “NYPD Blue,” “Boston Public,” “Becker,” “The District,” “The Shield,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “ER,” “Cold Case,” “Southland,” “Detroit 1-8-7,” “The Defenders,” and “CSI: NY.”
When not working, McRae loves to spend time with his daughter, ride motorcycles, watch movies and exercise to keep in shape. He is also an active supporter of the charity Kids in the Spotlight.
In 2013, KEENE McRAE (Leif) made his feature film debut playing the rock star ‘Sting’ in CBGB, a look at the New York City venerable punk-rock nightclub.
The newcomer has also appeared in the short film THE DARK ROAD and the television series “Fear Force Five.”
About the Filmmakers
Veteran filmmaker JEAN-MARC VALLEÉ (Directed by) creates films that capture complex layers of emotion and character. His films produce the best performances from their actors, resulting in intense, quality storytelling.
His most recent project DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, was nominated for six Academy Awards, including ‘Best Picture,’ winning two Oscars. The film stars Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto, and it tells the story of a Texan electrician diagnosed with HIV, who smuggled drugs in from Mexico to help prolong his life and the lives of others also suffering from the disease. Directed and co-edited by Vallée, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was released by Focus Features to great acclaim. McConaughey and Leto won every major ‘Best Actor’ and ‘Best Supporting Actor’ award, respectively, including the Oscar, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild Award, as well as numerous film critics’ association awards.
Vallée made his feature film debut in 1995 with the strikingly stylish erotic thriller LISTE NOIRE (BLACK LIST). Ten years later, Vallée directed his second French-language feature, the critically acclaimed C.R.A.Z.Y. The film blended a beguiling coming of age tale with a magical ode to outsiders of all ages. The picture was distributed in over fifty countries and won some twenty international festival awards, including the prestigious ‘Best Canadian Film’ prize at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, eleven Genie Awards, fifteen Jutra Awards, and the ‘Golden Reel Award’ as Canada’s top-performer at the domestic box office.
In 2009, Vallée directed THE YOUNG VICTORIA for GK Films, which was distributed through Sony Pictures. The film starred Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany and Jim Broadbent. It follows the first years of Queen Victoria’s rule and her romance with Prince Albert. THE YOUNG VICTORIA went on to win numerous awards including an Academy Award for ‘Best Costume Design,’ as well as garnering numerous nominations and awards for Emily Blunt, including a Golden Globe nomination for ‘Best Actress.’
In 2011, Vallée wrote and directed the personal and acclaimed French language film CAFÉ DE FLORE, which stars Vanessa Paradis and Kevin Parent.
NICK HORNBY (Screenplay by/ Executive Producer) is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and award-winning author of several international best-selling books, which have often served as rich streams of inspiration for filmmakers. He wrote Fever Pitch, which was originally adapated in UK, starring Colin Firth, and was later adapted in a United States remake directed by the Farelly Brothers, starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon; High Fidelity, which was adapted into a film directed by Stephen Frears, starring John Cusack and Jack Black; About A Boy, which was adapted into a film directed by the Weitz brothers, starring Hugh Grant, Rachel Weisz and Toni Collette; and A Long Way Down, which was adapted into a film directed by Pascal Chaumeil, starring Pierce Brosnan and Toni Collette and produced by AN EDUCATION’s Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey.
Hornby is currently collaborating with Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey on an adaptation of Colm Toibin’s acclaimed novel Brooklyn, which is now in production. John Crowley is directing, with Saoirse Ronan starring in the lead role, alongside Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters.
Hornby’s other novels include Slam for young adults, which is currently being developed as an Italian language feature by the makers of IL DIVO; How to be Good; and his most recent novel Juliet, Naked.
Hornby adapted his own memoir for the screenplay of FEVER PITCH and was Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-nominated for his screenplay adaptation of Lynn Barber’s memoir, AN EDUCATION, directed by Lone Scherfig and starring Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson. Both screenplays were published in the UK, the United States and worldwide by Hornby’s publishers to coincide with the films’ releases.
As well as Fever Pitch, which was the winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, Hornby has written several other works of non-fiction including 31 Songs, which was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award in America; and The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, a collection of Hornby’s book columns for the influential United States magazine The Believer (also subscribed to worldwide), in which he continues to contribute a monthly column. In 2000, Hornby edited the charity collection Speaking with the Angel, published in the United States and the UK, in which Dave Eggers, Zadie Smith and Colin Firth contributed stories. Hornby’s own story NippleJesus has been turned into a play which has been produced in several countries around the world. In 2005, Hornby wrote the Pocket Penguin book of short stories, Otherwise Pandemonium. Hornby is also a recipient of the ‘EM Forster Award’ by the American Academy of Arts & Letters.
In November 2011, Hornby co-founded the children’s writing charity ‘The Ministry of Stories,’ located in East London and now expanding to other UK cities.
Hornby’s next novel, Funny Girl, will be published by Penguin in the UK in November 2014, and by Riverhead in the US in March 2015.
CHERYL STRAYED (Based on the Book by) is the author of the New York Times bestseller TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS and the novel TORCH. Strayed's writing has appeared in THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS, the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, Vogue, Salon, The Missouri Review, The Sun, Tin House, The Rumpus, in which she wrote the popular "Dear Sugar" advice column, as well as numerous other publications. Strayed was the guest editor of BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 2013 and has contributed to many anthologies. Her books have been translated into more than thirty languages around the world. She holds an MFA in fiction writing from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and their two children.
REESE WITHERSPOON, p.g.a. (Produced by) see the ‘About the Cast’ section for.
BRUNA PAPANDREA, p.g.a. (Produced by) is a partner with Reese Witherspoon in the production banner PACIFIC STANDARD. Since its inception in March 2012, they have set up an adaptation of the bestselling novel Gone Girl, as well as a range of comedies and dramas.
Directed by David Fincher, GONE GIRL stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike and will be released this fall by Fox after opening the New York Film Festival in September.
Pacific Standard has acquired and developed a large slate of properties which include the soon to be published Pennyroyal’s Princess Boot Camp, which they are developing with Lionsgate; DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS, a comedy starring Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara; WHO INVITED HER at DreamWorks; THE ENGAGEMENTS at Fox 2000; and HAPPILY EVER AFTER at Disney.
Under her Make Movies banner, Papandrea recently produced the box office hit WARM BODIES for Summit Entertainment. WARM BODIES was based on the novel by Isaac Marion and was adapted and directed by Jonathan Levine. The film starred Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer.
Make Movies is currently developing a film based on Love the One You’re With, the bestselling novel by Emily Giffin. She is also working on an adaptation of the novel The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, from author Jennifer E. Smith, adapted and to be directed by Oscar winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and set to star Nicholas Hoult.
Prior to forming Make Movies, Papandrea was president of Michael London’s Groundswell Productions for five years.
Her other producing credits include Andrew Jarecki’s ALL GOOD THINGS, Noam Murro’s SMART PEOPLE, Todd Louiso’s THE MARC PEASE EXPERIENCE, and Jonathan Teplitzky’s BETTER THAN SEX.
She also executive produced the highly acclaimed MILK from Gus Van Sant, and Rawson Marshall Thurber’s THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH.
Born and raised in Australia, Papandrea began her career as a film and commercial producer.
From 2000 to 2004, Papandrea served as an in-house producer for Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack’s Mirage Enterprises in London. At Mirage, she oversaw production on Phillip Noyce’s THE QUIET AMERICAN, staring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser. She also acquired several high-profile properties including the acclaimed novel The Ninth Life of Louis Drax. Papandrea developed feature films such as TRIAGE, based on the novel by Scott Anderson, directed by Danis Tanovic and starring Colin Farrell and Paz Vega; as well as “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” which was the last project directed by Anthony Minghella.
Academy Award nominated filmmaker BILL POHLAD (Produced by) has been producing quality films for over two decades. As founder and CEO of River Road Entertainment, his ability to seek out compelling material and bring it to light has established his reputation as a filmmaker unafraid to take creative risks.
Having started out as a writer and director in the late Eighties, Pohlad has spent most of the last fifteen years producing. His credits include the Academy Award winning ‘Best Picture’ 12 YEARS A SLAVE, which also won the Golden Globe for ‘Best Motion Picture – Drama,’ two BAFTA Awards including ‘Best Film,’ five Film Independent Spirit Awards including ‘Best Feature’ and a total of three Academy Awards. In 2011, Pohlad was a producer on THE TREE OF LIFE, which was nominated for three Academy Awards including ‘Best Picture.’ The feature also won the ‘Palme d’Or’ at the Cannes International Film Festival and shared the prize for ‘Best Feature’ at the Gotham Independent Film Awards. In 2007, Pohlad produced Sean Penn’s award-winning adaptation of INTO THE WILD, based on the best-selling book by Jon Krakauer. The film garnered two Academy Award nominations as well as nods from the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild, and the Screen Actors Guild, among others.
His other producer and executive producer credits include Doug Liman’s FAIR GAME, starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts; Robert Kenner’s documentary FOOD, INC.; Ang Lee’s BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and LUST, CAUTION; and Robert Altman’s A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION.
Pohlad makes his return to directing with the upcoming film LOVE & MERCY, which centers on Brian Wilson, the mercurial singer, songwriter and leader of The Beach Boys. The film, which Pohlad also produced under the River Road banner, stars John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti.
An independent film producer, BERGEN SWANSON (Executive Producer) began his production career at the New York based Forensic Films, where he worked on such features as RAISING VICTOR VARGAS, UNDEFEATED, and SAVING FACE, which he line produced.
In 2002, he produced A JERSEY TALE, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and won the ‘Audience Award’ at the Urban Film Festival, and was subsequently distributed by Artisan Entertainment. Swanson has worked as a line producer and production manager on a number of independent features, including the Sundance selections JOSHUA, CHAPTER 27, DELIRIOUS, PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS, and ADVENTURELAND.
In 2006, Swanson line produced THE VISITOR, which received wide critical praise including an Oscar nomination for the lead actor Richard Jenkins. In 2008, Swanson line produced Jake Scott’s WELCOME TO THE RILEYS, starring James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo, and Kristen Stewart.
Swanson also co-produced THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, directed by Lisa Cholodenko and starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo. The film won two Golden Globes and received four Oscar nominations. In 2010, Swanson co-produced PASSION PLAY, directed by Mitch Glazer and starring Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox, and Bill Murray. In 2011, Swanson co-produced Steve McQueen’s SHAME, which was released by Fox Searchlight Pictures and earned a Golden Globe nomination for Michael Fassbender’s performance. Also in 2011, Swanson co-produced the Fox Searchlight Pictures film STOKER, which was directed by Park Chan-wook and starred Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, and Matthew Goode.
Most recently, Swanson co-produced the Fox Searchlight Pictures film BLACK NATIVITY, a gospel musical starring Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett and Jennifer Hudson, and is currently line producing LIFE, starring Joel Edgerton, Dane DeHaan, Robert Pattinson, and Ben Kingsley.
Prior to WILD, NATHAN ROSS (Executive Producer) executive produced DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including ‘Best Picture,’ and won three Oscars.
The next film he is executive producing is the black list script DEMOLITION, which Jean-Marc Vallée will direct. The film will star Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts.
Ross was a motion picture talent agent at ICM from 2003 to 2010, and he was profiled by The Hollywood Reporter in November 2008 for their "Next Gen 35 Under 35," which annually recognizes entertainment executives.
Ross graduated from Indiana University, The John Marshall Law School in Chicago and is a member of the Illinois Bar.
JOHN PAINO (Production Designer) recently collaborated with director Jean-Marc Vallée on the Academy Award winning DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. His upcoming projects include Michael Cuesta’s true-life dramatic thriller KILL THE MESSENGER, starring Jeremy Renner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Michael Sheen as well as Cuesta’s television movie “Babylon Fields.”
Paino’s work in film has been extensive. He has enjoyed a long collaboration as production designer with writer and director Tom McCarthy on the award-winning films THE STATION AGENT, THE VISITOR, and WIN WIN.
His other feature film credits as a production designer include J.C. Chandor’s breakout MARGIN CALL; Joel Hopkins’ BAFTA Award-winning JUMP TOMORROW; Daniel Algrant’s GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY, starring Penn Badgley and Imogen Poots; Bobcat Goldthwait’s WORLD’S GREATEST DAD, starring Robin Williams; Jesse Peretz’s THE EX (A.K.A. FAST TRACK); Bob Odenkirk’s LET’S GO TO PRISON and THE BROTHERS SOLOMON; Dan Beers’ PREMATURE, starring Craig Roberts and Katie Findlay; and Stu Zicherman’s A.C.O.D., starring Amy Poehler and Adam Scott.
In television, he was a production designer on the groundbreaking and Emmy Award-winning series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” for which he shared with his colleagues an Emmy Award nomination for ‘Outstanding Art Direction.’
Paino is a graduate of the School Of Visual Arts. He began his career designing for stage productions, working with the storied New York City theater companies La Mama and Theater for The New City.
MARTIN PENSA (Editor) first collaborated with DALLAS BUYERS CLUB director and co-editor Jean-Marc Vallée on the filmmaker’s acclaimed CAFÉ DE FLORE, as first assistant editor. Pensa was also part of the film’s visual effects team at Fake Studio, with whom he shared a Genie for ‘Best Achievement in Visual Effects.’
Drawn to visual arts and music from an early age, Pensa found that film spoke to all his interests. He began his career as a child actor in Montréal, and he dubbed the performances of child actors such as Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood into French for their films’ Canadian releases.
In 2002, he began formal studies at the Los Angeles Film School, learning about all aspects of movie production and post-production. There, he wrote and directed his own short films, and he worked as a cinematographer, editor and sound editor other people’s films.
Pensa then returned to Montréal and worked as a director, editor, and visual effects artist on short films, music videos, and commercials. In 2007, he became an assistant editor at Technicolor and then worked at other post-production studios doing film editing and visual effects.
In 2011, he became a full-time freelance film editor, and reteamed with Vallée for several television commercials.
MELISSA BRUNING (Costume Designer) designed costumes for several successful feature films including DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, PARKER, FRIENDS WITH KIDS, LOVE RANCH, $5 DOLLARS A DAY, KISSING JESSICA STEIN, and SUPER TROOPERS.
Her career began in New York City, where she designed for several theater, opera, and dance companies. Some of the highlights of her stage work have been Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara, performed at the Geffen Theater in Los Angeles with film director Taylor Hackford; Anoush, an Armenian opera at Michigan Opera Theater in Detroit; The Italian Straw Hat in Santa Barbara with director Frank Corsaro; and Mindgame performed Off-Broadway with Keith Carradine and directed by film director Ken Russell. In addition to film, theater and opera, she also works regularly in national commercials.
Bruning received a BFA in Theater from Nebraska Wesleyan University, and a MFA in Costume Design from Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.
MARC CÔTÉ (Visual Effects Supervisor) previously worked with director Jean-Marc Vallée on DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, CAFÉ DE FLORE, THE YOUNG VICTORIA and C.R.A.Z.Y. He served as visual effects executive producer on IMMORTALS and PIRANHA 3D.
He also served in the visual effects departments of 300, THE COVENANT, THE AVIATOR, and DAWN OF THE DEAD, among many others.
SUSAN JACOBS (Music Supervisor) is the recipient of the 2014 Guild of Music Supervisors Award for ‘Best Music Supervision’ for AMERICAN HUSTLE. She also received a Grammy® nomination for her work on LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and an Emmy nomination for her work on “Sins of My Father.” Susan has worked with acclaimed directors such as David O. Russell, Jean-Marc Valleé, Sidney Lumet, Julian Schnabel, M. Night Shyamalan, Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Farris, Susanne Beir, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Bennett Miller, Robert Altman, Stanley Tucci and Geoffrey Fletcher.
Her credits include FOXCATCHER, LOVE IS STRANGE, “History of the Eagles Part One,” “History of the Eagles Part Two,” GOD'S POCKET, AMERICAN HUSTLE, SERENA, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, “Six by Sondheim,” VIOLET & DAISY, KEEP THE LIGHTS ON, DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL, DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, OUR IDIOT BROTHER, THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED, ALL GOOD THINGS, CONVICTION, INSIDE JOB, “GasLand,” “GasLand Part II,” JACK GOES BOATING, CATFISH, THE JONESES, THE ART OF THE STEAL, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, SUNSHINE CLEANING, THE YELLOW HANDKERCHIEF, THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE, MARRIED LIFE, SUFFERING MAN'S CHARITY, FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO, LADY IN THE WATER, ROVING MARS, SHERRYBABY, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED, CAPOTE, THE HEART OF THE GAME, FORTY SHADES OF BLUE, WHY WE FIGHT, “Thinking XXX,” KEANE, THE VILLAGE, IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY, WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONEY, LAST PARTY 2000, BALL IN THE HOUSE, STORYTELLING, LIFT, UNBREAKABLE, BEFORE NIGHT FALLS, GIRLFIGHT, JOE GOULD'S SECRET, TWO FAMILY HOUSE, LIMBO, EARTHLY POSSESSIONS, GLORIA, 54, LULU ON THE BRIDGE, ALL I WANNA DO, HAPPINESS, O.K. GARAGE, 1999, CHICAGO CAB, CHINESE BOX, BASQUIAT, KANSAS CITY and SHORT CUTS.
Jacobs started her career in music at Island Records. She was the assistant to Chris Blackwell for a number of years before going in to artist, composer, and producer management. Her clients were Hal Willner, Gavin Friday, Evan Lurie and Paul Cantelon. She is currently managing composers.