In the works for 30 years (spearheaded in the late 1970s when Francis Ford Coppola bought the film rights), arguably everyone in Hollywood auditioned for “On The Road” over the years including Brad Pitt, Ethan Hawke and many more (Joel Schumacher once had a version with Billy Crudup and Colin Farrell as the leads). But what about the version that Salles was hired to make in 2005? Rivera, who said he was lucky to sit in on the auditions, said he and Salles saw hundreds of actors for many of the parts. “I was there when James Franco came in looking all Jack Kerouac,” he laughed. “And he didn’t get cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt came in. We had a lot of great actors audition.”
“That’s unusual for a screenwriter,” he underscored about being able to sit in during casting. “Most directors I hand in a screenplay and we never see each other again, and then I go see the film and go, ‘What the hell was that?' But with Walter I still get that 'What the hell' feeling, but at least I was deeply part of the process.” Rivera said he was invited into the editing room for “Motorcycle Diaries” and rewrote voice-over while he was there. “Walter is incredibly collaborative and open. He’s great that way.”
“Good question. It’s really different,” Rivera said with a long pause and a chuckle when asked how his screenplay differed from Salles’ cut version of the film. The screenwriter said, unfortunately, due to U.S. distribution, the film had to come in around 2 hrs and also noted that Salles contract stated that he would lose final cut if it came in over a certain length. “So he cut the shit out of this,” he said candidly. “It’s really cut. For instance, my screenplay begins with the death of Sal’s father in the hospital...he’s got a catheter coming out of his stomach dripping black goo into a bucket. And Sal’s smoking a cigarette watching his father die. And obviously we have nothing like that here. The second scene is the funeral where the Allen Ginsberg character [played by Tom Sturridge] comforts Sal so you immediately see that bond. That’s not there. So a million things like that are not in the film.”
Rivera also frankly spoke about some of the elements that bothered him, but always with a smile and good-naturedly. “There’s a couple, really annoying improvisational moments in the movie,” he laughed with a mix of confusion and dismay. “Ad libs that are like, ‘Why is that in the film?’, but that’s how it goes. At one point Ginsberg says, ‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.’ I wouldn’t write that! Not in eighth grade would I write that. That’s how it goes, but Walter also stuck pretty close to the script.” He also explained that Salles, coming from a documentary background, loves to capture ad-libbed moments on the fly. “Walter once said, ‘If worse comes to worse, we’ll shoot the screenplay,’ ” he said with a smile. “It pissed me off to no end. You directors! But his philosophy is that the written language doesn’t feel spontaneous enough.”
5. Rivera is trying to mount his own directorial debut based on one of his plays.
The screenwriter says he recommends that all writers direct their own work to understand the challenge and said he has a feature-length adaptation of one of his one plays in the work. But it’s been a struggle to get the, dreamlike and tragic love story set in L.A., off the ground. “I have a play called ‘Cloud Tectonic’ which I’ve been trying to find financing for literally seven years, to turn into a film that I would direct” he said. “I directed a music video, it’s a start,” he smiled. Rivera did not mention “Celestina” a film project that he was set to direct in 2011, so who knows what happened there.
Coming sometime in 2013 (and screening in L.A. soon according to the screenwriter) is Salles documentary about the Beat generation, “In Search For On The Road” which he shot before making “On The Road” as a way to immerse himself with the generation beyond the source material (which you can read about here more in depth). Rivera says for hardcore “On The Road” fans or fans of the movie, the picture is going to be a great in-depth trip. “He interviewed everyone from Beats themselves or people who were highly influenced by the Beats,” he said. “Wim Wenders, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, [American poet] Gary Snyder. It’s very rich with information.”
“On The Road” opens on December 21 in limited release.