Film adaptations of the work of Cormac McCarthy have so far yielded a Best Picture winner ("No Country For Old Men”), a nihilistic screed (“The Counselor,” which isn’t technically an adaptation), two meddled-with-by Harvey Weinstein almost classics (“All The Pretty Horses,” “The Road”) and one forgotten indie (“Child Of God”). And as enjoyable as many of these have been, it’s safe to say the holy grail of McCarthy’s yet to be filmed oeuvre is his epic, violent and depraved anti-Western “Blood Meridian,” which many have noted doesn’t really have much of a plot (but plenty of gruesome killing). Ridley Scott once wanted to make a “double X” horrific version; James Franco wanted to direct it so badly that he shot test footage out of his own pocket; writer/director Todd Field once tried to adapt it; Michael Haneke has said he was once interested in filming the book; and in general, the project has remained a mythic "what-if" for Hollywood.
It's time to add one more director to the "Blood Meridian" list. John Hillcoat, who directed the aforementioned adaptation of “The Road” and helmed the cop thriller “Triple Nine” which opened this past weekend, said he’s dying to make the film and has McCarthy’s blessing and assistance if he wants it. On The Q&A Podcast with Jeff Goldsmith, Hillcoat discussed some of the big projects that got away from him —a version of “The Revenant” with Christian Bale, “Drive” with Ryan Gosling and “The Fighter,” which David O. Russell would go on to make. But “Blood Meridian” sounds like the one he wants to make. However, there is one major obstacle.
“The one that I've always wanted —and I have Scott Rudin in my way blocking it— is ‘Blood Meridian,’ which Cormac McCarthy has offered to adapt into a screenplay,” he said. “We both discussed it and feel like we've cracked how to make it into a film, so if anyone knows how to move Scott Rudin... We even had money to finance it, but [Rudin] clearly has other ideas.”
Rudin’s owned the rights for several years and he is known as a difficult producer to dissuade, but maybe someone can start an online petition? Here’s three more highlights from the talk.
Hillcoat regrets shooting “Lawless” on digital
“I've learned a lot about getting film sensibilities on digital. I shot ‘Lawless’ too soon on digital, it was one of four films on [shot on] Arriraw [cameras] and it was before you could use anamorphic lenses. My problem is there's too much information, people's faces look a bit plastic and it doesn't have the texture or aberrations that film has.”
Hillcoat said he saw a film print of “Lawless” that never got shown and it was revelatory for him. “It was the difference between flat beer and nice red wine and I thought, ‘oh shit.' Certain films, when shot digitally, the detail is like CG, you can't feel the sweat. I feel like digital is alienating. There's something superficial to digital compared to the richness of film,” he said. Hillcoat added he’s trying to invent a technique where he shoots on digital anamorphic lenses, “but you then take it to camera negative and regrade from there.” He also said they added grain and tweaked colors on “Triple Nine.”
Working with INXS and Michael Hutchence
An Australian filmmaker, Hillcoat’s foray into filmmaking began with music videos, and one of the bands he was able to work with was INXS during the height of the band's popularity (“It was like Beatlemania”). He described a controversial concert he shot where his camera caught the late Michael Hutchence with a “huuuuge hard on” in close-up while performing onstage. “But that actually sums up Michael, he was a complete sensualist,” Hillcoat said. The director also alluded to something unknown in the departed rock n’ roller’s life, but didn’t fully say what it was. “There will be a story that breaks about him — [it's] probably too much information, but he lost his sense of smell from a [motorcycle] accident and being a sensualist, that was a big blow that sent him into a depression.”
Hillcoat sought to work with Christian Bale after his infamous “Terminator: Salvation” outburst.
In case you’ve forgot, Christian Bale got in hot water in 2009 when he lost it on the set of “Terminator: Salvation,” screaming at cinematographer Shane Hurlbut for being in his eyeline, and the audio of his rant leaked worldwide.
Hillcoat started his story celebrating actors for doing the most extraordinary job on set, but that many of them are “often damaged people, almost like children so you have to be sensitive to them.” The filmmaker said it was key that directors understand who their actor are and what their needs are.
“Which is why I heard about that Christian Bale outburst on ‘Terminator: Salvation,’ I actually rang up CAA and said, ‘I wanna work with this guy.’ "
Hillcoat said he knew the enormous pressures actors are under and his hunch about that particular situation was apparently correct. “I guessed it right,” he continued. “I found out that that DP is notorious for constantly —while you're rolling— tweaking his lights and doing his own thing and [being] in their eyeline... You wanna understand what prep the [actors] need what's helpful and what's not helpful. Everyone works in a separate way and you have to decode it.”
"Triple 9" is in cinemas now. Listen to the full 1 hour talk below.