Gideon in The Slaughter Rule

David Morse - Proof of Life

New Zealand Press Association July 18, 2002

Copyright 2002 Financial Times Information, All rights reserved
Global News Wire
Copyright 2002 New Zealand Press Association
New Zealand Press Association

LENGTH: 870 words

Brothers Tell The Story Of The Kid Who Stayed

Having taken 10 years to make their debut feature film, brothers Alex and Andrew Smith from the United States didn't want to tell an average coming of age story. They talk to MIKE HOULAHAN of NZPA.

Wellington, July 18 - Montana twins Alex and Andrew Smith say on their debut feature film The Slaughter Rule --- screening in the New Zealand Film Festival -- they wanted to tell a coming of age story with a difference.

There's so many coming of age films about the boy or the girl who leaves the town, who escapes,'' Alex says. We wanted to make a film about the kid who stayed.''

That kid, Roy Chutney, is played by an actor familiar to New Zealand audiences -- Ryan Gosling of Young Hercules fame.

In a role a million miles removed from the pulpy world of swords and sandals, Gosling plays a teenager coping -- barely -- with two emotional blows, the death of his estranged father and being cut from the college football team.

While trying to drink his troubles away he meets Gideon (screen veteran David Morse), a drifter who has ended up in Roy's small Montana hometown and is endeavouring to set up a six-a-side football team.

He hires Roy as his quarterback, and begins an unlikely friendship that challenges Roy's beliefs and expectations of the world.

We wanted a sense of someone who is struggling to figure out how to behave in this world, and who is finding himself up against some of the rules he's growing up in,'' Andrew says.

He's trying to figure out both how to live within those rules, but at the same time live outside them.

We saw literally 300 boys, we saw Nick Stahl, all these great young actors, but we could tell from the first handshake that Ryan was Roy. At that point we'd never seen a frame of his on the screen.

It was kind of amazing: we needed someone and he walked through the door. Him and three other actors, we were able to have read with David Morse and Clea Duvall (who plays Roy's girlfriend Skyla) and it was obvious that Ryan was the only choice we had.''

While Gosling was a late casting decision, veteran Hollywood actor Morse was an early one.

The brothers had been working on developing the script for The Slaughter Rule for many years before feeling confident enough to start shopping it around.

Morse's character of Gideon was, they felt, the pivotal role in the film. He had to have a sense of menace and danger but also a sense of drive and dignity that could make him appealing.

When Alex saw Morse in Sean Penn-directed The Crossing Guard, they knew they had their Gideon.

He was a combination of someone you're wary of but also sympathetic to. It rings true,'' Alex says.

Once I saw that, I started talking to Andrew about it and he agreed. We actually met with David three years before we began shooting and showed him a draft of the script, and he really responded to the character and gave us some great feedback.''

There is one other crucial character in The Slaughter Rule, the state of Montana. Its plains and mountains are gloriously filmed by cinematographer Eric Edwards (who also shot My Own Private Idaho), and the landscape shots meet the Smith brother's aim of creating a setting which is both beautiful and harsh.

One of our first conversations with Eric Edwards was that we really wanted the landscape to be a character,'' Alex says.

We wanted it to be something the characters were integrated with, as well as something they were up against -- as well as each other.''

The Sundance Festival proved the final spur to helping the Smith brothers realise the script of The Slaughter Rule and then embark upon shooting the film.

They were invited to workshop the film at the Sundance Lab, and this year were invited back to exhibit the film in the New Directors/New Films section of the festival.

The most crucial lesson the brothers learned at the Sundance Lab was the direction they did not want The Slaughter Rule to go in, Alex says.

Sundance helped us do two things: one was to solidify the David Morse character, not so much his sexuality but whether he was a good person or not. We were able to turn him into a more paternal force and that was from some feedback from some screenwriters, really questioning who was this character, what were we supposed to know about him and wonder about him?

The other thing was that the writing lab helped us clarify the ending. There was no one thing, but someone would ask us a question which would help us clarify one corner, and then someone would ask a question which would clear out another corner.''

It also taught us how to co-direct,'' Andrew adds.

They encourage experimentation, and we didn't feel pressured like we might have on a film set.

Having said that, I think we only learned we could do it by the 23rd of 25 days of the shoots. It's a steep learning curve making your first film. As other people have said, by the time you're finished you know how you should have gone about making the film.''

* The Slaughter Rule will screen at the New Zealand Film Festival, with the Smith brothers introducing Auckland and Wellington screenings. (Eds: pix avail, (04) 385-0162, ext 8)

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LOAD-DATE: July 18, 2002



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