Interviews with Cimino are rare, and he gives his part in the Heaven’s Gate very little discussion. George Hickenlooper’s book Reel Interviews and Peter Biskind’s highly critical book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls deal almost exclusively with the film and resulting scandal. Hickenlooper’s book includes one of the few candid discussions with Cimino; Biskind focuses on events during and after the production as a later backdrop for the sweeping changes made to Hollywood and the movie brat generation. The European DVD release of The Deer Hunter contains an audio commentary with Cimino, as does the American one of Year of the Dragon.
When I first listened to this commentary I knew right away there was something special here. I’m always a fan of filmmakers who do deeper commentaries and don’t just talk about how a shot has been achieved. Cimino is a great example of a director who talks deeper than what you see on screen. Here he provides the reasons of why he likes anamorphic, his favorite lenses, learning his craft from Clint Eastwood and others, as well as being able to “will it through”. Enjoy it. —filmschoolthrucommentaries
Read, learn, and absorb: Deric Washburn’s screenplay for The Deer Hunter [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
Below: De Niro’s heavily-annotated shooting script from The Deer Hunter (1978). Image courtesy of The Robert De Niro Collection, The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Cimino worked for six weeks with Deric Washburn on the script. According to Cimino, he would call Washburn while on the road scouting for locations and feed him notes on dialogue and story. Upon reviewing Washburn’s draft, Cimino said, “I came back, and read it and I just could not believe what I read. It was like it was written by somebody who was mentally deranged.” Cimino confronted Washburn at the Sunset Marquis in LA about the draft and Washburn supposedly replied that he couldn’t take the pressure and had to go home. Cimino then fired Washburn. Cimino would later claim to have written the entire screenplay himself. Washburn’s response to Cimino’s comments were, “It’s all nonsense. It’s lies. I didn’t have a single drink the entire time I was working on the script.”
Washburn didn’t interview any vets to write The Deer Hunter and didn’t do any research. “I had a month, that was it,” he explains. “The clock was ticking. Write the fucking script! But all I had to do was watch TV. Those combat cameramen in Vietnam were out there in the field with the guys. I mean, they had stuff that you wouldn’t dream of seeing about Iraq.” When Washburn was finished, he says, Cimino and Joann Carelli, an associate producer on The Deer Hunter who would go on to produce two more of Cimino’s films, took him to dinner at a cheap restaurant off the Sunset Strip. He recalls, “We finished, and Joann looks at me across the table, and she says, ‘Well, Deric, it’s fuck-off time.’ I was fired. It was a classic case: you get a dummy, get him to write the goddamn thing, tell him to go fuck himself, put your name on the thing, and he’ll go away. I was so tired, I didn’t care. I’d been working 20 hours a day for a month. I got on the plane the next day, and I went back to Manhattan and my carpenter job.” A Writers Guild arbitration process awarded Washburn sole “Screenplay By” credit. Garfinkle and Redeker were given a shared “Story By” credit with Cimino and Washburn. Deeley felt the story credits for Garfinkle and Redeker “did them less than justice.” Cimino contested the results of the arbitration. “In their Nazi wisdom,” added Cimino, “[they] didn’t give me the credit because I would be producer, director and writer.” All four writers, Cimino, Washburn, Garfinkle and Redeker received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for this film.