Dance with wolves: How Kevin Costner saved the career of his screenwriter friend

Dance with wolves: Aired this evening on Arte, “Dance with the Wolves” has since its release in 1991 become a classic of American cinema. A masterpiece that we also owe to Michael Blake, screenwriter of the film and friend of Costner, who wrote his script in pain.

Dance with wolves
Dance with wolves
AMLF

Dance with wolves

Carried at arm’s length through thick and thin by a Kevin Costner who signed his first production, Dance with the Wolves, broadcast on Arte this Sunday, August 29, has become a great classic of American cinema since its release in 1991.

A theatrical triumph, the film was crowned with seven Oscars, including that of Best Adapted Screenplay for screenwriter Michael Blake. A reward more than well deserved for the person concerned, unfortunately, deceased in 2015 at the age of 69 years.

Blake was a longtime friend of Costner’s. They met in 1981. Moving to Los Angeles in the late 1970s, Blake struggled to make a living from selling his scripts. He will have to wait until 1983 and the release of the film Stacy’s Knights, in which Costner played, to finally see one of his scripts brought to the big screen.

Their relationship grew strained as Costner’s notoriety climbed. Trying to help his friend, Costner arranged several big-hitter dates in Hollywood for Blake, but nothing positive came of it; especially since the echoes of these various interviews which went back to Costner’s attentive ears did not quite paint a glowing portrait of his friend, whom one found complicated and difficult. “I sent him on lots of jobs, and all I heard in return was that he pissed off everyone” also remembered Costner, telling the anecdote in the show The Graham Norton Show in 2016.

Tension escalates…

Still, the tension between the two has even become physical: “he crossed the red line with a friend of mine, and I don’t know exactly what happened, but I taped him to a wall. And I said to him: Can you stop putting everything down? Stop writing stuff that is 120 pages! If you really want to write, write something that is 88 pages, or 888! I realized I was telling him that when I had my hand over him. […] I believed at that moment that it was the end of our friendship “.

Logically shaken, Blake asked him all the same if he could stay with his friend so that he could host him; which Costner agreed to. Eager to devote himself 100% to writing a script, Blake also could not afford rent …

Almost two months passed, during which Blake barely left his room, writing incessantly, even doing a few readings of what he wrote to Costner’s daughter. But the actor’s wife ends up asking that Blake leave the house. Kevin reluctantly asked his friend to leave.

Blake left the last screenplay he had written on his desk, and moved to Arizona, where he found a job as a diver in a Chinese restaurant. At that time, the unfortunate man was even homeless. Even though Costner sent him some money, Blake kept asking him if he had read the script he had left him.

By dint of insisting, Costner ended up complying and finally read the script: it was that of Dancing with the wolves. “I have never been so proud of someone” cowardly, moved, Costner, on the show.

May the fight to put together the film had only just begun. At the time, not a producer in Hollywood would have bet a token on a western; a genre widely regarded as death and box office poisoner.

It was then that Kevin Costner and the film’s producer, Jim Wilson, suggested that Blake turn his script into a novel and publish it, before it was reworked for adaptation on the big screen.

First sold in airport bookstores, the book quickly became a bestseller. Costner was able to get his hands on the rights to adapt his old friend’s book, while also having to put his hand in his pocket to convince the makers to produce a film that almost no one wanted. The rest is now history …

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