Walter Salles and His Quest for Authenticity in the Screen Adaptation of Jack Kerouac's On The Road
Francis Ford Coppola has owned the movie rights to Jack Kerouac's seminal novel On The Road for decades. And frankly most of us who love the book and Kerouac's legacy and have been discussing the possibility of a movie for years took great solace from the fact that the movie was in the caring hands of Francis Coppola. He just seemed to be the kind of guy who would either make the movie "right" or he wouldn't make it at all.
Numerous scripts have been written over the years, one by Barry Gifford, one by Russell Banks, one even by Coppola's own son Roman. None made the cut. The problem seemed to be exactly how you translate the story of On The Road to film.
One issue was the way Francis Coppola wanted to make the film. Rumor had it Coppola wanted unknown actors playing the two main characters Dean Moriarity and Sal Paradise (Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac in real life). The studios wanted Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Colin Farrell -- or some other bankable name depending on the decade. Coppola wanted black and white and the studios wanted color. Nobody seemed to know which way it was going to go and for thirty years the movie simply never got made.
And then along came Motorcycle Diaries. Screenwriter Jose Riviera was nominated for an Academy Award. Walter Salles, the Brazilian Director, won accolades as well. Francis Coppola was impressed and figured he may have found his team. After all, Motorcycle Diaries is about a couple of guys running around South America on a '39 Norton motorcycle. On The Road is about a couple of guys running around North America in a '49 Hudson. Hmmm.....
The cast all came together. Big name actors like Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Steve Buscemi, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Alice Braga, Elisabeth Moss, Tom Sturridge and Danny Morgan. And Francis Coppola got his way with relative unknowns portraying Jack & Neal -- Sam Riley (Joy Division's Ian Curtis in Control) is Kerouac and Garrett Hedlund (Tron Legacy and Country Strong) is Cassady.
The film was shot between August and December of 2010 in Montreal, New Orleans, Mexico, San Francisco and many other locations. But Walter Salles was searching for even more authenticity, so unbeknownst to just about everyone he and Garrett Hedlund took to the road for a second time in April of 2011. They spent two weeks along with a crew of five and blasted 4,000 miles across the back roads of the USA. They purposefully avoided the interstate highways not built until the 1950s, retracing as best they could the original route of the two lane roads Jack & Neal drove.
The purpose of this unpublicized trip was for Walter and Garrett to be involved in the "Second Unit" shooting themselves. True to their desire to make On The Road as authentic as they could they wanted to capture the images of the '49 Hudson roaring across the continent with the sights and sounds of the country in the background. The story of On The Road is also the story of America and the film makers wanted to capture the physical and human geography at the core of On The Road as part of the film.
Along the way they had quite the adventure, meeting many fans of the book who wanted to have their photos taken with Garrett and with the '49 Hudson. The Hudson "travelled courageously" throughout this journey, according to Walter Salles and Garrett Hedlund who described it as "an unforgettable 4,000 mile adventure."
And then there was the law. Apparently screaming down the highways of America in a '49 Hudson with a film crew as your back door does tend to attract a little attention. The word is Garrett and the Hudson were pulled over on more than one occasion and invariably the first question from the police after "Do you know how fast you were going?" was "What year is this car?"
No tickets were reported. Even at excess of 100 mph.
Neal Cassady would have been proud.
Photos exclusive from The Beat Museum to The Huffington Post.