The Short Story
Winnipeg Cinematheque is premiering the independent feature film Snake River, shot locally for a mini-budget of $5000. This film is directed by Joe Novak and based on a screenplay by Jonathan Ball (!) and David Navratil called Way of the Samurai. Snake River runs Feb. 19-21 and again Feb. 24. All shows are at 7 p.m.
Also, you can read….
The Long Story
Way, way back in “the day” (as it’s called by the hip young kids), I co-wrote, along with my friend David Navratil, a series of four feature film scripts for independent producer/director Joe Novak. Joe came to us with stories and we reworked the stories with him (often changing them almost completely) and then ducked away and developed the script. When we finished, Joe took the script away, and did whatever Joes do with scripts. We were never sure exactly what he was up to, but he was always up to something productive, which is why he was fun to write for—even if nothing was happening, it didn’t seem like the effort was wasted.
First, we wrote a screenplay called Son of the Storm, about an orphan and immigrant to Japan (at a point in history when immigrants were outlawed) who became a samurai. Joe managed somehow to interest the actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat, Memoirs of a Geisha, etc.) in the script, but there wasn’t a suitable role for Cary.
So, Joe went back to the drawing board. We developed a second story/script with him: Way of the Samurai. Cary signed up, in theory, and things started falling into place, but in the end Joe couldn’t raise the financing. Part of the problem was the fact that it’s expensive to shoot a historical film, due to the costumes, sets, etc. involved.
Again, Joe went back to the drawing board. We developed a third story/script with him: Yakuza. A star vehicle for Cary, set in the modern day, with a parallel storyline set in the past, which would probably be more expensive to shoot in the long run but less difficult to finance for esoteric reasons. Of course, it turned out to be too difficult to finance and (you guessed it)….
We wrote a fourth story/script with Joe: Samurai on 47th. This was set wholly in the present day and, without Cary on board anymore, we cranked up the darkness and grittiness and made it a very brutal, vicious script compared to the others.
At this point we’d pretty much had our fill of writing about samurai, at least for the immediate future. We didn’t hear from Joe for a while—apparently because he was busy rewriting/reworking Way of the Samurai as a western, retitled Snake River, and shooting said film.
So we were and weren’t involved in the making of this film. We didn’t really know it was happening, but it was based on our script, although it’s not entirely accurate to say we wrote it (we did, and we didn’t, since we didn’t write the script, but wrote the script that the script is based on, if you follow).
So I have no idea what to expect. I haven’t seen the film and although Dave saw an earlier version Joe’s been reworking it for about a year now, so who knows what it’s like? It was shot for $5000 apparently, which is amazing since judging by that article I linked to above, there is at least one horse on screen, and horses ain’t cheap. I’ve got a lot of respect for anyone who manages to make a feature film under any circumstances, especially with a micro-budget, and Joe is a good guy, so I'm looking forward to checking it out. At the very least, it will be cool to see a feature film kind-of based on something I wrote.
Because I haven’t seen the film, I can’t really say anything to recommend or condemn it, but the script that the script is based on turned out pretty good, if I remember right. You should go see it, more than once! If enough people see it, maybe I’ll get paid!