A Saga In The Ozarks, Suited For The Screen

Jennifer Lawrence i i

Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, an Ozarks teenager who sets out in search of her drug-dealing father. Sebastian Mlynarski hide caption

itoggle caption Sebastian Mlynarski
Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, an Ozarks teenager who sets out in search of her drug-dealing father.

Sebastian Mlynarski

When filmmaker Debra Granik received a copy of Winter's Bone, Daniel Woodrell's 2006 novel about a broken family in the Ozarks, she knew immediately that she wanted to adapt it for the big screen.

Author Interview And Book Excerpt:

Granik and writer-producer Anne Rosellini had been looking for a strong female protagonist for a long time; they wanted someone "that we could just enjoy, and who we could recognize very readily as someone who would shine out on screen," Granik tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "This was a very irresistible book to us, and the story was one that would adapt very well the way that Daniel had constructed it."

Both Granik and Woodrell sat down to discuss the meth-fueled family drama, which won the 2010 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and which Fresh Air critic David Edelstein called "miraculous."

'Winter's Bone' Director Re-Creates Life In The Ozarks

Ashlee Thompson, Jennifer Lawrence, Isaiah Stone i i

Jennifer Lawrence (center) plays the 17-year-old big sister who teaches her siblings, including Ashlee Thompson (left), how to shoot guns in Winter's Bone. Director Debra Granik says this was a difficult day on the set because she grew up in an urban setting and has a different relationship with firearms than people in the Ozarks. "The idea that people can imbue children with a very great respect for something was something that moved me," the director says. Sebastian Mlynarski hide caption

itoggle caption Sebastian Mlynarski
Ashlee Thompson, Jennifer Lawrence, Isaiah Stone

Jennifer Lawrence (center) plays the 17-year-old big sister who teaches her siblings, including Ashlee Thompson (left), how to shoot guns in Winter's Bone. Director Debra Granik says this was a difficult day on the set because she grew up in an urban setting and has a different relationship with firearms than people in the Ozarks. "The idea that people can imbue children with a very great respect for something was something that moved me," the director says.

Sebastian Mlynarski

When film director Debra Granik first read Daniel Woodrell's novel Winter's Bone, she was taken with the central character.

The mystery tells the story of 17-year-old Ree Dolly, who is searching for her missing father while trying to raise her two younger siblings and care for their sick mother.

"We felt we'd been looking for her," Granik tells NPR's Michele Norris. "We'd been looking for a really rich and complex female protagonist to lead a film, and Ree caught us."

Granik says she was drawn to the girl's strength and her grit. And she was equally drawn to Dolly's world — a troubled, tight-knit community deep in the Ozarks of Missouri. It's a world Granik re-creates hauntingly well for the screen — so well that the drama won this year's Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Making A Film Come To Life

The film was shot in southern Missouri — in Taney and Christian counties — a region that Granik describes as having "sensual rolling hills" and gravelly soil "to the point where hardscrabble is an understatement."

"If we were going to attempt this, we knew it had to be there, it had to have local people populating the film visually," Granik says. "There is no chance that this film would come to life in any way that would be close to the book — or close to any anthropological sense of precision — unless we did it there."

She says that "getting things right" happened because the people in the community opened their pastures and ponds and backyards and homes. Once she and her crew were shooting inside a home, Granik says, they left the details in place, "from ornaments on the fridge to the objects on the kitchen table." And her costume designer set up appointments to look at the locals' closets.

"We took these new garments, the majority being Carhartt jackets, and exchanged them for ones that had been hugely lived in," she says. The coats' frays "reflected on the person's work life, and the tears and stresses on the collar were related to the years worn."

And Granik says one of the film's littlest actors had some of the biggest impact: 6-year-old Ashlee Thompson, who plays Dolly's youngest sister. Ashlee lived in the house where Granik filmed the movie. So when the director told her to go play, the results were very natural scenes of a little girl doing her thing.

A Difficult Day Of Shooting

In the film, Dolly takes care of her younger siblings, including Ashlee, teaching them how to stir potatoes on the stove and how to shoot a gun safely. "Never point this at each other. Not ever," she says in one scene.

Debra Granik, director of the movie 'Winter's Bone' i i

Granik says the success of Winter's Bone came down to the locals in the Ozarks in Missouri opening their homes to the film crew. Sebastian Mlynarski hide caption

itoggle caption Sebastian Mlynarski
Debra Granik, director of the movie 'Winter's Bone'

Granik says the success of Winter's Bone came down to the locals in the Ozarks in Missouri opening their homes to the film crew.

Sebastian Mlynarski

That was a difficult day of shooting, Granik says, because the director grew up in an urban setting and has a different relationship with firearms than a country girl might have.

"I really had to get into the mind frame that this is something very important that people in families have to pass on to each other," she says. "And when children are involved, it has to be taught really well and really carefully. And the idea that people can imbue children with a very great respect for something was something that moved me."

And at a recent screening in the Ozarks, Granik says, she got a very warm reaction.

"People were so curious to see what the fruits of the labor were," she says. "People also have a proprietary feeling when they see their own property, their donkey, their dogs, the props, their garments and of course to see themselves or to see their friends and neighbors onscreen."

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