The Worthy Challenges of Filming Winter’s Bone
The subject of the film Winter’s Bone is tense enough as it is – a teenaged girl venturing out into to look for her meth-cooking father before their homestead is foreclosed – but it’s the setting of the film that really amps up its foreboding feel. Shooting the film on location in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains certainly was no field trip, but director Debra Granik wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“Daniel Woodrell showed us the locations that had inspired the novel. What struck me was that so many of the characteristics of the area went against the cultural grain of what we believe to be the US in 2010. In this world, survival has become a way of life,” Granik says. Granik was particularly drawn to the moxie and bravery of the film’s heroine, Ree Dolly, portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence.
The film is so committed to realism and showing a side of America not often seen that Granik and her crew faithfully recreated the world of Ree Dolly in the Missouri mountains. The cast and crew faced and overcame tough challenges during production; even Jennifer Lawrence, who signed on to the project no questions asked, had complained of the cold. But, in the end, of course, all the challenges had been worth the emotional storytelling Winter’s Bone was able to achieve.
While Granik had been eager to make a film about a seemingly unexposed side of America (“Why is the country so big if you’re not going to show other parts of it? What a waste of civilization!” she says), the prospect wasn’t financially attractive. Even financial entities and production companies who are open to supporting socially relevant causes wouldn’t support the film. Granik attributes the hesitation to the risk of portraying American poverty on film, but she remained bent on making a film that not only told an emotionally rich story but also burst the mythical bubble of American affluence.
It’s fitting, too, that for all its box office success, Winter’s Bone was made on a budget of less than $2 million. One piece of advice Granik has for filmmakers who want to shoot on location is to get a local guide or seek the help of someone who can help you find your way or gain the trust of locals. Granik also recommends stripping production down to the bare essentials. For Winter’s Bone, Granik and her crew didn’t use cranes, snow machines, or giant lights. This also allowed the filming crew to be more flexible and to shoot in places they wouldn’t have been able to fit into otherwise. This also helped the crew film more quickly.
Winter’s Bone bagged the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, along with four nominations at the 2011 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor.