With writer-director Scott Cooper’s fantastic film Hostiles now available on Blu-ray, a few days ago I spoke with the busy filmmaker about the home video release. During the interview, Cooper talked about his editing process, how he shot the movie chronologically, deleted scenes and why he doesn’t release them on home video, his accurate depiction of Native Americans, and a lot more. In addition, he talked other projects like his adaptation of Shadow Country that he was working on at HBO with David Milch, Antlers with Guillermo del Toro producing, Hellhound on His Trail about the assassination of Dr. King and the man hunt for James Earl Ray, and more.
If you’re not familiar with the film, Hostiles takes place in 1892 and stars Christian Bale as a legendary Army Captain who reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back home to the tribal lands. Along the way, they encounter a variety of obstacles including helping a young widow (Rosamund Pike) whose family was murdered on thefilm also stars Adam Bach, Ben Foster, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tanaya Beatty, Jonathan Majors, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Timothée Chalamet, Paul Anderson, Ryan Bingham, John Benjamin Hickey, Stephen Lang, and Bill Camp.
Loaded with amazing cinematography, fantastic production design, costumes that feel like they were transported from the era, and great work from all involved, Hostiles is one of those special films that you really want to see. For more on the film, read Adam Chitwood’s review.
SCOTT COOPER: Hey Steve.
COOPER: Oh, doing well thanks. Deep into another screenplay. (laughs)
I was going to say- is it called Antlers?
COOPER: Well, that one is being developed with Guillermo. I’ve been working on that, as well as the screenplay called Hellhound on His Trail about the assassination of Dr. King and the man hunt for James Earl Ray.
Oh wow. That’s a whole separate thing and now I have about a billion questions.
COOPER: Yes, and very timely I must say. Antlers is something I’m quite excited about, working with Guillermo. He’s a lovely guy, incredible filmmaker, and a very supportive producer I have to say.
Do you know what you’re going to do next?
COOPER: Well, I’m currently developing Antlers– they’re both kind of moving forward in sync- but it feels like Antlers might take the pole position. It’s a more contained feature, and I’m working with the writers now before I start writing on it. I’m in the process of really developing that with Guillermo and it’s been a lot of fun- and very different from me. I’m so influenced early on by the work of John Carpenter on Halloween or certainly The Exorcist, which is a favorite of mine. Or even Tarkovsky’s Stalker. I’m able to bring all of that into one film. It’s exciting.
It’s always exciting for me when filmmakers are able to bounce from different genres and show different sides of their filmography.
COOPER: Well, it’s interesting. That’s what Guillermo said. That’s the reason he asked me to direct this. He said, “I’ve never seen, obviously, you direct a horror film, but there’s a lot of horrific moments in your movies.” He said, “So, I’m more interested in someone who doesn’t work in that genre to step into it.” Which is I guess a little bit like Friedkin in a sense- having never directed that genre before he took on The Exorcist. I find that exciting. I’ve made my musical of sorts, and my personal film Out of the Furnace, my anti-gangster gangster movie, and then the Western.
I am excited to see your take on it. Also the fact that Guillermo is a great person to work with; he’s just brilliant.
COOPER: He’s fantastic, so supportive, and wildly imaginative. It’s really been a great collaboration. I’m very fortunate that he asked me to do this.
So, jumping in to why I get to talk to you- the first time I saw Hostiles was at TIFF and I really enjoyed it. The second time I saw it I absolutely loved it. It’s very rare for me to have such a change. So I’m going to ask you, when was the last time you saw something that you enjoyed but then the second time you saw it you all of a sudden realized how much you loved it?
COOPER: I would say Malick’s The Thin Red Line. The first time that I saw the picture…just the scope and use of voice-over narration, and trying to follow so many different characters and then understanding what it was he was trying to say about the film, about the nature of war; what war does to the individual is something that interests me. It was just a lot to take in for the first time I saw it in the theater. The second time that I saw it, at revival house, I was able to remember what I loved about it, but then was able to relax into the story and understand a bit better what it was he trying to say. I had a very deep, emotional reaction to it, which made me feel James Jones probably would have been very pleased with the adaptation. A really, really, good film, I find- the best films in fact- are not necessarily those who win the Oscar, Steve, but I think the best films are those that reveal something new each time you visit them, and can get better upon repeated viewings, and I think the best films are those that stand the test of time. Even though we feel the necessity to reward movies every year, you really can’t tell if a film is quite excellent for ten to fifteen years after it comes out.
You’ve been to TIFF. I think that when I was at TIFF I had seen just so many movies that it did a disservice to your film because I love it, and the first time it didn’t have that- you know what I mean. I saw it in a bad situation.
COOPER: I know, precisely. I mean, Steve, I have heard this on many occasions and what’s unfortunate is that people have to announce what films have arrived, or what films will be nominated, and it does a disservice to certainly the type of film that I try to make. People are all rushing to judge quite quickly. You’re so inundated at Telluride and TIFF and numerous other festivals. Trying to see everything and determine what it is you want to push forward. There are so many films that, I find, often take more patience from the viewer. If you’re running from film, to film, to film, in a very harried festival, it’s not an ideal commission to judge a film. Steve, we don’t make movies to be awarded, we make movies hopefully to learn about ourself- or at least I do.
I completely understand. I’m obsessed with the editing process because ultimately that’s where every movie comes together. That’s the final rewrite. I’m curious how long was your first cut of this compared to the finished film.
COOPER: This one, of the four features, was because I shot it chronologically and because the film can’t be restructured because you’re starting the film in New Mexico and ending it in Montana, and because I shot in locations that would rely that, if you were to restructure it. It really came together rather quickly. The longer cut was probably 2:40-2:50. Then, you realize that you just end up having so much material that you thought might be used and might be needed that no longer is. Often there are scenes that are very difficult to let go of. There was one in particular here, but that always happens.
I haven’t seen the Blu-ray yet, and I don’t know what you included. Did you include any of the deleted scenes?
COOPER: You know, I didn’t, because I feel like if I had then they should have been in the film. I feel like this is a film, ultimately- I have been fortunate that the four films I put out have been precisely, every edit in the film has been precisely what I’ve wanted. So, I’ve never really had to compromise. I just felt that that was probably the best way to present the film- with what you saw at TIFF.
I know a lot filmmakers who don’t like including deleted scenes on any Blu-ray and Kubrick was famous for burning the negative. Is it one of these things where the deleted scenes from the movies you’ve released will never see the light of day? Do you have them somewhere and they’re not going to come out?
COOPER: Yeah, I do, of course. Generally the way I- people think, “This did not work because the narrative, performance.” A film takes a certain rhythm. I also find that viewing habits have changed, Steve. I think because of the introduction of our smartphones being completely inundated with stimuli from our news feed and our administration, that people want their films played as quickly as they can. They no longer want to luxuriate in a film while the world slowly crumbles around us. I happen to be the opposite. It’s never really about length or pace, it’s just about whether it’s the best version of the story that I wanted to tell.
I completely understand. I’m of the opinion, like most cinephiles, that you give me a three hour movie that’s a well-made three hour movie, I’m all in.
COOPER: Oh, no question. Unfortunately, I just don’t think that people have the patience for that any longer because they’re always checking their Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. I think it does a real disservice to filmmaking. Not long form television because people tend to stream shows that length. They can also, while they’re doing that check their phone, they can pause it when they want to, they can use the bathroom, they can take the dog out, they can text their folks. I much prefer to be in the confines of a darkened cinema where none of that exists and I just luxuriate with the filmmaker and the actors, I’m trying to say.
I completely get it. This actually brings me to my next point.
COOPER: (laughs) I feel like I’m swimming upstream, Steve.
There’s a reason why so much talent is moving to making long form television- whether it be Netflix, Amazon, whatever the network or streaming service. There are so many people moving to make eight and ten episode series. Scott Frank just did a great thing on Netflix. I’m just curious if that’s something that interests you; telling story on one of these streaming services or you know an eight episode series.
COOPER: I’ve been asked on many occasions to do [a TV series]. The one development in that arena in which I was quite excited was something that was going to reunite Jeff Bridges and me and was being adapted by David Milch, and it was Peter Matthiessen’s opus Shadow Country. And I will say that the writing that Mr. Milch presented me was as masterful as anything I’ve ever read. This was set up at HBO, and then there was a regime change and the new regime didn’t quite see the merit of what I thought would’ve been one of the great cinematic experiences. But those things happen. So I certainly am interested in that because you can tell a story in a manner in which you can greatly develop characters that sometimes is difficult in a two-hour timeframe, and I think that the right piece will come along yet again. But that was something I was quite excited about that Jeff Bridges and David Milch were as well, and I think it would’ve been quite exceptional.
I’m stunned when I hear something like this. The level of talent you just mentioned. Then again, HBO dropped two David Fincher shows, so I’ve got no idea what’s going on there.
COOPER: Exactly. I won’t comment on that, but I will comment on is that it was some of the best writing that I think I’ve ever encountered. It came along because I was a longtime fan of the novel, and Mr. Milch asked me to go to lunch and said that he was a big fan of Out Of The Furnace. He thought he would like to write something for me. I said, “Well, this is it.” It was incredible.
It’s so crazy. One of the things that I commend you on with the film is the depiction of Native Americans. It just feels honest and feels authentic. Could you talk a little bit about that and the importance of getting it right?
COOPER: It was critical because if you look at a long line of Western filmmaking, and some of my heroes so often they didn’t get it right, to the point where Native Americans weren’t even portraying themselves. I wrote this for Wes Studi, Adam Beach, and Q’orianka Kilcher. I spent a lot of time with Chief Phillip of the Northern Cheyenne. I will say that although this film has been received by my peers and the people that I care about most in ways that I could only have dreamed of, it was the experience of showing this film to the Cheyenne Nation in Montana- many of whom had never been off the reservation. To see the reaction, the warm reception, that the film received. The native community, largely, has been extremely supportive. For me that’s the biggest reward because I want to tell their story about this dark and unforgivable past of American genocide. I was very, very moved when the Native community embraced the film the way that they did. It was critical for me to get it right. I worked every day with Native American advisors that were on the set when we were shooting, working with language, costumes, and their culture. Same with the Comanche that opened the film. Quanah Parker’s distant relative was there helping me. He said I didn’t quite go far enough with the violence in the opening in the film. I felt like what I showed was quite enough, but in the end it’s very heartening to have him really love the film.
That’s so funny to hear that it wasn’t violent enough because for some people I think is very violent.
COOPER: I really don’t condone violence and I can’t watch these Youtube videos where violence takes place. What I am really interested in is the effect violence has on people around the world. You hope that people can see it depicted in a way in which I depicted it; that doesn’t desensitize violence or dehumanize violence but shows how negative the consequences are. Hopefully that will play some small part stopping further violence. There are far more violent things on television and gratuitous violence that I ever tend to or ever want to see.