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My time on
Brokeback Mountain 

My time on
Brokeback Mountain 


One of the two co-screenwriters of the critically acclaimed "gay cowboy" movie responds to the commentary by Karel about the film

The following letter was written by Diana Ossana in response to "It's Very Brave of Them," an exclusive commentary by regular contributor Karel. Ossana, who granted permission to reprint her letter unedited and in its entirety, cowrote the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain with her writing partner, Larry McMurtry.

Dear Karel,

Your article regarding fear in moviemaking is cogent, timely, relevant, and impassioned. It is an honest journalistic piece and extremely well-written. As the cowriter of the screenplay and a producer on the film Brokeback Mountain, I hope my responses might serve to restore some of your faith in the creative process of screenwriting and filmmaking.

I read Annie Proulx's short story in October 1997 when it appeared in The New Yorker magazine. I was deeply moved by her telling of a doomed love between two unremarkable men, young ranch hands in 1963 Wyoming. Larry McMurtry and I acted immediately to option the short story with our own money, and I felt exhilarated at the opportunity to be actively involved with getting Brokeback Mountain out into the world in a major, major way from the very beginning. Never once did fear enter my mind, not until nearly a year after the screenplay was finished and young Matthew Shepard was found not five minutes from my daughter's apartment in Laramie, Wyo. (She was attending the university there on a basketball scholarship. My fear then was for the safety of my child.) But we remained determined to get our screenplay made into a fine and honest film.

A close friend of mine said to me once that people are mainly motivated by two emotions: fear and love. Brokeback Mountain was not a labor of love for most of us; it was a labor of great passion and belief.

Karel: Bravery? No. When I look at Brokeback Mountain all I see is fear. In the story, I see the fear of two obviously gay people too afraid to actually commit to their love, so they run off and marry women and live a life unfulfilled out of fear.

Ennis and Jack may be obviously gay to the reader/viewer, but in 1963 and even beyond, gays within the working classes barely had a context within which to operate, let alone identify themselves. The character of Jack is much more open to his sexuality and to the possibilities of life than Ennis, and has little fear. Ennis, on the other hand, comes from a place of deep homophobia--not unlike some gays today, sadly enough.

I see the fear in two major stars of actually admitting they played gay, as they downplay in the press their characters' sexuality.

Heath Ledger actively pursued the role of Ennis once he read the script. The script itself, and we feel the film too, are unabashed and straightforward regarding the sex and affection between these two men.

I see the fear of movie studios too afraid to make the movie with Gus Van Sant years ago.

Columbia Studios and Scott Rudin came on board as soon as Gus Van Sant committed to direct. Once their options ran, however, it was extremely difficult to find funding for our screenplay/film. However, we would not have compromised our screenplay by removing or altering integral scenes in the story line.

I see the fear of countless Hollywood actors who wouldn't take the parts.

It is our strong belief that the actors who read our screenplay and ultimately did not take the parts were dissuaded by their various representatives, in the mistaken belief that it would be "career suicide" to take on the roles. As we've said before, Heath Ledger actively pursued his role. Even after Heath and Jake committed to their roles, rumors floated around Hollywood, triggered by noncreative types, that they were committing "career suicide," which is eye-rolling ridiculous.

I see the fear of a still-homophobic corporate press, which grabs onto the stars' sexuality instead of the script's quality. A press that gives these stars an outlet to gauge their "comfort level" with playing these roles. A press that throws around words like bravery and courage when referring to pampered stars playing well-scripted roles.

I agree with you regarding much of the press; however, none of us were "pampered" on the set of Brokeback. This was a low-budget film. We worked 16-hour days, often seven days a week, while in production. More than 80% of our story takes place outside, and the weather in Alberta tends to the extreme year-round. The reason Ang Lee and the actors came on board this project had very much to do with the quality and potency of our screenplay. It would be refreshing if the media knew and actually printed that.

I see the fear in filmmakers like Lee who make "gay" movies without the "gay," meaning gay people are deluged with images of heterosexual lovemaking everywhere, but should a gay couple show it on-screen--oh, no, we must hide the sex.

None of us--including the actors--ever expressed fear regarding the sex in our screenplay/film. We all felt it was integral to telling our story and felt it was very straightforward and honest in its portrayal of these men and their passion for one another.

I see the fear of the critics, who say things like New York Daily News critic Jack Mathews did when he predicted that it may be "too much for red-state audiences, but it gives the liberal-leaning Academy a great chance to stick its thumb in conservatives' eyes."

Red state/blue state--people are people. People between the coasts are a lot more intelligent and compassionate than the media give them credit for.

Yes, I see a lot of fear around Brokeback Mountain.

Heath was asked by an interviewer recently if he felt brave taking on the role of Ennis. He replied, "Brave? Firefighters and policemen are brave. I'm just an actor, getting paid to act. I feel lucky to be involved with this project."

Karel, we never once felt fear regarding the subject matter of our screenplay. What we feared was the possibility of losing the essence of our landscape and our dialogue, and of watering down the unsentimental nature of our script. When anyone sets out on a creative endeavor of any kind, they run the risk of failure. That's what makes "creating" challenging and exciting--because the euphoria of success is so potent.

I, for one, never doubted the power of Annie Proulx's story or our screenplay. That is why we optioned the short story with our own money and why Larry and I have been relentless in getting it up on-screen. That is why I am a producer on the film, and that is why we have insisted upon getting it made in an honest and truthful manner.

Thank you, Karel, for your thoughtful consideration of Brokeback Mountain. We hope you see--and are moved--by our little film.

All best,

Diana Ossana

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