June 20, 2014
A quickie Q&A

When a reputable British media outlet publishes a list of dumb questions posed for Sam Shepard with his less-than-truthful answers, it's a bit puzzling. When, how and where this opportunity arose is anybody's guess. If you know Mr. I-don't-like-to-answer-questions, you'll be able to quickly pick up the silly responses, such as "I am always relaxed".  Echoes of James Lipton here...

When were you happiest?
Before I was born.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
That's a hard one. All of the great writers whom I admire have died. I guess the most recent one would be Márquez.

Property aside, what's the most expensive thing you've bought?
A horse.

What is your most treasured possession?
A horse.

What makes you unhappy?
The rain.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My shoes.

What is your most unappealing habit?
Picking my nose.

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?
I don't attend costume parties.

What is your favorite smell?

What is your favorite word?

If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?

Cat or dog?

What do you owe your parents?

Have you said 'I love you' and not meant it?

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Kate Moss.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
The words I overuse are all adverbs.

What is the worst job you've done?
Cleaning horse piss. I keep my horses out in the open, but when I was working the ranches, I had to clean the stalls. It was a horrible job.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To the 1400s. Historically, I think it would be interesting – it was a transitional time, like we have now.

How do you relax?
I am always relaxed.

What is the closest you've come to death?
I was shot in the wrist when I was a kid. Deliberately. I am not telling [by whom].

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
Maybe Kate Moss.

What keeps you awake at night?

Where would you most like to be right now?
Where I am – in the Florida Keys, fishing for tarpon.

Now that's the truth. Filming for the unnamed Netflix drama series has begun in the village of Islamorada, the sportsfishing capital of the world!

New portrait from this year's Sundance Film Festival

Another summer project

Sam will also be spending some time in Virginia this summer taking on a role in the film, ITHACA, to be directed by Meg Ryan. Filming will take place in the Richmond-Petersburg area. The story is set in 1942 in a small town in California's San Joaquin Valley, where 14-year-old Homer Macauley is determined to be the best and fastest bicycle telegraph messenger anyone has ever seen. His brother has gone to war, leaving Homer to look after his widowed mother, his older sister and his four-year-old brother. As spring turns to summer, Homer delivers messages of love, hope pain and death to the good people of Ithaca. He'll also struggle with one message that will change him forever.

May 29, 2014
Available on VOD

In the past week COLD IN JULY has garnered some great reviews since it was released on May 23rd.

Bob Grimm of the Tuscon Weekly writes, "Who knew Sam Shepard could be so damn scary? As a deranged father recently released from prison and seeking revenge, Shepard is just one of the many reasons to see 'Cold in July', a first rate Texas thriller from director Jim Mickle that stands as one of the better films of 2014 thus far... Killing Them Softly, Mud, Out of the Furnace, and a short but haunting appearance in August: Osage County reveal that the man with the golden typewriter has a whole lot of powerhouse acting left in him."

Though the film is presently showing a 90% rating on the Tomatometer, I have to disgree with the critics. After viewing it last night, I'm still having trouble swallowing its multitude of implausible plot developments and twists.

Since the screenplay was based on a novel, I had higher expectations but the script lacks cohesion as well as any sense of reality. I have a penchant for this genre - love "Blood Simple", "Red Rock West" and HBO's "True Detective" series. The audience is introduced to family man Richard Dane, played by Michael C. Hall, and he comes across as a rather sweet and  somewhat timid man. He's a loving husband and father and law-abiding citizen. His becoming Rambo with the decision to risk losing his family for a bunch of low lifes does not fly unless he's suffering from some kind of Jekyl and Hyde disorder. Sam was terribly miscast and barely exudes any danger or menacing presence. Throw in Don Johnson with that laughable boyish grin and you've gotten rid of all suspense. Such a disappointment!

On a personal aside, I previously mentioned that this movie was filmed in my backyard in upstate NY. It was once a strong IBM community with as many as 7100 employees back in its heyday. Upon reaching 25 years of service, an employee received a pendulum clock with a gold plated inscription. My husband's gift still has a prominent place in our living room. Obviously, the filmmakers took over an IBMer's home because the clock shows up in the film as seen in the photo below.            

On the Bowery

Here are some paparazzi shots taken in NYC this month. The strange thing is they were all taken on Bowery Street. The first set shows Sam's daughter Hannah out shopping with her mom.

The second set  shows Sam with an unnamed woman. Since they're standing with the arms around each other while he gives directions, my guess is these two may be more than friends.

Avant garde theater

When San Francisco theatrical group Word for Word wanted to stage Sam's prose verbatim, he said he considered short stories a unique literary genre and when he wants to write a play, he writes a play. "Why should I let you do this?" he asked. Creator Amy Kossow admitted, "He liked the narrative voice of his prose and didn't want to lose it." Eventually Sam caved in with his blessing for the challenging project. "36 Stories by Sam Shepard" opened May 21st and will run through June 22. Kossow selected material from five Shepard books - "Hawk Moon", "Motel Chronicles", Day out of Days", "Great Dream of Heaven" and "Cruising Paradise". Personally, I love his short stories, especially when he reads them. My audiotape of "Cruising Paradise" is almost worn out! IMHO, to take bits of his prose and scramble them into something anew certainly dilutes the flavor and magic of each delightful story weakening its strength and continuity.

Robert Hurwitt, theater critic for The San Francisco Chronicle, agrees. He writes, "The pieces never cohere into a whole, narratively or tonally - which isn't surprising given the wide range of Kossow's sources. As engrossing as the actors make it in the moment, '36' leaves you not only without much of a story but with only a vague sense of Shepard's voice."

Perhaps Miss Kossow's rainy day project should have been shelved before gathering momentum. Personally, I dislike piggybacking.

Praise for Shepard, the actor

Film critic Nick Schager (5/27/14):  "Shepard's 2013 work with Matthew McConaughey in Mud and Christian Bale in Out of the Furnace provided additional confirmation that the actor is still one of cinema's most formidable presences. In film after film, he comes across as a man's man who's lived through wars (personal, familial, national) and has come out the other side with an understanding of both his strengths and weaknesses. That ability to naturally meld cocksure charisma and irreconcilable bitterness and remorse — a marriage that bleeds into so much of his writing, be it for the stage or the screen — continues to make Shepard one of the movies' most unsung stars."

April 23, 2014
Cannes screening

Variety is reporting today that COLD IN JULY will be among the 19 features set to screen next month in the 46th annual Directors' Fortnight sidebar at Cannes. It’ll be the second time director Jim Mickle has bounced from Park City to Directors’ Fortnight, as he did with his 2013 arthouse film, "We Are What We Are." Delegate general Edouard Waintrop says this latest Mickle thriller "plays with three subgenres of the cop movie — it’s a crazy and galvanizing movie."

The film has also been selected to screen at this summer's Rooftop Film Series, which begins in Brooklyn on May 16. I particularly dislike seeing movies outdoors but this outfit specializes in showing films atop various NYC buildings! The series will have 45 screenings for its 18th edition, which wraps mid-August.

Actors workshop on Shepard in NYC

There will be a master workshop on our playwright at the John Wills Martin Workshop at 4th Street, East Village, starting May 15. Martin is a long-time acting coach and has acted and directed for both film and stage. The workshop will be held on Thursday nights from 6 to 10 pm from May 15 to June 19. Martin is looking for eight experienced actors. His description reads, "This is an intensive workshop, which focuses on the singular writing of Sam Shepard. Rarely do actors get the opportunity to delve deeply into the great writers' works. Immersion in the specific world of Shepard, attending to his unique voice and vocabulary, and exploring his point of view provide the best of workouts. Actors are assigned monologues and scenes from a range of his work, which are workshopped in class. The goal of this class is to explore his 'junk magic' American West and bring the page to physical life. It will be a challenging and fun six weeks!"

The "Black Sheep" series

Keys News has posted a few more details on the filming of the upcoming Netflix series, yet unnamed. Since the creators have not been able to come up with a title, we will presently refer to it as the "Black Sheep" series. As previously mentioned, Sam plays the family patriarch, Robert, whose 'black sheep" son returns home causing dark secrets from the past to surface.

Production has begun in Islamorada on the Keys with The Moorings Village and Spa designated as the base filming location.  The Moorings is one of the town's most luxurious resorts. Its 18 cottages sit along an idyllic, man-made beach lined with coconut palms. Rita Troxel, the Monroe County Tourist Development Council film commissioner, told the press most of the filming is expected to be in Islamorada, but scenes will be shot throughout the Keys. A crew of between 75 and 125 people will be on site during the seven months of production. Location manager Maria Chavez provided a bit of depth on the plot line saying that the essential conflict lies around the question of who killed a young girl who was found in a swimming pool many years ago. "It's like a who-done-it," Chavez said.

April 17, 2014
A devilishly handsome cowboy

American Theatre magazine celebrates its 30th anniversary this month. Sam graced the cover of its very first issue in April 1984. It featured an interview with the interview-shy playwright by a 19-year-old Amy Lippman, representing Harvard University's student magazine. The photograph was taken by Melinda Wickman.

You might blame some of Sam's responses on his being a young man but he was actually 41 years old at the time. He had won the Pulitzer Prize for "Buried Child" five years before. Surprisingly, but in hindsight, not surprisingly, he commented, "I've been in a few rodeos, and the first team roping that I won gave me more of a feeling of accomplishment and pride of achievement than I ever got winning the Pulitzer Prize."

I suppose it was simply Sam being Sam.

Check out the trailer

The trailer for Jim Mickle's COLD IN JULY can now be seen online. The thriller is set for release across the UK on June 27th and will be available through VOD in the USA on May 23.

April 3, 2014
Netflix drama

More information was released this week regarding the yet unnamed Netflix series, which will partner Sam with Sissy Spacek once more. Filming will be done in the Florida Keys in the town of Islamorada where the story takes place. The production team has applied for permits for six months which takes them through mid-October.  The advantage of this location is that it gives that tropical, isolated feel without being far away from the mainland and the resources of Miami. A couple years back I visited Islamorada and I have a feeling this will be a location Sam will thoroughly enjoy.

DVD release date

Discovery Channel has announced that KLONDIKE will be available on DVD on June 10. The six-part mini-series at 429 minutes aired in January and includes some major talent, beginning with Sam Shepard in his awesome role as a Catholic priest. Also bringing their respected older artistry to the Gold Rush drama is Tim Roth, Marton Csokas and Ian Hart. This adventure about the ruthless and cut-throat quest for gold in turn-of-the-century America takes its inspiration from Charlotte Gray’s book "Gold Diggers: Striking it Rich in the Klondike".

The series debuted in the UK this past week. Hugh David of Cult TV Times wrote, "Brit director Simon Cellan Jones does a fine job in clearly difficult terrain, as do the crew and cast. The locations clearly push everyone to a level of realism that it would be easy to waste, and he doesn’t. It helps though when the cast is this good. Fans of westerns and classic American historicals should give this a go, without hesitation." The Evening Standard describes Sam as a "feisty priest with startled hair." Love it!

I thought all the promotional artwork was fantastic and captured the essence and time period of the story. Photographer Kevin Lynch discussed the publicity shoot saying, "We had sometimes 15-20 minutes to get the shots with people like Sam Shepard and Tim Roth. I wanted to get the actors to be in character, and to comprehend what we were trying to convey. They have to look like they’re in character without overacting." For some of the posters, under-lighting in gold hues was used to add further drama to the images and it works as seen below.

March 24, 2014
Fall U.S. Premiere

NY's Signature Theatre has just announced its 2014-15 season, which will include the U.S. premiere of A PARTICLE OF DREAD as part of its Legacy Program, which features works of past Signature Playwrights-in-Residence. The play will be staged by Field Day Theatre Company with its original director, Nancy Meckler, and its lead, Stephen Rea, at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre in November. Simon Fallaha of Sight and Sound described the Oedipus play as "a patchwork thunderbolt of human fear and emotionalism in the guise of an unsophisticated plot. Call it 'collaborative chaotic collective'".

Encore for "Peer Gynt"

It was in Paris in April 2012 when Sam worked with Irina Brooks on her production of Ibsen's "Peer Gynt" for the 2012 Salzburg Festival, which took place that summer. Two years later, the play will again be performed at London's Barbican Theatre this fall. Contributors to the play included rock artist Iggy Pop, who wrote two punk songs about the rise and fall of a rock star while Sam wrote twelve poems which were delivered in monologues by the play's lead, Icelandic actor Ingvar E. Sigurdsson. Produced by the Théâtre National de Nice, where Irina Brooks works as artistic director, there will be four performances from October 8-11. Here is one of Sam's poems:

First light
Miracle of morning
Peeling back night
Like a page in a book

Snails peek at the doors of their shells
Gold in their mouth
Astonishing light

Courage pounding at the cage of ribs
Yet stillness rides
The steaming backs of grazing bulls

Quicksilver lizards
Snapping through
their thoughtless heads

A toad stone still
Peering out through the window
Of what he is

Indelible character
Obeying itself

Blast from the Past

An Ed Fisher cartoon in the January 6, 1986 edition of The New Yorker indicates how extensive Sam's popularity had become by that date.

March 20, 2014
"Brownsville Girl" gets resurrected

Bob Dylan's '80s output doesn’t get a lot of love, but he was plenty busy during the decade, and some of his best recordings from that era are getting the tribute treatment from a diverse array of younger artists.

Titled 'Bob Dylan in the '80s: Volume One,' the new collection is due March 25 and, according to the press release issued by ATO Records, aims to shed new light on a large cache of Bob Dylan songs that have long gone ignored. Featured is comedian Reggie Watts, who offers a dancehall reprise of "Brownsville Girl," an 11-minute epic, co-written by Sam, that originally appeared on Dylan's 1986 LP, "Knocked Out Loaded". The song is a rerecorded version of an outtake from the Empire Burlesque sessions and was originally called "New Danville Girl". Click here for the lyrics.

In a 1987 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Sam described “Brownsville Girl” in the following way: "It has to do with a guy standing on line and waiting to see an old Gregory Peck movie that he can’t quite remember – only pieces of it, and then this whole memory thing happens, unfolding before his very eyes. He starts speaking internally to a woman he’d been hanging out with, recalling their meetings and reliving the whole journey they’d gone on – and then it returns to the guy, who’s still standing on line in the rain."

FYI, the "Rolling Thunder Logbook" page has just been posted with these photos of Dylan and Shepard in Massachusetts back in 1975. Up in my attic you'll find one of my first LP's - "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan", his second album released in 1963. Oh, what great songs!

Cold in July

IFC Films has announced that COLD IN JULY will have a limited theatrical release and become available on VOD on May 23. The movie premiered at Sundance in January with The Hollywood Reporter commenting, "Michael C. Hall's stunned intensity, flanked by wildly enjoyable character turns from Sam Shepard and Don Johnson, should lure a small but appreciative audience with a taste for unconventional action". J.R. Lansdale, the author of the crime noir novel the film is based on, has a small part in the movie and helped coach the actors in their East Texas accents. The film was shot last summer near my Woodstock, NY home. The photo below shows Michael C. Hall being photographed by fans while filming on North Front Street in uptown Kingston.

New Netflix drama from the creators of "Damages"

A 13-episode drama series, yet unnamed, produced by Sony Pictures Television, will be premiering on Netflix. Sam will play Robert, the patriarch of the family, with Sissy Spacek in the role of his wife. This will be their fourth collaboration having previously starred together in "Raggedy Man", "Crimes of the Heart", "The Good Old Boys" and "Streets of Laredo."

The series centers on a family with four children whose secrets are revealed when the estranged eldest son returns home. This black sheep of the family will be played by Ben Mendelsohn. Norbert Leo Butz will play the youngest son, who considers himself the unofficial mayor of the family's small hometown. Kyle Chandler and Linda Cardelinni have been cast as the other two children.

"Out of the Furnace" out on DVD and VOD this week

I checked out this film myself yesterday and I was definitely underwhelmed considering how much I admired Scott Cooper's previous film, "Crazy Heart". Many reviewers have compared the film to Michael Cimino's "Deer Hunter" but it sure lacks the gravitas to come anywhere close to that 1978 classic. The one glaring question I have is what was the purpose of Sam's character? He plays Christian Bale's Uncle Red, who has barely any dialogue and absolutely no purpose to move the story forward. Well, we all know he's easy on the eyes so it wasn't a wasted two hours. I will give praise for Masanobu Takayanagi’s stark cinematography and Dickon Hinchliffe’s evocative score. And the outstanding performances as well. Bale, Affleck, Dafoe, Whitaker, Harrelson and Shepard have either won an Oscar or been nominated and they confirm their artistic talent here. Casey Affleck blew me away. Wish we could see more of him.

FYI, another lawsuit has been filed against the filmmakers as well as the New York Post. The plaintiffs are eight Ramapough people who say the movie casts them in a "false light" and that it intentionally inflicted emotional distress. The defendants include producer Leonardo DiCaprio, director Scott Cooper and writer Brad Inglesby, of The New York Post, who wrote a review describing the hoodlums as "New Jersey hillbillies". This lawsuit comes weeks after a previous one was filed in December seeking $50 million from the makers of the film. The 17 Ramapough who filed the December lawsuit say they suffered ridicule and hatred after "Out of the Furnace" was released.

It appears that Premiere Props is trying to sell Sam's wardrobe for the film. Do you have $400? The Amazon.com description reads: "Tan oilskin with dark brown brushed collar 'Levis Strauss' jacket, burgundy heavy cotton long sleeve button front 'St. John's Bay' shirt, (size XL) and light blue denim 'Wranglers' jeans. (size 34)."

March 4, 2014
Independent Spirit Awards

On Saturday evening, the Independent Spirit Awards were held in Santa Monica. The Robert Altman Award was presented to director Jeff Nichols and his cast. Sam was not in attendance.

Father & Son

On January 9th, Sam was caught by the paparazzi with son Walker as they left La Scala restaurant in Beverly Hills.

February 17, 2014
On the Shepard Stage

A Lie of the Mind:  Prescott Center for the Arts, Phoeniz, AZ - from March 6-16.

"This play needs music. Live music. Music with an American backbone. All I ask is that there be music. 'A Lie of the Mind' is a play not so much to be understood, as it is a play to be felt."   ...Sam Shepard

Fool for Love: Alter Theater, San Rafael, CA - thru March 9

"Sharp dialogue pours dizzyingly from Shepard’s pen, making this reviewer wish the 90-minute play could tumble around longer."  ...Cari Lynn Pace, Marinscope.com

True West:  Theatre Exile, Philadelphia, PA-  thru February 23

"The greatness in Shepard’s play lies in its dark side. Beneath the surface comedy is a play full of mournfulness and violence."  ...David Anthony Fox, Philadelphia City Paper

Ages of the Moon
: Henry Clay Theatre, Louisville, KY - thru February 23

"Despite all the drinking, stewing and trash talking, this play reveals a kinder, gentler side of Shepard to those expecting the ferocity of earlier work like 'True West' or 'Buried Child'"   ...Erin Keane, WFLP News

Excerpt from UK's Independent (2/13/14)

Julie Delpy has twice been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (including this year for "Before Midnight"), and has directed four films. The actress says that an early run-in with celebrated playwright Sam Shepard almost made her give up writing.

“I was working with Sam Shepard on a movie when I was 20, and I kind of translated a line of one of my films and he laughed and said ‘Julie, you’re very pretty, please don’t do that to yourself’ ”, she says. “Listen, he’s a great writer, he’s a much better writer than me… It’s very funny. But it kind of blocked me for years, thinking ‘Ok, so I’m not a writer’. When I wrote  'Before Sunrise', it felt so good and then I started writing again. So I had a block for like two years because a great American playwright thinks I shouldn’t write, so why should I write? But it came back pretty quickly, luckily it wasn’t forever a trauma.”

While it’s not the only measure of success, she has one more Oscar nod than he does.

February 14, 2014
Shepard Sighting

Valentine's Day and our playwright is spotted having breakfast at the Counter Culture Cafe in Santa Fe, NM.

The above photo was not taken today but it's funny that there is a man who resembles Sam but we know it's definitely not him because of the laptop. Here's a pic of Sam's desk at the Santa Fe Institute.

A man and his truck

I found this b&w photo posted online and it was tagged "Out of the Furnace". I'm not sure it's actually a movie still (de-colorized) or was taken during filming. In any event, it's a cool picture.

February 13, 2014
Inspired by Shepard

An Israeli cartoonist has scored his first cover for The New Yorker, wowing the editors with his submission, "Perfect Storm," which captures the romance of a snowy Manhattan morning. Cartoonist Tomer Hanuka’s drawing appears on the cover of the February 10, 2014 edition of the magazine. Hanuka actually conceived of this drawing a few years ago when he read Sam's short story, "Indianapolis (Highway 74)", that ran in the New Yorker. The story is about a middle-aged man stumbling into a former lover in a hotel lobby during a snow storm. Personally, I think the man in the drawing appears more youthful and resembles the Sam Shepard who hung out with Patti Smith at the Chelsea Hotel during the '70s.

Exhibition is extended

Originally scheduled to run through February 14, The Wittliff Collections have extended the exhibition, "The Writer’s Road: Selections from the Sam Shepard Papers", through February 23, 2014.

Those Pearly Whites

Excerpt from "Motel Chronicles" by Sam:

"I remember trying to imitate Burt Lancaster’s smile after I saw him and Gary Cooper in 'Vera Cruz'. For days, I practiced in the backyard. Weaving through the tomato plants. Sneering. Grinning that grin. Sliding my upper lip up over my teeth. After a few days of practice, I tried it out on the girls at school. They didn’t seem to notice. I broadened my interpretation until I started getting strange reactions from the other kids. They would look straight at my teeth and a fear would creep into their eyes. I’d forgotten how bad my teeth were. How one of the front ones was dead and brown and overlapped the broken one right next to it. I’d actually come to believe I was in possession of a full head of perfectly pearly Burt Lancaster-type of teeth. I didn’t want to scare anyone so I stopped grinning after that. I only did it in private."    

February 6, 2014
Soooo cool!

A photographic exhibition is opening tomorrow at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. It's called "American Cool". What is cool? According to its creators, Joel Dinerstein and Frank Goodyear III, to be cool means to exude the aura of something new and uncontainable. Cool is the opposite of innocence or virtue. Someone cool has a charismatic edge and a dark side. Cool is an earned form of individuality. Each generation has certain individuals who bring innovation and style to a field of endeavor while projecting a certain charismatic self-possession. They are the figures selected for this exhibition: the successful rebels of American culture. From hundreds of actors, actresses, artists, musicians and writers, 100 were chosen. Can you guess some of their names? If you said Kerouac or Andy Warhol or James Dean, you're right. What about Sam Shepard? Yes, he's on the list! No surprise. Friend Patti Smith made the list as well.

Among the photographers featured in the show are Diane Arbus, Annie Leibovitz and Robert Mapplethorpe. The photo chosen for Sam is by Brigette Lacombe. It was taken in 1983 and the following two photos were also taken during Ms. Lacombe's shoot.

January 29, 2014


Coming in 2014

News reports from Berlin indicate that Sam will be starring in ITHACA, from a screenplay by Erik Jendresen based on William Saroyan's novel, "The Human Comedy". Production is set to begin this summer with Meg Ryan making her directorial debut. Yes, you read that right. She will also don her acting hat alongside son Jack Quaid and Melanie Griffith. I'm surprised. Both ladies have not made any noteworthy films in over a decade. The film will be executive produced by Tom Hanks and  his partner Gary Goetzman. The story is set in 1942 in a small town in California's San Joaquin Valley, where 14-year-old Homer Macauley is determined to be the best and fastest bicycle telegraph messenger anyone has ever seen. His brother has gone to war, leaving Homer to look after his widowed mother, his older sister and his four-year-old brother. As spring turns to summer, Homer delivers messages of love, hope pain and death to the good people of Ithaca. He'll also struggle with one message that will change him forever.

DVD & Blu-Ray Release

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will release OUT OF THE FURNACE on DVD and Blu-ray on March 11, 2014. Director Scott Cooper's crime thriller stars Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker. Joe Neumaier of the NY Daily News wrote, "Like 'The Deer Hunter', from which it swipes its Keystone State milieu, its haunted veterans, its self-endangerment metaphor and a crucial central image, 'Out of the Furnace' gets under your skin. Bale’s commitment etches a raw portrait of stagnation and sadness. Affleck is heartbreakingly feral.

January 23, 2014
Discovery strikes gold

The Discovery Channel’s expensive gamble on KLONDIKE is paying off big time for the network, producing its biggest Monday prime-time numbers. The six-hour miniseries, which finished its three-night run last night reached 1.9-million viewers in Canada and 3.4-million American viewers. Reviews have been mixed, although it earned a respectable 73 per cent approval rating on metacritic, but those who enjoyed it were lavish in their praise.

The San Francisco Chronicle said, "With a cast headed by 'Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden, 'Klondike' grabs you with terrific performances, an unusually rich script, magnificently sweeping visuals of jagged mountains overlooking valleys of ice and snow, and such a convincing attention to period detail, you’ll believe you’re back in Dawson City at the end of the 19th century."

While the Houston Chronicle gave it praise with, "'Klondike' is melodramatic, but feels more substantial because of minutely detailed scripts and fully realized performances. The mini-series was shot on location, and the cinematography is spectacular, so much so that it's almost like watching a top-grade travel documentary at times."

Vanity Fair Interview

Vanity Fair's Krista Smith interviewed Sam while he was at Sundance. He told her how "Cold in July" was shot on an extremely low budget calling it "very much a handmade movie." Going into a big shoot-out scene, Sam was handed the cartridges for the prop gun and told: "Make sure you make each one of these count. It's going to be a big gunfight, but you only have three cartridges." Another scene with characters shooting bottles off barrels involved "a girl standing at the top of a ladder with a fishing pole and with fishing line, and she's popping each one of the bottles off as you shoot".

In regard to his "Mud" co-star, Matthew McConaughey, nominated for his first Oscar for his lead role in "Dallas Buyers Club", Sam said, "It's really great to see an actor find himself in his sojourn."

What's he currently writing? He replied a "book", explaining that he was determined "to sustain a piece of prose instead of having it all broken up into stories."

When asked about being recognized in public, Sam related a funny story how there have been times when a person would approach him and ask if he's Sam Shepard. When he would say "yes", the person would say, "No, you're not."

Asked about how he keeps his privacy, he replied, "I try not to be in situations where I'm being grabbed at. For the most part you can avoid them. Not here." What does he think of Sundance? "Chaotic. It's crazy."

He mentioned his next film project would be with "Mud" director Jeff Nichols. I'm not sure if he was referring to the current project now filming called, "Midnight Special", a sci-fi drama.

The photos below were taken at Sundance. The first photo was taken by Vanity Fair and the second one is a tintype shot by photographer Victoria Will for Esquire.

French release

On February 26th, "August: Osage County" will be released in France with a different title. It will be called "Un été à Osage County" - "A Summer in Osage County". Couldn't they come up with the French word for August?

January 22, 2014
Great news from Sundance!

The Sundance deals are now moving faster as the festival heads toward its final weekend. IFC Films has just picked up North American rights to Jim Mickle's COLD IN JULY. The film premiered on Saturday evening to mostly positive reviews. Mickle announced, "Our whole team is ecstatic to be partnering with IFC Films. This is the perfect fit for our film." The distributor plans to release the film theatrically and on VOD this summer.

Andrew O' Hehir of Salon magazine praises the film with, "Mickle understands the psychological, spiritual and even erotic appeal of a violent and damaged character like Shepard’s brooding, haunted Russel (Shepard, at his creaky, ominous best) and sees that Richard is drawn to the older man — the father of a long-missing boy who is now a man around Richard’s age — for reasons he can’t control. 'Cold in July' plays by thriller rules and teaches its lessons according to thriller morality, which decrees that bad things happen because we secretly want them to. But this thriller, which could easily have been routine straight-to-VOD garbage in another director’s hands, has a powerful undertow that makes it seem more profound than that, more observant of essential patterns in human nature. Is that an illusion? Maybe so, but Jim Mickle isn’t — this dude can make movies."

January 20, 2014
KLONDIKE premieres tonight on the Discovery Channel!

"The best of the townspeople is the priest Father Judge  played by Sam Shepard. Like other characters and events in the series, he was partly drawn from Charlotte Gray's 2010 book, 'Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike.' Father Judge is a small but bright light of goodness in a town where most people go wrong at least in some way just to survive. An older Mr. Shepard has let his face become more expressive than the younger one did, giving him increasing power as an actor. A scene of Father Judge climbing up his rickety church in a rainstorm to raise a cross atop it is a dramatic high point of the series, too."   ...Wall Street Journal

Reviews from Park City

A few reviews of COLD IN JULY have surfaced from Park City, Utah, and it's all positive for our man. In an video interview with EW at Sundance, Sam shared that he wasn't sure he was up to the role of the revengeful Ben Russel. He kept vascillating between taking it or passing. Ultimately, he decided to jump in and the director conceded Sam did a great job. According to the first reviews, he nailed the "menacing" look. One critic said Sam seemed to model his personality on Robert Mitchum's turn in "Night of the Hunter". Interesting...

Here's a portrait from Sundance taken by the Hollywood Reporter.

Mulroney on Shepard

Interview magazine spoke with actor Dermot Mulroney, also starring in "August: Osage County". He was asked about his thoughts on two famous playwrights - Tracy Letts and Sam Shepard.

Mulroney: Often when I think of Tracy Letts, I think of Sam Shepard's writing, which was my greatest inspiration as a student actor. Subsequently, I've worked with Sam four times and we've become friends. So I guess any modern American theater for me is seen through that lens. So picture me at a table reading with two Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights: I kind of have an eye on my buddy Sam while this language is rolling over us all. We get to that point in the play where it's about to be revealed that there's some incestuous activity going on and I believe I detected glee in Sam Shepard's eyes! Because, of course, his plays are rife with weird families and buried bodies.

Question: Sam's character's presence lingers throughout the film. Is he as elusive in real life as his image - the solitary cowboy/writer?

Mulroney: He's actually gotten to be more cantankerous as the years go by. [chuckling] So you have to have already known him before, or you may not get to know him now. Like, "Time's up!" He's not entertaining any new guests. But he was whole-hog on this movie. He really put his soul into it. Instead of staying in the city, he asked for a house in the middle of nowhere, so that he could write. I drove out to where he was staying. It was just sunset and he was walking up this dirt road from the house they'd rented, and he's running his lines. The sun is setting and there's Sam Shepard in a field, with a screenplay in his hand. I couldn't believe it. And then we went in and he cooked me a steak and some broccoli. He travels with a typewriter and he writes on that. Not a laptop, a typewriter. And his Gibson guitar.

Sundance Premiere

I predicted on January 4th that there was a good chance Sam would show up at Sundance and sure enough, he did. COLD IN JULY premiered today [too early for any reviews] but you can check out several photos in the Sundance gallery.

January 18, 2014
Something "Shepardy"

Paste magazine interviewed director Jeff Mickle about his film, COLD IN JULY, which screened yesterday at Sundance. The conversation got around to casting. Mickle said, "We got Mike [Michael C. Hall] on board and then [I heard] Sam Shepard was interested. I flew out to New Mexico where he lives in Santa Fe - and my parents had just moved there - flew out, stayed with them and had breakfast with him one morning. That was an amazingly memorable experience."

Mickle was told he was quite brave sending something to Sam Shepard that he wrote, especially something about masculinity. Mickle replied, "I can’t tell you how any times we were like, 'You know, we want this scene to be kind of Shepardy.' The fact that it happened that way is amazing. At some point we really killed ourselves - we couldn’t figure out how to make this one scene that was really troublesome. I can’t say how many times we rewrote it over and over, sent it back and forth to each other, threw it in the trash, picked it up again, tried it again. And [at some point] he said, 'Oh, do you mind if I take a stab at this?' I was like, 'Oh hell yes,' and he went home on his typewriter in his hotel room and typed out the scene where he kind of reworked his dialogue. He brought it in and said, 'Is this okay? Do you mind? Is this something you guys are into? Should we run this by Nick first?' I was like, 'I think that’s totally fine!”' One page, hand-typed."

January 15, 2014
Interesting idea

Word for Word, a regional theater and performing arts company in San Francisco, will be presenting "36 Stories by Sam Shepard" in May. The company was asked to create an original work by adapting Sam's prose for the stage. Company member Amy Kossow spent a year sifting through five of Shepard's collections of short stories, eventually choosing to begin with a simple story, set in a roadside diner. The resulting script weaves together tales of his beloved great American desert highways, the endless lonesome roads along which one may meet any type of fellow wanderer. The script was passed along to our playwright who okay'd it. Opening press night will be Saturday, May 24 at Z Space's new second venue, Z Below, at 470 Florida Street, SF. It will run through June 22. More info can be accessed at zspace.org.


There are so few interviews with our playwright that when I came across a recent one published on an online UK film magazine site, I was delighted. Alas, what a disappointment. It boggles my mind that someone who wrote about an afternoon spent with Sam Shepard (the day of the La Cirque luncheon last month) would ultimately be more interested in writing about herself. It's one thing to have a super ego if you're a big-name celeb but as a journalist, humility is a must. I could imagine this kind of blather coming from say, Rex Reed, but not from this writer, a rather woeful  Joyce Carol Oates look-alike who mixes a love for wildlife with film. And it's so unprofessional when an actor's name is misspelled in the headline as in "STEPHAN Rea". Ultimately, this British journalist decided to store away her goodies leaving the reader with a few bread crumbs.

  • In discussing Ireland, Sam remarked how folks play less with their phones and devices than in New York. People actually talk to each other.

  • He admits that it still makes him feel uncomfortable to watch himself on screen.

  • Presently, he's focusing on his writing, namely Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus and deals with the devil. When asked what would be exchanged for all the pleasure in the world in a Shepard play, he responded, "His soul, of course." {Note that he says "his" and not "her" or "their")

  • He once rescued a starving egret.

January 10, 2014
The votes are in

More than 125 film critics have had their say on AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. The Tomatometer is measuring about 63%. Again, the concensus seems to be the problem of transferring dramatic theater to the big screen. I appreciated film critic Frank Swietek's comments:

"The makers of this adaptation of Tracy Letts’s award-winning play made a serious mistake in casting Sam Shepard as Beverly Weston, the Oklahoma professor and poet whose death brings his family together for his funeral- and a release of long-simmering hostility and long-held secrets. Not that Shepard is bad; indeed, he gives a fine performance as a tired man who, in all likelihood, takes his own life. It’s rather that his presence inevitably invites comparisons with his own plays about troubled families - works that are far richer and more compelling than 'August: Osage County.' Of course, screen adaptations of Shepard’s plays have by and large been disappointing, and wisely some of the best of them, like 'Buried Child,' remain unfilmed. The rare exception was the 1984 American Playhouse taping of 'True West' with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise, which was exceptionally fine. That’s because they’re extremely theatrical pieces that suffer when brought close-up; it’s the rare stage drama of this sort that can withstand camera’s glare. Once again, there is a major exception - 'Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff?' But that 1966 film had the benefit of Mike Nichols’ brilliant direction, and on the evidence of  'August,' John Wells is no Mike Nichols."

And I loved what Wesley Morris of Grantland had to say:

"Nothing on the page of Letts's play goes that deep, but the further out the story goes, the stronger the undertow is. Some actors, like Mulroney, Breslin, and McGregor, drown in it. But Cooper, Martindale, and Shepard are expert surfers. To all the hipster filmmakers treating Shepard like a garnish, this is how you use him like a side dish: as a prevailing spirit."

TCA Press Tour

On January 4th, I posted news that Sam was in California and yesterday he was in Pasadena helping to promote KLONDIKE at the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour. Executive producer David Zucker told the press the hard part about recruiting the playwright for the new mini-series was finding him.

Zucker said, "We decided on a Friday we wanted to pursue him, which meant we had to get him a script. Well, he was out fishing, and he didn't have a phone. He also doesn't have Internet, so we couldn't email him. So what we had to do was find the nearest Kinkos to make a copy of the script and get it delivered. When he got back from fishing, he read it and called us back, and it worked out."

Sam said he liked the script and explained his lack of a phone by saying, "It's just another part of the insanity we carry around with us."

One journalist wanted to know if writer Paul Scheuring was intimidated writing for the actor-playwright. "I wrote it before I knew he was going to be Judge - it’s easy to write in a vacuum." he responded. That said, Shepard "was willing to collaborate; he had his thoughts," he continued, adding quickly, "It’s obviously an honor – he’s Sam Shepard!"

Sam didn’t think much of a question about the difference between wearing the "writer hat" and the "actor hat." "Hats look exactly the same. There’s no difference between The Writing Hat and The Acting Hat," he said dismissively.

A question about his "motivation" for taking on this role, and whether his motivation for accepting roles has changed over his long career, didn’t play too well either. "Yeah. I was out of work…the landlord was going to kick me out," he responded.

You know I've done Q&A's with actors Stellan Skarsgård and Peter Coyote but I would never attempt one with Sam Shepard. The man can be impossible. Here's what Canadian web site The Loop wrote:

"Shepard replaced Chris Cooper on Discovery’s project 'Klondike' when the latter suffered a minor heart attack, but while he was a star to the critics in the room, he wanted nothing to do with it. He kept his answers to less than a 100 words and gave the room pretty much nothing, even noting that he took the part because he was out of work. Later on at the Klondike-themed party, he was even more gruff, telling one critic that he already answered questions and grunting at another one. One critic even revealed that the horse parked outside the event gave her a nicer response than Shepard when approached."

Here's a description of Sam's role as Father Judge - "Like the other men who come to Dawson City, Father Judge has a burning ambition. But his quest is for the souls of the miners, not the gold in the dirt. In a town filled with greed, envy and a willingness to kill over a few ounces of treasure, Judge knows the risks he is taking. He establishes a church in the middle of Dawson hoping to attract wayward men and women in need of salvation. He gets his wish, but it’s not at all how he imagined."

In the Big Apple, someone snapped a photo of one of the city's two-decker tour buses with the side splashed with "Klondike" advertising, including Sam's face. Click here for photos from the TCA press tour.

January 4, 2014
Netflix film

For those of you who have a Netflix account, SAVANNAH is now available via DVD or streaming. The movie was an absolute bomb scoring an 8% on the Tomatometer. It doesn't get much worse. I checked it out and it was terrible, more like a Lifetime TV movie, but hey, it's always interesting to see Sam on the screen. Right? It wasn't easy finding actual movie stills released by the studio because most of its publicity seemed to be geared to production stills of Annette Hayward-Carter directing her cast. Rather strange...

Houston Screening

There is little information on this upcoming event but I thought I would post it anyway. Sundance Houston Cinema is bringing the Sundance Film Festival to Houston with a special SFFUSA screening of COLD IN JULY at 7:15 pm on January 30th. There will be a post-screening discussion with special guests. Not naming the guests probably means they're not recognizable.

Where is Sam today?

He's in California in a town called Healdsburg, north of Santa Rosa. Is it possible he'll stick around for the upcoming Sundance premiere of "Cold in July" in Utah?

O stands for Osage and Oscar ??

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY had a limited release in NY and LA on December 27th and will open in theaters across the country on Friday. I've added several new photos to the film page (link above). I'm not sure why the majority of them were found on Italian cinema sites. Nathaniel Rogers of Film Experience wrote a blog on the film and its focus on the Oscars. I absolutely agree with his opinion. He writes, "Usually it's easy to separate films from campaigns but, in this case, the hunt and lust for Oscar, either real or imagined, seems to make a corpse of the actual work and the campaign becomes its restless ghost... Point me to one review or article or conversation about the movie that DOESN'T mention the Oscars. It's the golden filter through which this film is contextually and continually seen."