Martin Scorsese Wrote Flower Moon for Two Years, DiCaprio Wanted Rewrites



Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have been quite open in interviews when discussing the massive “Killers of the Flower Moon” script overhaul that took place during the film’s development. In a new interview with The Irish Times, the director revealed that he and co-writer Eric Roth had been working on the “Flower Moon” script for two whole years when DiCaprio took issue with the approach.

“Myself and [my co-screenwriter] Eric Roth talked about telling the story from the point of view of the bureau agents coming in to investigate,” Scorsese said. “After two years of working on the script, Leo came to me and asked, ‘Where is the heart of this story?’ I had had meetings and dinners with the Osage, and I thought, ‘Well, there’s the story.’ The real story, we felt, was not necessarily coming from the outside, with the bureau, but rather from the inside, from Oklahoma.”

Scorsese and Roth’s “Flower Moon” script is based on David Grann’s 2017 book of the same name, which tells the story of the FBI’s early days as agents investigate a string of murders among the Osage Nation in the 1920s. In the original script, the film was told from the POV of the lead FBI agent on the case, Tom White. DiCaprio intended to play White, until he had a change of heart about the film’s direction. The overhauled script changed the perspective of the film to inside of the Osage community, with DiCaprio now playing Ernest Burkhart, a World War I veteran who is pulled into his uncle’s greedy plot to rob the Osage Nation of its wealth. Ernest’s loyalty is tested after he marries an Osage woman named Mollie (Lily Gladstone). With DiCaprio playing the new lead role, Jesse Plemons stepped in to play Tom White, now a supporting role.

When the “Flower Moon” team decided the script needed to change perspectives, Scorsese decided to meet with 300 members of Oklahoma’s Gray Horse community in Osage county.

“I always said if I ever get involved with anything that has to do with indigenous people, I’d better know who the people are or, at least, feel comfortable with them as human beings,” Scorsese told The Irish Times. “And that’s what happened. When I first met Chief Standing Bear I was nervous. We went into his office. We started talking. I think what he needed from me was to know that I wasn’t going to take advantage of him, that I wasn’t going to sensationalize the story, particularly the victimization of the Osage, particularly the violence.”

“I know that a number of the people in the community pointed out that they had seen the movie ‘Silence,’” Scorsese added. “They felt that a heart was there. I say this hesitantly. But they felt that they could trust white. I tried to do my best to come up to that trust — it was not easy. But it was very comfortable working with them. I depended on them. They’d tell me something; I’d write it down and put it in the script.”

Scorsese told Time magazine last month that while writing the original “Flower Moon” script he realized he was “was making a movie about all the white guys…Meaning I was taking the approach from the outside in, which concerned me.”

“It just didn’t feel like it got to the heart of it,” DiCaprio recently told British Vogue about the first script. “We weren’t immersed in the Osage story. There was this tiny, small scene between Mollie and Ernest that provoked such emotion in us at the reading, and we just started to penetrate into what that relationship was, because it was so twisted and bizarre and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.”

Another big talking point about “Flower Moon” is its gargantuan runtime. The film is nearly three-and-a-half hours longer, far outpacing long tentpoles like the three-hour “Oppenheimer.” Scorsese recently told the Hindustan Times that he doesn’t want to hear any complaints about the runtime.

“People say it’s three hours, but come on, you can sit in front of the TV and watch something for five hours,” Scorsese said. “Also, there are many people who watch theater for 3.5 hours. There are real actors on stage, you can’t get up and walk around. You give it that respect. Give cinema some respect.”

Speaking to The Irish Times, Scorsese said he was inspired by Ari Aster films such as “Midsommar” and “Beau Is Afraid” to make the pacing of “Flower Moon” breathe.

“I very much like the style and pacing of good horror films like Ari Aster’s ‘Midsommar’ or ‘Beau Is Afraid,’” Scorsese said. “The pacing of those films goes back to the B films of Val Lewton, Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People or I Walked With a Zombie. Just going a little slower. A little quieter.”

“I was very concerned about allowing scenes that were not narrative into the story, scenes to do with the Osage culture — leaving in those scenes of custom, like the baby namings, the funerals and the weddings — so we could begin to understand a little more about the people,” he added. “I felt confident that a lot of people would allow themselves to be immersed in the world of the film. One has to take these chances. At this age, what else can I do?”

“Killers of the Flower Moon” opens in theaters Oct. 20 from Apple and Paramount.


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