It really is remarkable that Taylor Sheridan’s first two screenwriting credits are Sicaro and Hell or High Water – two scripts that went on to be successful and critically lauded films (directed by Denis Villeneuve and David Mackenzie, respectively.)
With Wind River, Sheridan is taking the director’s chair himself – but it’s been a rough road. Wind River ran out of money, so the production company submitted it, unfinished, to the Sundance Film Festival in an effort to raise the money to finish the feature, which they did. (I saw the film at Sundance and didn’t even realize it was unfinished.)
Wind River begins with the ghastly death of a young Native American woman who’s found frozen to death on the plains of Wyoming. Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a local Fish and Wildlife agent tapped to investigate the murder alongside a green FBI agent, Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen. The two must navigate the tricky rules and laws of a murder that happened on a Native American reservation while also dealing with government appointed oil workers who may know something about what happened.
Ahead, Sheridan explains why this was the movie of his first three scripts he felt he had to direct, and he also touches on the serious subject of depicting sexual assault on film and the difference between trying to advance a story and being gratuitous.
After Sicario and Hell or High Water did you come to a realization you should just be directing these yourself?
You know, I think I always knew I was going to direct this from when I wrote it. I had some good friends in Indian country that I leaned on to make sure that I got this right. And there was some concern: How am I going to get that lucky again with directors who see my screenplay the way I see it? I couldn’t risk that if someone had a different vision than I did for this particular film. So that’s really the reason behind making the decision to direct it.
Why did you feel that way about Wind River and not the other two?
Well, realistically speaking, just to talk about it from a business standpoint, nobody at that point in time would have trusted me with their money to go direct it. So it’s a moot point even if I had wanted to because I didn’t have anything that had come out. So once Sicario came out and did well, then people started to trust me. Then with Hell or High Water‘s success, they’re like, “Okay, we trust him.” So there’s that element.
Do you feel that Sicario and Hell or High Water captured your vision?
Well, there’s always going to be a unique imprint when another filmmaker directs your words. That said, it’s interesting because if you look at the screenplay of Wind River – you saw it in Sundance, so it wasn’t finished then…
Really? I didn’t know that.
Well, no one knew it. I was in a pickle and I was having an issue trying to get things worked out with the distributor, so we submitted it because we were out of money to finish. And then once Harvey Weinstein picked up the film, then he let me back in to finish the film, which I’m deeply grateful for. So I would love for you to see it again.