‘The Revenant’ screenwriter Mark L. Smith on challenges of creating action over dialogue (Exclusive Video)

Mark L. Smith’s involvement with “The Revenant” began back in 2007, when producer Steve Golin sent him Michael Punke’s 2002 novel of the same name. The gripping book detailed the harrowing journey of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper who survives a bear attack and seeks revenge on the man who left him for dead. However, as Smith admits during our recent webcam chat (watch below), “We didn’t use a lot of the novel.”

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Aside from the bear attack and the names of the two main characters, the writer reveals, “we kind of created our own version. Hugh Glass (played by Oscar frontrunner Leonardo DiCaprio) is almost kind of a Paul Bunyan-esque figure: there’s a lot of legend with fact. So we found some different types of ideas to use.”

Although he claims to be terrible at outlining, Smith says he jotted down the major set pieces of the story. “I knew I was going to write almost like a silent film in a way. I knew there was going to be 30 pages of no dialogue, so I had to make sure that for every action there would be no wasted movement.” As he explains, “every action had to be enough to keep the reader turning the page and not realize that nobody was saying anything.” And, he adds, “I knew it was going to be so quiet at times, that I loved the challenge of that.

Smith readily admits, “sometimes when I write, I think it’s easy to use dialogue as a cheat in a way, because you can kind of tell the audience what they’re supposed to be thinking and what is going on. To try to do it without was a little more difficult than I first expected, but it was nice and it made me realize that every action I wrote was vital because it was taking the place of a few easy lines of dialogue.”

Watch our conversation below to learn what Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu brought to the project as both co-writer and director. 

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Fox

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