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DID YOU READ

“On The Road”: From Page To Screen

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Director Walter Salles impressed audiences and critics alike with his 2004 film about a young Ernesto “Che” Guevara coming of age in South America, so when the Brazilian filmmaker was chosen to direct “On The Road” – the road-trip story by Jack Kerouac that defined counter-culture youth in the ’50s – it seemed like a perfect match of project and filmmaker. Still, the process of bringing Kerouac’s seminal novel to the screen has left the last five decades littered with scrapped drafts and a long list of actors and directors attached to the project at one point or another – making this weekend’s premiere of Salles’ long-awaited film all the more impressive.

For Salles, the making of “On The Road” has been both a literal and figurative journey that’s occurred in fits and starts over much of the last decade, with the film proceeding along, then stalling out, then beginning again numerous times since he was named as director. The experience has involved multiple cross-country road trips, a revolving cast of actors, and more than a few obstacles that threatened to derail the project entirely despite the perseverance of its director and stars.

IFC spoke with Salles, screenwriter Jose Rivera, and stars Garrett Hedlund (Neal Cassady / Dean Moriarty) and Sam Riley (Jack Kerouac / Sal Paradise) about the process of bringing On The Road to the screen and how they approached the characters and narrative of the story in the film.

“It was a very unique process – one that allowed us to have access to the scroll, the original version that Kerouac wrote in 1951,” said Salles. “That version was so different from the published one. It started in the following manner: ‘I first met Dean not long after my father died.’ But in the published version, it started with the line, ‘I first met Dean after I divorced my first wife.’”

And it was that small but important difference, said the director, that formed (and informed) his particular vision for the film.

“It was a completely different starting point for that character [in the scroll],” he explained. “In one case, you have a more innocent, younger narrator who has gone through a loss that will propel him forward, and it creates the possibility of these young men who meet at the beginning of the story to have a common territory: their missing fathers.”

“And as the story unfolds and the scope is developed over that five-year span, the resonance of this motif only grows, to the point where at the end of the story they’re confronted with the necessity of themselves being fathers,” he continued. “Dean is becoming a father in a very literal standpoint, but his restlessness continues. And on the other hand, Sal is trying throughout those four or five years to father a book.”

And it was that father-and-son motif that became the core of the film, according to Salles – along with a focus on the original “scroll” version of the story that Kerouac had written on pages of paper taped together rather than the published version of the book, which gave pseudonyms to many of the real-life literary figures named in the book (i.e., Neal Cassady became “Dean Moriarty” and Kerouac became “Sal Paradise”) and changed various other elements, too.

“When I read the scroll version, it became clear that Kerouac’s original version of this story had more of an edge to it,” said Rivera. “It was more dangerous. It was more sexual. There was more drug use, and they were experimenting and living in a way more passionately in the scroll. And that felt like the right tone for the story.”

Arguably one of the most important – and tricky – elements of any successful adaptation is capturing the right tone for the characters that brings them to life without straying too far from what exists in the source material. With an adaptation of On The Road, however, the waters become even more difficult to navigate due to the characters’ status as fictional stand-ins for real-life people. The availability of countless photographs, audio and video recordings of Kerouac, Cassady, and the rest of the story’s real-world counterparts proved both good and bad for the film’s cast and creative team.

“I read everything I could on Neal and watched all the videos I could,” said Hedlund. “I watched video of him and Allen Ginsberg hanging out, and all of the footage from the Merry Pranksters. But what we really used from all of that research was the stuff from Neal’s childhood more than anything else. Walter made a huge point when he told me, ‘You’re not playing Neal Cassady. You’re playing Dean Moriarty.’ He told us to strip it all away, because when Kerouac wrote this, he wrote it half through personal experience and half through imagination. We had to understand everything and then tear it apart so that we could keep the spontaneous style of the book and live these moments and be able to improvise every day while we were filming.”

“I needed to be Sal, and not think of myself as Jack Kerouac,” agreed Riley. “That would be quite a burden on me psychologically. But it helped that there’s not nearly as much out there of these people when they’re in their early 20s, which is when the story takes place. Walter sent me CDs of Jack talking later in life, and there’s a lot of that, which helped. But this story comes before the fame and the alcoholism and the Jack Kerouac we all know.”

For Rivera, the distinction between writing for the real-life characters and their fictionalized counterparts manifested in a screenplay that had elements from both versions of the figures mingling in the film.

“With Neal Cassady, I felt that Jack had been so conscientious about capturing his voice that all I had to do was allow Jack to speak for himself,” said Rivera. “So for Neal’s character, I relied on the character Kerouac had written.”

“For the Kerouac character, however, I felt like Jack had diminished himself as a character in the story,” he explained. “The Sal Paradise we find on the page is more passive and more of an observer than I imagine the real Kerouac was. From what I understand, the real Kerouac was more intense and loved to talk and things like that. So when I did my research, I focused more on the historical Kerouac and the fictional Neal Cassady.”

No stranger to bringing the lesser-known years of famous figures to life, Salles found more than a few similarities in the experience of making “The Motorcycle Diaries” and that of “On The Road,” and he wasn’t alone.

“[With ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’] we tried to forget the mythological figure of ‘Che’ and focus on the young Ernesto,” he explained. “And Gael García Bernal did that brilliantly. He was an example for Garrett to find his own voice in this very charged terrain and be truthful to it.”

“The only way to be truthful to those young men is to feel the questions they were feeling,” Salles told IFC. “They had no certitudes at that point and were rambling in different directions in order to seek all the possible forms of freedom that would allow them to find a future for themselves at a time when it was difficult to do so.”

”On The Road” hits theaters December 21. The film stars Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, and Kristen Stewart, and is directed by Walter Salles from a screenplay by Jose Rivera.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.