Behind the deal to adapt Tony Hillerman’s novels – The Hollywood Reporter

The story of a Native American director, iconic actor and screenwriter of Game of thrones teamed up for an AMC series based on the Dark Wind novels date back decades.

In 1979, Thrones writer George RR Martin moved to New Mexico and met Dark Wind writer Tony Hillerman, who hosted a monthly luncheon at the Albuquerque Press Club for writers. The authors became friends, and Martin became addicted to the Hillerman series, which follows a pair of New Mexico Navajo Police detectives, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, from opposing horizons.

Fast forward to 1988. Robert Redford discovered the Leaphorn / Chee novels and obtained the rights with the intention of making a series of films. Still, Redford struggled to get a large studio on board. “Getting an all-Native American cast funded above a certain budget was really hard to do,” Redford told the Los Angeles Times in 2002.

Eventually a movie was made – the one from 1991 The black wind, starring Lou Diamond Phillips as Chee (he went straight to the home video). Better received were three TV films made as PBS ‘ American mystery! Promotions (years 2002 Skin walkers, 2003 Coyote is waiting and 2004 A thief of time). Two were directed by Chris Eyre, who broke out at the Redford Sundance Film Festival in 1998 with his acclaimed debut, Smoke signals, then considered the first film written, directed and produced by Native Americans to reach a mainstream audience. Still, Redford felt that PBS projects were constrained by modest budgets and limited distribution, and there were so many other Leaphorn / Chee stories to tell.

Another decade has passed (during which Hillerman passed away in 2008). In 2015, members of the Redford team suggested meeting with Eyre and Martin. All three lived in Santa Fe and had a passion for Hillerman’s novels. Plus, Redford and Martin shared the same agent and had global deals with HBO. “Of course I’m going to have lunch with the Sundance Kid!” Martin remembers thinking back then. “I was flattered and delighted to be part of the team. “

Together they brought the project to HBO, which put Dark winds in development – but ultimately adopted. A sticking point was maintaining the costly 1970s period, which producers saw as essential for the character of Leaphorn, who was raised in a common forced assimilation boarding school in the mid-20th century that tried to detach young people. Native Americans from their cultural roots.

HBO, however, allowed the producers to try and find another home. And after months of talks, AMC stepped up on July 9 with a serial order, paving the way for an adaptation of Hillerman’s series that finally had all the elements: a major platform, a serialized story in progress, a Native American writers room and a cast (directed by Westworld escape Zahn McClarnon), as well as permission to film on Navajo lands in New Mexico.

“What’s funny is that it’s been 23 years since I did it Smoke signals, and we were imagining this whole renaissance of Native American performance and cinema, ”Eyre said. “I think we were ahead of our time. Now things are changing very quickly, and the time is right for a diversity of voices to give context to who we are as the American people. “

This story first appeared in the July 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

About Monty S. Maynard

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