Jeffrey Alan Fiskin is the writer of CUTTER'S WAY (1981), a film now regarded as a masterpiece, and which won Fiskin an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. He also wrote the Tony Scott action thriller REVENGE (1990), which starred Kevin Costner and has now become a cult favorite. His first credit was the biker exploitation pic ANGEL UNCHAINED (1970), and his other credits include Louis Malle's heist caper CRACKERS (1984), and the action comedy THE PURSUIT OF D.B. COOPER (1981). Fiskin's work for TV includes episodes of From the Earth to the Moon (1998) and Faerie Tale Theatre (1983), and the TV movies THE '60s (1999) and THE '70s (2000). His work is fascinatingly textured, melodramatic and resonant, and in the final part of our three part interview I spoke with him about writing REVENGE and some of the themes and approaches of his work. 

Parts one and two of the interview. 

How was the experience of writing REVENGE? 
The beginning of it was quite wonderful. Tony Scott had read something that I had done, and he called and told me that he liked it but that he couldn't make it, and that we would have to work together some time. He called me again, around December 20th, and says ''I've got something that I'd like you to read. It's a novella by Jim Harrison, and it's in a book called Legends of the Fall. It's called Revenge. '' I said ''Well, I've read it. I always thought the Legends of the Fall story would make a great movie. '' He said ''Yeah, but what about Revenge?'' I said ''Well, I don't know, sure. I guess that could make a great movie too. '' He said ''Can you write it?'' I said ''Yes'', but he told me ''It's a little bit of a dicey situation. Ray Stark has the rights to it right now but they're going to be lost in January. He feels like none of the scripts so far have been good, and he's basically gonna let the rights pass. But I wanna make it. And I bet you can make it filmable. But the thing is, there's no money in it, not unless Ray says yes to the script you write. '' I said ''You're saying you want me to write this for free and depend on the goodness of Ray Stark's heart in order to get paid? I've heard enough Ray Stark stories to know that doesn't exist. '' Tony said ''He's a businessman. If we write the right script, it'll be fine. '' I realised I had to write this thing in the next twelve days before the option lapsed. Anyway, I said ''OK. I'll do it. '' And over the Christmas holiday I worked my ass off. 

Given that the story was there to some degree, I figured it would be easy and that it wouldn't take long to write. So I wrote the script and there was only one scene that Tony didn't want in there. There was a family circus I had ran into in Northern Mexico. Like a real circus, but scaled down to five people. Surreal and kinda crazy. But Tony said ''I don't do this kind of stuff. What you do is give me normal, and I jack it up until it's like this. '' So we lost one of my favorite scenes, but he said ''We'll leave it in, because nobody will ever know I'm not going to shoot it. '' We gave the script to Ray and he couldn't believe it. He kept saying there was something nobody was telling him. ''Nobody would be stupid enough to write a script on spec that somebody else owns the rights to and that they hadn't been asked to write. '' Finally he said ''OK, we'll make a deal. '' I called my agent and I told him ''You can charge him anything the hell you want. We can jack my price up to three times normal. '' My agent said ''You've never made a deal with Ray Stark, have you? That's never going to happen. ''

Then Kevin Costner came on, and from the day we met I think he already had in mind that he wanted Ron Shelton to do a rewrite at some point. I don't blame him because I know they had worked together and understood each other. Kevin and I started having disagreements. I don't like telephone scenes in movies. I will go to the ends of the earth to avoid writing a telephone scene for a movie. He loves them, and there are a couple of long telephone scenes in the movie. There was a writers' strike and although I couldn't prove it I think somebody who shouldn't have been down there writing on it probably was. I shared the credit with Jim Harrison because Jim needed the money. He had written a draft earlier on but he had very little to do with the script that was written and shot. Jim called and I just felt like ''Hey, you created this beautiful piece of work. I did something else with it but it wouldn't exist without you. So, yeah, if you need a little credit on it, that's fine with me. '' So, on the one film that I did share credit on, I didn't really share credit on it. Ron Shelton did a little bit here and there but if you compare the script I wrote with the film that was shot, you'll see it's the same movie. 

How do you feel about the finished movie? 
There are parts of it that I really liked. Usually, that's about all I can say about any movie that I have ever been a part of. It's never been the case of ''Gee, that's what I was seeing. '' CUTTER would probably be the closest on that front. In this particular case, there were some things that Tony did that took it so far away from the grit that I think was essential to it. There's this beautiful little scene in the lean-to in the Sonora Desert. There were like 6, 280 candles burning. It looks like a scene from BARRY LYNDON (1975), but it's a little crap hole in the middle of the desert. It's kind of unbelievable and a little silly. There's all this gauze floating around, but where is the wind coming from? But then there are things like when Tiby picks up the dog and heaves him, which are great because nobody saw them coming. There's wonderful stuff in it, but because of the strike, I wasn't on the set so I didn't feel as close to it as I did on other films. Years later I was in some fancy hotel and I saw Anthony Quinn, so I went over and introduced myself. I have never been praised the way he praised me. ''You gave me words. Nobody gives speeches anymore. Everybody fucking mumbles, you gave me words. '' I was thinking ''You gave me a great character and it couldn't have been easy at your age picking up that dog!'' 

Were you surprised when Tony took out the shot of Tiby heaving the dog for the Director's Cut? 
I've never actually seen the Director's Cut, but from what I have read, it was a disappointment. I know that he should have kept the original temp track. It was the most violent thing I have ever heard in my life. When there was a fight, you could hear ribs breaking and flesh scrunching. It was disgusting. And perfect. But the studio said ''No, we're not using that. It's too violent. '' Tony knew about himself very well. He was right about the circus scene. If he had filmed it, he might have had more candles than he had in the lean-to! Tony was this weird blend of artist and macho frat boy. Both sides were pretty great. He had this absolutely stunning girlfriend at the time who was like the great great great granddaughter of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. She was beautiful and so I thought ''She doesn't need to be anything else'' and I foolishly presumed that was it. I remember she sat down at a piano and she played like Vladimir Horowitz! It was amazing. She stopped and she gave me a look that told me she knew she had just blown me away! 

Tony shot a more sexual film than the version that was released in theaters. Was your script as sexual? 
The woman was as sexual as she was in the script, but the sex was more in the way the actors would play it rather than there was a bunch of sex scenes. You had to believe that this woman can walk into a room and have the attention of your lead guy. 

Your scripts have dealt with mentor figures. Did you yourself have mentor figures? 
No, I think probably those characters in the films are the mentors that I wished I had! I think everybody wants a Yoda or Obi-Wan at least. Jean Renoir was the one I looked up to while watching his films. I got a chance to meet him at Robert Ryan's house. Robert Ryan's son Tim was a college friend of mine and I put him in ANGEL UNCHAINED because they had Joey Bishop's son and Jon Daly's daughter Tyne in it. Later Tim changed his name to Walker T. Ryan and became a scratch acoustic bluesman in the Robert Johnson - Skip James tradition. 

Another theme is the importance and enjoyability of male friendships. Are they something you hold dear? 
Yes I do. Right now I'm working with David Ward, a superb screenwriter. He wrote THE STING (1973), SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (1993), THE MASK OF ZORRO (1998), CANNERY ROW (1982), and THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR (1988). He's an old friend and we decided ''Let's see if it really is the Golden Age of Television, and see if we can do something together. '' One of the things that we always argue about is that he feels that power relationships are the be all and end all of relationships, and that that is how human beings operate. I think friendships happen out of love and connectivity. He's probably right. 

How has that collaboration been? 
It's a wonderful rapport and relationship, and we're having a good time. I think both of us feel that if we write something and the other rewrites it, it'll always come back way better than whatever the other person wrote. David can keep details in mind that I will not worry about until the third or fourth draft. It's not a terrible thing to not worry about it until later, but it's interesting to be around someone who works differently and who happens to be brilliant.

It's interesting that all of the films we have talked about end with friendships surviving great difficulties. 
''Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. '' CASABLANCA (1942) has always been a huge influence on me. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.

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