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 Making The Clearing

The last five years have been an incredible journey; one of many ups and downs, hard work, perseverance, and luck. As anyone who has made or worked on a movie knows, you do need some luck.

It began in 1999. At that time, I experienced the devastating loss of Alan J. Pakula. He had died unexpectedly in a tragic car accident. He was a remarkable man, a gentleman, and the gifted director of such classics as Sophie’s Choice and All the President’s Men.

I had the privilege of collaborating with Alan on two films. He encouraged me to start directing. He believed in me, and showed me it was possible to make the transition from producing to directing successfully. When he died, I was confronted with a deep sense of loss. To produce and direct had been a dream of mine since I graduated from film school. I felt it was now or never; I owed it to Alan.

I had heard and read about a kidnapping case that captivated my native Holland in the mid-eighties for the better part of six months. By all accounts, it was an absolutely horrific ordeal. I wondered what it must have been like for the family. How does one respond to and deal with a situation like that? What happens when the very foundation of your life is brutally knocked out from under you?

When researching the case, I decided it lent itself to a dual storyline structure. The story of the wife and her children “trapped” inside their own house in the presence of the FBI as they conduct their investigation juxtaposed against the story of the kidnapper, the kidnapping itself, and the effects and consequences it had on everyone involved.

I am a great fan and admirer of the American thriller genre, particularly the ones that were made in the seventies. I watched and studied many great films including Alan Pakula’s Klute, John Boorman’s Deliverance, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and William Friedkin’s The French Connection. These were some of the great films that were a continuing source of inspiration.

My years of experience working as a producer with many gifted and talented filmmakers have taught me many invaluable lessons. Two of these are: 1) know what you don’t know; 2) a good script can attract a good cast, and a great script, if you’re lucky, may, just may, attract a great cast.

I knew I was not a screenwriter, so I knew what I had to do next: find myself a writer. With some help from friends, and friends of friends, I found Justin Haythe, and he found me. Together we developed the screenplay, and for two years he wrote countless drafts until we were both satisfied. It was an extraordinary collaboration, which has led to a terrific friendship.

I wanted to cast the female lead first. The story is told from her perspective, and the film’s emotional impact completely depends on the humanity of her performance. We sent the script to Helen Mirren’s agent, and she read it and responded enthusiastically.

Soon after, Robert Redford came on board. Meeting and talking to him about the script was both a nerve-wracking and exhilarating experience. Here I was, a kid from Holland, in the same room with the Sundance Kid! His comments and questions about the script and about his part were extremely perceptive and incisive, and his suggestions to improve the screenplay were invaluable. He could not have been a more generous and supportive collaborator.

With Helen Mirren and Robert Redford aboard as Eileen and Wayne Hayes, I truly couldn’t believe my luck. The search for Arnold Mack, the man who kidnaps Wayne Hayes, was on. Then, Willem Dafoe presented himself to us. He had read the script and wanted to meet. He knew that he was the one, and I knew it too. As they say, the “movie gods” smiled upon us and I knew I was the luckiest first time director in the world…

 

Wayne (Robert Redford), a wealthy executive, is kidnapped by a disgruntled employee (Willem Dafoe) who holds him ransom in a remote forest. While Wayne is embroiled in the negotiation of his life, his wife Eileen (Helen Mirren) works frantically to secure his release. The terrifying ordeal causes the couple to reassess their marriage and realize a deeper sense of their commitment to each other. Co-starring Alessandro Nivola (Laurel Canyon) and Melissa Sagemiller. Directorial debut for producer Pieter Jan Brugge
(The Insider).