by director/co-writer Paul Dano
When I first read Wildlife in 2012, I was astonished by the duality Richard Ford captured there: extraordinary love, incredible turbulence. I had felt the same in my own childhood. I re-read the book many times, unsettled and excited by the uncanny feeling of sharing an inner life with this novel.
I have wanted to direct films since I first went to the Sundance Film Festival at age 16, as an actor in L.I.E. There, I was introduced to a whole world of independent film I never knew existed. American independent film led me to world cinema, and I fell in love with the films of Bresson, Ozu, Yang, Kore-eda, Terence Davies. I dreamed about making my own movie—a piece about family, in all its pain and imperfection. Finally, when I read Wildlife, a film began to take root in me.
After a year spent daydreaming about the book, a final scene came to me—the final image of what would be my film. That image gave me the courage to go forward. I wrote to Richard Ford and optioned the book. In an email to me at that time, Ford gave me a great gift. He wrote, “My book is my book; your picture is your picture. Your movie-maker’s fidelity to my novel is of no great concern to me [...] Establish your own values, means, goals; leave the book behind so it doesn’t get in the way—and where it’s safest.” His words empowered me to begin writing with my partner, Zoe Kazan.
Wildlife is about a kid seeing his parents change and their marriage break—and through his parents’ failures, having to grow up. It is a coming of age story for all three: mother, father, and son. While it is about struggle and heartbreak and disillusionment, the film is guided by love. We all felt that making it—Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, our DP Diego Garcia, our production designer Akin McKenzie... Everyone who worked on the production brought their own personal connection, approaching the film as a labor of love.