A Walk in the Woods with Ken Kwapis

With the “Odd Couple” pairing of Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, director Ken Kwapis (Big Miracle, He’s Just Not That Into You) has made an unmistakable buddy road picture in A Walk in the Woods. It’s certainly laconic vs. loquacious on the Appalachian Trail: one part existential journey and another part environmental reverie, as told by sardonic travel writer Bill Bryson (Redford) in his memoir, adapted for the screen by Redford’s producing partner, Bill Holderman.

Of course, it’s easy to see the attraction for both Redford and Nolte: A Walk in the Woods perfectly plays off their iconic personas. And for Redford it’s even more personal, about aging and learning to co-exist with the environment (a marvelous bookend to Jeremiah Johnson). But for Kwapis, who’s always had a facility for straddling comedy and drama, it was about finding the sweet spot where those two conflicting personalities could best flourish.

“They both know how to let the camera capture the inner life of the character,” Kwapis said. “Part of my job was to make sure the contrast between them was sharp but never too wild. Bryson is more brainy and sardonic whereas Katz [Nolte] is much more effusive and emotionally available.”

A Walk in the Woods has a comedic surface, which is why Redford thought of Kwapis (the actor-director also liked the environmental theme of Big Miracle). Kwapis read but not the Bryson book.

“One of the challenges is that there’s not much plot,” Kwapis continued. “Two characters decide to walk from A to B — 2,100 miles. Will they make it? But the important aspect is their reconnecting after a decades-long separation. One of the points that Bob and I really got excited about in our first discussion was the idea that Bryson can’t say why he wants to go on the hike. He can’t articulate it…it’s unknown to him…he can’t understand his own need to do this. But he sees that he’s in a creative rut and sees portents of his own mortality around him. He’s become ‘comfortably numb.’ And Nolte’s character bursts into this at the perfect moment, uninvited.”

Meanwhile, this marked the sixth collaboration between Kwapis and cinematographer John Bailey (this year’s ASC Lifetime Achievement recipient). They shot all of the Trail on 35mm film and the rest digitally, going for looser overs or two shots, keeping Redford and Nolte in the frame together. ”There’s something ineffably cinematic about it,” Kwapis said. “We also felt that 35 gave us a certain measure of portability. Instead of going deep into the Georgia woods with all of the electronic umbilical cords, we just put a camera on your shoulder.

Read the rest at TOH/Indiewire.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Crafts, Editing, Movies, Tech, Trailers

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