EXCLUSIVE: Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain scribes Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana are in the midst of two major period Western feature films projects. They are scripting The Color of Lightning for Ridley Scott to direct at 20th Century Fox, and they are at the center of a new deal at Warner Bros to adapt the S. C. Gwynne book Empire of the Summer Moon into a film that will be directed by Crazy Heart helmer Scott Cooper. Both projects are produced by Scott Free.
First, they will complete The Color of Lightning, an adaptation the Paulette Jiles book that was published by Harper Collins. Britt Johnson is a freed slave who moves his wife and three children to Texas with dreams of starting a freight business. When he’s away, a raiding party of Comanche and Kiowa kill his oldest son and take his family captive. Johnson spends a winter plotting revenge. The story is loosely based on a factual tale said to be an inspiration for the classic Western The Searchers.
The S.C. Gwynne book Empire of the Summer Moon is certainly more sympathetic to the Comanches. The book is a Braveheart-style epic about the great Comanche warrior Quanah, who held the westward expansion of settlers at bay for 40 years, and led to the formation of the Texas Rangers to fight against them.
Published last summer by Scribner, Empire of the Summer Moon focuses on the warrior skills of Quanah, considered the greatest chief the tribe ever had. A big part of the story is the chief’s mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, a blue-eyed honey-haired child who was kidnapped by the Comanches when she was 9 and incorporated into the tribe. Her son steeled the Comanches to become ferocious warriors, and the primary impediment to Western expansion.
“Quanah was the last great Comanche chief, considered the key to what they called ‘The Comanche Barrier’ to settling the West,” Gwynne told me. “He came to power very young and led the Comanches in the last great wars against the white man. One of the interesting parts of the story was that his mother was the most famous captive of the era. She was the white squaw who refused to return, until she was finally brought back against her will by the Texas Rangers.”
McMurtry, of course, also wrote the novel Lonesome Dove, which was adapted into the seminal miniseries. Westerns have become scarce in Hollywood, but that could change with the upcoming Joel and Ethan Coen-directed True Grit, which brings back he charm of the genre. UTA and Anonymous Content repped McMurtry and Ossana, and UTA brokered the Empire of the Summer Moon deal with lit agency McCormick-Williams.