If you’re a filmmaker unsuccessfully trying to rework a scene’s dialogue, then there are worse people to have in your cast than a Pulitzer-winning playwright. That’s what director Jim Mickle discovered while making the 2014 thriller Cold in July, an adaptation of the Joe Lansdale novel which starred Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, Mickle’s cowriter Nick Damici, and the late Sam Shepard.
“There was one scene we always struggled with the dialog for,” Mickle told Entertainment Weekly around the time of the film’s release. “That moment when Sam sort of declares what he’s going to do for the rest of the movie was so damn hard and it was treated much differently in the book. Nick and I were constantly sending different drafts back and forth. Then we got to set, and, I think, the night before, Sam was like, ‘Ah, I see where you guys are going with this, yeah, yeah, yeah. Do you want me to try something here?’ I’m like, ‘Absolutely, absolutely, please try something, man.’ He was writing a novel at nights. While we were off he was writing a novel in his hotel room, so he just had a typewriter with him. When he actually got his room, the only thing he requested was a desk and a lamp, so he could set his typewriter there. And so you’d just hear him kind of clacking away. He went back that night, and the next morning he showed up with this one page, hand-typed, rewritten, everything. The scene was this much simpler, much more pared down, and much more tailored to what he would say, and how he would say it. It was really sweet — when he gave it to me, he was like, ‘I think we should show it to Nick, and make sure it’s cool with Nick.’ Nick had already wrapped, he had gone home. It was like, ‘Nick is going to be absolutely fine.'”
After news broke Monday of Shepard’s death, Mickle posted on Twitter an image of the actor in Cold in July, along with a remembrance of how the author of True West and Buried Child had helped him out. “Sam Shepard asked politely if he could rewrite his dialogue for this scene,” recalled the director, whose other credits include the horror films Stake Land and We Are What We Are. “He showed up w 1 page. Typewritten. Simple. Perfect. I framed it.”
Watch the trailer for Cold in July, above.