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A Challenge To Warner Bros. Studio: Find The Means To Fund A Film Of "Young Men And Fire"

Updated on June 21, 2017
Smokejumpers | Source

A River Runs Through It

In 1976, Norman Maclean published what many consider to be the greatest book about family and fly fishing in the world. Beginning in 1982, Robert Redford worked with Norman to produce a film version of this novella. In 1990, Norman passed away. A decade's worth of working together came to an end, but Redford continued on, working hand in hand with Norman's family, intent upon getting this film to the silver screen. Norman lived long enough to read a draft of the screenplay and was reportedly satisfied with it. The cast was set, production began and a 1993 Academy Award winning film was the result. Redford did a fine job and I have to believe Norman would be pleased with the resulting film.

The same year the film of A River Runs Through It was released (1992) another book was published. Young Men and Fire was a lifelong desire of Norman's fulfilled posthumously. He researched the information tirelessly, interviewed the survivors and even undertook trips to the remote location after his retirement from teaching while in his late seventies. His passion to know, to understand brought together the elements which his son, author John Norman Maclean compiled and pushed through publishing. Winning the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award, Warner Brothers Studio purchased the rights to the book with the intent of producing a film based upon the actual events relayed in Maclean's book.

To date, they have yet to act upon those rights. Which begs the question: why the hell not?

Maclean's A River Runs Through It is a masterpiece, both in print and film. Redford's insight into the world Maclean speaks of is intuitive and amazing, producing a film that twenty-five years later still resonates to viewers of all ages. And then we must realize that someone at Warner Bros. saw the same possibilities in Young Men and Fire, intending to follow suit and produce a film that could draw the viewer in and tell a story, a story of thirteen men who died that day mere minutes after their arrival at a supposedly small and easily contained fire in the remote mountains of Montana in 1949. They jumped, they ran, they died.

Fifteen men, smoke jumpers who were for the most part in their late teens to early twenties, jumped on that fire August 5, 1949. Two outthought it, one created something that allowed him to survive, thirteen failed to heed advice from that one and perished attempting to outrun something that could not be outrun. Maclean dug deeply into the available records, searching for a truth he did not know existed. His interest was due to his past and his proximity: born in Iowa his family had moved to Montana in his younger years. As a late teenager he had worked for the Forestry Division, sometimes fighting fires himself. He knew the area and understood the dangers of fighting such a fire. And his keen intellect sought an answer to why so many had to die. This same intellect lives on in the mind of his son John, who has followed in his father's footsteps and has published several books detailing the inner workings of various fires which have brought about the tragic end to firefighters dealing with man's ignorance, his stupidity, and nature's law that it shall prevail.

Map of what occurred that day
Map of what occurred that day | Source
Remembering... | Source

Mann Gulch north of Gates Of The Mountains

As a self professed "Macleananist" (a title bestowed upon me by none other than John Norman Maclean himself), I own every single book I can lay my hands on published by both men; all films, documentaries, screenplays and books on cassettes produced thus far I can say that reading this book is eye opening, thrilling and tragic at the same instant. Hearing it on cassette, read by John, is eerie and powerful to say the least. To view it would be an awesome experience. Yet after contacting John and asking why no one had ever thought to produce such a film, then learning that Warner Bros. has had the rights beginning when the book was first published some twenty-five years ago blew my mind. What? Why not?

To summarize the story, a fire was discovered after a lightning storm in early August, 1949. It was not too large and a crew of the recently created Smoke Jumpers division of the Forestry Department were rounded up from their various haunts and sent into the skies above Montana with the intention of jumping at the location and corralling the fire. Again, it was not deemed to be either dangerous or large, and indeed may have been considered one of the "ten o'clockers" that the group termed a fire that they could land on one day and control by ten o'clock the next morning. Due to extreme conditions, this was not to be.

The story details what is known, through records and testimony, and what is guessed at utilizing Maclean's knowledge of the area and experience with fires. The group jumps shortly after 4:00 PM on August 5, 1949. By 5:00 PM they have landed, come together and joined with a Forestry Service employee, James Harrison and gathered up their tools before setting out towards the fire.

By 5:56 PM, a "blow-up" in Mann Gulch will have occurred, eleven of the sixteen would be dead, two more horribly injured and would face their death within twenty-four hours, two would have run a race for their lives and won, and one would have invented a means of surviving that no one had ever thought of while running for his life before a wall of flames less than fifty yards behind him that reached treetop heights and closing the gap faster than he could travel. Desperation provided divine intervention and he survived. How? By starting a fire of his own at his feet, waiting a moment for it to burn and move away then lying down in the hot ashes with his mouth covered by his bandanna and praying. As the fire passed by him, the sheer power of the winds swirling within it literally lifted him off the ground several times.

Sound exciting? It does to me. And at one time, someone at Warner Bros. felt so too. Coupled with the author, a previous wonderful film of a story by the author, and a storyline that lends itself to tragedy and humanity this could (should) be a film that the masses enjoy as well. Yet WB has not seen fit to fund it thus far. I have to ask why not. So I went back and sought out what films they have produced over the ensuing twenty-five years, films the owners and CEO's felt would be both entertaining to the masses and profitable for them. Let's have a look at a few, shall we?

Warner Bros. Bombs In the 1990's

Mom and Dad Save The World
Malcom X
Mr. Wonderful
The Man Without A Face
Rapa Nui
Being Human
Boys On The Side
Murder In The First
Joe's Apartment
Surviving Picasso
One Eight Seven
Major League II
Tarzan And The Lost City
The King And I
Mickey Blue Eyes
Inherent Vice
Midnight Special

Can you say wow? Only two of these films made any money at all for the studio; two. Malcom X brought in a decent $15,000,000 profit and Boys On The Side brought in a modest (at best) $2,000,000. And this is only in the 1990's, the decade WB purchased the rights to Young Men And Fire. I included three films from the past three years as a means of showing the trend continues, financing box office bombs instead of what should be a sure fire for the studios.

These are not films made by and starring nobodies: they are films featuring stars we all know. Mel Gibson, Drew Barrymore, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Hopkins, Jon Voight, Robin Williams, Kevin Bacon, Hugh Grant, Hugh Jackman and Matthew McConaughey amongst others. And yet someone, possibly many someone's felt they would be smash hits, money makers, Academy Award Winners even.

But not one, not one person believed enough in a proven award winning book by an author who delivered A River Runs Through It to finance it. Imagine if one of those $20,000,000 films had not been made, rather those funds went into Young Men And Fire; say Rapa Nui. Think we could have lived without that film? Or maybe put the $40,000,00 that went into Robin Williams Being Human into a film about Mann Gulch. Think more than $1,500,000 worth of tickets would have been sold? I believe so, with ease.

I Challenge You, Warner Brothers!

And so, I throw down the gauntlet to you, CEO's of Warner Brothers. I challenge you to find the means to fund a film version of Maclean's award winning book. Hell, get Robert Redford to direct it and find some emerging stars to play the young men who lost their lives in Mann Gulch that hot August day in 1949. Perhaps the world could do without another comic book film, or a disaster such as Tarzan And The Lost City this year; I know I could. And I am sure the paying public would agree.

A Shocking Update: June 21, 2017

I just read an article on the sickening decision of the court system to reward the "parents" ( I use that term so very loosely) of Ferguson criminal/thug/favorite son (what do I term him?). Following the criminal court's decision to not find the police officer guilty in Brown's death, due to Brown's physical attack on the officer and the resulting shots which ended Brown's life, the less stringent court somehow found the city of Ferguson liable for Brown's death and awarded the "parents" a payday due to Brown's inability to earn money for these parents in the future.

Yet as much as this offends me, something else offends me so much more: the report that Warner Brothers is planning a film on Michael Brown. And knowing the liberal nature of Hollywood, it will be neither truthful nor accurate and will most likely paint Brown as a martyr, one who was innocent of the charges which were raised following his death, detailing him as a thug, criminal, and any other term one could think of.

To think that a major film company would stoop to even consider a film on this person is beyond belief. What's next? A film on Charles Manson and his innocence? Perhaps one on how ISIS is really a misunderstood group of happy campers?

Come on, Warner Brothers! Do a film on something positive, something that shows a group of true heroes, of how we did our best to do something positive rather than a sickening example of what humanity has become.

Really, who do you think is going to pay to see a film about someone like Michael Brown? It won't be me, that's for sure.


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    • Mr Archer profile imageAUTHOR

      Mr Archer 

      10 months ago from Missouri

      Cheyenne and Tod, thank you. Cheyenne I would love it if RR were to purchase the rights and produce this on his own. He is definitely the man for the job.

      Tod, it is good to know someone hasn't forgotten these brave souls. The book and the audio cassette I own of the book are powerful, to say the least. I am glad you are familiar with this story.

      Take care and thanks again!

    • Tod Zechiel profile image

      Tod Zechiel 

      10 months ago from Florida, United States

      The Mann Gulch fire was often used in wildland fire classes to review "What went wrong?" - at least in the 1990's during my course work. I am not sure if it still is, but I would go to a film that reenacted it. Creating a back burn in grass to establish black to deploy fire shelters is still taught - if the fuel load is not too thick and you have time before the main fire reaches you.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      21 months ago from Central Florida

      Maybe Redford should buy the rights from WB. A River Runs Through It is an awesome movie!


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