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Old 03-16-2006, 03:38 PM
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Default Fly Casting in "A River Runs Through It" - by Jason Borger

[img2="left"][/img2]Fly Casting in "A River Runs Through It"

There are five major casting/fishing scenes throughout A River Runs Through It (plus the scenes of the brothers as children). In addition to the principle actors (all of whom could fly cast), John Dietsch, Jerry Siem and I appear as on-screen fly-casting/fishing doubles at various points during those five scenes. While there is far more "back-story" to those scenes than I will discuss here, what follows should still give you a good idea of what you are seeing when you watch the film. The scenes are listed in chronological order:

Breaking Free: Here is where Paul really becomes his own caster, moving away from his father's teachings. In this scene, the three principle actors (Brad Pitt (Paul), Craig Sheffer (Norman) and Tom Skerritt (the Reverend)) all cast at once, each with their own unique style. Paul, however, is on his way to becoming an artist with a fly rod. As he wades upstream, away from his family, he begins to stretch his casting out, reaching beyond anything that his brother or father might have thought possible. The casting is long, smooth, and powerful--and it is done by Brad's double for the scene, Jerry Siem. Jerry's seemingly effortless casting helps to create a sense of Paul's journey toward art and grace.

Roll Casting: This is the scene where Norman returns from Dartmouth and the two Maclean brothers decide to go fishing. Shortly after they arrive at a "good hole," Paul is into a fish. The quick cut-away shot is a silhouette of me doing some furious reeling upstream of a big boulder. What you don't see is John Dietsch and couple of other members of the "fish crew" hiding behind the boulder, assisting with "trout wrangling." Norman then begins to roll cast, but he is, as Paul notes, "rusty." Paul suggests that his brother, "Cast [his] line into the current," in order to give him "a better base, add some distance." Norman does not exactly appreciate the "encouragment," but once Paul goes for a walk upstream, Norman gives it a shot. Norman's first roll cast here is a "warm-up," and my arms do the doubling during the cast. Satisfied with the results, Norman takes a look around and spots a lee behind a mid-stream rock. As he prepares to cast, Jerry's arms come in, and then all of Jerry (from the back) steps up to make two serious roll casts across the river. Norman may have been away from fly fishing for a while, but he certainly remembered how to cast again in a hurry! (as the scene progresses, see if you can spot the differences between arms, reels and the way the rod is gripped).

Shadow Casting: This has already been discussed on the Shadow Casting page, and it is the scene immediately following Roll Casting. When Norman sees his brother on the rock, he realizes that in his absence, Paul has become an "artist."

The Shadow Cast Illustration
Click the image to open in full size.
The Shadow Cast. (1) Ready to cast. (2) Make a Galway "backcast," (3) turn to your casting arm and make a Pendulum Cast, (4) add a Climbing Hook to the end of the Pendulum. After the Climbing Hook, turn your arm again and move to step 1. Repeat until the rainbows rise....

Here's a little piece of movie trivia for you before we get to the next fishing section. In the "speakeasy" scene (at approximately 50:38 into the film), Jerry Siem has a cameo as a gambler who exchanges a "look" with Paul from across the bar. I have always thought that Jerry was perfect for the part, and that his little smirk at Paul spoke volumes about their past (and potentially future?) interactions.

Bunyan Bug: This is a long scene with the Reverend and the two brothers, but there is only one brief section--where Paul first crosses the river--where a double (me) was used (and only for wading). This is, however, where Norman out-fishes Paul by matching the hatch with a "Bunyan Bug Stonefly Number Two," and where he tells Paul that he is going to marry Jesse.

Final Fish: Also known as the "Big Swim" or "When John Almost Drowned for the Camera." The footage for this scene, which is continuation from "Bunyan Bug," was actually shot at two different times--August of 1991 and March of 1992--and used two different doubles. The scene really gets going when Paul (Brad) wades out into the river (in August), having spotted a perfect eddy on the far side of a raging rapids. As Paul casts, the film becomes a blend of Brad's own casting, images of line loops (some shot elsewhere), and a brief clip showing my arm from the Roll Casting scene. The individual elements become apparent when going frame-by-frame, but it all works well in the dramatic build of the movie proper. Once the huge rainbow takes the fly, Paul has to follow it down the rapids. The next minute or so sees a mix of Brad, John and myself. The first part of that mix shows Paul struggling against the fish and the river. The rod bends this way and that, the reels screams and the figure of Paul contorts as he tries to stay in control. A number of the close-up shots (that are not of Brad) were actually filmed in March, using a skeleton crew and one very frozen double (me). If you look carefully, you can see a slight lighting change on the March clips. I have never been as cold in my life as I was during that shoot, but I didn't have to drown for the camera; that was John's duty. Skipping forward in the scene, but back in time to August, Brad took his plunge through the rapids, followed by John's disappearing act--a full-on "fly-fishing stunt." To get the final footage, John took some pretty good rides down the chute, ending up upside-down and totally underwater at one point. Despite a few unwanted gulps of river and a temporarily lost rod, John got it to all work out well in the end (John talks much more about this scene—and others—in his book, Shadowcasting - An Introduction to the Art of Flyfishing). The pieces of film came together and Paul hoisted his last trophy for the world to see.

Of course, a film can only be so long, and much of the casting and fishing (doubled or otherwise) did not make it into the final cut. In addition, there was a tremendous amount of "behind-the-scenes" fly-fishing work done for the film over many months by many very talented people. The contributions of all involved helped to make the casting and fishing in A River Runs Through It a realistic, integral part of the story. It was a pleasure to work with those people, and to be a part of the whole River Runs experience. Even now, when I watch the film, I am transported back to those summer days, telling a Montana story, in a Montana river, under a Montana "big sky." Perhaps the movie poster was right; perhaps some perfect things do last forever in our memories....

- by Jason Borger

Article Courtesy of Jason Borger at Jason Borger

This article and all of it's contents are used on the North American Fly Fishing Forum with direct permission from the author. They may not be reproduced or used in any way without the expressed consent from the author.

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Old 03-17-2006, 11:25 PM
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Default Re: Fly Casting in "A River Runs Through It" - by Jason Borger

The movie is awsome not only for the excellent fly fishing but how fly fishing kept bringing the family back together.

Has anybody read the book or any book by Norman McLane?
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Old 02-28-2008, 11:51 PM
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Default Re: Fly Casting in "A River Runs Through It" - by Jason Borger

I just found this article and loved it. I've read several of Norman MacLean's books (2 or 3?) and loved them all. he's an excellent writer. Even if you are not a fan of the movie for what it did to the influx if new flyfishermen & women, the original book is a treasure of his writing.
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Old 03-11-2010, 06:01 PM
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Default Re: Fly Casting in "A River Runs Through It" - by Jason Borger

I read the book By Norman Maclean A river runs through it and I have to say that its a wonderful book. I finished it in one sit-down; it flows like the river mentioned through the pages. I highly recommend it, especially if you have a brother that you love, and a hobby that you can live without
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