MY DOG SKIP
About the Production
Willie Morris' memoir, My Dog Skip, became an instant bestseller
when it was published in 1995. For Morris, a Rhodes Scholar and former editor of
Harper's magazine, the autobiographical recollection of his first and
favorite dog represented a welcome change of pace.
"I wrote My Dog Skip because the previous book I had done, New
York Days, was a terribly difficult book to write. My wife JoAnne locked me
in my basement for four years and I wrote it," says Morris. "I decided
the next one I wanted to do would be affectionate and tender, and what better
approach than to write about the dog of my childhood."
The resulting book was indeed affectionate and tender, as Morris recalled his
early life as a shy young child in the South and his special relationship with
his dog, a friendship that helped young Willie face many of life's bigger
challenges. Morris strove for a tone that reflected the innocence of a time gone
by and respect for the freshness of a child's perceptions.
The story was also moving to director Jay Russell. "As I shut the book,
I first had to dry my eyes from crying and the second thing I did was call
Willie Morris to inquire whether the rights were available," recalls
Russell, who first worked with Morris as producer and director of the five-part
PBS highway series "Great Drives."
Russell saw thematic parallels between My Dog Skip and other projects
he had directed, including the independent film "End Of The Line."
"Everything that I've done up to this point has somehow tied into the
The project was also championed early on by Russell's friend, screenwriter/
filmmaker John Lee Hancock. "Soon after it came out, I read My Dog Skip,
then called Jay one afternoon and discovered he'd already read it,"
recalls Hancock. "Our reaction was the same: this is a story that'll make
a great movie."
After obtaining the rights, Russell and Hancock sought a screenwriter who
they felt was intimate with the Southern experience and also capable of taking a
book rife with stream-of-consciousness memories and turning it into a linear
feature film. Hancock brought the project to Gail Gilchriest, a friend and
former writer for The Houston Post, as well as the author of two books.
Though her screenwriting experience was limited to only one previous project,
the pair admired her writing and had confidence that she was right for the job.
The book had the same nostalgic effect on Gilchriest. "Though I grew up
30 years after him, I felt Willie Morris and I shared a very similar childhood:
his in Yazoo, Mississippi, mine in Silsbee, Texas, a little town filled with old
houses, water holes and good storytellers," says Gilchriest.
With the completion of the screenplay came the need for "a really
experienced producer who knows how to get tough movies made." My Dog
Skip required a producer who understood the challenges of an intimate,
personal film. Russell and Hancock turned to Academy Award-winning producer Mark
"For a producer, sometimes the smaller independent movies are more
challenging, and consequently more fun. You're asked to be more resourceful
and more imaginative in solving problems because you don't have money to throw
at that problem. And for me as a producer, I much prefer that," explains
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