There wasn’t an empty seat in the theater for Below The Line‘s Screening Series presentation of Dallas Buyers Club Wednesday Dec. 18. Focus Features hosted the film starring Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, a Texan through and through who is informed he has AIDS and forced to consider how to spend the 30 days he’s told he has left to live. The film is based on 25 hours of recorded interview with Ron Woodroof before his death in ’92. In the film, Ron turns the 30 day death sentence into roughly seven years of making life count by helping numerous others suffering with AIDS.
After the film, a Q&A with producer Robbie Brenner and writer Craig Borten revealed details of the truly independent production of Dallas Buyers Club. The film has been in some form of production for roughly 20 years, with the script written in ’92 after Borton’s interview with Woodroof. “I wrote him a letter and he didn’t respond. I called a few times and one day he picked up the phone and said, ‘If you want to interview me, be here tomorrow’,” shared Borten. “I got in my car and drove to Dallas. I slept in a AAA park in a tent and got there the following day.” McConaughey based his character on the tape recordings captured by Borton, as well as on interactions he had with family members of Woodroof and personal belongings they have kept.
Director Jean-Marc Vallee and cinematographer Yves Belanger shot the entire film in only 25 days within a $4 million budget. According to Brenner, the camera department opted not to use a tripod or intricate rig, allowing Belanger to move the ARRI Alexa quickly from close up to wide without Vallee needing to call cut. Any given scene was achieved within two takes as a result. Additionally, no camera dollies were used and Belanger only used available light for composition. “There was one evening when somebody was driving in the background and he got a flash of light from the car as we were shooting and said, ‘Wait, Stop! I love the light!’ and it’s in the film,” Brenner informed.
On any day during production only 10 crew members worked to achieve dailies and even managed to fake a Mexican setting on a street in Louisiana for one of Woodroof’s smuggling operation scenes. The lack of grip and lighting equipment meant an absence of trucks, keeping their footprint almost too small. “You struggled to find where the movie was even shooting,” said Brenner. “It was a stealth little unit of people. Around 10 people, very focused. I think the actors found that very liberating because they really stayed in their characters.”
According to Brenner, all dialogue and sound design was achieved during production with no re-recording or ADR done in post.
Dallas Buyers Club is currently in theaters and has been nominated for two Golden Globes.