A River Runs & Casting

I get asked regularly about the fishing scenes in A River Runs Through It. There were a lot of very talented people who contributed time, energy and expertise to the fishing aspects the production (not to mention the brilliant crew of people who made the production as a whole a reality). Considering my own focus on the film (fishing!), I thought that I’d add a few paragraphs here at FF&W about some of the behind-the-scenes casting in “the movie.”

There are five major casting/fishing scenes throughout the film (plus the scenes of the brothers as children). The three principle actors—Brad Pitt (Paul), Craig Sheffer (Norman) and Tom Skerritt (the Reverend)—did much of their own fly casting, but John Dietsch, Jerry Siem and I also appear as fly-casting/fishing doubles at various points.

In addition to being the Fly Fishing Coordinator for the film, John also donned the film’s vintage outfits to step in as needed for both motion and still photography. John really had his moment as the first “fly fishing stuntman” when he took the ride down the rapids near the end of the film (chasing the big fish). He ended up with a few unwanted gulps of river water and a temporarily lost rod, but it all came out great in the end.

Jerry is not only a great caster, but a great rod designer, as well. He’s responsible for the big roll casts in the “home from Dartmouth” scene. At first, Norman is at a bit “rusty,” but once Jerry steps in, Norman gets a whole lot less rusty in a hurry! Those few roll casts have been the envy of many anglers over the years. Jerry also casts a series of long, powerful, flowing loops over the Big Blackfoot (Gallatin, actually) in the “breaking free” scene (where Paul “breaks” from his father’s teachings).

As an addition to his fly-casting work, Jerry also shows up in a cameo roll in the “speakeasy” scene (at approximately 50:38 into the film). Jerry is the 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.

As for me, I ended up scattered throughout various scenes in the film, from the “home from Dartmouth” scene to the “big fish” scene at the end. The scene that really means the most to me, though, is the “Shadow Cast.” This is where Norman sees Paul casting on a rock in the middle of the river, and realizes that Paul has become an “artist.” The long shot of the Shadow Cast was doubled by me (with Brad Pitt demonstrating some really solid casting in the close-up). That cast on that rock on that river really brought things full-circle in my angling life. Not only was I actually performing the cast that I had first read about in Norman’s book a decade before, but I was performing the cast on the same river drainage on which I had caught my first trout on a fly rod when I was child.

Of course, a film can only be so long, and chunks of the casting and fishing (doubled or otherwise) did not make it into the final cut. In addition, there was a huge amount of “behind-the-scenes” fly-fishing work done for the film over many months by many people (and a lot of casting practice done by three dedicated actors). The contributions of all involved helped to make the casting and fishing in A River Runs Through It an integral part of the story. It was a true pleasure to be able 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.

4 Comments

  1. Boyd Wilson says:

    G’day Jason, I was just wondering what rods and gear were used in the casting scenes in the film. Whether you used bamboo or carbon rods and the types of lines etc.Love the website, keep up the good work.

    Cheers Boyd.

    • JB says:

      Boyd—For rods, a combo of vintage bamboo and Hexagraph graphite were used. Lines were both silk and modern plastic dyed to look “silk-like.” Had a great time messing with all the gear—the creels were a good place to store walkie-talkies rather than trout.

  2. Greetings from Ireland Jason. Many thanks for sharing some back ground stories to the making of “A River Runs Through It”.I guess you all had great fun making such an epic masterpiece. The whole capture of action scenes and sheer reel screaming reality of having a big fish on the end of your fly was magic.When viewing the action scenes, the viewer is sucked into the scene,transported that second, into the moment, he is the one with the fish on the end of his line, battling this once in a lifetime fish,he dare not lose his magnificent prize.When Brad Pitt resurfaces from underneath the water with his magnificent fish still on,what a sense of relief returns,yet we gotta land this fish still,so hang on and decide swiftly where do I net my prize?Will he fit in the net,or will he beach,or will my hand fit around his wrist if I hand tail him?He certainly won’t fit in my creel.Exhausted,yet a final rush of adrenalin bags the fish.I fill my lungs with a deep breath of fresh air because I am smiling from ear to ear. Wow!Wow!Wow!

    • JB says:

      Joseph–I think all of us on the “fish crew” had a great time working on the film, no matter what our roles. The final scene down the rapids had a lot of bits and pieces to make it a whole, but like Paul’s final fish, it all came together in the end. Pleased to hear that the film–and that last fishing scene, in particular–resonates so strongly with you.

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