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The Journey from Novel to Screen

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Bill Wittliffs Edited Screenplay Drafts


This is a page from Wittliff’s edited first rough draft (August 1987) which includes a handwritten insert taped to the right of the page. This revision shows how Wittliff was able to condense parts of McMurtry’s book while at the same time expanding its dramatic power for film.

In the novel, the scout Dixon is the only one of the cavalry unit to speak to the Hat Creek cowboys. But in the script, Wittliff brings in Captain Weaver (who appears elsewhere in the novel) and it is Weaver who orders the cowboys to surrender their horses. When they refuse, Dixon gets involved.

While it may not seem like much of a change, the result is that the additional speaking part creates a series of relationships among the military unit, and contributes to their presence on camera. And since Captain Weaver is the first one to speak to the cowboys, the reaction shot which shows him grimacing at the sight of Call beating Dixon senseless makes much more of an impact.

Wittliff streamlines McMurtry’s novel even further by bringing in an event from much later in the novel: Gus reveals to Newt that Call is his father. By tying the revelation into the already enhanced dramatic scene of Call defending Newt, Wittliff creates a classic movie sequence and one of the most memorable moments in Lonesome Dove.