How do you film buffaloes being shot and killed during a stampede without injuring a single beast? How do you get a buffalo to charge an actor without endangering either?
By using, respectively, fake and stunt buffaloes, says Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner's co-producer on "Dances With Wolves," the remarkably authentic portrait of American Plains Indian culture in the late 1860s.Although the Michael Blake novel the film is based on was actually about a Comanche tribe in the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma, Wilson quickly realized the film could not be made in the original setting.
"There was no buffalo, there was not a large enough Native American population," Wilson said.
It took a few years - Wilson wanted to check out potential locations during all the seasons that would be filmed - but he and Costner finally settled on two South Dakota sites, one near Pierre and the other near Rapid City. The buffalo herd was on a private ranch, horses were readily available, three Indian reservations were within a couple of hours' drive, and the cities were able to house a core crew of 130 that often grew to nearly 200.
Blake, who wrote the screenplay, had no problem changing the tribe from Comanche to a Plains tribe that actually lived in the area, the Sioux.
"Both were horse cultures," Wilson said. "What held true for the Comanche also held true for the Sioux - they were slaughtered."
To re-create the buffalo hunt so central to the survival of the Plains Indians, Wilson used five animated buffaloes - life-size buffalo mannequins mounted on dollies and yanked to the ground while traveling at 30 mph amid a pack of live buffalo.
"If you'll notice, those were very tight shots," Wilson said.
"We also had two trained buffalo," he added. "Mammoth was formerly Neil Young's buffalo, and Cody was a buffalo that would come to Oreo cookies."
Mammoth was used to play a wounded buffalo; wranglers would clip arrows to his coat and send him running past the camera. Cody's fondness for Oreos made him a natural for the scene where a buffalo charges a stranded Indian youth. Although it looks like he's headed straight for the kid, the beast was in fact charging a pile of cookies strategically heaped behind the actor.
"Cody the wonder buffalo could see an Oreo a hundred feet away," Wilson said, laughing.
Wilson believes the scenic beauty of the land contributes greatly to the film.
"Those of us in cities who live in boxes all of a sudden go to theaters and say, "This really does exist,' " he said.
- THE CASTING DIRECTORS of "Dead Poets Society" and "Parenthood" were honored for outstanding achievement in drama and comedy feature casting at the Casting Society of America's sixth annual Artios Awards.
Award ceremonies held in Beverly Hills, Calif., and New York also honored the casting achievements in "The Kennedys of Massachusetts" (miniseries), "Murder in Mississippi" and "No Place Like Home" (tied in the TV movie category); "Twin Peaks" (drama series) and "Murphy Brown" (comedy series).
"Pee-wee's Playhouse" won the daytime category, and "Santa Barbara" nabbed soap honors.
In stage casting, "City of Angels" picked up the musical award, and "Piano Lesson" took the play prize.
The CSA also presented its lifetime achievement award to Steven Bochco (producer-creator of "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law," "Doogie Howser, M.D." and "Cop Rock") and the Hoyt Bowers Award to veteran casting director Shirley Rich ("Serpico," "Kramer vs. Kramer" and, on Broadway, "Ballroom," "Private Lives" and "Zorba").