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[Only IN Hollywood] Kevin Costner’s big financial gamble to make not one but four ‘Horizon’ films

Ruben V. Nepales

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[Only IN Hollywood] Kevin Costner’s big financial gamble to make not one but four ‘Horizon’ films

Kevin Costner receives a 10-minute standing ovation at the Palais des Festivals when he premiered 'Chapter 1' of 'Horizon: An American Saga.'

Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

The Oscar and Golden Globe winner reportedly shelled out his own money, $38 million, and mortgaged one of his properties to help finance his western drama, Horizon: An American Saga – Chapters 1 and 2

LOS ANGELES, USA – “Sometimes I used to get no money to do this. Then I used to get a lot of money to do this. Now I have to pay my own money to do this.”

Kevin Costner made journalists laugh in a press conference at the recent Cannes Film Festival with those quips but he was actually not joking.

Kevin Costner: It’s about the work. “The red carpet is an incredible thing but if you’re only in the movies for the red carpet, for the glamour of it…” Photo by Earl Gibson III

The Oscar and Golden Globe winner reportedly shelled out his own money, $38 million, and mortgaged one of his properties to help finance his western drama, Horizon: An American Saga – Chapters 1 and 2. Budgeted at $100 million, both are finished, with 1 debuting this June and 2 opening in August. This two-part release is unprecedented.

The actor-director-writer-producer will not stop there. He plans to gamble more of his finances, as needed, to make his ambitious four-part movie series a reality. In fact, Kevin Costner began filming 3 before he went to Cannes to premiere 1 as an out-of-competition selection.

While Kevin is going all out in his vision to complete his tetralogy, he was quoted as saying that he did not leave his popular TV series, Yellowstone, to make Horizon. “I did everything that I was contracted to do with Yellowstone,” he told CBS News’ Tracy Smith.

A sprawling epic, Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1, directed and co-written by Kevin, who also stars, is set in the four years of the Civil War.

The saga of the settlement of the American West also topbills Sienna Miller, Sam Worthington, and Giovanni Ribisi and features a big ensemble cast that features such actors as Luke Wilson, Danny Huston, Jena Malone, Tatanka Means, and Owen Crow Shoe.

‘I made the movie for people’

On gambling his own money and property to help make his passion project a reality, the 69-year-old father of seven children said, “I’ve had good luck in my life and I’ve acquired some things – land, some homes – that are important to me and they’re valuable but I don’t need four homes, like anyone. And so, I will risk those homes to make my movies.”

“I wish I didn’t do it because I want to leave those homes to my children. But my children will have to live their own lives. And if I have not made a mistake, they will still maybe have these four homes.”

Surrounded by his family, Kevin Costner savored the Cannes premiere of the first of his planned four-part ‘Horizon’ film series. Photo by Earl Gibson III

“And if I’ve made a mistake, I’ll say, you have to live your own life. I’ve lived mine and I’m really happy. I will have to figure out with my friends, with the things I own, how do I make 3 to bring this back here.”

“You saw the movie. I don’t know why it was so hard to get people to believe in the movie that I wanted to make. I’ve made movies before. I don’t think my movie is better than anybody else’s movie but I don’t think anybody else’s movie is better than mine.”

“I made the movie for people. So, it’s a pattern for me. It happened with Dances with Wolves, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, Open Range. It seems to be a pattern that some of the things that I like are harder to make.”

“My problem is that I don’t fall out of love with what I think is something good. And so, I try to go the traditional way. I look at this (Cannes) harbor and there are so many boats out here and there are so many billionaires.”

“There’s probably no billionaire in here with us. I’m thinking, yeah, keep dreaming. So I feel like I should come to Cannes, I should come to Monaco and say, hey billionaire, do you want to be in the movie business?”

“Because I have four westerns and what will come back is, why should I invest in a movie when maybe the studios don’t? That’s a very good question. That’s actually a very good answer.”

“But all I can say is, I believe in it. I believe that when these lights go out and we’re in a movie theater, something magical can happen.”

“A curtain can open. Remember the curtain? Does your theater have a curtain anymore? We don’t. In America, I don’t know any theaters that have curtains anymore. And as a child, I loved that.”

“And so, part of why I wanted to make 1, 2, 3, and 4 was to make it for myself. Because I know what it’s like to sit out there in the audience and the curtain opens and something magic is going to happen.”

“And a story is going to transport us. It’s going to take us to a place and pretty soon, we have to leave the theater. Not before three hours. We’ll stay in there for three hours together. Not always.”

“And then we have to go do our jobs. We have to go get our kids at school. And then we have to go have a chance at magic, something that we’ll never ever forget.”

“And so, I have made the second one already. I filmed it. And now, I’m trying to make the third one and I’ve knocked on every boat in Cannes to help me (laughter).”

“They, ooh, come, I want to have a picture (with you). I said, no, come get your checkbook out. I want to see, let’s talk money. I’m by myself a lot.”

‘Cannes helped give my movie life’

“I would like to come back here for the third movie. Cannes has been a partner to me. This film festival that you have, it might be a good place to come socially, have drinks, meet people, meet girls, meet boys, whatever. But for me, Cannes helped give my movie life. In theory, I can’t thank you enough.”

“Cannes was important to me. It has made a difference. And you have the right to write whatever you want about the movie but some people have said some really kind things about this movie and it has made it back to my country.”

“And I’ll tell you one last thing. This is why my movies are long. I answer long (laughter). Dances with Wolves, Open Range, two very American movies, right? Now on Horizon, the first money I got was from overseas, not even my own country. All three.”

The actor-director noted for such acclaimed hits as Dances with Wolves, The Bodyguard, and The Postman has been dreaming about making the Horizon series since the late 1980s. He already wrote his lead character, Hayes Ellison, back then.

Kevin named one of his sons after the character. Making his screen acting debut, the real-life Hayes, 15, plays Nathaniel Kittredge, Sienna’s son, in the movie.

This started for me in 1988 and there was the character, Hayes,” Kevin explained. “I have this worldwide fame but if you can drop that for a second, we have so much in common.”

“I have trouble with my children. I have trouble with everything. I had trouble making this movie but for whatever reason, I kept the name Hayes. It was part of my journey. I wasn’t going to let go of this character, Hayes Ellison.”

“So, I started this in 1988 and I couldn’t make it. But I wouldn’t fall out of love with it. I don’t know what that says about me but I couldn’t fall out of love with Hayes.”

“And so, at a certain point in my life, 15 years ago, I named my son Hayes because I couldn’t let go of it. And then all of a sudden, I put him in the movie. The little boy (in the movie) who would not leave his father is my son.”

On casting his son

Addressing the nepotism issue that casting Hayes may bring up, Kevin said, “He’d never acted before. I don’t automatically give parts to my children because I know how coveted this is.”

“There are young people who would do anything to have a part in a movie. And I want those kids to emerge. My children, if they’re not interested in the business, I’m not going to automatically give them something.”

“Because I know there are other people for whom this is a dream for them. But I’m also a father. And it was a part that wasn’t that long.”

“And I wanted him (his son) to be close to me. I was away from home. I needed my family close to me. It was a way for me to trap him and have him close to me.”

“And I thought he was just beautiful in the movie. That moment is exactly what I want the film to be about which is, you hated that he didn’t get down and that he didn’t go with his mother. You were saying in your mind, no, no, no, go with your mother.”

“Yet, he stayed with his father and you couldn’t help but admire that too. Then you had this idea that he wouldn’t go and you admired it. But then there’s a third element. Once you get past that, you realize he made a fatal mistake, in that one decision.”

“And that’s what appeals to me about western movies. We have a tendency to think of westerns as simple. They are not simple, they’re complicated.”

“Living in Cannes, Paris, Los Angeles, that’s simple. It’s not that you don’t have trouble. People have trouble in every decade, every century.”

“But the West was terribly complicated. You had people who didn’t share language, who were at odds with each other. There were guns, there was no law.”

“Try to live in that kind of environment and see how simple it is. So, when Hollywood makes simple westerns, they’re not appealing to me. They need to have a level of complication.”

“Something has to be at stake. It’s hard to write a good western. I don’t know if I wrote a good one. I wrote the best western with Jon Baird that I could write that had a level of compassion and humor.”

“Would it translate? I didn’t know. I wrote a western with Jon Baird that included women as the biggest characters in the movie. It made sense to me.”

“Of course, I’m going to have gunfights. I’m going to have the things that westerns are known for.”

Still from Kevin Costner’s ‘Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1.’ Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema

“But I’m going to also have a scene about a woman from the rules of the West, who just felt so dirty that she wanted to put warm water on herself to clean herself, to just be clean, to feel the idea of being clean.”

“There’s a lot of people who would say, you can’t have that scene. We don’t need that scene. What’s that scene doing in a western? Well, it seems to be the most logical of scenes that would be in a western.”

“How did these people clean themselves in this environment of constant dirt, of constant dust? Is she any different than you? She’s not. And that’s why I think those kinds of scenes should be in a movie.”

“Movies have to have something in common with you or you lose track of what you’re watching in the dark and go, who the fuck is this? It’s when we recognize ourselves is when we can create moments that we’ll never ever forget.”

Receiving a ten-minute standing ovation

Being at the Palais des Festivals when Kevin premiered Chapter 1, I witnessed the ten-minute standing ovation afterward which visibly moved him. Surrounded by his children, Kevin got misty-eyed.

Kevin Costner was moved when he received a 10-minute standing ovation after the Cannes premiere of his sprawling western, ‘Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1.’ Photo by Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

“I would hope someday that you have a feeling like I had last night,” the 69-year-old said in front of the journalists the morning after. “It was a remarkable moment for me. I found myself going back in time as I looked at the people.”

“They gave me such joy and I felt so much love. I didn’t expect it. I started to walk my life backwards, thinking how in the world did I get here? How in the world did this night end up like this? And the idea that my children were there watching was very special for me.”

On which aspects of his work – producer, actor, director, writer – he relishes most, the California native answered, “I love the dreaming part of movies and the writing of them. I love what happened last night. I love seeing my children dressed up.”

“I love seeing other people dressed up. The red carpet is an incredible thing but if you’re only in the movies for the red carpet, for the glamour of it, for whatever that comes with the fame – I had the most beautiful (hotel) room and I really appreciate it…”

“But I like to think I got to this place because I like the work. I like the dreaming part. I like the late nights, directing, editing, and writing. I like that part of it the best.”

Kevin specified the part of filmmaking that gives him joy: “The thing that happens, and I swear to you, I don’t think I’ve ever said this at a thing, I have a thing that almost happens to me every morning or every day at work.”

“There’s one moment where I feel like I solved something and I’m literally so happy. And I think, you earned your money today.”

“Because I can just repeat myself all day long but sometimes there’s a problem that needs to be solved, and I think, I solved it today. And when that happens, when I find a moment, or I help another actor find a moment, or I move the scene to a different spot and it’s more beautiful, I feel like I earned my dough.”

“I earned it. It’s not casual for me when I’m out there. My attention is all over the place.”

‘I can’t fill every box every time I try to make a movie but I’m absolutely conscious of what’s at stake and trying to represent people’

On the presence of Native Americans and representation of other races in his films, Kevin shared, “I believed that the Native Americans in Dances with Wolves should be very well-rounded people. I didn’t think I was breaking ground. It’s just the way I wanted to see them. It made my story better, to me.”

“Before I gave you the story, I decided it needed to be good for me. I’ve brought every trick I can. I shot Dances with Wolves in 106 days. I shot the movie you just saw, that’s arguably bigger, in 52 days.”

“It was my money; it was my partner’s money and I was trying not to waste it but I was trying to not shortchange you on anything that I thought should be in there.”

“You notice the West is very heavily in women in our movie. African Americans, Glynn Turman comes into number 2, and an actor that I desperately want will come into 3 and 4 who ultimately ends up being the first mayor of the town.”

“I’m conscious of race. I lived in a place called Compton, California. I funded a movie called Black or White. It was my version of a level of racism that exists in our country, in Compton, and Beverly Hills.”

“So, I can’t fill every box every time I try to make a movie but I’m absolutely conscious of what’s at stake and trying to represent people. And the Chinese were a very important part.”

“And African Americans, obviously, began to populate the West. So they’re important to me and I probably fail and succeed at every turn but my aim is true.”

As for the American Frontier, a dominant setting in some of his important work, the winner of two Oscars, three Golden Globes, and an Emmy said, “America 200 years ago, 300 years ago, was kind of like the Garden of Eden.”

“You had Europe, you had the rest of the world, and there were people here (in Europe) who were starting to hear stories that if they could get across this ocean safely, and who’s to say that trip was even going to be safe?”

“Did you take a look at the fucking boats that that went from here to there? Would you do that? But people who wanted a new life would. They would risk everything to go to this place that didn’t even have a name.”

“It was kind of a myth and it really was a myth. Come to this place, there are 90 million buffalos. Come to this place, you’ll never see a building. It was true.”

“You had Europe, you have Africa, you have the Middle East where civilization began. Big buildings. And you go to America, there was nothing there. And so, the idea of the horizon that’s out in front of people, it was a myth.”

“People tried to explain it to other people. You can go to this place and if you’re strong enough, mean enough, tough enough and resourceful enough, you can carve out a life for yourself.”

“There were so many people in Europe who looked at their wives and said, we need to go there. We are third-class citizens under this monarchy or under this kingdom or whatever it was. And this great movement came to America.”

“There was some kind of promise. But the reality was, this land that if you were smart enough and mean enough that you could take, you’d be taking it against people who have been there for 15,000 years.”

“And we had a consistent march across America where we destroyed over 500 cultures. We had the same thing in our history called slavery. And the world was working that way, and we’ve still not recovered from that or that war, that Civil War.”

“And I’ll just tell you one more fact. The only reason the West lasted as long as it did was because of the Civil War. They were busy fighting and at that point, there was no army out there to protect all these immigrants who were moving West.”

“There are small forts, like what I show (in the movie), that if you listen to the language carefully, the lieutenant says, you know, only 40, 50 people attacked this town. There are probably 3,000 others that didn’t touch this thing at all, and if we’re not careful, they’ll rid us in a day’s work.”

‘The movie is a journey’

“I hope you revisit Horizon because words are important to me. I like gunfights, too. I like them. But I like language that identifies things.”

“So, the idea of Horizon – it’s kind of nice to know that you preserve the heritage of buildings here, sacred. In America, we have a lot of land and it just got gobbled up.”

“I appreciate that in America we’re starting to really value land for other generations to go look at. And this movie, hopefully, is a postcard when you see those locations. They do exist. These rivers run. These mountains have never moved and never will.”

Still from Kevin Costner’s ‘Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1.’ Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema

“And it’s important sometimes to just not build there and let future generations see. There are two great scenes in Horizon. And I came back a year later shooting 2.”

“And there are warehouses. But not in the movie. It (open space) is there forever. And that’s what movies can do too – preserve a way of life (on screen).”

Pressed further about the Native American representation, especially in the last two chapters of his western saga, Kevin replied, In 4, they become very dominant. In 2, the little boy you see with the hat is now a 24-year-old so I have to find an older one. The little blonde girl, another actress is playing her.”

“The little boy who thinks he wants to hunt Indians himself now because his parents were killed. He’s now a 24-year-old. So, there’s a progression of people.”

“The movie is a journey. It’s not a plot movie. And the Native Americans are represented. I don’t feel the need to try to balance the story. A lot of people talked about Dances with Wolves as being a Native American story.”

“I said, no, it’s not. It was a story about a Calvary man who went out to the West.”

“So, the feeling was, well, it was their story. I couldn’t, for one, begin to actually know to be the person who sets the record straight for Native Americans or for African Americans or for anybody. I just try to make it as real as I can.”

“I didn’t make Black or White, which is a story that deals with racism, from a Black point of view. I made it from the point of view of myself and how that has gone.”

“And my best depiction of people that I actually have contact with. I think a movie is just more interesting the more real people are.”

“The Native Americans are in 4 much more heavily than they are in 2. They’re more in 1, less in 2. And 3, it’s about the same, and in 4, they’re very dominant.”

“A lot of my research came from paintings,” Kevin began when asked about his preparation for the Horizon movies. “Luckily, the camera was [already invented] back in the 1800s so I was able to use black and white [photos as research resource] for my costumes.”

“Costumes are always really important to me. But the different books, they’re numerous. All my life I’ve read about this time so I just drew on everything.”

On Horizon: An American Saga and all its chapters

Kevin confirmed that 3 and 4 are definitely happening. “I literally shot three days of 3, believe it or not, before I came here. I shut my movie down, which is unheard of, to come here. It was so important for me to come to a place where movies are viewed in a very open way.”

Still from Kevin Costner’s ‘Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1.’ Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema

“This was important to me, to be here. I’m going to leave here and I’m going to go back and start directing again and go as far as my money takes me. I’m thinking that if we all went out together into this harbor and we stood in front of one boat (laughter) and didn’t let those rich people off.”

“And we can tell them, look, you can dress up, you can walk on the red carpet (laughter). Look, this is my journey. It’s hard. But I feel lucky to have found this business. It’s part of my journey, this struggle.”

“But I’m not struggling anymore about Chapter 1. It’s out there. I did my best. It’s done.”

“And 2, I did my best, and it’s done. That’s all we can do. And being an actor, being famous, that may be how you look at me but it’s not how I look at me.”

“I have children who are succeeding in school, succeeding in their school plays. I still watch the little ones at Christmas time and when they don’t know the words, I help them sing them.”

“And I’m, like every other parent, sitting in the front row, recording everything. We are connected and I’m never going to forget that. You shouldn’t either.” – Rappler.com

Horizon: An American Saga – Chapter 1 opens June 28 in the Philippines.

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.