How Clint Eastwood Fully Taking Over the Reins on ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ Made All the Difference

by Craig Garrett

Clint Eastwood saved The Bridges of Madison County from going into turnaround by taking over as director. The sleeper romance came out in June of 1995. It was seen as adult counterprogramming to summer blockbuster fare such as Batman Forever. The quiet romance with mature themes was in great contrast to the typical explosions and violence filling the multiplexes at the time. Plus, with a modest budget of 22 million, the 182 million dollar box office haul went well for the studio. It was quite an oddity that summer, especially since Eastwood was already in his mid-60s and playing a romantic lead.

However, The Bridges of Madison County film was almost much different. Though the novel was published in 1992, Steven Speilberg’s production company had already optioned the film rights. From there, it entered into many different production snags. First, there was a revolving door of potential directors. Sydney Pollock and Speilberg himself were each interested according to a 1995 EW article. However, both directors passed for other projects. Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood was already attached to star in the film. The veteran actor knew the clock was ticking.

Clint Eastwood called up Warner Bros. chairman Terry Semel. “You guys have blown enough time,” Eastwood told Semel. ”Everyone is going to move on to something else.” Terry Semel realized there was an obvious answer. “How about you directing it?” Rather than simply take the job, Eastwood responded with, “Give me 24 hours.”

Clint Eastwood taking over Bridges of Madison County changed the project for the better

From here, Clint Eastwood shows he had already been thinking about taking over the production. Clint took Warner’s jet to Winterset to look at locations for the film and nixed his intention to construct a new Roseman Bridge, saving $1.5 million immediately. With that success in his pocket, Eastwood called Semel. “Yeah,” he said. ”I’ll do it.”

Clint Eastwood was finally given the green light to do what he’d likely wanted to do all along. Not simply to star in the film, but to make the project his own. Eastwood didn’t invite the novel’s author to set or run anything by him. This was Eastwood’s 19th film as a director. many believe his experience helped make the film more restrained and believable. “Clint has a way of taking something and making it his own,’ the film’s composer told EW at the time.

As noted before, the film was a box office hit for the studio. It also did well with critics and currently has a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This also marked Clint Eastwood’s first less genre-specific project as a director. Before, he had directed mostly Westerns and action-centered films. From here, he seemed to take on more quiet projects with a mature edge.