In 1976, the script for what would become the classic Clint Eastwood Western, Unforgiven, written by David Webb Peoples, was complete. However, the film wouldn’t hit theaters for another 16 years. The script first went to Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola in 1982, but the legendary filmmaker was soon forced to let it go, as he couldn’t get funding.
In a 1992 interview with the Los Angeles Times, David Webb Peoples explained why his script bounced around for years before the film was finally brought to life.
“Francis Ford Coppola optioned it in ’84,” Peoples said. “He took it around, but couldn’t get financing. Clint picked up the option in 1985 and said he was making it ‘next year’ a couple of times. The year before last (1990), my wife was at the Telluride Film Festival and Clint walked on stage. He was overwhelmed by the scenery, he told the audience, and figured it was probably time to make his Western. I was thrilled.”
Though Peoples holds a great deal of respect for Coppola, he feels that the film fell into the perfect hands. The Clint Eastwood flair gave Unforgiven the extra push it needed to become the beloved film it is today.
“Francis would have done it brilliantly as he does everything else,” Peoples explained. “But it’s hard to imagine anyone making it as straightforwardly and uncompromisingly as Clint. No studio would have made it that way — dark, moody. With a lot of voices, things generally end up becoming blander and more accessible. ‘Unforgiven’ was Clint Eastwood saying ‘This is what I’m going to do … get out of my way.'”
Clint Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’ is a Mirror Image of the Original Script
Typically, a script goes from the original writer to the director to the actors behind the film. The script that eventually reaches the hands of the actors, however, is often a far different work than the one that came from the writer. Directors make changes to suit their own artistic style and tastes.
With that in mind, when it came to Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood went an unusual route. The script the actors received was virtually untouched. Eastwood preserved David Webb Peoples’ creation, choosing to bring the writer’s original vision to life rather than making it his own.
In his LA Times interview, Peoples described the surprising realization. “I didn’t meet Clint in person until he invited me to see the movie at Warner Bros,” Peoples recalled. “But he and I were enough in sync that he didn’t feel it necessary to ask for rewrites. One of the stars [of Unforgiven, Eastwood’s then-partner], Frances Fisher, told me that this was the first time she saw a shooting script that was entirely in white. Most of them are multicolored, full of blue and red pages or whatever representing various changes in the screenplay.”
Because of Clint Eastwood’s approach to creating Unforgiven, David Webb Peoples received full credit for the script, for which he won an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.