“Michael Cimino’s ‘The Deer Hunter’ is one of the most emotionally shattering films ever made”


By Sven Mikulec


Try not to look for symbolism in the movie, because there is none. There’s no political agenda in the movie, it’s not even about the Vietnam war. It’s about what happens when catastrophe attacks a group of friends who are like family, in a small town. This is a movie about people. It’s simply about people. I would urge you to take it that way. It’s a story of a group of friends. I think that one of the reasons that the movie maintains its vitality, for lack of a better word, is that the actors were asked to give very much. All of the actors were asked to go beyond themselves. All of the actors were asked to do things that they had never done before. Those guys, I had sleep in those uniforms and never take them off, wet or dry, for one entire month. They never shaved, they never bathed, which is what happens in combat. You don’t get a hot shower every night. The small details like that. Everyone allowed themselves to be inspired by what everyone else was doing. It was a rare occasion.Michael Cimino

Michael Cimino’s filmmaking journey was hardly a bumpless ride. It seems that his name is unfortunately doomed to go down in history as of a director whose third film completely ruined his career—Heaven’s Gate not only led a distinguished American studio into bankruptcy, but also enraged critics and the audiences to a degree of making every Cimino’s future project destined to fail, both critically and commercially. After his second feature, the world simply expected him to keep delivering in the future. It’s extremely difficult to live up to that kind of expectation when you introduce yourself to the world with a film like The Deer Hunter. The gloomy all-American epic story of three steel workers from a small town in Pennsylvania deeply and differently affected by the Vietnam war completely swept the United States off their feet back in 1978, earning five Academy Awards and turning the world’s spotlights on Cimino in the process.

Much of its success The Deer Hunter owes to its stellar cast: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, Meryl Streep and John Cazale in his last performance ever, as he died shortly upon wrapping the film, made sure Deric Washburn and Cimino’s story, based on Louis Garfinkle and Quinn K. Redeker’s spec script entitled The Man Who Came to Play, got through to the audiences. This is literally one of the most impressively acted films we’ve had the privilege of seeing in our lives so far, with numerous motion picture legends making the best of their time on the screen. It’s a wonderfully written, extremely dark story of friendship, of dealing with pressure in the worst situations imaginable, of the brutal, arbitrary and essentially incomprehensible nature of war. And even if the misguided critics who slammed Heaven’s Gate or Year of the Dragon truly think The Deer Hunter makes Cimino nothing but a one-trick pony… What a trick it was.

With the usual treat of checking out the brilliant script, take a look at the marvelous behind the scenes photos we’ve assembled with the help of our friends, accompanied by De Niro’s very own heavily annotated shooting script, Michael Cimino’s priceless commentary track and several must-see interviews.


Screenwriter must-read: Deric Washburn & Michael Cimino’s screenplay for The Deer Hunter [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

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A behind‐the‐scenes look at the making of the Oscar winning film. ‘One Shot’—the making of The Deer Hunter is written by Jay Glennie, with unparalleled access to the Robert De Niro Archives.


Interviews with Cimino are rare, and he gives his part in the Heaven’s Gate very little discussion. George Hickenlooper’s book Reel Interviews and Peter Biskind’s highly critical book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls deal almost exclusively with the film and resulting scandal. Hickenlooper’s book includes one of the few candid discussions with Cimino; Biskind focuses on events during and after the production as a later backdrop for the sweeping changes made to Hollywood and the movie brat generation. The European DVD release of The Deer Hunter contains an audio commentary with Cimino, as does the American one of Year of the Dragon. Here’s the commentary with director Michael Cimino and critic FX Feeney [MP3].


When I first listened to this commentary I knew right away there was something special here. I’m always a fan of filmmakers who do deeper commentaries and don’t just talk about how a shot has been achieved. Cimino is a great example of a director who talks deeper than what you see on screen. Here he provides the reasons of why he likes anamorphic, his favorite lenses, learning his craft from Clint Eastwood and others, as well as being able to “will it through.” Enjoy it. —Film School Thru Commentaries


Battling the Past—an encounter with Michael Cimino.

Before you start obeying rules, start by breaking them. I made The Deer Hunter as a young man. If I had gone through a film school before making this movie, I would never have made it. I would have been too afraid. Even today, the script girls say to me, ‘Michael, this is not going to work. You’re crossing the eye line.’ I still don’t know what the ‘eye line’ means! —Michael Cimino


Robert De Niro’s heavily-annotated shooting script from The Deer Hunter (1978). Image courtesy of The Robert De Niro Collection, The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin.


Director Michael Cimino recalls the making of The Deer Hunter.


Here are some great photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter. Photographed by Greer Cavagnaro, Katrina Franken, Philip Jones Griffiths, Wynn Hammer & Dieter Ludwig © EMI Films, Universal Pictures. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.


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