There are quite a few changes that were made in the process of adapting the novel "Son of a Wanted Man" into an audio play. The first alterations were made in the transition from novel to screenplay, although they were changes that would be considered for any dramatic form (film, theater, or audio).

In conventional drama the audience is outside the story, voyeuristically watching it unfold; the only things they know about the plot or the characters is what they see or hear. The only way they know what the characters think or feel is by watching what they do, the actions they take, the reactions they have. Since the story follows Mike, I thought it was appropriate for him to go away from Ben for awhile. That way, when he returns, the audience can learn about the conditions at Robber’s Roost as he does. It also gave him a chance to get away and become independent from Ben, develop a normal set of ethics, and give up on the idea of joining the outlaw gang.

The episodes where Ben kills Dan Peeples and Mike’s being “adopted” by Ben were related to one another for efficiency’s sake. Mike Bastian becoming Miguel Santos was done for casting purposes but it really helped Mike/Miguel realize that he had been born into a different life than the one Ben Curry has made for him.

The original story had been set in Utah and Arizona but when thinking about getting it produced as a film we realized that no reasonable amount of money was going to allow it to be shot anywhere in the Southwest. Movie locations, especially those appropriate for more moderately priced films can not be too far apart. Traveling long distances to and from the set and moving the whole company a couple hundred miles from one location to another is a waste of precious time, and time is money. You simply have to find all your locations within less than an hour's drive of one another and preferably much less than that. Nowhere in the Southwest was there a good looking ranch, a western town, a train, and a picturesque hideout location all within a sixty mile radius. On top of it we started to realize that, in reality, our fictional outlaws would have the same problem … if we had to establish them riding for a week between the town and the hideout, several days to get to the ranch, or a couple of weeks out to the rail-yard where Mike is found when he first appears as an adult, it would really take the tension out of any story portrayed as drama.

The answer was the California Gold Country. To make matters better, I had already worked there on The Shadow Riders (and would work there again on the CBS pilot, Shaughnessy). We knew the people, the locations, everything. Whern I started writing the script, I tried to use every interesting place we had visited; many of which we had never been able to use in those earlier productions. Knights Ferry became the location for Brandt's Bridge (Sam Brandt was a pseudonym that Dad wrote under briefly), Columbia, California became the set for the fictional town of Brandt's Crossing, and a recreation spot called Kennedy Meadows was the perfect place to build the outlaw hideout. We found the ranch where Ben Curry's daughters could live when we went to pick up the woman who worked for the Toulumne County Film Commission … she lived at a place that had been built by shipwrights from San Francisco in the 1850s ... an isolated ranch not too far from the town of Sonora. The cemetery would have been shot at the church in Chinese Camp and the Oregon railroad yard was in nearby Jamestown. Many of the Sierra countryside shots could easily have been shot in the real Sierra countryside.

Brandt's Bridge

Brandt's Crossing
Brandt's Crossing
Robber's Roost
R-Bar Ranch
Train Roundhouse
Sierra Vista

(See more photos in the Photo Gallery)

One of the problems with drama is that while a picture is worth a thousand words, playing out a scene takes much longer than reading a scene in a novel. Son of a Wanted Man is over two hours but if you remove the Narrator telling you what you are seeing it ends up being just a bit long for a film, remove the scenes that form the “bookends” to the story and it comes in just under two hours. Of course this left no time at all for the sub plot regarding Borden Chantry and Tyrel Sackett but it’s not their story. All the growth, the character evolution, occurs within Ben’s somewhat dysfunctional family. The first rule of adapting drama is that you must focus … it’s why a film or play is actually closer in form to a short story than a novel. Anyway, the only point that the Chantry/Sackett sub plot made in the story as a whole was that Ben’s days were numbered. That point was more easily touched on in other ways like the “bookends” that carry Ben from a romantic and adventurous youth through to his death many years later.

I realized I needed to improve Mike's dilemma over whether to not to take up Ben's offer of the outlaw gang. So, I added a scene with Young Mike asking when he can be a part of the gang. We needed some more romantic suggestions between Mike and Drucilla and scenes that connected Mike to his actual background and his real father. So a couple of scenes in town where Mike deals with Drucilla and his own childhood memories were created. I rewrote pieces of a number of other scenes to bring more focus to the themes and the characters. Then I read a bunch of old books to find a "style" for the narrator that had a hint of nineteenth century writing and added the first scene, the two men on the dock, as an introduction and to give some Gold Rush context. One day, while absorbed in trying to make all the narration work around the various scenes, I came up with the last piece of the puzzle.

"I used to call myself a Gentleman of Opportunity!"

I was taking a break and I walked down to the local Mexican restaurant. Somewhere along the way, I suddenly thought of the line of dialogue where Ben says: "I used to call myself a Gentleman of Opportunity … well I'm no Gentleman and, by God, this is not an Opportunity!" By the time I got home this had turned into a theme that resolved the story taking Ben Curry from a period of his life where he imagines himself to be a dashing young outlaw to the point where he is an old man. I used a trick that my Dad had loved to resolve the story, bringing it up through history into the twentieth century (see the end of Dark Canyon or The Highgraders). The same day I discovered another whole theme that revolved around the outlaws as cases of arrested development … boys that never grew up. I went back and tried to subtly rewrite both Ben and Perrin to reflect this and it clarified some of what I was doing with Mike; the question of his character was if he was going to "grow up" or not.

I have always thought that it’s more important to capture the mood or tone of the original work in an adaptation than trying to literally reproduce the novel, short story, or whatever the underlying material was. It has seemed that the only times that people complain about a movie, play, or audio not being identical to the original is when they don’t like it … thus suggesting that quality is a fair replacement for literal accuracy. In the end it is truly impossible to duplicate a printed work on the stage or screen because the mediums are just so different. Drama is very literal; you do not imagine how the characters interact, you see it or hear it. Fiction relies totally on the imagination of the audience. When you read a book, you cast the characters, you construct the locations, and you play all the parts … it is an amazing partnership between artist and audience. However, it is a partnership that is immediately dissolved when a director, actors, and editing are added to the mixture. From then on it is merely the outcome of what the production struggled to create in whatever technically limited medium they chose.

And, as my Dad always said:

“They didn’t change my book … they just made a movie out of it.”

You can get the novel from the Trading Post
and you can download a PDF of the script HERE


Son of a Wanted Man

Home | The Story | The Perpetrators (Crew) | The Co-Conspirators (Cast)

The History and Making of Son of a Wanted Man
The History | Novel to Script | Pre-Production | Recording Dialog | Recording Sound Effects
Editing the Dialog and Sound Effects | The Musical Score | Mixing and Mastering | What's Next?

Photo Galleries
Location Photos | In the Recording Studio | In the Field (Recording Sound Effects)

Audio Sound Bytes
Trailer | Music

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