Last August, I flew to North Carolina to visit the set of The Longest Ride, the upcoming romantic film based on the Nicholas Sparks best-seller. On the day I was there, they were filming scenes out in the beautiful countryside, as Sophia (Played by Britt Robertson) visits the family farm owned by beau Luke (Played by Scott Eastwood), who takes her horseback riding. Our press group arrived in the afternoon and had a quick peek inside “Luke’s house”, a home that a local family was renting out to the film crew.
We headed outside to a small, canopied area directly behind the house where producers and crew watched the filming on monitors. There were director’s chairs set up for us emblazoned with the words “Guest”, so that we could sit nearby and get a peek at the playback, while also peering across the yard at the actors filming the scene in real time.
The scene we watched took place in a clearing across from a small structure housing a fire pit and benches. We watched Scott Eastwood help Britt Robertson onto a horse, place a cowboy hat on her head, and ride off with her into the pasture.
It was so interesting to watch the technical maneuvering of each take as the scene was repeated – at one point, they were riding off into the distance in picture-perfect form, looking very romantic until a donkey started braying loudly in the background! You can get a peek at this scene with the cowboy hat a few seconds into the movie trailer:
They made the most of every moment on set, scheduling our cast interviews in between takes. While waiting for filming to commence on the horse riding scene, Britt Robertson sat down with us for a quick minute before being whisked away again for makeup. She set down a bag with a pretty knitted purple scarf in it and said, Don’t make fun of me, I knit between takes! You heard it here first: Not only is Britt Robertson a talented actress, but also a skilled knitter!
After they had done a multitude of takes on the horses, the crew took 5 and we gathered around for a lengthier group Q&A with Britt, Scott, and director George Tillman, Jr. We had a great chat about filmmaking – since this film is based on a well-loved Nicholas Sparks novel, I asked the actors what the biggest challenge is in making a book adaptation. Readers conjure a very personal and specific image of characters in their mind when reading a story, so how do you translate that experience to film?
“You know, a lot of times, especially with Nicholas Sparks books, the audience is very specific, and they do love his books,” said Britt. “But, I know my family, they’re huge Nicholas Sparks fans. So, the thing is you kind of have to cater to a specific audience. But at the same time, we’re trying to make a really great movie. So, just to be honest in these moments, and not try to make it anything other than the movie that we’re trying to build here. And the biggest challenge is finding that balance. But at the end of the day, the book, for me, was basically just a history lesson. And we’re trying to make it sort of a separate entity.”
As for Scott, he looks to the book version to inspire the essence of the character that he’s bringing to life in his own way. “I think, reading the book, I got to know sort of the values of this character, and sort of learn what he stood for and what he was about, and then taking all that, just remembering all the characteristics, and sort of what he believed in, and then bringing yourself to it a little bit, and trying to bring yourself to it as well,” he told us.
The Longest Ride weaves two love stories together, so I asked director George Tillman, Jr. how his past work inspired him on this film and if he finds himself drawn to stories with an intertwining narrative.
“It was very helpful, I think, with Soul Food, and my first film, and doing stories with different parallels. It helps with this story,” he told me. “I can tell stories with many different characters. But this was completely different because it’s two different stories. And each story got their own style. And each actors, and they have their own style. And Jack [Huston] and Oona [Chaplin] got their own style. It was just interesting.
What makes it helpful is just having great actors around like these guys. What I learned on Men of Honor, what DeNiro taught me is like your actors are your partner. It’s not like you’re directing them. It’s not like they’re acting for you. You’re doing it together.
So, like today, we’re doing some scenes. We’re doing a scene in a car where the surprise happened. Scott came to me. He’s like, “Hey, I got this little thing I got in the hospital. If I pull this off, I think you should get a cut of it.” And I looked at it. Wow, that means he ain’t stopping bull-riding. Just that little detail with Sophia, just the looks and the complexity there, that’s the partnership. And I think that’s what you want. That makes it helpful for the director, that you got people to help you back in the crew. And I think that makes it helpful.”
I’ll be sharing more details and interviews from my set visit in the coming days, so stay tuned!
Don’t miss The Longest Ride when it hits theaters on April 10th!