Book-Based Movie Alert: Last Flag Flying

You may think you aren’t familiar with novelist and screenwriter Darryl Ponicsan, but Legends of Film host Bill Chamberlain is here to convince you otherwise.

Ponicsan’s novel Last Flag Flying was brought to the big screen last year by Filmmaker Richard Linklater with an all-star cast including Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, and Steve Carell.

I reached out Mr. Ponicsan, and he was kind enough to answer my questions about his writing career and working in film.

William Chamberlain: Are you pleased with the adaption of your novel Last Flag Flying?

Darryl Ponicsan: Very much so. It was a tricky adaptation since the novel is a sequel to a 47-year-old novel and film, but the adaptation is not a sequel film.  Surprisingly, the changes were not drastic. The original and the adaptation stayed true to the essence of the story.

You co-wrote the screenplay to Last Flag Flying with Director Richard Linklater. What was the collaboration like?

A good experience. We never argued. A true collaboration. Almost all of it was done electronically, with Rick rewriting my scenes and my rewriting his until we met in the middle, while always using the book as our guide.

The Last Detail, Cinderella Liberty, and Last Flag Flying all have a Navy background?  Were you in the Navy?

I was in the Navy. The Last Detail grew out of a story I heard when I was on temporary duty aboard the USS Intrepid. (I deal with how all this started in the preface to the new Skyhorse edition of The Last Detail.) Back in 1970 it came under some criticism for its salty language. I insisted that’s the way sailors talk.  But I did remember a few sailors who could not abide foul language, which inspired me to write Cinderella Liberty. Last Flag Flying came out of the Iraq invasion when I started wondering what my characters from the first book would be doing and what they would think of the direction in which the country was going.

You co-wrote the screenplay to Nuts. Could you discuss working with Director Martin Ritt?

I didn’t realize it until I was talking to Marty while on the set that he directed one of my favorite movies as a kid, Edge of the City which was one of the first films to deal with a friendship between a black man and a white man, as equals, normal working men. He told me they did the film in two weeks for $60,000 which is astounding. He was a wonderful man at the end of his career and his life when I finally got to know him. He gave me a cameo in the movie. I sat at a bar and ogled Barbra Streisand.

One last question: who are some of your favorite writers?

Too many to list. My favorites seem not to be contemporary. I came of age with Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Nelson Algren, James Jones, Irwin Shaw, William Saroyan.

In closing, I would like to thank Mr. Ponicsan for granting the interview. And speaking of interviews, do check out my podcast series Legends of Film where you can learn more about the craft of filmmaking straight from the legends themselves. Finally, see Last Flag Flying, a very underappreciated motion picture.

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