Steven Lewis Simpson

The Long and Winding road – Bringing Native American Novel Neither Wolf Nor Dog to the Big Screen – Part One

Something about me and South East Asia just fits. Now I am in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Five years ago I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia about this time editing my feature documentary A Thunder-Being Nation about Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It was there that I got an email from Neither Wolf Nor Dog author Kent Nerburn chasing up those in the movie business who at one point or another had shown interest in turning his acclaimed novel into a movie.

He had had enough of false Hollywood promises and hot air. He just wanted for someone to have the guts to commit to getting it done. No one else responded but I was finally at the point to say yes. When I commit to something I move heaven and earth and had had the novel in the back of my mind since Kent approached me almost two years before at a screening of my previous Pine Ridge movie, Rez Bomb at a wonderful community theater in Rushville, Nebraska, that borders Pine Ridge.

When he came up to chat to me after the film and handed be the novel I had no idea of its reputation so it was great to read it clean. Then when I started hearing Lakota friends talk very highly of it “best book about Indian Country written by a white guy” etc. I perked up. There was something about the book that I could see very clearly as someone, like Nerburn in the novel who had come from the outside and been taken deep into the heart of Lakota Country, mostly through longstanding deep friendships. My journey had started there in 1999.

While in Cambodia I gave the script that Kent had developed years before with a veteran Hollywood producer/director a pass. Mostly it was cutting and restructuring. When I sent it back Kent was amazed. He said every false note that he had been asked to put in and that made it too Hollywood I had cut. At that point he felt confident about my sense of the tone of the film. Tone is massively important to Kent as it should be.

So with a sense of heading in the right direction Kent and I did a virtual handshake between Bemidji, Minnesota and Siem Reap, Cambodia and the crazy movie making journey commenced.


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