Novelist and screenwriter Jon Raymond on how the movie First Cow was born from a beer commercial and why drunken porch conversations are essential to the creative process
Jon Raymond is the author of the novels The Half-Life, Rain Dragon, Freebird, and Denial, and the story collection Livability, winner of the Oregon Book Award. He has collaborated on six films with the director Kelly Reichardt, including Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff, Night Moves, First Cow, and Showing Up. He also received an Emmy Award nomination for his screenwriting on the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce directed by Todd Haynes and starring Kate Winslet.
Jon Raymond 00:00
You know, there are a lot of drunken porch conversations about oh, wouldn't this be a funny idea? Wouldn't this be like great movie or whatever?
Eden Dawn 00:14
Welcome to We Can’t Print This.
Fiona McCann 00:15
It's a podcast telling you the story you don't know behind the story you do.
Eden Dawn 00:20
My name is Eden Dawn.
Fiona McCann 00:22
I'm Fiona McCann.
Eden Dawn 00:23
Every week we interview a writer of some kind about the stories behind their stories.
Fiona McCann 00:29
Yes, we do. And this week, we have Jon Raymond in the house. Jon is both an acclaimed and award winning author of the novels Half-Life, Rain Dragon, Freebird, and most recently denial, and the short story collection Livability. Also, he got an Emmy nomination for his screenwriting on the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce, but also also he has collaborated on six gorgeous films with the director, Kelly Reichardt. And many of these films were also based on his fiction. So basically, this guy is a local literary legend, and he walks red carpets and he also couldn't be a nicer fellow. And with us today, he talks about the genesis of the story that became the script that he co wrote with Kelly Reichardt for First Cow.
Eden Dawn 01:17
Yeah. I love movies. Hold on, hold on controversial statement. I love movies. Thank you, thank you so much. But it is fun to talk about the writing of a movie with Jon and think about what movies have held on to us throughout our lives because of great writing. Like when you think about a movie that you have loved where the writing has just stuck with you or been so impactful to you. Do you have one that comes to mind right away?
Fiona McCann 01:52
Yeah, so I was thinking about this a bit and I was thinking about the movies written by Mark O'Halloran and directed by Lenny Abramson. They were kind of an Irish duo, who did the writer director thing to amazing effect with two films, Adam and Paul, which is lovely, if you ever get a chance to see it, a buddy comedy about two heroin addicts, and another exquisite film called Garriage. And I think that was that that kind of chemistry between them really paid off on the big screen
Eden Dawn 02:18
love a buddy comedy Love buddy comedy. I love buddies.
Fiona McCann 02:22
So those two for sure. I just thought of one more old movie. Can I mention that real quick? No, it might be one of yours, though. Somebody
Eden Dawn 02:30
asked me maybe.
Fiona McCann 02:33
Because the movie I'm thinking of is also based on a piece of writing that existed before the movie in some way. The movie is called clueless.
Eden Dawn 02:46
Oh, interesting. Well, you know that I love clueless. I
Fiona McCann 02:49
already love it. And this might be where our tastes align, because
Eden Dawn 02:53
this might be where it tastes a line because we have nothing else in common.
Fiona McCann 02:56
And it was based on a Jane Austen book, right? Hmm. And yet it is a modern day version of it. It's its own thing. I love how they pulled it into the modern day. The fashion was glorious. As you know,
Eden Dawn 03:08
I do know and shout out to Mona Mae, the costume designer for that film, who I've had the pleasure of interviewing about the costumes in that film.
Fiona McCann 03:16
It was I think the first time I really understood that fashion was the thing to be honest, because I was like, Oh, I'm noticing those outfits and I was not an outfit notice are iconic or that iconic and just beautifully scripted. Really well done. There are some lines of dialogue in that that I remember to this day.
Eden Dawn 03:32
Well, it's funny to me, because I do think if a movie stays highly quotable for decades, I have to give some props to the writing of it. Whether you love it or some people really only seem to admire very serious movies and all of this stuff but if it's something is highly quotable and becomes part of the zeitgeist, you have to credit the writing a little bit yeah, and the other so for me one when I think about a film waiting for me to ask you and they're Yeah, no, I'm just gonna do it. This is what I've learned when you're with Fiona sometimes you just barrel ahead is I have to say clue. I thought you were gonna say clue. And you said clueless. But clue. 1980 fives clue right for the whodunit of all time. I mean, just so smart, so witty, I love ensemble casts with a lot of dialogue. And that movie, which I just screened recently for my film series that I hosted at the Hollywood theater, had a sold out room of like 500 people all yelling the dialogue back at it because it's just so witty and memorable. And then of course you bring in people like Tim Curry. I mean, just how does such an angel even exist that man to former performer of all performers, and Lesley Ann Warren and of course Madeline Kahn and Michael McKee, just everyone in that is banger after banger that one
Fiona McCann 04:58
it's true. It's up brings Me too, one that I would think of in a more modern context which is knives out speaking of ensemble casts, that's a really well written movie and in part because of how cleverly the sort of who done it or the mystery part is unravel I mean,
Eden Dawn 05:13
that's it is I love a mystery writing as people will get to know who listened to this podcast over time. I am a Murder She Wrote Stan, and I stand by Jessica Fletcher was a feminist icon okay. She didn't even know man. She solved all those murders herself. Best selling author did what she wanted, had like 400 nephews around the country that she just kept visiting all the time. That's true. So many nephews, anyways, but the knives out the whodunit thing and glass on yen. It is interesting, right? Because how you write that how you write a good who done it is always so clever. Because it's a it's a trope. It's this thing we've done for years and years and years. And yet, if you can find a new way at the end, when you're always entertained, it's just so lovely. Right? And
Fiona McCann 06:00
it's so difficult because audiences have been so primed to look for the reveal before it comes. They're like what was the twist? I bet I know what the twist is.
Eden Dawn 06:09
Everyone thinks they know the twist and murder mysteries are so hot right now they are so they're just so only murderers in the building. Yep, gem of a show didn't know I was in love with Selena Gomez. Until I watched that show. I already knew I was in love with Marty shore and Steve Martin, obviously. But now there's just there's three of them I'm in love with. And we have knives out and we have Pokerface like we have all these things again, where it's just great. And I love it. I love that type of writing. Um, it's very fun to talk to Jon about the process of movies and especially I think it's okay for us to say, you know, first cow and Kelly Reichardt movies are known for being serious and so beautiful, right, there really are moving pictures like each one, each scene kind of looks like its own oil painting. And for him to talk about how silly of a origin story is. Yeah, it was surprising. It's very unexpected. And it's fun to think about that. And just something to enjoy when you watch the film.
Fiona McCann 07:07
Okay. So this week, we have Jon Raymond boop, boop, fun fact, between the three of us, we have half a dozen cats, half
Eden Dawn 07:16
Half a dozen right here. Amazing.
Fiona McCann 07:18
I know, Eden countered that I think this is an important factor to introduce. I was really, really happy to have you here. Jon, thank you so much for joining us. I'm thrilled to be here. So Jon, we are talking. You know, as you know, our podcast talks a lot about sort of the stories behind the stories. And when we were in conversation, one of the interesting things that came up was how one of your stories began. I mean, it was published in 2005 probably began a lot. Was it 2005 Half-Life
Jon Raymond 07:49
Fiona McCann 07:50
She said that. You said that Eden. Wikipedia lied.
Jon Raymond 07:52
It can be wrong. Yeah,
Fiona McCann 07:55
it can be wrong,
Eden Dawn 07:56
Not a verifiable source for journalists.
Fiona McCann 07:59
It's not like I would ever use that, though. We just say all of the internet was wrong. Yeah. So you publish this novel HalfLife came out in 2004. And I'm sure the story behind that went back much further. And then it also HalfLife got a new life, but much more recently, in a movie.
Jon Raymond 08:21
Indeed. Yeah. I mean, it was a sort of a 20 year lapse almost. Well, 15 say 15 year lapse. Yeah, and many things happened. And we can discuss the story behind both of those stories, the novel and the film, which kind of are I think, together create a sort of, to my mind, inspiring and wonderful story of creative collaboration and and rebirth and things like that.
Fiona McCann 08:52
Yeah. And how these characters that began in a place that you're probably going to tell us about, then have this sort of 20 year lapse, and then something new comes out of it. It's
Jon Raymond 09:02
yeah, yeah. Yeah, it's a nice story about resilience and survival. Characters. Keep doing stuff long enough, eventually something
Eden Dawn 09:14
that's what will tell us at the beginning for Cookie, talk about Cookie’s beginning okay. I do love the name Cookie.
Jon Raymond 09:24
He’s a great character. Yeah, so the the Half-Life has many different sources, like every novel is kind of a weird agglomeration of things. It is a magpies art, I think, to write fiction. And you end up with a lot of, yeah, just a lot of pieces that you kind of have to find a shape for and you often have the pieces before, you know what the what the deal is going to be. And so I think particularly for our first novel, like you've been kind of collecting little string for a long time and you're finding you know, a way to make it something
Fiona McCann 10:00
isn't there? Isn't there kind of a danger that you then want to throw all of those pieces into your first novel? A bit much? Like, finally, I'm writing a book, right? 10,000 ideas, I'm going to put them all in there. All of these, like things that I've been feeling for years. For quarter
Jon Raymond 10:16
territory. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I think of it as like, a kind of like a weird form of folk art, you're just like creating some crazy quilt of, of, you know, scraps and pieces of metal and string and stuff. But, um, so the halflife. Alright, I'll start with the Cookie character. It's true. So just so so listeners know, the Half-Life is a story that takes place, part of it in the 1820s. And part of it in the 1980s, two different stories of friendships in different eras that happen on the same geographical grounds. So it's kind of going back and forth between these two, these two parallel parallel tails.
And the Cookie character is one of the old timey characters, and he is sort of holding up that end of the of the book. And the beginning of Cookie is actually funny. It was one of those things as a young person, not a teenager, but probably in my early 20s. You know, there are a lot of like, drunken porch conversations about oh, wouldn't this be a funny idea? Wouldn't this be like, Great movie or whatever? Like, you guys have had them? Like, they're, you know, you've got your bong and your beer, and everyone's just like,
Dude, I've got the best idea.
What's funny is a lot of those ideas are really good. Yeah, actually, a lot of the best ideas I've ever heard, you know, we're encouraging the bong and beer people right now write it down, baby. It's totally it's true. I mean, you just got to actually do it, you know. I mean, that's the problem is then you wake up the next day, and everyone is like, alright, you know, let's just get wasted again. We were talking one night, and we were reminiscing about an old Henry Weinhard’s commercial, which is a beer. And for those of us who grew up in the northwest, the Henry Weinhard’s commercials were actually pretty entertaining. And there was one commercial that always stuck with us. That featured a kind of wagon train cook. Maybe you remember this. And you can find it on YouTube right now. If you go look for it. And it's like,
I have to link to this on the website.
Yeah. It's like a guy with a triangle. Yeah, like he like that's it. And then there's all these kind of cowboys sitting around drinking their Henry Weinhard’s, I guess. And then the Cookie guy comes out with who's one of those like bearded old guys, just looks like a current floppy hat. Yeah, exactly. He became an archetype. And the joke of it is he starts going through this kind of fancy California cuisine menu, like tonight, on tonight's menu, we're gonna have mushrooms, braised in truffle oil, or whatever, and all the cowboys are sitting around looking at him. And so that's the joke is that like, the Frontier Days were equally as Yuppified as now.
And even at the time, I mean, this when I was when we were seeing this, this commercial, like, we were 10 years old, or 12 years old or something. But even then I can remember, because that Cookie character has a little earring in his ear also. And it's like, part of it is like this fancy chef, and you're like, this commercial is kind of homophobic, like the joke is that it's this gay chef on the frontier that's cooking these wonderful gourmand meals, you know, and that's, that's the joke. And so we were sitting on the porch, then, you know, 10 years later, being like, “Wouldn't it be funny to do a movie about Cookie?” Like, Cookie should be the character of a movie? Like, why don't they have a Western about Cookie, you know, like, and it was just, it's one of those classic things of like, you take the marginal character and put them in the middle, you know, so like, there's been a million westerns, and many of them have featured that Chuck Wagon cook, but they're never the protagonist, you know? So like, what would happen if that person became the protagonist?
And so it was really my friends, Jason and Brian, as I recall, who were most excited about that idea. Yeah, exactly. It stuck with me. I'm like, that would be a good idea. Someone should do a story about the wagon train, cook.
Wait, how old are you at this point?
I'm probably 22 or something, you know, like, so Jason and Brian. So Jason, and Brian. Kudos to those guys. brilliant people. And so yeah, that was just one of those things that I just tucked in my pocket. I'm like, Yeah, that would be a good thing to do someday. And then, by the time I was writing the novel, then another seven or eight years had gone by. And there were other other pieces that I had gathered along the way. And I had reached a point in life where I was like, I would like to write a novel and here are the cards I can deal to myself. And yeah, so one of them was was the Cookie idea.
Fiona McCann 15:01
And then there were Trixie and Tina right. So they were the ones that inhabited the present day as it were,
Jon Raymond 15:07
right. So in the period between getting the idea of Cookie and actually writing the novel of that Half-Life, I had been dabbling in. I guess you could call it filmmaking here in Portland. Like, I made a feature length film with some friends, not a film, actually, of feature length cable access video. In the 90s, that was how I spent my 90s in, in Portland was making this movie. But the movie that we made was not very good. It was probably unwatchable to anyone who was not part of that process. But at the time, I really thought it was an amazing project. And I thought it was something that the world would love. And it was very disappointing to realize that I had made something not good, you know. But anyway, that experience was formative for me making a terrible movie and informed that Tina and Trixie, friendship and collaboration,
Eden Dawn 16:07
And look, we've all been part of terrible creative projects. That's the game you have to do it. If you're not like cringing, when you look back at some of your first work, then you haven't grown at all right? If you look back at your first pieces, and you're like A+, no notes, then I worry about you. I mean,
Jon Raymond 16:23
there are there are those people who know how to do well. Yeah, I was not one of those people. So definitely learning.
Fiona McCann 16:38
Well, can we talk a little bit about Henry because he is a character who? Well, the later iteration was very different, right?
Jon Raymond 16:47
Yeah. So I wrote the Half-Life. And that, unlike the film that I had made the Half-Life, you know, was was good enough that like it got published, and at least some people liked it. And happily, one of the most amazing things that ever happened in my life was that my friend Kelly Reichert, read it, who I had met through our mutual friend, Todd Haynes, and Kelly liked it. And she was at that point, a filmmaker who had made one really beautiful, amazing feature in the 90s. And then had had kind of a while he had had a hard time making that second feature, and she was looking to the she had come into a small, a very small amount of money, and she was going to use it to make a new film. And because she had enjoyed the Half-Life, but I mean, she had had a sort of fantasy at that moment. This is about in 2004, when it came out of adapting the Half-Life, but it was just too vast. I mean, she didn't have the resources to possibly do that. So she asked me like, do you have anything else that might be adaptable? And I had one story I had written at that point called Old Joy. That was very simple, just about two guys taking a walk in the woods. And like one of them gives the other sort of sinister massage at some point.
Eden Dawn 18:09
I wish people could have seen the hand gestures you made.
Jon Raymond 18:15
Sinister massage is actually close to writing hand gestures. Dive into that with a therapist. But she, unlike I think any other filmmaker in the world saw in that story, a possible film. And so she was like, Yeah, I'm gonna do this. And so she took that story and made a really beautiful movie out of it. And in that possibly
Fiona McCann 18:43
That was Old Joy for sinister massages on the big screen.
Jon Raymond 18:50
Starring Will Oldham and Daniel London and with a soundtrack by Yo La Tengo. And so we I think discovered in that process, like we didn't know each other that well at that point, but we discovered going through that process that we liked each other and that we had similar tastes and you bet we vibed Exactly. Yeah, that totally makes sure the kids Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Fiona McCann 19:13
Be clear. You were involved in in adapting Old Joy?
Jon Raymond 19:16
I was involved to some degree. Yeah. Like, my recollection is Kelly really did the lion's share of that stuff. And you know, it just became a conversation. And so that sort of then has now become six films. And it's like a, you know, a very huge part of my life and Kelly is like a family member and and so it's just like in the in the kind of weird cycle of all the stuff that it can go from fail to filmmaking project, and then composting that into like a story about a collaboration between people in the novel and then that sort of becomes an actual collaboration with someone is just sort of like one of those like lovely Long Term arcs that you can't really predict. And that occasionally will happen, you know, that sort of brings us to the making of the first cow because like, after doing five or four movies together, the idea resurfaced, like, let's try to adapt the Half-Life. And so, but anyway, it was made. And so we had to sort of decide early on like, again, still, there was not the resources to do like trips to China and like multiple different timeframes. So we're like, we have to go with one timeframe or the other.
Fiona McCann 20:33
So interesting to me that that was I just never occurred to me that some of those changes were made. Because of resources.
Jon Raymond 20:40
Oh, totally. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, so much of at least our films are really designed to be doable. And it's a great limitation to have. I think it makes actually much more interesting stuff. I mean, Marvel Marvel movies have like Pentagon size budgets, and they're not really that interesting. So it's, yeah,
Eden Dawn 21:02
I think I knew it just because I've styled on many music, video and which never have a budget. Yeah. And it's always just like a bunch of cool people are like, we need to make a music video for this band. Like, we have four nickels? What do we do with it, who do we know? How do we make it happen, and you make cool decisions around it. And I love that I better yeah, parameters are a cool thing, too. Because then you guys have to, you have something to work within, and you're able to kind of brainstorm and be your best selves. I'm really curious how that process goes from taking something that you wrote by yourself, and then sitting down with a partner to write a new thing out of that.
Jon Raymond 21:38
Yeah, I think it's nice to actually have the thing that you wrote yourself, because that just exists and nothing is going to alter it. It's like, that's its own thing. And then I think one can become really, really, um, possessive about it later on. It's like, Alright, now it's gonna be a new thing. And like, let's break it apart as much as necessary. Like, I don't I don't care anymore. Because it's, I have the other thing.
Fiona McCann 22:02
I don't know if every writer takes that attitude, though. In fairness, yeah,
Jon Raymond 22:06
maybe they don't. But I mean, that's the fun about filmmaking is it's like it is a truly collaborative form. And it's like, if you're not willing to dissolve into it, you're not going to enjoy it.
Eden Dawn 22:19
I read in this interview, once that I really wanted to ask you about where you said that you talk about you and Kelly writing together as sort of being involved in a high level of gossip. And as Fiona and I consider ourselves connoisseurs of gossip. Yeah. Sommeliers of gossip.
I consider myself that as well.
Talk about that. What does that mean? Like, you're just talking about everything that you think would be going on with the characters, you're just gossiping about?
Jon Raymond 22:46
The characters even, it's like, it's just, it's just processing life, as you're going through it, you know, and talking about the people that you know, and it's like, a lot of it, I mean, to make good art, in a collaboration, you have to hang out. I mean, Kelly is like one of the great students of human behavior that I have encountered. And it's just fun to talk about our friends and our families. And it's not in a malicious way at all. It's just like trying to figure people out. So that's what I mean by that. And it's like stuff that often has nothing to do with the project at hand at all. But it does come in, you know, where if you're talking about your friend, David, or whatever, and then you have a character where you're like, oh, yeah, that's kind of like, it's like this person in that person. And so much of writing fiction anyway, is just compositing different people, you know, and finding the kinds of hinges between them were like, oh, yeah, this person is like that person. And I can make a person that sort of, in my mind refers to both of them, but as neither of them but I'm able to understand how the be they behave? Because I'm kind of testing it against an actual real human human.
Eden Dawn 23:57
Right? It's your own little litmus test is like, do I know anybody who would do their job if that person's trying to show their wife they love them by making coffee every morning? Do I know somebody who always does that feel like a made up thing?
Jon Raymond 24:09
And so much art fails that like, there's so many things or I watch him like, Who the fuck acts like that? Nobody does. Nobody does that now. And it's like, it's weird. How few people seem to like be willing to do the test. Yeah. Which is why gossip is good. Gossip is I mean, I think it's, I don't know it was either. Maybe it was like Truman Capote, or one of those people that said, literature just is a high form of gossip. I mean, that is what it is.
Fiona McCann 24:35
Well, he would put the high part in there. I'm just gonna say from now on, I'm not a gossip. I'm a student of human behavior. That's gonna Magpie that. I'm a student of human behavior, PhD. Thank you. Yeah,
Eden Dawn 24:49
We're in a graduate course right now. Yeah, that's what this podcast is.
Fiona McCann 24:54
Yeah, it's fascinating to me. I also just wanted to ask you a little bit about the difference in craft when it comes to writing a novel versus movie making because it seems so vastly different and almost incomprehensibly different to me, you have to consider so many different things. I know I've it's fundamental, it's the same sort of study of human behavior, which I'm not going to say over and over again. But, but but the craft is different. And the form is different, right?
Jon Raymond 25:19
They are different, but highly related. With a film, as the writer, you're having to kind of just do a really skeletal version of something that you do in a different form, you're having to come up with characterizing and trying to paint them in as specific a way as possible. You're often dealing with locations. I mean, particularly for the ones that Kelly and I work on. They've all been written with particular locations in mind. Like, I mean, there are places that I've been so there's sort of an advanced scouting going on, in a certain sense to, and they're all Oregon.
They've all been Oregon. Because we’re kind of the best.
Because we’re kind of the best. And also, that's what happens to be outside the windows. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. And it's so. So all those things are happening, but they're happening in a really skeletal way. Knowing that you have to leave a lot of space for everyone else to play around with it and bring their own thing as well. So you're just kind of doing it in a light sketch. But then, like in writing fiction for myself, anyway, it's it's like, writing a paragraph, I find harder often than writing a whole script. It's like, you're the head of every department, and you're doing everything on the film. And so it's just like, yeah, just I mean, exponentially more work to write even a short story, I think, than most, most scripts. I mean, it depends on how, who I'm talking to, I guess, like how dismissive I am of screenwriting? Because there are those people like, Oh, that was they had some good dialogue that he wrote. And it's like, now there's actually more than the dialogue I did. You know, it was like, there's a whole thing. You know, I was thinking about
Eden Dawn 27:07
Watching First Cow, where there's minutes that go by without somebody speaking, right, where we're watching these very, you know, important things to the plot. And also, it brought me a lot of anxiety. Probably a lot of anxiety. I was like, no one is saying anything. And my level of anxiety of watching like two gentlemen, just slowly, walking through the greenery.
Fiona McCann 27:33
Says a lot about your discomfort with silence, even if you need to talk.
Eden Dawn 27:38
I love nature, but silence is hard, but just why probably just like, chat to myself was somebody say something. But I was curious what that looked like on the script. Well, that was minute.
Jon Raymond 27:48
I mean, I learned, right. I mean, I think, yeah, I mean, Kelly has a really amazing patient sort of metronome inside of her that allows these kinds of silent passages to occur. And I understand that, and I am drawn to that kind of filmmaking as well. So there are scenes that are definitely on the page designed to kind of breathe, breathe and spread out. The poetry that happens in the in the film is the filmmaking like, it's not like that's discernible on the page often interesting.
Fiona McCann 28:28
Can we talk about the cow for a hot second? Because the cow was sort of a protagonist in the film, but not in the book.
Jon Raymond 28:36
So the book has no cow. It's true. The book is, is much more complicated than the film. But having written the book, and kind of understanding the themes, and the emotions, and everything that were going on the idea of friendship, the idea of global trade, I was, you know, bad and still interested in capitalism and history. And also just the sense of that historical moment, like it's not a nation at this point. It's like, it's, it's indigenous people, and then various kinds of corporate enterprises going on. And it's people from the Hudson's Bay Company and people from Spain and Russia and Ireland and wherever, like all merging for this extraction economy of furs, you know,
Eden Dawn 29:29
I have to say the fashion editor and he was very pleased that you've gotten the mentions about the beaver pelt hats. I mean, it's such a weird thing for people who don't know about Oregon. We were responsible for so much of the world's fashion with those top hats and we just don't get the credit. And we decimated our beaver population.
Jon Raymond 29:50
Exactly. And I think people don't understand that the beaver trade. It was the first global sort of trade economy. I mean, as far as like actually circumnavigating the entire planet like you think in the 1990s, globalism began, but began, you know, 150 years before that, you know, and so this is like, yeah, the beginning of so many things and the Columbia River was the most diversely populated place on the continents at that time because of the beaver trade. There's so many different people kicking around at that moment. And it was like just not, it was like a strangely cosmopolitan place. Granted, it was all sort of very rustic and thinly populated, too. But it was like, it was just an interesting moment, you know. So all of those things were kind of floating around in my mind. And it was like, really early in the process. We had had a couple of conversations. And I honestly, I don't know where the idea came from. I was walking down the street, and I was like, Okay, what if instead of them taking something to China, what if something comes to them? And I was like, what if it's a cow, and I was like, there has to be a first cow that landed here.
Eden Dawn 30:59
Did you pass one of those cow statues we have?
Jon Raymond 31:04
It had something to do with thinking about Sauvie Island, because Sauvie was a big dairy kind of place. And it might have and the story kind of took place there in some way. But I honestly it's one of those things where I just don't know how it where it kind of came from, but
It's fell from the sky. A cow came down on a sunbeam. Yeah. And it was like, divine cow inspiration.
And it was one of those things where as soon as the idea came, I'm like, oh, yeah, I see how that could work like that, you know, then you've got Cookie, and he's gonna make something and he can use the milk and like, you know, and then it was like, oh, you know, well, what would you make? And I'm like, oh, Emily, my wife. She makes clafoutis and maybe I'll make a clafoutis, you know? And then, and then oh, yeah, then there's a sort of like, primitive kind of marketplace that could occur and it could almost be like a Voodoo Doughnuts kind of thing. You know, some proto donut.
It was such a VooDoo Donuts thing where they’re all in line. Yeah.
Eden Dawn 31:59
Jon Raymond 32:01
you know, and just suddenly became like, an Oh, yeah, and the chief factor could do this. And it like it really just fell into place. And I wrote the first draft then in like a week. And like, that, basically, you know, it changed in going forward as we talked about it and stuff. But the basic structure and the basic sort of thing of it was was there and it was just like, one of those things where 20 years of sort of ruminating on Yeah, kind of just like, allowed it to be really easy. I mean, it'll never be that easy. Again, that movie, I will say it was a this is a rare, a rare sentence to speak. But that movie was actually a joyful filmmaking experience. And that is rarely how it goes.
Eden Dawn 32:42
Wow. That's why they had to come out in the pandemic, you don't get. You don't get to walk on red carpet, because you had a nice time making one or the other.
Fiona McCann 32:55
I love the way as well, when you think about oh, you know, I wrote it in a week. But those 20 essential years were there. It's hard to explain that to somebody. 10, 20 years of walking around the city, before the cow fell down on a sunbeam.
Eden Dawn 33:09
I love that Fiona is on a hashtag justice for cow movement.
Fiona McCann 33:14
That was a gorgeous cow though, it really was
Jon Raymond 33:16
Fiona McCann 33:19
it was. It was such a glorious relationship I loved I loved the cow. The cow is great when the cow first makes an appearance. \
Her name was Evie. Yes.
Oh, it was beautiful.
Yeah, I’ve had cows, they are a delight.
Jon Raymond 33:32
Yeah. And then First Cow had its own story. So they've all like, you know, come from different places and different, different kind of things. And then Showing Up the new one is very much like a Portland art world movie. All of them are sort of weird miracles that they've happened because they're not movies that god wants to have in the you know, they're not like, the industry is not asking for these things they've been really struggles for everyone to make. And the most recent one was shot during the pandemic. And that was really hard for everyone. Not for me, because I'm not like dealing with it at that point. But for them doing it in masks during like a heat dome. Like really, really unpleasant filmmaking circumstances. And
Fiona McCann 34:18
You filmed during the heat dome?
Jon Raymond 34:21
Yeah, that's so that was tough for people. Yeah. But they made a beautiful film about two sculptors here in Portland. And the sort of just psychodrama of creating art and put it into the world was sort of my feeling
Eden Dawn 34:36
What so you base it on Fiona and I?
Jon Raymond 34:38
Yeah, exactly. I mean, actually, I honestly think that like almost everyone in Portland will feel like oh, that was you has a ripping me off right now.
Eden Dawn 34:49
I mean, we interviewed Melissa Maerz about her she wrote the oral history of Dazed and Confused and interviewed, you know, all that everybody in the book and then all the people that Richard Linklater went to school with. And then the big takeaway is that every single person thinks it's about them. Totally. Some even sued him because they thought it was about them.
Jon Raymond 35:06
Yeah. It probably was on some degree, but like it is, it's funny. Yeah.
Eden Dawn 35:11
I did love the sweetness between Cookie and King Liu. Like, there was just this. It was just a very nice, I sort of was like, oh, hey men, just see how nice it is to have a friend. Men really don't have friends and like do you see how it's just nice to have a buddy? Nice to have a buddy you can get into some light hijinks together. Milking a cow. No one really gets harmed. Go make a friend.
Fiona McCann 35:39
I mean, no one really gets harmed well, on screen.
Eden Dawn 35:44
The cow didn't get hurt. They didn't get harmed. Okay, no. Well, as we know from everything, if you commit light hijinks, then you only get to do it one time.
Fiona McCann 35:53
You can I mean, you're right. Friends are important. Look at Brian and Jason. Just to bring it back to the I mean, it all started with a male friendship.
Jon Raymond 36:01
Friendship. Yeah, at the time of the Half-Life writing I, I kind of had in mind that like friendship was not like a literature didn't deal with it that much. You know, but I have come to realize it does. Like there's a huge, long history of stories about friends, you know, from Huckleberry Finn to to…
To the cast of Friends.
To the cast of friends. Yeah. Like a million bromances that have now like blossomed in the last 15 years or whatever. But, but yeah, it's a good it's a good relationship.
Fiona McCann 36:34
Nobody has ever I don't think drawn that through line from Huckleberry Finn to Friends.
Eden Dawn 36:41
I'm a trailblazer.
Fiona McCann 36:42
I mean, there's also, you know, there's definitely a vibe that Cookie and King Luke could be more than friends to right.
Jon Raymond 36:49
Yes, yeah. Actually, another another piece of the whole Magpie art of this was in writing the Half-Life. Part of like writing or making art, it's just paying attention to what moves you and like what you find actually stirring in any kind of way. And so there was an artwork at that time that I really loved by this artist, David Wojnarowicz, who was a great like East Village, did a lot of different things, and sadly died of AIDS early. But he had a beautiful artwork that was a photograph of two skeletons holding hands that he saw in Mexico somewhere with a poem on top of it that he had written. And I just really love that idea of like two skeletons holding hands. And so that is sort of an image that presides over the book, and also the film. And so they that was for me, kind of like a like that sort of had to be in the film. Like it sort of was a something that just I couldn't really imagine adopting it without. Yeah, without that
Fiona McCann 37:46
being the sort of that because it's the parenthesis essentially.
Jon Raymond 37:49
Fiona McCann 37:51
Oh, I love that. Okay.
Jon Raymond 37:53
Okay. Thank you guys so much.
Eden Dawn 37:55
Thank you so much.
Fiona McCann 37:57
It was so fun, sweltering in here because our room gets so hot
Jon Raymond 38:02
My core is warm. It's great. We
Eden Dawn 38:05
that's what we do here. Well, as we just said, but we want to do it one more time, because we're polite around here. Thank you, Jon, for joining us. Go out buy all of his books, watch all of his movies. Jon is smarter than us and not on social media, which is a true punk rock move. That's it from we can't print this for today. See more info about our episodes, we will try to link to that Henry Weinhard’s video at Wecantprintthis.com And follow us on all of our socials that @wecantprintthis too.
Fiona McCann 38:35
And we aren't backed by anyone. We're just two independent journalists giving you an insider look at writing because we love it. So please support our work and the podcast by becoming a monthly supporter on Patreon. Thank you very much to our producer Miranda Shaffer and to Dave dapper for our pretty boppity intro music. This podcast was recorded at the Writers’ Block in Portland.
Eden Dawn 38:59
If you are a writer with a great behind the story story Write to us at We can't print email@example.com Jon, come back and see us again. Well, you have to because your wife's here.
Fiona McCann 39:11
Thank you, Jon. Bye