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'Field of Dreams' screens to mark 20th anniversary

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is inviting cast and crew to the Samuel Goldwyn Theater for it.

December 15, 2009
  • Before it was made, the 1989 film starring Kevin Costner, left, wasn't considered a good idea because at that time baseball movies weren't thought to be commercial, writer-director Phil Alden Robinson says.
Before it was made, the 1989 film starring Kevin Costner, left, wasn't… (Melinda Sue Gordon / Universal…)

If you screen it, they will come.

This evening, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is celebrating the 20th anniversary of "Field of Dreams" at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. Following the film, there will be a cast and crew reunion with writer-director Phil Alden Robinson, actors Kevin Costner and Timothy Busfield, cinematographer John Lindley, production designer Dennis Gassner and producers Charles and Lawrence Gordon. The event will be hosted by Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan.

Based on the novel "Shoeless Joe" by W.P. Kinsella, the beloved sports fantasy revolves around a young couple, Ray and Annie Kinsella (Costner and Amy Madigan), who are running their family farm in Iowa. One day, when Ray is standing in the middle of the cornfield, he hears a voice: "If you build it, he will come."

A vision shows him that "it" is a baseball diamond. And if he builds it, Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), who was a member of the infamous 1919 Black Sox baseball team, will materialize and play baseball there. But on a more personal level, the baseball diamond helps Ray connect with his long-dead father.

A box office hit filled with memorable lines ("It's not heaven. It's Iowa.") "Field of Dreams" garnered Oscar nominations for best picture, original score by James Horner and Robinson's adapted screenplay.

Robinson, Costner, Lindley and Gassner recently discussed their memories of making the film during the summer of 1988 in Dyersville, Iowa.

The pitch

Robinson: "I was a big baseball fan, but it never occurred to me to do a movie about it until I read the book in the early '80s and was just enraptured by it. I thought instantly, 'This is a great movie.' No one agreed.

"Lindsay Doran was the only executive who said this is a great movie. Certainly at that time, conventional wisdom was that baseball movies weren't commercial. Larry Gordon, who was the producer, had put it into development when he was president at Fox. When he left, he took this with him as one of his producing projects. He sent it to Tom Pollock at Universal. Fortunately, Tom and all the senior executives all loved it."

Costner at the plate

Robinson: "We had made a casting list and Kevin, who was one of the first names we talked about, we immediately took off the list because he had 'Bull Durham' coming out. No one in his right mind would do two baseball movies in a row. I believe it was Josh Donen, who was an executive at Universal then, ran into Kevin at a restaurant and said, 'I have got a script I want to slip to you.' We were already out to another actor at that point. Kevin read it and said he really liked it, but said, 'I don't want to get in the way of anybody else.' The other actor did fall out and we set up a breakfast with Kevin. He said 'I'm in.' "

Costner: "I was scheduled to do another movie called 'Revenge' before that. I kept getting delayed and delayed. Phil was willing to wait for me, but at some point, as 'Revenge' kept getting delayed he wouldn't be able to grow his corn in time. Finally, I got so upset that 'Revenge' was taking so long to start, I got into a very heated discussion with Ray Stark, the legendary producer. I said, 'I'm doing this little movie called "Field of Dreams," ' and he said, 'No, you're not,' and I said, 'Yes, I am.' Before it went to a lawsuit, I said 'You're a smart guy, figure it out.' And he did."

Game plan

Gassner: "Phil and I started to look at photographs of farmhouses in Iowa. Phil ended up leaning one way and I leaned another way. I went for a very classic wood farmhouse with a veranda and Phil had found this stone farmhouse that I thought looked a little too much like the French countryside. So we kind of made a deal. He said, 'We will go with your house, but I get to decide where to build the field.'

The thing that was fascinating about the farm was this little bridge that you had to drive over to get to the house. There was this little spring creek that ran underneath the bridge and the water was running. It was the first drought in 50 years. What we ended up doing is damming that little creek and irrigated from the creek. That is how we grew our corn. The farmers came from everywhere to see our corn because our corn was the only corn that was 6 feet at that time."

The coach

Lindley: "I have strong memories of Phil guiding that movie. He really is the keeper of the story. I had read the book even before Phil asked me to do the movie. I had this fantasy at the time that if I was really rich I would start a literary conservancy and buy rights to books I really like and make sure they never got turned into movies. I thought this was going to be hard to make because it was such a whimsical subject. . . . . It's to Phil's credit that it not only turned out OK, but turned out great."

The life lesson

Costner: "Most movies can't be about the subject themselves. 'Bull Durham' is set against baseball, but it's really about the fabric of men and women and their relationships. In this instance, this movie had this mythical thing. It has a lot to do with things unsaid in your life. I always considered this our generation's 'It's a Wonderful Life.' "

They still come

Robinson: "Not only is the field still there, they are still getting some 50,000 tourists a year. They have charity games and old-timers games there. People from all over the country have driven there to get married on the field."

Costner: "I did a concert there with my band two years ago. Like 8 to 10,000 people came. It was very sweet. The sun went down and the fireflies came out. There was a big giant screen set up in the cornfield and everyone had their lawn chairs and watched 'Field of Dreams.' It was very Americana."

For more information go to www.oscars.org.

susan.king@latimes.com

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