A River Runs Through It premiered on October 9, 1992 – 27 years ago. Based on the novella by Norman Maclean, “A River Runs Through It” launched the career of Brad Pitt and boosted interest in fly fishing. Even as it celebrates its 25-year anniversary, the movie continues to captivate viewers who resonate with its story of tragedy, family, the American West, and fishing.
1. The movie wasn’t really shot in Missoula, Montana… And the legendary “Blackfoot River”, was actually the “Gallatin River”.
The movie is set in Missoula, Montana, though most fans know that it was filmed 200-plus miles east of Missoula in Livingston, Montana. Livingston served as Missoula, and the Gallatin River served as the Big Blackfoot River.
2. The fly fishing industry doubled in size after A River Runs Through It was released.
The fly-fishing industry saw a whopping 60 percent increase in 1992, the year the movie came out, and grew by another 60 percent in 1993.
3. Brad Pitt wasn’t actually the one casting…
Most of the fly fishing scenes were filmed on the Gallatin River in the Gallatin Canyon south of Bozeman.
In these scenes, Gary Borger’s son, Jason, did almost all the fly casting for the actors in the movie. This includes the memorable “shadow-casting” that Paul Maclean performed while standing on a big rock in the middle of the river. When Jason did that particular cast, an elderly, long-time friend of the Maclean brothers was on the set. After the scene was filmed, he approached Jason and said, “You are Paul.” The friend was stunned that Jason had captured the essence of Paul’s artistry with a fly rod.
While Jason did most of the fly casting in the movie, the actors picked it up rather quickly. Tom Skerritt (the elder Maclean) had done some fly fishing previously. Both Craig Sheffer (Norman) and Brad Pitt (Paul) were quite athletic. Jason made sure that Skerritt and Sheffer used the traditional forearm style, while Pitt used the more open free arm style that Paul Maclean would have used. Rumors also said Pitt trained to fly-fish for four weeks before filming. Since most of the time he was not near any river in Los Angeles, he trained it on top of a building.
4. The “trout” the Maclean brothers hooked into and fought were mostly non-fish.
In several scenes, the fish on the end of their line was actually a half-gallon milk jug with rocks in it. In the scene where Paul fights a fish hidden from view behind a large boulder, the fish is actually John Bailey of Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop in Livingston, Montana. John was behind the rock, pulling on the line!
In the final scene of “A River Runs Through It,” when Paul is fighting a monster trout, the producers filmed the water flying off of his fly reel in a city park rather than in the river. The city park was Lindley Park in Livingston, Montana, and the producers created this effect by dipping the fly reel in a bucket of water. Then, after an actor lifted it out of the bucket, someone on the end of the line immediately started pulling it to get the spool spinning and flinging off beads of water.
5. Brad Pitt supposedly had a horrible first audition…
Brad Pitt auditioned twice for the role of Paul Maclean. The first time he thought that his performance was really terrible, so he insisted on sending a tape performing another scene and that scene convinced the director that Pitt was a perfect choice.
6. The trout used in the movie were pond raised “Stockies”
Trout used in the movie were pond-raised in Montana and were kept in a specially aerated and cooled tank truck until their big moment in front of the cameras. No hooks were used, and no blood was drawn. A line was tied to each fish’s lower jaw under the careful observance of the Montana Humane Society.
7. Not everyone thought “A River Runs Through It” was going to be a hit!
Norman Maclean often recounted the story of how his semi-autobiographical story collection was rejected by every large commercial publisher he sent it to, including one that rejected it on the basis that it contained “too many trees”. It was eventually published instead by the University of Chicago Press (in 1976) and went on to sell extraordinarily well for them…