Nancy Savoca made her name with the 1989 independent production True Love, an R-rated romantic drama that introduced audiences to Annabella Sciorra and won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. For her second feature, Dogfight (1991), she signed on to a major studio. Bob Comfort's original screenplay, about four Marine buddies on their last night stateside before shipping out to Vietnam, had been making the rounds for five years when Savoca signed on. River Phoenix underwent an abbreviated boot camp in preparation for the role of Eddie Birdlace. He admitted playing such a crude, insensitive character was tough. “There are things in the film that Birdlace does that if that were me, I'd be so embarrassed. But it's not me.” Lili Taylor was cast as the lonely, overweight Rose after a lengthy audition process. She gained twelve pounds for the role and wore additional body padding on set. Though set in San Francisco, the film was shot primarily in Seattle, though the production spent three days in San Francisco with the two leads to pick up landmarks like Vesuvio Cafe, City Lights Bookstore and Jack Kerouac Alley. Savoca battled the studio over her vision. They wanted a PG-rated film they could market to a teen audience and pressured her to lighten the tone and shoot a new ending. “When Warners was talking about this being a teen movie, I kept saying, ‘We’re looking at teens, but it’s kind of realistic, and teen-agers aren’t gonna respond to it because it’s too painful to look at yourself.’” Savoca and screenwriter Comfort held firm and their version debuted at the 1991 Telluride Film Festival.
by Sean Axmaker
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
"Marines at Their Best," Randi Sue Coburn. Premiere, October 1991.
"It Was a Real ‘Dogfight’ to Get Nancy Savoca’s Vision on Screen," Chris Williams. Los Angeles Times, October 5, 1991.