Making it big on Television

If you watched the TV miniseries “Bonnie and Clyde: Dead and Alive,” Sunday and Monday nights, you were seeing the work of Minot native John Rice and his writing partner Joe Batteer. They’re also the co-executive producers.

The 4-hour miniseries aired this week on not just one but three cable networks: Lifetime, A&E and The History Channel.

The TV mini-series is about Depression-era Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow two of America’s most infamous outlaws. Holliday Grainger plays Bonnie and Emile Hirsch as Clyde. Academy-award winning actress and actor Holly Hunter and William Hurt are among the cast.

The miniseries is based on much fact with some fiction, said Rice. Rice and Batteer did extensive research for the project.

Rice said he was on-site for some of the filming of “Bonnie and Clyde.”

When he heard there were big billboards advertising the miniseries on Sunset Boulevard and West Hollywood which is kind of the biggest marketing outdoor venue in the world, he went to see them.

“Everyone is pushing their high-end projects on Sunset Boulevard,” he said. On the way there with his wife and kids, he said they saw a billing for Bonnie and Clyde “like a 40-story building and the ad all over it.” They took pictures of it.

Rice said the producers of “Bonnie and Clyde” also did “The Sound of Music,” which was televised last week.

Born in Minot, Rice graduated from Minot High School in 1977 where he was an all-state basketball star. “Those were good times with those guys on that team,” said Rice, reminiscing during the phone interview Monday.

He attended Minot State University for about a year and graduated summa cum laude from the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, in 1981. For about a year he was an aide in the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Sen. Quentin N. Burdick, D-N.D. Rice, who received a scholarship from Warner Brothers, studied for his master’s degree in film production at the University of Southern California-Los Angeles. He has lived in Los Angeles for a number of years. Rice returns to Minot for visits with family and friends.

Initially, Rice said he never planned to be involved in the film industry. “I wanted to be a farmer,” he said. He said his dad was a farmer and he imagined that’s what he would do.

But his brother, Pete, was into making films and he got started making movies with him. “He was a nurturing guy and let me make my mistakes and let me learn some stuff. When I went off to film school I used his camera. He (Pete) had a very guiding hand in helping me get out here and get my feet on the ground,” John said.

In the film industry, Rice’s and Batteer’s works include “Blown Away,” the 1994 film about an Irish bomber who escapes from prison and targets a member of the Boston bomb squad; and “Windtalkers,” the 2002 film starring Nicholas Cage about two U.S. Marines during World War II who are assigned to protect Native American Marines using their native language as an unbreakable radio cypher.

Their TV credits include writing the Lifetime movie, “Anna Nicole,” the story of the late Anna Nicole Smith.

Rice is working on his next project with Sony Pictures Television, the same company that did “Bonnie and Clyde.” He said one of the producers is Judith Verno and the other is Leonardo DiCaprio’s company, Appian Way. Verno also is an executive producer for “Bonnie and Clyde.”

Rice said a story in the Los Angeles Times about Jeff Guinn, who wrote a historical account of Bonnie and Clyde, came out after he and Batteer wrote their script for the mini-series. He said Guinn has written a book on Charles Manson and they’ve been hired by NBC to adapt his book. Manson is one of the most notorious convicted murderers in American history.

“We’d like to not think of ourselves as documentarians,” Rice said. He said they’re doing stories that are relevant to the day and making them feel new again.

Lifetime is scheduled to run “Bonnie and Clyde” again Wednesday night and The History Channel Saturday night. For more information check local listings.