‘On Golden Pond’ Screenwriter Working on Sequel to Iconic Film
Ernest Thompson discusses film’s impact
HOLDERNESS, N.H. — In honor of the 90th Academy Awards, take a look back at New Hampshire’s role as a backdrop to the iconic film On Golden Pond.
The film was shot on Squam Lake in Holderness, and the area still draws fans and film enthusiasts who want to soak in the atmosphere.
News 9’s Cherise Leclerc sat down with screenwriter Ernest Thompson to talk about the story’s roots, its unimaginable staying power and the moment his name was called as an Oscar winner.
Thompson crafted the unforgettable story when he was just 28 years old while he was out of work as an actor.
“I thought, if I was lucky, I might be able to get six actors to read it in my living room and they would say, ‘Go back to acting,'” he said.
But what Thompson put to paper would have staying power far beyond the golden waters of Squam Lake.
There are hundreds of productions of On Golden Pond every year, all around the world.
Thompson said he had no idea what the story would become, and never imagined that people would still be talking about the film 38 years later.
How has this story of old Norman, his beloved Ethel and their strained relationship with Chelsea touched audiences for nearly four decades?
“It goes right to the heart. It’s not the easiest subject. We’re talking about dementia. We’re talking about family crises — a father/daughter, complicated relationship. But still, in all, there’s a level of hope,” Thompson said.
Thompson tapped into the most fundamental aspects of the human condition: love, family and loss.
“I thought, ‘They move me. They’re probably going to move somebody else.’ I didn’t know that you and I would be sitting here 38 years later and having a conversation about a little, tiny story I wrote,” he said.
That tiny story became the second highest grossing film of 1981, pulling in more than $119 million and earning Thompson award after award, including an Oscar.
He said that fateful night in 1982 at the 54th Academy Awards was surreal.
“I ran. I ran from my seat, up the stage. The camera couldn’t keep up with me, I was moving so fast. Because I knew I only had 45 seconds, I had to go, go, go,” Thompson said.
His self-proclaimed “tiny story” holds a firm place in the hearts of Granite Staters and beyond.
“It’s a moment that lives forever in my warmest memories,” Thompson said.
“Squam Lake was irresistible because it’s so beautiful. It’s still so relatively un-overdeveloped, and everywhere you aimed a camera there were mountains in the background. So, for me, it was speaking my language, and it was fantastic to be back in my old neighborhood,” Thompson said.
The screenwriter lives in New Hampshire, teaches writing workshops and is involved in guided tours of Squam Lake for fans of On Golden Pond.
“I’m proud. It makes me feel really wonderful to think that I’ve contributed something and, in a way, given back to my homeland,” Thompson said.
He is working on a sequel to On Golden Pond, but he does have concerns that the movie may not be able to be shot in the Granite State because New Hampshire doesn’t have a tax incentive for filmmaking, something he’s hoping will change.
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