john dunbar

The author of Dances with Wolves is man by the name of Michael Blake (1945-2015). As a 20 year-old in 1965, Blake was a product of the counterculture revolution of 1960’s America: against the establishment, and the Vietnam War. He was a “turn on, tune in, drop out” kind of guy.

A journalist dabbling in screenwriting at the time — Michael Blake met Kevin Costner in the late 70’s in a Los Angeles acting group for would-be actors and writers. The two became friends and — as Kevin Costner found success in the movie industry — he got Michael Blake as many interviews as possible.

Here’s where the story gets complicated and it might resonate with you. From Costner’s perspective, Michael was an exhausting and incorrigible friend. [I’ve had them, and maybe you do too.]

On every single meeting, Blake offended the interviewer and didn’t get the job. He would then call Costner and explain that, they don’t know good writing or that such and so were a jerk.

At a certain point, this was going to jeopardize Kevin Costner’s standing with his friends and connections in Hollywood. Eventually, the two men came to a mild physical confrontation in an argument over Michael Blake’s offensive behavior and inability to write a script.

Costner then dismissed and wrote off the friend he had tried to help so many times before. Within a few weeks, Blake had apologized to Costner and asked him if he could live at his house for a while — as he had nowhere else to live.

Costner let him live at his house, but he was still annoyed with Blake and limited his interaction with him. During this stay, Blake wrote Dances with Wolves. Every now and again he would ask Costner to read it and Costner refused.

Michael Blake eventually moved out and back to Arizona, where he washed dishes in a restaurant. A few months went by and Kevin Costner eventually picked up a copy of the script that Michael had left behind for him.

The rest is history as Dances with Wolves won 7 Academy awards, including best screenplay for Michael Blake. 

There’s a chance that Kevin Costner had a”Whiplash” effect on Michael Blake and was able to extract his genius specifically because they had a contentious friendship. It’s telling that Blake wrote, possibly the greatest script of all time, at Costner’s house, while Costner was barely speaking to him. Also, Michael Blake never had another produced screenplay again.

You can hear Kevin Costner tell this story in his own words on the Tim Ferriss Podcast.

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How to play The John Dunbar Theme for classical guitar

I have a few arrangements lately that fit with one another: Glory, Last of the Mohicans, and now Dances with Wolves. I’ve created a new Modern Classics archive to house all of these great songs. This archive will have Academy award winning music, and score that were overlooked but have become modern classics.

The John Dunbar Theme (the central theme of Dances with Wolves) is relatively easy to play. The guitar tab is a single page with an entire passage repeated twice.

As always, I try to imagine what guitarist/composer, Gustavo Santaolalla, would do if he were creating a guitar piece for Dances with Wolves to coincide with the orchestra music. I’m pretty in tune with Santaolalla’s style, and this is essentially how I create arrangements of film music.

Enjoy, the guitar tab is available below:

The John Dunbar Theme is played in standard tuning, with a capo on the 1st fret:

The John Dunbar Theme for classical guitar

Please comment to let me know what you  think, or if you have any questions.


Written by:

Matthew's dad, Jennifer's husband, bass player - New Invisible Joy, YouTuber, film composer - Broken Noons, creator of modern content for guitar.