To add realism to the movie, a language coach was brought in to teach Lakota to cast members who did not know how to speak it. Because of the difficulty in learning the language, the "gendered speech" aspects of the language were omitted from the lessons. When native speakers of Lakota saw the finished film, they found it amusing to hear Lakota warriors talking like women.
The man seen initially telling the wolf to go home when Dunbar is riding out to visit his friends is actually the trainer. He was bitten in the leg when the wolf chased him, so Costner had to run himself during the next shot. He kept throwing pieces of raw meat to keep the wolf from biting him.
In the opening scene where two doctors are examining John Dunbar, the man on the table is Kevin Costner's stand-in. The two people playing the doctors are actually the film's producer, Jim Wilson on the left and director/star Costner on the right. The voices were dubbed by other actors.
In order to best portray a middle-aged man with bad posture, Graham Greene (Kicking Bird) put a slice of bologna in each of his shoes, feeling that the slimy sensation would bring about the awkward comportment he was trying to project.
Graham Greene, who plays Kicking Bird, also plays Edgar Montrose in The Red Green Show (1991). In one episode of that series, Edgar mentions "Dances With Wolves", and says the "native guy" (Kicking Bird) should have gotten the Oscar.
Because of budgetary overruns and general industry reluctance to invest in a Western, Kevin Costner was forced to dig deep into his own pockets to make up the film's $18 million budget. As it then went on to gross over $100 million, he himself earned an estimated $40 million from his original investment.
Kevin Costner's daughter Annie Costner, playing Stands With A Fist as a child, is seen running away from the Pawnee party that killed her family in the dream sequence. She looks back over each shoulder as she runs because Costner told her to look over her right shoulder and she didn't know her right from her left - she was only 6 years old at the time.
Filmed in South Dakota, which is mainly wide-open rolling hills. The cornfield at the beginning of the film had to be specially grown, and the few trees that were on the chosen location had to have their leaves painted different shades of red and brown to signify fall.
Graham Greene's character, Kicking Bird, is supposed to be the adoptive father of Stands With A Fist, played by Mary McDonnell; however, in real life, McDonnell is actually 2 months older than Greene. In addition, Tantoo Cardinal, who plays the adoptive mother, is only 2 years older than McDonnell.
The very last scene shot in the film was the one where Kevin Costner rides in to tell them the buffalo had arrived, one of the few out-of-sequence shots in the film. While the cameras were on him, riding only in pants and a shirt, the cast and crew were in heavy coats because of the freezing weather.
For the scene where Two Socks is being shot at by the soldiers, the wolf was actually hemmed into a small pen with puffs of smoke popping off around him. The animal was chained within the pen to prevent him escaping.
The helmet that Ten Bears is holding when he talks about the "men who came during the time of his grandfather's grandfather" is a typical helmet worn by the Conquistadors - Spanish soldiers and explorers who conquered large parts of both Americas between the 15th and 19th centuries.
The scene where we see Cisco jumping around in the corral just before the Sioux party steals him was a 'stolen' shot. The horse was just letting off steam, and they caught part of it and slipped it in because it looked so good and fit the scene.
In the novel the indians were Comanches but were changed in the film due to the need for a large herd of buffalo, which were found in South Dakota, which had one of the largest Morth American communities in the country, the Sioux.
With the exception of the opening Civil War scenes (which were shot last), the film was shot in sequence because of the weather. They needed it to correspond with the time sequence in the film because of so much outdoor shooting. Most films are not shot in sequence.
Dean Semler first had an inkling about how important his Oscar win was to his native Australia when he was on a night flight to Sydney and the stewardess asked him if he had it with him and if he would mind showing it to the passengers.
Michael Blake wrote a spec screenplay in the early 1980s. When Kevin Costner came across the project in 1986, he suggested to Blake that he should turn it into a novel, thereby increasing his chances of getting it made into a film. Blake did so and, after many rejections, found a publisher in 1988. Costner immediately snapped up the movie rights with an eye to directing it himself.
The film ran over budget, forcing Kevin Costner to make up the overages personally. That caused rumors that the film would be another out-of-control, disappointing western like Heaven's Gate (1980). In fact, some studio people were referring to it as "Kevin's Gate". It went on to win the first Best Picture Oscar for a western since Cimarron (1931), over 50 years before it.
When native children steal Dunbar's horse, one refers to his father's "bow on his back" if he were to find out. Corporal punishment, or punishment of any kind for misbehavior was extremely rare in most Native cultures, especially from parents.
The Tennessee battle scenes were supposed to take place in the fall but it wasn't possible to film then so with the aid of 10,000 gallons of paint the cornfield was sprayed yellow and the foilage on the trees painted in autumnal colours
Since the film, The Red Man's View (2016) (American Muroscope & Biograph Co.) is only other attempt in 20 years to make an historically accurate film about the plight of the Native American in the mid 1800's.
Michael Blake initially intended the story to be a screenplay, but after working with Kevin Costner and producer Jim Wilson on an earlier film, he was convinced by them to write it as a novel first - both to ensure the story would be told completely without having to work within the bounds of a standard-length script, and also because they believed the story would be more easily sold as a novel than as a screenplay.
Stands With A Fist's original name is Christine. Her name is heard during Stands With A Fist's flashback dream when both her mother and her brother are shouting at her to escape from the Pawnee who attacked her family's farm.
Just as Timmons bids farewell to Lieutenant Dunbar at Fort Sedgwick, he commands the two lead mules (of six mules, in total) to a start with a "Jake n' Jim!" Jake Eberts and Jim Wilson are the names of the film's Executive Producer and Producer, respectively.
Viggo Mortensen was originally cast to play John Dunbar. Mortensen will, however, be playing John Dunbar in the upcoming sequel to this movie, The Holy Road (2011), as Kevin Costner has stated that he will not be reprising his character.
The buffalo hunt and several other sequences were filmed on the 55,000-acre Triple U Ranch owned by Roy Houck, who had served as South Dakota's lieutenant governor in the 1950s; he gave the filmmakers considerable assistance in managing the logistics of the sequence.
Orion originally planned to release both this film and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) in late 1990, and to promote both films as Oscar contenders. Their financial problems, however, forced them to choose one film over the other, and this one was released first, with Lambs being released in early 1991 instead. Executives could then wait until later in the year to begin their Oscar campaign. This resulted in Orion being able to release only one other major picture in 1991, instead of two. Since Jodie Foster appeared in Lambs, and she was being promoted as a Best Actress nominee, Orion decided to help her chances by releasing her other film Little Man Tate (1991), shelving Blue Sky (1994). Foster won Best Actress, and Blue Sky was not released for three more years, which resulted in Jessica Lange also winning Best Actress.