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Thanks to blogger Sim at Chapter 1-Take 1 for the heads-up, I watched the whole 54 mins. of The Writers Roundtable via Hollywood Reporter. Gearing up for the upcoming Awards Season, these Roundtable talks give us a chance to hear some possible award contenders talk about their craft. I’m particularly drawn to the writers.

“No great film would have been possible without a great screenplay.” That’s how the clip begins. Sitting around a table to discuss their experience are some of this year’s acclaimed screenwriters.

The panel includes (In alphabetical order of the movie title):

John Ridley: 12 Years a Slave
Julie Delpy: Before Midnight
Nicole Holofcener: Enough Said
Jonas Cuaron: Gravity
Danny Strong: Lee Daniel’s The Butler
George Clooney and Grant Heslov: The Monuments Men (release date has since been delayed till next Feb.)

There are lots of interesting exchanges, and it’s refreshing to hear them talk uncensored and unscripted. Take for example the following dialogue relating to independent writing vs. writing for studio:

HR (Hollywood Reporter): Have you written any studio films?
Holofcener: Only for money (chuckle from somewhere). I mean like, not for myself.

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HR (to all): Do you like writing?
Strong: I do. I really enjoy it. I spent years as an actor. You just can’t go do it. You get hired to do it, so I started writing, to get my mind off the auditions…
Holofcenter: What if you can’t act, and you can’t write?
Clooney: You direct.

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There are lengthy discussions on the issue of historical accuracy, the truths vs. dramatization. I feel this is the hot topic lately, with The King’s Speech a couple years ago, to last year’s torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty, the accuracy of Argo, and this year’s Captain Philips, and Lee Daniel’s The Butler.

Here’s The Butler‘s screenwriter Danny Strong’s defence:

Strong: Well, in the case of The Butler, I made very clear that this was a fictionalization. So much so that I changed the character’s name to Cecil Gaines in the hope of saying: “This isn’t Eugene Allen. This is something else.” But the history in the film is all true…”

And then comes Clooney’s allegation unplugged.

Clooney: This is a new thing, by the way. This is all, like, bloggers — if that existed when Lawrence of Arabia came out, believe me, Lawrence’s own autobiography would not hold water. Patton wouldn’t. You can go down the list of movies — Gandhi — these movies are entertainment… These are not documentaries. You’re responsible for basic facts. But who the hell knows what Patton said to his guys in the tent?

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Whoa… bloggers? Thank goodness, bloggers get a chance to prod screenwriters to dig deeper into their facts, even if fiction is to be made from them. Because of bloggers, viewers can sharpen their senses to not just accept the dramatization as facts. Because of bloggers posting about movies, people are made more aware of historical events and background info. I see not all sites do, but the ones I frequent can have the effect of honing one’s judgement and critical thinking, even (maybe more so) when opinions differ. How we need these skills as we watch movies nowadays instead of just being passively entertained (or not).

Thanks George, for spelling out the importance of the work bloggers do.

You’re right too, George, because of the blogosphere, filmmakers now have to deal more rigorously (or, don’t they?) with the dichotomy between truth and fiction, historical accuracy and dramatization. Yes, the butler Cecil Gaines is a fictional character, but there are many real historical figures in that story context… like, say… Ronald Reagan, whose son Michael Reagan had protested against the film for painting his father with a racist brush.

As someone with a half-baked screenplay in the closet, I know how hard it is to even get to finish the first draft, and after that, hopefully, find someone qualified and experienced enough to read it and advise on rewrite. Then you go and rewrite, and rewrite some more. So I’m all respectful for all who can not only sell their spec script but actually see it produced, and not only produced, but distributed and shown on our theater screens. That’s why I attempt at every review with appreciation and humility.

At the same time, I’m also glad to see that the blogosphere has leveled the playing field for opinions and critiques, for accountability, and for creative expressions with checks and balances. I don’t see an end to the dichotomy between fact and dramatization, accuracy and entertainment, but at least we are free to challenge and critique. Don’t forget, George, bloggers are also the ones ready to defend and promote worthy productions. All for the better.

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Before Midnight: Reality Check

The King’s Speech: Fact and Fiction

Zero Dark Thirty and Argo

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