"He told me, 'Nobody's going to pay money to watch my dad and mom sit around watching the
Of necessity, translating real-life events into a film script requires particular skills: What's the focus? What scenes do you choose? Which characters stay, which never make it and which have to be blended together? During award season, the gamut of those decisions is on full view — films such as "The Butler" may be highly fictionalized while others, like "Lone Survivor" (about a Navy SEAL mission in Afghanistan), are closer to documentaries. Between those poles lie such films as "Saving Mr. Banks,"
"Dallas Buyers Club" was a long-simmering film; co-screenwriter Craig Borten first interviewed the film's inspiration, Ron Woodroof, in 1992. But his real problem was that the story of a man diagnosed with
"It was such a big world," said Borten, who wrote the script with Melisa Wallack. "You have AIDS, you have the FDA, you have the pharmaceutical companies, you have doctors and hospitals, and then the people who have AIDS. It's such a beast of a story. You can't cover it in two hours, so you have to make specific choices."
For "Saving Mr. Banks," director John Lee Hancock was fortunate enough to have multiple hours of interactions on tape between the real Walt Disney and the author of "
Event compression happens on the page and also once the director gets involved.
The original screenplay by
Story focus in hand, the next obstacle for many filmmakers is how much truth there will be in the true-life tale.
What often ends up happening is that many of a real-life story's participants get left out or composited, for reasons that range from time to budget. "Dallas Buyers Club" writers created the transgender Rayon as a foil for the homophobic Woodroof, but she was based on several real people. In Coogler's case, the decision to blend two real people into one was more basic: "I wanted to make sure the audiences could keep track of everyone."
"Saving Mr. Banks" shades in a lot of areas that aren't clear and fictionalizes several set pieces (Hancock is pretty sure that Travers never visited
Peter Berg may have gone to the extreme to ensure the reality of his real-life tale in "Lone Survivor," a film he both wrote and directed: He was embedded with a Navy SEAL platoon in Iraq for a month before writing it. "I wanted to accurately portray what happened and what kind of people these men were," he said, noting that at one time he considered making a documentary rather than a feature.
But Morgan said he prefers the literary over the literal approach: He got a grip on "Rush" only after imagining it as a car race in which the two drivers are constantly lapping each other until the final confrontation.
"What I do is some form of portrait painting, where I am absolved of painting something strictly into a likeness," he said. "I'm not taking a photograph. That's what a documentary does. With a drama, you paint."