Screenwriters Talk and Bloggers Blog

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.

*

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.

*

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?

*

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.

***

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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Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

13 thoughts on “Screenwriters Talk and Bloggers Blog”

  1. This is a fascinating topic and I will take some time to listen to the actual discussion. I should think it would be fascinating. And good for George! We watched Argo for the first time over the weekend. I liked it very much but I wondered — where were the stretches, the composites, the “made for the audience and suspense” bits. When the raggedy old cars were catching up with the plane I thought, “I don’t think that could happen….” At least not that way. So I’ll be on the look-up path here soon!

    Thanks for sharing this. I think it’ll make for some thoughtful listening!

    Like

    1. Jeanie,

      When you view the whole thing, I hope you’d understand my ironic tone. I’m on the defence here… George is blaming bloggers for playing the role of the ‘accuracy police’…

      Like

  2. Hey Arti, I’m pleased you enjoyed the roundtable I posted; I’ve got my own festering screenplay as well so I always get a kick out of writers talking about their process, the bumps and the bruises. Poor George; back in the good ol’ days, the audience was just that, the audience. A much more passive process where a few critics sat in judgement while the rest of us sat almost voiceless except for passing on what we thought through ‘word of mouth’. But while bloggers – the term itself sounds like a pejorative doesn’t it, too close to ‘bugger’ perhaps – bring accountability to the arts, the sheer volume of voices weighing in on any subject, from gun control to twerking to books, movies, television, is thunderous. It gets a little noisy, and frankly, not all voices are as intelligent and perceptive as yours.
    The art vs reality debate is a long-standing one and you can argue whether choosing ‘a real life’ incident compels you to stick ‘just the facts, maam’ but I think George got it right that many of our greatest works of cinema would not have survived the scrutiny today’s films are viewed with. So much chatter, we’re all talking, few of us listening.
    I believe the filmmakers need to tread very carefully; it’s one thing to create a conversation that furthers the story-line so long as it holds true to the person’s character even if those words never really crossed their lips BUT that bit of dialogue can not twist the truth about the individual’s intentions.
    Cheers!

    Like

    1. Sim,

      Thanks again for posting about the Writers’ Roundtable talk. A fine line indeed that filmmakers have to tread because of all the easily accessible info to historical events and background stories; albeit I must say, the same is true with the Internet, how much can we trust everything we read on it? Being media savvy and honing our critical thinking skills are becoming all the more crucial in our times. And that’s where bloggers come in. I’m glad for this space called the blogosphere, where we can freely exchange ideas and share info… we ourselves are the check and balances. We’re all subject to our mutual ‘policing’ in that sense. George should be made aware of this very important point. Thanks for keeping up an informative blog on books to films at Chapter1-Take1. 😉

      Like

  3. Clearly bloggers are at the root of all evil for criticizing the work and standards of those who create. I guess we are only supposed to sit back and admire? I had thought Clooney a bit smarter than that. Interesting program you saw!

    Like

    1. Stefanie,

      If George ever wanders near the pond, he’ll readily observe that Ripple Effects is where he can get absolutely free promos of his productions… if they’re any good. Then he’ll change his mind about bloggers. 😉

      Like

  4. I had to laugh at Clooney. This is exactly the same charge that’s been thrown at bloggers by the politicians – “If only they would just leave us alone, we could do what we do and everyone would be happy.” Or ignorant. Politicians ridicule bloggers as Cheeto-eating misfits pecking along on keyboards in their mothers’ basements – and some are. But some of the most thoughtful, thought-provoking and accurate reporting these days is coming from bloggers.

    Besides, while the distinction is being drawn between documentary and drama, anyone who’s watched documentaries knows that they have a point of view, too. Picking and choosing among the facts can create as false a narrative as any produced by a fiction writer. It’s like a photographer claiming never to have cropped a photo. Simply by selecting this or that detail in the view-finder – cropping in the camera, as it’s called – the image can be radically altered.

    Apropos of all this, I think the most fascinating comment from Clooney comes from an Esquire interview he did. He said, “Everybody sort of has their own versions of what they think I am and what they think that is. I’m just living my life and doing the best I can. The rest of those versions, there’s not much I can do about. No matter what I do, I’m somehow upsetting someone in some way or making somebody happy. I can only live my own life and my version of it.”

    So even the good Mr. Clooney picks and chooses as he constructs his own life.

    Like

    1. Linda,

      You’re absolutely right. Every documentary has its premise and POV. Take a look at any of Michael Moore’s doc’s and it’s very obvious. As for Clooney’s statement, if you see the video, you’ll note that nobody else had taken up the topic and followed up on the bloggers allegation. So I appreciate that. Also, I’m not totally disagreeing with Clooney. There are indeed those who pick some discrepancies and discredit the whole production… as he had suggested, it’s a highly competitive industry. Maybe you still remember how I’ve ‘defended’ The King’s Speech and Zero Dark Thirty (links provided at the end of this post).

      So, this is to George, we bloggers are probably the best free promotions you can find for your production, if it’s good. 😉

      Like

  5. I enjoyed your posts and reading all the excellent comments. I give more credence to the views of my blogging friends than to some of the film reviews I read – as I am getting skeptical and a bit cynic thinking that maybe the movie reviewer was dined and wined or given freebees, but the blogger did not get these types of things, and his/her opinion is more valuable to me.

    Like

    1. Vagabonde,

      Thanks for stopping by and read my reviews often. The readership is the essential motivation for me to continue posting. Regarding critics… I remember what Roger Ebert had once said, never take a photo with a movie star. He was straight and principled, and in one interview where I had the chance to meet him personally, a year before he passed away, he clearly stated he had never had any pressures from producers to write a favorable review. 😉

      Like

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