Oscar Contenders

Fact vs. Fiction, Watch the 50 Minute Screenwriters Roundtable with Clooney, Delpy, Cuaron, Ridley and More

Some great stuff once again

John Ridley, George Clooney and Grant Heslov
John Ridley, George Clooney and Grant Heslov
Photo: The Hollywood Reporter

The Hollywood Reporter has started releasing their fantastic awards season roundtable interviews and today comes their screenwriters edition, which includes John Ridley (12 Years A Slave), Danny Strong (Lee Daniels' The Butler), Julie Delpy (Before Midnight), Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said) and Jonas Cuaron (Gravity) along with George Clooney and Grant Heslov for The Monuments Men, even though that film was recently pushed into 2014 although having them along for the ride certainly proves worth it.

As they run the gamut of topics the one that gets the most attention is the line between fact and fiction, beginning with Strong's screenplay for The Butler, which I already got into the facts of the matter earlier this year. Cuaron is asked about those that question that accuracy of Gravity and Ridley is questioned about 12 Years a Slave, but it's Clooney that really gets passionate about the subject.

After Strong gives his answer regarding the changes to The Butler, Clooney jumps in and says, "This is a new thing by the way, this is all bloggers -- If that all existed when Lawrence of Arabia came out, believe me Lawrence -- the autobiography would not hold water. Patton, you could go down the list of movies, Gandhi, you go down the list of movies and you go, these movies they are entertainment and that's what we have to get back to."

As for why he sees it as an issue, "The reason it's a problem," he says, "is someone will go to a movie like 12 Years a Slave and go looking for something that doesn't jibe and they'll try and disenfranchise the whole film because of it. Because there's this weird competition thing that's going on that didn't exist ten years ago. All of a sudden they're going 'A Beautiful Mind, it didn't happen' and all of a sudden this is wrong or this was cheated, [pointing at Grant Heslov], this happened with us with Argo. It's bullshit because it's got nothing to do with the fact these are movies. These are not documentaries. You're responsible for the Battle of the Bulge has to happen in December 1944, you can't make it April, you're responsible for basic facts because who the hell knows what Patton said to his guys in the tent?"

When asked whether you draw the line between fact and fiction Clooney references Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds saying, "You can burn Hitler in a movie theater if you want to, it's still filmmaking, it's still storytelling. It's not documentaries."

Of course Clooney has a point, but I'd also argue a lot of the emotional weight in many of these films hinges on the fact the audience believes them to be true. Already we've heard from Sony describing both Monuments Men and David O. Russell's American Hustle as fictional, even though they are based on true stories. I do believe it's important to make these distinctions, just as much as I can understand why stories would be changed.

To Clooney's point saying, "You're responsible for the Battle of the Bulge has to happen in December 1944, you can't make it April," I would have liked a follow-up question directed at Strong who not only changed the name of his title character, but changed the number of children he had and then had one of those sons die, that son actually being the only one the real Eugene Allen had and he is still alive.

Either way, the discussion is fascinating as always, check it out below.

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  • Gautam Anand

    My favorite part of the whole awards season race - THR's Roundtables. They are just fantabulous.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/navaneethks/ navaneethks

    THR Roundtables are fantastic to say the least. Personally for me, these roundtables are the highlight of the awards season.

  • http://couchpotatodigest.blogspot.com Matt Taylor

    I love these THR Roundtables, but I just can't get over the fact that Danny Strong went from being the nerdy classmate on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to the writer of what will probably be a Best Picture nominee.

  • http://cineenuruguay.com/ Driver

    I absolutely love this roundtables, and I can't believe they are coming out so early. It caught me by surprise.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

    This is like crack for movie lovers, as they say.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ian/ Ian

    Well I know what I'm distracting myself with for an hour at work tomorrow.

    I'll have more to say regarding the historical adaptation issue but I do have one recent example of how altering history for cinematic convenience was used in a very negative way...on my Facebook page no less.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Corbin/ Corbin

    I've never seen one of these before, but that'll change soon...

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/DavidG/ David Gaillardetz

    This shtuff is my drug. Can´t get enough.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Corbin/ Corbin

    Also, are you going to post the actors roundtable that came out last week?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Winchester/ Winchester

    I'll need to try and find time to come back to this.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ian/ Ian

    Now that I've watched this, my thoughts on the historical accuracy issue. I agree that it's a tricky line to walk, but ultimately I think you have to be respectful of history. Making up the lines that Patton said to his troops isn't the same as all but removing Canada's involvement in Argo and increasing Hollywood's. I think you have to try and know your audience and how they will respond to the story. For example I never thought while watching Lawrence of Arabia that this was an historical retelling, but more of a mythical retelling. The same goes with something like Braveheart or Kingdom of Heaven. But unfortunately I also think our society as a whole is becoming less and less historically literate, such that when they see Argo or Captain Phillips they do take it as history rather than doing their own research. And while that's not the fault of the artist, I do think you have to be aware of that, that you might inadvertently be creating revisionist history, as I would argue Argo and Captain Phillips do. Which brings me to the issue I alluded to last week. After seeing 12 Years a Slave I posted on Facebook that if you see one film in the next couple months, see that one. A gentleman who is a retired army chaplain commented agreeing with me, and then added that you should also see Captain Phillips specifically because of the ending as the "three greens" climax was an excellent example of American foreign policy. Of course we know that event didn't happen in the way it was presented in the movie and it takes very little research to see how it really went down. And this gentleman, being from the military, undoubtedly was aware of the truth. But he was encouraging people to see and believe this fictional account because in his mind it made the military look good, as opposed to the actual historical event which decidedly does not. Now is it the fault of the artists that he, and probably many others, reacted that way? Not necessarily, but I do think they have to be aware of the repercussions of a decision to alter history and how it could be used. Of course this is back to the question of where do you draw the line and does it matter how far back in history you go? For example should you be more concerned with historical accuracy in Argo than you should in Braveheart? I honestly don't have an answer to that. But I do think changing thematic events is more worrisome than simply adding things for increased tension. So I don't really have a problem with the runway chase at the end of Argo, but I do have a problem with the reduction of Canada's involvement and the increase of Hollywood's. And then there's the additional question of how much is actually the writer and how much is the studio (read: an American corporation) demanding the most palatable thing possible? So all in all it's a very complex issue, but one that I don't think can be simply ignored in the name of "entertainment."