IN SERVICE OF THE STORY
by Michael Chasin Screenwriting Mentor, IAFT/Miami
One of the glories of the written word is its ability to span time and countless characters.
One of luxuries of the written word is the ability it gives its readers to rest, reflect—and even re-read.
Movies’ unrelenting forward motion—and two hour time frame—makes such reflection—impossible.
Therefore, sweeping novels and complicated news articles must be condensed, cut, and characters combined—to work as movies.
This adaptation of material to the screen is the craft—and artistry—of the screenwriter—who must know what to cut and what to create—all in the service of the story.
In the fact-based comedic crime film Pain and Gain, a trio of body builders holds captive an unlikable businessman to steal his money.
In reality, it was not a trio—but a gang—and it was later learned that the victim—was himself a white collar criminal.
Faithful fidelity to the facts would have made Pain and Gain harder to follow—and the victim less sympathetic—which would have diminished the essence of the story.
In the acclaimed Dallas Buyers Club, based on news articles, hero Ron Woodruff is presented as a rodeo rider and electrician who contracts AIDS.
The film progresses—dramatizing Ron’s growth in humanity—and ends—with Ron’s newfound humility, regretful at not having children, but living the life he was given to live.
In reality, Mr. Woodruff was an electrician—and only a rodeo fan—who had a daughter.
The creation of being in the rodeo—and being childless—dramatized the essence of the Ron Woodruff character—heightening his recklessness—and feeling of aloneness.
So, it is under the skilled screenwriter’s keyboard—that characters are eliminated, victims made more sympathetic, and heroes altered—all in the service of the story—to make it great.