Tuesday, April 05, 2011

by Janet Lawler

Sean Astin as RUDY
I love true stories.  Don't you?  That's why we watch Jersey Shore or the Real Housewives that only pretend to be true.  It's also why Hollywood produces movies "based on actual events". When we know something really happened, we invest more emotion into that movie or character.

Think about some of the great movies that were based on real people...Rudy, Silkwood, Serpico, Erin Brockovich, and most recently, The Blind Side.  Would we have been as deeply moved if those movies were about made-up characters with the same names?  Doubt it.

True stories.  We love 'em.  I've been on a big documentary kick lately.  If you look at a documentary in the frame work of a movie script, you see many similarities in telling a solid story with structure: intro of characters, a life-changing inciting incident, conflicts, challenges, violence, hope, then the all is lost moments and finally, God willing, victory in the face of defeat.  We appreciate a strong resolution for having taken the emotional ride with these characters.

American Experience on PBS is hitting one documentary after another out of the park this season.  Each one is powerful and gripping.  I recommend them all.  They're about real people, real instances and tell great tales of bravery and the human spirit.

As writers, we can learn from these actual events in history and from individuals who turned disappointment, repression, violence, and blind raging hate into stories about love, redemption and achievement.

Some of the documentaries to air on American Experience are:

Freedom Riders.  This doc marks the 50th anniversary of Original Freedom Riders.  It asks the question Could You Get On the Bus?  Some Americans did.  They were threatened, attacked and beaten... but their courage helped change the civil rights movement.  Freedom Riders is about our American history. These Americans confronted segregation and death to change the law. It airs May 16th on PBS.

Stonewall Uprising.  Today with the political debate for marriage equality discussed openly on TV, we forget what gay Americans endured before the gay rights movement: shock treatments, mind-altering drugs, lobotomy, public service announcements denouncing homosexuals, beatings, excommunication, depression, and repression under the law.

Gays growing up in the 40s, 50s, even 60s were arrested, threatened and hunted.  We talk about bullying today in our high schools, but wait until you see what occurred less than just twenty or thirty years ago to gay youths.  There was no coming out then, unlike today.  There was only in.  Hiding for your life.  Stonewall Uprising shows what gay Americans long accepted until on June 28, 1969 when the gay community experienced what one Village Voice reporter who was at the scene called its "Rosa Parks moment" and said no more.  On that June night, when the N.Y.P.D. invaded the Mafia-owned gay bar at the Stonewall Inn  and began handcuffing gays and lesbians for dancing on a Friday night... all hell broke loose.

For the first time ever, gays and lesbians banded together and refused to be led off to jail... it set off a three-day riot in Greenwich Village.  It's the inciting moment that launched the gay rights movement as we know it today.  Stonewall changed the tide.  Pride would overcome shame from city to city across the country.  Stonewall in 1969 wasn't about one night of police harassment in a gay bar.  It wasn't about homosexuals being upset on Judy Garland's funeral day.  It was instead about decades of abuse, hatred and fear rising up and turning on its oppressor.  We see it happening today all over the world.  Stonewall Uprising airs on Monday, April 25th.

Great job, American Experience and PBS!  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/schedule/

On a screenwriting side note, soon we'll have Q&A's with top screenwriters Leslie Dixon (Limitless and Mrs. Doubtfire) and Angelo Pizzo (Rudy and Hoosiers).

Rudy!  Rudy!  Rudy!  Yes, we really do love true stories.

Until next time.

1 comment:

Barbara Forte Abate said...

What a great post, Janet. I so often hear people remake that we're living in times sadly void of heroes. I can only assume they're referring to headline news of another fallen sports figure, or celebrity gone wild. Because absolutely and without question there are REAL, everyday, ordinary people, that have/are shaking the world to it's roots both courageously and unforgettably if only we should click-off Jersey Shore for a moment and pay attention.

An interesting documentary or "honest" movie based on real life has me tuned-in every time. Real entertainment with the added bonus of making me feel pretty darn good about being a human-being. Big smile!