Cynema: Based On A True Story (Sort Of)

October 13, 2015

Written by Capt McNeely

Georgia Division ZADF Twitter: @ZADF_ORG

Inspired By True Events

“Based On A True Story”

“Based On True Events”

“Most Of What You Are About to See Is True”

“Some Of This Is Bullshit”

“The Names Have Been Changed, Certain Dialogue Has Been Made Up”

“We Have An Agenda And We Want to Entertain You”

“You’ve Become So Ignorant to Real Events, You Wouldn’t Know What Was Real Anyway. Just Go With It”

Michael Fassbinder

The Los Angeles Times recently ran a disturbing article on an equally disturbing trend quietly seeping into filmmaking. It’s been for some time, but as the general population falls into a deeper sleep, it’s almost imperceptible. The article is found HERE. The focus was the acclaimed “biopic” on Steve Jobs and is the latest film to take swipes at a dead man unable to defend himself.

History is told by the winner. Or the one’s who control the information. Columbus Day has come under revisionist fire, seen as the celebration of a man who led a wave of genocide on a hemisphere. As a former history teacher and historian, I can say this is not an unfair label. However when I used pieces of Columbus’s own journal back in the mnid-90s for high school lessons, I was branded a traitor, communist, terrorist…what have you. Yet, provided the journals I verified are authentic, Columbus damns himself with his own words.

Animal Farm

For me, George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World gave the most accurate predictions of what society was to become. First we would grow ignorant to our own history, thus it would be revised. Second, we would become so distracted by trivial, superficial entertainments, that we would just no longer care about the things that really mattered. Throw in a plethora of mood altering prescription drugs (today’s antidepressants, Ritalin, elevators, downers are Huxley’s ‘Soma’) and basically you have a population that just doesn’t give a shit.

High fives to Orwell and Huxley. Nailed it.

Facts? Who can be bothered to check facts or be objective? If you are one of these people who insists on accuracy or objectivity, you’re a hater, bigot, curmudgeon, ranter, bully, homophobe, terrorist, communist, socialist, misogynist…you get the point. Bullshit answers that evade the facts are papered over with empty excuses like “It’s complicated.”

Yeah, but you see, it’s really not.

Real Vs. Reel

It’s just easier to make shit up. This is nothing new for Hollywood.  Bonnie and Clyde were made out to be star crossed, misunderstood lovers opposed to their vulgar and animalistic murdering reality. History has been skewed and openly bent by Hollywood to fit agendas. Truths are bent, they have been even before the time the totally fabricated “I Can Not Tell A Lie” George Washington story helped to give the American people the hero they wanted.

It’s so hard to not go off on a giant, all encompassing tangent (or rant for some). The focus is on film and a new kind of “biopic” that isn’t really a biopic at all. In fact it is peddled by some of the biggest writers in the business and if it’s as cynical as it seems, then Steve Job’s widow had every right to prevent the making of a film that slandered her husband and his legacy.

Let’s just say Steve Jobs WAS a dick, a bad father, boss, boyfriend and husband. That is part of his legacy, and while it may be unflattering, if it can be substantiated with verifiable proof, then it goes into the film. A screenplay, no matter by whom it’s written, should reflect this. However, should total conversations and events be fabricated to create false drama, what separates this from defamation? Additionally, taking what REALLY WAS said and twisting its context to create a specific outcome is also disingenuous.

Play this to an audience that didn’t know Jobs, knows very little of the man’s history let alone his company’s history and you something akin to…lying. There’s not other way to say it.

“Oh Jobs didn’t really say that, but it’s true to his nature.” Got it. You’re bullshitting.

Laurene Powell, Jobs’ widow featured HERE.

Michael DeLuca

So…how about I write something about Amy Pascal, Scott Rudin, Michael DeLuca and quote them on things they didn’t really say. I mean, they COULDA said it. In fact, I think it’s something they WOULDA said, but no, they really didn’t say it in real life. Something tells me the cease and desist order might get bypassed for a defamation or slander suit. Maybe I can write a Spielberg biopic and make up all of my own dialogue and situations. I mean, I have studied enough about him all of my life to know what he might have said in situations I read so much about.

Maybe one day when the Sony hacking story is written for the screen, the author can ignore the emails that have exactly what was said; and instead just make up what the author THINKS they said? The information is right there, but it’s better to make it all up and embellish.

It’s one thing to fabricate a fictional story set on board the Titanic. It’s another thing to pass it off as a biopic.

Aaron Sorkin (L) the “biographer” of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (R)

No, what the LA Times is reporting is laziness. Because it’s award winning Aaron Sorkin, it’s excused. He gets praise for writing incredible dialogue. Yes, because he seems to find the real words to be boring. While I know nothing of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook‘s founder, and according to some–hijacker, his gripes on “The Social Network” seemed founded. The media made him out to be a whiner whose mouth was tainted by sour grapes. Here’s what Zuckerberg had to say about Sorkin’s “biopic” ZUCKERBERG SOCIAL NETWORK ARTICLE

The thing that I think is most thematically interesting that they got wrong is the whole framing of the movie. The way that it starts is that I’m with this girl who doesn’t exist in real life who dumps me — which has happened in real life a lot — and basically, they frame it as if the whole reason for making Facebook and building something was because I wanted to get girls or I wanted to get into some sort of social institution. The reality for people who know me is I’ve actually been dating the same girl since before I started Facebook, so obviously that’s not a part of it.  — Mark Zuckerberg

Sorkin claimed his well-written script was “non fiction.” It is not. Perhaps Mr. Zuckerberg could set up an Aaron Sorkin Facebook page and style it to what he thinks Mr. Sorkin would say and do. Maybe populate it with some fabricated photos as well and give Mr. Sorkin the life Zuckerberg believes Mr. Sorkin has lived and lives now? Then he can go to the media and say the page is “non fiction.”

With Facebook‘s extensive data collection and algorithms, I am sure Zuckerberg could piece together a far more accurate life for Sorkin than Sorkin did for Zuckerberg.

How is what Sorkin has done with Zuckerberg and Jobs any different than what Brian Williams did at NBC? He made shit up that he thought was true, and COULD HAVE BEEN true. So have a number of other journalists, only they were all branded plagiarists or liars. Sorkin wins Oscars and Golden Globes.

Do The Work

You’re a screenwriter. Do the work. Get out there and verify. Be the Woodward and Bernstein of screenwriting on your subject matter.

Schools teach that it’s good enough to hit close, to almost make it.  Dated concepts like excelling or being number one are for bullies on the new “level playing field.” It makes people feel bad if they can’t be number one. That’s why everyone gets a trophy. Yet some teachers still try to hold students to standards and accountability.

If a student hands in a research paper that has fabricated quotes, data and situations, that student is penalized and should fail. There was no research, it was bullshit, no matter how good it sounded. It didn’t happen, it wasn’t real and it’s a re-creation. Period. The student doesn’t win awards or critical acclaim.

So I ask you, why does Sorkin get accolades for scripts that are basically made up? His “biopics” are fake research papers. Apply this to the outcry against global warming research (on either side of the fence) and suddenly this takes on a greater significance. I’ll just adjust data here because I THINK this is what it’s saying, and I’ll tweak some scientific quotes all to fit the story I want to tell. That works, right?

Sorkin is not the first or only screenwriter dong this. However it’s becoming more blatant because audiences are no longer able to differentiate real from reel.

Facts, Shmacts. The screenplay is the thing (To paraphrase Shakespeare).

One of my favorite films, Ed Wood, is a shining example of this but the film was not marketed as a non fiction biopic. Director Tim Burton admitted this was his own view of the late, much maligned director. Characters were altogether eliminated to fit Burton’s story and whole situations were fabricated.

Bela Lugosi was portrayed as a foul mouthed, angry man who died a loner junkie. The film ignores the fact that while indeed he did divorce as the movie says, he also remarried and was married at the time of his death. He had a son who is not even mentioned in the film. Additionally, Burton puts in the famous “buried in the Dracula cape” scene at Lugosi’s graveside. Two reporters talk about the cape but no one mentions his it was Lugosi’s wish and his wife honored it.

Martin Landau’s Bela Lugosi (L) and the real Bela (R)


According to a number of people, including his survivors, Lugosi never used foul language, at least onset, and was always congenial. His relationship with rival Boris Karloff may have been strained but the famous blow up in the film where Lugosi deems Karloff not worthy of smelling his shit never happened. Lugosi also didn’t sleep in coffins to try them out. He did not freeze up on live television like Burton’s film portrayed. Little changes to drive the script and I get it. But to pass off Ed Wood as a biopic is no different than a student handing in a total fake piece on Franklin Roosevelt.

Did Burton inadvertently start the “passive biopic?”

Ed Wood is no more a biopic than FDR: American Badass! is one.


Is any Jurassic Park entry accurate science? No, but it doesn’t claim to be. But what happens when audiences don’t know this any more?

You’re a screenwriter. Get the facts right. Get out there and talk, interview, research and write. Then check and check again. It’s called “work” and no amount of media spinning can justify out and out bullshitting.

Is any Jurassic Park entry accurate science? No, but it doesn’t claim to be. But what happens when audiences don’t know this any more? What happens when the accept the science of Hollywood as real, empirical data? Twitter recently lit up over people “just finding out” that Matt Damon’s “The Martian” wasn’t based on a true story.

I mean, it COULD be, right? It WILL be one day, right? Maybe it’s not too late for Ridley Scott to get “based on true events” added to the tag line or Drew Goddard can be nominated for Best Original Screenplay Based On True Events?  Here’s the article:

Get on that, Hollywood.

In the meantime, wake the fuck up, people.

Listen to my Cynema podcast found on iTunes, YouTube, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeart Radio.

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