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

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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