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February 10, 2010


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It is definitely difficult to know how to approach this. One doesn't want to hurt the living. Yet, there are life stories that need to be told, because they are part of history. But the attention that telling those stories publicly will bring is not comfortable. It's a conundrum, even without dramatic licence.

John Arends

Thanks for sharing this, William. You've really sharpened the tips on the horns of the dilemma: how do you stay true to the story you're crafting with dramatic intent...while being morally compelled to honor the truth as it happened, on the ground? Which master do you serve? For the writer, it's an unforgiving no-man's-land, where the right and the wrong of it dissolve, and "the truth" fades to gray, indiscernible in the fog.

Frank Pierson chose to honor the story, creating a scene that deepened the subtext and elevated the stakes, heightening the audience's interest. And that's both the job of the screenwriter and the goal of the artist-as-dramatist. But then...there's the catch...the price the artist pays...the downside that comes with even the slightest infidelity to the facts.

That Pierson is still haunted by his choice, so many years later, and in spite of all the accolades, and the immortality they bestow...

Thanks for giving me pause, and making me think, as I struggle with this very issue.

Janet M

This is an interesting post about a subject that confuses me. When turning an fascinating life into a film, why is it necessary to change everything about that life. My case in point is "Talk To Me" a recent Don Creadle film. I thought the movie they made was good, it had an great story arc, but I was disappointed to learn that most all of it was untrue. Why not make it an entire work of fiction?

Why was it necessary for Pierson to create this scene? Was he asked to add this element, or did it just heighten the emotional effect of the movie, which was already pretty terrific? Could he have handled the plot idea in a truer way?

Kate G.

I'm curious, Bill. If the film had been true to life would it have had as dramatic an impact on the public consciousness (at the time it was an eye-opener) and would it have done as well at the box office?

The film was storytelling and the storytellers were doing their job and doing it well. What happened with Wojtowicz was tragic, but then so is the social impact of robbing a bank.

I'm glad you bring up difficult questions in your blog. I hope you keep on doing it.


There's no doubt a writer faces inner conflict in how he/she chooses to treat the truth in nonfiction...or even how truth can haunt and interfere with one's voice in the writing of fiction.

It's hard to know what to expose, what to muzzle, when to take artistic license.

I've always been intrigued by Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," when the ongoing legal drama of his subjects interfered with his need for closure on the novel.

If I remember correctly, he writes a brief defense of the accuracy of his story telling. I think it was a tad smug, actually. But then we are talking TC.

Very interesting.

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