Any hints on how to write a biographical film?
Biographical films can be so wonderful… think of Beautiful Mind or the film Piaf about the famous French singer from a few years back. Both were fantastic stories and really strong scripts, handled by extraordinary actors. But nonetheless, Bio Pics are fraught with their own special challenges.
The first challenge, of course, is what to include – especially if it was a particularly long or eventful life, like Mahatma Gandhi’s. That film took Richard Attenborough 20 years to make and he went through 3 different scriptwriters and likely a far larger number of scripts. From a writer’s perspective, tying the various elements of a long human life together can be a challenge.
One of the successful tricks that the Gandhi film used was ‘book-ending’ the opening and closing. This is a neat trick in that it automatically supplies closure to the story. In this case, the screenwriter started with a seminal event, Gandhi’s assassination. That scene exploded onto the screen and thrust the audience into the story immediately. We didn’t mind that the story then slowed down for a bit as we gathered evidence about what kind of man we would be following. Nearly 3 hours later, the film ended with replaying that pivotal scene. We knew it was coming, had already seen it, in fact. And yet there was NOT a dry eye in the house by then!
And that leads me to one of my favorite devices… repetition. It is an amazingly simple tool that can really ramp up the emotional volume every time it’s used – if it’s done delicately and intelligently. It can tie far-flung events together and bring an audience right back to recalling the emotional heart of a film. Whatever you choose, just use a dash of repetition to underscore the moment and move on.
I hope that helps! And I wish you good luck with your screenplay.