It is said that truth is stranger than fiction, which is why cinema owes a lot of its greatest accomplishments to reality. Biographical films are a special breed among movies based in true events, because they try to portray the evolution of real life characters through the most important events of their lives.
It’s a daunting task for the screenwriter, sometimes hard-pressed to fit decades of life into roughly 100-120 pages. That is probably why biopics often become monumental projects that bring the audience to a fast paced journey across a bunch of dissimilar environments.
But they are often the stories of those who shaped the world- for better or worse. And well written biopics seem to generally succeed in fulfilling the demands of reviewers and audiences alike. They are a challenge for the performer as well, compelled to carry most of the narrative weight through the whole shooting process. However, those efforts are often rewarded with wide recognition, and the Academy seems to have a certain weakness for biographical dramas.
A lot of moviegoers feel an inherent curiosity about watching the tale of a notorious figure in the big screen, and the list of famous –or infamous- individuals whose life has been adapted into a film keeps growing.
Here are some of the most acclaimed biopic film scripts of all time:
A stage play is very difficult to convert into a film script and requires great finesse and understanding in order to pull it off. Stage plays are written, obviously, for the stage; and because of that, they are compromised in order to make use of stage space and other physical restrictions. Films, on the other hand, can make use of many different dimensions that are untouchable by stage performers; and would appear dry if they didn’t make use of that ability.
The most important thing a screenwriter must do when converting a play, is to understand two things. The first thing is the playwright’s intent. Although a playwright may have been happy with the original script, there is always something that he or she would’ve done differently if given freedom. Knowing that a film breaks many physical boundaries, the screenwriter must try to understand what the original playwright would’ve done given that much freedom.
In addition to the original playwright, screenwriters must cater to the perceived desires of the audience. There are going to be audience members who have seen the original play and have expected to get the same emotional reaction they got when watching the play. In addition, there will be a new group of people who have never seen the play, and expect something different. In this situation, a screenwriter must do his or her research and become part psychologist in addition to his writing job.
Below is a list of films that have been somewhat successful in translation from play script to screenplay. By reading these along with the original plays, you will be able to understand how play translation is becoming an art form all of its own.