Docu drama

Scripting reality into fiction proves to be one of a screenwriter's most daunting challenges.

When Emilio Estevez first conceived his screenplay for MGM/The Weinstein Co.'s "Bobby," which follows a group of fictional characters whose lives intersect with Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's on the night of his assassination, he made one key decision almost immediately: He would not cast the titular role.

"The instinct was always that we would never have an actor play Bobby Kennedy, that we would use the speech in the (Ambassador Hotel) ballroom and original footage," Estevez says.

That meant incorporating the material into his screenplay, which Estevez chose to do by beginning with a montage of Kennedy moments and ending with the speech he gave that night on the dangers of violence.

At that early stage of the script, he didn't even worry about the rights to the footage or the challenge of integrating old stock with his film's more polished 35mm look. It was only later, he says, when the Weinstein Co. bought his movie, that Harvey Weinstein suggested incorporating more original footage, which in turn meant obtaining the rights from the BBC.

Estevez isn't the only writer this year who has blended real-life material into a script. Some writers have even had to incorporate the stories of people still living today, as in Universal's "United 93" and Paramount's "World Trade Center." But each challenge has required a different approach in order to overcome the daunting task of turning reality into fiction.

Andrea Berloff's "WTC" opted not to show the planes crashing into the twin towers and to limit news clips to a particular one that had haunted her. "I always wanted to use this press conference that (former New York Mayor) Rudy Giuliani held at which he was asked about casualties and said something to the effect of, 'We don't (have the numbers), but when we find them out, there will be more than any of us can bear.' It was the only clip I put in the script."

Although director Oliver Stone used more clips in the finished film, Berloff was wary of including too many in her screenplay due to rights issues. "This is something I deal with over and over because I deal with a lot of true stories," she notes. "I try to keep it from inhibiting me, but it is something I struggle with."

Writer-director Paul Greengrass avoided archival material entirely with "United 93," re-creating the days events through meticulous research and rehearsal and even using some real-life pilots and air-traffic controllers to add authenticity.

"You get this interesting mix of people drawn from real life and actors, and collectively, you try and create a believable reality," he says.

Still, constructing reality means sometimes playing with the rules: What works on the page doesn't always work well on film, as Estevez learned.

"I had always thought the violence speech would play over the end credits," he says. Instead, he found another home for it. "Laying the words over the violence in the pantry (when Kennedy is shot) was much more effective."
Oscar Watch: Writers