I’m a big movie guy, and though I love all kinds of movies, from comedy to
sci-fi and musicals to horror, some of my favorite movies of all time are inspirational stories.
They don’t have to be true stories, although they often are, but I love a good “against all odds hero’s journey.” There are some really fun ones out there and some downright classics!
I studied screenwriting in college and got my degree in RTVF (radio, TV, film). For my internship, I was Production Manager of an award winning feature film called, “All About Dad.” I even have an imdb page to prove it!
When I started the screenwriting class, which not only broke down the art of screenwriting in a unique and memorable way but also included writing a complete screenplay, I was told by the professor:
“This class is going to ruin movies for you forever. You’ll never see a movie the same way again.”
While that statement was partially true — once you’ve learned the fundamentals of screenwriting and also written one you do watch them differently — it by no means ruined movies for me at all!
One thing I did learn is that Hollywood often takes a great deal of liberty with the common statement at the beginning (usually in white lettering on a black background): The following is based on true events.
BASED ON TRUE EVENTS
I learned, for instance, that the Cohen brothers’ Fargo from 1996 was an amalgamation of several different, unrelated stories from different parts of the country during different time frames. They wove the stories together to create the movie we saw. It’s very creative, and it takes talent to be able to do something like that and turn it into a story people can follow.
I didn’t learn it in screenwriting class, but the movie Rudy, which is one of my favorite inspirational stories of all time, was rather loosely based on true events as well.
If you’re not familiar with Rudy, it follows the story of a guy named Daniel Ruettiger, nicknamed Rudy, as he chases his dream of playing football for Notre Dame during the early 1970s, when it was one of the most prestigious and highly regarded football teams in the history of college football.
Not that Notre Dame football isn’t still highly thought of, but back then the landscape of college football was a lot different than it is now. You basically had the same handful of teams near the top every year. The competition wasn’t nearly as wide open as it is today, with teams shuffling in and out of top spots.
So the story starts out with Rudy expressing his dream to play football for Notre Dame as a kid, then jumps ahead to his final days of high school and, without giving too much away, everyone basically tells him all through his life that he’s not big enough, not fast enough, not strong enough and not smart enough to realize his dream.
The one thing everyone can agree on, though, is that he has tremendous heart and hustles like nobody else even dreams of.
The movie, as I mentioned, has always been a big favorite and to this day it still brings tears to my eyes. Not every time I watch it, but most times!
So when I was browsing the bookstore some 20+ years ago (another one of my favorite hobbies is reading!), imagine my delight when I found out Rudy had written a book!
The book is full of great advice, but something that Rudy wrote about in it really grabbed my attention.
He came clean on everything in the movie that wasn’t 100% accurate.
PEOPLE AREN’T PEOPLE
One of the most interesting things that happens in a lot of movies that are based on true events is that characters are born from several different real-life people. What do I mean by that?
Well, think of all the people in your life who have influenced you to get you where you are right now. All the mentors, teachers, friends, bosses and family members you learned something from or got some kind of help from or who inspired you along the way. Chances are, there’s a lot of them!
Now think of trying to watch a movie where you have this main character on a quest, and along the way 35–40 other characters are introduced, each of them contributing a little nugget or even a major element during our hero’s journey to (hopefully!) success.
For one, you’d never be able to keep track of all these characters. It’s just way too many! Plus, just taking the time to introduce all of those characters and show their impact on our hero would make any such movie and 8-hour affair, at least! Not really a watchable story in either case.
In fact, the ideal “spine” of a movie, which defines certain elements that keep a screenwriter on track, has 6 main characters. Any more than that and, unless you’re a dynamite writer who teams up with a director that shares the exact same vision, you’re going to have a messy story to tell.
To fit into this framework, writers will amalgamate characters the same as they do events. So it turns out that Rudy’s best friend in the movie (there are two, really, but I’m referring to the one played by Jon Favreau in what I think was his first acting role) is actually the personification of many different real-life people who influenced Rudy in one way or another.
It doesn’t take anything away from the movie at all, and again, it’s quite common for this to be the case. But in the late 1990s, when I read the book, I hadn’t yet learned this fact about Hollywood writing. I was actually a bit disappointed!
I felt like I had been duped.
There is a huge emphasis in our society these days on authenticity, and for good reason. The internet has opened up a vehicle where people can present themselves any way they want, and it can often be very hard to vet someone to find out whether or not they’re full of… well, you know.
Of course we all want to feel like the people we talk to and work with are being genuine and are being their true selves with us. But this was something I apparently really craved back then too!
It took me a while to wrap my head around the fact that D-Bob (the Favreau character) didn’t actually exist, and neither did Pete — the ‘other’ best friend Rudy knew in high school. There’s a pivotal scene that serves as the impetus for Rudy’s departure from his childhood hometown to head to South Bend, and it turned out that didn’t exactly go down as depicted either!
It makes me wonder had Rudy been released within the past few years whether it would have been as critically acclaimed and well received as it was, or if people would have jumped on the internet immediately to look up this, that and the other about the ‘real’ story and then shredded it and declared it “inauthentic.”
Rudy will always be a wonderful movie and is a classic sports film, for sure. Just the history associated with it (Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn met for the first time on the set of Rudy — look up their collaborations over the years!) is enough to keep it a classic forever, as it gave rise to several shining stars who’ve entertained us for decades. I’ll always love it and it will always be one of my favorite stories.
If you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It will inspire you to do whatever it takes to achieve whatever it is that you want, as you get a front row seat to watch Rudy take on challenge after challenge with his insane work ethic and ever-optimistic mindset!
Thinking of all that I learned about it after the fact it does, however, remind me that in this day and age, there’s such an emphasis on honesty and authenticity that I have to check myself and be sure I’m both writing authentically and teaching from the heart.
People love a good story, and I see plenty of others trying to impress by embellishing and enhancing little parts of their stories, as if they’re writing a Hollywood movie based on themselves.
But I think that style is best left to Hollywood.
Drop me a line and tell me what you thought of Rudy, or just share your thoughts about anything! firstname.lastname@example.org
I look forward to hearing from you!