What Are Biopics?
Movies about people are often called BIOPICS. They may either be documentary style about an aspect of their lives or a dramatized, fictionalized version of the truth. As screenwriters, it is best to explore a dramatic point of your subjects’ lives. There will often be fictional elements to make the movie more entertaining and engaging.
America’s first amendment right to free speech means that we can write anything about anyone provided it is true and not defamatory. Everyone also has the right to privacy.
If information exists in at least two tangible sources, it is classed as public knowledge and writers don’t require permission from the subject.
If you are writing about living people, it is best to obtain their permission, both to reduce the risk of legal ramifications and also to add authenticity. Oftentimes the subject will refuse, especially if they don’t want their story told.
The usual process is to acquire LIFE RIGHTS from the subject. They agree to grant interviews, access to books, diaries, transcripts and other material to build a story of their life.
If the subject is dead, then the writer needs to contact the estate of the subject. Published works are normally protected by copyright laws for 70 years after the subject’s death. After this time, the material enters the PUBLIC DOMAIN.
When adapting true stories, try to remain true to its intention rather than trying to include every single element into your screenplay.
Some writers will fictionalize more than others to the point of sensationalism. When writers have bypassed the traditional routes, they write an “unauthorized” biography.
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