Director Michael Hoffman on Finding the Truth of the Story

I had another favorite moment in the Telluride Film Festival Q&A after the screening of Michael Hoffman’s “The Last Station,” about the last year of Leo Tolstoy’s life. The movie stars Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy, Helen Mirren as his wife, James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti and Kerry Condon.

Ken Burns moderated a discussion with Helen Mirren and director Michael Hoffman. The movie is based on Jay Parini’s novel. One audience member asked Michael Hoffman how he was able to adapt the book, given that it seemed he included all of the most pertinent information from the book.

Michael Hoffman said that initially he’d tried to stay true as much as possible to the facts of the history, however it was only when they allowed themselves to move beyond the facts that they actually found the heart of the story – and herein the emotional resonance with the audience.

I think this is an incredibly important point, because sometimes, especially when we’re working with historical material or material strongly rooted in factual information, within narrative fiction we must still find the thrust to that story, and that thrust should be in the emotional connectivity to the primary characters. This is why it’s critical to have a strong protagonist – because this is the character with whom the audience can connect emotionally. With narrative storytelling, the facts shouldn’t inhibit our ability to create emotional resonance within our characters.

2 Responses to Director Michael Hoffman on Finding the Truth of the Story

  1. Joanna September 8, 2009 at 11:32 am #

    You have no idea how timely this post is Monica. I’m working on a script that no doubt will be excruciatingly examined for facts and accuracy. However, I feel the real story that audiences will connect to is the emotional story. Thank you for the post.

  2. Matt Martin September 17, 2009 at 12:36 am #

    I agree. I’m working on an adaptation myself and it has been all I can do to make the existing elements work, but this post hits at what I know has to happen… move beyond the “facts” and get to the emotional core.