Saving Mr. Banks Director John Lee Hancock Searches For The Factual And Emotional Truth

By Eric Eisenberg 2013-12-12 20:32:04discussion comments
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Saving Mr. Banks Director John Lee Hancock Searches For The Factual And Emotional Truth image
Itís around this time of year nearly every year that critics begin to try and uncover the real history behind Oscar contender films that are based on true stories. In recent years filmgoers have noted inaccuracies in titles like David Fincherís The Social Network, Tom Hooperís The Kingís Speech, and even Bennett Millerís Moneyball, and each time it brings back the debate of what the truth really means in adaptations and reenactments. Is it more important to nail the cold hard facts, or is it more about creating a story and discovering an emotional reality that may look at everything from a new angle? As the director of many "based on a true story" films, including the new movie Saving Mr. Banks, John Lee Hancock is very familiar with this conversation.

As part of a press day for the film late last month in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Hancock and discuss what truth really means both in the context of feature filmmaking and in bringing the story behind the film Mary Poppins to life. Where do you find the line between emotional and factual truth? Read on to find out the directorís thoughts on the subject.

Something I always think about whenever I watch movies based on a true story, is the line between factual truth and emotional truth. Just having directed as many "based on a true story" films as you have, Iím curious what your personal philosophy is in that respect.

You know, itís kind of like, what was the old supreme court saying about the decision about pornography, you know it when you see it. Itís a little bit of that. You know when you say this is fair or this is pushing the boundary, but I think youíre right about the emotional truth. Willie Morris, I produced a movie many years back called My Dog Skip and Willie Morris was on the set with us, and he wrote the book, very talented southern writer and Diane Lane was cast as his mother and you know, Dianeís much prettier than Willieís mom was, so there are lots of those kinds of things in there and I asked Willie about it one time. I said, you know, we took stories from your entire six through eighteen and made it one year, condensed that and added other stories that kind of didnít happen but could have, and he said, John, there are the facts and then thereís the truth and this is the truth, and heís talking about an emotional truth. So, I think thatís the litmus for it, in a way.

What was your approach to that when you were looking at this film?

Well, the first thing you do is you always want to know, what really happened, what didnít, whatís been shifted around. I didnít write the script, so I didnít know where the bodies were buried, so bringing Kelly in and saying did this happen, did this happen, just knowing, and then you can make a decision about, yeah Iím completely fine with flipping the order of these. Yes, this happened five years earlier, but it happened, so weíre going to put it in here.

How much does having research materialsÖ you had [classic Disney composer] Richard Sherman as an asset on this filmÖ

Heís a living walking archive [laughs].

[Laughs] When it comes to the recordings and all of the records, how much does that influence the need to stick to the facts Ė knowing that the cold hard facts are out there.

Well, I think you use it all, because a lot of times, youíll know emotionally what a story needs to be and youíll go through that and find the things that help you tell that story and the more pieces of absolute reality you can bring in to it, it kind of seeps into the DNA of the project, in a weird way, whether itís having the work project and swatches and stuff, Tony Waltonís sketches on the wall, cause itís a movie about the creative process and not the finished product, but getting there.
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